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What Choices Do We Have?

20 Mar

So much in life is beyond our control and choice. Flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, hurricane—each powerful and demanding. We’re forced to kneel before Nature’s fury. Other situations may trap us and deny our power to choose.

Consider other people’s choices. Children have no choice regarding frequent moves due to a parent’s occupation or military service. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse rob many of dignity and hope. Thieves “choose” precious possessions in the dead of night and hijack our treasured security. A spouse decides he/she no longer wants to remain married consequently jeopardizing our financial and relational world. Someone drives drunk on the Interstate, creating orphans and heartbreak.

Another category:  choices we make but can’t choose resulting consequences. We abuse our sedentary bodies with food, alcohol, and tobacco despite the doctor’s warning. We now face hospitalization, perhaps long term care. We practice shopping therapy—clothes hang in our closets still wearing price tags, a “keeping-up-appearances car” fills the garage. Yet we’re helpless to control a plunging credit score and high interest credit card bills. We take our spouse for granted refusing support, affection, and attention. Unfortunately, we can’t control the response of “too little, too late” and the divorce that follows.

At these times, life seems to offer no alternatives, no choices.

Don’t despair. We were created to choose. The first thing God did was to give mankind work and a choice (Genesis 2:15–18). He designed humanity with the ability to choose between good and evil.

Choosing God brings life.

Deuteronomy 30:19 Today I ask heaven and earth to be witnesses. I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life! Then you and your children may live (NCV).

There are several kinds of death other than physical. We can experience mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or intellectual death.

When other people’s choices threaten to destroy us, we can choose bitterness and anger, resentment and revenge. We can ask “why me” and wonder “if only.”

Or we can choose life and trust .

Romans 8:28a We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him (NCV).God

This isn’t a promise for everyone; it’s only for those who love and trust God. With His help we can rebuild after a disaster. We can choose to exercise, eat healthy, and give up harmful habits. We can decide to get counseling rather than rely on shopping therapy. We can learn to communicate and cherish loved ones even if we can’t undo past mistakes. We can trust God to bring justice in His time and His way, even if we don’t see it (Romans 12:19).

Most of all, we can choose to forgive—forgive others and ourselves. When we pray the prayer Jesus taught, we say, “Forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors.” That may be the secret to living fully—continual confession and continual forgiveness, accepting and offering the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. Let’s choose wisely, friend.

A Living Sacrifice

11 Mar

After a massive stroke, Dad’s right side remained paralyzed and he was incapable of speaking more than a few words. Gone were the days when he played his guitar with such joy and beauty. (He took lessons until he turned eighty-one.) During the three and a half years he remained in a nursing home, Fuzzy Davis maintained his smile and courageous attitude. With great effort, he used the hall rail to navigate his wheelchair, pausing regularly to wave a wordless greeting to everyone he met.

Our family kept a spiral notebook in his room where we recorded visits, his care, and any bits of encouragement regarding his condition. One day we found two pages overflowing with beautiful words and signed by his Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA). Here is a short summary of what we found.

We love Fuzzy so much. He’s always kind and willing to do whatever we ask of him. He never fights us or tries to hurt us. He is such an inspiration and he has blessed our lives. We are grateful for the opportunity to care for him. We all love him. (Signed by the staff.)

 Dad’s last years taught us what quality of life really means. Trapped in a body that no longer responded to his will, Papa still brightened other’s lives. He got me laughing when he was first to decipher the phrase on Wheel of Fortune. He encouraged the chaplain as he nodded his head in agreement with the message and wept during the hymns. He responded graciously to care offered by the CNAs.

Some claim death is better than being confined to a wheelchair and/or bed for years. However, a simple spiral notebook confirmed Fuzzy’s life still had meaning and purpose. His spirit outshone his defective body.

Our deteriorating tent also reminds us that our true home is heaven; we’re just passing through. When Papa completed his ministry, Jesus called him home to total healing and unending joy.

 “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21 NIV).

 Our bodies, regardless of their age or vitality, play a crucial role in our spiritual growth and transformation.

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1–2a NIV).

 As we prepare our hearts for Resurrection Sunday, let’s offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God and in loving service to others.

Making Room for the Best

4 Mar

Last Wednesday signaled a beginning and an end. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a 40 day period of preparation for Easter. It also provides an opportunity to end self-centeredness. The word Lent stems from an Anglo-Saxon word for spring. Perhaps we could think of it as spring-cleaning for the soul. The 40 days relate to Jesus Christ’s wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:1–2). Forty days to help us focus on Christ’s sacrifice and help transform us into His image.

For me it’s like a fresh start, getting rid of the adequate to make room for the best. How can I cooperate and collaborate with God as I prepare my heart for Resurrection Sunday?

Lent begins with repentance, a change of mind and attitude as we acknowledge our wrongdoing. We turn from sin and turn to God. Many churches place ashes on the forehead as a symbol of that repentance. Repentance is part of our spiritual spring-cleaning. What has to go? What should we keep? What should we add?

A month ago I started the process of discarding. I gave away 130+ books taken from my living room shelves, a difficult process because I love the written word. I haven’t even started on the books in my office and other nooks and crannies. I’m motivated by a desire for simplicity and to “Just Be, Just Do” (found here). It’s so easy to slip into our default mode of accomplishment and speed, of working in our own strength. That need to depend on God led me to wrestle with the following questions.

What takes my time, energy, and affection (possibly a good thing), but has become a substitute for God’s best?  What am I willing to give up, do without, or discontinue that hinders new life in others or in me?  What should I continue or add that will serve others and further God’s Kingdom?

Are there questions you need to ask? “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23-24). Dig deep, but don’t be surprised if the answers aren’t monumental. Sometimes small things make the biggest difference.

Finally, my devotional reading (A Year with God—Day 60 by R. Foster & J. Roller) led me to Second Timothy 3:10. “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (NRSV). I accepted Foster’s admonition to “be cautious and humble about what we may be teaching with our words and deeds. Teaching is so much easier than learning. It is also more dangerous.”

So here I sit at my computer, attempting to share my heart and this 40-day journey. I’ve given up sugar for my health and Spider Solitaire for more time. I’m continuing to discard things and adding order in my days. I’m reaping time for writing this blog and one-on-one relationships. Small but difficult changes with joyful outcomes.

Just Be. Just Do.

26 May

There were only four of us. We had heard the same verses read aloud several times. Now it was time to listen carefully to what God had to say through those two verses. Since I’m a retired cognitive therapist, the mind words grabbed my attention: listen, consider, think.

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance—all who seek the Lord! Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined. Yes, think about Abraham, your ancestor, and Sarah, who gave birth to your nation. Abraham was only one man when I called him. But when I blessed him, he became a great nation” (Isaiah 51:1–2 NLT).

I found no new revelations about thinking and renewing my mind, although my mind overflowed with questions regarding ministry, writing, and speaking. Then I realized that’s not the focus. Once again, it’s not about me; it’s not about you. We must listen, consider, about think about our Source. Try inserting your name into the last sentence.

Nancy was only one woman when I called her. But when I blessed her, she became a great ___.

If/when God blesses us, we have potential to be/do great things in His name. Still a bit anxious about the impossibility of becoming “great,” I continued to listen to God’s still small voice within me, I understood Him say:

Just be—in My presence.

Just be—who you are.

Just do—the next thing.

It’s up to God—not the world, not me—to determine greatness. Jesus said if we offer a cup of water in His name we will be rewarded (Matthew 10:42). Our first priority is to love God with all our being (Mk 12:30) and seek His kingdom (Mt 6:33). Our second priority is to love people, including ourselves (Mk 12:31).

So here I am, daily reminding myself that God is always with me, just as He is with you. He cherishes us and has a plan that includes us. I can’t be anyone other than who God created me to be. I just try to go through the next door He opens, and occasionally have the courage to knock on a few doors in case they might also open. When I listen, consider, think about these truths, life seems simpler, more doable.

I need that right now. How about you?

Joy in Our Call

1 Feb

Last year, the Lord gave me the word “Humility” to transform me. My word for 2014 seems to be “Joy.” Therefore, I’ve been looking at my collection of scriptures containing this powerful word. One verse jumped off the page, filling me with wonderful memories.

“Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, But counselors of peace have joy” Proverbs 12:20 NASB

I clearly remember driving home in the dark, tired but elated. I banged on the steering wheel and loudly announced to my empty car, “I love counseling!” So what if it was almost 10:00pm. When a couple worked at healing their marriage or a depressed client did the homework, I saw God at work. I saw the face of Jesus in the lonely and unlovable. I felt the exhilaration of doing His work, loving His people.

My own failures, sin, rejection, and loss helped me empathize with my clients. Yet I also knew that facing challenges makes us stronger. We can never really run from our problems or ourselves. I loved being able to pray with and for my clients. It thrilled me when a biblical principle or verse took hold in someone’s life, or when a client realized what we think/believe can transform actions and emotions (Romans 12:2).

God led me in this direction since my youth. I was the Dear Abby for friends as far back as seventh grade. Very few things compare with living out God’s call on your life. So why did I retire early?

I retired from counseling because I wanted a different relationship with those who needed my skills. I didn’t want the ethical boundary forbidding friendship. I wanted the freedom to take food to the sick and hug publically. I wanted to mentor young women or offer parenting advice over a cup of coffee instead of across a counseling office.

Living out God’s call on our lives doesn’t necessarily mean financial compensation for God’s gift. Sometimes we support our call through a different paid vocation. Other times, our vocation and call are the same—whether you’re an accountant, plumber, CEO, or childcare worker. When we use our God given abilities and education for Him, we are doing ministry. One thing is certain, answering God’s call, no matter how difficult, will bring joy.

Periodically, I’ll be sharing God’s lessons on joy. What brings you joy? Is joy and happiness the same thing? I hope we can encourage one another in this journey of joy. Please comment below. I’d be “overjoyed” if you would follow this blog and like us on Facebook. J

Have a joyful day.

Return

26 Jan

Life is so daily, filled with habit and routine. We long for time to rest, realign our priorities, and refresh our souls. I’ve done a bit of that since my last blog post on December 07. At the same time, my life has been extremely busy and full of surprising opportunities for ministry and fellowship. But now I’m ready to return.

I’m returning not just to writing this blog, but returning to God’s rhythm of life. That rhythm envelops all aspects of what it means to be created in His image: care for His temple (our bodies), creativity, strength, wisdom, work, rest, and so much more.

I’m also returning to a part-time tutoring job. What a joy to help kids be successful. George and I are returning to some of the attitudes and actions that first caused us to fall in love. Similarly, in the book of Revelation, Christ tells the church in Ephesus. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4 ESV). He wanted them to change their mind (repent) and return to doing the works that demonstrated their deep devotion.

The word “return” calls to mind a favorite Bible passage.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10–11 NRSV).

Just as moisture saturates soil, God’s word saturates our lives to produce good fruit. We can trust Scripture to work in us and successfully accomplish the Divine purpose. To that end, I’ve committed to daily Bible reading with some amazing high school girls. We meet weekly to discuss the connection we made with God through His word, to ask tough questions, and to pray for one another. It’s the highlight of my week.

Do you need to return? To what is God calling you? Perhaps you’ve neglected worship or time alone with Him. If so, Scripture has a good word for you. “Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 51:11 TNIV).

Perhaps you’ve strayed so far, you think return is impossible. God has a good word for you as well. “Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness” (Isaiah 55:7 The Message).

It requires repentance and humility to admit we’ve abandoned Jesus Christ ,our first love. It takes intentionality and determination to trade the chaos of our culture for God’s rhythm. I don’t pretend it’s easy, but it’s exceedingly rewarding. It was difficult to sit down once again at my computer and share my heart. I’d lost the rhythm of writing. I’m hoping that this bit of writing will encourage me to complete a major writing project. Perhaps you’d pray for me to complete it before March 1.I’d count it a privilege to pray for you. Just use the comment box below to share your prayer requests.

Whose Party Is It?

21 Dec

Very few people believe Jesus of Nazareth was actually born on December 25, yet that’s when most Christians celebrate His birth. I get that. I was born December 24, a date easily remembered but difficult to celebrate. I was never short on birthday wishes, but my only “non-family” party happened when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t care that it wasn’t my actual birth date. What mattered was celebrating with friends.

I’m a flexible celebrator for another reason. My dad was a “locomotive engineer on the Santa Fe Railroad.” That title was both a source of pride and humility. Papa loved his job and was very good at it. However, he didn’t want anyone to assume he was an electrical, mechanical, or any other kind of engineer. Driving a train occasionally took Papa out of town on December 25, yet somehow Santa always knew if he needed to arrive on the 24th or 26th. We didn’t care that it wasn’t actually Christmas day; what mattered was celebrating as a family.

What do you think matters to Jesus? Decorations, presents, parties? We can get a pretty good idea by looking at how God the Father orchestrated Christ’s first birthday. The venue seemed low on His priorities. Or perhaps the smelly stable intentionally introduced a humble Servant-King. Humility and unselfishness undoubtedly matter to Jesus.

Father outdid Himself on the invitations. He decorated a lonely pasture with brilliant light while angels announced the party with shouts of praise. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:13–14 NKJV).

No matter the celebration location, I think Jesus would like candles and lights, beautiful music, and most of all, a sense of wonder. How can it be that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords would invite lowly shepherds and us to this amazing event? Last Sunday as my husband conducted John Rutter’s Gloria for choir, brass, and percussion, I fought back tears as we sang. I think the Lord Jesus Christ was glorified and pleased with our offering, and the congregation was inspired. I wondered if it might have been a tiny taste of what we will experience in heaven.

The shepherds’ reaction went from intense terror to eager expectation and curiosity. It’s not every day angels declare a treasure hunt for a king wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a feed trough. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and searched until they found Mary, Joseph, and the Baby King. They amazed their friends with the story of this most miraculous birthday party. When they returned to work the shepherds continued “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20 NKJV).

Jesus must long for more awe and less commercialism surrounding His birth. I think He would be pleased to hear us eagerly share His story with those who haven’t heard, rather than carefully consider whether to proclaim “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I’m certain He doesn’t want this to be a one-day celebration. Rather, He would have us search daily for Him in the common places of our lives then celebrate and share our Discovery.

Never doubt you’ll find Him—if that’s your desire. “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV).

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus. I hope you like your party.

Do You Choose Ashes or Beauty?

7 Dec

It’s fireplace weather as the weatherman predicts single digit temperatures. I love rotating in front of the fire like a marshmallow on a coat hanger—equally toasted on all sides. Frequent fires produce abundant ashes.

As I transferred cold ashes from the fireplace to a trashbag, I thought how they no longer resembled the logs originally placed on the grate. No longer sturdy logs, the ash pile was now gray, powdery, and easily scattered by the slightest puff of air. Perhaps, like me, there was a time when your life was in ashes—cold, colorless, without meaning or apparent value, no longer resembling the life you once envisioned.

The Bible uses ashes to symbolize misery, shame, humility, and repentance. Deeply distressed mourners sat on ashes and threw them toward heaven, allowing the ashes to fall as a head covering. That’s why Isaiah’s prophecy was so powerful. He promised “comfort [for] all who mourn, . . .a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a).

This dramatic transformation would come through faith in God. Jesus Christ later read this passage from the scroll of Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:18–21 NIV).

No matter what you’ve been through or what you’re facing, Jesus offers understanding and victory. He gave up heavenly glory to be born in a stable. He endured poverty, grief, injustice, rejection and faced every human temptation for our sake. Why then do we continue to cover ourselves in ashes when He offers a crown of beauty? Our freedom comes not through escaping our circumstances, but in accepting the love, power, and joy offered in Jesus Christ.

The fireplace wood we burn is often a mixture of pine and oak. Pine flames quickly; oak burns slowly and provides lasting warmth. God can transform our lives from ashes to oak. As Isaiah says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b NIV).

My prayer for us is that we display God’s splendor, as we remain strong in His power and love.

Make a Joyful Noise

1 Dec

I marvel at the news reports of Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for retail sales. Sleeping out in the cold for the best place in line goes beyond my imagination. Since I’m not trained for combat, I don’t venture out on Black Friday. I have no desire to be embroiled in the pushing, grabbing, fights, and offensive language. (To be fair, there seems to be much less of that locally than what I see nationally.)

However, what really causes me sadness is the desperation that breeds such greed and selfishness. Apparently, we have a need to grab all we can because tomorrow may not come. Our world seems to teeter on the brink of political, economic, and/or natural disaster. At any moment, our entire lives could change. But so has it ever been—think Pearl Harbor or Twin Towers. I’m grateful our security doesn’t rely on government or circumstances. Because of God’s great love, we can not only be grateful, we can be gracious.

The fact that you’re reading this means you have an education and live in a country where freedom of speech still exits. I can also imagine you have a roof over your head, adequate food and clothing, and someone who cares about you.

God gives us such abundance so we can share. This season let’s turn our eyes on God and focus on what we have instead of what we wish we had. I encourage you to shout about the good stuff.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: Come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; And his truth endureth to all generations.”
(Psalm 100:1–5 KJV 1900—the version I memorized as a kid).

I’m so thankful for the faithful followers of this blog. May God richly bless you this season and throughout your life.

Retreat to Freedom

24 Nov

I declared Friday a personal retreat. My husband was out of town, the temperature dropped below Karo, and amazingly, I had nothing on my calendar. Posole simmered in the crockpot beside a bowl of homemade Chex Mix and percolating cider. A light dusting of snow on icy streets created a perfect homebound day.

Of course, there’s always a dose of reality in any idyllic scene. I brought our old birddog, Jax, out of the 21o
air, because his twisted arthritic feet don’t do well in the cold. He’s a big outside dog; I had no idea he could produce so much poop. (Sigh) Ah, well. His comfort was worth cleaning the sunroom floor.

My goal for the day was to stay with whatever God showed me in my daily reading until I really got it. Lately, as I read Scripture, I’d write the teaching I believe the Holy Spirit had for me, pray, and then jump into my day without meditating. I hadn’t taken time to follow that teaching to its logical and practical conclusion so I wasn’t seeing the change I desired.

Here’s what God showed me: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV).

I realized I wanted to do the retreat “right” and not waste the rare day I had to spend entirely with God. A very strong impression quickly tumbled over that thought; God wanted me to celebrate and enjoy the day. Today wasn’t about getting it right; it was about freedom. Instant tears of gratitude and praise blurred my vision. My tears pointed me to a tender place not totally healed. I really want to live in freedom, but one might suppose I prefer guilt.

I immediately thought of Romans, which probably contains more theology per line than most books in the Bible. I spent at least an hour in the already underlined fifth through eighth chapters, proof that I didn’t quite get it the first ___ (how many?) times.

Wow. So much there, but one verse really jumped out at me, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6 ESV).

Life seems easier when I can check off a list—and there’s nothing wrong with a list. There’s nothing wrong with the Law. It’s knowing what I should do that creates the desire within me to do the opposite. (See Romans 7:7ff.) My flesh wars against my mind. Like Paul, there are times when I cry out, “Wretched [person] that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 NRSV).

I’m extremely grateful that Paul didn’t stop there. I don’t think anything could have kept him from speaking those next words. Once again, I want to shout with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:25a; 8:1 NRSV).

With God’s help, I will live in obedience to Him and not to self-imposed bondage. I’m usually a joyful person, but sometimes I just put on that old yoke to see if it still fits. I need to remember another bit of wisdom from Paul.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

I had a freedom-filled day celebrating God’s word, good food, texting, and cuddling with Sunshine. I even finished my mystery. I felt refreshed and deeply satisfied. My prayer is that you carve out some time, so you too can retreat to freedom.