Tag Archives: God

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.

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.

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.

Little by Little

15 Nov

Are you yearning for the future, eager for a dream to become reality? Perhaps you’re single and longing for a soul mate. Do you have a great idea for a new business, but can’t seem to scrape together enough money or investors to make it happen? Would you like to change careers but can’t afford the schooling required? What aspiration have you discarded as hopeless?

When my ex-husband left, I taught at a Christian school that paid poverty level salaries. I changed to public school to feed my kids, but the great desire of my heart was to become a psychotherapist. I wanted to help others as my counselor helped me. However, there was no master’s level course in counseling at the local university. I couldn’t imagine moving my hurt and confused children away from family and friends, so I gave up my dream. Disappointment piled on top of an already full load of grief and rejection.

Eleven years later, I took my first class toward getting my degree and becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. It was easy to spot fellow students who needed to work on their own stuff before they considered tackling other people’s problems. I saw myself in them as I had been eleven years earlier, with many issues to work through and much growing to do. I simply hadn’t been ready when God first planted that dream in my heart. God’s route for me was much like God’s message to Israel concerning the Promised Land.

“I will not drive [your enemies] out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29–30 ESV).

God know our capabilities, our baggage, and future obstacles. His timing is flawless and we can trust Him with our dreams and disappointments. Little by little, He prepares us to possess His best, but most of us aren’t crazy about “little by little.” We think we can handle our big dream now. That’s why I want to explore the context of an especially popular and encouraging verse—Jeremiah 29:11.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (NRSV).

I base my life on God’s goodness and the hope He offers in Jesus Christ. I’m absolutely sure God’s plans for our lives are best and we should cooperate and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish the good works He has for us (Ephesians 2:10). However, just like Israel, our choices affect our future.

Israel’s tribe of Judah wound up in Babylonian captivity because they chose to serve other gods and disobey the LORD . False prophets announced God would send Judah’s captives home within two years. Yet God’s unpopular prophet Jeremiah tells exiles to make a good life in their current situation (Jeremiah 29:5-7). Then he continues with God’s promise for their future.

“For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10–14 NRSV).

Perhaps you’ll realize your dream tomorrow, perhaps not. Perhaps first God will grow you, strengthen you, and prepare you. In the meantime, call upon Him. Seek Him with all your heart, not just for what He can do for you, but for who He is. Christ Himself is our hope and our future.

If you have a story of postponed dreams, please share. We’d love to hear from you.

How Many Chances?

25 Oct

Do you ever get tired of yourself? A friend recently said, “I get so tired of me.” This person had misplaced something—yet again. Sometimes our bodies disappoint us by not performing as they once did. Maybe we’re sick of an endless cycle of busyness that prevents us from intimacy with God. We may feel defeated by a disagreeable habit. Perhaps we exercised or ate healthy for a time but gradually fell back into our old identity as a snacking-couch-potato. We intend to spend more quality time with family and friends, but good intentions dissolve into procrastination.

At such times, we’re tempted to give up and convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. Jumping off the merry-go-round seems to take more effort or self-discipline than we possess. That’s where I was not long ago.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23 NRSV). Every day is a new day with God—for us and for others.

Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a believer who wrongs me? Seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21–22 GW). That’s the standard for second chances for others as well as for us.

Rabbis traditionally taught an offended person should forgive three times. Peter, no doubt thought he was generous in proposing seven chances. Not even close. Jesus declares 490+ do-overs. We’re to offer the same limitless forgiveness God offers us. The situation isn’t hopeless even when we offend God by not loving and serving His people, not taking care of His temple (our bodies), or wasting the time He gives. It’s never too late too late for a fresh start.

Receiving another chance doesn’t mean we won’t experiences consequences of past behavior. We lose things, forfeit precious time with God, put on weight, and damage relationships. We may need to ask for help or seek an accountability partner, but a new start is possible.

The solution remains the same—renew our minds and be transformed. Believe the truth. Without realizing it, when we feel hopeless, we believe a lie about who God is and how much He loves us (John 3:16). We also believe a lie about ourselves. We forget Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (NKJV). I can’t claim this verse and begin performing brain surgery. However, I can accomplish all God uniquely planned for me (Ephesians 2:10).

I find both peace and excitement living in the center of God’s will. I experience anxiety, stress, and frustration doing life on my own. I need the Spirit of Christ to forgive and empower me. I’m so grateful for second chances.

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. (Psalm 86:5 NLT).

Forgiving Myself

14 Sep

“You must forgive yourself.” I’ve heard those words more than once. Maybe you have too.

I really enjoy the Patrick Bowers thrillers by Steven James. In his fifth book, The Queen, Bowers’ stepdaughter struggles with guilt. Her psychiatrist tells her, “You have to learn to forgive yourself.” Tessa threatens to break his glass coffee table, and then makes a profound statement. “Look, if I break this thing, you can forgive the debt I owe you if you want, or you can make me pay for it, but how can I forgive myself for the debt that I owe you?”

 Until I read that novel, I assumed I should/could forgive myself. However, I’ve come to understand that I have no power to cancel a debt I owe to another, nor can I pardon or excuse my wrong behavior. However, I can pursue forgiveness. I can humbly apologize, ask forgiveness, and where possible, make restitution. But there’s more.

David’s story reminds me of the heart of any offense. You remember David the teenage shepherd who slew Goliath. He grew up to be a mighty warrior king who surrendered to adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11, 12). Finally repentant and broken, David composed Psalm 51.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment” (Psalm 51:1–4 NRSV).

Although we hurt others, we sin against God. Yet we have God’s merciful promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV).

So why can’t we get past it? Perhaps it happened long ago, but the shame, guilt, and humiliation remains a festering wound of unworthiness. How can I forgive myself?

I find only one answer:  I can’t. I have no power to forgive myself. Instead, I need to accept the forgiveness that God offers in Jesus Christ. God forgave David, therefore, He can also forgive me and “restore to me the joy of [His] salvation (Psalm 51:12a).

“ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV). If I believe it, I will joyfully live it.

I close with wisdom from Andrée Seu, who wrote the following blogMonday, October 5th, 2009 | 7:47 AM

An Insomniac’s Psalm 103: Verse 11 “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.”

The Christians I admire most—and I know precious few of them—are those whom I can see are so confident of God’s undeserved love that they are not constantly revisiting their sin or crime, but they have moved on with their lives and have peace and joy. Oh, if the matter of their past comes up, they will not deny it, and will be the first to call it evil. But you will not suck them into a morbid dwelling on it.

I pray we will live courageously “confident of God’s undeserved love.”

In Conflict? Pass the Pencil.

31 Aug

My words stuck, unable to pass the lump in my throat. How well I remember the first time I tried important communication with George. We’d been dating only a few months. He encouraged me with these treasured words, “You can’t say the wrong thing.”

That was thirty years ago. Since that day, I’ve said the wrong thing more than once. So has he. Yet the underlying truth remains. We genuinely want to know each other’s thoughts and feelings even if we don’t agree.

Close relationships present more possibilities for conflict than casual associations. The paradox is that loving confrontation increases intimacy. Confrontation forces us outside our comfort zone into transparency and vulnerability. It’s risk-taking of the most dangerous sort. If we ask for changed behavior or expose our true feelings, we risk anger, rejection, or even a lost relationship. However, when we find mutual vulnerability and an eagerness to preserve the relationship, the rewards are staggering.

Sometimes conflict is simply a miscommunication or mistaken motives. We may have an emotional reaction based on a prior relationship or an earlier stage of our current relationship. We may have incomplete facts. That’s why the first step in resolving conflict is to identify both viewpoints. I’ve found the pencil technique to be an effective tool for couples, families, and co-workers. (This is a communication technique, not a substitute for professional counseling.)

Couples choose a pencil, couch pillow, or other object. The symbolism counts. As long as I have the pencil, I know I’ll be heard. I hold on until I feel understood.

Remember God’s communication wisdom.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV).

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).

Good communicators give eye contact, focused attention, and encouragement. Remember both people can be right based on different underlying (and sometimes unknown) assumptions and dreams. Believe the best of each other.

The person who finds communicating difficult goes first—in this example, the wife. Wife holds the pencil and explains her position. Husband doesn’t interrupt, defend, or explain. His first priority is to understand. Wife sticks to one subject without bringing up other problems. Her responsibility is to be honest and thorough without rambling. Then she asks Husband what he heard. He summarizes or paraphrases her words. (Parroting exact words doesn’t equal understanding.) If he gets it right, he takes the pencil and they switch responsibilities. If not, she retries explaining her feelings and he listens more closely. Repeat as necessary, then switch. Remember, defensiveness is a conversation killer.

Include appreciation for each other’s honesty and effort plus assurances that conflict and a great relationship aren’t mutually exclusive. Such conversations help us understand ourselves as well as the other person.

When our heart’s desire is to understand and to be understood, we tear down walls and build intimacy. In the context of unity and maturity, Paul urges Christians to “speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We don’t have to agree or completely understand. However, we need to respect and appreciate each other’s values, hopes, and dreams.

Please let us hear from you if you have the courage to try the pencil technique or have comments or suggestions.

Say Yes to Confrontation

24 Aug

Recently, I’ve prayed for several people in conflict. Some situations are heart-rending. Others are frustrating or irritating. None of these people enjoyed conflict or desired confrontation. Here are some reasons used to avoid confrontation.

  1. Christians are supposed to be self-sacrificing. Confrontation seems selfish.
  2. He won’t listen anyway.
  3. She will get mad.
  4. They might not come back to visit.
  5. I’m afraid I’ll lose her love.
  6. I don’t know how to confront. I’ll only make things worse.

As a recovering people pleaser, I understand how dreading confrontation can immobilize us. Jesus says staying in biblical truth sets us free (John 8:31–32), so for the next few posts we will renew our mind regarding conflict and confrontation.

First, let’s be specific about terms using the Encarta Dictionary. Conflict is “a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people.” Confrontation is “a face-to-face meeting or encounter, especially a challenging or hostile one.” It’s often necessary to confront someone regarding a conflict.

The Bible has much to say about conflict because it’s unavoidable. We’re not clones or cookie cutter Christians; neither are we perfect. Since we can’t avoid disagreement, God wants us to utilize His way of managing conflict.

I believed all six reasons above, so I “handled” conflict by rolling over and playing dead. Experience taught me some hard truths.

Refusing to confront

a)      Conveys silent agreement and approval.

b)      Denies truth and the impact of the other person’s behavior.

c)      Withholds relevant information necessary for decision-making.

d)     Is disrespectful because it assumes the worst response from the other person and doesn’t give him/her the opportunity to change.

The depth of relationship determines our level of confrontation. We confront our children who exhibit poor manners in a restaurant and ignore the person at a nearby table doing the same thing. We must earn the right to offer constructive criticism.

This is probably a good time to say not every conflict is worth confrontation. Remember love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Many times a conflict isn’t a question of right or wrong; rather, it’s a question of preference or opinion. In such cases, compromise and trade-off is appropriate. Love doesn’t insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5) and in many cases we are to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). However, people sometimes behave in a way that is detrimental to the family, the community, and themselves.

Jesus didn’t avoid conflict. He went head-to-head with religious hypocrites calling them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 18:15) and “blind guides” (Matthew 15:14). John 2:13–16 tells how Jesus drove out the moneychangers who turned the temple into a marketplace. I’d call that some pretty intense confrontation.

However, the thing that freed me from my fear of confrontation was realizing reason #1 above was incorrect. Confrontation can be the most loving response to conflict. Most people would agree that ignoring drunken chaos in the home enables the behavior to continue. Yet we overlook disrespect, irresponsibility, or verbal abuse because we don’t want to appear selfish. In fact, our silence says, “Go right ahead. I approve of your behavior.” We have to care enough to confront. It takes emotional energy and courage to confront someone we love.

I hope some of you will confront my opinion. Please respond with comments and questions. We will continue the discussion in future posts.