Themes for 2010

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The beginning of each year is a good time to reflect on our lives and select some areas to start anew. A look at the most common New Year’s resolutions reported at shows that most are in relation to physical things:

Lose Weight
Manage Debt
Save Money
Get a Better Job
Get Fit
Get a Better Education
Drink Less Alcohol
Quit Smoking
Reduce Stress Overall
Reduce Stress at Work
Take a Trip
Volunteer to Help Others

These are all worthy goals yet they do little to promote our spiritual welfare. We read in Joshua 24:15 that the faithful leader Joshua made a resolution, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This is such a simple statement, but it reveals the commitment Joshua had for living a God-filled life. We would all do well to resolve to live a life of service to God, wouldn't we!

Like 50% of Americans, every year I take stock of my life and decide on a few areas to improve. This year in lieu of writing behavior specific goals, such as, reading the Bible through, I am going to focus on a theme for 2010: a Purpose-filled Life. I look forward in the coming year to searching scripture, praying, reading books, soul-searching, and seeking counsel from others about what God purposes for my life. As part of my service to God, I want to share these strategies with others who are struggling to find meaning in life and to discover what God’s purpose is for their life.
I urge you to determine a theme for 2010 and ask God to show you how to live an intentional life during the coming year. You might consider some of these:
Treasure Hunting
Possibility Thinking
Positive Attitude
Choosing Happiness
Or you might choose to follow Rev. Rick Warren's plan for spiritual growth:
G - Go to God in prayer daily.
R - Read God's Word daily.
O- Obey God moment by moment.
W - Witness for Christ by your life and words.
T - Trust God for every detail of your life.
H - Holy Spirit - Allow Him to control and empower your daily life and withness.
Remember those who have the greatest success with resolutions:

Write it.
Commit to it.
Share it.
Plan for it.
Evaluate it.
Celebrate it.
Have a blessed New Year!

Blessed Christmas

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What do you know about Jesus’ birth?

Did Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem?
The Bible doesn’t say. It only says she came with Joseph to Bethlehem.

Did Mary arrive in Bethlehem the night she gave birth? The Bible doesn’t say. Mary and Joseph could have arrived there weeks earlier. Luke 2:6 says, “while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”
Did Joseph or Mary talk to any innkeepers? The Bible doesn’t say. There is no biblical record of an innkeeper at Christ’s birth. They may have stayed with family members who were also participating in the census.

Was Jesus born in a stable? The Bible doesn’t say. It only mentions that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn. The Greek word kataluma means guest chamber. Mary and Joseph may have stayed in the guest room of family members.

Did angels sing to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem? The Bible doesn’t say. Luke 2:13 says an angel appeared and spoke and “a multitude of the heavenly” praised God.

Were angels present at the birth? The Bible doesn’t say. We may assume that there is no evidence that Mary and Joseph saw the angels.
Did three kings riding camels come to Jesus’ birth? The Bible doesn’t say. There is no mention of kings or camels. The Bible says that wise men or magi came, but we do not know how many. The magi did not arrive until after Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Was Jesus born on December 25? The Bible doesn’t say. It is unlikely that shepherds were “abiding in the field” at this time of year. Normally flocks were kept in the field from spring to autumn.
Christmas carols, movies, stories, and manger scenes don’t always get the facts straight about the birth of Jesus. However, we know that the birth of our Savior was a marvelous miracle. We must read God’s Word to know the true story, the greatest story ever told. Jesus was born of a virgin in the humblest of means in a tiny village. The Son of God had come in human form in order to die and save us from our sins.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Let us follow the example of the first visitors to Jesus: the shepherds. After the angels announced to them that the Savior of the world had been born, they hurried to see him and then they spread the Good News glorifying and praising God. This week let us feel the sense of urgency to spend time with Jesus. And let us be bold in spreading the Good News of our Savior.
Blessed Christmas!
Source: Paul S. Taylor, Eden Communications

Unwrapping Christmas

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One of our biggest stressors during the Christmas season is in shopping for the perfect gifts for our friends and family. Think about the stress the very first Christmas shoppers, the Wise Men, must have experienced as they looked for a gift for the Son of God. As we focus on the actions of the Magi, let’s see how we learn how to unwrap Christmas this year.

They looked for him.
These wise men saw an extraordinary star and went in search for someone very special. Their long journey required much sacrifice, probably discomfort, and danger, but their hearts were bent to look for Jesus. God took extraordinary measures to lead them to Jesus. He guided them right into the presence of Jesus.
How will you look for Jesus this year? God will take extraordinary measures with us to lead us to Jesus.
They rejoiced over him.
Matthew tells us that when they realized that the star led them to Jesus, “they were filled with joy.” One version says, “They were overjoyed.” Another says, “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy!” “Let the hearts of those rejoice that seek the Lord.” Psalm 105:3
How will you rejoice over Christ this year? Will you be filled with joy? Will you be overjoyed? Will you rejoice with exceeding great joy?

They worshipped him.
When they presented themselves to him, they fell down and worshipped him. We do not read that they gave such honor to Herod. This honor went to a tiny baby, the newborn King.
How will you worship the King this year? Will you bow down before him?

They gave him gifts.
In the eastern nations when they paid homage to their kings, they gave them presents. The gifts seem quite strange to give to a baby, but the gifts were chosen with great purpose: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They were rare, precious, and expensive. Let’s take a closer look at the gifts the Magi unwrapped for Jesus and see what we might unwrap for him this year.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, gold was even more prized than it is today. Their choice of gold must have provided Jesus and his family the financial support during the following years of travel through Egypt and it was seed for the most important work in the world. Gold is rare, has a shimmering beauty, an enduring quality, and can withstand even the harshest treatment as it goes through refinement in the fire. We’re much like gold. God’s gift to us is that he made each of us rare beauties with the endurance to withstand refinement in the fires we go through.
What will be your gift of gold to Jesus this year? What do you prize that you could offer him? Is it your time? Is it money? Is it service?

Frankincense is a very costly and fragrant gum obtained from the bark of a tree. This tree was so scarce that only those with a pure heart and mind were allowed to come near it. Highly fragrant when burned, it was used in Old Testament worship as a pleasant offering to God.
During this sacred season are we taking time to offer the gift of our time and worship as a “sweet smelling sacrifice” to our King?

Myrrh is an aromatic gum that comes from a thorny bush. This gift represents the human suffering that Jesus would endure. The Magi’s choice of Myrrh reflects how Jesus identifies with our pain and sorrow. This Christmas Jesus longs for us to give him the packages we’re having trouble unwrapping. Packages wrapped in the bandages of our pain and sorrows…those wrapped in the busyness of Christmas preparations…those wrapped in the glitter of too much materialism.
Are we willing to give him the parts of our lives that we keep underwraps?

Do you know what gift he really wants from us? He wants us to live in his presence every day and to worship him as the Magi did with love, respect, honor, and sacrifice.
How can you unwrap the presence of Christ at Christmas this year?

For Goodness Sake

Monday, December 7, 2009

It’s hard to find a city more beautiful at Christmas than New York. I witnessed the glitz and glamour of the Big Apple last weekend. Department stores display extravagantly designed windows. An enormous lighted tree adorns Rockefeller Plaza and stands guard over the ice skaters in the rink below. Little Italy celebrated the season with a parade featuring floats, bands, and performances. Bundled evergreens line the sidewalks ready for purchase by city dwellers. Churches and cathedrals promoted their sacred concerts and special programs, and chestnuts were actually roasting on open fires! Yes, the city that never sleeps provides a sensation for the senses at Christmas time.

Unfortunately, the American Humanist Association launched an advertising campaign in New York on Thanksgiving weekend that promotes the idea of being good without God. What an attempt to dampen the spirit of Christians celebrating the reason for the season. Ads blazoned on city buses feature smiling individuals with Santa hats on proclaiming “No God?...No Problem!” Some rail cars and buses feature the slogan, “Be good for Goodness’ Sake.” Humanists hold that you can be good without a belief in God.

It is comforting to know the author of Goodness is God. As God spoke creation into existence, He saw that it was good. God created goodness. The very first sin was committed when Eve saw the forbidden fruit was “good and pleasing to the eye.” She and Adam wanted to find their own “goodness.” Isn’t that what humanists are doing? Instead of acknowledging the goodness of God, they are promoting their own goodness, goodness without God. Now I believe anyone, believers and non-believers can do good deeds and demonstrate kindness, but the real root of goodness is found in God. It is worth noting that the original Saxon meaning for the English word “God” is “The Good.” The expression, “Thank Goodness!” is a euphemism for “Thank God!”

As humanists attempt to create new holiday tradition that leaves out the Christ of Christmas, we must be the living examples of the goodness of God. Let us be good and do good in Jesus’ name.

Be Good-
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9).
The Bible is our instruction book for righteousness or right living. By following it, we can learn to be good, like God.
Do Good –
"But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28).

Christ expects us to do good to everyone even our enemies.

In this stressful but glorious season let us practice doing good to others through our kindness, thankfulness, peace, patience, cheerfulness, and love.

Be good for Goodness’ sake!


Saturday, November 28, 2009

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is well under way. The coming weeks with all the shopping, parties, and Christmas celebrations are typically the most stressful of the year. It’s easy to let unrealistic expectations, bad experiences, frustrations, and overbooked schedules interfere with our focus on the reason for the season. How can we manage the stress that will inevitability visit us; We need to do as Dr. Gary Smalley suggests in The DNA of Relationships and practice good self-care. We can picture ourselves as huge batteries with terminals on top for charging and sockets on the sides where people “plug” in to fill their own needs. As long as we get daily re-charged with God’s love, we can relay love to others. We need to daily connect to our power source in order to share his love.

Jesus’ greatest commandment tells us the heart of good self-care.
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your minds, and all your strength.” His second commandment tells us to care for others. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 23:37-40)

The busy Christmas season often brings more stress and depression than peace and joy. Smalley defines stress as “the gap between what we expect ourselves and others to do and what actually happens.” By adjusting our expectations, we can manage our stress and experience the joy of Christmas. Smalley offers four actions in his self-care program. I’ve described my attempts to implement this program in my life.

4-Step Self-Care Program

1. Start off the day by reducing earthly expectations.
Our expectations should be God’s expectations and his timeframe. This is a challenge because I usually want my life to follow my own will and timeline.
Prayer: “The Lord is my shepherd and I will never want again. I will graze in green pastures, by quiet waters, expecting only that God will continually restore my soul and guide me every day to righteousness.”

2. Believe that everything that happens to you has been filtered by God.
When I face painful, unfortunate, or confusing circumstances, I must hold on to the belief that God is always in control. He is always at work for our good.
Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes."

3. Every upsetting experience is an opportunity to worship God.
How can I use my frustrations to draw closer to Christ? I can remember that God is my provider and protector. I can reframe my disappointments by looking for the lessons I can learn. I can see that struggles are an opportunity to hunt for the treasures that come when we turn negatives into positives. James 1:2 illustrates this treasure hunt, “Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy.” In my joy I can sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1).

4. Rest in God, listen quietly, and ask him what he’s telling me to do.
When facing stressful situations, I know that I must “be still and know that he is God.” It is in being still and listening to him that I will know what he wants me to do. I will ask God to show me his will.

Prayer: Father, show me your ways and teach me your paths (Psalm 25:4). Help me to walk in your truth and focus my heart on you (Psalm 86:11).

Giving Thanks

Saturday, November 21, 2009

While our country has celebrated a time of Thanksgiving since the Pilgrim days, we are not the first country to recognize the importance of giving thanks. God commanded the Israelites to celebrate seven feasts over seven months starting in spring and ending in fall. Three of these feasts were to honor God for the harvest. The Feast of Firstfruits was the time to present God the first fruits of the barley harvest. The Feast of Harvest celebrated the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Tabernacles was the time to give thanks for the olives, dates, and figs. The period of the feasts always included sacrifice, praise and thanksgiving. As families do today on Thanksgiving Day, the Israelites drew together to celebrate and worship God and to commemorate their history.

Showing thankfulness to God for his love and care permeates the Bible and often includes the theme of sacrifice, thanksgiving, and praise.

Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing. Psalm 107:22

Especially during the Thanksgiving season we are reminded to offer thanks for the abundance in our lives. Even during this time of economic crisis, we have much to be thankful for. Let’s follow the pattern of the Israelites and offer sacrifice, praise, and thanksgiving.

Sacrifice – We can make a sacrificial gift to feed those who may go hungry during our season of plenty. We can offer God the sacrifice of our time spent it devotion and service for him.

Praise – God wants us to sing our praises to him. Praising God reminds us of his greatness. It is through praise that we feel his presence. The NIV Bible says that Christian praise is the joyful thanking and adoring of God, the celebration of His goodness and grace . The words “Praise the Lord” appear in over 50 verses. Use these verses as a reminder to tell God of his greatness.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, praise his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2
Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Psalm 103:22
Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. Psalm 104:1
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6

Thanksgiving – This year my family will incorporate the Legend of the Five Kernels in our Thanksgiving celebration. This tradition stems from the starvation period when the Pilgrims were struggling to survive. The story holds that they rationed corn to five kernels a person. The following spring the corn crop thrived. The five kernels is a way to remember the sacrifices of the past and to be thankful for our blessings. This year my family will find five kernels at their table setting and we will express thanksgiving with these reminders:
• The first kernel reminds us of the autumn beauty.
• The second kernel reminds us of our love for God.
• The third kernel reminds us of our family's love.
• The fourth kernel reminds us of our friends.
• The fifth kernel reminds of our freedom.

Above all, celebrate the goodness and greatness of God!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

According to research studies over a 30 year period, the Japanese island of Okinawa is the best place on earth for healthy aging. This island has:

More people over 100 years old per 100,000 population than anywhere else in the world
The highest life expectancy for both males and females over 65
The lowest death rates from cancer, heart disease, and stroke

While healthy eating and exercise have contributed to their longevity, the Okinawans credit their long lives to what they call ikigai (eek-y-guy), or a “sense of purpose.” The studies showed that these islanders were generally unstressed and maintained a positive outlook on life. They demonstrated good coping skills and a deep sense of spirituality, meaning, and purpose even when circumstances were bleak.

Ikigai can be described in English as life-satisfaction or as that which makes life worth living. The French call this raison d’etre, “a reason for being.”

Aren’t these the characteristics that should describe a Christ-filled life? Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have a sense of purpose? Shouldn’t we, like the Okinawans, maintain a positive outlook even in bleak circumstances?

How can Christians fully possess ikigai? How can we live a life that is full of purpose?
I believe our purpose in life is to glorify God and to express our love for him through a joyful life.

That God in all things may be glorified. - 1 Pet. 4:11.
Worship the Father in spirit and in truth for the Father seeks such to worship Him. -John 4:23
I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. - John 15:11

To glorify God is to worship him. Campus Crusade for Christ describes expressions of worship that glorify God:
Worship through prayer
Worship through the Word
Worship through Christian love
Worship through service
Worship through evangelism
Worship through missions
Worship through music

In other words, to glorify God means to honor him through what we say, act, and think. The God of peace promises to be with us when we honor him with our words, our actions, and our thoughts. This life of peace he promises is a life of ikigai.

When we make it our passion to glorify God, we will experience ikigai. It is then that we will have the abundant life, and that’s the life worth living.

Thought Power

Saturday, November 7, 2009

All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts.” James Allen

You might not recognize the name James Allen, but his works have had a major influence on the self-improvement industry. Author of 20 works before dying at the age of 48, his best known work was a booklet entitled, As a Man Thinketh. Published in 1902, the title comes from Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Allen encouraged readers to make their dreams become a reality through the power of thought.

Inspired by Allen, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale blended his Christian beliefs into a message of positive thinking pioneering what became known as Christian Psychology. Peale lived by the words, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” The writings of both Allen and Peale were pre-cursors of positive psychology and the positive thinking movement today.

Didn’t the Apostle Paul preach the same message of the power of positive thinking in his letter to the Philippians?

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8 & 9

In this chapter Paul urges Christians not to worry about anything but to trust God. In these verses Paul encourages us to practice the power of positive thinking. He says that when we do this, the God of peace will be with us.

Paul makes a list of fine thoughts:
1. True – We are inundated by false teachings and the lies of the world. We should think about the truth that God will never let us down.
2. Noble - We should think on things of high moral principles, holy things.
3. Right – We should think on things that are right according to God’s laws, things just in God’s eyes.
4. Pure – Purity means morally undefiled. Our thoughts should be so clean that they can stand the scrutiny of God.
5. Lovely – Instead of thinking of bitterness, fear, punishment, and criticism, we should think of lovely things such as kindness, sympathy, and tolerance.
6. Admirable– The Greek word means fair-speaking. This would eliminate gossip, critical words, ugly words, and curse words. We should think words that are fit for God to hear.
7. Excellent – We should think in terms of the highest virtue. This means every kind of excellence, whatever is the highest level any task or job.
8. Praiseworthy – We should think about living in a way that could be praised by others, yet we should not seek or desire praise.

If Ralph Waldo Emerson’s saying, “The ancestor of every action is a thought,” is true, then our fine thoughts will become fine actions.

We’ll truly have thought power if we change our thoughts, change our actions, and change the world!

All Saints Day

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day, November 1st, is a day set aside to celebrate the lives of faithful Christians. It began as a day to honor Christians who were martyred in the Roman persecutions. In medieval England the recognition was called All Hallows Day with the preceding evening known as Halloween. Over time, All Saints Day came to be recognized as the time to commemorate all departed Christians.

The word saint conjures up images of perfect Christians known for their holiness. However, the New Testament refers to followers of Christ as saints living on earth. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul referred to the followers in Corinth as, “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling….” Paul addressed letters to the saints of the churches at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1) Philippi (Philippians 1:1) and Colossae (Colossians 1:2). The author of Hebrews tells the readers to “Greet all of your leaders and all the saints” (Hebrews 13:24).

1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to saints, not on earth, but in heaven, “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

On All Saints Day some congregations hold special services to remember the names and lives of church members who died during the past year. Other churches provide opportunities for their congregation to remember those who served as personal heroes of the faith. I have benefited from the encouragement of Christian saints all of my life. In fact, I can trace the spiritual journey of my childhood by recalling the names of these departed saints:

Mrs. Dibbrell and Mrs. McCay rocked me and sang Christian songs to me in the church nursery.
Miss Alyce Chatwell greeted me with a hug every Sunday morning in Sunday School and taught me Bible stories using the flannel board.
Miss Ellie Bell introduced me to new books each week in the church library and gave me stickers in the Summer Reading Program when I finished reading books.
Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lamb taught me how to use my Bible in weekly Bible drills. They made memorizing the names of every book in the Bible and finding scripture passages a worthy competition.
Mr. Joe Parks fostered in me a love for singing from the time I was a child until I graduated from high school as he led the music program at my church.
Mrs. Rosa Jo Smith taught me the importance of faithfulness in study as she led our youth department.

While it’s important to reflect on the role of saints who are no longer with us, it is good to take time periodically to acknowledge the influence of living Christian saints. Isn’t it important to express gratitude to living servants? At least one time a year, my dad made a point to call the Christian men who had impacted his life just to express his gratitude. Wouldn’t you like to be the recipient of such a call from someone whose life you influenced? As saints of Christ Jesus we’re not called to be perfect but to keep moving forward in our relationship with him. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Let’s strive to live a life worthy of our calling…the calling of a saint.

Who are the saints, both departed and living, who have influenced your faith journey? What can you do to remember them in a special way?
Feel free to share the names of the saints in your life. Click on the title All Saints Day. Scroll to the bottom and write a comment.

Cultivating Contentment

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Philippians 4: 11 - I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

The Bible Dictionary defines contentment as “a state of mind in which one's desires are confined to his lot whatever it may be.” Contentment is a state of mind! Since we can control our thoughts, then we can control our contentment. Contentment is a choice.

In this verse Paul expressed gratitude for the gift the church at Philippi sent him and thanked them for their concern. While he appreciated the show of love, Paul said that he was not in need for he had learned to be content with much or little. He had known both wealth and poverty and had learned the secret to contentment was in relying totally on Christ. Paul knew that contentment is essential to both enduring trials and experiencing joy. Paul chose to be content. He cultivated contentment.

What can we learn about cultivating contentment?
1. Notice the scripture tells us Paul had to “learn” contentment. Learning contentment is not quick or easy. I imagine Paul had experience some discontent before he learned to be content.

2. Paul learned to be content in spite of his circumstances. Paul had been poor and wealthy. He had been free and imprisoned. He learned that joy comes from our perspective not our circumstances. Paul learned to be content in both his personal discomfort and his personal comfort.

3. Paul knew that contentment came from Jesus Christ as he said in Philippians 4:7 & 9. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Our faith journey is often difficult and filled with suffering and challenges. True contentment comes from a faith that is rooted in Jesus Christ. True contentment means rely on Christ and trust him even when our circumstances are not what we want…

  • when others are cruel
  • when it’s hard to make ends meet
  • when we are falsely accused
  • when the medical test results are not encouraging
  • when someone gets a promotion instead of us
  • when our plans are suddenly changed
  • when loss comes into our life
  • when a loved one tells you they are walking away
  • when a financial investment fails

Like Paul, we too must learn to be content when our circumstances are good and we begin to want more and more…

  • when we have a comfortable home
  • when we have a safe and efficient vehicle
  • when we have clean clothes
  • when we have a clean bill of health
  • when our job is safe and secure
  • when our family is in tact
  • when our investments are sound
By claiming God’s promises in all of our circumstances, we can find contentment.
He will never leave us or forsake us. Hebrews 13:5
He will supply all of our needs. Philippians 4:19
His grace is sufficient for us. 2 Corinthians 12:9
His children will not be overtaken by temptation. I Corinthians 10:13
All things work together for good to those who love and serve Him faithfully. Romans 8:28
He will instruct us and teach us. Psalm 32:8
He has promised his people eternal life. John 10: 27-28

“Remember that a man's contentment is in his mind, not in the extent of his possessions” (19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon).

Cultivating contentment is a choice!


Monday, October 19, 2009

I don’t wait well. After all, WAIT is a four-letter word. Whether I’m waiting for the traffic light to change or to see the doctor for an appointment or ….., I just don’t wait well. Last week I was tired of waiting for the rain to stop and my son’s schedule to change so that he could mow my lawn. Friday morning I decided to stop waiting and I mowed it myself. Then I began to look at the overgrown shrubs and was tired of waiting for someone else to trim them. Now I have never in my life used an electric hedge clipper. I have used the old fashioned manual clippers many times but never an electric one. I’m not the handiest gal, but I was one determined female who was tired of waiting. I fired those cutters up and went at it. Before long I had the hang of it. I glided over the first bush in one direction and then went back across in the other. Then I moved on to the next shrub and the next until all nine shrubs had been sheared. Mind you the final creation had sort of the asymmetrical look. Hey, who wants a set of perfectly matched evenly trimmed shrubs anyway? I had taken action instead of waiting for someone else to act.

I was tired of waiting last week after the Tennessee vs. Georgia game too. Larry and I had parked on the seventh level of the garage and needed to descend to level five to exit. We waited 45 minutes before moving an inch! I read the newspaper, chatted with Larry, listened to the radio, watched some fans doze in their cars and saw others commence to have another tailgate party. We all waited and waited. Then we began to creep down the ramp and finally entered the street. The 10th car in line, we waited for the traffic cop at the next corner to let our lane proceed. We watched as the lanes in all other directions took turn after turn. Our lane didn’t move. By this time, I had listened to all of Vol Talk on the radio I cared to hear, had tired of watching orange Volunteer shirts whiz by the car running to their apartments or cars, and my stomach was crying out for a burger. Then I heard the traffic cop at the corner behind us say, “I wish the cop at the next light would help me out here and get this traffic moving.” I was propelled into action. I unfastened my seat belt and leapt up through the sunroof and shouted in the direction of the misguided cop, “Hey, how about us! It’s time to let us go!” The only one more surprised than I was at my outburst was Larry. I shrugged my shoulders, gave him a sheepish grin, and recoiled in my seat. I had let waiting get the best of me.

These are two silly examples of waiting but they illustrate how we often react to waiting. Sometimes we act wisely and sometimes we don’t. Are you in a waiting period in your life? Are you waiting for a child to be born? Waiting for a new job to begin? Waiting for a medical report? Waiting to meet Mr. or Miss Right? Waiting to be healed? Waiting for a loved one to be saved? Are you trusting God in your wait?

The Bible tells of many people who had to wait. The Israelites waited 40 years in the wilderness before God allowed them into the Promised Land. The Israelites had strayed so far from their faith that God put them in a wilderness “classroom” to re-educate them in the ways of God. They were cut off from everything familiar to them and were to learn again to rely only on God. The Israelites didn’t wait well either. They complained, worshipped idols, built a golden calf, and were impatient with their leaders and with God. It took the period of an entire generation to teach the wayward Israelites to obey and to trust God. The 40 years were filled with freedom, choices, and consequences until finally, they learned to rely on God and obey his rules. When at last they chose to accept the love and forgiveness of a generous God and to commit to serving him, they were set free. The wilderness experience tested their patience, faith, and strength. Wouldn’t their time in the wilderness have been much more productive if they had reflected on what God was doing in their lives and on the promises he had made?

Like the Israelites, we also can build our patience, faith, and strength while we wait.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14
Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. Isaiah 40:31
I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1

When we are in our own spiritual wilderness we would do well to become more intimate with God and learn to thank, worship, praise, and honor him. Biblical waiting should not be a passive time. We should be active in our study and in our service. God is at work in our wait. We suffer when we wait, but Paul says that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. Hope based on Jesus never disappoints! (Romans 5:3-5) We must trust God’s timing in our wait. He’s always just in time!

God, my circumstances are not what I want them to be, but I will trust and obey you in my wait. Amen.

Worry Warts

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

Worry and anxiety are mentioned 25 times in the New Testament. The Greek word for worry means to be divided or to choke. The Old English word for worry meant “to gnaw.” Like a dog gnaws on a bone, we gnaw on our problems.
50% of us are chronic worriers or “worry warts.” Chronic means that worry frequently reoccurs. Data shows that there is nothing we can do about 70% of our worries.
40% are things that will never happen.
30% are about the past – which can’t be changed
12% are about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% are about health, which gets worse with stress
8% are about real problems that can be solved.

Worry causes us to fix our eyes on our circumstance instead of our Savior. Worry short-circuits our relationship with him. The truth is we face legitimate concerns every day. We have real problems, broken relationships, health concerns, family issues, and pain all around us. Jesus knew better than anybody about concerns. He was harassed and pursued constantly by his enemies, but he spent time in prayer with his Heavenly Father and moved forward with acts of service to others. Jesus knew that a life filled with fear had little time left for faith. Instead of worrying and gnawing we need to focus on what we can do and what should be left entirely up to God.

When worry creeps up on us the form of negative mind chatter, we need to re-frame the negative thoughts into positive ones. Turn fretful thoughts such as, “I’m afraid my son will get into an accident on the way to school” into prayers, such as “God bless Jordan as he drives to school today. Help him to be alert and attentive. Thank you for the hedge of protection you will place around him.” Then we must let the worry go.

To help you turn your worry switch off, you might try some of these suggestions.

STOP – Say it, write it, read it. Say aloud the word stop the moment you begin to worry. Write the word on a card and place it in the places where you tend to worry: your bedside table, your bathroom mirror, the console in your car.
Snap - a rubber band. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when a worry creeps in.
Switch -your mind channel – Force yourself to think of something else. Look out the window, read a book, etc.
Schedule - another time to think about your problem. Concerns are very real and it helps to schedule a time to talk to a friend, family member, or counselor about them, but don’t turn concerns into worries by letting them gain a stronghold.
Say – a prayer to God for discernment and thanksgiving for his divine guidance.

What will be the result of turning our worries over to God?

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

We need to burn off the worry warts! I had warts burned off my finger when I was a child and it was pretty painful, but after it healed, I had a smooth, wart free finger. It may be painful to let go of our worry but in the end we’ll experience real peace.

In Honor of Christ

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I was touched last week when some friends and family walked in my honor at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Among them were my niece Kaiti and friend Cynthia and her daughter Emma who wore signs on their back, “In honor of Cathy Turner.” What a humbling tribute! Years ago my own race for life was almost cut short by breast cancer.

In June of 1995 my sister Lori, who worked for my doctor, asked if I would come in for a mammogram. They had some new equipment and wanted to “experiment” on me. I had had my last mammogram a year earlier and wasn’t due another one until the following year, but I agreed to go. A few days later, on June 30th, I received a call from my gynecologist’s office. My doctor was referring me to a surgeon for further testing due to a suspicious mammogram. One week later I sat in the examination room at Dr. Phillip Burns’s office and heard him say those dreaded words, “Cathy, I’m so sorry to have to tell you, but you have breast cancer.” The tears flowed.

I was an unlikely victim of cancer. I had been fanatical about taking care of myself with a good diet and had been diligent about exams. Having no cancer in my background, I quickly realized that cancer is no respecter of persons. Upon Dr. Burns’s advice, I underwent a mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. Fortunately, my cancer was caught early. Had I waited another year for a mammogram, my doctor confirmed that my type of cancer would have seen tremendous growth and the quality and length of my life would be vastly different. Lori’s phone call that summer was no coincidence. It was a God-incidence, a coincidence divinely arranged by God.

God goes before us and prepares us for the racecourse of our lives. He often uses people and circumstances to guide us in our race. And he runs with us. When we get weary, he even carries us. God was faithful to me during my bout with cancer. He used my family and my Christian family to minister to me during that time.

God has given each of us a race to run. He has a purpose for each of us.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, keeping your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12:1

The runners in “Race for the Cure” run with endurance to cross the finish line. They are sure of their purpose: for the cause and cure of cancer. They fix their eyes on the end of the race. Everyone who finishes is a winner. Christians are expected to run our spiritual race with endurance. We can be certain that God’s purpose for us is to have a personal relationship with him. He doesn’t promise that our race will be run without stumbles. He promises to be there when we fall or get tripped. When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we run the race of life, we too will be winners.

Imagine, as we cross the finish line, a sign on our backs that reads, “In honor of Christ.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage all women to schedule a mammogram and practice self-examination. Early detection saved my life!

Potlatch Giving

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A potlatch was one of the most significant ceremonial events practiced by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast in North America. Potlaches helped unite villages and were held for important occasions such as, births, weddings, funerals, house building, and the raising of a totem pole. The festivity was marked by music, dance, theatrics, and spiritual ceremonies. The word potlatch means “give away.” The host’s purpose was to establish his status in society and during the celebration the host gave away much of his wealth. In this culture the status of a family was raised not only by his resources but also by how much of his resources he distributes. The host demonstrated his wealth and prominences by giving his resources away.

Sounds pretty generous, doesn’t it! But what about the motivation? The more lavish the potlatch, the more prestigious the host became. Prestige was the motivating factor.

How generous are we in giving our resources for the purposes of Christ? What is our motivation for giving? Do we give so that others will notice? In his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, Robert Schnase describes extravagant generosity as “the practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures.” He goes on to share that fruitful congregations thrive because of “extraordinary sharing, willing sacrifice, and joyous giving out of love for God and neighbor.” As Christians, our motivation for giving should be to obey and please God.

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Early Christians practiced extravagant generosity by selling their possessions and giving to the widows, orphans, sick, and poor. How would “sowing generously” affect us today? How would our communities look if we practiced this kind of giving? If all Christians practiced extravagant generosity, could we eliminate hunger and homeless? How much mission work could be accomplished?

If members of historically Christian churches in the United States had raised their giving to the Old Testament’s minimum standard of giving (10% of income) in 2000, an additional $139,000,000,000 a year would become available assist in Christian based mission work (Generous Giving, Inc. Statistics, 2004).

Christians could change the world by practicing generous giving and by heeding the advice in 1 Timothy 6:18-19,

Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. (The Message)

Risk Taking

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? I don’t consider myself much of a risk taker, but I have taken a few risks over the years. I have ridden in a high powered speed boat in New Zealand with a professional driver going over 100 miles per hour though. Some (my mother, specifically) might have thought it risky to fly with my dad when he was getting his pilot’s license years ago. Oh, and when I was in Russia (back when it was still behind the Iron Curtain), I stepped off the sidewalk to take a picture of a Russian woman laboring with a shovel. A total violation of KGB laws! That was pretty risky! Most people don’t think it risky to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty, but I was five months pregnant and became claustrophobic and acrophobic (fear of heights) the last time I made the trek. The people with me were probably most at risk!

Richard Schnase, in his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, says risk taking pushes us out of our comfort zone, stretching us beyond situations and people that we already know. He further defines risk-taking mission and service as the efforts to alleviate suffering and injustice in the name of Christ. It involves serving others that we would never ordinarily encounter.

Why is it that many of us are willing to take risks for our own enjoyment, but are much more reluctant to take risks to alleviate suffering and injustice to those out of our social circle?

What are risk taking mission and service opportunities? For some, it may be risky serving Christ in an inner city ministry. For others, it may be a risk working with patients at a mental health institution or in a prison ministry. For some, a foreign mission trip would be an uncomfortable stretch, while for others, a ministry in the Appalachian Mountains would be a risky effort.

Jesus said, “Come learn from me” (Matthew 11:29). We learn that Jesus is the ultimate role model for risk taking mission and service. He stood up to the powerful Pharisees. He was accused of being a friend of sinners and tax collectors. He touched a man with leprosy and he healed on the Sabbath. And when Jesus healed the man with demons, the people of the region asked him to leave because they were overcome with fear.

The disciples were fearful too when Jesus walked across the water in the middle of a storm. When Jesus called to Peter, the disciple had a choice – to avoid a risk or to take a risk. Peter stepped out of the boat in faith and walked on the water.

We have the same choice. We can be a risk taker or a risk avoider. We can step out in faith to share the gospel with those we don’t normally encounter. We can stay in the calm waters of familiarity or we can step out in faith to those in the storm. Let’s remember that when Peter stepped out of the boat, Jesus was already in the storm. He’ll be in the storm with us too if we dare to experience risk taking service and mission.

Are you a risk taker or risk avoider?

To Faith

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What does it mean to have Christian faith? Faith is not just a single act of belief. It is not just a belief in a doctrine. It is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ. Dr. James Fowler, the foremost researcher on faith development, refers to faith as a verb. He says “to faith” involves continual growth and nurture from less to more mature stages. He states that a person comes to faith through community. In other words, a person’s faith is shaped by his own experiences and the influence of his family and faith community.

Let’s look at these influencers of faith.
Family Influence -
In the 1990s the Search Institute study titled Effective Christian Education surveyed over 11,000 people in 561 congregations. Researchers discovered several key factors that promote faith. The first is family religiousness. Families who participate in devotions together, parents who talk about their faith to their children, and the families who do service projects together have the greatest impact on a person’s faith.

Faith Community Influence -
The study also examined congregational factors that promote faith growth and maturity and discovered that Christian education is the most vital factor. Christian education is defined as the programs of study outside of worship services, such as Bible studies, Sunday School, and small groups, that help us grow our faith. In fact, the study showed that Christian education has twice the impact on faith growth of all other areas of congregational life. This influence began in the first Christian church established at Pentecost. “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

Personal Experience -
Much of my own faith growth has come through trials and tribulations, or what the Bible refers to as "the testing of our faith" ( 1 Peter 1:7 and James 1:3). While coping with cancer, divorce, and deaths, I struggled with the direction my life was going. I questioned God and tried to make meaning of suffering and pain. However, I clung to the belief that God is faithful and called on him for peace. He gave me a strength and courage I could never have imagined. During those dark times, I turned to the firm foundation I had been given through my family and faith communities.

I’ve learned that faith growth can be both intentional and unintentional.

We can be intentional in our families as we encourage faith development. We can choose to have family devotions, participate in service projects, and discuss our faith.

We can be intentional in our involvement in the community of faith. We can participate in Bible studies and small groups in order to learn about our faith. This is what Rev. Mark calls learning the orthodoxy, or “right beliefs” of our faith. We can reach out in orthopraxy, or “right practice” by sharing our faith and giving sacrificially of our resources.

If we are diligent with our intentional faith development, then when the trials and tribulations come, however unintentional they may be, we will have that strong foundation to see us through. We will be armed with the influence of our family and faith community so that we can face the storms.

As we mature in faith we move beyond a belief about God toward deep abiding in God. We move from studying the orthodoxy, “right practice” to orthopraxy, “right practice.” We become not only “hearers of the Word” but “doers of the Word.”

Here’s “to faith!”

Passionate and Personal Worship

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

For the six years my son attended McCallie school I read the marker at their entrance each time I drove onto campus: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Our primary aim in life is to glorify God in everything we do and say and think and to enjoy our relationship with God forever. Isn’t that a wonderful way to view worship! Glorifying and enjoying God!

Warren Wiersbe offers this definition of worship, “Worship is the believer’s response of all that he is—mind, emotions, will, and body—to all that God is and says and does.” The Greek word for worship is proskuneo meaning to fall down and adore. It is used over 60 times in the New Testament to show acts of total reverence to God. Proskuneo is what Jesus describes in John 4:23-24: “…the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.” God wants us to worship him from the inside out. He wants us to be consumed with him, to be on fire for him.

While I have attended worship services since I was two weeks old, I don’t think I really appreciated the full scope of worship until my faith was tested. You see, it seemed quite natural to go to church to worship God, but I learned through my darkest trials how to worship God with full surrender and in an intimate and personal way.

One of the darkest periods was in 1997. After a bout with cancer and painful divorce, I was moving forward with my life and began building a house. My brother Chuck had been so faithful to me during my crises. He was always ready to offer comforting words, financial help and plenty of construction advice, as well as hard labor on my house. He owned an air conditioning company and was installing my unit on that sweltering summer day. Using faulty electric equipment and sweating profusely, my dear brother was electrocuted. This was the most horrifying, tragic event that had ever affected my family. We struggled with our loss and questioned God for taking such a dynamic man, a husband and father of two children at an early age, 41. Under girded by the love and support of hundreds of friends, our family drew on our faith and our tight bonds to see us through.

Through these crises my spirit was crushed. I had to “work out my faith with fear and trembling” as Paul describes in Philippians. I seemed to have lost the joy of my salvation. It was during this valley that I learned to worship God despite my circumstance. God was present in all my circumstances offering love and hope and drawing me to him. Richard Foster says, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father.” As I chose to move forward in trust and acceptance of an all-knowing, loving God, I became a real worshipper. I discovered that to worship God is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. I could claim Psalm 61:11, “In Thy presence, is fullness of joy…” Real worship of a very real God brings real joy.

The best way for me to demonstrate my worship is by living fully for God. One of the ways I worship God is through pouring out heart to God in prayer. I’ve found the ACTS model to be an effective way to express my worship.
A – Adoration –I begin by acknowledging and praising God. I call out names of adulation and love. “All-knowing, all-powerful God, you are the Good Shepherd, King of Kings, Holy One, Lord of Lords, Creator. You are my God.” Beginning prayer with adoration brings such joy to me and such honor to our Heavenly Father.
C – Confession –After praising God, I focus on my iniquities and frailties. I confess my sins and ask him to make me aware of unacknowledged sins. Then I ask forgiveness.
T – Thanksgiving – Jesus willingly gave his life as payment for my sin. Now it’s time to thank him for the many blessings of life, such as, family, friends, health, job, salvation, and church. A thankful heart transforms me and changes my attitude, as I face the challenges of the day.
S – Supplication – After thanking God for my blessings, I then pray for the needs of my inner world and outer world.

Worship is giving all of me to all of God in pure adoration.

Radical Hospitality

Monday, August 31, 2009

What usually comes you mind when you hear the word hospitality? In modern times we associate hospitality with etiquette and entertainment. Many years ago after a visit to Williamsburg, I began collecting pineapples. The exotic fruit was the centerpiece for the finest of meals in Colonial homes and became the symbol of hospitality and friendship. Colonial hostesses sought to outdo each other with elaborate displays of the sweet treat with expensive pineapple-topped food displays. I guess we could say they were practicing “radical hospitality.”

The image of a pineapple came to express affection and warmth throughout the colonies. Today the pineapple continues to be an international symbol of hospitality. Christian hospitality though is not about setting the perfect “Dolly Madison” table or creating a Southern Living décor. It’s about meeting needs and showing the love of Christ to fellow Christians and strangers.

In the New Testament period, hospitality was a practical issue because traveling believers relied on other believers for lodging. One of the Greek words for hospitality is philoxenio, combines phileo (love) and xenos (stranger). I love one of the English translations, guest-friendship.

Isn’t guest-friendship what we should practice in our congregations? In his book Cultivating Fruitfulness, Robert Schasne says radical hospitality “means we offer the absolute utmost of ourselves, our creativity, and our abilities to offer the gracious invitation and welcome of Christ to others.”

Romans 12:13 encourages us all to practice hospitality.
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Hebrews 13:2 reminds us not to neglect strangers.
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Peter implies a sense of urgency when we show guest-friendship.
In The Message Bible translation, 1 Peter 4:8-10 says, “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless – cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you.”

Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35)
What would happen if people took Jesus’ words seriously and offered radical hospitality in all our worship services and small group settings?

My son works as a server in a restaurant. He tells me that periodically a “secret shopper” visits to rate their restaurant. One trait they look for is the treatment of the customer. Sounds a lot like guest-friendship to me. What would “secret visitors” find if they visited our churches looking for radical hospitality?

Maybe we should find a way to use the pineapple motif as a visible reminder to extend radical hospitality to all who enter our church doors.

Let’s welcome others to worship as if our life depended on it!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Serendipity: the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things unexpectedly

How often have you looked for one thing and found another? It happens to me all the time. I look for a favorite recipe and come across a long lost one. I search for a book in a storage box and come across a photo that brings to mind a pleasant memory. These are serendipities.

I was a teenager when my father introduced me to the word serendipity, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. It was only fitting that last Christmas when my parents, sister, and two nieces were in New York, we went to my favorite NY sandwich and sweet shop, Serendipity 3. Three men from different parts of the country descended on the Big Apple in the early 1950’s hoping to make their fame and fortune in the entertainment business. Instead, they established New York’s first coffee house boutique, which is still rated a favorite Manhattan eatery. My souvenir mug is inscribed with Horace Walpole’s definition of serendipity.

The art of making happy discoveries, or finding the unexpectedly pleasant by chance or sagacity

Walpole coined the word based on a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, who during their travels constantly discovered things they did not seek. The word describes those unexpected things that happen when we are pursuing something else. For example, Columbus, looking for a direct route to Asia, found America. Edison, while looking for an electric light, found a phonograph. The Kellogg brothers accidentally discovered wheat flakes when they let cooked wheat sit for a day and then tried to roll it. They ended up with a flaky material instead of a sheet, and this became Wheaties. As a chocoholic, I’m partial to this next one. The founder of Toll House Cookies attempted to make chocolate drop cookies, but she didn’t have the required chocolate. Instead, she broke a candy bar and placed the chunks into the cookie mix. These became chocolate chips. Thank you very much!

Not only did Dad introduce me to the word serendipity, but also to the book Serendipity by J. Wallace Hamilton. Hamilton writes of its application throughout history, but my appreciation for this book goes beyond those facts. He suggests that Jesus gave us the greatest of all serendipities,
“Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
In other words, our aim, our goal, should be in seeking God’s Kingdom. We should seek God and his will for our lives. In doing so, “all these things will be added unto you.” “These things” are those unexpected, un-sought for, valuable things that God wants to bless us with. In this passage, Jesus is telling his disciples to trust God for all of our needs. He wants us to seek the higher calling and in doing so he’ll provide all of our needs and bless us in many ways.

We know that some of the most valuable gifts in life are not found by directly pursuing them. Think about the fruit of the spirit, the attributes of a Christian life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These come to us, not always by seeking them, but as the result of seeking God’s Kingdom. The results of trusting Jesus are joy and peace and lasting happiness.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

Look for serendipities in you life but make your goal to seek first the Kingdom of God. Then let’s see what serendipities come our way!

Please share your own serendipities. Click on the title Serendipities and scroll to the bottom. Click on comment.

My Heart Christ's Home

Monday, August 17, 2009

What a summer of joy this has been leading a group of 40 women on Wednesday mornings in a study of Nell Mohney’s book, Just Choose Happiness. It was a special treat when Nell joined us for lunch after the last session so that we could fellowship and share with her what the book has meant to us.

Nell concludes her book with a chapter on the real source of joy, the Holy Spirit. She describes Wesley’s explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit through prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Nell uses the beautiful analogy of the inside and outside of a house to portray how the Holy Spirit pursues us.

Prevenient grace – This is the path leading to our spiritual house where God pursues us to bring us to faith.
Justifying grace – This is the porch of the house where we receive God’s forgiveness of sin and accept Christ as Lord.
Sanctifying grace – This is inside the house where we open every room of our lives to the Holy Spirit.

The essential struggle for believers is in giving our whole house to Christ. How much of our spiritual house are we willing to give to the complete direction of the Holy Spirit?

I’m reminded of the little booklet by Robert Munger, My Heart Christ’s Home. Munger conducts an open house tour as he invites Christ to enter his heart and then to become comfortable in every room. A spiritual inventory is taken as they go from room to room.

The library – the room of the mind; the control room of the house. Do we give our thoughts to the control of the Holy Spirit?
The dining room – the room of appetites and desires. What’s on our menu? Too much secular fare like fame, fortune, fashion, power, beauty?
The living room – the room of fellowship. This is the room where we spend time with our companion, our partner, our advocate. How much time do we spend there in fellowship with him?
The workroom – the room where we work and produce things. What are we producing for the Kingdom?
The rec room – the room for fun and fellowship. Are there certain associations and activities that we want to keep to ourselves? Is Christ invited to all our activities?
The hall closet – the room of secrets. The place where we hide things that we don’t want anyone to see. Are we willing to give Christ the key to the darkest place in our home?

When we are willing to open all of our rooms for Christ, we will have transformed lives. Are we willing to give him the rooms of the mind, desires, fellowship, work, fun, and secrets? The key to real peace and happiness is inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and guide us in all areas of our lives.

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

Click here to enjoy a beautiful song, “My Heart, Your Home.”

Zapping Problems

Monday, August 10, 2009

One day last week I wanted to relax and watch a movie at my home. I do this so rarely that I couldn’t remember how to operate the DVD player, so I asked my son for directions. All day I looked forward to a quiet evening at home watching a “chick flick.” That night I loaded the DVD and clicked the buttons I thought would start the movie. When that didn’t work, I clicked some more buttons and some more and some more. The DVD player came on, but the TV turned off. Before long, not only was there no movie on the screen, there was nothing on the screen at all. I switched clickers and clicked some more. Click. Click. Click. Nothing. I moved close to the screen. Then I moved back. I twisted and turned that clicker trying desperately to see something, anything on that screen. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Eventually, I lost my focus. I couldn’t remember which clicker worked which device, nor could I tell how to turn any device on or off. What had seemed like such a simple idea had ended in frustration. I had worked myself into a dither blaming the TV, Comcast, the DVD player, 2 clickers, and my son for not properly supplying me with explicit instructions so that I could enjoy one silly little mindless movie! My energy was zapped! I eventually calmed myself down, turned off the power supply to all the media, and enjoyed my quiet evening reading a book.

This incident reminds me of the way we sometimes handle our problems when they begin to spiral out of control. Have you noticed how personal problems can zap your energy leaving you drained and discouraged? We can easily give in to that discouragement and lose our focus. We often forget to “click” into the real power source. The great inspirational minister and one of my favorite authors, Norman Vincent Peale, provided relevant advice for handling our personal problems in his book, The Power of Positive Thinking. He said to we have the power to solve our problems if we seek divine guidance, think of God as our partner, actualize a plan, and practice faith attitudes.

1. Divine Guidance – Take a few minutes of quiet time alone or with a trusted friend. Sit quietly together in an attitude of fellowship and prayer. Then pray fervently about the problem you are facing.

2. Think of God as a partner - One of the names for Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Believe that God is very real in your life and practice talking matters over with him. Believe that he hears and considers your problem. Assume that he impresses on you the necessary insights to your problems. Know that the solutions will be without error and that God will guide you in all actions.

3. Actualize a plan – You have sought Divine Guidance. You have talked out your problems with your partner and listened for his direction. Now it’s time to make a plan. Write down the actions you will take to solve your problem. Peale describes a business executive who calls on the “emergency powers of the human brain” in times of chaos. Peale says that we all have extra powers that are utilized in emergencies. In ordinary day-to-day living these powers are dormant, but when we face a crisis, we tap into these extraordinary powers.

4. Practice faith attitudes – Peale said he read the Bible for many years before he really ever understood a reality about faith. He said the Bible tells us that if we have faith – really have it – we can overcome all of our difficulties, “meet every situation, rise above every defeat, and solve all of the perplexing problems” of our lives. “Faith, even as a grain of mustard seed,” will solve your problems. Jesus used the image of a mustard seed to teach his disciples to count on him.

"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:19-20

Finally, let’s do as Peale suggests and zap our personal problems before they zap us!

Power Up

Monday, August 3, 2009

Do you live at “high speed?” I know I do. Do your days get so full of “comings” and “goings” that you fail to spend meaningful, quality time with God? I’m really good at those quick, flash prayers that I utter throughout the day. It’s often hard to make time to really pour out my heart to God in prayer and praise and meditation. I wrote this poem to describe my typical pace.

Power Down Power Up
I live at high speed.
Moving at 95 decibels like a Subway train
Speeding at the 19,000 RPMs of a Formula One racing car
Thriving on Megawatt energy at 1 million watts
Racing around 180 miles per hour at Nascar speeds
Hair drying on high speed
Wearing “Unstoppable” eyeliner
Brushing lashes with “Voluminous 4X extreme volume
Yes, my pace is powered up.

It is not until I power down, re-charge, and rest that I hear the voice of God.

Dial back to 0 decibels
Slow the rpms to the second hand on the clock
Move from a Megawatt to a microwatt
Idle my engine
Because that’s when I’m able to hear God, see Jesus, feel the Holy Spirit, smell the fragrance of his beauty, and taste the sweetness of his glory.
I power down to power up.

We need to slow our pace in order to get a power surge from God. I sometimes use the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, as my outline for a “power up” prayer. I break it down into eight lines and stop to meditate on each one.

"Our Father in heaven" – The first word tells us we are not alone. God is the Father of all of us. We address our prayer to God who is a father, our kin.

"Hallowed be your name" – We must acknowledge the holiness and awesomeness of God. We might call out to him names of adoration: Awesome God, King of Kings, Creator, Lord, Great Physician.
"Your kingdom come" – When we pray for his kingdom to come, we’re asking for God to reign on earth. We pray that until Christ’s return that we will feel his reign in our world today. We’re asking for a world that is run by God’s standards instead of man’s.

"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" – We pray for God’s will to become our will. We invite God to change us, to mold us, and to use it in whatever way he deems best.
"Give us today our daily bread" –We should ask God for daily provisions. It’s okay to say to God, “Bless me today. Give me what I need.” Notice the word daily. Just like the Israelites were to gather manna daily, we are to look to God daily for our needs. He sustains us one day at a time. We are to go to him daily for physical and spiritual nourishment. Notice the word us. He has provided us with the resources in creation to take care of our physical needs and it’s up to us to be good stewards of his creation and to share the abundance.

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”—Now he get really personal! Forgiveness of others and ourselves is difficult. This speaks about forgiveness of everyone we come in contact with. If we can’t forgive others, then how can we expect God to forgive us?

"Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" –God does not lead us into temptation, so this prayer is a plea for him to help us refrain from temptation. Jesus was teaching the disciples to ask God for help in their struggles. We are to ask God to help us steer clear of wrongdoing. Temptation always is a choice. We are to call on God in our moment of choice.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever" – Some commentators believe that this line was added by someone other than the original writer. Even if that’s true, this phrase emphasizes the honor and praise that we should give to God always.

Use the Lord’s Prayer to “power up!”


Monday, July 27, 2009

  • LOL
  • In case you’re not into Internet slang, LOL means laugh out loud. I heard that children laugh 300 times a day and adults only laugh 20 times a day. Isn’t it sad that something we used to enjoy so much we do so little as we get older! Did you know that a good, hearty laugh can help relax our muscles for up to 45 minutes? It’s hard to feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing. You just can’t beat a good belly laugh, can you? A few weeks ago I went with a group of friends to hear The Funniest Man in America James Gregory, known for his clean southern humor. Our gang spent two hours in side-splitting laughter and have such fun memories of our evening together. For a taste of James Gregory comedy, check out this clip:
A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17: 22

I’m so glad the Bible encourages laughter. I love the humorous exaggerations found in Proverbs.
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. Proverbs 11:22
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. Proverbs 25:24

God showed a sense of humor when he told Abraham to name his son Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham and Sarah laughed when they heard Sarah would give birth to a son (Isaiah 17:19)

God even used humor with those ungrateful Israelites when they complained so much about manna not being good enough and demanded meat. What did God do? He gave them meat, “until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it.” Numbers 11:20.

Sarcasm is a form of humor. When Job cried out to God in frustration and questioned God’s handling of Job’s crises, God responded, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4). In our language it might sound like this: “When you create your own world, then you can tell me how to run mine.”

In uncertain times, in stressful times, in extraordinary times, and in just every day ordinary times, let’s remember to loosen up and lighten up.
You might try some of these tips -
  • Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up: Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.
  • Watch a funny movie or TV show.
  • Go to a clean comedy show such as, “Funny for a Reason,” a Christian Comedy Show by Michael Jr, Saturday, August 8, 7 p.m., Tivoli Theater.
  • Read the funny pages.
  • Check out your bookstore’s humor section.
  • Host game night with friends.
  • Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke).

Hope you’ll get a chuckle out of this:

The Ten Commandments Southern Style:

  1. Just one God
  2. Put nothin' before God
  3. Watch yer mouth
  4. Git yourself to Sunday meetin'
  5. Honor yer Ma & Pa
  6. No killin'
  7. No foolin' around with another fellow's gal
  8. No tellin' tales or gossipin'
  9. No tellin' tales or gossipin'
  10. Don't be hankerin' for yer buddy's stuff

Mighty Works

Monday, July 20, 2009

I think one of the saddest situations Jesus found himself in is found in Mark 6:1-6. My pastor, Rev. Mark, used this passage in a sermon illustration a few weeks ago and I have thought of it often since then.

Jesus had been away from home ministering to the multitudes, teaching through parables, healing the sick, and driving out demons. Then he returned to his hometown and was joined by his disciples. I imagine they were ready to do mighty works in Nazareth just as they had done throughout the countryside. Jesus gave a lecture on the Sabbath and everyone was so impressed they wandered how he became so wise. I imagine the homefolks began to look at each with great puzzlement and talk among themselves. “How did he get so smart?” “I didn’t know he was so wise.” Well, their awe turned to awful pretty fast when in the next breath they began to criticize him. I can hear them now, “He’s just a carpenter.” “How can he perform a miracle with those hands?” “Who does he think he is?” “We know his whole family.” “There’s no way he can do these things.” They were offended by him.

(Before we get too highhanded, I guess we need to ask how many of us have the same reaction to our own small town men and women who do well.)

Crowds had swarmed around Jesus throughout the countryside wanting to hear him teach and to receive healing, yet in his own hometown he was rejected. Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Now as sad as that is, for me it is not the real tragedy. You see, the real tragedy is seen in verse 5, “Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there –he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all.” That’s all! Just imagine the things Jesus could have done if they had not rejected him. Jesus knew these people better than anyone anywhere. He knew their hurts and their weaknesses. Imagine the miracles he could have performed, the healings that he could have done, the knowledge he could have shared. They rejected him and in so doing, they rejected hope. Look at Jesus’ response to those in Nazareth.
“He marvelled because of their unbelief.” (KJV)
“He couldn't get over their stubbornness.” (The Message)
“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Today’s NIV)
Because of their unbelief, their stubbornness, their lack of faith, they missed out on mighty works. They missed out on miracles, so Jesus left home again and went around to other villages, teaching, preaching, and healing.

Jesus wants for us the same thing he wanted for his hometown friends. He wants to do mighty works. As I meditated on this passage, I began to do some soul searching. Is there any area of my life that is preventing God from doing a mighty work within me? Do I have an unbelief or stubbornness or lack of faith in any area of my life? What am I preventing God from doing in my life? My prayer is that I will give my all to him so that he can do all within me and through me that he wants to do.
Is your unbelief, stubbornness, or lack of faith keeping God from doing a mighty work in you?


Monday, July 13, 2009

In the last two weeks I have enjoyed learn about the benefits of meditation. I heard Faith Formation Leader Jan Johnson and Yoga Instructor Jenny Smith speak about using meditation to enhance our spiritual life. Jenny shared the health and spiritual benefits and led the audience through a meditation that left us relaxed after a busy day. Jan described the purpose of scriptural meditation as a way to “savor the text and enter into it” and allow God to speak to us.

In his book Contemplative Bible Reading, Richard Peace shares the history of meditation and describes a simple four-step process of scriptural meditation. One of the most common methods of meditation is called lectio divina, a Latin phrase that means “divine reading.” Over 1,500 years ago the early monks would set aside time for personal reading, prayer, and reflection. A monk would go to a private place and begin to repeat aloud a passage from Scripture, often from the Psalms or Gospels. The monk spoke the passage out loud until he was struck by a particular word or phrase. Then he would stop and ponder this word or phrase, believing it to be a word from God for him.This meditation led naturally into prayer as the monk offered back to God what he heard. As he moved deeper and deeper into prayer, he would come to the place where he rested in the presence of God.

One of the first leaders to use lectio divina as a spiritual exercise was Benedict, an Italian monk who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries (about 480-550). Benedict’s Rule for Monks in 525 AD outlines four steps for scriptural meditation.

1. Reading/Listening: Read aloud a short passage of Scripture. As you read, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you. What is the Spirit drawing your attention to?
2. Meditating: Repeat aloud the word or phrase to which you are drawn. Make connections between it and your life. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase?
3. Praying: Now take these thoughts and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks, asking for guidance, asking for forgiveness, and resting in God's love. What is God leading you to pray?
4. Contemplating: Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God's presence. Stay open to God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing Himself to you?

Other tips for meditating on God
Use all 5 senses during meditation.
Personalize the text by inserting your name.
Meditate on God’s works and wonders during a walk in nature.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

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