12/29/10

The Circle of Life in One Hour


Goals. Resolutions. Fresh Starts. Success.

These are all the topics covered in my past New Year's posts. Every year, in late December, I take time to think ahead and design a plan for the next year.

But this year the Lord burdened me with the shortness of the hour. Oh, not the "hour" of earth or our time left before the Lord returns, but rather the "hour" of my own life.

When my grandmother died on December 15th, my sister in Florida needed some photos right away for a memorial service. I had to get them out in an hour's time. I can't tell you the emotions I went through that day as I shuffled through five large boxes of photos (not yet into scrapbooks). In trying to find photos of Grandma Parks, I also saw photos of my Dad who died a few years ago, photos of my children and grandchildren, and photos of myself ~ infancy through today.

It was as if I traveled the entire "circle of life" in one hour! I sensed the shortness of one's life. Of my life. And each new stage I saw in the box of photos brought tears. I couldn't stop crying.

The Bible says our lives are short. David summarized his thoughts about the brevity of life in a prayer: "Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, the number of my days is small like the size of a hand. And my age is as nothing before You. Certainly, every man at his best state is but vapor" (Psalm 39:4-6).

In another word picture, our lives are like a flower that grows and then quickly withers and fades away (Job 14:2; Psalm 103:15).

Psalm 90:12 reminds us to "number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Our days are numbered. Limited. Life races by and before we know it, we are the ones that people gather to talk about at a memorial service! So the psalmist teaches us to live wisely with all the time that we have! I am glad for the wisdom that has come to see life from a more godly perspective, to make better decisions and handle struggles biblically. There is something to be said for experience, especially experience learned in the presence of the Lord.

Realizing life is short has also helped me make better choices in my relationships and priorities, understanding that people have more value than things.

I've also come to understand the importance of vision and making goals in light of eternity ~ what really counts.

When I was younger, time seemed to stand still. I couldn't wait for high school graduation and college. I couldn't wait to be married and have children. Now ~ though I can't wait to see Jesus ~ I am looking for the brakes to stop my mad rush into old age.

As I approach this New Year's Day, I am not yet at the midnight hour of my life, but I know ~ perhaps as never before ~ that my life is but a whisper. Eternal values take on new meaning. And the bonus message is this: Jesus is coming soon; the day is "at hand" (Romans 13:12).

12/22/10

Confused about Christmas

Last Christmas, Kerby Anderson wrote a post for Worldview Times about the confusion surrounding Christmas.

Anderson wrote, "How many people really understand the meaning of Christmas? School administrators do not when they prohibit teachers from using red and green napkins at the school party in December because of the so-called 'separation of church and state.' Well-meaning Christians do not when they mistakenly believe that the Bible teaches that Christ was born on December 25th."

Anderson got it right. It's not just secularists who misunderstand the origins and implications of this holiday. "Critics of Christmas rightly point out that much of what we associate with Christmas is not even tied to the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ," he said. "Unlike many other festivals or celebrations in Christianity, there is no corresponding festival in the Old Testament (such as Easter and Passover)."

He went on to describe the pagan festivals that were eventually transformed into celebrations by the church.

Though I am concerned that we don't elevate pagan celebrations to the level of the truth surrounding the birth of the Savior, I am even more concerned about the confusion surrounding who Jesus is. In the past few weeks, I have talked to or read about people who call themselves Christians who have some cockeyed ideas about Jesus Christ.

One said, "Jesus became God on the cross so he could die for our sins. Before that, he was just a human." Another said, "Jesus was really God before he became a man, but then he had to give up his God-ness, and God gave it back to him after he rose from the dead."

How did we get so confused? Doesn't anyone teach Christology in churches anymore?

My friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, has been studying The Incomparable Christ by missionary statesman J. Oswald Sanders in preparation for a radio series in 2011 about Jesus. I've been studying along with her, and want to quote just a few statements about this One who came to Bethlehem so long ago.

"It is just as heretical to affirm the deity of our Lord while omitting the reality of His humanity, as it is to affirm the humanity while omitting the deity," Oswald wrote. The scriptures speak of this great mystery, that God was "manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16).

The scriptures testify to the attributes of Jesus' deity (Matthew 28:18; 8:27; Luke 4:36; Matthew 26:53; Luke 4:40; Mark 5:41-42). His omnipresence (Matthew 28:20), self-existence (John 5:26), and work in creation (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:10) and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8) also point to His deity.

Yet the details of His humanity are also clear ~ His human appearance and heritage are obvious. But He also hungered (Mark 11:12) , grieved and wept (John 11:35), and was weary (John 4:6). And can we doubt the pain and physical distress he bore in the whippings, or on the cross? The nails of Calvary tore real flesh, and real blood streamed down his forehead from the crown of thorns.

Whatever we believe about Christmas, we have to be careful to understand the dual nature of Jesus, this One who was born to die for the sins of man.

The British pastor and author W. Graham Scroggie wrote, "Had He (Jesus) not been man, He could not have sympathized with us; and had He not been God, He could not have saved us." I am thankful that the Jesus of Bethlehem is the God-man ~ God in the Manger, as John MacArthur described Him ~ and this same Jesus is my Savior.

12/15/10

The Precious Death

My grandma, Dorothy Parks, died today ~ oddly enough, on her birthday! It seems fitting somehow, as if she was "born into heaven." I cannot help but remember special days in my past with Grandma, a dear woman of God.

Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious (important and no light matter) in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (His loving ones)." (Amplified Bible)

What seems like such hurt to me today is precious to God. He now has another of His children safe at home.

Knowing that Grandma had a personal relationship with God because of her trust in Jesus for her eternal salvation (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 10:27-29; 11:25; Romans 8:35-39;
1 John 4:14; 5:11) takes the sting out of her death
(1 Corinthians 15:55).

But also, knowing the strength of her walk with Him, I am comforted that she will receive the "Well done" of reward (Matthew 25:23a).

"Dawnie Babe," Grandma used to say, "the only thing that matters in life is loving and living for Jesus." She and Grandpa each had a quiet faith, but firm. Because of their (and our other set of grandparents') trust in the Lord, my sister Pam and I both grew up knowing that God exists and we can have a personal relationship with Him.

It is this heritage of faith that I celebrate today. With Grandma Parks' passing, I now have no living grandparents. But I have their living faith to comfort and encourage me; and I have a renewed determination that my children and grandchildren will receive the spiritual heritage and wisdom that flowed from my grandparents into my own heart.

It's said that God has no grandchildren. We must each become His children through our own personal trust in the work of Christ. I am thankful for that. I don't want a second-hand faith. And this is my prayer for my children and grandchildren and our generations to come ~ that they will individually know and walk with the God of the Bible, and learn the wisdom of the Word for their personal, daily choices.

Reunion in heaven will be sweet. Because Jesus rose from the grave ~ because He lives ~ so shall we live! Today, I celebrate my grandmother's life, not her death. She is now free from pain and sickness, experiencing the redemption of her body, not just her spirit. And I will see her soon, in God's good time.

(Other Scriptures that comfort and encourage me today ~ Romans 6:3-9; 8:14-23; 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 51-57; Philippians 3:20-21; John 11:25-27; Hebrews 7:25).

12/8/10

The "Stamped" Image

Every year, a few days before Thanksgiving, I prepare at least one large batch of Springerle. The cookie, traditional in Bavaria and Austria for centuries, is a white, anise-flavoried cookie made from a simple dough. Some people make them with specially-carved rolling pins. They can be quite elaborate (as are these, to the right). I used to make them with a square, carved mold; but in recent years, I've pressed balls of the dough against a round mold with a holly design. So much simpler!

The history of the cookie is controversial.

Some say Springerle cookies come from a pagan celebration (Julfest). During Julfest, animals were sacrificed to the gods, but poor people who couldn't afford to kill any of their animals gave "token" sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped cookies. Others say the source is less secular. Biblical scenes were supposedly portrayed on the cookies, used to educate those who couldn't read or write; and scenes were carved to celebrate births, weddings, and betrothals.

Another source says the oldest known springerle mold was found in Switzerland (14th century), a round shape molded with a carving of the Easter lamb (found at St. Katharine monastery and now in the Swiss national museum in Zurich). Others say the cookies originated in the German province of Swabia (15th century) to honor church Holy Days.

The name "springerle" is said to mean "little knight" or "leaping horse" in old German; but food historians suggest it comes because the cookies "spring up" while cooking. One of the most popular molds is a picture of a leaping (springing) horse.

As I said, I make a simple version of Springerle (like these, to the left). And no matter the shape, the most distinguishing feather of the cookie is that it is stamped with a mold.

As a Christian, every time I make these cookies, I find myself singing the old hymn, "Oh! To Be Like Thee." The lyrics read, in part, "Gladly I'll forfeit all of earth's treasures, Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear;" and many of the refrains end with these words: "Stamp Thine own image deep in my heart."

I think about the stamped image. It is not always perfect when I make cookies, because I shift the mold or don't fill in the dough correctly, or the dough sticks and mars the image.

How like my life. I am in Christ, and He is sanctifying me, but sometimes in my desire to live a holy, Christ-honoring life, I get in the way. I make foolish choices; I sin. And people don't see the true image of Christ in me. But God, the Master Craftsman, is not content until I look like His Son (Romans 8:29).

The truth is, someday those know Christ and have been transformed by the Spirit of God will "be like Him" (1 John 3:1-2). We who have "borne the image of the man of dust" during our sojourn on earth will someday bear the image of the "heavenly man," Jesus.

The final verse of the Christmas carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (written by Charles Wesley) says, "Adam's likeness now efface, Stamp Thine image in its place." This is the message of Christmas: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th' incarnate Deity!" Jesus came to give us life. He came to fix what we cannot fix ~ our separation from God. As the carol says, "God and sinners reconciled."

How glorious. We will be changed, (1 Cor. 15:47-52), and we will forever bear the stamped image of Christ!

12/2/10

We Need Courage to Speak at Christmas

I love the story of the Wise men. They are part of our decorations (even though they didn't visit the Christ child until he was a toddler, and there's no reason to think there were three ~ except for the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matt. 2:1-16). The Wise Men are part of historic Christianity, with their visit detailed in scripture.

The American Atheists (AA) paid $20,000 for a billboard sign designed (showing Wise Men) to spread a message of "reason" outside the New Jersey Lincoln Tunnel. "You KNOW it's a myth," the sign says, and the atheists urge us to "Celebrate Reason," rather than Jesus, the reason for the season.

It's the annual war on Christmas, but with greater impact.

In an appearance on Fox News, American Atheists' Dave Silverman said the billboard has two purposes: (1) to get atheists who are going through the motions to "come out of the closet"; and (2) "... to call Christians out on their own history."

The AA website ~ which I won't link to on purpose; why promote them? ~ says it's not a war on Christmas, but rather "a war on intolerance and ignorance."

Christian Examiner reports that, according to World Net Daily, the company that permitted the billboard (Lamar Advertising Company) tried to sell a nearby spot to Christian groups to counter the message, but no one stepped forward; however the Catholic League purchased a billboard on the New York side of the tunnel with an illustration of the Nativity that reads, "You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

This is not the first anti-God sign promoted by atheists. In 2009, huge signs were plastered on the side of New York buses; and earlier this year, the United Coalition of Reason spent $100,000 on pro-atheist billboards nationwide.

Raven Clabough wrote, Nov. 29, in New American, "Perhaps what is most ironic is the American Atheists' assertion that the birth of Jesus Christ is a myth. Even among groups that do not accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, such as Jews and Muslims, as well as among historians, Jesus Christ has been accepted as a living human being... As the existence of Jesus Christ is incontrovertible, atheists should at the very least view the celebration of His birth in the same vein as celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln."

Christians, we need to find our courage. Christmas isn't a simple little secular celebration. We may not agree on the date Jesus was born, but we know He was. And we know He came for a purpose, to fulfill the will of the Father in providing our salvation. We need to speak up. As the scriptures say, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" (Psalm 107:2a); "... proclaim his salvation day after day" (Psalm 96:2b).

The wise men came in search of the Christ Child, and wise people still seek Him. Don't be conned by the foolish claims of the atheists. Instead, rejoice in your Savior!

12/1/10

The Pieces of Our Puzzle

I have a puzzle hanging on my wall at Christmastime that brings back many memories of Thanksgivings at my husband's parents house in Palm Springs. Every year, we put together a puzzle. Everyone had to place at least one piece, and some of us were avowed puzzleholics!

One year ~ after completing the "A Christmas Legacy" Victorian puzzle (seen here) ~ Bob's parents framed the puzzle and gave it to me as a Christmas gift. Stored in the back of my clothes closet, I can't wait to hang it each December.

When I think about the hours we spent on that puzzle, I get tired all over again. It was tough work! I remember trying to jam pieces into one spot ~ and nothing fit until the very end. I was thankful for the patterned box top, so we could see how the finished product was supposed to look.

It's always so rewarding to see a puzzle come together.

How like life. It wears us out, trying to fit in all the pieces. Sometimes we try to jam in something that doesn't belong. If we'd just consult the "pattern," the Word of God, many of our puzzles would take shape the way God intends. Even our struggles fit the plan God has for our lives. God tells us not to think it strange that trials come (1 Peter 4:12). Though the pile of pieces that make up our lives may not make sense to us ~ all the shapes and sizes of circumstances we face ~ there are some "connections" that help.

We always put the border of the puzzle together first. The border is like the guidelines (you might even say, the boundaries) that frame the puzzle. I am so thankful for the guidelines and boundaries God has placed in my life. I am safe, but also, within them I have great freedom.

But once I move away from that border into the big "middle" of the puzzle, things get a little crazy. It's harder to see how specific pieces have a place. It's easy to get frustrated, or even want to give up. I admit that I have to "leave" a puzzle for a while sometimes, upset when nothing seemed to fit; but eventually, a new piece, or perhaps an old piece seen from a different perspective, finds a home in the puzzle. And new connections are made. I get excited, and move forward quickly until I hit another snag.

What a thrill when a puzzle is completed. (One year, my son hid the last piece! He finally "fessed up" after his mama nearly went crazy, looking for it.)

Sometimes in life, it feels like a piece is missing. But God has a way, even then, of helping us make sense of our puzzles, and working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). We know that someday He will supply the missing piece. God's goal is that we learn as we go, with each new piece of the puzzle making us more like the final picture: He wants to transform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

I read a post by someone named "Shelley" on this same topic. Shelley wrote, "Life, a Christian life, a sin-filled Christian life, is filled with emotions because we feel like the pieces don't fit. Yet ... as in Romans 8:28, after that time of frustration, of confusion ... it works."

Yes, life works because the Lord is the one who sustains us (Col. 1:15-17) and holds the pieces of our puzzle together. We are safe in His hands.

How about you? Is your life-puzzle driving you crazy? It might help to consult the "picture" God has for you in His Word.

11/24/10

Social Media and Prayer

One of my friends, Bill McKeever, ruined a perfectly good breakfast meeting (with our spouses) at Coco's this week when he quoted Pastor John Piper: "One of the greatest uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time."

Groan. Deep thought. I couldn't let go of that quotation all day long!

Although I don't live on Facebook, I do post several times a day. I catch up with close family members' activities, and try to minister to others through humor, insights, special links, and thought-provoking quotations. But Bill's comment made me evaluate (no, compare) the amount of time I spend in each activity, social media and prayer.

We really have no excuse not to carve out time for prayer, do we? We have so many time- and labor-saving appliances, but what do we do with all the time we save?

The truth is, we will give account to God for how we spend our time.
Sometimes we foolishly waste or squander time; but the Psalmist's earnest prayer was, "Teach us to use wisely all the time we have" (Psalm 90:12). Wisely.

Time is a treasure, and time lost is never to be regained.
We do need time to relax, and for me, it is as relaxing to chat with friends on Facebook as to lie in a hammock in the sun. One activity relaxes my emotions and relieves stress; the other relaxes my body. It's not the activity that is in question, but rather, the amount of time we spend.

I have to ask, "Is the time I spend on Facebook and Twitter in balance with the rest of my life? I think it is, but I can sure see how this simple pastime could sap up hours of my life. Like any good thing, it has to be kept in check. I have to discipline my life to guard my heart and time.

God is the sovereign ruler over time. He lives in eternity and does not measure it the way we do. One day is as a thousand years in His perspective (2 Peter 3:8). But we are temporal and finite (Psalm 39:4-5); we spend time at a set pace of 60 seconds every minute and 24 hours every day.

The wonderful truth about the stewardship of time is that we can actually multiply the influence and effectiveness of our lives through the wise use of every minute. Time is a precious resource, and we have a choice how we will use it.

When I consider time, I think about two things. How can I glorify God with my time, and how can I enjoy God, people, and the calling of God in my life? A little Facebook time will never be a problem as long as I keep God's perspective and priorities in mind. In His economy, there is time for every activity He wants me to do, but I must be careful and wise, understanding His will (Ephesians 5:15-17; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

What about you? Do you struggle with the time spent with social media? Does something else drain your time and rob you of opportunities? What do you do to protect your priorities and your valuable time?

11/16/10

A Fingerprint from God

I felt old a few weeks ago. Maybe it was my lack of energy from illness. Maybe it was depression from taking too many medications. Whatever the reason, I felt like I had one foot in the grave. On the way to my friend Pam Farrel's house, I turned into her long driveway, and there it was. A fingerprint from God.

Amidst all the green on the hill in front of me stood one lone maple tree, ablaze in red and orange. I stopped the car and stared at the tree. The words that drifted through my mind were, "This is you, Dawn, in the autumn of your life. You may feel old, but I still have much for you to do, and I want your life to stand bold and bright like this tree."

I turned off the ignition as tears flowed down my cheeks. In this serene moment with my Creator, I didn't want to leave too soon. I waited to hear more from Him, but that was all I heard. It was enough.

I'm still not completely well. I'm tired. I still feel old most of the time. But I have fresh vision. No matter what comes my way, it's time to blaze brightly for God.

In the autumn of life, there's still some sap flowing through this ol' gal, and I don't want to waste a minute. I want to bring forth fruit in my autumn years just as I did in the springtime of my youth (Psalm 92:14a). I want the example of my life to teach women how to love God more; I want to live a blameless life (Titus 2:3). I want to use my days wisely and well (Psalm 90:12).

"Oh God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me." (Ps. 71:17-18).

11/10/10

Keep Your Tank Full

One of our cars had this maddening habit of requiring gasoline sometime before the tank is even down to one-quarter full. My husband "rides" the tank a little closer than I'd like. I head to the gas station when the gas is half gone. I like that feeling of security. I don't have to wonder whether I'll make it to my destination. I can focus on other things.

I read something by author Jerry B. Jenkins about writing that struck me hard this week. Preparing to attend and speak at the CLASS Christian Writers Conference, I rushed through preparations to teach until I was worn out. I couldn't think straight, and worse, my time with God suffered. I rationalized that since I didn't have time for my normal Quiet Time routine, what could a mere five or ten minutes do to help? But I told my husband, a few days before the conference, "I'm running on empty." Exactly.

Jenkins wrote, in Writing for the Soul,* "To write, you need a full tank, and I'm not talking about writing resources. I'm talking about emotional and spiritual well being. With physical exercise, anything is better than nothing. Even just five minutes on a rowing machine gets the blood pumping and the pulse jumping."

That answered my "What could a mere five or ten minutes do to help?"

Jenkins continued, "The same is true with spiritual exercise; do whatever it takes to jumpstart your spiritual life ~ prayer, Bible reading, reflection, whatever. Don't feel like you're a failure if you haven't worked your way up to an hour a day. Anything is better than nothing ~ though we should, of course, be trying to build those muscles."*

I like that word "jumpstart." Between exhaustion and illness, I've felt like I needed jumper cables every morning! I've let some spiritual disciplines slide, in these stressful weeks, but I have to say, my relationship with God is intact. I've never felt closer to Him. I've never enjoyed Him more.

I think that perhaps we have a spiritual tank with different compartments to be filled ~ one for times of Bible reading, one for intimacy in prayer, one for an outflow of service, etc. From time to time, one of those compartments gets low, and we need to take time to fill it. Other times, a compartment seems to overflow. My joy in the Lord has overflowed these days in the midst of struggle (Neh. 8:10b), and He has strengthened me within (Eph. 3:16).

The Holy Spirit wants to fill us with all we need to live the victorious Christian life, but we have to open the tank and yield every compartment to His control (Gal. 5:25; Eph. 5:18b).

How about you? Does your tank need filling today?

* Jerry B. Jenkins, Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice
from an Extraordinary Writing Life
(Writer's Digest Books, 2006), p. 58

11/3/10

Treasure Beyond Measure

I couldn't find my new ESV (English Standard Version) Bible the other day. Frustrated, I finally sat down with my dog-eared King James. But I had the thought ~ "What if I had no Bible at all?"

I've had that thought before, usually after a sermon about third-world believers and their need for fresh water and the Living Water of the scriptures. But this time, I thought about all the things I would not have, if I had no Bible.

Most important, I'd have no knowledge of salvation. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). I heard the truth of the Gospel and responded, and my salvation in Christ is my greatest treasure.

But there are other treasures I have because of what I've learned in the Bible:

The Disciples remind us that wherever our treasure is, that's where we'll find the passion of our hearts (Matt. 6:21; Luke 12:34). If my treasure is the Word of God, then I will focus there and live my life in light of what I find in the scriptures.

Some years ago, a Banner of Truth broadcast suggested that the Bible is "a treasure to treasure beyond measure!" The motto, derived from Ps. 119:162, reminds us that we find great joy in having and embracing God's Word.

How is the Word of God your dearest treasure?

Read about my old "eaten" Bible, so precious to me!

10/27/10

Tuning the Heart

I played the saxophone for three years, and the violin for one year. But I can't play a note today. I've lost the skill from lack of use. I never wanted to play the saxophone anyway; and the violin? Screeching strings never made my family happy.

I always wanted to play the pan pipes. Still do.

But that aside, my favorite part of orchestra practice was the first few minutes when we tuned up the instruments. The tuning fork sounded and everyone tried to match the perfect, absolute tone.

Just as musical instruments need to be tuned, our hearts should be tuned to God's heart. Too many times, our hearts are tuned to the whims of the day. The culture tries to squeeze us into it's mold, but Paul encourages believers to resist the pull of anything that turns our hearts from God. "Don't become so well adjusted to your culture," he wrote, "that you fit into it without thinking" (Romans 12:2, The Message).

It's not wrong to follow modest fashion and try new things, but conforming to the world is not wise. Rather, we tune our hearts to the Lord ~ to His ways. We seek His will. We tune our hearts to the sweet music of heaven, which is so unlike the music of Earth.

For those unfamiliar with a tuning fork, consider a radio (before digital radio). As we turn the dial, we tune in to a particular station at a particular radio wave frequency. When we reach the right frequency, we eliminate static and "interference" from other stations.

The same is true when we tune in to God's frequency. Everything that doesn't fit into that sweet connection must be eliminated, including interference from competing "stations."

So, how do we tune in? There are many spiritual disciplines that help, including prayer, study of scriptures, meditation, worship, service. And God gives us creative thinking, to discern other ways to connect, perhaps through journaling, fasting, or times of silence and retreat. The important thing is that we set aside time to tune in.

The phrase that helps me tune in to God's frequency is "seeking Him." In the Old Testament, believers were told to seek God's face (1 Chron. 16:10-11; 2 Chron. 7:14; Ps. 27:8; 105:4). We are to pursue intimate connection with God ~ to tune in to Who He is and His desires for us. The rebellious in heart will not seek God; in fact, there is no room for God in the thoughts of a wicked person (Ps. 10:4).

In the New Testament, the early Christians were also encouraged to "seek the Lord" (Acts 17:27). My favorite scripture about seeking and knowing God is Ephesians 1:17-21, where tuning in to God takes on an incredible, majestic tone.

What helps you tune in to God? How do you seek the Lord in ways that encourage and motivate you to live for Him?

10/20/10

Dreams Come True

Cindi McMenamin wrote, in When a Woman Discovers Her Dream, "If you've ever found yourself thinking 'I wish I could do more with my life,' you're not alone. If you've ever had the idea that there might be something that you're missing, there is. It's the dream you were designed to live out...."

We all have dreams, sometimes from childhood. One of my dreams stems from the comment I heard since I was four years old. "You're going to be a writer someday," my mom said. "Your kindergarten teacher even said that." Am I the best writer? Oh, no. I still have so much to learn about the skills of writing. But I am a writer.

And recently, I wrote a book. LOL with God: Devotional Messages of Hope & Humor for Women ~ co-authored with Pam Farrel ~ is my first book. I intend to write more.

Ephesians 5:17 invites us to live intentionally, not carelessly. We need to be sure we understand what the Lord wants for us, the dream He has put in our hearts; and then we need to go after our dream! Cindi noted, "We cannot separate the dream from the One who has whispered that dream on our heart." In my case, that dream began in childhood. But others do not discern their dream until much later in life.

We all have an enemy who desires to destroy our dreams, and sometimes other people ~ even those we love ~ do or say things that sidetrack us from pursuing those dreams. We get distracted, discouraged, or doubtful. Sometimes the dream takes a different shape in the stages of our lives. Sometimes God resurrects a dream when we are ready for it, better prepared or more passionate to see the dream come true. Often, we need to hand our dream back to God for safekeeping until the time is right.

But the wonderful thing is, because God is the Creator of all good things, it is never too late to dream. If God can give Sarah the desires of her heart for a son in her old age, when she was far past the years of childbearing (Genesis 21:1-7), He can do anything in and through us, too. Nothing is impossible with God! (Luke 1:36-37).

When we delight in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our hearts ~ desires that He put there! To delight is the Hebrew word anag, which is to humble ourselves before God, rest in Him, and relax our control over our lives so He can work. We simply rest our head against His chest (Deuteronomy 33:12) so to speak, secure in the knowledge that He is working all things according to His plan, and for our good (Romans 8:28). We delight in God through our willing, obedient spirit, ready to do His will. We are faithful in little things, sometimes enduring testing and trial, but always inching closer toward the fulfillment of our dreams. It's a paradox. We rest and wait on God while we pursue His purposes for our lives.

I recommend Cindi's book to help women discover and pursue their dreams. She continually points women to our Father God, the ultimate Dream Giver.

10/13/10

He Knows My Name

Passwords drive me nutty. Several times lately, I've scanned my brain for the right one, locked out of a personal site until I remembered which password applied. And now I need to remember a password to purchase apps on my iPhone. Will it never end? Experts recommend that we change our passwords periodically ~ which requires even more memory (not for the technology, for my brain!) I mean really, do I need this much frustration?

I am so glad that I don't need to continually change my personal identity connection to the Lord. I am eternally linked to Him, and not with a "strong password" of "a combination of letters, numbers, and punctuation," but with one very special promise: God knows my name. It is written in His book of life ~ forever! (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 21:27) because I have trusted in His Son's sacrifice for me (John 3:16-18, 36). There is no other way for my name to be entered there (John 14:6; Acts 4:12); and God keeps good records. My name will never be erased (Romans 8:37-39).

Our names are important to God. He told His children in Old Testament times that their name (and descendants) would "endure" (Isaiah 66:22).

In a world clamoring for personal acceptance and recognition, how wondrous to know that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe cares about us in such a personal way. He knows His own (John 10:14, 27). He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14), but He loves us dearly (Zephaniah 3:17).

Is your name in the Book of Life? Are you a Christ-follower ~ following the Lamb of God (Revelation 14:4). It's the only "password" you'll ever need to enter eternity.


If you do not know the Savior, the scriptures in this Christmas blog can help you understand how to trust what He has done for you!

10/6/10

Communication: On the Same Page

It's important to be "on the same page" with those we love. Normally, we find out if we're connecting ~ on the same wave length ~ as we communicate.

For example, I once asked my husband, "What shirt are you going to wear, Honey?"

"The Blue one," he replied.

Now, if you look in my husband's closet, you'll see various shades of blue: sky blue, robin-egg blue, baby blue, Persian blue, powder blue, periwinkle, sapphire, royal blue, navy, and indigo. Which blue, indeed!

But to Bob, they're all just "blue." I would be upset about this, but I've discovered it's pretty much a man thing, unless a man is into fashion design. Men also do not understand the concept of one style of shoes in four colors. Black and brown shoes are just fine with them.

Men and women are different in more than their physical make-up. That makes communication so interesting!

Pam Farrel and I wrote about this in our book, LOL with God: "How do we speak the same language? We don't! We learn to adjust, pray for wisdom, and try to explain things in terms of the other person's perspective."

We learn to speak with respect, humility, and patience with the goal of understanding. (And when understanding doesn't come, there is still a response ~ a charitable spirit. As a magnet on my refrigerator says, "Women are made to be loved, not understood.")

Good communication takes practice, and we need to allow time to communicate. We need to slow down, think of the other person's needs, and plan for times to share and listen without interrupting (Prov. 18:13). We need to observe the other person, too, because communication is more than words. Watch for the nonverbal elements of conversation: facial expressions, the movement of the body, etc.

When we speak, we must speak truthfully, but with love (Eph. 4:15a), because once words pass our lips, we can't take them back. So guard your lips (Prov. 21:23; Prov. 14:3). Timing and appropriateness are important, too. "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Prov. 25:11).

The disciple James had excellent advice concerning communication (1:19): "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry."

Which of these points is the most difficult for you ~ earnest listening, patient speaking, or a kind, charitable spirit?

For more about communication, see "Carefully-Chosen Words."

9/29/10

Conversation with a Taxi Driver

He was from a tiny country in East Africa—an immigrant, divorced long ago, with children he dearly loved. My friend Lynette and I slipped into Kintura's taxi cab at our hotel after the final session of the True Woman conference.

“Indianapolis Airport,” I said. He joked that he could take us to Chicago or even Cleveland instead. I looked at the meter and shook my head. “Indianapolis Airport,” I repeated.

Kintura saw our bright green conference bags and as he started to drive, he immediately asked a question. (Later, I surmised that other “True Women” had graced his taxi, and he was overcome with curiosity.) “What is this True conference?” Kintura said. “There are many ladies here.”

I explained the basic concepts, and he asked, “So, you believe then that the man is to lead and the woman is to obey, yes?”

“We believe in the biblical model of manhood and womanhood,” I said.

“Then you believe that a man and woman are not equals,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “The Bible teaches that men and women were created in the image of God, both with dignity and value, and we are equal in God’s sight—but we have different roles.” (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 5:22-33)

“So, a man and a woman are only half fulfilled until they get married,” Kintura said, “and then they are whole, correct?”

“No, that’s not right,” I said. “Otherwise, a man or woman who are not married could never be fulfilled. What we believe the Bible teaches is that a man or woman who trusts in Christ for salvation is complete in Him. But in the marriage relationship, a man and woman's roles are complementary. Women are supposed to encourage men to be masculine, godly leaders in their homes and society." (Mark 9:35; 10:42-45; Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12-3:7)

“Yes, yes,” he said. “Men and women fit together and are complete in marriage. I understand.” He took both hands off the steering wheel momentarily, meshing his fingers together.

To be honest, that scared me a bit, and I kept wishing that he wouldn’t turn around so many times, afraid that he might run into another car! I leaned forward so he wouldn’t need to turn so far. Lynette tightened her seat belt. We both prayed for safety.

As I asked Kintura questions about his own life, I found that he is of the Orthodox faith—something like the Coptics in Egypt—a believer who is seeking God for direction, happily serving the Lord as he teaches a class of young boys. He also would like a godly wife, which is why he was so intrigued by all of the True Women he saw.

“So many women try to dress and act like men,” he said. “They don’t know what it is to be feminine.”

“Yes, a woman needs to leave no doubt that she’s a woman,” I agreed. (1 Timothy 2:9-13)

“But so many women [in America], they don’t act like women," Kintura said. "They are leading men wrong. And I think this nation is not going well. I am afraid for this nation. It is becoming like other nations that did not follow what God says.”

Lynette and I agreed. I told the taxi driver that we True Women want to be part of the movement to change hearts and lives. True Women want to live holy lives that please God, follow God’s design for their womanhood, manage their homes, honor the sanctity of marriage, and reach and nurture the next generation. (Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 127:3; Proverbs 4:1-23; 22:6)

As we traveled to the airport, I asked Kintura if I could pray for him, and he welcomed that. As Lynette and I bowed our heads, we prayed that if it is God’s will (not knowing the circumstances of his divorce), God would lead him to a godly True Woman who embraces the beauty of her womanhood and desires God’s will and ways. We prayed for God to bless this man as he continues to seek the Lord and live for him.

When we parted, he thanked us for being women of faith ~ True Women ~ and he honored us with many kind words. Moments later, as Lynette and I turned to enter the airport, I said, “What a strange conversation, but wasn’t it wonderful?”

What gripped me most about my dialogue with Kintura was his deep concern for his adopted home, the United States. He envisions a nightmare in America’s future because he's watched other countries slip into depravity and ruin. He knows the signs ~ the consequences of ignoring the Sovereign God's words. I left the conference determined to live out the True Woman Manifesto, and Kintura gave me yet another reason why it’s so important. Our families, our country are at stake!

The last True Woman Conference for 2010 will be held in Ft. Worth, Texas,

on October 14-16.

I encourage you to give yourself an early Christmas present and go ~ and to allow God to change your life, your home, and your relationship with Him.

Now is the time for women to stand for Christ, to embrace the biblical design for their womanhood, and use their influence to call a wayward nation back to God!

9/22/10

Focus God-ward for a Stronger Marriage!

Dave Veerman, Christian humorist, got it right in so many ways concerning marriage in his "Before and After the Marriage Vows."*

Before: He was attracted to her sparkling, outgoing personality ~ the life of the party.
After: He is frustrated that she's the last one to leave ... church, a social, a committee meeting, an unexpected conversation with a stranger at the store....

Before: He was fiscally responsible, financially secure.
After: What a miser and cheapskate!....

Before: She was attracted to him because he was the strong, silent type ~ rock solid and steady.
After: He's so quiet ... and boring!

Before: What a great figure!
After: Can't we eat something besides tofu and sprouts?....

Before: What a free spirit she was ~ exciting and uninhibited.
After: The house is a mess!

Marriage quickly re-adjusts our rose-colored glasses. Before long, if we're not careful, we take the wedding vows lightly, and forget marriage takes hard work and patience.

One of the powerful lessons I learned as a young wife was that my husband and I would tend to have problems if we kept gazing at each other ~ because we'd be sure to find some problems as the honeymoon ended and the newness of marital bliss wore off.

A wise man taught my husband and I to always see our marriage as an equilateral triangle. My husband is at one corner of the triangle's base, and I am at the other corner. Then, we both look up to the top of the triangle, which represents God. The beauty of this illustration is that the closer each of us gets in our relationship with God ~ when we fix our eyes on the Him ~ the closer we are to each other as a couple.

It's true! Whenever we feel tension in our marriage, it's always been because we've shifted our focus to our partner in a self-serving or critical way. The more my husband and I focus on the Lord as individuals, the more unified we find our marriage.

Have you who are married found this to be true, as well?

* Excerpt from Happily Ever Laughter, edited by Ken Davis
Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 2010, pp. 87-89.

9/15/10

Coming Alongside

My dad, a Navy man who spent most of his career on ships (destroyers), used to tell me stories about supply ships that came alongside larger vessels to supply whatever they needed at sea. The supply ships were always a welcome sight, enabling carriers and other large ships the ability to press forward. I like that concept of help to move forward.

That is what a good counselor or life coach does, too ~ comes alongside to provide the counsel, encouragement, wisdom ... whatever is needed so a person can move forward with successful attitudes for life.

One of the names of the Holy Spirit that describes a function of the Spirit in the believer's life is Paraclete. The word has many translations, including, "an advocate or helper; one who consoles and intercedes; counselor; one who is called to another person's side." The concept in scripture is of a holy Comforter or Counselor that believers need in the struggles of life.

1 John 2:1 describes the paraclete-like advocacy of intercession Jesus offers for believers. Jesus is able to advocate for and comfort us because He was tempted as we are (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-16). He totally understands! And then, only a few hours before Jesus went to the cross ~ as He sensed His disciples' concern for the His coming death and departure (Matt. 16:21; John 16:7-16) ~ He explained that "another paraclete" would come. This third person of the Trinity would provide faithful support and help to God's people in the Savior's absence. Just imagine how the disciples were comforted by this promise, even if they couldn't fully understand what Jesus meant at the time.

The Holy Spirit comforts us because we need comforting! God wants His children to have joy and inner comfort in spite of earth's trials (John 14:17, 27; 16:33; Rom. 14:17b; James 1:2). The fruit of the Spirit in us includes "joy and peace" (Gal. 5:22); and it also includes love. The Spirit loves us as Christ loves us (Rom. 15:30a).

The challenge to me is to allow the work of the Holy Spirit to become so powerful in my life that I can come along-side others to encourage, comfort, and counsel them in their time of need. I, too, can become paraclete-like! The God of All Comfort designed this wondrous plan! (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

It has been said, "He who has suffered much speaks many languages" (anon). The reason this is true is, we all will endure various afflictions and trials, and it helps to know that we are not alone in our struggles. Sometimes, the best way to minister to others is to empathize with them, saying, "I know exactly what you're going through!" ~ but only if we indeed have suffered what they are suffering.

Have you found this true?

  • Have you struggled with a sin and found victory, and directed others to the Lord so they can find victory, too?
  • Have you endured some tough circumstance, and because of your pain, you understand the pain of others?
I'd love to hear how God has enabled you ~ because of how He has come alongside you ~ to be a comforter or counselor to bless people's lives.

9/8/10

Preparing for the Next Crisis

I walked out of the office on September 11, 2001, to watch a television in a nearby room. I worked full-time, at the time, for Christian Examiner. Everyone in the office sat on a couch, glued to the horrible sights that unfolded minute-by-minute.

It was our generation's Pearl Harbor, and we sat in shock that anyone would dare attack our nation.

We couldn't fully take it in. As events unfolded ~ the Twin World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, the downed plane in Pennsylvania ~ we knew we'd never be the same. How could we? America seemed so impenetrable before 9-11.

In the weeks following, as the government tried to grapple with what happened, many turned to God. Some were sincere and made decisions they had long put off. Others were simply scared, and instinctively turned to God. They looked for hope in events that made no sense.

God is still America's only hope
, not because "In God We Trust" ~ because we really don't trust in God as a nation, anymore ~ but because the Word of God makes it clear that hope is only found in the God of the Bible.

Nearly a decade later, most Americans have returned to business as usual, church as usual, and life as usual without even token fear of God. There are some whose lives were changed forever, but how many are playing games today? The scriptures command us to seek God while He may be found (Is. 55:6). It's foolish to wait for another crisis. We need to humble our hearts and thoughts, and seek Him with the intent to do what He says. As a nation and as individuals, we need to repent of our sinful ways (2 Chron. 7:14; Ps. 27:8; Jer. 29:13; Heb. 11:6).

If we will make the choices and do the works of a faithful Christ-follower, we will not only please God, we will show people who He is and how He can change their lives.

Some make practical preparations for potential crises ~ storing food and supplies, or making emergency plans; but every Christian needs a prepared life, because we will one day stand before the Judge of all the earth. One of the tools I am using these days is "Hope for Uncertain Times," produced by the revival ministry Revive Our Hearts. I'm also studying "When Do We Need Revival?" Materials like these ~ and there are many at the Revive Our Hearts' website under Printable Downloads ~ encourage us to make sure our hearts are pure before God.

We are not bound by legalism; we are under grace ~ but we do need to be careful that we are taking our walk with God seriously. There is much at stake for our own lives, and for the lives of those the Lord will allow us to influence.

What are your memories of 9-11?
Did you turn to God in a more significant way? Have you slipped a bit from that walk of intimacy, faith, or obedience? How can we keep our walk with God fresh?

9/1/10

A Little Lesson from Beanie Babies

On September 1st in 1999, Ty Warner toys announced that they would stop making stuffed Beanie Babies in December of that year. They even produced a little black bear called “The End” to help make that announcement. But consumers urged Ty Warner to change his mind, and Warner did. Beanie Babies are still created to this day. Warner donates huge amounts of money to charities. In fact, on September 13, 2001, he announced a series of charity bears to raise funds for those affected by the terrorist events of 9/11, including signing an "America Bear" that was put up for auction on Ebay.com ~ it sold for $24,000!

The Beanie Babies announcement reminded me that I should never be afraid to change my mind when I realize I'm wrong. But on the flip side, I learned: Never give up when you know you've got a good thing. You've got a good thing when you know it is true and valuable.

I have a "good thing" in my relationship with God. I want to continue to grow, and to spread the Good News of salvation and the truth of God's Word. I want to strengthen my stand for the Lord, my stand of faith (1 Cor. 2:5; 15:1; 1 Thess. 3:8; Eph. 6:10-17) especially as our culture turns from the spiritual moorings of the Founding Fathers.

I have a "good thing" in my country. America is still the best country on earth with the most opportunities, in spite of its serious cultural and political flaws. I want to promote America and protect it by voting in people who believe in our Constitution, and "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" ~ America's Declaration of Independence. I want to make sure America's dearest values are embraced by the next generation.

I have a "good thing" in my family. I am so blessed. I know that. I have people who care about me, and I love them, too. But if a person does not have that history of family, that does not mean that he/she can't create a powerful family going forward! If there is no marriage, or if there are no children, Christians can still pour their lives into the Family of God ~ the family for eternity. We all need to protect the sanctity of marriage, the biblical roles of men and women, and wise care for children. [Here is a study on scriptures concerning the family.]

This is a simple blog post. God, country, family. These are my "good things" ~ worth preserving, protecting, and promoting.

How about you? What do you value? What are the ties you would stand for in tough times ~ even die for, if necessary? It's a good idea to make proactive choices to strengthen those ties before the tough times come.

8/25/10

Planning Forward in a Jacuzzi

Late Sunday night, my husband and I joined his sister and her husband in their backyard Jacuzzi. We talked about silly things, but then the conversation took on a more serious tone. We talked about retirement funds and IRAs and paying down mortgages, and the merits and drawbacks of retirement homes vs. assisted living. Those are facts my sister-in-love, Jan, grasps better than I do. My thoughts grew more philosophical.

“What do you want to be doing twenty years from now, when you’re old?” I asked my husband. Bob said, “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” “Well, maybe you should,” I kidded, “unless you’re not planning on being around here ... and in that case, maybe you should help me plan for that, too!”

But then I turned to Jan and said, “I know that I just want to make a difference, even when I’m old,” I said. “I want my life to matter to someone, even if it’s just mentoring a young girl, or writing something that will encourage my kids when I’m gone. Something!”

She nodded. We both agreed that we want meaning and purpose in our elderly years.

I’m a planner. So is Jan. (We joke that we do what we do—working in this tough California economy—so our husbands can continue to do what they do in ministry.) Planning for finances is one thing, or even planning where we might live two decades from now; but planning to make a difference in others’ lives—that gets my juices running.

General Douglas MacArthur said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” When I’m an old soldier of the cross, I don’t plan to fade away. I want to go out fighting. The battle might look different in old age; but I don’t want to shirk, and I certainly don’t want to wither spiritually. I want to show and proclaim God's strength and power to this and the next generation (Psalm 71:18). I want to seek and obey Him so He will give me a long life (Deuteronomy 5:33; 30:20; Proverbs 9:10-11; 1 Peter 3:10-11).

There are some who physically and mentally cannot function, but if we are blessed with physical and mental strength, we still have a responsibility to seek God and serve others daily. God doesn’t normally remove our gifts as we age. He intends that we use them. We may not use them as often or with as much intensity or skill; but we don’t neglect them.

I don’t ever want to retire from kingdom usefulness. For one woman, that might be as simple as attending a youth function so she can hand out hugs. For another, it might mean mentoring a younger woman at the local Jack-in-a-Box ~ the Titus 2 woman, a teacher of good things (Titus 2:2-3). Some older women make pillowcase dresses for little girls in Africa. Others will battle in prayer. We can all "bring forth fruit" in old age (Psalm 92:14), and God will guide us 'til the day we die (Psalm 48:14).

Diane Dew compiled a powerful page for seniors with statistics and scriptures. She ends her study with Psalm 90:12, which is a challenging scripture for anyone thinking forward. We need to "number our days" (realize the brevity of life) so we can apply our hearts to grow in wisdom. I want to be a wise old woman, but I know I need to make the wise choices now that will give me the experience and wise counsel to encourage others in the future.

Are you thinking forward, too? For more encouragement to grow in wisdom, see "Pursue Wisdom with Passon," and "Am I a Fool?"

8/18/10

No More Wimpy Prayers!

John Piper talked about “wimpy women” at True Woman ’08 – and he encouraged us not to be wimpy, but rather, theologically sound and strong in the Lord. So I came home and learned how to be bold for Christ and live out my roles in biblical womanhood. So many areas of my life changed. But I still was a wimp in one crucial area.

The truth is, my prayers were wimpy and ineffective. I didn’t come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16); most of the time, I limped in apologetically. Oh, I could string together pretty words – writers and speakers tend to do that. But boldness before God? I didn’t know how to be bold. My idea of boldness in prayer was more like a loud whimper, hoping God would hear, but not sure why He’d bother.

It’s not that I doubted God’s love. I doubted my right to be in the throne room. But that all changed as I attended Life Action’s Revival Week and listened to a message by David Butts, a simple but forthright man who chairs America’s National Prayer Committee and serves as president of Harvest Prayer Ministries. I first became acquainted with David as I read his book, Asleep in the Land of Nod. I knew he was a man of profound wisdom.

As he spoke on prayer, I heard God say, “Listen, learn, and obey.” David said, “Most Christians pray wimpy prayers. There’s no faith; there’s no confidence. There’s nothing that causes it to rise to heaven. There’s no power.”

David said the model for practical, bold praying is found in Acts 4:23-31, the early church. First, they paid attention to who they were talking to; they acknowledged that God is God—the sovereign Creator and Lord. When we pray with concern and anxiety, we are focusing on our needs, not Him! David made the picture all the more absurd: “We enter the throne room, and have the attention of the Father,” he said, “and we mutter a wimpy prayer?”

Second, the early church prayed the Word of God back to God. Prayer is not about us. “It’s how God has chosen to accomplish His will on earth,” David said. We pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15), not saying, “God, I have an idea of how you can fix this.” Even Jesus had to pray according to the Father’s will.

Third—and this is the part that grabbed me—the early church prayed BIG prayers. Our little prayers, our hospital lists and daily needs are important to God, but they will not change the world. “Pray the big prayers that shake heaven,” David said. “Within five weeks of their prayer meeting, the teachings of Jesus filled Jerusalem and they turned the world upside down.”

I wondered whether I’d ever be able to pray big prayers. David invited us to envision the throne room of heaven, with angels crying out “Holy, holy, holy” and “Glory to God.” Perhaps we stand nearby, joining them in praises. “The Lord reigns!” we might cry out (Psalm 93:1-5), admitting our submission to and reverence for the Holy One.

Then David asked us to imagine that there is a path leading to the very throne, and we walk that path and stand before our Father, and then boldly present our prayers. [I envisioned "The Emerald Throne Room Scene in Heaven," an artistic rendition by Pat Marvenko Smith.] I realized that the reason I ask such puny prayers of God has nothing to do with His ability to answer, but rather, my weak faith to believe that He wants to answer. After all, I reasoned, who am I?

And then the Lord flooded my heart with all that I am and all that I have in Christ. It’s not a matter of my puny faith, but rather, my all-sufficient Savior.

So, I’ve begun a new journey in prayer, believing God for bigger things—resting in my position with God in Jesus and claiming God's Word. I don’t know what will happen next, but the adventure in prayer is refreshing my spirit!