Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hearing Voices

...and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them....he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice....I am the good shepherd....John 10:3-4,11

Years ago, our family traveled the 12 hours it took to make the yearly visit to grandparents and extended family members living in the Appalachian portion of Virginia (home to pit vipers and bobcats). Each year my mother would remind us to watch for snakes, as my sister and I explored the creek and woods surrounding her mother's home. My grandmother did not have indoor plumbing, so daily visits to the outhouse where part of the experience. On one particular afternoon, I was returning from this daily, rustic way of relieving myself, when I heard my grandmother, two cousins, and mother standing outside on the back porch screaming at me to jump. Being an inquisitive child, I decided to stop and look around at what they were so passionately imploring me to jump from. Not understanding what all the fuss was about, I remember hearing my mother's voice above the symphony of the other callers. So, I had decided that if she was telling me to jump, then I had perhaps better listen. With a shrug of my shoulders, I offered a synchronized lob over what I thought was an imaginary danger. Nonchalantly, I strolled back to the house, while my grandmother went into action and chopped to pieces the snake that had been coiled at my feet. Yep, I had not seen the snake.

All these years later, I remember the lesson of that saving moment. The reason my mother's voice reigned supremely on that day, was because I was accustomed to her voice. I had learned to trust her goodness, and knew that if she were telling me to jump then I should jump. In that moment, with many voices crying out, it was my mother's voice I had tuned into, while the pleas of the others lay drowned in my childlike trust in her. I continue to apply this lesson in my life. The voice you spend the most time with is the voice you learn to trust. Jesus says He is the good Shepherd that leads us out of danger. When we learn His voice we will not follow another (emphasis mine). There are many voices that daily scream for our attention, but not every voice will lead us safely. Discouragement, drugs and alcohol, apathy, disappointment, grief and loss, sex and violence, anxiety, anger, resentment, bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness, and a vast array of other life killing physical and emotional voices that vie for our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, but Christ calls out and offers life with hope and joy. Today, what voice or voices are you listening to? Remember, the voice you spend the most time with is the one you learn to trust. Trust the one that offers life and life in abundance (John 10:10).

Today, Father, I trust in you. I will stop and spend time with you reading your Word and Hearing your voice. Dampen out the other voices that vie for my heart, mind, body and soul, and give me hearing for only you. You are the good shepherd. No other voices have laid down their life for me but you. Keep me from danger, as I jump toward your life-saving and life-sustaining voice. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Christ, Our Friend

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

As an author, I was recently asked to join other authors and take part in a book signing during a ladies one day speaking conference. With great delight and joy I accepted and attended. I was not the speaker that day, but the woman who was had traveled with her book and long-time friend. The event was attended by over 500 women eager to hear how they could live their lives as a blessing to others in their sphere of influence. There was great laughter and joy, and books were being sold by all. However, it was not the pulse of retreat gaiety and books being signed and sold that caught my attention. What caught my attention on this day was the quite strength and loyalty of the speaker's friend and travel companion. Faithfully the speaker's friend removed herself from the spotlight to promote and encourage the success of her friend, the author and speaker. I could only imagine how many times this friend had heard the same speech and jokes. I am sure this friend could have anticipated and quoted her friend's next statement, yet she sat laughing and smiling as if it were her first time encountering the message delivered on that day. She manned the book table, answered questions about her friend, and listened as others doted on how wonderful her friend, the speaker was. In all of this, she served faithful and fresh. No spotlight necessary for this companion. Her joy came in serving and supporting. I thought; "Sign me up, I want one of those." It was then that I realized that I too have a friend, a loyal supporting companion, like the speaker. My friend continually listens to my same complaints, my daily, often repetitive pleas, and answers my plethora of challenging and often daunting questions. My friend wipes away my tears and gives me daily encouragement through life-giving and life-sustaining words of joy and comfort. He even sticks closer than a family member or sibling. My friend is so loyal that he has even engraved my name into the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). My friend has promised me an eternal home where He Himself has gone and constructed my eternal abode. I have never been disappointed by placing my hope in Him (Isaiah 49:23 emphasis mine). His name? Jesus. Jesus, the name above all other names. A friend who sticks closer than a brother and is available 24/7. A friend who took death so that I could live eternally. Today, my friend is asking to be your friend. Will you receive Him? 

Dear, Jesus, I want a friend like you. I invite you into my life. Forgive me of my sins and create in me a new heart. I accept your friendship. Jesus, I pray in your name, Amen.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Walking In Hope

The Spirit of on me because God has anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, Announce freedom to all comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn...(to) give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Rename them "Oaks of Righteousness" planted by God to display his glory. Isaiah 61

A few years back I took a large team of high school teenagers to serve the underprivileged in Washington D.C.. We were assigned to serve a small church who was actively involved in outreach to their community. One of the assignments we were given was to sweep and clean their parking lot. I had not envisioned holding a broom on this project, but rather the hearts of those I had traveled to serve. I , being the leader, however, knew the importance of setting a good example. So, with a broom and a song in heart, I began supervising and sweeping. The parking lot was littered with dirt, trash, and odd items that would make anyone scratch their heads. We wore gloves, because we knew the danger of coming across a used needle. After a couple of hours of this tedious chore, I glanced over and noticed an empty beer bottle we had overlooked. It was then that I understood the essence of what God wanted me to comprehend. Hopelessness. I began to wonder what broken dreams, shattered hopes, and sightless soul had dampened their painful existence through the blur of alcohol. What little child, full of hopes and dreams, had grown up to lose sight of how "fearfully and wonderfully" they had been made? One lonely beer bottle reminded me why I must wear the fragrance of those languishing lest I forget the meaning of Isaiah 61. Christ came to set the captive soul free. He came to restore broken hearts and shattered dreams and replace them with "bouquets of roses". Christ, the King, who reminds us that in Him there is joy and a heart that is set free to offer praise in place of singing a dirge. Today, we have hope, and "hope does not disappoint" (Romans 5:5). We are a people of promise. A promise that our sins have been pardoned and our lives will stand strong like an oak. Yes, everyday we can walk in hope even if the "cloud" in our life threatens to send an "emotional storm". If Christ calmed the raging storm for His beloved follower Peter, than He can do that for us. The challenge, today, is to walk in Hope. To believe that there is "nothing or no one that can thwart the plans God has for you" (emphasis mine). To know that when the king of the universe sets you free, that you are free indeed. Now, today, walk in hope. 

Today, Lord, infuse me with the power of Hope. Remind me that I am never without the freeing power of Hope. I know that you came to set my imprisoned soul free and to replace my sorrow and pain with joy and roses. I accept this promise, and Walk In Hope. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Own It!

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. Luke 12:48

While teaching a class to high school juniors and seniors recently, we began a discussion on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When asked what allowed Dietrich to passionately continue in his commitment to eliminating the injustices that plagued his generation, one astute student quickly stated, "He owned his life calling".  Yes, this Pastor and Theologian understood the concept of ownership. Dietrich had been given many talents and skills, and he did not allow the pressure and threat of Adolf Hitler to excuse his responsibility in seeking justice for those who faced discrimination and extermination. Dietrich was connected to his life purpose and understood that no circumstance, event, or person could hinder or remove what God alone had given. I am left to wonder what Dietrich had to relinquish in order to pursue what he alone was commissioned in life to accomplish. What about you? What are your gifts and talents? What responsibility has God assigned to you? What will you have to relinquish to  "Own It"? To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). What do you possess? Everyone has a life calling, a gift or unique design that serves the purpose of bringing justice or relief to humanity. Even a simple smile can release a captive soul. Today, own your life. Do not allow any circumstance, event, or person to cloud your destiny of purpose. It is yours and yours alone, so Own It! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Enter Into His Courts

Shout joyfully to the Lord....Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting  And His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100

As I read this Psalm this morning, I wonder what takes place in my life that keeps me from entering into the divine throne room of a God who declares His eternal love for me and extends lovingkindness that is everlasting. What prevents me from entering into His courts and having an audience with a God who has created the heavens and earth, and everything in it, and declares it "Very Good" (Genesis 1:31)? What clouds my vision of His goodness and faithfulness to all generations? It is not having an accurate vision of who He is. Years ago I recall insisting that something was wrong with my front windshield. I was convinced that the manufacturer had installed a faulty windshield and that it needed to be replaced. I pursued my husband to follow up on this and get the company to install a replacement shield. Until my shield was replaced, I decided  I would have to continue my constant cleaning. What I learned was that the distortion did not come from the manufacturer, but from faulty vision on my end. I ended up with corrective lenses, bifocals, and the problem was solved. I was living life with distorted vision. This distortion kept me from understanding the true nature of the problem. Perhaps this is why today's reading of Psalm 100 strikes a chord within my heart. This is a Psalm of praise and worship, but to shout joyfully, serve Him with gladness, and to come before Him with joyful singing, I must hold out before me an accurate vision of who He is. He is Elohim, God my creator. He is El-Elyon, the God who is sovereign over all He created, and declares that His purposes will be established. All that He has planned He will surely accomplish (Isaiah 46: 9-11). He is El Roi, the God who sees everything and does not forsake those who seek Him (Psalm 9:10). He is El Shaddai, the all sufficient One. In Him I am assured that there is no other power on earth that can render me complete but Him. With this vision of God, then I can easily enter into His courts and render praise. Today, consider what it is that clouds your vision from seeing a God who promises to be faithful and good to the end. 

Today, Lord, correct the lens of my heart so that I can see, with clarity, the reality of who you are. You are a good God. May my mouth praise you and my heart sing with joy, that you, Oh God, are worthy of my praise.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The art of Christian Zumba

...applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence...knowledge...self-control... perseverance...godliness... brotherly as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble...2 Peter 1:5-10

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman ready to take up the Latin style of dance and exercise program called Zumba. I was not very encouraging in my response to her enthusiasm. This past summer I accepted a free pass to take part in a Zumba class. Now when free is part of the vocabulary, it does not take much for me to reach out and accept. I went with my daughter and her friend, our next door neighbor. I am relatively fit and agile, so I thought Zumba would simply be a fun night out with the "girls". I was not prepared for the fast moving, hip-hop, hip-swerving, arm-slinging, salsa tapping style of exercise. In one instant I became like an infant--uncoordinated. I simply could not master the moves, no matter how hard this once state winning track and field star tried. So I did what any self respecting mother would do; I embarrassed my daughter. I began to create my own moves. I twisted and twirled, and gyrated to my own beat. I threw my hands up and my head back and let nature take over. Simply put, I gave up. I finished the hour long reminder of how old I really was, and decided my body was not meant for such Latin elements like Zumba. However, my conversation yesterday made me wonder why I had not went back and diligently commit to practicing this healthy form of exercise. Practice makes perfect, as the old adage goes. So, why had I simply not decided to employ this age old principle? Why do any of us give up on something we know brings the benefit of relationship, peace and harmony, restoration and healing, and life-long spiritual and emotional benefits. Because like me, we think after one or two failed attempts we are not created to enjoy such God-given gifts. We link our "failure" in with our self-identity. God is more understanding and gracious than our opinions and conclusions. He understands the principle of putting moral character, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love into practice. He knows that with practice, we will enjoy the benefits of being in healthy relationships and productive work. This is what I call practicing "The Art of Christian Zumba". What is it you need to revisit and commit to putting into practice?

Lord, today, I commit to receiving forgiveness for my failures, and will seek to practice the virtues of moral excellence. You promise that as long as I put into practice your principles for godly living, I will never stumble. Lord, here I am, spiritually uncoordinated, but ready to put into practice the art of Christian Love and Living.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Being Intentional

I have made a covenant with my eyes...Job 31:1

Last night my husband and I were given tickets to a college basketball game. Not just any tickets, though, but center court, high-back chair, front row tickets. We could actually reach out and touch the players and referees. Not bad for free, so I thought. Placing us center court, front row, also meant being face to face with tail wagging, breast popping, extremely young pom pom girls. Their smiles were enthusiastic, their pants tight, and their dances provocative. I watched as my husband of nearly 30 years diverted his eyes away each time confronted with these youthful temptations. I also observed that the two men sitting to his left appeared to employ the same technique each time. Forget the other men, they were hooked on the gold and brown babes. Finally, I reached over and thanked my husband for being respectful and not eyeing the "candy" directly in front of him. His response; "I'm having to be intentional. They are right in front of me." I wondered if this was the technique being used by the other two men, or if they simply were not interested. Being Intentional meant my husband made a choice not to look in spite of what his natural inclination desired. This choice accomplished his goal--to not lust after another woman and break the marriage covenant he made nearly three decade ago to me. His being intentional spoke deeply to my heart. How many times have I made an excuse for a job left undone, a relationship neglected, or a phone call not returned. Last night, my husband made no excuses. He simply did what he had to do. Period. I sit cognitive of the new resolutions I just recently penned. They are sitting buried under papers next to my desk and unattended--dinner with friends once a month, individual time with each child, memorize scripture, pray more, and the list goes on. What now is my response? I am going to find those resolutions and throw out my excuses. Like my husband, I am going to be intentional and do what is right regardless of how I feel. I am going to make a covenant to be intentional towards those I love. I am going to divert my eyes away from that which distracts and tempts me to neglect what is important. How about you? What or who have you neglected? Being intentional to do what is right is not easy, but it builds quality relationships and friendships. Today, join me in being intentional and set your eyes on what is necessary and right. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Living with Blisters

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

As a hiker, I know how paralyzing getting a blister can be. My family and I hiked down Pikes Peak two summers ago, and I was rendered bootless at one point in our nine hour descent. After returning home, I discovered that my feet had not been properly attired for such a rigorous adventure, and first aid was required for a few months after. Recently, I took on another adventure. This adventure is one of the heart and soul. After a very long day in my new role, I encountered a vile, bristly human soul. I was tired and easily wounded, so I left with a heart that had been blistered. And like any physical blister, this blister paralyzed my soul. I began to walk soulfully wounded. My heart needed first aid. It has been a few days since my encounter with this rugged and harsh being, and I have asked myself what can I do to prevent being blistered by this person again. Her vile and bristly nature is perhaps like Pikes Peak, stationary, but my encounter with her, like Pikes Peak, will have to change. I will have to don different soul protecting measures to avoid getting blisters on my soul. So, what will I need to drape my soul with? Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness and Patience. These attributes will guard my heart. They will remind me to step with awareness as I navigate the terrain of a rugged and bristly soul. You see, getting blisters descending down Pikes Peak did not stop me from wanting to revisit this magnificent work of God. It simply made me aware of what I need to do differently, so that I am not distracted from the beauty of such magnificence. My encounter with this harsh soul made me aware of what I need to do differently, so that I do not miss the beauty of what God has created in each individual soul He stamped "fearfully and wonderfully made" Psalm 139:14. Today, I plan to drape my soul in blister proof character. What attributes do you need to clothe yourself in, so that the eyes of your heart can see the beauty of a of a rugged, bristly soul?