Friday, July 24, 2020

Our Heavenly Father Renews Our Strength


Throughout my chaotic career, I have felt overwhelmed. I never did like the word mediocre, and I never wanted it to be said about me. There have been many occasions on which I have gotten only one hour of sleep in order to complete my professional assignments. Currently, although I work many weekends and some evenings, I still cut my sleep short now and then to get my work done. I have had opportunities during this chaotic career to serve our Heavenly Father. I find it emblematic of Satan’s tendency to use the pain in our life as a barrier to us serving our Heavenly Father that heavy workload has forced me to give up writing feature stories for my church newsletters at both Hershey Evangelical Free Church and Cornerstone. When I made the transition to my current job, the stress of the position at one point motivated me to consider giving up my service to our Heavenly Father. Fortunately, when I asked my supervisor if I should give up my volunteer efforts to get my work done, she responded, “No!”

I considered her response a sign that I needed to wake up and see God’s glory.

Currently in my lifetime, I am determined not only to work hard for my employer but also to serve our Heavenly Father in as many ways as I am able. Now, because my focus is on Him, our Heavenly Father is renewing my strength, helping me to find joy in my lifetime, and motivating me, despite the stress, never to give up my time in His Word, on my knees praying to Him, or serving Cornerstone. God’s Word has taught me that I need to renew my strength and find pleasure in the chaos of my career by being joyful and placing my hope in Him.

The following verses confirm that our weary soul is renewed when we hope in the Lord.

Isaiah 40: 29-31
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Psalm 103: 2-5 
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

When I spend time praising Him during my prayers and hearing Him by spending time in His Word, God does remind me that He is sovereign, and He does renew me. My focus on Him and my confidence in Him turns my tendency of getting stressed out to being joyful and confident that He will help me get it all done.

I find it interesting how David’s thoughts evolve in Psalm 13. He starts out suggesting that God has forgotten him and focusing on his pain in verses 1 and 2. Then in verses 5 and 6, after praying that God gives light to his eyes, he focuses on the fact that he trusts in God’s unfailing love and notes that his heart rejoices in God’s salvation.

Psalm 13: 5-6 
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

To that I say, “Amen!” God has also transitioning my thoughts from being stressed in my life and constantly posing the question, “Why?” to being grateful that He has chosen to transform me. Thank you, God! So glad that my focus is now on you and that you have inspired me to trust in your unfailing love and to rejoice in your salvation even during the chaos of my life.

Dear Lord, thank you for changing my tendency to be in pain and to be a roadblock for your renewal of me. When I focus on you throughout my day, my days become joyful, even when there is chaos present. Thank you for renewing me! Amen






Monday, July 20, 2020

Praise Him Anyway!

Keeping a good attitude has been a struggle lately. More often than not I'm feeling dissatisfied, frustrated and even downright angry at my circumstances. Life isn't fair!

I've been reading through the Psalms in the morning before I head to work. Sometimes the laments validate my bad mood, but they always end in praise even when my thoughts don't. David often reminds us to sing and shout for joy! But what about if I'm not feeling it? What about when I'm in the middle of hard and terrible things?

David set an example - he faced a lot of serious challenges. Friends turning against him. Temptations stronger than his resistance. Rebellious children. Death of a son. Strained relationships. Whatever it was he faced he acknowledged the difficulty, and simultaneously, he praised God's character: mighty and powerful, all-knowing, tender, just, loving and kind, righteous, and infinitely faithful.

It's what I'm called to do too, if I am to be a woman after God's own heart. His character does not depend on my ever changing circumstances, and in fact His praise will sound louder to the world around me when it's in the midst of hard times. He is always good, no matter what.

I encourage you to praise Him anyway on your difficult days. Read the Psalms. Think about God's never changing characteristics. Turn that praise music up! There's nothing better to lift your mood.

"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast on the Lord; The humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together!" Psalm 34:1



Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Demonstration of God’s Love

In Ephesians 4:11 -16, Paul shared some wonderful insights about how our service to and love for others will create an opportunity to testify about our faith in Jesus Christ. He urged us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. The following verses share his reflections on how Jesus dedicates us to serving our Heavenly Father in various ways and how we build the body of Christ in love.

Ephesians 4:11 – 16
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves; and blow here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

So many of us have talents that allow us to school others in faith and draw them to our Heavenly Father. As is emphasized by Paul, our love for others becomes an instrument for drawing them to Him. During our lives, there are so many ways to testify about our faith in God and demonstrate what a wonderful Heavenly Father we enjoy. As a disciple for our Heavenly Father, we can use our love for others to draw them to Him.

Recently, the Lord demonstrated to me that when I love others, even those I don’t minister to, it creates an opportunity for me testify about my faith in Him and how He sets an aspirational standard for our lives. We all inherit health gifts from the parents we love. My genetic gifts of osteoporosis and pre-diabetes have motivated me to do a worship walk every morning. As I stroll about 2.5 miles through my neighborhood listening to Christian tunes, I often see crappy trash lying throughout my neighborhood. For some reason, I felt called to start picking it up.

As I started this ritual, I picked up a few things here and there and then tossed them in the dumpsters in my townhouse community. When the pandemic began, I stopped because I didn’t feel that it was safe. Just a few days after this decision, I experienced a puncture of one of my tires as I drove over something trashy. I consider the $117 that I had to spend on a new tire a calling by God to demonstrate my love for others by protecting them from experiencing the same tragedy.

After my friend Terry gave me some plastic gloves to protect my health, I began once again to pick up trash, but in a very determined way. In recent months, more and more individuals have praised me for my efforts. In those moments of praise, I share with them how our Heavenly Father laid on my heart that I need to demonstrate my love for my wonderful neighbors by protecting their vehicles and preserving the beauty of our community.

More and more often, I am getting praised, and more and more I verbally turn that praise to our Heavenly Father who motivated me to serve them and to confirm that I love them.

Jesus proclaimed that our love for our Lord and for others is the greatest commandment of our lives.

Mark 12:29 – 31
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”    

This new methodology in my life of loving my neighbors allows me to celebrate our Heavenly Father in my community and invite others to see our Heavenly Father as the loving, protecting God who He is.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Silhouette

It was my first time in church. I had a wide brim black hat on, pulled low over my eyes to make it easier to avoid eye contact. I had a pink Chanel suit on, with black grosgrain bows at the wrists. My nails were lacquered to match my ensemble. My appearance was entirely intentional, I wanted to present myself in complete control and no worse for the weathering of my recent days.

Do you see the real me? Or, do you simply go by a silhouette of edges. Am I a composite of what you “assume” me to be? Made up of details that you judge from my surface.

Let me go back, this was nearly three decades ago. I was attending my best - since I was five - friend’s wedding. It was being held in the church where I was raised and had attended church twice a day on Sunday and nearly ever Wednesday. This church, and the people in it, had always been my safe haven. Until this day.

 I felt as a newly divorced, newly minted Single Mom that my faith, that my life would be judged as less than, as less spiritual or godly than it once had been.

 I had spent hours the night before crying because I was afraid of the whispers and the knowing looks that would come my way, since more than half of those in attendance that afternoon in June had probably all known me since about the time I had lost my first tooth.

 Instead of looking at this situation, which seemed so daunting to me, I should have looked at it as God commanded Samuel. But, the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not judge by his appearance…” (I Samuel 16:7a)

 I was totally living out of my flesh.

 I was hoping my appearance would make me worthy and acceptable. I was not relying on what God said about me, that I was so valuable that His son’s life was sacrificed for me. I was hoping that glamorizing my outside would make my trials and tribulations, my sins and my regrets overlooked, instead of living in the forgiveness and the cleansing Jesus’s stripes on his back and subsequent death had afforded me.

There it was clear as Caribbean water. Judging - and being judged - by appearances. PRIDE.

It was pride that led to my insecurity, it was pride that led to me wanting to appear something that in my heart I was not, it was pride that judged the people I would see before they judged me. Pride that leads us just to see a silhouette of someone else, or leads us to want to be seen as a silhouette of something we are not. It is pride that leads to misunderstanding. To wrong judgments. To discontent.

Pride leads to conflict, (Proverbs 13:10a) and that is entirely what is causing the unrest in a nation that once espoused that it was created under one God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pride looks at the differences in people. Pride looks only skin deep, and sometimes not even that far. Pride looks and judges. Saying, “I am better because I drive this car,” “I am better because I arrive at church on time,” “I am better because of the tone of my skin,” and “I know who you are because I can see you with my eyes and not with my heart.”

 All the conflicts that are raging in our country really are founded in pride. We are not looking at everyone around us with God’s eyes, and the truth is, The Lord does not see things the way we do. People judge by outward appearance, while the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7c).

Grace, humility, a lack of pride and judgmental ideals has to start in our heart, even before it starts in demonstrations and picket lines. Hearts have to change before any changes can be affected in our homes, in our towns, nationally, and globally. Change isn’t an outward thing - it is entirely a heart thing. Our hearts should be completely governed by God, and if they are, our actions will be a testament to His place in our lives.

If we are truly following the Lord, we know our steps are ordained, and that there are no accidents or coincidences that happen to each one of us, all the events in our lives God is working in. "And we know that for those who love God that he works all things together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose". (Romans 8:28) This has to be applied for us to navigate these uncertain times. While many of today’s events can be saddening, disturbing, and even frightening, God is at work. He has not left us.

 But, the choice in these uncertain days is entirely our own. Will we live in a way that God can work in our hearts and change them during this constantly fluctuating, uneasy time? Or will we succumb to pride, to fear, to anger…

In closing:

Dear Lord, Please clothe me in humility. Do not let my pride cause me to judge others. Give me your eyes to see those other than myself. And, Lord, break my heart for others as Your heart has been broken for me. 

 I pray these things in your Son Jesus’ name, ~ Amen

Friday, May 22, 2020

3 Things I've Learned About Community While In Isolation

I’ve always welcomed isolation. At times, you could even say that I’ve longed for it. Isolation, to me, means renewal. It gives me strength, energy and is good for my mental health. I love giving, serving and coming alongside people but it needs to be balanced with time alone. But isolation can have a negative side if I am not careful. It’s my weakness, the place the enemy knows to attack. I’ll isolate from the hurt, pain or sorrow that have come into my life. I withdraw from my community when things get too hard or hurtful. I will just curl up within myself where it feels safe.

I do not always mean to stay in isolation for long periods of time, but too often I just get comfortable. I begin to believe the lie that I can get by on my own, just Jesus and me. But this kind of isolation is counter intuitive. It drains my energy. It does not cause growth but death. Death to my soul. Death to my relationships. It will push people away making me even more isolated sending me on a path toward discouragement, even depression.

During this time of forced isolation I have come to realize that I have grown far too comfortable in my self isolation of the past few years. As I said before, isolation can be a needed renewal of energy but it should be for short periods of time not a lifestyle.

God has used this time of quarantine to shown me why I need to be in community. I am sure there are more but theses are the, not so new, lessons I’ve seen.

Living in community our lies are exposed. We are more vulnerable to believe the lies of the world, our flesh and our enemy when isolated. It’s important to have a community around us that will challenge our beliefs, and speak truth to us when we are believing lies. As others live and speak the truth around us the lies we believe are easier to see. (Ephesians 4:14-16;25)

Community helps me to grow. I can and should have times in God’s word alone. I need to be able to study God’s word for myself, to be able to grow alone. But I also need God’s people to help me process, and challenge me to go deeper in my understanding of God’s word and who God is. (1 Cor 12:24-26; 1 Thess 5:11)

 Community is a safe place to be our authentic self. I really struggle with this one but it doesn’t make it any less true. Let’s just be honest here, community isn’t always safe. In fact, community has been a place of great hurt. What God has shown me though is that even in the hurt and pain it can still be safe in Him. It’s here that my brothers and sisters will love, support, pray, encourage, and point me toward Jesus.

They will not always do it perfectly, and neither will I. They will, however, accept me with love and desire God’s best for me. Within the larger Church we can find smaller communities of people that are safe. A group of close friends, a life group, a Bible study can all be really safe communities. They are more intimate and allow you a place to grow deeper, and become more solid in your walk with Jesus. They will hold you accountable to the truth of God’s word. (Hebrews 10:23-25; Gal 6:2; 1 Pe 4:8;)

 My challenge (to all of us) is that when this “forced” isolation is over we will pour ourselves out and really love our community. To reach out with abandon asking “how can I best serve Jesus as I serve His people.” We must be willing to go out on a ledge, if needed, in order to rescue our brothers or sisters in Christ. We need to surround ourselves with a group of God's family who love us, point us to Him, keep us accountable and grow us deeper in our relations with Christ.

In Christ’s community, we need to be willing to be rejected, hurt, or misunderstood in order to point our brother’s and sister’s toward a deeper walk with Jesus.

Do you want to study further how we should treat one another in community? Check out this list of the one another verses in the New Testament. Click here for One Another verses. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

In Desperate Need


I am in desperate need of a snuggle and a sleep-over with my granddaughter.

I am in desperate need of a good cry, the kind that leaves me not empty but cleansed.

 I am in desperate need of a Sunday family dinner, with ALL the seats filled.

I am in desperate need of connection.

I am in desperate need of forgiveness.

I am in desperate need of…

In this current situation of isolation and limitation, there are so many things I can think of to add to this small-scale list. Things that are real, heart-hurting needs and even the paltry me-focused needs of wanting to be pampered and preened over.

The Random Unabridged Dictionary defines the word “desperate” as feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.

Right now in this suspended life, these needs seem pressing and at times smothering and maybe even desperate. That is my humanness in a season of limits, and in a season of lack of control over events and circumstances. My own strength cannot handle my needs, small and large.

My greatest and all encompassing, desperate need is that of a Savior.

These needs, listed above, are temporal. Fleeting. Transitory. My truest deepest need is surrender to a God who will meet ALL my needs. I do not have the power to overcome on my own, nor will I ever conquer this need and hold it at bay. “For I know that nothing good lives in me. I want to what is right but fail so miserably.” Romans 7:18. I want do those things that are right and good and pure. I want to have hope, and share it with others. I desperately want to be the woman, the wife, the daughter, the Mama, the Nona, the Mother in Law, the friend that I was created to be. I struggle when I fail, fall short, see only my own needs instead of those around me. Focus on comforting myself. I struggle, I stumble. I so often carry the weight on my own.

I try. I bargain. I do-over. I am desperate.

But, ahhhh sweet Jesus there is hope in my desperation. There is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me.“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other,” says the Lord of All. Isaiah 45:21b-22. 

How could it be this simple, and yet so hard, to surrender my desperation to Him. In the never ending yearning. The struggle we feel to have and do and be. To accomplish. To perfect. The age-long desires and the uncountable numbers of failures of doing it all on your own. Our struggles are not unique, they are present in every woman. They were present before the epidemic, and they will be present when this time of travail is locked in historic annals.

I look to those who were long ago God’s chosen people. They struggled and faltered. The sinned in their lack of trust and lack of faithfulness. The turned their back on God, even though He had been ever faithful and ever forgiving. My struggles, it seems, are not uncommon to woman [man].

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the desperate burdens you carry, and I will deliver you from bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the desperate burdens. Exodus 6:6-7. 

And so, in my present desperation, in my future desperation I will call on the Lord God who is the only one who can meet me in my despair. In my fear. In my uncertainty. In the insecurity of the present day. In the unknown of decades into the future. I will trust in you Lord God. I will trust in you. Again, and again, and yet again. I will call for I am in desperate need of ALL of you Lord God.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Opposition of Fear is...

With all that is going on around us, it’s a daily battle to not give in to fear or despair; so many headlines, so many changing circumstances, so many unknowns. I know I am grateful for the online Bible teaching and the ability to still hear from our pastors and congregation during this time of social isolation. We are told to increase and display our faith and yes, for such a time as this, that is true.

I read something the other day however that stood out to me as perhaps a missing piece of what we will need to stand, yes, even to grow spiritually during such times as this.

It is Love.

 Ok, if I have not lost you yet, let me explain.

I happened to read Jude 20-21, Amplified Bible: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up [founded] on your most holy faith [make progress, rise like an edifice higher and higher], praying in the Holy Spirit; Guard and keep yourselves in the love of God; expect and patiently wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) -[which will bring you] unto life eternal.”

Now we know we need to guard a good bit in our faith. Proverbs 4:23 says to “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” We are to be on guard against our adversary the devil (1 Peter 5:8). We are to be on guard against pride that makes us susceptible to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:12). But Guard and keep myself in the love of Christ?

One of the first examples of this that comes to mind, and is appropriate in so many ways for today, is the story of the disciples in the boat..in a storm...with Jesus..who is sleeping. The storm is raging, the boat is sinking and the Lord is asleep while they are bailing the water and shouting in fear. Finally they approach the Lord and the first thing they ask is, “Master, don’t you care that we are perishing?” And as we know, Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves and then rebuked the disciples for their “little” faith.

Now the disciples knew to get to Jesus as the storm became too great to handle, so they had the faith that He could save them. I am suggesting that Jesus’ rebuke was directly to the question they asked: faith (confidence) in His love for them.

Here, I raise my hand, guilty as charged. How quickly in my intense storms that my faith in His power weakens to the point that I am questioning His love for me more than I question His power over the storm. Here are the thought patterns I am sure you can recognize:

I am with Jesus in the boat, what a great day.

He falls asleep but He is with me.

There is a storm ahead, but that’s ok because I have Jesus with me.

Wow..this storm is a bad one. I am sure Jesus will wake up soon and take care of it.

Right, Jesus?

Jesus, this storm is SO BAD. Why won’t you wake up and do something about it?

Jesus, if you cared, you would wake up and still it.

Jesus, you must not care.

See, I go from faith in His power to lack of faith in His love. And here is where being grounded in God’s love is the antidote to fear.

1 John 4:18 says that “full-grown, (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror!” While the immediate context is of no fear of judgement from God, how applicable this is to us in times of storm! Psalm 131:2 speaks of being like a weaned child, resting with his mother rather than fretting because the child is now no longer in constant need of milk.

I am always humbled by Paul’s great prayer in Ephesians 3: 18-19: “That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth, and the length and height and depth [of it]; [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience].

Yes, I need to “guard and keep myself in the love of God”. In my storms, when Jesus is there with me but not “doing anything”. The cross of the Lord is the ultimate reminder that He who endured my sin will be with me in the times of trial and testing I endure.

Lord I humbly bow at your feet and say Forgive me where my faith focuses on the storm and not on Your love. Keep me and your church filled with this knowledge that surpasses understanding so that we may be so confident of your love that our prayers stay motivated by that instead of fear.

Thank you for loving me, Lord.