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Archive for August, 2018

Micki and I first met at church, and within moments it became clear: this woman would make a great friend. Not only did she exude warmth and smile easily, she asked questions.   Good questions.  And then she listened intently to my answers.

Fast forward a few years from that initial encounter. God did bring Micki and me together, and we’ve been friends ever since—over ten years now.

To know Micki is to experience loving acceptance from her heart, hear godly wisdom from her spirit, and receive splashes of joy from her effervescent personality.

You would not know that this well-balanced and vibrant person has suffered much pain and loss.

With Micki’s permission I am sharing with you her story:

At one time or another during her youth, Micki lived in the same house with an alcoholic, a drug abuser, and a person suffering from mental illness.

In addition, she is an incest survivor and rape survivor.

“When you are abused by a person who should represent safety and security, and no one comes to rescue you, your entire world shifts,” Micki explains. “All the foundational undergirding and security a healthy child experiences is taken away. The world becomes terribly unsafe, with no one to trust or run to. And even though it is the abuser who is wrong, it is the child who feels dirty and bad.”

Those dreadful circumstances, however, were not the only tragedies to enter Micki’s life. She endured the trauma of teenage pregnancy and a doomed marriage as well.

“My first husband was a good and honorable man, but he was so wounded by his own childhood, he could not express love. For five years I was married to a man to whom I would say, ‘I love you’, and from whom would come silence. A man I hugged who couldn’t hug back. A man who regularly moved away from my touch.

“He never abused me, never fought with me, always provided for me, but his rejection was like a cancer, slowly eating away at my self-esteem. At that time I didn’t know he’d been wounded. I only knew he couldn’t stand to touch me, and the conclusion I drew was he must have discovered the truth—that I was dirty, unlovable and ugly.”

Micki recognized the damage in her life from living with an alcoholic, so she began attending Al-Anon, the sister organization of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Through that program, Micki was drawn to people with this light inside them—people who seemed happy despite their desperate circumstances—people who appeared to have a handle on that “Higher Power” the Al-Anon leaders taught about.

Of course, those people who radiated that Light were Christians, and in due time one of them led her to Jesus. She didn’t know it, but that was Micki’s first step toward wholeness.

Not long after she became a Christian, someone asked her, “Do you know how special you are to God?” She remembers sobbing because, how could ANYONE, much less GOD, think she was special?

Micki was so blinded by her past she could not fully grasp God’s personal love. But gently and tenderly over a number of years, he led her toward emotional and spiritual healing, that moment in time when she could finally accept God’s warm and gracious love.

Micki participated in her healing through enthusiastic Bible study. Where once she found scripture rather meaningless, the new Micki reveled in the instruction, inspiration, and encouragement she found within its pages.

Prayer became a lifeline as she navigated the rough waters of challenging family relationships and a stressful job.

Later, ministries at church became a source of great fulfillment. God has put her on a healing team and the planning team for women’s retreats, given her Bible study groups to lead and young women to mentor, as well as put her at the podium occasionally to speak. She has impacted hundreds of lives throughout the three decades since she said “yes” to Jesus.

As he so often does, God took the great brokenness of Micki’s life and created beautiful wholeness.

Then God took her wholeness, broke it open and poured it out, to multiply the beauty in others.

It’s what our God loves to do.

 

Micki and me, April 2018

 

 

 

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Expect to find trouble in this day.

At the same time, trust that [God’s] way is perfect,

even in the midst of such messy imperfection.

—Sarah Young (1)

 

Wait a minute. Trouble and perfection sound like opposites to me. Trouble is pain; perfection is bliss. How can those two concepts possibly coexist in our experience?

Sarah didn’t answer my question, so I headed to scripture to find out how God’s way could possibly be perfect for us in the midst of trouble.

My first stop occurred in Deuteronomy 32:4. “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

 

 

And if I virtually click on a few words of that verse, the following truths reveal themselves:

  • God my Rock is utterly reliable and unshakably trustworthy
  • All of his works perfectly execute all of his plans
  • His ways reflect right judgments and highest wisdom
  • God is devoted to his children and faithful to his Word
  • All his actions are founded on absolute justice and supreme equity

But when trouble enters our lives, our Rock foundation can feel unreliable and untrustworthy. We might question the perfection of his plans, the wisdom of his ways, and the trustworthiness of his promises.

 

 

Then more than ever we must affirm: “Our inability to discern why bad things sometimes happen to us does not disprove God’s benevolence, it merely exposes our ignorance” (2).

Our finite minds cannot understand the all-wise, far-reaching, untraceable workings of a perfectly blameless and righteous God (3).

 

 

So the choice becomes ours. Will we: A) give in to worry, defeatism, and frustration, or B) seek to displace those emotions with scriptural truth and perhaps discover a better way to live?

I prefer Plan B!  I’m guessing you do too.  And a profitable place to begin is in the book of Psalms. We can collect numerous statements of God’s perfections at work on our behalf, even as we navigate through trouble.

For example, our Heavenly Father:

 

 

  • Watches over us (1:6). He knows what’s happening.
  • Gives us refuge (2:12)—not from trouble, but in the trouble.
  • Sustains us (3:5) with hope.
  • Hears us when we call to him (4:3), and is already working to bring beauty out of the ashes of adversity.

 

 

  • Fills our hearts with great joy (4:7)—despite the circumstances.
  • Encourages us (10:17) with his Word.
  • Turns our darkness into light (18:28), as he brings bright blessings out of dismal situations.
  • Arms us with strength (18:32) to endure.

 

 

  • Makes our ways perfect (18:32) as he gives us everything we need.
  • Guides us along right paths (23:3) toward maturity, serenity, and fulfillment.
  • Infuses us with peace (29:11) as we remember all things are possible with God.
  • Shows his wonderful love to us (31:21). And as we celebrate each day the manifestations of that love, our trust and contentment grow (4).

 

 

There you have it—a perfect dozen promises for troublesome times, gleaned from the first thirty-one chapters of just one biblical book. Many more are tucked within the pages of our Bibles, waiting to be discovered and embraced.

But worry, confusion, and discouragement don’t easily give up front-and-center attention in our minds. We must continually replace such thoughts with statements of faith, reminding ourselves: “The God who made us can equip us for the road ahead, even if it is an unpleasant road” (5).

 

 

After all, he’s in the driver’s seat, he has an impeccable driving record, and he deeply desires to accompany us toward our destination in heaven—to perfectly protect us, counsel us, and guide us safely all the way home–even through trouble.

 

P.S.  An update on my husband, Steve:  Many of you know he is fighting liver cancer right now.  Next week he will undergo another chemo treatment and radiation.  Our prayer is these procedures will eradicate the last tumor and no more will develop before he receives a transplant, perhaps early winter.  Thank you again for your love, support, encouragement, and prayer.  We are cocooned in God’s peace!

 

Notes:

(1) Jesus Calling, Thomas Nelson, 2004 p. 160.

(2) Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? and Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith, Zondervan, 2003, p. 46.

(3) Romans 11:33-36.

(4) The following twelve scriptures provide further support: Psalm 139:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Romans 15:13; Isaiah 61:3; Psalm 94:19; Psalm 119:50; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:13; 2 Peter 1:3-4; James 1:2-4; Luke 1:37; Philippians 4:4, 12.

(5) Karol Ladd, Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive, Howard Books, 2009, p. 47.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.ymi.today; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.dailyverses.net’ http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr (Chris Bartnik); http://www.geograph.org.uk.

 

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Late summer abounds with color. Produce bins overflow with jewel-toned peppers, butter yellow corn, curly green lettuce, and deep purple eggplant.

 

 

Flowerpots and planters proffer cascades of royal plum petunias, lemon drop begonias, hot coral geraniums, and more.

 

 

Even our clothing this time of year can dazzle the eyes with such hues as sunflower yellow, Caribbean blue, and Calypso orange.

 

 

We are surrounded by color in the physical realm.

In the spiritual realm, we are also surrounded—by the shades of God’s grace. Every moment, his love for us inclines him to bestow a plethora of benefits, even though we’re completely undeserving.

Those shades of grace include the following:

 

Red for Jesus’ Blood

 

 

In the alchemy of God’s grace, our sin-blackened hearts become as white as snow (1).

And from the day we each invite Jesus to perform that transformation, we become the sons and daughters of the Ruler of the universe, with all the privileges of his kingdom, including his comfort, security, and peace.

 

Orange for God’s Countless Blessings

Every day begins with the sun’s fiery appearance and ends with its glowing departure. All day long everything on earth benefits from its light.

 

 

Similarly, all day long we benefit from God’s countless blessings—especially if we’re attentive and grateful.

 

“Let the thankful heart sweep through the day and,

as the magnet finds the iron,

so it will find, in every hour,

some heavenly blessings.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

On Monday I worked in our foliage/flower beds and tried to be a magnet, finding heavenly blessings while on my hands and knees in the dirt.

I collected the following gifts:

  • cooler temps and less humidity
  • only a few weeds to dig up
  • a cute little worm doing aerobic wiggles
  • refreshing sips of ice water
  • the undulating, soft strum of cicadas (Is there a more quintessential sound of summer?)
  • a few birds in a serenading mood

 

 

Even working in the dirt offers transcendent moments of awe.

 

Gold for God’s Word

 

 

What other book offers such a treasure trove of instruction and inspiration, encouragement and comfort, strength and hope—as well as a place to become acquainted with God himself?

 

“The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”

–Saint Augustine

 

Green for Growth

 

 “God loves us just the way we are,

but he refuses to leave us that way.

He wants us to be just like Jesus.”

–Max Lucado (2)

 

 

Growth happens slowly, however. We sometimes wonder if progress is happening at all. Perhaps the four stages of spiritual growth described long ago by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) will provide a useful measuring tool:

  1. Loving ourselves for our own sakes
  2. Loving God for our own sake, for what God does for us
  3. Loving God for God’s sake, unselfishly, and
  4. Loving ourselves for God’s sake, in awareness of God’s great love for us

Phillip Yancey added a fifth state: Loving others for God’s sake (3).

 

 

Wherever we find ourselves on the continuum, our God who started this great work in us will “keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (4).

(And just in that one verse alone, we have an example of the inspiration, encouragement, comfort, and hope we find in scripture!)

 

Blue for God’s Character and Heaven

 

 

The color blue symbolizes loyalty, wisdom, intelligence, truth, and heaven (5).

Interesting that the first four qualities describe God. Out of his grace, he is: loyal to us, wise in his dealings with us, intelligent in his governance over the universe, and the source of absolute truth for us.

As for heaven:

 

“If heaven were a beautiful place only,

it would not be enough.

But heaven is also a blessed place—

a place that receives the fullness of God’s favor.”

Anne Graham Lotz (6)

 

Think about that: the fullness of all God is, all the glorious shades of God’s grace, exist in heaven and will one day surround us there—forever.

 

Notes:

(1) Psalm 51:7; Hebrews 10:22

(2) Just Like Jesus, Thomas Nelson, 2012.

(3) Reaching for the Invisible God, Zondervan, 2001.

(4) Philippians 1:6 MSG, emphasis added

(5) http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaninig.html

(6) The Vision of His Glory, Word Publishing, 1996.

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.flickr.com (Kenneth Konica); http://www.flickr.com (Jim Killock); http://www.wikimedia.com’ http://www.flickr.com (Jose Luis Pelaez);  http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Johnny reached for the highball near his workspace, even though it was only 10:00 in the morning. It was a necessity, he told himself, to help release his creativity and wit. How else was he supposed to come up with new ideas day after day?

He had thought a new home in the country would provide inspiration, renewed energy for his work, and the tranquility he longed for. But once he and his wife Bobby settled on their 150-acre estate, with a huge, wood-paneled studio overlooking a 25-acre lake, Johnny found himself just as unhappy and uninspired as before the move.

 

(Not Johnny’s and Bobby’s lake, but perhaps similar)

 

The success he’d achieved, the fortune he had acquired, the entertainment he pursued did not provide the satisfaction he’d expected.

Not long after settling into their new home, Johnny and Bobby decided to address its one drawback: there was no television reception. They purchased a satellite system.

The company sent a father/son team to install it—a process that became more complicated and time-consuming than anyone expected. The father and son stayed in the large studio for the days it took to complete the task.

As work progressed to hook up the several TVs in the house and one in the studio, the two men tuned in to a Christian station. Johnny found himself drawn to the screens, listening to the likes of D. James Kennedy, a well-respected preacher and author at the time.  Johnny had been a believer in Jesus when he was young, but had drifted away in adulthood.

The more he listened, the more he remembered what he’d learned years before in Sunday School: God made us humans and loves us. But we are sinful, and sin separates us from him. So God sent his perfect Son, Jesus, to die in our place. And those who believe in him receive the incredible gift of eternal life with him in heaven when we die (John 3:16).

 

 

Johnny began reading the Bible and felt his doubts, dissatisfaction and fears melting away. In their place he noticed a deep sense of peace and purpose.

Part of that purpose was to allow his rekindled faith to impact his work as a cartoonist. He began to include Christian references in his highly successful comic strip, “B.C.”

You might remember it. Simple drawings of cavemen, dinosaurs, ants, and other animals inhabited a very stark habitat. The genius wasn’t in the drawings; it was in the puns, irony, wordplay, and dry humor that Johnny Hart produced for fifty years, from 1957-2007.

For example, in one strip, a caveman says, “God, if you’re up there, give me a sign.” In the next frame, a huge neon sign sits crookedly and slightly buried in the sand in front of the caveman. It has obviously just fallen from the sky, and it reads—in big capital letters—“I’M UP HERE.”

Of course, Johnny was criticized for those strips that affirmed Christian beliefs. His response to such reproach was to ask a question:

“What purpose would I serve if I had the answer to the mystery of life only I did not tell it for the sake of what other people believe (1)?”

One of Johnny Hart’s strips about the mystery of life moved me to tears.

It appeared on Good Friday, 1996.

There were simply four empty panels with no artwork and no conversation bubbles. The first panel was gray, the second a shade darker, the third darker still, and the last frame was completely black. That final panel carried the simple caption: Good Friday.

Such a simple presentation, but overflowing with meaning. For me, the progression toward black was symbolic of Jesus’ experiences that day—from betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane to an unlawful trial, a flogging, a crown of thorns, a heavy cross to carry, and the worst torture man has ever devised: crucifixion. The land was shrouded in darkness that day for three hours (Mark 15:33).

But oh, it is Good Friday, because that darkest deed of history became our bright victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

 

 

And because of Jesus’ profound sacrifice, we do have hope, peace, purpose, and more.

Johnny Hart would want us to know.

 

Note:

(1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1999/04/04/god-thats-funny/38fc77f9-dee5-4a18-b8c5-e5283c3e0964/?utm_term=.ff75a4558709

 

Sources:

1) https://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/572-newsletters/the-buzz/4671-johnny-hart-i-did-it-his-way

2)http://jeffjenkinsocala.blogspot.com/2008/07/bc-comics-censored.html

3) https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1999/04/04/god-thats-funny/38fc77f9-dee5-4a18-b8c5-e5283c3e0964/?utm_term=.ff75a4558709

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flicr.com; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.dailyverses.net (2).

 

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“Stand with me and sing!” invites the enthusiastic worship leader on the church platform, while guitars begin an upbeat tune and drums rap out a foot-tapping rhythm.

Around me people sway a bit to the music, some raise their hands, others worship with eyes closed.

And though I, too, sway and raise my hands, I have to admit my heart’s not in it. For some reason, lyrics that have brought me to joyful tears on other occasions are not penetrating today.

My spirit seems paralyzed—no feeling whatsoever. Efforts to engage—focusing on the words and imagining my Heavenly Father on his throne, listening with parental pleasure—don’t seem to help.

What’s wrong with me? I wonder.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the same numbness in corporate worship, maybe during personal quiet time or at prayer. And like me, you’ve felt certain that something must be wrong.

 

 

Granted, we worship God to honor him. Our end goal is not to rustle up feel-good endorphins for us.

But, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How is that even possible when we come down with a case of the spiritual blahs?

Actually, days and even seasons of spiritual dryness are a normal part of our faith-walk, experienced by almost every Christian at one time or another. And there is comfort in that, knowing we’re not alone.

Theologian Sam Storms offers us further encouragement:

 

“God is glorified by your longing for the joy to be found in him,

even if you are not yet experiencing it” (1).

 

But are there strategies we can implement to jump-start our hearts into exuberant responsiveness?

As a matter of fact, yes.

 

 

We can: 

1. Be honest with God.

King David certainly was. “I spread out my hands to you;” he cried. “My soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (143:6).

Yet in spite of his emotional tailspin, David writes, “I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul (v. 8).

 

 

David provides a worthy example to follow: acknowledge the truth; affirm our trust, and seek God’s guidance.

 

2. Rehearse what we know about God’s character, his promises. 

Our minds are renewable resources (Romans 12:2). We can turn our thoughts away from the numbness we’re experiencing at the moment, and focus on what is lovely and true, excellent and praiseworthy about our God.

Sometimes such thought processes are all that’s necessary to bring us out of the doldrums (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

3. Persevere in spite of our emotions.

Keep showing up in God’s presence whether we feel like it or not.

Our emotions must not be allowed to control actions. In fact, God especially appreciates a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15), which surely includes offering him our worship when the fervency just isn’t there.

 

 

4. Anticipate.

Worship with an outlook on the future (Psalm 42:1-2). We can look forward to the day when our hearts will overflow again with ecstatic praise—even to the point of joyful tears.

 

5. Pray. 

Perhaps something like this: 

“Father in heaven, flood the dry places of my soul with your presence; lift the gray clouds that conceal you. Within my spirit I want to feel the warmth of your radiant Light, be wrapped in your unfailing love, and fly with you on the wings of the dawn!

In trusting expectancy I wait for you, O Lord. I know you will answer.”

 

 

(Isaiah 44:3; Psalm 4:6, 32:10, 139:9, 38:15)

 

What helps you beat the spiritual blahs?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Note:

(1) https://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/how-can-i-worship-when-i-feel-nothing.html

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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