Posted in Christian Living

Days of Ice Cream and Air Conditioning

marypoppins

Color me Disney. Last week, I pondered the positive side of a Pollyanna outlook. Today, I pulled up one of my WDW vacation pictures for a little inspiration.

The truth is, I have a couple of really juicy ideas to write about. I even have some excerpts from the book I am currently writing that I wouldn’t mind sharing. But, frankly, it’s the middle of summer, and the only thing saving me from the heat is my wonderful a/c and dreams of ice cream.

So, what about a list of five things we can be doing on hot summer days to offer the love of Christ to those who are of the world and not just in it?

  1. Write a blog post! ¬†ūüôā ¬†Or better yet, read some blog posts and find someone you can encourage in their own walk with Christ. ¬†Many of us writers are much better communicators when we can put something on a page (or computer screen) then when we are speaking in person. ¬†Let’s put those skills to use to be encouragers of the Word.
  2. Turn your favorite hobby into an act of giving. ¬†I enjoy knitting. ¬†I’m not very good at it, but I can at least cable-stitch a decent lap or baby blanket. ¬†I buy soft yarn and take my time knitting as I am able. ¬†When I complete a blanket, I wash it to make sure it smells nice and holds up. ¬†Then, I give it to a friend of mine who works for a community outreach group. ¬†She passes the handmade blankets on to nursing homes and/or programs that provide clothes to mamas who have nothing to take their newborns home in.
  3. Clean out your closets. ¬†Did you know that anyone who has to go to the hospital for a suspected sexual assault has to give up all their clothing as evidence? ¬†Most hospitals have some kind of program to take in clean, nice clothes as replacements. ¬†Or, your nice clothes that you don’t wear anymore could go to your local outreach organization for them to distribute or sell in their thrift shop to fund programs that do things like help kids get supplies for school.
  4. Stock up on some cool bottles of water and canned goods or snacks and make the circuit in your car. ¬†When you see one of the people on the street corner with the signs about needing work or money, hand them the bottle of water and a protein bar. ¬†You could even have a typed or handwritten message about God’s love for us to hand to the person as well. ¬†The policeman out on patrol wouldn’t mind some cool water on a hot day either, I’m sure.
  5. Phone an acquaintance. ¬†We all have people in our lives that we know and have felt a call to reach out to, but we just haven’t gotten the courage to do it yet. ¬†What better excuse than a day too hot to be outside to give them a call? ¬†Depending on the situation, it could be under the guise of making sure the person has enough resources to make it through the heat (like an elderly neighbor on a fixed income who may not be able to afford the a/c) or to just say hello.

I know none of these suggestions are particularly earth-shattering.  They also are nothing new.  I have blatantly taken them from ideas of kind acts I have seen others do.  Grace is such a wonderful gift, may we never take it for granted.  So, even on lazy, summer days, we can find ways to be the hand of grace toward others for the One who makes all things new for us and through Whom all things are possible.

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Posted in Christianity, Faith

Why Easter Trumps Christmas

Happy Easter 2013¬† Christmas and Easter each have different reasons to bring about celebration.¬†¬†Why both of them are vitally important to us, I would argue that Easter’s reason edges out Christmas.¬† And, yes, I know we actually couldn’t have one without the other.¬† Still, here are the reasons that I think Easter gives us just a smidgen more to celebrate.

On Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God loved us so much, He came to earth to live like one of us in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.¬† Some people have trouble with the concept of God in the form of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.¬† I read recently a really interesting metaphor to help us understand this concept (sorry, I can’t remember where I read it to give full credit).¬† Think about the sun and all the power and life it brings to our planet.¬† The sun itself is visible in the sky.¬† The rays that we can’t see give life to plants.¬† We also feel the heat the sun provides on our skin.¬† The Son and the Holy Spirit are functioning like the heat and UV rays of the sun as far as the relationship between all three are concerned.¬† Like the sun and its physical properties, almighty God exists in the three forms we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As Christ walked on this earth, He referred to Himself as the Son of God.  He also told us that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us when He no longer was physically walking the planet.  God, despite what the deists or materialists might say, is in everything and about everything that we experience in this world, if we will just open our minds and hearts to let Him in.

So why is Easter about so much more than bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs?  Easter celebrates the triumph of Jesus, God-made-man, as the culmination of His walk on the earth sees fruition through His resurrection from the grave.  If Christ had not allowed Himself to be taken prisoner by the Roman authorities,to be beaten and mocked by soldiers He could have called a legion of angels to defend Himself from, to be nailed to a cross to die an ignominious death, to have suffered the humiliation, pain, and torture of that death as a sacrifice for all of us, when He Himself was perfect and required no sacrifice on His own behalf, then there would be no hope for salvation for the rest of humanity.

In order for the promise of Easter to be true, Christ has to be the divine living as a man, dying as a perfect man for the sins of all, rising as a triumphant God who has set all sinners who are willing to believe free, and making Himself continually accessible for those believers through the strength of His Holy Spirit made available through the gift of grace.

Easter celebrates the faith that lets us believe without seeing.  It celebrates the truth that the omnipotent God, whom no one can fully understand, makes Himself available to us in multiple, wondrous ways that open to us as easily as the plastic, pastel eggs that will hold prizes and candy on Sunday morning, as long as we open our arms in faith and believe.

Yes, Christmas celebrates the miraculous birth of God-made-man.  But Easter celebrates the awesome gift of grace that became available when that same man rose from the grave to offer salvation to all who believe.

Have you accepted this gift of grace?¬† Does your life reflect an Easter-every-day attitude?¬† You don’t have to wait until this Sunday to accept the gift of grace and live the kind of love that spreads that gift to the rest of your world.

Now, that’s something to celebrate.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Living

Enough Already

How much?  This much!
How much? This much!

How do you define ENOUGH?

As a Christian, we accept that we can never do enough to earn the gift of salvation that is given to us through the grace of Christ. That is why we embrace the concept of grace by understanding that salvation is as simple as asking Christ to be our one-and-only Savior. Nothing we can do will earn our salvation for us, which is why it is so important that Christ has given us the gift of His sacrifice for our salvation.

But, even though nothing we do can save our souls, those who accept Christ as their Savior cannot then do nothing. Instead, we are infused with the Holy Spirit in such a way that we should desire to do good and follow the Word to be as Christ-like as we can be.

Being human in the modern world has its own set of unique challenges. Each of us has a wide variety of roles we play in our day-to-day existence. We are Christians, spouses, parents, children, siblings, employees, friends, neighbors, citizens, volunteers, to name a few. We often have twenty-six hours’ worth of tasks for each twenty-four hour day. And in all of that, we are supposed to exhibit the characteristics of the only One who ever managed to live a human life without a flaw.

So, do we give up on being Christ-like? Of course not! We do best when we lean on the support that Christ gives us to offer the qualities of love and peace and patience that are the hallmark of a Godly life. Only with God in our corner can we even hope to accomplish being Christ-like in this life.

With so many roles to fulfill, so many distractions to tempt us, and so many opportunities to love and help others presented to us in any given day, when do we say enough? For those of us who have type ‚ÄúA,‚ÄĚ perfectionist personalities, failing to say enough can lead to trying to do too many things and actually getting none of them right, wearing ourselves out in the process.
God saw a need for enough, proclaiming a day of rest even for Himself. The Sabbath is such a wonderful gift if we truly take advantage of it. A day of rest spent worshipping God and His glory and spending time with people who share your own beliefs and faith can be so rejuvenating. Taking time to worship is like stopping yourself in the middle of a bad moment to take a deep breath. The body and soul re-center and are ready to face the next moment’s or week’s challenges.

For some of us, days are often spent hearing a voice in our head that tells us we are not fulfilling our purpose in this life, that we are not worthy or productive. Learning to discriminate between a twinge of conscience guiding us to better living and our own brains nagging us in such a way to actually distract us from the work of God, we will be ready to define enough in our day-to-day living.

I‚Äôm still working on this ability, but I am beginning to understand more and more why God told us to ‚Äúbe still and know.‚ÄĚ When my mind is racing with thoughts of tomorrow‚Äôs problems along with today‚Äôs, I have no room to acknowledge the One who assured me that He had it all under control. Only in moments of silence will I really know that He is God.

And that will be enough.

Posted in Living, Self-Help

Where Is Your Victory Garden?

A Live Sculpture of Sprouts some 50 ft. off the ground in Baltimore, Maryland

No matter which side of the current political race you choose to support, I think we can all agree that this country is in a state of crisis. A growing number of people are out of work. The haves are dwindling in numbers at the same time that what they have is outdistancing the have-nots by leaps and bounds. We live in a global community that, if recent events are any indication, want our heads on a very pointy stick. Somebody should do something about it.

Riding in my car today, listening to old-time radio on my Sirius XM, I got to hear the perspective of a time when our country was in equally high crisis. It was a “Dagwood and Blondie” show from the early 40s. At the end of the program, the actors playing the leading roles made the usual war-time appeal to buy bonds. But, they also did something I had a hard time imagining our current stars of today even thinking to do, much less having the courage. The radio voices urged their audience to make the sacrifices now that would ensure that the government could pull itself out of¬†its war-time financial hole once the¬†action was finally over. “Don’t let us suffer as we did after the last war,” the voice said. The actors also told the audience not to buy items for prices other than what the government had set for them, not to buy items they didn’t really need, not to indulge when that indulgence would mean somebody else would suffer.

I couldn’t help but contrast this blunt, everybody-does-his-part approach to a weird commercial I saw recently involving actors of our day. In this modern commercial, we are shown back after back of famous people. Finally, they show their faces to say, “don’t turn your back on our military.” We’ve been involved in severe action for more than 10 years in dangerous conditions abroad. We are fighting an economic and social crisis at home, and these actors are just now coming out to say “don’t turn your back?” What’s more, their commercial gives no positive steps to do right now, no action points. The organization or cause the commercial is supposed to be promoting is even unclear.

I wonder what would happen if George Clooney had the courage to put himself in front of a camera and tell us to quit relying on the government to take care of us, to look to our neighbor to extend a helping hand and receive one, to remember that an honest day’s work, no matter what kind of work it is, is more valuable than a lifetime of handouts to one’s esteem and for the community at large?

During World War II, people planted victory gardens, canned everything they could, ate all leftovers. Housewives even saved used grease to donate for the purpose of making rubber. Ford assembly lines shot out tanks and war machinery at an even faster pace than they produced non-war-time cars. Even the children were not exempt from doing without so that the country as a whole might benefit.

Where is your victory garden today? You can’t fix the problems swirling around this country, but you can control you. All it takes is each one of us taking care of business, refusing to do what isn’t right, even if every one else around us is doing it, and being a helping hand whenever possible to start making a difference. With God, all things are possible. Let’s bring Him back into the fore again in this country, one Victory Garden at a time.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Living

You Want To Know These Three Important Questions For Your Life

We can ALL be this relaxed. Read how.

I have been doing a much better job lately of living day-to-day.¬† This approach to life, realizing that what I really have is only this moment, taking to heart Jesus’ admonition to take care of this day because each day has enough trouble of its own, is really a great leap forward for a compulsive worrier such as myself.¬† It is a very freeing way to approach life when you don’t bog yourself down with the “what ifs” that plague the anxiety-ridden.

As God so often works, I happened to read a really great passage in C.S. Lewis’ Scewtape Letters this week that will help me live each moment in an even more Godly way.¬† After all, it’s easy to live-in-the-moment and fall into the trap of living for the moment, plunging yourself solely into the pleasures and challenges of this life instead of contemplating the next one.

 

What C.S. Lewis proposes is that each person has three questions to ask of herself before doing anything:

  1. Is it righteous?
  2. Is it prudent?
  3. Is it practical?

We need to be sure that we define these questions according to the Bible.¬† The first word, righteous, means “acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin” according to Webster’s Dictionary.¬† If we want the Bible’s definition, we need only turn to the Sermon on the Mount, starting in Matthew 5, to learn about this word from every angle.¬† Jesus simplified righteousness the most when He summed up the law with two edicts: loving God first and most and loving and treating everyone else as we ourselves want to be loved and treated.¬† So, when I ask myself, is this righteous, I know I have to begin my thinking in the realm of love that IS God.

Something that is prudent is “marked by wisdom or judiciousness” (Webster’s).¬† We know from the Proverbs that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.¬† We also know that we can only gain wisdom of God through daily study of His word, daily time with Him in prayer, and concsious knowledge on our part that we really don’t know anything at all when compared with God’s wisdom.¬† So, is our action wise according to the dictates laid out by God, according to His goals for a Christian’s life?

Practical things are “manifested in action, not theoretical or ideal.”¬† They are “capable of being put to use or account/ useful” (Webster’s).¬† It can be so easy to get caught up in our own thoughts all the time, wondering or complaining about how things should be instead of taking care of how things are.¬† But, practical actions are more likely to point outward, to think of others instead of just the self.¬† It’s all very easy to say to ourselves that we love other people.¬† It is another thing altogether to serve food in a soup kitchen or volunteer for a community group or bake dinner for the older neighbor who lives next door.¬† Again, Jesus helped define what was practical during His ministry, often to the shock of the “more religious” Pharisees, who could not see the¬†holiness of some of His actions because they could not see past their own rigidly-defined religion.¬† For example, they did not understand how unclean things like utensils used to eat on the outside do not make a person unclean on the inside.

It’s often been said to count to ten before speaking when you are angry.¬† I like this idea of taking time to ask myself three questions before I take an action or say something I may otherwise regret.¬† I especially love the way that God works for the good the things that happen in our lives.¬† Just as I am learning to live without worry, God gives me something positive to think about to make my “moment-living” even more productive from a Christian perspective.¬† Thank you, Jesus!

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

Do You Live Like You Believe It?

A Pool of Water Used for BaptismsThis little pool of water may not seem like much, but at different points in time, it has actually served as the site where some were baptized into the family of Jesus.  We all remember the moment when we ourselves were baptized and those fledgling years of our Christianity when everything was just a little brighter, when our zest for God fairly glowed.

But life has a way of catching up to us.  If the race we are running were an easy one, it would really not be worth the effort of putting one foot in front of another.  The glow of our early years of Christian faith can begin to tarnish with the cares of this world.  We start to hold on to what is right in front of us instead of offering up the cares of this world to the Ruler of the next one.  We let worry creep in, no matter what Christ told us about worrying, no matter that the Creator of everything knows the number of hairs on our very heads.  We cling to treasures on this earth under the auspices of security, like the rich young man unable to sell all and follow the Son of Man.

Many years ago, my father-in-law asked a series of questions to a younger person he was counseling.  This person was facing several family crises, depression, and budget woes.  Knowing that she believed in Christ, my father-in-law began by asking her about her belief.  When she strongly proclaimed her faith in God, my father-in-law asked her to consider if she were living like she believed Christ died for her and rose again.

How about you?¬† How about me?¬† What does it mean to live like I believe it?¬† In the past several years,¬†it has come to mean my spending more time doing and less time wringing my hands wondering if where I am and what I am up to is what God wants from me.¬† I don’t mean that I have quit praying to God about His purpose for my life, or that I have quit aligning my actions to the principles of the Bible as best as I can.¬† What I have started to do is to give my actions over into God’s hands, where they have really been all along.¬†¬†¬†Now, however, my mind is recognizing God’s authority.¬† If He wants me somewhere else or doing something else, I have to live like I believe and step forward in the faith that¬†He will get me where He wants me to be.

This process is not easy, like¬†all growing pains, but through the gift of the Spirit that¬†God has granted¬†us believers, we can make it through life’s challenges aided by the One and Only, proof positive that “His burden is light.”¬†¬† Living like we believe involves prayer time, worship time, helping others, and doing instead of worrying.¬† The more I can live like I believe, the more God’s light will shine through me.¬† And what more could any of us want than that?

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith, Living

What Does God Need From You?

Image¬† Let’s face it.¬† When it comes to our relationship with God, from His perspective it has to often seem like a one-way street, where we are constantly seen with our hands out, often calling to Him in times of great need when He may not have heard from us for so long, He doesn’t quite recognize us at first.

Of course, God always recognizes us, knows what we’re up to, and HAS A PLAN for whatever is happening in our lives, no matter how helpless we currently feel or how bleak our present outlook.¬† In Bible class today, we discussed some of the really crisis moments different members had faced, moments so terrifying that they were forced to look to God in a complete realization of just how helpless we human beings are.¬† In those moments, these people truly experience the all-encompassing power that is God.

More importantly, they learned a key lesson that they have taken away from their experiences: God is not through with them yet!  He has plans for them in this world that they are yet to achieve.  He has journeys for them for which that crisis may have been the first step or for which they have not yet taken a step at all.

As I listened to these shared stories, I was struck by the realization that God has a plan for us even when the crises in our lives are entirely of our own making.¬† What if your crisis is spending more money than you can afford to pay or choosing to go out with someone you know¬†your parents wouldn’t approve of, much less God?¬† Now, because of those decisions, you live in fear of phone calls from debt collectors or¬†have wound up married to a non-believer who may be abusive to you.

God has a plan for that.  This fact does not mean that He wanted the bad things to happen to us.  We live in a fallen world.  Bad things are going to happen.  But God has a plan for your life that includes bringing to the good something for you, for your family, or for others in this broken world from the ashes that are the destruction crisis may have punched into your life.

Does this mean that we might as well sin, or even live a sinful lifestyle and just expect God to make something good out of it?  Of course not!  Whenever Jesus reached out loving arms to sinners, He always loved the sinner but hated the sin.  He never let them part from Him without warning them or entreating them to turn from the ways they knew were wrong.

The Bible offers us example after example of people who looked to God for their deliverance but who also kept doing what was in their power to do to move that deliverance along.¬† The woman at the well knew that her current live-in was not her husband in God’s eyes and that she would have to end that relationship.¬† The disciples fished.¬† Paul made tents to earn his living as he spread the gospel.¬† Instead of being greedy and holding out hands that have not tried to help themselves, these believers did what they could and looked to God to fill in all the gaps only He is able to fill.

I find this truth that God is working His plan for me even when it doesn’t feel like it a key to throwing away a lot of the anxieties I have put on myself when it comes to what I think He wants from me.¬† First of all, whatever happens in my life is going to happen on God’s time, not mine.¬† Secondly, I have made decisions in my life about what jobs to take, whom to marry, what kind of schooling to get, and I am not the only one living with those decisions.¬† God is too.¬† He knew what I was going to decide before I decided it, and He also knew how He was going to use those decisions in my life to do something good for Him, if I will only keep tuned in to His frequency.

So, what am I worrying about all the time?¬† The little things, material things, things that have more to do with my pride in skills God gave me in the first place that I shouldn’t be taking pride in but giving to the glory¬†of God.¬† If I must put thought to something (and the thoughts shouldn’t be worrisome; Jesus told us not to worry), shouldn’t it be how I can love God more in my life, how I can reach out to other people in love, how I can line up my actions with the instructions so clearly laid out in God’s word?

What does God need from me?¬† My faith in His truth, my devotion to His word, my love for Him and the other humans around me holding our hands out, crying out rightfully to the sky but sometimes forgetting the good those hands can do grounded back on earth in fellowship and as God’s helping hands for others around us.

What will God “work to the good” (Romans 8) for you this week?¬† Can He get some of what He needs instead of being the One giving?