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 Christian Fiction, Faith, Love

Thank GOD we don’t get what we deserve

Goodchristianfiction need versus deserve

Our Father’s mercy and generosity toward us has not been what we deserved, but what we desperately needed. Surely, then, those who have received such grace are called upon to deal with others, not on the basis of what they deserve, but what they need.
–Paul Earnhart, Invitation to a Spiritual Revolution, p. 136

If God gave you what you deserved, what would your judgment day look like? If you had to live every day of this life knowing you were going to get exactly what you deserve when you pass into the next life, how would your perspective on living change?

These are the questions that popped into my mind as I read Earnhart’s section on the Golden Rule in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. I also realized that, too many days, I subconsciously work off a different definition of deserve, the one in which I see the world through the rose-colored glasses where my sin does not keep me from thinking I deserve better things: more free time, the latest technological toy, a new purse.

Thankfully, God, in His omnipotence, knows the real difference between what we need and what we deserve. He loves us enough to give us what we need when we ask for it in faith, including our own salvation, and not to condemn us to what we deserve.

When was the last time you asked yourself if you really needed something, or just thought you “deserved” it? How much more often do you tend to think of others in terms of what they deserve instead of what they might need?

I think this distinction between deserve and need is partly what made Christ accepted even among the “lowest denominations” of His society. When Christ told the truth to prostitutes and tax collectors, He did it in such a way as to speak to the sinner’s needs, not to make the person feel small because they had sinned.

If we could master this love of others in such a way as to see them only in light of their needs, not what we think they need but what we would need if we were in their shoes, certainly we would be as close to following the Golden Rule as we are going to get.

In the way of wondrous things, my Bible reading this week also helped me out with the deserve versus need dilemma. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes:

. . . we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (10:5b). . . . But he who boasts is to boast in the LORD. For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the LORD commends (10: 17-18).

If we see ourselves rightly through eyes that are obedient to Christ, knowing that any good thing we do is through the grace of God and not by anything remarkable of our own accord, then we will do away with the thoughts that make us contemplate what we “deserve” and blind us to what we and others really need.

I have to admit to some bad days this week, but I am happy to report that pulling out my copy of Psalm 143 and reading through it helped me pass through the valley and back up to the mountain. In this Psalm, David is running from very real enemies (his own king wants to kill him). For me, the enemies mentioned in the Psalm are not people, but the anxieties, fears, and “deserving” temptations that plague me on bad days. David begins the Psalm by praising God’s goodness. Then, he cries out his pain to God, followed by remembering all the good works God has done. In studying the Psalm, it strikes me that David’s equation for deliverance runs something like this:

my servitude + His majesty = my deliverance from my enemies!

So, what I need is to love God with my whole heart, first and foremost. I may deserve the anxiety and emotions that are a combined result of my sin and genetics, but what God gives me instead is what I need, His love, as long as I have the faith to open my arms wide and lean.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul.
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I take refuge in You.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
Psalm 143: 8-10

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Living

Legacy: what does the BIBLE say?

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We are going to skip past the obvious aspects of legacy in the Old Testament, where a peoples almost wholly outnumbered in all directions struggling to survive in a harsh environment would naturally tout the begetting of offspring, see the blessing of children as a sign of God’s favor, and otherwise embrace the concept of legacy as equivalent to the concept of basic survival.

Beyond the obvious, though, what does God’s word have to say about our legacy? What does legacy look like from a Biblical perspective?

We might begin in Ecclesiastes, chapter three, where the teacher laments, God “has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We have a longing in our hearts for God and yet lack the ability to truly understand Him. How, then, might we comprehend His concept of legacy?

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live,” the teacher continues (emphasis added). “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God.” Knowing that we cannot fathom the eternal, the teacher admonishes us to please God by concentrating on the present. “I know that everything God does will endure forever,” the teacher concludes. “Nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”

So, the purpose of what is lasting, according to the teacher, is to further our reverence for God. In other words, the Bible ties legacy not to what may be lauded about men and women, but what may be credited to God.

The book of Isaiah furthers this understanding of legacy:

“‘The multitude of your sacrifices–what are they to me?’ says The Lord. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings. . . . wash and make yourselves clean . . . . stop doing wrong, learn to do right!'”

God’s definition of right is spelled out quite clearly through the example given by the life of Jesus and His teachings, but Isaiah likewise elaborates on doing right: “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

In the book of Mark, Christ explains it this way: “The foremost [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall 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 [commandment] is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Christ’s parables are more examples to help define legacy: What of the mustard seed, the tiniest of all things that grows into a mighty plant, the example to us that even the smallest of our actions can be turned into big things by God? What of the seed which fell on good soil, “the man who hears the word and understands it, [producing] a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13)? What of the Vine and Branches of John 15, where God must cut off the unfruitful branches from the vine that is Christ and even prune those branches which are fruitful?

So, the Bible says that legacy is bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God. Next week, let’s discuss practical ways to bring forth the kind of fruit the Kingdom of God expects us to bear, for we do not want to “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind,” but rather to sow in Christ’s love and reap souls for the kingdom of heaven.

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, Living

No Lie

We can lie to our friends and to ourselves, but let’s not lie to each other.
How many times have you heard this pithy comeback when you’ve just said something that you wished were true, but that everyone knows is just not the case? How often have you really needed to hear that comeback because what you’ve just said is something you are trying to convince yourself is actually true, even though your subconscious is screaming at you that you just aren’t right?
Under perfect circumstances, our relationship with God is one in which we do not lie to each other. Of course, God’s ability to hold up His end of the relationship is a given for those who believe in His infallibility. God never lies, does what He says He will do, and takes His promises seriously.
Since God is omnipotent, it’s really silly on our part to try to lie to Him. In essence, when we lie to God, we are really only deceiving ourselves.
It’s silly of us, really. God makes it easy to be honest with Him. Christ serves as our intecessor. His death has made it possible for us to ask for forgiveness and actually receive it.
Think on Christ’s companions on this earth: wayward women, tax collectors, lowly fishermen. He even died on the cross alongside two criminals (and extended redemption even then). We don’t have to be squeaky clean to be accepted by Him. We just have to willingly step into His open arms.
But stepping in requires that we first step in truth. One of the main things Christ required from His followers was honesty. When Peter claimed his loyalty to Jesus, Christ told him he would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. When the woman at the well was honest enough to admit that her fifth relationship with a man was not a marriage, Christ acknowledged her truthfulness and encouraged her to discontinue her life of sin.
Not lying to God means truly repenting of our misdeeds. Repentance involves not only recognizing a sin, but also determining to do one’s best not to submit to the tempations of that sin again. When we repent in honesty, we don’t lie to each other.
Don’t know if you’re lying to yourself? The fact that a little voice in your head has asked you the question should be the first indicator that you need to stop to address the issue you may be lying to yourself about. Analyze it. Take it apart. Look at it as if you aren’t you, but somebody else, like God, for example. And see how well your truth stands up against the test of the Bible.
One of the easiest tests of a truth versus a lie is asking yourself whether what you are doing is an action that shows love to those around you. Loving God first and loving others as we want to be loved ourselves sums up the law, according to the One who best knows.
Let’s not lie to each other. Being a Christian is a wonderful gift that deserves our best thanks–a life lived striving to be as Christ-like as we possibly can be.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Living, Love

Tiny Steps Make Great Feats

I have a friend who shares my proclivity to demand perfection of ourselves and the grand ability to beat ourselves up when we fall far short of the over-reaching goals we have set for ourselves. Lately, our conversations have circled around the concept of “magnificence.” In other words, we are trying to make it OK for ourselves that we are not going to be “magnificent.”
Then, I have to stop us. Whenever we make statements like this, we are shortchanging ourselves in so many ways. First, we are denying the truth behind what we define as magnificent. Of course, our definition is much too tied to the ways of this world. Because we haven’t made millions or written the country’s greatest novel, we are failures in our own eyes. That definition, in itself, though, is a failure in the eyes of God, who even when He came to earth in the form of man, did not seek stardom, even shunning the crowds that thronged toward Him as much as possible at times, asking those He had healed to keep the event to themselves.
This is when we are better served to remind ourselves that God’s version of magnificence is a tiny mustard seed, which, once planted, can be nurtured by the Spirit into a truly wonderful plant. Our actions aren’t the thing that make the end result, however. God is interested in the mustard seed size actions we take that, culminating together, create the final, magnificent result.
Maybe our small actions are simple things like holding open a door, smiling to those we meet, or stopping to help someone change a flat tire. Perhaps they are actions that are a little more involved like making a meal for someone who is ill, or cleaning house for someone who cannot do the job him/herself. Maybe the action is being privileged enough to be the first person to share her gospel experience with a person who has never had the opportunity to know Jesus.
When I look out my back window and watch the robins and cardinals and squirrels scampering in my backyard, a plethora of color and motion that reminds me what it means to be peacefully human, I sometimes think about the ways that God speaks to us in just as tiny a motion as the mustard seed He also requires. Hasn’t He more often been a whisper in the wind than earth-shattering thunder?
It’s hard to re-define success in a world surrounded by capitalistic ideals, but my friend and I keep on trying, holding each other accountable for the moments when we berate our mustard seed actions and long for superhero status. The prideful will be humbled, God warns us. We do our best each day to humble ourselves before we need to be humbled. Paying attention to our mustard seed actions is a good way to stay on the right side of humility. I’m getting older, and my knees can’t take another fall.