12.31.2013

Mutually encouraging each other in the faith.

Dennis was reminiscing about one of his mentors recently, recalling conversations, specific statements, and articulating how this man changed his perspective on life - and therefore, changed him!

And it made me wonder - does this man even KNOW he impacted my husband?  Does he know his words still run through his mind, challenging and encouraging him a decade later?  Does he know that Dennis now asks some of those same questions to the young men he disciples?  I imagine this mentor would be humbled and thrilled to know that he made a difference in the life of a young man ... a young man who is still walking with the Lord ... and is now taking the gifts he was so freely given, and sharing them with other young men who are struggling like he once did.

Do the people who invested in us, leaving a lasting mark on our lives know they have done so?
The only way they will know is if we TELL them!

We have to tell people why they matter!
~ meeting you for lunch to listen to your struggles as a new mom
~ holding you while you cried as you grieved the loss of a loved one
~ listening to your sorrows
~ serving you through acts of love - meals, babysitting, buying you a new outfit when you could not afford it
~ praying for you faithfully
~ sending you notes of encouragement
~ keeping you accountable to read and study the Word because you shared it was a struggle
~ remembering your birthday or the anniversary of a significant event

We do not need to tell them every time we see them, but a thoughtful note or meaningful gift a few times a year is always appreciated.  And needed.  Even your closest friend needs to be reminded why she matters to you.  She may 'know' you love her, but affirmation is a good thing - for all of us!

When we express our gratefulness for the way others have influenced our lives and pushed us towards Christ, they will be encouraged with the knowledge that the Lord used them to stir another up for love and good deeds - and He was glorified because of it.

God created words.  He has a purpose for them!  And when used the right way, they can bring untold joy to the hearer - and make a difference that can last a lifetime.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. 
Proverbs 16:24

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.  Proverbs 25:11

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.  
Proverbs 27:2

Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.  Proverbs 12:25

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  
I Thessalonians 5:11

Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.  
Job 4:4

To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!  Proverbs 15:23

My end of the year challenge to you is this:

Pray and ask the Lord to bring to mind every single person He has used to encourage you this past year.  I guarantee you will not have to wait long before your hand starts flying across the page writing out every name He brings forth!  And then, place the list somewhere you will see it every day, and write to/call/visit each person over this next year, to say Thank You.

Seeing 1,000 people pour into the seats for a memorial service is a great testimony of a life that influenced and touched the hearts and lives of others.  But singing the praises of someone beloved and adored at their graveside does them no good.  They need to hear from us today.

When you needed them - they ministered to you.  Even when you didn't know you needed that kind word, that kick in the backside, that intimate moment of prayer together ... they were obedient to meet you where God told them to meet you.  And you were changed.

And one day it will be your turn to minister to someone who is hurting, struggling, or sinning - just like you were - and the Lord will use YOU.

Take the challenge.  Ask the Lord to recall every kind word and action shown to you this past year.
And then act on it!

Because when you do, you will be living out one of the most beautiful and always-needed joys of the body of Christ ...

that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.  Romans 1:12

12.19.2013

Our Expectations - unrealistic, unfair ... and God's - perfect and beautiful.

While talking with friends about the Tim Hawkins concert, specifically the Q&A session, Dennis said something that grabbed my attention.  He was sharing that the small audience was cool and lacking energy when Tim came out to greet us and then stated, "There is a huge expectation waiting for him every time he enters a room.  He has proven that he is funny, so people expect, if not demand, that he delivers every single time he is on stage.  He probably hits a home run most of the time, but it is ridiculous to expect him to do so all the time." 

And it made me think ...
Isn't this exactly what we do to each other in the body of Christ?

Someone we know, love, and respect ...
remembered our birthday with a lovely card
watched our children for us when we were sick
sent an encouraging hand-written note when we were struggling
prayed with us
brought us a meal when we were sick
sent Scripture verses to encourage us
laughed with us
listened to us when we were hurting
served on a mission team with us, experiencing the highs and the lows
cried with us when our own tears would not stop flowing

... and therefore, we expect them to do these things EVERY time we need or want them.  And, they should do so without being asked, because they should always be aware of everything that is happening in our lives.

And if they don't?  If we do not receive the birthday card or the phone call or find a crock pot of hot soup on our doorstep - we toss them into the "not a good friend" pile of our acquaintances.

WHY?!?

Are we not fallible beings who will never be able to meet the needs of everyone we know, exactly when they need us to meet them?
Has anyone we know, even those closest to us, ever met all of our own needs every time one arises?

So why do we put such unrealistic expectations on one another?  We are hurt when someone does not call to tell us they are praying for us when we are struggling, but we never told them we needed prayer.  We are offended when someone makes a rude comment toward us or about us, but we conveniently forget the times we have spoken rashly or thoughtlessly about others.  We are mad when a friend does not offer to help when we are drowning in trials, but we never told her we desperately needed a break.  Yet somehow - all of these things are the failings of the friend - and we are not responsible.

Shame on us.

Scripture is so clear about how we are to think of others:  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3,4

This verse leaves no room for petty attitudes and bitterness when someone does not "perform" the way we want/need/ expect them to perform.  Yes, we may be hurting more than we ever have.  We may be battling health issues, the loss of a baby, defiant children, financial loss, or the sorrow of loving an unsaved spouse.  But even then the Lord asks us to think of others as MORE important than ourselves.  Not equal to ourselves - more important.  More valuable.  More significant.

A friend did not call to see if we got the results of a biopsy.  A husband did not call to check in, even when he knew that one child was being particularly trying.  A sibling did not remember our birthday.  A pastor did not include us in a ministry event.
Are all of these a bummer?  Sure.
But before we allow emotion to take over and control us, did we even take two seconds to consider:
How is their marriage?
How is her ailing mother - is she having to spend a lot of time helping her?
How is she doing with her husband out of town for three weeks?
I know she battles with depression at Christmas, I wonder how she is doing?

If we take even a few moments to "seek to understand" and look at life through their perspective - we will almost always have a bit more compassion and patience for the seeming "failures" of others.
The people God has placed in our lives have their own hurts and trials and troubles ... and when they are drowning in theirs, they cannot always see our needs.  Sometimes it is selfishness and oversight, but that can be quickly reconciled when honest, loving communication takes place.  Either way - we cannot respond (privately or publicly) with emotions that are based solely on our own selfishness because we did not get what we wanted, when we wanted it, from someone we love.

EXPECTATIONS
: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
synonyms:
supposition, assumption, presumption, conjecture, surmise, calculation, prediction, hope

This is how the world defines expectations - expecting/assuming/supposing/hoping we WILL get what we want, either now or later.

But Scripture says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Romans 3:23  Not one of us will ever do everything right, minister to every need at the precise moment, or meet every expectation set for us.  It is literally impossible to do so because we are sinners who live for self and must fight constantly to walk in the Spirit so we can serve others first.  
Perfection can only be found in Jesus Christ.
It is a fruitless effort to seek it in anyone else.

It is easy to get upset and make declarations of offenses and rudeness when someone ELSE shows their sinful flesh.  But we join them quickly when we sulk and lament over their failings, without acknowledging our own.  Not one of us has ever been the perfect friend, spouse, sister, daughter, or mother.  We must always remember who we are ... sinners saved by grace ... so that we can be obedient to do as Scripture commands:  A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.  Proverbs 19:11

The world says we can and should expect things from others ... but God asks us to SERVE others - because we love HIM.

Oh, Lord, may we lower the human expectations we set upon the backs of others, and seek instead to meet YOUR standards of righteousness.  The more focused we are on Your face, the less we will be able to see the foibles of others, and the quicker we will be to overlook and forgive because we know how many times You toss our own failures and sins into the sea - and promise to remember them no more.
We all have expectations, Lord, and that is okay as long as they are completely rooted and sustained by the truth of Scripture, and what YOU WANT for Your children.
Teach us to love, and accept, one another ... just as You have loved us.  We know we cannot do it on our own, Lord - we need You.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  Colossians 3:13

12.14.2013

May my desires become my reality!

The older I get, and the more I learn of the godless, immoral acts of our country, leadership, individuals, and the world at large ... the more I understand why God weeps over nations who have turned against Him.  And, why He judges nations who turn against Him and refuse to yield or submit to His holy authority.
Scripture is clear that God hates sin, and He disciplines both the righteous and the unrighteous. Yet we sit in a state of shock after reading headlines declaring horrific abuses, godlessness, immoralities, slander, lies, the celebration of passions and the flesh and wonder, "How did this happen?"

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if He did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes He condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if He rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  II Peter 2

The Lord is teaching me that I cannot let my mind, or heart, engage in continual conversation, research, and thought about the state of our country, or the world.  As Ecclesiastes says, "Nothing is new under the sun."  The sins of our nation and the sins of individuals around the world are not unique, creative, or shocking to the Lord.  He has seen the darkness and depravity of men and women through hundreds of generations over thousands of years. 
As Peter reminds us, the Lord has also judged the depravity of man, including His own heavenly angels, over and over again.

We love and serve a patient, long-suffering, and gracious God.
We love and serve a jealous, righteous, holy, and just God.
His justice administers discipline as a consequence of our sins.
His mercy keeps us from getting what we rightly deserve.  Eternity in hell, with no hope of escape.
His LOVE gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly walked the road to Calvary, taking our sins upon His shoulders so that we can find FORGIVENESS … and appease the wrath of a holy God.  It is only because of the blood of Jesus Christ that we may stand before the Father and have His eyes look upon us.  He does not see US … He sees the blood of His Son that washed away our sin and made us whiter than snow.  Jesus Christ IS the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to get to the Father - is to believe in the Son.

I cannot continue to focus on the godless evil of our country and the world.  It does not mature, encourage, or edify me.  It stirs up sinful anger, worry, and fear, and worst of all – it takes my eyes off of Christ and lets them rest on the selfish passions and pursuits of the world.  The world that I am supposed to be passing through – not settling in

What I can do … what I should be doing … is PRAY.
Pray for my country.
Pray for my leaders.
Pray for the enemies of the Gospel.
Pray for those with power and influence.
Pray for our American freedoms to remain freedoms.
Pray for Christians to stand firm instead of swaying with the ever-changing winds of culture.
Pray for our nation to turn back to the God we once loved and obeyed.
Pray for myself.  I am the only one who will stand before the Lord to give an account for my every thought, action, word, and motive.  Therefore, I must pray fervently, with sincerity, and without ceasing that …
my mind would stay focused on Christ. 
my heart will be steadfast and in love with the Savior. 
my convictions will strengthen, and my feet will remain firmly planted in Biblical truth.
my passion for Scripture and prayer will continually increase.
my commitment to Biblical truth will not waiver.
my love for the body of Christ will grow stronger day by day.
my compassion for the world will cause me to love them as Christ loves them remembering that the things of the Cross are foolishness to them – and they need a Savior!
my sin will be ever before me so I will be quick to repent, and then restored to the Lord so I can be used to accomplish His plans, rather than my own.

Oh, Lord, how much work I have to do!  Make the desires of my heart become the REALITY of my living!

12.02.2013

A heavy heart - and a God who gives immeasurable peace.

My heart is heavy tonight.

The weight of different bits of information I received today has grown heavier as the hours pass, and I find myself asking the Lord, "What are You doing?  How will this be used to glorify You? Will people come to know You through these tragedies and trials?  Will believers be jump-started to take their faith seriously as they process these happenings?  You control life and death, Lord.  You are not surprised or shaken by the actions of men.  But we have no control ... and we are continually surprised and shaken.  And sometimes trying to figure out the 'why' and the 'what' causes more frustration and pain than letting go ... and trusting You in the unknown.
Reveal Yourself in these circumstances, Lord.  In the tiniest of details, and in the big picture. People need You.  Your wisdom.  Your peace.  Your SAVING grace.  Let them see You, Lord.  Please.  Let them see YOU."

The death of a man.  He was a beloved father, son, brother, nephew, grandson, and friend.  And tonight they cry and grieve and mourn the loss of him ... knowing they will never see him, hug him, hear his voice, hear him laugh, or talk to him again. 
Such a helpless feeling. 
There was no preparation, no warning, no goodbye.  Just the phone call that he was gone.
And now hearts are breaking ... and weeping will last through the night.
But the Lord will be there in the morning, calling out, bidding those who know Him to "Come." And find peace in Him. 
Just as He calls out to all He came to save ... for He desires that all men should come to repentance ... everyone - if they will accept the gift of salvation He so willingly and freely gives.
Lord, let them see You in their pain.  Do not let this death be in vain.  Let it push people to seek after You with all of their hearts.
They need You, Lord.  Not just to endure the pain of this loss.  But to endure life - and life eternal.
Meet them where they are, Lord.  Open their eyes to the truth of who YOU are.  And may they answer the call.

The death of a ministry ... because of sin and pride.
The results:  Confusion.  Hurt.  Disillusionment.  Anger.  Bitterness.
But the Lord is bigger than all of it.
He forgives every sin, large or small, when a repentant heart cries out to Him.  Whether it was one day or a decade of disobedience ... God forgives His children.
He restores.
He heals.
He REDEEMS.
But in the hours, days, and months between the sin and the redemption ... we must wait for the Lord to work.  And we must trust Him to work - in His time, and in His way.

The death of dreams, skills, a career ... because of a devastating illness that has left a woman without the ability to live the life she once knew.  The life she loved.
Depression.  Sadness.  Hopelessness.  Family life crumbling.  She does not see the end.
But still she clings to her Savior.
Through the heartache.  Through the pain.  She knows He is REAL.  And she continues to trust. Even when she doesn't think she can go on.
And He is there.
Hearing every word of anguish and complaint.
Watching every tear.
And holding her when she breaks down and weeps in the darkness.
He is there.
Because He is God.  And He cares for her.

Death is real.  It is the end of every man, and every woman.  And we cannot pretend differently. Today is the day of repentance.  TODAY is the day we decide to continue following self - or surrender self to follow the Savior and live forever with Him in the splendor and glory of heaven.  
T O D A Y.  We have no promise of tomorrow.

But there is another kind of death - the death of relationships, dreams, ministry, marriages - a death that never allows for closure or healing because the person/thing still exists.  But the pain, the consequences, the broken trust ... they are real.
Forgiveness needs to be sought - and granted.
Humility needs to be captured - and put on with expediency and grace.
Trust needs to be exercised - and patience must be allowed to grow and mature.

This world is full of sorrow and trials.  It will never change.  There is only one hope - one joy - one answer.
Jesus Christ.
The author and perfecter of our faith.
The Son of God who takes AWAY the sins of the world, and replaces them with mercy, allowing us to stand blameless before a God who hates our sin, but loved us enough to send His Son to die in our place.

The end of a life.
The end of a reputation and legacy.
The end of independence.

No one would ask for any of these ... the pain is great ... the effects are far reaching.  But in all of them, the Lord is GOOD.  His mercies never end.  He is forever faithful.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  He loves His creation.  And He desires that all of His creation would love Him.  Freely. Willingly.  With joy.  Our God is not a God who drags people kicking and screaming into the Kingdom.  He lets us choose.  He is patient with us.  He is long-suffering.  Waiting for us to turn to Him - seek after Him - RUN to Him - and fall into His arms, knowing that He is the ONLY One who can heal our hurts, soothe our pain, and fill us with the peace that surpasses all understanding.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  
Psalm 34:18