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From Why? to What?

Lessons from Cherith

He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Luke 24:38

During the time in my own land of Cherith, a place where I was separated from my home, my regular way of life and exposed to great sadness, I so needed to rely on the vast promises of God.  Yet each day I battled the “why” of it all.  Why didn’t the cancer doctors see and recognize the increased cancer markers in my beloved mother-in-law’s blood tests?  Why did each visit to the emergency room end without answers?  But more importantly, why would this woman, a shining light for God, an inspiring gift to everyone around her, a woman, as her pastor reflected at her funeral with a beautiful aura surrounding her, be stricken with cancer and taken so soon? Why God, oh why?

How often have we lamented that why question in our lives?  Why are we suffering financially?  Why is my child rebelling?  Why is my marriage on the rocks?  Why did I suffer that abuse?  It seems as Christians we are expected to answer those questions.  I believe many of us avoid speaking the Gospel to our friends, family and neighbors out of fear of being asked those why’s of life.  In fact, as a young college student who was approached one day on my campus by two religious folks, I too asked the big why – why is there suffering?  You see I believed in God but didn’t really know anything about Him.  Unfortunately, neither did these two young proselytizers.

I recently heard the statement: “If we view the world as a Christian, it all makes sense.”  On the surface that’s a real head scratcher since this world seems so upside down especially now.  Broken families, broken lives, so much pain and death abound.  But take a step back, way back to Genesis 3.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17-18

And that’s just a taste of what man’s rebellion wrought.  Creation is currently at odds with God.  And just as cells divide and life moves without our intervention, our world around us is no longer under our full dominion.  So yes, there’s floods and fire and famine and cancer.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether we are a good person or not.  In addition to this result of The Fall, we became separated from God, always seemingly looking for ways to buck His system.  And we face the consequences for our actions, both individually and collectively.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  Exodus 5:1-2

And we know how well that went for Pharoah.  But what was Moses’ first reaction after Pharoah knuckled down and made the Israelites work harder?  “Why?”  He asked God why did He have to make things worse and why did Moses have to be the brunt of everything?  From a Christian point of view, we should say, “There’s consequences in this world when anyone chooses to not submit – whether you choose to believe in God or not.”  This is not “Karma,” it’s simply a cause and effect of acting outside God’s desires for us.  

And while we may cry out, “why?!” in the moment whether in situations of our own making or of those in which we have no power, we need to remember the “what.”  What is God doing in me or even in the world?  What is God expecting of me as a believer? What is the promise I can hold on to?  The early Israelites had a decent excuse.  They didn’t know God as well as we do now.  They didn’t have all the stories of how He has rescued and protected His people.  They didn’t have Jesus’ brother James telling them there will be trials and in them they need to seek the lessons of God.  They didn’t have Jesus come to earth and die for their sins.  They didn’t have the Book of Revelation.  But we do.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So, each day as I sat beside Bev’s bed as her body succumbed not to cancer but to an infection, I battled the “why” demon. I wanted someone punished.  I wanted someone to suffer like I was now suffering.  Then I heard a whisper, “She gets to come home to me.  And you need to see what I am teaching you.”

You see even in her suffering, on her death bed, this Christian called Bev was a conduit for Jesus.  A teacher and a comforter.  I finally realized it didn’t matter the “why.”  For one, there really were no answers that fully satisfied.  At times like that we just need to submit to God’s sovereignty and say, “I don’t know but He does.”  The only real answers that I continued to come back to were the “what.”

What did I truly believe about God?  And what was He trying to teach me?

Christian Friend, if you earnestly believe the Bible, believe that God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all it’s inhabitants, if you believe He is sovereign and He sent His Son to die for our sins, if you believe that there is a place greater than Eden awaiting us then you could understand why Bev wasn’t worried.  Why she could make us all laugh at her darkest hour.  Why, in the middle of a conversation she looked over my shoulder, waved and with a child-like voice exclaimed in joy, “Hi Jesus!”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? John 14:2

You see I didn’t need to know the answers to my worldly questions and I definitely didn’t need retribution.  I needed to remember that Jesus hates death because it’s a sign of our broken world.  And He is right now preparing a room more beautiful than I can imagine for even me.  When He comes back we will all be raised up to live forever in a beautiful place that has no suffering, no death, no pain, no war, no hate, no fear.  And that is just what I needed to learn.

Are you asking “why” in your difficult time when you should be asking “what?”

What is the Lord teaching or asking you right now?  

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

Christian T-Shirt Not Needed

God decided to use me at just the right time to teach me some very valuable lessons and to test my growth in Faith. I was deep into what I was calling God’s Boot Camp a few years ago when I got called up to the Big Leagues. I never thought God would ask me to do anything special. I just wanted to be a better Christian. So, when I got the call it hit me out of the blue. I reacted a bit like the Bible’s Samuel. It took little Samuel three times hearing God’s voice before his mentor said, “Dude, that’s not me calling you, it’s God. And by the way, when you hear him again, pay attention.” That might be a paraphrasing of the story, but you get the picture. 

Over my 55 years, I’ve dabbled in helping the homeless but I would by no means call myself a “homeless advocate.” I’ve collected food, blankets, and clothing for various drives. My family has even served meals at churches in the downtown area. I didn’t see it as part of God’s plan for me. It was simply something you do as a “good person.” The morning of February 18, 2017, changed not just my outlook on what God wants from me but also my entire view of grace. The morning I heard the Holy Spirit was like any other. I slept snugly in my bed, squeezing in as much sleep as possible before getting up for work. That morning’s dream, I realized, was no ordinary dream. It had a tangible feeling to it, yet seemed surreal. I imagine it was how Scrooge felt when he was led around by the Ghosts of Christmas. But my guide was no ghost, it was Jesus.

I woke up to a man standing beside me. I glanced to my left and saw the holiest of holy men. A glimpse was all I dared take for fear that if I stared too long, I would never look away. I could feel his strong and worn hand on mine. Each fold of his clothing draped softly and gently, begging me to clutch his sleeve. His flowing waves of hair blew in an unseen breeze. But most of all, his eyes warmly spoke to me, beckoning me to listen. He led me forward to a scene, brushing away mist. There I was, with friends, preparing a meal of soup, crackers, cookies and water. Laughter permeated the air. My house was a buzz of activity. Children playing and adults, meeting for the first time, sharing stories. Then He showed me and others making sandwiches and placing them in bags with fruit and water. He said simply, “Do this” as he spread His arms across the scene. Now let’s stop here for a second. I’m not pulling your leg here. Every single detail was being shown to me by “the Man.” Have you ever watched a spy movie where the home office gives the spy some lengthy instructions including serial numbers, addresses, names and phone numbers, and you think, “I can’t even remember my kids’ names. Somehow Tom Cruise manages to remember every detail while also doing parcour throughout Paris?” Well, it was like that. Jesus was asking me to remember every detail, without notes. Okay, back to the vision. He then led me to a parking lot in downtown San Diego by our ballpark that I hadn’t actually been to in about two years. He said, “Bring them here.” He turned to me and said, “Make 100 of these.” I kid. You. Not. When I woke up, I had every detail emblazoned in my mind. He was a man of few words, but it was mighty powerful.

Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith BY my deeds

James 2:18

I want to be a “doing Christian.” I could have had this vision and told a few people about it. Then blown it off as just another weird dream.  However, like a trained Navy Seal called up to action, God’s Boot Camp training kicked into high gear. This was like the final exam to see if I had been paying attention. I spent that day ruminating over this vision. It wasn’t a dream. I’ve had plenty of those dreams where you wake up still mad at your husband for doing something awful in your dream! This was more like marching orders. Funny enough, a few days before, my Power Thoughts devotional was “Passing the Test” and the Bible verse was 1 Peter 4:12,

“Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange were befalling you.”

1 Peter 4:12

The next day I revealed this vision to my husband. Whether or not he was going to (again) think I was a total lunatic, I had no idea. His response? “Sounds like a good plan.” I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I love him. He thinks I’m pretty wacky, but he’s also seen a lot of spiritual growth in me over the years. What he didn’t know is this plan wasn’t going to be just for the next week or next month. In fact, this project God had for me was to last for 11 months. When things weren’t going well, I prayed, “Hey, you wanted to do this, so show me the solution!” 

The next day an angel spoke to me. Wait, let me clarify so you don’t think I was dropping acid or something this whole time. This angel was a friend in my Bible study group. She immediately asked if she could come help me shop for the first 200 bags of food. Until that moment, I had never known that she once prepared and served food to the homeless every month for many years. She missed those times and was eager to find a way to continue that work. Over the next 11 months, she was my steady partner. Between frying up 300 chicken legs outside in the pouring rain to handing out cheetah-print undies, she was all in. She was up for just about anything, ready with a smile and, when needed, an “oh well” when things didn’t quite go as planned.

On Monday, February 20, 2017, after a few miracles even at the grocery store, a team of moms and their kids arrived at my house. I didn’t know who would show up after I sent out a few text messages explaining what I was planning on doing that week. I put the kids in charge of decorating our paper bags. The moms created a production line of soup, crackers, fruit, and utensils. We made 105 bags that morning. Those that could joined us in the cars as we headed to that ballpark downtown. What we saw upon arriving was eye opening. As a I mentioned, by July, news of the homeless crisis was splashed across every headline in America. This was 6 months prior to that. We had no idea of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people living in a few square blocks in our downtown. It’s not that we didn’t go downtown. We didn’t go to certain areas of downtown. Street upon street were tent cities. Homeless filled the ballpark parking lot – which during night games was emptied out to allow for cars. As we gathered moms and their kids around my car, we grasped hands and prayed. We prayed that the food would be a blessing, we prayed for our safety, and we prayed thankfully for the opportunity to do His blessing. In less than one hour we had given out our 100 lunches. We saw young and old. Infirm and, yes, insane. Drug users and drunks. We talked to those in despair and those desiring a better life. We also were blessed. We were called “angels.” We saw smiles and received thank-yous. They told us “God bless you this week.” We saw crosses—so many crosses—around people’s necks. These people wanted to be sure WE received God’s blessings. We who have so much and they so little. But we all have God’s grace and forgiveness. This was just day 1.  And after a truly amazing day of handing out food I had plenty to send up in praise. I laughed out loud when He stepped in and put people in just the right places. 

A couple of awesome helpers!

I spent the next months, once a week, making a minimum of 100 and usually at least 200 bags of food.  People I didn’t even know offered to drop off packaged food items.  Teachers who were friends of friends had their students collect toiletries for me to distribute.  God led the way every single step of the way.  He told me what to buy, when to buy it and where.  He told me where to deliver the food.  But more importantly he told me to trust Him.  I went to some scary places, by myself with God hovering over me.

Even the artwork, drawn mostly by my nieghbor’s granddaughter, meant so much to people

Had I just woken up that morning and thought, “well, that was interesting” and never embarked on the deeds He called me to I would have missed out on so many God moments.  People marveled at the work God was doing in me.  Thousands of people were blessed and were truly thankful.  I didn’t wear a t-shirt proclaiming myself as a Christian when we gave out food.  But every single person assumed I was with a church, by my deeds.  I would tell them, I’m just here because God asked me to come.

Volunteers of all ages jumped in!

What is God asking you to do and maybe you’ve ignored Him?  If you are stuck because of fear you need to do it anyway.  Close your eyes, take the step, and Trust Him.

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

Rich Man, Poor Man

My husband used to watch The Sopranos religiously.  I for one, have never enjoyed any mob-related tv show or movie.  The reason being is in order for the “Mob” to be successful it requires a willing citizenry to, at best, look away or at its worst, show favoritism.  Never has there been more a blatant example than the Italian Mafia and the Catholic Church.  Until recently the mafia had unfettered access to the church in Italy.  Many priests would almost be part of the “family.”  And why? There lies the question of favoritism.

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

James 2:1

James goes on to ask the reader what they would do if you saw a beggar and a rich man enter your church. Who would get the seat of honor?  And why?  It’s typical for churches to seat VIPs front and center.  But did you know churches didn’t have places to sit for about 1,400 years?  During the protestant reformation, churches began selling boxes to the wealthy for them to sit in, along with their families and special guests.  The poor still had to stand at the back.  And of course, there’s the private wings so common throughout Italian churches where wealthy families have their patriarch’s painting and own altar.  It’s as though the entire biblical message about favoritism had been lost.

The underlying theme of favoritism comes down to a perceived value — real or imagined.  Yes, we can say people are afraid of the mob.  But they sure did love the money those mafia families provided the Italian churches and other communities in which they currently operate.   Favoritism also is born of the desire for power or fame.  Which results in, typically, more money.

“Privileged groups work for greater power consolidation through favoritism.”

Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason

In other words, we humans love to have other humans adore us and vice versa.  We favor those we think can provide us more wealth and power.  This is not based on race, color, etc.  If someone has what we desire, we’ll cozy up to them.  It’s not reserved for just adult relationships.  “Stage moms,” “dance moms,” “band dads,” “pool parents” are just some examples of how we adults use children to elevate ourselves.  We make sure our kid is friends with the best athlete on the team so they can be “in.”  Or we just promote our kid to anyone who will listen, thereby rubbing some shine on us. 

Love of wealth can foster the sin of favoritism

The dangers of favoritism and the sins it fosters can been seen throughout the Bible.  Stories of brotherly jealousy (Joseph and that coat!), wives wanting to be favored (Rachael and Leah), kings worried about losing power (Saul vs David) and whole churches fighting over leadership (Corinth) all include favoritism within.  

And yet it’s God’s words that tell us to treat people equally – even our slaves.  We are admonished to “Treat your slaves in the same way (as the slaves are to treat their masters).  Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism in him.”  Note, the subject of slavery was different at that time.  Many people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts or even to be under a “master” who would take care of all their needs.  Even professionals – such as doctors, artists, etc – sometimes made this choice.

The funny thing about God is He is always looking for ways to teach us and get us to see His truth of Love, Mercy and Forgiveness.  Like showing favoritism to a mobster, the true consequences are what we would normally wish to avoid.  Frequently the person or group receiving the favor will then wield that power and authority over you.  We see this when Jesus speaks in the synagogue.

“Beware of the teachers of the Law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”

Luke 20:46

And all the people bowed to them as they walked around like “cock of the walks.”  Showing them favoritism while spitting on Jesus.  But here’s the result:

“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  These men will be punished severely.”

Today we favor celebrities, overlooking all their sins.  For a glance from them some would pay any price.  We favor famous pastors and pretend we don’t see how they twist scripture.  We favor politicians because they know how to say just the right things to make us feel good, even though their years of actions are in direct opposition to us.  We favor certain races because its “socially aware.”  We might favor one of our children or a teacher, a student in our class, a player on the team we coach, or someone with a higher status.  But we must also be aware that favoritism toward what we’d think wouldn’t be in this category is wrong — toward the perceived “lesser.” Those that expend hate for the rich because of a supposed love for the poor are still in the wrong. What they get out of this type of outrage is a sense of piety. Even being a champion of the disabled while having disdain for able-bodied is not equality. It doesn’t matter if the subject of your favoritism is rich, poor, black or white, high or low in status, young or old, the Bible is clear — it’s wrong. The sin comes in what we expect out of that favoritism and what have we done to those “out” of our favor.  It creeps into our lives sometimes without us being fully aware.  And what’s worse, it can bring out hatred. We can feel jealously while still favoring others. People outside our little “clicks” feel left out, ignored or even abused.

“God does not show favoritism.”

Romans 2:11

It reminds me of a children’s book I once read and it helps me to put it all in perspective. It’s a reminder that everyone that day will poop.  A very “undignified” and messy action that everyone, no matter their status, wealth, race, color or creed will undertake.  The pope, the US president, Lebron James, Tom Brady, Oprah, Lionel Messi, Christina Aguilera, the mafia boss, your mayor, your pastor, your mother in law, the homeless person, you.  Everybody poops.  God did that.  I think it’s one of His little winks.

Write down all the people or groups you tend to favor. Pray about how you can flip that script and treat people equally.

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

The Law of Love

Even though I can pretty much talk to anyone at anytime I don’t particularly like to talk to people when I’m coming home on an airplane from visiting my daughter.  I only get to see her about 4 times a year and when I leave her, I’m sad and contemplative.  I prefer to put my headphones on and read a book.  On one trip home, I sat next to a man who immediately started talking to me.  I’m not sure how we got on the subject of God, the Bible and faith but he was prepped.  He was ready to make sure I knew how much he knew about the “truth” of the Bible.  He could quote any scripture that would back up his point of view.  The trinity was false, according to him, because it promoted multi-theism.  And on and on he went.  When I would disagree, gently, he peppered me with more questions for which he already had answers.  He was looking for ways to “catch” me with improper theology.  It didn’t bother me.  I’m always interested to hear more about the Bible.  And I’m sure he wasn’t completely wrong.  He just seemed to be taking scripture out of context.  Towards the end, he started telling me about his church journey.  He jumped from church to church based on obscure theological differences.  He went from a large church, to a medium one, to a small gathering.  He finally landed on his perfect church – the church of one.  He called himself a “sabbathist.”  He didn’t practice the sabbath on Sunday.  It had to be Friday through Saturday.  So, if you were thinking you could join his group of one, you’d better make sure you worshipped and followed the rules on the right day.  

When we arrived in San Diego and exited the plane, I had one thought.  I had just met a real life, modern day Pharisee.  I had one regret.  I realized, squeezed into that packed airplane there had to have been multiple people hearing our conversation (or at least him talking since he did most of it).  The opportunity I missed was to stop talking doctrine and scripture and ask him the most important question, “But do you love Jesus?”    In that 3 ½ hours on the plane he never spoke of being a true disciple of Jesus.  He only spoke of following the Mosaic law.  I missed the chance to introduce him to the Royal Law – the Law of Love.

Pharisees cared more about strictly following Mosaic rules than they did about the idea behind God’s Word

This week James takes us through additional, difficult subjects: favoritism (yes, we all do it), loving our neighbor (even the gay couple), mercy (we all want it), and deeds (without being a “church lady”).  He recognizes that when we try to live by Mosaic Law alone, it’s like playing a game of “whack-a-mole.”  When we stop doing one thing another sin pops up.  We can never feel fully successful at living a sin-less life.  But what we can do is love one another.

Warren Wiersbe says this about James 2 and the steps we are to take to go from being a “baby Christian” to a mature Christian:

“Immature people talk about their beliefs, but the mature person lives his faith.  Hearing God’s Word and talking about God’s Word can never substitute for doing God’s word.”

Warren Wiersbe, New Testament Bible Commentary

Each of last week’s topics — trials, wisdom, listening, and living a clean life — were the personal building blocks for what James calls us to this week.  Without faith that God is ever present in our trials, without wisdom to discern what God calls us to, when we don’t listen to God, and when we give into immoral situations we continue to live by this world’s standards. 

“Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith BY my deeds.”

James 2:18

James tells us we are called for something better.  We need to be living outside the box, not trapped inside.  First up tomorrow we will delve deeper into what following Jesus’s Law of Love looks like when we treat people like God does – equally.

Have you ever met a modern-day Pharisee?  What was your reaction?  Do you find yourself trying to adhere to scripture but forget that one of the most important commandments is loving others?

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

Slow To Anger

My friend Andrea and I walk our dogs every week together.  I typically have my dog on an “e-leash” so I’m very careful to make sure people around me know I have complete control over my dog when it appears he is off leash.  We decided to take a new neighborhood route one day.  As we passed one house my dog stopped to sniff a small sign at the edge of the grass.  It said, “Keep Dogs Off Grass.”  I gave my dog the command to heel and he quickly took up the short distance between us.  The homeowner bolted from the far side of his car and commenced yelling at us.  “Get your dog off my grass!”  We were both taken aback at his aggressiveness.  My first response was to get my hackles up and yell back, “He wasn’t on your grass.” Andrea, in a nicer tone, confirmed this to the owner.  But he wouldn’t let up.  He yelled at us as we walked by.  And I yelled back.  The war had commenced.  Salvos were lobbed.  In the midst, Andrea became the peacemaker.  She had the peace of mind to realize this was not the hill to die on today.  She started saying, “Ok sir, have a nice day.”   He continued to yell at us while we were about 4 houses away.  My anger was apparent.  And I realized I had failed gloriously that morning’s first test.  

James’ admonishment sounds so simple.   And yet I would guess amongst millions of Christians our failure rate in accomplishing this is fairly high. 

“Everybody should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

James 1:19-20.

Think of how much those millions of Christians could change the world if we accomplished just this one act. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”  Now, being of warrior spirit I struggle with this.  But I realized the ingredient that makes a difference – anger.  When God sent out Joshua to take cities he didn’t tell him to do so in anger.  In fact, many of the actions he directed him to take were strangely non-warrior like such as marching around cities in circles and blowing horns.  

Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  God knows we get mad.  But he also tells us to be careful and not also take that anger and sin.  When Jesus cleansed the synagogues of “thieves” he was more sad than angry.  He wept to see what Israel had become.  Think of the destruction and affliction Jesus could have wrought on everyone!  But instead He cursed a tree.  If Jesus – the most powerful being to grace the earth — could restrain himself can’t we tamp down our anger at the grocery store clerk for taking a bit too long?  Or the person who doesn’t immediately bolt forward at the green light?  All the while our cross necklace dangles around our neck.

But let’s back up a bit.  James first tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”  How many of us, while someone is talking to us, are working on our own story or rebuttal in our head as that person speaks?  What we miss are opportunities.

#1 Opportunity to Show Empathy

We can tell when someone is really listening to us.  It’s called active listening.  According to Mat Apodaca in his article, “How to Practice Active Listening,” active listening involves using many of our senses.  It means giving your full attention.  You need to show the other person with your body language that you are truly listening.  He says doing this builds mutual trust, it boosts self-confidence, we have less miscommunication, have fewer arguments, and are more productive.  Here’s his steps to active listening:

  1. Maintain eye contact
  2. Don’t fidget
  3. No interrupting
  4. Watch for non-verbal clues
  5. Restate and clarify
  6. Use some encouraging words such as, “and then?”
  7. Probe for more information
  8. But keep your talking minimal
  9. Validate

I had invited a friend out to lunch awhile back.  I wanted to try and recover our relationship.  We had grown apart in various ways and it had come to a head with some back and forth justifying of our hurts.  As we sat across from each other I looked for ways to bridge our gaps.  Topics we could both agree on.  But the entire time she kept looking down at her phone that rested in her lap.  She murmured responses.  I finally asked her if something important was going on that she needed to keep reading her phone.  Her two younger children, around ages 15 and 13 were at home.  They were bickering and sending her text messages.  No one was dying.  No one was hurt.  I realized she not only wasn’t interested in the conversation, she wasn’t interested in our relationship. 

How many times have you done this to others?

#2 Opportunity to Hear from God

When we find ourselves listening to people who are angry, hurt, sad, or fearful we so often want to help.  We might share our own past situations or try to convince that person to think or feel differently.  But we always end up coming from our own view of the situation.  Our wheels are whirling for solutions to their problems, or how to get them to stop being angry at us.  With all that jumbled up thinking going on it’s awfully difficult for the one true voice to be heard.  God can see all solutions.  He knows exactly what to say, and more importantly what not to say. Charles Spurgeon says about praying continuously: “We need to have such confidence about our prayer life that prayer becomes like breathing, effortless, that we do it every moment we are alive.”

How many times have you left a conversation and later thought, “Oh, if only I had thought of that then!”  When we are actively listening, we can be more like a super highway.  Sending your friend’s, spouse’s, child’s, co-worker’s, stranger’s, words straight up to God.   Acting as more of a conduit for God’s instruction, rather than the encyclopedia of all things of how to do (fill in the blank) right.  You might just hear God remind us of Jesus’ words:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

Luke 6:27

Had I been listening to the angry neighbor I would have heard a few things: 1) He has had issues with dogs on his grass.  2) He really loves his grass, a lot.  3) Love him 

Before we build fences let’s first listen to each other and God

#3 Opportunity to Find A New Solution

You really cannot have a relationship with someone you don’t listen to.  That includes God.  If we want to transform our relationships, we need to hear what people and God are saying.  Ecclesiastes 5: 1-2 says:

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.”

When we offer up our own solutions, based on our own limited thoughts, they are made within a small framework.  But God knows all and sees all solutions.  We so frequently want to hear our own plans and arguments because we still want to control everything – even God.  

In 2 Chronicles 20, the ruler Jehoshaphat was faced with destruction by the Moabites and Ammonites.  He gathered up various advisors to discuss solutions.  You can only imagine the various types around the tent.  The warrior, demanding they strike first.  The appeaser, begging for them to send out an ambassador to beg for mercy.  The fearful, worried they were all going to die.  But verse 3 says, “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.”  He resolved.  He made a conscious decision, after listening to everyone to then listen to God.  And God came up with a solution that not one of those in attendance had even dreamed.  To not fight, but instead to take up their battle positions, standing firm and have faith in God.  The king then appointed men to sing.  Yes, sing.  And they watched God destroy the enemy.

It is our faith that God loves us — God wants the best for us that we must first rest upon.  With that as our anchor we can know when we actively listen we show the same love and empathy we receive from God.  When we are slow to speak it is because we are listening for God’s voice to channel through us.  And when we keep our anger in check we honor the God that thankfully does not condemn us each time we fail.

When was there a time that you either realized you had failed gloriously at this lesson or when you were successful?  How did you feel after?

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Message Received

I’ve long found it fascinating when I hear people say they’ve never heard from God.  In a previous church Bible Study, where the majority of the women were over 70, it actually saddened me to listen to woman after woman say she loved God but never really felt His presence or heard Him speak.  As I delve into a deeper relationship with our Lord, I keep hearing the same message from Him – you can walk up an aisle, stand when called, or raise your hand when asked if you want to receive Jesus, but until we seek out a personal relationship with Him our faith remains unfulfilled. 

I recently was reading about a centurion man named Cornelius in Acts 10.  He was not a Jew yet was devout to God.  His family was considered “God-fearing.”  He gave generously and prayed regularly.  But He did not know Jesus was His savior.  The Holy Spirit came to him one day.

“Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.  Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.”

Acts 10: 4-5

He immediately obeyed.  What was to unfold was discipleship at its finest.  Trusting God’s word, obeying even though it seemed unreasonable.  In the end, thanks to the actions of many, Cornelius and his family became the first gentile Christians – paving the way to you and me.

If you have ever watched the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you will surely get the message of our interconnectedness.  We so often think we are small and insignificant, while strangely also thinking everyone needs to know our opinions.  But it is the actions we take – led by the Holy Spirit – that cause ripples of which only God truly knows the effects.  My current Bible Study Girls are studying Charles Stanley’s, “30 Life Principles.”  We’ve started to joke about if all Mr. Stanley wrote were the words, “obey God,” the book could’ve been much shorter!  In fact, five of the 30 principles specifically use the word “obey.”  Many of the others are really just variations of the idea.

To obey something is to first know what that something is or wants.  Which means listening.  Which means paying attention.  I’ve challenged many friends and Bible study participants to take my “Coincidence Challenge.”  For 30 days, every time you hear just the right song, see a sign that says the right thing at the right time, or a friend calls when you need to hear a friendly voice, don’t call it a coincidence.  Call it God. When you do, you’ll find he isn’t silent.  In fact, He is babbling away at you, desperately trying to get your attention.  

The Book of James calls us to that personal relationship of listening and obeying God.  His message is to those of us who already call ourselves Christians.  It would be unfair to hold anyone else to the standards of which he writes.  Many of these standards are difficult and challenging.  And we are unable to meet these standards without a faith in God.  God alone is our strength to keep us on the narrow path.  At times it seems James is shaking us out of our Christian sleepiness.  Calling us to wake up, pay attention and serve God with all our heart, mind and soul.  James is the proverbial “bad cop.”  But sometimes we need admonishment.  We need correction.  

I was having lunch with a good friend the other day and she said she needs friends who can call her on her “stuff.”  If we are surrounded by “yes men” we struggle to improve our lives.  It can lead us down destructive paths when the standards held by the majority of whom we associate with are “almost right” or just plain anti-Biblical.  But when we have people who love us, want the best for us, and call us on our “stuff” based on Jesus’ standards, we grow to be our better selves.  James is that friend.  More importantly, James reminds us that God is that same friend.

“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

John 15: 14-15

This week we will be talking about James 1.  Trials, temptations, wisdom, listening, and action are on the plate.  So, buckle up.  We are about to strip down to some hard truths.  But remember too, that God is a merciful, loving and thankfully forgiving God.  That same friend who said she needs friends to call her on her “stuff” also said she’s worried that a study in James will be painfully convicting.  Let’s right now agree that if God shines a light on an area that needs work in our lives He does so out of love.  He wants more for us.  He knows what the future can bring us.  So, we need to lean in to the stripping away of our old selves so that we can live in His plans for us fully.  

Do you regularly hear from God? Tell us of a time you were asked to obey and it seemed unreasonable yet you took action.   If not take the “Coincidence Challenge!”

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Where’s The Joy?

It may be hard to find at times but there’s joy in trials. When we face a challenge we can go forward in dread or in the knowledge God is leading the charge.

Join me starting September 7 as we dig deeper into the Book of James with a five week study. Follow my blog to receive your daily emails.

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His Works Project

One of my favorite visuals from the Bible is James 1:23 – “Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”   Strangely enough I find myself doing that at times.  I get up, wash my face and go about my day.  At some point I’ll go into a restaurant or store bathroom and look in the mirror as I wash my hands.  I almost shock myself when I see what my hair looks like or how old I look. 

I also do this with obeying the Word of God.  I get up in the morning, read my devotionals and Bible studies then head out into the world.  At times it may take all day before I forget the Word, other times it’s my first encounter with another human as I leave my street.  I get angry, snarky, unforgiving, worried, maybe even a bit vengeful. I forget God’s admonition – that if I want to receive mercy then I need to be merciful.  If I want to be treated kindly then I need to treat people with kindness.  I tell people that the actual act of being a faithful follower of God takes work.  It takes practice.  Some days it takes every single ounce of strength to keep my mind fixed on Jesus.  The world wants us to take the easy route.  They want us to forget what we look like.  The world says “it’s ok” to chip away at what we know to be right.  Those “almost right” temptations are what give the devil his footholds.

There’s been great debates over time about grace vs. works.  I’m not a world-renowned Bible scholar.  I don’t have a degree in theology.  But I can read James 2:14 which states,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?” 

James 2:14

Throughout the New Testament it’s made clear that faith without deeds is really no faith at all.  The Book of James speaks to my Martha-like spirit.  But it also is for Martha’s sister, Mary.  Because deeds come in all forms.  Martha showed love by cooking and cleaning.  Mary showed love through adoration and giving.  

James is only five short chapters.  But they are packed with Jesus follower gems.  The foreward in the Bible study book, James, Faith that Works, says “Unlike most books of the New Testament, the letter of James is best known for the people who don’t like it.  It’s seen as a scalawag among the obviously Christ-centered letters of Paul, and the love-concerned writings of John.”  I personally like being a scalawag.



a scamp; rascal.

We feel the sting of James.  But without an occasional admonishment, we humans are extremely prone to skipping along dangerous paths. As a parent, I know the two most important roles I played while raising my girls was 1) setting and holding them to rules and 2) loving them even as they broke those rules.  Isn’t that what God does for us each and every day – when we turn from the mirror and forget what we look like?

Join me, starting September 7, 2020, as I take a chapter in James each week to spur us on to action – to be doers of the Word, not just readers.  Through James we can learn to take practical steps to living out our lives as Christ followers.

Be sure to follow to receive your James emails each week!