Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Standing for Christ

I've always been so intrigued by the story of Stephen in Acts, chapter 7. He was a man so full of Jesus and so full of His love that the Pharisees (religious leaders) just hated him. They accused him of blasphemy and even stoned him to death as he preached to them out of the overflow of love he had for them. He desperately wanted them to know the truth about Jesus. He knew their eternity was at stake. He knew that without Jesus, they would be eternally separated from God. So he poured his heart out to them with one of the most beautiful sermons in the New Testament.

But they wouldn't listen. Instead, they stoned him.

A young man named Saul was there, cheering them on with every blow. Yes, the same Saul that later became Paul - the Apostle whom God used to pen about two thirds of the New Testament! Jesus can change even the hearts of those we think are beyond hope; the ones who are so against Him that they persecute and even kill Jesus' followers! Nobody is beyond His grip of grace.

It is very clear in the Bible that Jesus is seated at God's right hand, yet in this story Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. He mentions it twice. I've always believed it was because when we stand up for Jesus, we can be assured that He stands up for us. Our faith brings Him to His feet!

As I read this morning in Beth Moore's book Paul: 90 Days on His Journey of Faith, tears fell down my face. I realized after I read it the third time that I wanted to share it with you because it perfectly describes what Jesus may have felt as He watched Stephen and Saul that day:
Remember, Christ was up on His feet at the time (see vs 56). Can you imagine the alloy of emotions He must have experienced as He looked on the two key players in the Kingdom that day? One FOR Him; one AGAINST Him. One covered in blood; the other covered in prayer shawls. One who could not save himself from men; the other who could not save himself from sin. One dead in body but alive in spirit; one alive in body but dead in spirit. One loved by God; the other loved by God. Grace, grace, God's grace. 
Just a day in the life of Stephen. A shooting star. He had one brief performance. One chance on stage. But it was absolutely unforgettable. As the curtain fell on his life, he received a standing ovation from the only One who really mattered. I have a feeling that seconds later the two of them hadn't changed positions much. Christ was still on His feet. Stephen was still crumpled to his knees. How sweet to imagine the first heavenly words that day: "Welcome, Stephan's, My joy and My crown."
I wonder if seeing Stephen die for his faith had an impact on the heart of Saul (who later becomes the Apostle Paul?) Right before Stephen passed away, he asked God to forgive those who were stoning him! My heart tells me you cannot watch something so powerful without having something happen in your heart. What an encouragement to know that even when we don't realize it, people are watching. Our stand for Christ could plant a seed in their heart that could eventually produce beautiful fruit!

May we all have courage to stand for Christ, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I believe our days here on earth are going to get harder and harder and it will take a lot more courage and faith for us to stand for what is right and for what we believe as Christians as the days grow darker. Our love for people and for Christ can compel us to do the right thing and this true story about Stephen can give us a glimpse of the grace that God will give us in those difficult moments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Five Ways to Gain Confidence as a Parent

Of all the roles I play in life, I have to admit that mothering is probably the one area that I am the most insecure with at times. I want so desperately to be a good mom. And when someone belittles me as a mother, it hurts deeply. When I get into the comparison trap and begin to compare my mothering skills with the skills of other (more perfect!) mothers, I fall into insecurity - big time!

Being a mother for the past twenty-five years, I’ve learned some important and life-changing things that have really helped me to fight these common insecurities. There are actually five specific things that have really seemed to help not only gain confidence, but let them go, as they get older:

1. Teach Them About Jesus. Every day, I want to teach them about the only One who will never fail them. As long as the emphasis isn’t on me making their lives perfect or holding them together, they won’t hold me to that expectation. The only One who can live up to that expectation is Jesus Christ! So, I teach them about Him. I share how much He loves them. And I do my best to live a life that shows them that He is the only One I trust with my life. I teach them to love His Word and how important knowing His Word is in their lives. I ask them often, “Have you been in God’s Word lately? What is He teaching you?”

2. Pray for Them Daily. My mom heart wants to make it “all better” for my kids, but sometimes they have to learn things the hard way. This takes a lot of self-restraint on my part and the only way I make it through is by praying for my children. I know God hears. I know He loves them even more than I do! And when I pray for them, it makes it so much easier for me to trust Him with their lives – even when it seems like they are falling apart. When I pray, I realize things are really just falling into place for them.

3. Be Open and Authentic. I don’t mince words. I don’t avoid topics that are hard.  As a matter of fact, I often encourage my kids to talk to me about the hard stuff. And I try not to act surprised when I hear something a bit hard to hear. I want my kids to talk to me about things because I know that if they don’t talk to me, they will talk to someone! I want to give them eternal perspectives on their problems and their life issues. I try not to judge them, but try to help them make judgments for themselves, based on their values, morals and faith – not on how the world sees things.

4. Model Humility.  Your children do not expect you to be perfect. They need to see you as a real person with flaws, so it’s important to admit and apologize when you mess up. There are times when I’m very wrong in my judgments of things or sometimes I just blow it with a temper tantrum. Rather than be prideful and tell them, “It’s okay for me, I’m an adult!” I admit I was wrong, ask forgiveness and ask God to give me wisdom not to do it again. I am always surprised how quick they are to forgive. They have mentioned to me several times how much they appreciate that I do this. They see a pattern of how they are to live their lives, too. I remember the first time I did this, I was afraid it would make them respect me less. The opposite has happened. They respected me more for it. They never expected me to be perfect in the first place. It’s nice for them to hear me admit that and to model humility.

5. Allow Them to Make Choices and Mistakes.  This is by far the hardest lesson I’ve learned so far. I have to start trusting them at some point. As they get older, I allow them to make choices on their own and sometimes, unfortunately, they must learn the hard way that the choice may not have been the right one. Then, they have consequences. As a mom, I try to allow them to feel the sting of those consequences without cushioning it. I would rather they feel those consequences and learn than make those same choices again. At some point, our kids have to start taking ownership for their lives. I’ve learned that when they begin to get older and make those decisions for themselves, it’s easier if they begin to do that under our roof, rather than out of the house and without our guidance.

I truly want my children to make decisions from their heart, not because it’s what I want – but because it’s what they know is right and it’s what they want. How will I teach them anything if I’m constantly giving them no choice? I trust that the values, morals and faith that my husband and I have taught them will help guide them and give them the strength to do the right thing. And if they do not choose what is right, the consequences will be life’s teacher in their lives. So you see, this is the hard one. It requires trust – not only trusting my children, but also trusting the Holy Spirit to guide them and help them along life’s way. Only He is with them all the time! I cannot even come close to that.

One final note - just as I cannot take credit when my children make good choices, I cannot blame myself when they make wrong choices. At some point, they must grow up, choose for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions. Trust that no matter what they choices, the wisdom, guidance and love you've given over the years will win out at some point. Cling to that when you feel they are slipping away. God sees. God knows. God cares.
I won’t always get it right and there are times when I mess up royally, but I’m so thankful we serve a God who is gracious, loving and forgiving. My prayer is that my children will grow up not only knowing Him, but also showing His grace, love and forgiveness to others (including me!).

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

In Hunger Games: Catching Fire, there was a very powerful theme running throughout the movie. Some of the tributes knew that their real enemy was not the people in the game trying to kill one another. It was the leader of the Hunger Games who was pulling the strings. It was easy to forget that truth when they were in the middle of the violent game, fighting for their lives. But they would remind each other, "Remember who the real enemy is." They needed to work together, form alliances and stay focused on the bigger picture. They needed to resist and trust that there was a bigger plan in all of their suffering. If they united, perhaps they could be part of a resistance that would help bring down the games once and for all!

Friends, please...let's remember who our REAL enemy is in this life. It's not people of another race, it's not our law enforcement, it's not our government. We are all puppets in a diabolical scheme the moment we stop resisting the temptation to act out in our anger and frustration with violence and cruel words.  Resistance is the key. We can take a stand for good only when we stop taking vengeance into our own hands. God sees, God knows. As hard as it is, wouldn't it be better if we trusted Him to work this out in His timing?

Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Day I Said "No" When I Should Have Said "Yes"

She was in the lobby of the medical building, slumped over on a chair, sobbing into her hands. I was going up to the third floor and she was seated right by the elevator. I felt in a nudge in my heart to stop and pray with her. But I was only two minutes away from my appointment and if I stopped, I would be late. It wasn’t worth it, I thought. So I ignored her as she cried, stepped onto the elevator and pushed the button. The doors closed and as her sobs faded as I ascended in the elevator, my heart was broken.
Why did I say no to God this time? 

He was clearly asking me to reach out to this woman. I sat in the waiting room, and the doctor was (of course) late calling me back. It had been about five minutes and I couldn’t get this precious woman off my mind. I told the receptionist I would be right back. I stepped into the elevator, pushed the button for the lobby and rode down, heart pounding and praying she would still be there so I could pray with her. The doors opened and there was no sign of her. I had missed my opportunity. All because of fear. Fear of being late, fear of rejection from her (what if she thought I was nuts?) and fear that if her problem was too much, I would make it worse by not knowing what to say.

My last blog was a big confession that got to the root of my “misplaced yes” and my “neglected no”.  After I posted my thoughts, I began to clean my kitchen and remembered this day. What if I had actually said yes when God prompted me to pray with her?

But I didn’t say yes that day. Fear was my motivation and landed me in the middle of a missed opportunity! It's interesting to me that fear is what keeps me from saying "No" but it's also what keeps me from saying "Yes"! People pleasing is choosing to please people over God, no matter if it's in saying "yes" for selfish reasons, or saying "no" for selfish reasons.

Let’s take a deeper look at the root of the fears that paralyzed me that day:

Fear of failing. What if I didn’t know what to say? What if I sounded like a dork? Oh, but doesn’t God tell us He will give us the words to speak at times like this? And hasn’t He always done that in the past? Yeah, that excuse doesn’t float.

Fear of judgment. What if she thought I was nuts? Yeah, she might. So what? But let’s be honest. How many times have you asked someone if you could pray with them in the middle of a serious heartbreak and they said no? I have a feeling she wouldn’t have thought I was nuts. She might have actually appreciated it. But if not, at least I've been obedient to what God asked me to do. I've actually learned that my job is obedience. God's job is to take care of the outcome of that obedience. Another bum excuse.

Fear of commitment. What if she needed more from me? What if she was a life-sucker who cries at everything and looks at life’s glass as half-empty? Maybe she always cries. Maybe she is a martyr and nothing I could say would help? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I know God prompted me to pray for her. There is no doubt about it. I trust that if He gives me an opportunity, He will equip me for it and whatever commitments may stem from it. How can I know her motives or her heart? I don't even know her! Yet another lame excuse.

Fear of being late and disappointing the physician’s office staff. This is valid I suppose. When we give our word that we will be somewhere, we should always keep our word. But we also need to remember that Jesus, many times, reprimanded people because they kept the law before they loved. Law over love never works. In retrospect, I believe with all of my heart that God would have taken care of me as I took care of her. This excuse doesn’t float, either.

If I feel I should say yes, but say no out of fear, I’m going to miss out on a blessing. The great thing about God is that He won’t miss an opportunity to reach out to others at all, but if I am not obedient, I miss out on that blessing of being used by God to reach someone’s heart. He will find someone else, who is willing, to do the work. He's God!

My prayer is that someone said "yes" to God that day at the physician's office. I know it wasn’t me. I missed my chance, I missed the blessing. But God’s heart was to comfort that precious woman and I pray He found someone who was not afraid to reach out to her and share His love and concern for her broken heart. In the meantime, He taught me that opportunities come and go. And I want to go where He leads. I don’t want to be left wondering, “What if?” ever again! God doesn't waste your mistakes. If you ask Him, He will show you the better way. Let love be your highest goal!

Three things will last forever - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Real Reasons I Say "Yes" When I Should Say "No"

My heart was racing as I stepped up to the pitcher’s mound. I knew I was no good at pitching, but my
church’s softball team was in a quandary. Our pitcher and our back up pitcher were both out of town and we needed someone to step up. I knew I stunk at pitching, but I thought, “Well, nobody else will do it, so I will!”

Famous last words.

I began the inning by walking the first few ladies. Not bad. At least nobody hit a homerun. When the bases were loaded with walkers, I began to get really nervous. I mean, even more nervous than I already was at this point. The more I failed, the worse I got!

Nothing prepared me for what happened next. I let go of the pitch and when I watched the home plate to see where it would go, I couldn’t find it anywhere. That’s when I heard the laughter roaring from both teams and even the people in the stands watching. I was confused. I felt my face flushing and my embarrassment quickly faded and turned to belly laughing when I realized I had thrown a pitch – to second base! It had literally gone over my head and behind me.

Oh my word. Story of my life!

I tell you this not to embarrass myself (all over again) but to show you a very vivid picture of what
happens when I jump in and volunteer to do something because “nobody else will do it.” Can you relate? Perhaps you’re the one who feels bad because ministry opportunities go untaken. People are un-served. Things are not being done. And you think that because you’re “available” you should step in and save the day, no matter what the cost.

How’s that working out for you?

My guess is that you’re tired, exhausted, perhaps even frustrated and even bitter towards others because they wouldn’t “step up”. Self righteousness may be creeping in.

How do I know this? Only because I’ve lived it. I’ve been the one to do this for a long time. My mom even bought me a coffee mug once that said, “Note to self: Stop Volunteering for Stuff.”

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that I really do need to stop burning myself out. I need to ask myself a few questions before I commit to doing something that I feel needs to be done:
  • Is this something I feel God is calling me to do?
  • Will this commitment take me away from my top priorities?
  • Is there someone else who could be doing this?
  • What is my motive for doing this? Is it so I won’t disappoint the person asking or is it because I feel it is truly a place where I can serve joyfully and keep my other commitments?
  •  Have I given myself time to pray and seek wise counsel on this decision? Or do I feel rushed to make a quick decision?

My mentor once told me that if I say yes to everything, I end up burning myself out and honestly, I could be stealing an opportunity from someone who is truly gifted and called to do the work. I’ve always remembered that. Sometimes the things I say "yes" to end up being a distraction that takes me far off the path God truly intended me to take.

Please hear my heart here. I’m not telling you to say no to every opportunity and I’m definitely not saying that God cannot equip you to do something He’s clearly called you to do, even if you are not naturally gifted at it. Prayer, wise counsel and time are all essential in making the right decision. But look at your true motive before you say "yes".

To be completely honest, I've since realized that the root of my decision to say "yes" to everything was my fear of hurting or disappointing people. I’ve realized that comes from a place of fear. My fear is that others will reject me. But saying "yes" out of fear of rejection is really a selfish motive for being kind. In other words, I was being kind in order to gain favor and acceptance from someone and that showed a need for boundaries in my life. Fear of a person's disapproval can lead to codependency, which happens when we depend on another person's approval and acceptance for our happiness. It's a form of idolatry! But oh, how selfless and sweet it looks on the outside! 

In my desire to be "needed" I was not faithful to what God had actually called me to do. And let's be honest - does God really need me? He's God! He is holy, almighty, self-sufficient and perfect! He's invited me to be a small part of His work, but He certainly doesn't need me. I'm not going to ruin His plans. He's God!

I have learned over the past few years that saying “no, thank you” has not hurt me in the least. Actually, it’s really helped me establish boundaries and it’s given me time and energy to do the things God is actually asking me to do! And not one person I’ve had to say “no” to has rejected me. I actually believe they respect my honesty and desire to be a woman of my word. You can be nice and say no at the same time! (smile)

You will find your fears of rejection and disappointments are more than likely unfounded, too. You can take control of your life – one decision at a time. Trust me, God knows what needs to be done and He has the perfect person for each role. We can trust Him to complete what He starts, with or without us! 

In looking back, perhaps there was actually a woman on my softball team who had a gift of pitching and she didn't even know it? But I said "yes" so quickly, she never even had a chance to try. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Stephanie!

My daughter, Stephanie, is having a birthday today. That means that twenty-five years ago, I was giving birth to her in a hospital in Reston, VA, terrified, very young and absolutely thrilled that epidurals did what they claimed! (smile)

I also remember being a bit confused by the wave of emotions that were very new to me. Holding your first child for the first time is probably the closest thing to heaven on this side of life. Seeing her eyes, her wiggly body, hearing her cries, counting her fingers and toes... It was more stimuli in a few moments that I ever thought possible! How did this perfection come from me? Were those tears in my young husband's eyes? I'd never seen him cry before.

Someone once said that once you become a Mother, you wear your heart on the outside of your body. I believe that. I've never felt so vulnerable, so proud, so thankful, so filled with joy, as I have since becoming a Mother. I'm so thankful for the gifts of my children. I proudly wear my heart on my sleeve.

I'm also so blown away by the fact that it's been a quarter of a century! That is just plumb crazy. How the time flies! I'd always heard time goes quickly, but I never realized just how quickly. I remember when she was about four years old and we were pushing her in her stroller on a cool night. The time had just changed, so it was darker earlier. She looked up at the dark sky and said, "Mommy, I think God must've cleaned the moon tonight. It's really bright!"

Gosh, that seems like yesterday.

Stephanie has been through a crazy year of transition and she has handled it with such grace. I am always so inspired how she looks at life. She has a way of seeing the lessons God is weaving into her life in the sweetest ways, even in the hardest times. What a gift. She posted on her Facebook the other day:
Tonight the Lord let me catch a tiny glimpse of what he might feel with all of us. I am working at a senior living center that cares for residents suffering from dementia. While trying to get a resident ready for bed tonight, I kept reminding her that I was trying to help her and I cared for her and wanted the best for her. All the while she was hitting me and calling me horrible names. It reminded me of all the times God has told me that his plan for me is ultimately for my good yet I kick and scream and lose heart. He knows what's ultimately best for me. I'm grateful for his patience.
Wow, I would hope that is how I would have seen it. I know that I would think twice about complaining or having "hurt feelings" over something like that after reading her post, though!

If it were not for this precious woman, I'm not sure where Rod and I would be with our faith, either. I'm not sure if you've had a chance to read how God used her in our lives to help us see His Truth, but if you haven't, please take a few minutes to read this. It's pretty incredible how God uses our children, isn't it?

Today, I'm thankful for the gift of my daughter. It never ceases to amaze me that I feel like I'm the one receiving a gift on my children's birthdays! I get to remember the incredible ways that God has blessed me with each one of them and the world gets to join in with me as we get to celebrate them for the entire day!

Happy Birthday, sweet Stephanie. You are so incredibly precious to me. I love your heart for others and your deep trust and love for the Lord. You give me strength and you inspire my heart to love well. Thank you for all you've brought into our lives and our home! Enjoy your special day!!

Love, Mom

Monday, November 3, 2014

Breaking Free!

My son's dog, Buddy, used to go out back on a long lead when he went outside.  We’d hook him up and he went about 40-50 feet out until it tugged on his collar. There was a little circular path where he walked back and forth.  He rarely even experienced a tug on his collar after awhile because he knew where his boundaries were.

One day, Buddy's lead was broken and we couldn't get it to hook onto his collar.  I let him out and just stood there, watching him to make sure he didn't go too far.  Well, he didn't.  It was as if he still had his lead on him.  I was amazed at how he continued walking the exact same path, no further.  He didn't even try to go any further than his boundaries.  

He was content with the familiar and he was trained to be "bound". I don't even think he realized the chain was gone!  I thought for sure that Buddy would realize he was free and that he would run like the wind, far past his normal boundaries.  But he didn't. 

Watching Buddy that day got me thinking about my own chains. I've spent the majority of my life chained and bound to sin. But it is for freedom that Christ has set me free, according to Galatians 5:1.  But free from what?  Do I act as if I'm free all the time? 

Not so much. 

I have been not only saved from sin but I've been set free not to sin and yet often I stay in the same place, wandering on the well-trodden path that I've made just inside my boundaries of the world.  It's as if I don't realize the chain has been snapped and I'm free to go beyond these walls of bondage - but I just don't see it.

How often do I continue to have the same negative thoughts when things get tough? 

How often do I worry and complain? 

How often do I make the wrong choice because the right one just seems too hard to make? 

Every time I decide to willfully sin, I'm acting as if I'm still in chains, still a prisoner to the very sin that Jesus set me free from on the day I received His promise!  Why do I do this?

Maybe it's because, like Buddy, I am comfortable and it is familiar. I've been trained to be “bound”. Maybe I am afraid to go beyond the "normal" and experience Christ's freedom?  I mean, what might He ask me to do out there?  What might I encounter?  

No matter what, I only know that today I want to go beyond.  I want to experience the freedom Christ died to give me!  I'm reminded that He is with me and He is guiding me - He says He will never leave me or forsake I really believe this?

Go beyond, my friend.  Choose wisely today.  Give Him the opportunity to show you how freedom feels and trust Him to help you choose the right way.  The world believes that freedom is being able to sin; that being "free" means we can do whatever our sinful nature wants.  But that will always keep us bound in chains. 

It's not very challenging to go with the flow, to continue to make the choices we used to make that were easy to make but left huge, painful consequences.  We think that's adventure?  No way.   It's much bolder and a lot gutsier to go past the boundaries and break free from the chains that sin has bound us with into the new life of freedom Christ promised us!  

Now that's adventure!

Buddy did the right thing by staying in the safety of his boundaries.  But we do the right thing by running free, far past the world's boundaries that we used to be bound to!  Christ has broken the chains, my friend! 

True freedom comes when we realize that we are free not to sin.  Our freedom is exhibited best when we walk in the Truth - the new life He has given us - the freedom that comes when we choose what, in our own power, would be impossible in our own strength. 

Romans 6:14-18 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law.  Instead, you live under the freedom of God's grace.  Well then, since God's grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning?  Of course not!  Don't you realize that you become a slave of whatever you choose to obey?  

You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.  Thank God!  Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Are You Pulling Away from Others?

When I go to the grocery store and run into a friend, I'm always excited and we usually stop and catch up quickly, but we both have lists to shop for, dinner to cook and errands to run so the time we spend catching up leaves much to be desired, though it is nice because it keeps us up on each others lives.  I call those the "grocery store encounters".

Then there are the "coffee shop encounters" I get to have with friends.  Those are the ones that can last up to three hours (sometimes more if time allows!) where we get a lot deeper in conversation, we talk  about things that are on our heart and really get to know what's going on in each others lives.  I've had far too few of these encounters lately, and I will explain why.

Lately, I must confess, most of my encounters with friends have been "super market encounters". I have had a tough year, where I have inadvertently hurt some people in my life due to some important choices I made for me and my family. We left a wonderful church and I left a great job - leaving people in the wake of my decision wondering why. Some took it personally. Some assumed there were big problems and that's why we, as a family, made the decisions. But in all honesty, we were just following God's leading. No big gossip or story. No problems with anyone. No anger. No regrets. But I have carried around guilt in spite of that! It's like I've picked up a burden that Jesus never wanted me to carry. As a result of me unintentionally hurting people, I have pulled away from many people in my life out of fear of hurting them and I've refrained from forming new, deeper relationships.

I've heard of people pulling away because they didn't want to get hurt. That's not my case. I, of all people, know that hurt is inevitable as we put expectations on people that are unspoken but assumed and they can never live up to them. I would venture to say that the majority of the time you are hurt by someone, the person did not set out to hurt you, but they probably just didn't live up to an unspoken expectation you put on them. I know this, because I've done the same thing with others and have been hurt, too. But I'm learning that is not Biblical. We can never assume we know a person's motive. We can never know their heart. Only God can.

In the process of trying to "spare" others from being hurt by me (I'm such a, I've realized it can be pretty lonely when you don't have community. God never intended us to walk out this life alone. 

How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1) God loves when we are unified and in healthy relationships with each other. As a matter of fact, that is one of the prayers Jesus made right before He went to the Cross: "I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one - as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me." (John 17:21)

Relationships are that important. Jesus clearly communicated that our unity will show the world that He is sent from God. No wonder Satan is after our relationships! No wonder there are so many divisions in the churches and in Christian communities! We are allowing our pride and fear to determine our relationships and many are destroyed as a result. My fear has kept me from opening up, from reaching out and from developing intimacy with others. I have to trust that God will protect their hearts from me "hurting" them and I have to believe that He will give me wisdom as I seek out strong, godly, loving people with whom I can have healthy connections. 

It's like God shined a big Light on my fear and showed me what was holding me back. And now, I'm just opening up and being honest about my struggle because in 1 John 1:7, we are told, "When we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all of our sin." Walking in the Light means I am no longer going to hide my struggle, but I'm going to put it out there, confess it and deal with it. Notice - only if we walk in the Light can we have fellowship! When Christians get together in community, we call it "fellowship". Such a churchy word, but honestly, a beautiful one. 

My husband gave me great advice as I was feeling overwhelmed by all of this the other day. He said, "Leslie, there are people in your life already. Pray and ask God who He wants you to spend some more time with. Then, be intentional with them. Spend time with them. And don't worry about going out and connecting with a ton of other people yet. Just nurture a couple of relationships at a time and let God help you heal. He will then bring people into your life with whom He wants you to connect." Such great advice. I have already had a coffee shop encounter with one of those friends and plan on connecting with the other soon. I can do this! :)

I'm curious - how are the relationships in your life?

Are they more like "grocery store encounters" or "coffee shop encounters"?

What is holding you back from being open, honest and real in your relationships with others?

What step can you take this week to connect with someone?

I want to encourage you to take a step today and begin to heal. Our unity matters to God! And you were not meant to walk out this life alone.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Desperate for a Cure

Today's news headlines remind me of a movie I watched a few years back called Contagion. I would not recommend this movie to a hypochondriac. With all the talk about Ebola and other viruses running rampant in the world, it seems like the plot of this movie is pretty relevant. The virus in the movie spread quickly around the world and you get a glimpse at how easily it spread.  People were panicked.  It didn't take long for complete chaos to break out and for the people all over the world to get very desperate to get their hands on a cure.  There was even a guy who said he had a cure but he was just out to make money - he was bamboozling millions of naive people and they died as a result of his selfishness.  That always makes me sick when people capitalize on something so terrible just to make a quick buck.

The tag line for the movie is, "Nothing Spreads Like Fear."  So true!  These people were terrified.  At the first sneeze, it was a wave of panic as they began to quickly get sicker and sicker and within days the virus would unmercifully take their lives.  Of course they were scared, I would be too!  There was no hope, it seemed.  Finally, after a few months, there was a cure but only so many people could get the cure at a time, as the demand was far greater than the supply.

As I watched these frightened people, so desperate for a cure, I couldn't help but think I wish we would all truly understand the fact that there really is a virus that is worse than the one in the movie because it isn't spread - we are born with it.  But nobody seems desperate for this cure.  Nobody seems fearful of this very real virus.  Many pretend they are not infected or think they aren't sick enough for it to be a problem.  That virus is called sin and its mortality rate is 100% if not cured.  There is only one cure and that cure is Jesus Christ.

Why aren't we desperately seeking this Cure?  In Contagion, I was struck by how people would go to great lengths to get their hands on a cure that would save them physically - but spiritually, where did they stand?  Because when it all comes down to it, we know we will all eventually pass away someday (the mortality rate for humans is 100%, as it turns out).  Why is this not something about which we concern ourselves?  Our eternity is at stake and we are basing all of our efforts and striving on this short life on earth! Are we blind?

In a way, I suppose we are. I'm pretty sure it's because we are being bamboozled by someone sinister and evil who wants not to make a quick buck off of us, but to make us his victims, his trophies of deception.  Satan is the master deceiver and his desire is that we all feel comfortable in our sinful state.  He wants us to think that when people talk about him being a real threat to us and that we are all sinful, they are crazy.  He wants us to believe that everyone will be fine after this life.  His desire is that no one would survive and that we will all join him in his eternal home - separated from the God who so desperately loves us and longs to have a relationship with us.  Satan is not dressed in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork as he would want you to believe.  No, he usually shows up in a much more welcoming package.  After all, before he decided he was equal to God (delusion, by the way), he was the most beautiful angel in heaven!  Doesn't sound like a creepy looking, pitch-fork holding, cackling character to me. Don't be deceived, my friend. He comes as an angel of light and he's very convincing. 

If, as the movie states, nothing spreads like fear, then why are we not fearing God, the only One worth fearing?  The kind of fear I'm talking about is different - it's a reverence, a respect, a submissive fear.  If we fear God, we have nothing left to fear.  But here's what Psalm 36 says...

1 Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts.
      They have no fear of God at all.
 2 In their blind conceit,
      they cannot see how wicked they really are.

I'm here to tell you that Satan is a liar.  All of us are born with this "virus" called sin.  All of us.  It's hard to fathom, I know.  It's easy for us to say, "But I haven't killed anyone, or I'm not as bad as so-n-so.." But even one bad thought is more sin than a Holy God will tolerate.  Sin must be judged and according to the Bible, the payment for sin is death and separation from God for eternity.  But Jesus paid our sin debt!  

Maybe you think this is my opinion, not the truth.  Why not research for yourself, in the pages of the Bible, what God says about our sinful condition?  Here are some scriptures for you to read.  I pray He will grant you wisdom and truth as you seek the pages of Scriptures for answers.  There is a cure for our sinful condition and God has provided it because He cannot stand one more moment of being separated from us.  He loves you desperately and He proved it by giving His life for you.  His desire is that no one should die and live their eternity out away from Him.  He loves you.  Read for yourself...

Yes, the news is grim. Ebola and other horrifying diseases are a reality. But what about after this life? Why aren't we thinking eternally?  If we truly understood the importance of this, we wouldn't waste another moment worrying about things that won't even matter on the other side of this short life. We would be desperate for a cure.

Monday, October 6, 2014

New Blog Post

I am a contributor for Faithlife Women, a blog site that is an incredible encouragement to women! They are through Logos Bible Software (by the way - if you haven't tried their Bible software, you are in for a treat when you do!). This is my latest post from Faithlife women, where I talk about our greatest gift to God:


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