Is Chaos a Choice?

I like routines.  I survive with the illusion of being in control.  I do not accept change well.  My first defense is just to ignore what’s swirling around me and wait for the dust to settle.  But, the dust isn’t settling very quickly this time.  The world is caught up in the chaos for disease and failing economies.  I track the oil prices on my phone; not a comforting activity right now.  Social media has been both a help and a hindrance recently.  There are lots of resources being offered up, but the panic buying (hoarding) has also been fueled by some of the posts.  The news media seems to be more intent on scaring up a story than providing facts and information in a calm and helpful manner.   It’s hard to know what is real and what is just hype.

We are encouraged to practice social distancing.  Schools are on extended breaks.  Universities are moving to online classes only.  Some businesses are instituting remote work.  Other are beginning the furlough process (Unpaid Corona Vacations) for employees.  Restaurants have shifted takeout only.  Churches are using the internet to meet.  Stores are closing or cutting hours.  Groceries are scarce at times.  And, Toilet Paper has become the prime indicator of how well we are doing.  When it rains, it pours!  What are we supposed to do?

Chaos is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living the definition of chaos.  Over the past few months, there have been several very unsettling events that have thrown my life a little off-balance.  They didn’t happen to me directly, but they have affected me just the same.  These events brought change to MY normal and I reacted emotionally and spiritually.   As I have been trying to recover my balance, the stock market crashed, oil prices tanked, and the Coronavirus pandemic took center stage.  Although, I continue to go to work each day and I may seem to be in control, my mind is reeling as my world seemingly spins out of control.  I have to fight the urge to go into “Fix it” mode. 

My morning devotion was in Psalm 37.  One verse in particular (a very familiar one) answered the question “What am I supposed to do?)  Here are several versions of the 7th verse of Psalm 37:

“Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.” 

the Message

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” 

New International

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” 

King James

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him; Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.”

Amplified

Be still.  Right.  Easier said than done.  I do not WANT to be still and wait.  I want things back to normal.  But, right now, being still is the best thing that I can do.  I can be still in my home, away from the rush.  Families will have the time to eat meals together, to play games together, and to just BE together.  There are no extracurricular activities that require our attendance or attention.  We can choose to use this time to connect deeply with our spouse and/or children or we can waste the time fretting and binge watching on the internet.   We can moan about having to eat at home or enjoy the creativity of prepping meals together, even if that means helping to unpack the take-out.  We can worry about where the economy is headed or take advantage of opportunities to save money during this distancing period.  We can allow the chaos to eat us alive, or we can turn to God and allow Him to speak to each of us in the quiet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend more time in the quiet.  I’ll practice being still before God.  I will spend time in His word.  I will once again spend time drawing, journaling and creating in order to connect with my refuge and my strength. 

I choose to see this chaotic time as an opportunity to reconnect, to return to my roots, to grow in my faith. I will be still.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46: 1-10 NIV

FAITH THAT STANDS FIRM

It’s been almost 14 years since that awful November day when my life was turned upside down.  The memories of that day will always stay with me.  In an instant I was no longer married, but a widow.  Our happy family of four was now a single-parent family of three.  Dreams that were so exciting became dull memories.  I struggled to get from one day to the next.  My story now had a definite divider: before he died and after he died.  Everything in our lives is gauged by that one event. 

Losing my 47 year old husband was devastating.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Why would God allow such a thing to happen?  I cried and begged God to let me wake up from that horrible nightmare.  But, it wasn’t a nightmare.  It was my new normal; a normal that I hated with every fiber of my being. 

I spent hours agonizing.  Prayer was not a comfort.  The only request I had was for the pain to stop.  I questioned everything I thought I believed. 

  • Does God really exist?
  • And if He does exist, is God really good? 
  • Does He really love me and care about me? 
  • Is there really life after death?
  • What do I believe about Heaven?
  • Is eternity really a gift for the believer?

Through the days, weeks, months and (yes) years, I got my answers.

  • Yes.  God does exist.  And, He withstands my doubts and questions.
    • “Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God.” John 1:1-2 TLB
  • Yes.  God is good.  Fortunately, He’s not fair or vindictive.   He treats me with Grace and Love beyond my imagination.  I’m often too selfish to understand His caring and love.
    •  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  John 3;16 MSG
  • Yes.  God really cares about me in particular.  He carried me through the darkest days.  I saw His care and love through friends and family that stood by me.
    • I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
  • I do believe there is Life after Death.  It is my hope and the only reason I could get through each day. 
    • And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.  I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord.  Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.  So comfort and encourage each other with this news.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 TLB
  • I’m still learning about Heaven.  It’s a place prepared for me, not a floaty place in the clouds.  Heaven is in the presence of God. 
    • “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”  John 14-1-4 MSG
  • The promise of Eternal Life is a gift given to those that have finished their “assignment” here on earth.  Death is not a punishment, but a reward for those of us who believe. 
    • “The world and its evil desires are passing away. But whoever does what God wants them to do lives forever.” 1 John 2:17 NIV

I finally stopped focusing on what my late husband was missing and accepted that he was EXACTLY where he wanted to be: in the presence of God.  He wasn’t missing anything.  It was ME that was missing sharing life with him.  His death wasn’t a punishment.  It was his reward for a life well lived. 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

I still grieve for my loss.  I grieve that my children no longer have their dad.  But, I don’t question God’s plan.  I know He is in control.  I believe in His sovereignty and His plan for me.  My faith keeps me on track!

“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
    and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
    and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
    and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
    I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
    I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
    I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 MSG

Flexible or Counterfeit?

We operate in a world that preaches tolerance, flexibility and understanding.  Not bad ideals to practice, in most cases.  I, however, have grown tired of being schooled on the “politically correct” response to every situation regardless of my own beliefs and emotions.  I understand that not everyone embraces my upbringing, my history or my moral compass and I have no intention of forcing my views onto anyone.  But, at what point do my actions stop being signs of flexible tolerance and become indications of an untrue and even counterfeit life?   Is there a line where I am expected to stand up and voice my standards and beliefs even if those very beliefs offend the social norm of today?

I grew up in North Texas in what is often called Tornado Alley.  Like many homes in that part of the world, we had a storm cellar in our back yard.  It had been built by my grandparents, and the door was covered in sheet metal and made a wonder slide for play time.  One day, I discovered that I could walk up the door if I rubbed gasoline (from the 5 gallon container for the lawn mower) on the bottoms of my rubber flip-flops.  I thought it was really neat.  That is until my mother discovered what we were doing.  I was told it was dangerous to play with gasoline.  I wasn’t sure I understood the danger, but I knew not to try it again.  Fast forward 30 years, when I met a friend who had been playing with gasoline and had been badly burned as a result.  Now, I understood the dangers of the highly combustible fuel as well as how fast fires can and will follow not only the liquid but the fumes.  My mother was not flexible in allowing me to have fun and play.  She knew I was playing with fire and did her best to protect me. 

You may be thinking, “Of course she would stop you.  So what?” This example is pretty cut and dried.  The danger was obvious.  The actions were expected.  So I ask:  How many times to we allow others (friends, children, family) to play with “fire” in their lives rather than offend/anger them?  There are so very many moral chasms that we allow others to delve into without saying anything.  After all, we live in a world where sex is casual, attaining personal desire is the #1 goal and faith is only discussed as the punchline of a joke.  We speak of religion without conviction and yet bristle when called religious.  Christianity has become a social tag and the Church a place to go on Sunday mornings IF I decide to get out of bed AND it will benefit me in some way. 

My husband uses the term “American Christianity” to describe today’s social/religious Christian tag.  American Christianity tends to focus on:

  • The importance of the individual not the corporate vision or destiny of “the Church”. 
  • Individual prosperity instead of stewardship; using faith to attain stability and comfort versus encouraging taking risks to advance the Kingdom.
  • Self-fulfillment and happiness rather than glorifying God and serving humanity.
  • Promoting a consumerist mentality with regard to the home church and not the equipping for ministry; A culture of entertainment that replaces the pursuit of God.
  • The church as a building instead of a body that exemplifies a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
  • Efficiency of worship but not the effectiveness.

While each individual believer is responsible for applying the Word of God to his/her own life, scripture was given to the Church.  When you read the Old Testament, references are made about the Nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, the community of faith (the Church) was the focus of scripture.  As believers, we are to be a PART of the Body or The Church.  We are not ‘stand-alone’ in our beliefs. 

Only in the United States do we believe we are “owed” prosperity.  Rather than being grateful for all that we have in our country, we pray for greater things:  bigger houses, nicer cars, better paychecks.  It would never occur to most American Christians to sacrifice in order to provide for the community around us.  At most, we give a tithe and expect a big return as a result.

If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy”, I will scream!  No one ‘deserves’ to be happy.  Did you read that correctly?  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HAPPY.  An individual can CHOOSE to be happy in any situation.  When MY happiness becomes my prime focus, I cannot focus on God.  And just to close any gap that may exist:  God will NEVER use sin to bring you happiness.  An adulterous affair may add a level of excitement and fun to your life, but is it worth the sacrifice of your reputation and trustworthiness? 

I struggle with entertainment value attached to our American church services.  I struggle as a worship leader and as a participant.  I know the danger of getting caught up in “performing” on any given Sunday. The need to be part of the worship with the body fades if I’m not on stage.  The accolades from others become my “worship” and I no longer look for ways to grow in my own spiritual life.

I believe we need to attract people to our church services.  But, more important, I believe we need to be examples of a lifestyle of Christ following.  When we show that worship is more than filling space in a church building once a week, we influence the community is a greater way.  We make effective our worship and our lifestyle.  People are attracted to the genuine.  Worship as entertainment will lose its appeal if there is no depth to it.  That’s why we are seeing an upswing in small group/family life worship.  My pastor has said “The Row doesn’t know what you need, but the Circle does.”  The Row represents where you sit in a church service.  The people on either side of you have no idea what’s really going on with you.  The Circle, however, represents the family life group.  That’s the small group that hears you share on a weekly basis.  That may not be efficient, but it’s definitely effective in growing your spiritual side.   

I want to be flexible with people.  I want to be that person that loves regardless and sometimes in spite of the situation.  I need to be a part of weekly worship and daily growth in order to be my best self.  I cannot pretend to be something other than who I am.  I will not be a counterfeit in this world that promotes individuality but demands conformity. 

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” 

James 1:26-27 MSG

Shredded Tires, a Pillar of Salt and Life

We’ve all seen the sign that warns of tire damage if you backup. You can move forward and the spikes lay flat. But, backup or go the wrong direct, and your tires are shredded. There’s no turning back when you see this sign. You are forced to “go with the flow” and drive forward.

How many times have I wanted a “do over” during my lifetime? This is especially true after I’ve made a decision and things haven’t gone exactly as planned. My mind goes into overdrive with “what if” and “if only” thoughts. I’m plagued with plans on how to “go back” and “fix it;.” But, truthfully, that’s not an option. Any time spent trying to go back will be wasted and will come at a cost to myself and may to those around me.

“ But Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”

Genesis 19:26 MSG

Lot and his family were living Sodom and Gomorrah.  Angels visited and instructed Lot to take his family and “run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain—run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.”  God was saving them from the destruction that was coming.  Lot had seen the debauchery.  He and his family trusted the Angels and started on their way.  But, what if the city wasn’t so bad after all?   If only there was one more chance.  Lot’s wife couldn’t move forward.  She was too caught up in what she was leaving behind.  She turned back and the entire family was affected by her decision.  

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” 

Philippians 3:12-14 MSG

As a young mother, I remember being overwhelmed.  I worked a full time demanding job.  We had two young children.  My husband and I always seemed to have more month than money.  It was easy to wonder:  “What if I was single and going out with my co-workers?  If only I didn’t have all these responsibilities.  Don’t I deserve to be happy and have fun?”  It was a tough time in our marriage.  Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t go back and could only move forward with the decisions I had made about my life.  And, I’m so glad that I did.

In our world, choosing ME over anything is what we are told to do.  I need to find MY happiness.  I am the most important person in my life.  God wants ME to be happy or He wouldn’t have brought (fill in the blank) into MY life.  It’s too easy to find an excuse to abandon what I have for something that “might be”.  I become my own worst enemy.  I plot and scheme to make God fit into the itinerary I have made for my life.  And when that doesn’t work, my first thought is to try again.  I’m certain I know best.  Sound familiar?

I’ve watched so many families/marriages implode because reality has overtaken the fairy tale.  Things aren’t as perfect as we want.  Prince Charming’s armor is a little dented & tarnished and those glass slippers really pinch your toes.   You begin to look back, to wonder:  “Maybe I married too quickly.  What if I had waited for the Jack of Hearts to take and interest.  He’s really cute.”  And before you even recognize what has happened, you’re a pillar of salt.  Stuck in the wilderness you thought you wanted.  You’ve destroyed your future.  You’ve destroyed your family.  In an effort to recapture what might have been, you have chosen to backup and have suffered severe “damage your tires.”

What can we learn from this?  Is there any hope?  I believe there is.  While I don’t think any of us “deserve” to be happy, I know that I can “choose” to be happy and content in any circumstance.  You see, when I stopped looking at all of the fun that my single friends were having all those years ago, I realized something.  They were looking for a life JUST LIKE MINE!  Every one of them wanted a home and a family. I must had to stop day-dreaming about what might have been and embrace what really WAS.  My reality was a husband that loved me as much as he irritated me.  My reality was a son and a daughter that just wanted to spend time with me: quantity over quality.  My reality was God always provided for all of our needs.  I made the decision to invest in my less than perfect marriage.  I began to focus on what I could DO to bring joy to my husband and my children instead of what I thought I was missing.  And you know what?   The best years of my marriage started right then!

“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”  E

Ephesians 4:20-24  MSG

You can never go back.  Whether good or bad, that is the past.  You can only move forward.

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” 

Luke 17:32-33 MSG

Is Love Worth the Pain?


We grieve because we love.

I learned a lot from grief.  I learned that my identity was as a wife, a mother and a daughter.  When I lost my husband, and later my dad, a lot of what made me feel whole seemed to disappear.  For years, I submerged myself in my role as “mom”.   I needed my kids as much as they needed me.  As they grew up and moved on with their lives, I again lost my touch point, my anchor.  Where did I belong?  How would I make a difference?  It was a struggle.  I forgot what it meant to be just “me”. 

Have you ever felt the effects of too much caffeine?  That jumpy, panicky feeling became normal for me.  Most days, I felt like I need to crawl out of my own skin.   On the days when my kids weren’t around or I didn’t have to work, I stayed in bed.  It was easier to sleep than to face my reality.   I didn’t keep up with my house or my yard.  I avoided being at home as much as I could.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  I didn’t know if there was any help.  I was overwhelmed.  I was supposed to be strong and I was embarrassed to admit that I was failing in every area.  I just tried to keep my head above water. 

I lived this way for almost 10 years.  I knew I had to get used to my new “normal” and believed that I had dealt with my grief.  I helped with grief recovery groups.  I put on a good face.  I didn’t realize that I was living with depression.  All the things that had given my life meaning seemed to be disappearing.  My son and daughter didn’t need a hands-on mom.  I had accepted that I would live out the rest of my life alone.   It had been long enough.  I had to get over it all.  I had to close the door on the part of my life that wanted to be loved and accepted.

But, I had a friend that listened to me.  A friend heard what I said and what I didn’t really want heard.  He asked questions I didn’t want to answer.  He probed into areas that were off-limits.  He recommended counseling.  He encouraged me to trust again.  He challenged me to open the doors that I had closed and sort through those emotions and dreams.  He waited patiently to be allowed into all areas of my life. 

There are many that question the choices I’ve made over the last four years.   And, there are those that frankly, just disapprove of the life I now have.  I’ve heard the whispers and I’ve seen the looks.   I don’t have any doubts that I am exactly where I need to be.  I married my dearest friend.  I have never felt safer or more secure.  I am loved deeply and completely.  Our life is not without its challenges and frustrations, but we face them together. 

I have learned that grief is love turned upside down.  I will never give up the opportunity to experience a deep and passionate love in order to avoid the pain of grief.  Love is worth EVERYTHING!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most anyone can sing these few lines of the song:

                “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Find out what it means to me

                  R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Take care. .T -C-B “

When Aretha Franklin recorded this Otis Redding Song, she declared she was a strong & confidant woman who has everything a man could want.  She demands his respect.  But, what is RESPECT?

I ask the question because we don’t seem to understand the term in this day and age.  Respect is given to a person we admire, to a position of authority or honor, or to a boundary that denotes space or possession.   Respect can be defined in several ways and the definition in which I am most interested is: 

“to consider worthy of high regard”  syn: admire, appreciate, consider, esteem, regard

Throughout my life, I have known people that I personally had difficulty respecting. Due to personal or work ethics, I did not respect anything about them.  I could however, respect their position of authority.  It was easy to complain and whine about the how unworthy these persons were.  It often proved to be very difficult to give respect to the position they held.  But, I knew it was necessary for me to do just that.  In a business setting, I could force myself to give at least a token respect since my job quite literally could depend upon it.  Unfortunately, I think it can be particularly difficult to respect a position or a stand, when the offense is from a member of our family or the Church. 

Philippians 2: 1-8 (MSG) says this:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

If Christ was able to put aside his own status and take on the status of a slave, then shouldn’t I be able to offer grace to those people that just drive me nuts?  Christ knew that Judas would betray Him.  Yet, He still included Judas within the twelve.  He still showed love and compassion to His betrayer.   Is there anything in my world that excuses me from giving that same love and compassion and even respect to others in some form?

Respect is almost a foreign concept in our world where “self” is the most important part of life.  We are told:

  • You deserve to happy.  Don’t waste your life.  Chase happiness.
  • The harder you work, the more you will get, and the happier you will be.
  • It’s a dog eat dog world.  Grab what you can before it’s gone.
  • Whoever has the most “stuff” wins.

When I, ME, and MINE are the most used terms in my vocabulary, esteem of others is impossible.  If I refuse to take responsibility when I hurt or offend another person, I show just how much I respect them.  When I gossip, complain or talk about friends or family to others, I lose the respect and trust of the very people I am attempting to impress.

There are lots of areas where disagreement is not only possible but encouraged.  We see that evidenced in all areas of politics.  And I’m using the term “politics” quite broadly.  Aside from the government, politics encompasses the total complex of relations between people living in society.  We see politics in our family and business relations.  We have seen the politics of the Church evidenced from the time of the Pharisees all the way through the various denomination squabbles of today. 

We can have disagreements.  We can have convictions.  But, ultimately, we have to find a way to be “deep-spirited”:  especially within the Church.  In my younger days, I had no patience with anyone that didn’t follow the letter of the law.  I was a self appointed judge and jury who practiced religion.  And no matter how meticulous I was, my actions were worthless because my motives and actions were not based upon the grace that I myself had been given.  There are areas that are not up for debate, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to run roughshod and force-feed my convictions to others.  As I matured, I realized the need for tenderness.  I found that allowing a person grace and compassion was much more effective in guiding them to the truth.  And, along the way, I discovered that some of my “laws” were really based on religion not faith.  Respect doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.  I don’t even have to approve of you or your actions.  But, I do need to respect the person that God has lovingly created.

That’s a hard pill for this controlling person to swallow at times.  I’m still learning.  I’m still trusting.  I pray that I’m T-C-B:  Taking Care of Business.

What’s On Your Bracelet?

Most of us are familiar with WWJD.   An abbreviation for What Would Jesus Do, it became popular in the 1990s as a reminder to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus.  Not as openly accepted (and never printed on t-shirts, bracelets, etc.), but more popular with people of all genres would be WWIDT:  Why Would I Do That.

Recently, there was a meeting in my neighborhood to discuss the future of a group home that would be an extension of the Manna House.  Manna House is a residential addiction recovery and rehabilitation campus that has been in Brookshire of 20+ years.   They run a program that has seen over 600 men pass through their doors.  Unfortunately, the input from my neighbors was less than supportive and the home will probably be sold. 

Our society is all about treatment and reform.  We talk a big talk about the need for support for addiction recovery.  We brag about the good things that are done with Celebrate Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous.  We are happy to make donations to support these good causes, especially if I can get a tax deduction and maybe some recognition.  I support the programs whole-heartedly, until they begin to invade “my space”.   I don’t want it in my neighborhood!

When we look at the example that Jesus set throughout His life, he was never in the ‘safe’ area.  He would reach out and touch lepers as well as other ill persons.  He traveled through Samaria and then took the time to talk with a Samaritan woman (both no-no’s).  He kept company with tax collectors and prostitutes.  He showed no concern about being with or being seen with societies “lesser” members. 

No one wants to live next door to an addict.  But, how do you know that you don’t already?  Do you know everything about your neighbor?  I lived in an area for years where the nicest people on the block were the ones that kept the local high school students supplied with recreational drugs.  I didn’t know this was happening in my neighborhood until I saw the news trucks blocking the street one morning.  There had been a shooting after a drug deal had gone bad.  I would now prefer to live near a KNOWN residential home with rules and supervision for recovery instead of the unknown drug house.

When are we going to stop pretending that perfection is where we live?  The last I checked, no one I know is perfect.  We all have our own baggage.  When does compassion come into play?  When do we stop judging those who have admitted to having an addiction and are working to control it?  When do we start treating them with civility and respect?  When do we forgive them for messing up?

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

Matthew 6:9-13 MSG

The Lord’s Prayer:  I memorized it as a child.  I’ve sung it at weddings.  I’ve studied it as an example of how to pray.  It’s pretty straight forward.  So why is it that so many of us we know the words but ignore the message that is summarized in the next two verses?

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. 

Matthew 6:14-15 MSG

Forgiveness is at the center of our relationship with God.  Gods forgives us and we are to forgive others.  I’m not sure I’ve always understood what it means to forgive.  There have been periods of my life when I saw no need to extend forgiveness if it wasn’t requested.  Is that really the way God intends us to forgive?  As a believer, I am taught that Christ died on the cross to forgive ALL of my sins:  past, present and future.  I only need to accept the forgiveness.  When I realize there’s something wrong in my life, I confess it.  But, the forgiveness was already granted.  Even addicts are forgiven. 

Addictions come in many forms.  Honestly, as long as you don’t get caught or cause a big scene, the world “approves” of your addiction.  Often, it’s the very addiction that makes you fun or entertaining.   But, go public and the consequences are that you are no longer accepted into polite society.  It’s time we stand and openly encourage those that are fighting addictions.  It’s time to forgive those that have their addictions out in the open for all to see.   It’s time to recognize that “there but by the grace of God, go I.”

So, the answer to WWJD is: whatever it takes to show love to others.   WWJD is about risking it all.  It’s about loving the unlovable.  It’s about accepting the person even when we don’t approve of their behavior.  It’s about forgiving the shortcomings and weaknesses of those that are dealing with addictions and encouraging better choices.   When we espouse the ideology of WWIDT, everything revolves around ME.  I have no time to think or consider others.  I have no time for compassion, forgiveness or understanding.  I set myself up as judge and jury.  I barricade myself behind a wall of selfish indulgence that I call “safe” and remove the opportunity for God to work in my own life. 

So, what about you?   In your world, do you espouse WWJD or WWIDT?  What is most important to you?      

Hopeful Intentions in 2019

As 2019 begins, many will make resolutions and plans for the year.  A few years ago, I was challenged to choose one word that would be set my vision for the year.  That year my word was “dream.”  I had forgotten what it was to have dreams.  I had become accustomed to just getting by: one day at a time.  I recognized that I needed to dream again.  I needed to set my sights on something new and better in my life. 

This year, I have two words.  The first word is “Hope”.   Hope was the word given to me when I took a “Word of the Year” quiz.  I can always use hope.  The other word came to be a bit more subtly.   During my quiet time, I heard this word whispered into my heart: “intention”.  So, in 2019 I will focus on living my life with hope and intention.  How do I accomplish this?

First, I wanted to know what these two words mean.  I found that they are very similar. 

INTENTION

noun

a determination to act in a certain way : resolve

Synonyms

aim, ambition, aspiration, design, dream, end, goal, idea, ideal, intent, mark, meaning, object, objective, plan, point, pretension, purpose, target, thing

HOPE   

noun

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Synonyms

Aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim goal, plan, design

What does it mean live a life of intention and hope?  Is it just setting goals or objectives and wishing it all goes well?  Choosing a word (or words) each is year is different from resolutions.  Resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person I’m tired of being.  I focus on the negative and are expected to be “broken”.  Instead, I want to focus on the person that God wants me to become: the transformation process.

A wise friend of mine has pointed out that a person’s focus can be found by reviewing their calendar and checkbook.  We spend our time and money in the areas that are the most important to us.  I don’t hesitate to keep my business appointments in my Outlook calendar.  I have all kinds of bells and whistles to remind me when to pay bills, when to get up, when to take medications, when appointments are scheduled.  So, why don’t I use these same reminders for my personal life?  If I intend to spend more time in Bible Study, I should block out that time in my calendar instead of saying I want to “read the Bible more”. 

Because I want to be intentional about how I spend my time, I need to be aware of my time, also.  Much as I have to plan how to spend or same my money, I need to do the same with my time.  I already know how much time I spend commuting to and from work, the hours that I am in the office and how much sleep I need.  I also know my basic commitments for church and life group.  That’s where my calendar begins.  I also know that I NEED to spend time with my husband and my children as well as friends.  It’s all too easy to say “we should get together” and never actually do it.  Scheduling a date night with my spouse is an easy way to be sure we get some quality time together.  Instead of waiting for one of the kids to call me or drop by,   need to put some time in my calendar to check in with each of them.  If I am intentional about spending time with my children every month, I will set appointments with each of them throughout the month.  It doesn’t have to be a huge event, but I MUST decide to schedule and follow up on these times.  The same thing goes for friends.  I need to spend time with friends to keep me grounded.  Finding a convenient time for both of you may take some work, but the effort is priceless. 

While I’m being intentional with my time, I need to schedule time to refill my own reserve.  It’s not only okay to take some alone time, it’s important to do so.  I need to block off time each week for my “creative” side to emerge.  I need to release myself to create.  As a student, I spent a lot of time practicing my music.  As an adult, I have been known to think of that time as a “waste”.  But, I’ve learned that I need that time. 

Does every moment have to be scheduled and every dollar earmarked?  No, definitely not.  I want to be intentional with my life, not controlling of every aspect.  There is also value in being spontaneous, flexible and generous. Calendars or the budgets should never be your master, just helpful tools to guide you.  When 2020 arrives, I want to look back at 2019 and not wonder where I spent my time and money.  I want to know that I invested wisely in the lives of my family and other around me. 

So, the challenge for this year:  Be Intentional with Hope.  Don’t sulk because you haven’t received a phone call from a loved one:  CALL THEM FIRST.  Don’t wait for friends or family to suggest a visit:  INITIATE THE SCHEDULE.  Stop with the passive/aggressive comments and just reach out to the ones you want to be near.  Life is too short.  Make the trip.  Spend the time.  Be intentional in 2019.

Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Ephesians 5: 11-17  MSG

But, I Love Tacos!

“This is how much God loved the world:.
. .”

A deceptively simple statement and it conveys so much hope for each of us.  We love EVERYTHING:  I love my car; I love my dog; I love the color purple; I love tacos.  Because we use the word “love” so often in our everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of what it means to love or to be loved this deeply and completely.  I love my children and my husband with that deep, soul-crushing love.

“. . . He gave his Son, his one and only
Son. . .”

I would give my life for any of my kids or my husband if they needed it.   And even though I may say I am “dying” for some good Tex-Mex food, I wouldn’t really trade my life for a taco.  I don’t love it that much.  I can hardly bear to hear a negative comment about one of my kids.  I go into Momma Bear mode really quickly to defend them.  I can’t imagine giving one of them up for anyone or anything.  But, God loved me enough to sacrifice His ONLY son.  FOR ME!! 

“. . . And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”


This Salvation is for anyone that believes.  Again, it’s a simple statement.  But, for some it is impossible to believe that God could love them this much.  I still wonder why He loves me so much.  I’m not perfect and in fact can be a little bit bossy and insistent at times.  Yet, He continues to show me His great love in so many ways.  My only requirement is to trust & believe.

Do you understand what it is to love or be loved this completely?   Have you experienced that deep bitter-sweetness that comes with giving yourself heart and soul to another?  This Love is not a disposable emotion that you outgrow or tire of with time.  This Love is a commitment: the deepest commitment you can possibly give or receive.  This Love overrides ego and self-seeking actions.  This Love requires total devotion. 

This Love is the gift we were all given in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  When you accept His Love, you cannot avoid giving the same Love to others.  My needs are not so important when viewed through Love.  My focus becomes Loving others:  my family, my friends, my neighbors and not just “me”.  The more I practice giving Love, the harder is becomes to NOT Love. 

As 2018 draws to a close, I hope that you will examine this gift of Love.  Take it out.  Embrace it. Give it away.  May 2019 be the year when we all decide to Love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 MSG

Church, Why Bother?


In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations.  The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places.  As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc.   For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation. 

I grew up in church.   I was on the cradle roll.  I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter.  Church on Sunday was normal and expected.  I never really questioned why we went to church.  It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination.  We had  Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning.  Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service.  Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service.  I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals.  I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week.  There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September.  We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth.  I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week.  (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.)  And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals.  I spent a lot of time in church related activities.  I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.

As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship.  There is a big difference.  I spent most of my life attending church.  Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life.  People worship in lots of ways.  Some are very quiet and private with their worship.  Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience.  Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship.  Some believe you have to worship on your knees.   However you worship is between you and God.  I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart.  It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship.  Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services.   I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services.  But, rehearsals were different.  I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One. 

As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area.   One in particular comes to mind.  It was a small church in a changing area of the city.  No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive.  It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music.  I sat through service after service and starved spiritually.  This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them.  Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda.  The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church.  We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids.  I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life.  It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.

As an adult, I am very involved with my church.  Things have changed.  I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building.  My church meets in a movie theater.  There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools.  Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world.  People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena.  We see it every Sunday at the Bridge.  It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building.  Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center. 

I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church.  While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups.  They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth.  Life Groups provide a more relatable group in  which to learn  and to grow.  It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group.  Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance.  They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered. 

Music has definitely morphed through the years.  We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music.  I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal.  It was blue.  When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement.  There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”.  People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”.  (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”)  I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them.  But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list.  No matter what is provided, someone is not happy. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”.  I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer.   This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological.  In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information.  Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many.   Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems.  Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information. 

While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano.  A full band is now expected.  In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church.  Now, its guitar or drum lessons.  Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now.  My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services.  He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship.  Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services.  We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering. 

With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP.  It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations.  How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other?  How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship?  Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong?  Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians: 

“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG