When the answer is no

I had to say no, and disappoint my friend. That was tough – and as I considered how I would explain my reasons for no, it bothered me all day. There is nothing that causes more distress for me than being the source of disappointment to anyone…friend, co-workers, acquaintances, family… disappointment is high on my list of things to avoid. Have you ever felt that way?

I can easily say no to a commitment that is blatantly out of  my field of experience, “Would you be able to design and build this website?”  or outside my economic abilities to give, “Can we count on you for a $500 donation?”  Um “No!”  See how easy it is to say no in those circumstances?  But what about commitments that ask mostly for a few hours of your time and a donation on a smaller scale? What if the event is for a worthwhile cause and you were specially invited by a genuine friend?  We all have friends who are ‘friends’ only when they want something in return. To those friends it’s easy to look to the sky, look to the side, then look back at them and say ‘No! I’m not doing that.’

Here’s  the thing, and maybe you can relate. I struggled with my decision, and that in itself was an indicator that this event needed to be attended and celebrated by someone else, not by me.

1 John 4:1 says “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Well – that didn’t work! This event is for an organization that is 100% sold out to God. There are no false prophets involved.   Still, I had no peace about saying yes and I struggled with saying no.  There are consequences with yes and there are consequences with no.  So I continued. Galatians 5:10 “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.” Oh brother!  The only one throwing me into confusion is me, myself! Do I really, seriously want to pay the penalty for my own indecision?  Do you see where this is leading?

I was arguing with myself over a decision that has already been made in the reality of what I could do and what I couldn’t. Prayer changes things. 1 Corinthians 14:33 came alive right at the time I needed it.  “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” God had to lay it all out for me.  If I said yes to this commitment, my life would be in chaos; not just on the evening of the event, but in every evening leading up to it.  Why? Because other commitments would have to slide over on the timetable and I envisioned a collision all the way into the weekend.

I had to say no, I had to disappoint someone, but I was comforted when my friend said she understood and when I read this later on in my quiet time. Philippians 2:13 “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God’s answers are not always so obvious but He spoke and I listened this time. I feel better about that situation, but now I have another one on the horizon whose consequences are yet unknown.  I wonder what Joshua would do, or Gideon, or David, or how about Paul? Here’s something to remember and think about for you and for others.  Colossians 1:9-11 “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father.

Treasure or Reject – What’s in your box?

OK- Everybody up Rise and Shine It’s a new day.  It’s Saturday. It’s the weekend. Up! Up! Up!

Today, I woke up and … well, and that’s a good thing.  Right? Feet on the floor – I can walk. Eyes open wide – I can see.  Warm house, hot water, clothes to wear, plans for the day, food to eat, COFFEE . . . I am blessed!

If I had a box to hold all my blessings and another box to hold all my aggravations, the blessing box would be bigger, lighter, and shine brighter than the tarnished box holding all the rejects. Sometimes at the end of a long, tedious day when circumstances were the wrong shape to fit in the blessing box, that tarnished box seems to overflow its capacity.  Bring on the night – so we can have a new day!

So here’s a prescription to fill up the treasure box to overflowing and clamp the lid on that box of rejects.  Begin today with right thinking and a prayer to get started with a treasure to put in the blessing box.  Maybe back in the Old Testament, they had the right idea. Here’s what it says in 1st Chronicles 23:30 “They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening.”  Let’s try that.   Lord, this is a brand new day. All that stuff that happened yesterday is history. I have a vision for today and it doesn’t include annoyances from the past.  The day ahead is unknown to me, but you, Lord, know all about it. Whatever happens, please guard my thoughts and make them honorable because I know every action, every word, and every attitude starts there. Please keep me focused on things that store up treasures in heaven. Be my shield and defense against the enemy of my soul who wants me to live in regret and defeat.  It’s a new day, Lord. Be my everything so I can do what you want me to do today. Amen  Isaiah 33:2 “Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.”

I keep coming back to this verse in 2 Corinthians because I love the analogy of how treasures can be stored. We all have treasures, some of which are thoughts or memories.  Others that are more tangible and can be held in our hands and seen with our eyes. We treasure our relationships.  Treasures. 2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

What will it take today to add to the treasure box and bury the reject box far from view? What does it take to truly live?  Today there is nothing that God and I can’t do together – but I have to let Him lead while I follow.  1 Timothy 6:19 “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”   That takes faith, friends.  And that’s what faith can do.

 

 

Tell it to someone who cares

Tell it to someone who cares.

How often have your heard those words spoken?  How often were they intended to warm your heart and give you confidence? Right! Most of the time, when you hear, “Tell it to someone who cares.” the literal meaning is, “Nobody cares.”  It hurts when nobody cares, especially when we’re hurting. Then there are times when ‘Nobody cares.” is a GOOD thing.

It’s Friday – let’s do a little comparison shopping down the Care Aisle.  Let’s put the heavy stuff in the bottom of the cart. What are some things that cause your heart to feel like a ball of mercury in your chest? Illness of a loved one or yourself, financial concerns, car trouble, broken relationships, lost jobs, too many commitments, flood damage, problems with co-workers, computer issues, children’s school performance, your own performance . . . heavy, heavy burdens. All those situations lying in the bottom of the cart are worrisome, real, and drag us down.  To these we don’t want to hear “Tell it to someone who cares.”  In fact, hearing those words would send us further into the abyss of despair.

Now let’s go down the Who Cares Aisle and dredge up a few items that react like helium in our chest instead of the heavy mercury.  You’re late to exercise class, forget to stamp a card and it comes back, wear one black sock and one blue sock, forget to comb your hair (or ‘gasp’ put on make-up), sing off key, find a typo in your personal blog (yah, like that never happens), run out of milk, run out of gas, totally forget an appointment, show up for an appointment two weeks early – and nobody cares!

See? It makes a difference when we hear, “Tell it to someone who cares.” For the heavy burdens, we need heavy lifters; we might need the backhoe and the dumpster too.  I once read this quote and even though I don’t remember where I got it, I have remembered it.  “Friends divide our sorrows and double our joy.” I don’t know if that’s it exactly, but that’s what I got out of it. I started reading the book of Luke because out of all the books in the Bible, it seems like Luke has the most stories with the happy endings. True, it has the most treasured Christmas story, but it has so many more truths than just the one about Christmas. Luke is a book of forgiveness, hope and happy endings.  If I had time right now I would outline some of the happy endings …. But here’s the thing – Tell it to someone who cares, means something when our difficulties and burdens are too heavy to bear.  First, take them to the cross and lay them down. Literally – stack them up. Take them one at a time; acknowledge, admit, define, vocalize … give it to someone who cares.  God cares and he gets to decide anyway so unburden and let it slide.  1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Seek out a trusted friend and talk through the trials – divide your sorrows. Sometimes the best therapy in the world comes from our friendships – that come to us free of charge.

Now about all those other things down the Who Cares Aisle. We all do things that seem at most devastating and at least embarrassing during the day. Believe me.  I’m not minimizing how demoralizing embarrassing moments can be. I’ve had many and know just how that feels.  Here’s the best advice anyone ever gave me about those things down the Who Cares Aisle. Learn to laugh at yourself. Admit mistakes, learn from them, and go on. Be the best bouncer on the planet and learn what it takes to bounce back after making a mistake. There is not a one-size-fits-all, but there is a one-attitude-fits-all.  Have an attitude of gratitude and start there. See if that helps make us better, not bitter.  See if gratitude changes the way you view the world today. Philippians 4:8-9 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. —put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

 

Reading, Writing, and that’s about it …

About forty years ago a friend and I were engrossed in conversation and the topic of books came up. Being a voracious reader, I started rattling off all the books I’d been reading and all the ones stacked up that I planned to read and she floored me with one statement. “I only read the Bible.” What?!?! How can you only read the Bible? How will you learn anything?  At the time, I was a stay at home mom, with ambitions to read as many books as I could and learn as much as possible so I could make a difference. I rarely read a novel because they wouldn’t make me smarter.  Of course, I was wrong about that.  I’ve since concluded that well-researched novels, can certainly add knowledge to what I know.

At the time, I remember I was reading books like ‘Lord, Change Me’ – it didn’t change me.  I was reading ‘How to Talk With Practically Anyone About Practically Anything’.  Hmmm…..I still don’t work a crowd like a marketing pro – it didn’t change me.  I read ‘The Power of a Praying Wife’ – I didn’t practice it. I read ‘How to Win Friends and Influence Others’ – I have a lot of friends, but I didn’t win them because I followed the formula in that book.  Through the years I have read hundreds of books – some authentically valuable. Many of them gave me survival tips that helped me through some complicated situations.

To be effective, I can’t just read and forget, I have to put wise words into practice.  Look at a few of the Psalms with me.  Psalm 85:8 I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants and what about Psalm 86:2 that says Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God.

I need to know that God is guarding my life and strengthening my foundation.  Anxiety can so easily sneak in and start causing me to doubt myself and be fearful. Psalm 86:11 is the cure for anxiety.  Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

I am still a voracious reader – and 90% of what I read is intended to make me smarter. If I could define my perfect career, I would spend all day reading books, researching articles, and contributing to the success of the authors by giving them feedback and encouraging them by promoting all the good points of what they’ve written.  I know – I hear you.  That’s not a paying job.  OK – but I enjoy the whole process of reading, thinking, and I love writing and journaling.  Most of all I love to be the encourager.

This is what I’ve come to realize though. My friend was right way back in the early 70s. In all the reading I do, my foundation has to be the Word of God. Without it, I would be living in an anxiety factory. Life is uncertain and uncertainty breeds anxiety. Reading the Bible first and running to the words of the Father instead of the words of man, no matter how truthful they are, is the path to being free of anxiety. But reading the Word is only the first step.  Matthew 7:24-28 (NIV) “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

Let’s encourage each other to build our foundation on the truth – so we can discern the other books we should be reading to help us be effective in whatever tasks are before us.  And while we’re at it – let’s practice, peaceful living.  Philippians 4:9  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZvZWUZFevI

Trust … and then what?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and … and what? What will happen? Let that sink in for a moment. Trust in the lord with all your heart and all your dreams will come true? Trust and suddenly your problems melt away? Trust and all your questions are answered?  Doesn’t Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”?

Last night we had a young missionary talk to us about his time spent in Taiwan. As he spoke he was overcome with emotion as he recounted the experiences of seeing millions of people praying to idols, building fires to audaciously manifest their reliance on the gods that don’t exist. I was thinking, “Someone needs to go up there and give him a hug.” And when he was done speaking and sat down, our pastor got up and hugged him with these words. “You’re passionate about leading souls away from idols.” It’s obvious that this man’s heart is burdened for people who worship idols and who put their faith in gods they see but don’t exist.”

After the service another man was recounting the past week and the incidents that occurred on a national level and those close to home. “We don’t know what tomorrow brings.” he said. Tomorrow? I don’t know what will happen in the next five minutes. We have this moment … this one moment that connects to the next moment and the next. I started thinking about my path. What am I passionate about? Is my passion aligned with what matters most? Like the young man who painfully described his experience with idol worshippers? Do I have idols in my life that are in conflict with God’s plan for me? What I really want is to be like David in Psalm 31:5-7 “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the Lord.  I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.”

When I got home I prayed and thought and thought some more. – When I make my plans do I really consult with God about directing my steps? Do I have idols that I don’t recognize as idols? I have strongholds that grab my attention and turn my focus from God’s plan because I forget that he is there to hold me up and light the path ahead. I forget what I learned from 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

I know I should put God first in my life. I know I should seek him first and always. The idols in my life are the ‘things’ I’ve come to rely on that are good, but they aren’t God. So if I put my total trust in him … well, it’s true for anyone. That irritating person at work will still be that irritating person at work. The chronic illness or pain might not be healed. The financial burden won’t dissolve overnight. Here is what will happen though. When we put our trust in God and seek him first, those things that cause us grief will still be there, but we’ll have inner peace while we work through them. Isaiah 26:3-4 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”  Does anyone else want to burn idols and put God and his plan first? I could use that Rock eternal. How about you?

Can I catch a break here?

Have you ever had a day where everything went right? Yeh, me either. Have you ever had a day where everything went wrong? Well . . . of course not.  But did you hesitate on your answer to that one? We know that rarely does everything go wrong in a single day, but I have to admit it’s easy to feel that way.  “Please! Can I catch a break here?”

That’s how I felt yesterday. Overwhelmed – and by the afternoon, drowning in doubt, immersed in grief and overcome by just too much. Do you know what it feels like to look inside and see turmoil and look around to see the same thing …. only that shows!  There is no boundary on turmoil.  Have you ever thought about that? Once it starts, the effects can be as devastating, as having a hurricane in my soul.  Is a hurricane easily contained? Does it skip along the edges of city, messing up a yard here, blowing someone’s trash over there, then leaving in a cloud burst of pure sunshine? That’s not what happens; we know better. We’ve seen the devastation of hurricanes.  In Michigan we’ve seen the disasters of too much rain and high winds. Here’s the thing about weather, until the winds calm down and the rain ceases to fall, the damage continues.

That’s how it is with our lives too. The choices we make impact the moment we’re in right then, but strung together they become our future. Today is all we’ve got.  Tomorrow is the result of how we live it.  Choices … decisions … opportunities … What do we do to keep all of it under control and maintain a certain balance between commitment and overload? The answer is never easy. I’m experiencing this process now and I’m sure God is getting pretty tired of my constant babbling – well, ok – constant searching and questioning.  But I know he wants me to seek his voice and ask for wisdom when making decisions.  I’m asking him because I trust him.  In Proverbs 14:6 it says “The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.”  I haven’t got the ‘knowledge comes easily’ nailed down yet, but God made this promise in James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” There is nothing in either verse that assures instant success or that the situations that are overwhelming me today will be gone tomorrow. Every decision I’ve made has a consequence; for good or for bad that’s how it is.

So is there relief? Yes, but it might not be the flavor and color I recognize as relief.  At my darkest point yesterday, a friend stopped by unannounced and I welcomed her into a house that looked like that hurricane turned it upside down and shook it  – hard, then let it settle back again. She was on a mission to pick up a dehumidifier because her house was a victim of these torrential floods. She happens to be the friend who took my domain name and built me a beautiful website. Yesterday she offered support for my drained soul.  I resumed my work when she left and for four more hours I didn’t leave my desk but I felt better. Then another friend sent me a text and said, let’s meet at Yvonne’s Coffeehouse and chat. Was that music I heard?  Was that a few more dark clouds clearing away? Our plan to meet for ‘just a few minutes’ turned into over an hour.  When I got home, I resumed my work – not even tired. I slept then from midnight to 3:30 am and woke up refreshed, renewed, and thankful for the gifts God gives us in friends.

Am I still overwhelmed? Did my commitments dissolve into non-existence? No, but I have the hope of Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  And do you believe God speaks today?  I do – do you know why?  Because yesterday as I was closing out of the many applications I was using, this verse popped up out of nowhere.  I still don’t know which mouse-click did it but filling half of my monitor I read Psalm 29:11 “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. “  Tell me that wasn’t God.

I leave you with this today Psalm 122:8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.”

Are there any answers?

Thousands of people woke up sadder today than they did yesterday. The tragedy at the finish line of the Boston Marathon shocked our nation once again and we are all reeling with agitated and screaming emotions. There will be plenty of speculation, “It happened because …” and plenty of blame, “Security was inadequate and it’s fault of …” This will take years to sort out and there still will be no solid authentic answer to the how could this happen.

When I first heard the news, my very first thought was of one of my best friends who qualified for the Boston Marathon but decided to run a different one instead. Immediately I thanked God that she wasn’t there, then I prayed for everyone affected by the fury going on at the finish line. When I got home from work I watched as Facebook and Twitter rolled out sentiment after sentiment, all including “our thoughts and prayers”.  Thoughts are good. Every act begins with thought, and our minds produce the ideas that spur us on to acts of compassion.  Prayers are better because with prayer we acknowledge the presence and the power of God. At some point in all this let’s be honest, we asked where was God? Why did he allow this to happen? I don’t have an answer; nobody has the answer to that.

Here are some things I do know.  2 Timothy 3:1-2 tell us very clearly “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.”  Would people who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind plant bombs to kills and destroy their own neighbors? No, but people who are blasphemers, unholy, and despisers of good would definitely perform violent acts of terror.  We shouldn’t have to be on our guard. We shouldn’t need to have security wrapped around events that bring only happiness and celebration – but we do. Why is that? I think 1 Peter 5:8 has a pretty good reason. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. “ The enemy of all things good is loose on Earth and he with his evil followers seek to destroy all that is good and comfortable and brings us joy.

So what can we do to overcome these dark days? How can we get past these perpetuating negative incidents? The methods will be different for each person, but the foundation and springboard for thought could all start with what we read in Psalm 37.  Here are a few verses starting with verse 34. “Wait passionately for God, don’t leave the path. He’ll give you your place in the sun while you watch the wicked lose it….Keep your eye on the healthy soul, scrutinize the straight life; There’s a future in strenuous wholeness. But the willful will soon be discarded; insolent souls are on a dead-end street. The spacious, free life is from God, it’s also protected and safe. God-strengthened, we’re delivered from evil—when we run to him, he saves us.

You know if you’re a child of God, in these times He asks one thing of us; to not lose hope and to remain faithful to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  In these dark days, think first about the power of God in your life, and ask him to make you a light in these dark days. John 3:20-21 says “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Ready for this day? OK gang, let’s shine.