Friday, January 28, 2011

Worship Wherever You Are

I was looking at my friend’s pictures taken on her most recent mission trip to Guatemala when one photo in particular caught my eye. The photo was taken from behind a group of young kids who were sitting in folding chairs with their hands raised in worship. It was an interesting perspective: dozens of little brown colored arms lifted high in what was clearly an enthusiastic time of praise. The beauty of that moment was contrasted by the poor condition of the chairs the kids were seated in. They were all really beat up, with chipped paint and an assortment of dents and dings. I imagined that the chairs were probably pretty wobbly and made all sorts of squeaks and creaks any time their occupants shifted position. However, it was quite evident by the picture, that the poor condition of the children’s chairs took nothing away from the richness of their worship.

I found out that the picture was taken at a Compassion International Child Development Center. So, these kids are living deep in poverty. Their old and worn chairs a symbol of the underprivileged lives they experience. Yet, unhindered, here they were, worshiping the Lord with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength.

No wonder Jesus tells us that unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Kids just get it! So often the love we offer God is conditional. Sure, we’re excited to worship God when everything in life is hunky-dory. It’s easy to shout His praises when things are going our way. But, how about when they are not? Are we just as sincere in our worship when life stinks, we don’t see an end in sight to our pain and, to be honest, we’re a little bit angry with God for letting it get that way?

When times are tough, we need to remember that God hasn’t changed, our circumstances have. He’s still the same all-powerful, loving father we had when life was going well. He still deserves our worship.

So, let’s pray for hearts like those of the children in my friend’s picture, that He will foster in us love for Him that remains deep and strong, no matter if we are sitting in a plush easy chair or a squeaky old folding chair.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Falling with Grace

Apparently, American schools may want to include basic walking skills as part of their physical education curriculum. For two years in a row, Miss USA has slipped and fallen during the evening gown portion of the Miss Universe Pageant. Crystle Stewart from Texas is this year’s falling star. And, while her stride may need a little work, she could teach a class on graceful recoveries.

After the pageant, Miss Stewart had this to say about the incident, “"I"m perfectly fine. I'm going to move back to New York and get on with my life." Crystle is a motivational speaker and teaches a character education class. She plans to use the falling incident as a life lesson for her students, saying, "Sometimes you fall in life, not just in the pageant but financially or emotionally. It's not about the fall but how you pick yourself up."

I love her attitude! She could have sat on the floor crying when she fell…but she didn’t, she got right back up, smiled and marched on. She could have blamed her fall on the person who designed her dress or accused her competitors of a conspiracy. But, she didn’t. She simply explained that she slipped on the beads on her dress, jokingly saying that she needed to take walking classes. Nope, no victim mentality for this Miss USA!

Crystle is absolutely occasional fall in life is inevitable. However, the way we choose to handle these trip-ups is left completely up to us. We can choose to wallow in self pity, blame the world and live life as a victim. Or, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with life…learning a lesson or two along the way. And, don’t forget to that God’s hand is extended, offering to help you up off the ground. Think about the paralytic man Jesus healed in John 5. Jesus told him “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." And, after 38 years of being floor-bound, he got up and walked.

Are you sitting on the floor today? Pray that God will give you the courage to grab on to His hand, allowing Him to pull you back up and for the strength to smile and move on.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Spiritual Synapses

In the last decade or so, scientists have uncovered lots of new information about how a baby’s brain develops. We now know that when a when a baby is born, her brain is wired for only the basic functions of life, like breathing and circulation. However, by the time a baby is a year old, her brain will much more closely resemble the brain of an adult than that of a newborn. The formation of synapses, little pathways that connect groups of brain cells to each other, is crucial in brain development. Synapse formation is driven by sensory stimulation. Every time a baby has a new experience, new connections are formed. This growth is so rapid, that in the first few months of life babies develop hundreds of TRILLIONS of these synapses. Sadly, babies who are victims of neglect, who are not nurtured and stimulated, develop fewer synapses, leading to potential learning disabilities or delays later in life.

Just as a baby’s brain development depends on new experiences, I am convinced that our faith develops in much the same way. Every time we experience God in a new or different way, our faith grows. And, we must actively pursue these new experiences. While there is great value in regularly attending church and being a member of a small group or Sunday school class, we cannot limit our spiritual experiences to only these activities. Personally, some of my greatest spiritual growth has happened outside of the four walls of church. Going on mission trips, spending time talking about God with non-believers, attending Christian concerts, trusting God to meet a need…these are all experiences that have formed my faith.

In Psalm 34:8, David invites us to seek God in tangible, sensory ways…to “Taste and see that the Lord is good”. Let’s ask God to reveal Himself to us in a new and different way today. Pray that He will provide us with experiences each day that build our faith.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'm God's Favorite

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I am God’s favorite. Really… it’s true…God’s favorite, that’s me. “Wait a minute!”, you say, “how on earth can you just sit there and make such a bold statement? And what gives you the right to claim that you’re His favorite, anyway?”

I know it seems like a preposterous thing to say, but let me explain…The band “Pocket Full of Rocks” has a song called “Now I Sing” and in the chorus it says, “But I tell ya, I'm God's favorite, he's got eyes only for me.”

I had a chance to ask Pocket’s lead singer, Michael, about the meaning of those lyrics. He said that, in the Bible, there are many different names for God and one of those names means “many-eyed”. In Jeremiah 23, God asks the question, “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So, I shall not see him?”
God has an eye for each one of us, which enables him to not only see everything all at once but also see each of us individually at the same time. That’s how the creator who holds the universe in his hands can also have an intimate relationship with each one of us. God’s love is not divided among His children, it is multiplied.

David was so enamored by the idea of God thinking about him when he wrote Psalm 139. Listen to his words: "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. "
God knows me, he sees me and he has the capacity to love me just like I was his only child. So, there you have it…I am God’s favorite! And, guess what, so are you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mustang Tami

Not long ago my hubby and I were leaving a restaurant when a beautifully restored 1965 Mustang pulled into the parking lot. It had a shiny red body and black convertible top. I have always quietly wished I could own a classic Mustang just like the one in front of my eyes that night. As soon as Alton saw it he said, “Oh, look honey…there’s your car!”.

Now, I’m not really a “car person”. I drive a minivan because it’s the most efficient way to haul my family of five around. Having a cool car just isn’t on my radar right now. But, sometime, in the past, I must have shared some Mustang Musings with my husband….and, he remembered that about me. I’m not sure why, but at that moment, I felt incredibly, deeply loved and abundantly blessed to be married to someone who knows me well enough to know even the little, trivial things about me.

I think we all have a desire to be intimately, deeply known. When another person takes the time and makes the effort to learn the intricacies of our personality, they in many ways give us value. They are validating who we are by showing us that we are worth being known. Our Creator knows that we have this yearning to be known and He repeatedly expresses to us in the Bible that he does, in fact, know us thoroughly….right down to the number of hairs on our head.

Are you feeling the need to be known by someone who loves you today? Open your Bible to Psalm 139. In it, David celebrates the intimate love God has for us. He says, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” A few verses later, David says that God’s thoughts about us outnumber the grains of sand!

It’s hard to understand how or why our Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen, would also focus his attention so specifically on each one of us. But, I am so glad that He does. I am so thankful that he loves me enough to know me!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ugly Shoes

It’s always pretty obvious when young children start to express their independence by choosing their own outfits, isn’t it? My girls are both at that point and sometimes the outfits they put together are pretty…ahem...interesting. For example, on a recent Sunday morning, both girls had chosen nice dresses to wear to church. So, from the ankles up, they looked pretty good. However, they couldn’t find any matching dress shoes, so Carley had on a pair of beat up flip-flops and Laura was wearing bright red crocs with her black velour dress. Of course, I didn’t notice until we were getting out of our van in the church parking lot and it was too late to make them change.

Yup…they looked pretty silly in their dressy-dresses and ratty shoes. I explained to them, for what seemed like the 50th time, the importance of wearing dressy shoes with dressy clothes. I have to admit that I was a little embarrassed, too. What would people think about me…the mother of these shabby-shoed sisters?

But leave it to God, He turned this situation into another teachable moment for me. God reminded me that when I became a Christian, I became clothed in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” I cannot imagine a finer garment than Christ! What does it look like when someone is clothed in Christ? Here’s a verse from Colossians 3:12 that gives a good description, “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”

Uh-oh! Even though I am clothed with Christ, the human side of me often behaves in some very un-Christian ways. Kind of like my girls the other day, I’ve got on a beautiful dress, but my shoes ruin the outfit.

Have you been there before? If so, let’s pray today that God will point out to us the ugly shoes in our closets and that he will guide our attitudes, thoughts and behaviors so that they will every day come closer to matching up with the sparkling, beautiful clothing of Christ that we wear.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Farewell Mr. Peepers

There was a tragedy in our home recently. Mr. Peepers, my daughter Laura’s beloved pet parakeet had an unfortunate and fatal encounter with our young cat, Oreo.

Like any child (or adult) who loses a pet, Laura was heartbroken. She cried for days. Even though she was really, really sad, she maintained a level of maturity and grace that I hadn’t expected a 7 year old to be capable of. When I asked her if she was angry at Oreo, the feline offender, she said, “Sort of, but she didn’t really know any better. She was just doing what cats are supposed to do.”

What a sweet example of forgiveness! Let’s face it…forgiveness deosn’t come naturally or easily, especially when you’ve been deeply hurt, or when the person who hurt you is unrepentant. But, when you think about it, who suffers most when we hold a grudge? When we refuse to forgive, we prevent our own wounds from healing.

Not only are we hurting ourselves when we hold back forgiveness, but we’re also hurting our relationship with God. God will not hear your prayers, accept your offerings or even offer you forgiveness when you refuse to forgive others.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14&15)

Matthew is also where we find the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Even after his master forgave his large debt, he refused to forgive the smaller debts of another. Jesus ends this parable saying, “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:34-35)
God knows how deeply we hurt ourselves and hinder our spiritual growth when we harden our hearts toward others. If you are still holding a grudge ask God today to help you find the grace to forgive

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Abundant Living

In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes the kind of life He offers those who follow him, saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Unfortunately, as Christians, I think we are not always the best representatives of people living a full life. And if our lives don’t look much different than the rest of the world’s, why would anyone want to know more about this Jesus we serve?

A full life hard to define, but easier to describe. For starters, I am certain that someone living a full life is not angry all the time. She does not stand in judgment of others in order to feel better about herself. He will not demean his wife and children when he talks to them. A mom and dad living full lives place more importance on relationships with their children and each other and less emphasis on a spotless home and climbing professional ladders. Someone with a full life does not waste his time worrying about money; he trusts God with his needs, knowing his daily bread will be provided. She does not feel the need to keep up with the Jones’. He is a reliable, honest and hard working employee; she is a fair boss who lives out the role of a servant leader. He cherishes his wife and does not make room in his heart for lust. She is respectful of her husband both when talking to him and talking about him. His countenance is often joyful. She tries to behave lovingly even towards those whom she has a hard time liking. He does not allow the fear of the unknown to snuff out his dreams.

Certainly, these are just a few characteristics of an abundant life. Think of the people you know who seem to be living a full life. What is it that differentiates them from those who are not? What about your life? If your life-tank is on empty, ask God today to show you what is missing. Pray that He will guide you down a path which leads to abundant living.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolution Solution

Happy New Year! I pray that 2011 will be a year of abundant blessings and overflowing love for you and your family.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? If so, you’re in good company…lots of folks will attempt to lose weight, get out of debt, read the whole Bible or commit to some other form of self-improvement this year. Unfortunately, most of those goals will never be reached.

So, why do we have such a hard time keeping the promises we make to ourselves? One reason may be that we set our sights way too high. The goals we set are often more like daydreams…our ideal is often quite different from what our reality will allow.

Another, even more likely reason that I think we struggle to reach the resolution finish line is that we forget to consult God about our goals. We make all these plans for ourselves without first asking God what his plan is for us. Then we wonder why we keep missing the mark. But, really, who better to reveal to us the things that we need to work on this year than the one who created us and already knows what lies ahead?

In Jeremiah, the Lord declares, “I know the plans I have for you.” (Jer 29:11). In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that “we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.” (Eph 1:11) The book of Proverbs advises “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.” (Pr 3:5-8)

So, before you head down yet another path of unmet goals and disappointment with yourself, why not spend some time talking with and listening to the author of your life. Ask Him what he desires for your life and then base your goals on that. And be encouraged! When your plans are based on His will, he will give you everything you need to turn those resolutions into reality.