Sunday, November 29, 2015

and know that I am God

It was given to me by dear friends, B for Barbara I supposed because it was not a verse that was important to me. It hung in my bedroom for years and then one morning, I lay still on my bed and saw it, and understood for the very first time. 

And the Father spoke to me...

Be still... Stop striving, worrying, working towards something you can never do, that I never intended you to fix. Stop yelling, nagging, plotting, conniving, marshaling supporters, manipulating. Just stop it! Lay down, stare at the walls. Mind your own business. Be still.

and know... You need to understand to your core, deep in your heart and to the edges of your mind, so that all your thoughts, desires, actions, habits, and character reflects the unshakable faith...

that I... Not you, your husband, your boss, your kids, the president, the pope, the pastor, coach, teacher, co-worker, mom, brother, or anyone else...

am God. No one else can rule the universe. Only Me. And even though things look messy, I know what I am doing. I have a plan, a plan that includes you and your family and your job and your future and even the future of the generations beyond. As you are available to Me, I will use you, but I am so much bigger than just you. 

I've got this.  
I love you. 
Be still. 

You can trust Me to work it out and we can talk about it. I want to patiently hear you. Even the tossed journals with painful events, too ugly to keep, I remember each scribble, each tear. I have saved the tears but I used it all to heal you and make you into the woman you are. And look at you! You are beautiful.

Those I brought to you to minister are for you to love and not to fix. Point them to Me, point to My truth and grace. Trust My Holy Spirit to bring to their minds the correct portions of truth at the proper time. Bring them back to Me. Encourage, listen, rebuke only with humility, kindness and infinite patience.

In the end, no matter what mess they make of their lives, I want them home. Dirty, exhausted, but Mine. No sin precludes them, I only care that they return. My arms are always open, sandals, robe and ring nearby. I am poised, watching and waiting for their return. 

Your return too, dear daughter. So be still and know that I am God. 

Psalm 46:10

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Angels and Inspiration

YoungLives Tea October 17, 2015

My favorite angel is Gabriel. He is most often remembered for his visit with Mary the mother of Jesus, but before then, he visited Zechariah the priest. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were good people but they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and at the time they were both very old.

Gabriel visited Zechariah while he performed his priestly duties in the temple. Gabriel announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would give birth to a son, who would become John the Baptist, but Zechariah did not believe him. The angel’s response was:

 “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. ” (Luke 1:19)

The word “angel” means “messenger.” Here God had a message for Zechariah, but he doesn’t believe Him, even though the angel Gabriel stood before him in all his splendor.

Like Zechariah, we are also witness to a glorious miracle but it is so hard for us to see. The story of Zechariah and Gabriel must have been a favorite in their community at that time and repeated often. Eventually, Elizabeth told it to Mary, Mary told it to Luke who wrote it down for a friend, and that story was copied over and over again, first with ink on parchment and eventually with machines on paper, for 2,000 years. Even though Zechariah, Mary and Luke had no idea at the time, God preserved it for us to hear it today.

I believe God’s message from the angel is for us too. He has something to say to us, something He wants us to believe and something He wants us to do, if we would only hear Him.

The story of Gideon is another example of an angel with a message. Gideon lived in the period of Judges and his story is told in chapter 6. At that time, the Israelites were in the Promised Land but because they had failed obey God’s command to drive out the evil nations who lived there before, these nations continued to invade their communities.  The army of the nation of Midian ruined the Israelite’s crops and slaughtered their livestock. Gideon and his people were impoverished and lived in terror. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress, which is essential a pit. He was hiding from the Midian army.

12 When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? … now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”  (Judges 6)

Gideon felt abandoned by God because of the situation he was in. When you are at the bottom of a hole, hiding from your enemies, you feel pretty hopeless. The angel reminded Gideon, and us as well, that God is with us. He has plans for us if we would trust Him.

14 The Lord turned to [Gideon] and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest … and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6)

Gideon was afraid with good reason. Midian had a massive, powerful army. But although the odds were stacked against him, God intended him to be a mighty warrior.  

Do you feel small and unworthy like Gideon? Do you feel unable to cope with what you have to do day by day? Me too. God reminds us that although He calls us to what seems impossible, He is with us. He will give us the wisdom, the strength, and the courage, to do whatever He put in our hand.

Even though we feel inept, unprepared, and unable to do what must be done, God is with us, and He is all we need. We often cannot see how He can use us, but He will. Maybe in a big way as He used Gideon. Maybe in a more modest way. But whatever way, it will be important. And it will be enough. As we rely on His Holy Spirit in us in our everyday lives, He transforms us into the women we are meant to be.

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and … made bread without yeast… the Angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the Angel of the Lord disappeared. (Judges 6)

Gideon was not only afraid, he also lacked faith. This magnificent angel stood right in front of him, and yet, he did not believe. He asked for a sign. God was patient with Gideon, even in his unwillingness to trust Him.

Do you lack faith? Me too! God is patient with us. He waits for us to be ready to believe and obey. He gently urges us and encourages us but never forces us. As the angel did here for Gideon, God is always willing to show off and do big things to remind us we can trust Him. He is faithful even when we lack faith.

22 When Gideon realized that it was the Angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace… (Judges 6)

God has come not to destroy us, but to give us life and peace. Stepping out in faith can be scary. God was so gentle with this man who became a warrior leader. We can trust He will be gentle and patient with us when we struggle to step out in faith.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal.” … 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him… (Judges 6)

God told Gideon to take down his idols. It seems silly that ancient people would make figures of wood or stone and then think they were god. But I do the same thing when I trust in other people instead of God. How about you?

Do you bring your troubles to friends to discuss before you turn to God in prayer? Do you find yourself trusting in your job and your 401K for provision? Do you trust in our government officials or your insurance policy to protect you? Do you place your confidence in your doctor or medicine to heal you? Don’t get me wrong, a 401K, insurance policy and medicine are all good things and we should use them as the Lord leads. However, I have found all these things will eventually disappoint us. It is God who provides, protects and heals us. God reminds us to tear down those alters and trust Him most of all. He alone is worthy of our worship.

Gideon obeyed God but did it in the dark of night because he knew his neighbors would be furious, and in the morning when they discovered what he did, they were.

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash [Gideon’s father], “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar.” (Judges 6)

When we take steps of faith, when we talk about what we believe, we must expect some people to react negatively. Some will argue with us, dismiss us, ridicule us and talk about us behind our back. Let’s not be surprised. But there will be others who will see and desire our faith. In all, we need to trust God.

Let me tell you about Gideon’s battle and how the story ends.

19 Gideon and the … men with him reached the edge of the [Midian army’s] camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands… 20 Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 …the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. (Judges 7)

God used Gideon and only 300 men to defeat the enormous Midian army. Note, there was no bloodshed for Gideon’s people because the Midianites killed each other.  It was an outrageous miracle, just as the angel of the Lord promised.

We can lose sight that this life is a battle. We are fighting a war. In Israel women bear arms and fight against the enemy. In the Kingdom of God, we must too. God calls us to be brave and to trust Him. He is still in the business of doing outrageous miracles.

We all have a Midian in our life. Maybe for you it is caring for young children or an elderly parent. Maybe it is a loss of a job or a job that is so stressful it is killing you. Maybe there is a secret sin you are afraid to reveal, or you carry the burden of your teen’s or husband’s secret sin. Maybe your Midian is sickness or death of a loved one. Whatever it is, you feel like Gideon: impoverished, terrified, and in a hole. You are sure God has abandoned you.

Let us remember that God preserved these words for centuries for us to hear today. I believe the Angel of the Lord’s message is for us, just as He spoke to Gideon long ago. Please hear the words of the Angel of the Lord:

I see you as the mighty woman I always intended you to be.

Go. I am sending you.

I am with you and will give you all the strength you need.

I am patient. I will wait for you.

I am your peace. Do not be afraid.

Take down your idols and trust Me alone.

I am faithful.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Making Plans

Making plans for the summer?

I love planning things, from parties and trips to business projects and classes. Like Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire felt the pleasure of God when he ran, I feel God’s pleasure as I plan. We are made in God’s image, and because He plans, we plan too.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

So does God not want us to plan? Not at all. God just wants to be part of the process. He us to remember that He is sovereign in all things and when we plan, remember it is God who is in control, not us.

The scriptures give some great questions to ask ourselves as we plan.
  1. Did we pray about our plans, searching the scriptures for God’s wisdom?
  2. Are we seeking advice from godly trusted friends? Are we open to what they are telling us?
  3. Did we consider how our plans affect others? Is this a win-win or will my plans need others to be inconvenienced, hurt, or devalued? My dear friend Sue Taylor’s moto comes to mind: Fun isn’t fun unless it’s fun for everyone.
  4. When working with others, do we fret over their success?
  5. Are we manipulating others? Are we being devious? Are we pushing our way, trying to control situations out of our control?
  6. Although we trust God’s in control, are we still working hard to make our plans succeed?
  7. If our plans are not working out, are we looking for the good and the God in the situation? Or are we whining and complaining that we are not getting our way?

Even when we are trusting God, we need to remember, God is not obligated to make our plans work out to the way we want. Although it is difficult to accept, sometimes no matter how we painstakingly plan, how hard we work, or how often we pray, we will have dreams that must die.

God never promised that everything will work out in this life. No, Jesus specifically promised: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Will we trust God anyway?

Sometimes our plans work out great, like a recent Saturday morning when my brother and I enjoyed taking the ferry into Manhattan. The weather was perfect and our time together sweet.

However there was another morning, when our cousin Susan planned a business trip to the top of the World Trade Center and it ended with her name engraved in bronze around a massive square pool. Why? Certainly that will be a question I will ask Jesus when I see Him. But when I embrace Susan again in His presence, perhaps the whys will not matter.

I have been frustrated and responded in anger over thwarted vacation plans and botched dinners. I have wept over career plans gone awry and family dreams that had to die. I found that trusting God is sweeter while I am waiting. Trusting God brings peace during tragic loss. Trusting God allows me to see and enjoy His great and unexpected gifts.

Jesus, help me trust You more. Help me to see what You are doing in the earth and plan with an eye towards Your glory.

For more on this, see James 4:13-5:6, Psalm 38:1-8, Proverbs 19:20-24

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why do we have arguments?

James 4:1-10

When I think of why I have not been getting along with someone, the story always goes like this:

He is so stubborn. She is so controlling. He has a bad attitude. She is always picking on me. He is stupid. She is jealous. He is mean. She never minds her own business. He doesn’t have a good word to say about anyone.

The story always starts with him. Or her. Never me. I am trying to be patient, trying to be kind, trying to overlook the fault, just trying to help him. But he makes it so impossible. She just won’t get off my back.

James has a different idea.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

It’s inside my heart. I want what I want. I want my way. I think my way is better. I want what you have. I want my comfort. I want my happiness. And I don’t care if it’s at your expense.

The Holy Spirit shows us another way in Jesus. Jesus left the comfort of heaven to rescue us. He allowed people to treat Him however they wanted. He did not force Himself on anyone. He did not follow His own agenda. No, He did whatever He saw the Father doing. He submitted to His Father’s will all the way to a Roman cross where He bled and died while the men whom He loved and came to save mocked Him and spit on Him. This our Savior.

Jesus did all this to bring us home. He gave up His comfort, peace and even His life because He valued our relationship with Him. Our Father longs for peace between us, for us to be loving and kind to each other. And we are arguing about? What??

So then, what shall we do? James tells us:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you… your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief…

It is not about the argument, or even the other person. It is about humbling ourselves before God. Remembering God is big and knows best and we are small. It is about putting God first, remembering He is most important, not the issue we are fighting about. Satan wants to mess up our relationships. He wants us to argue. He must stand up to Satan. We must choose God’s way. We must be sorry for our selfishness and repent of being careless about others’ feelings.

We need to ask these difficult but important questions: Could I be a little bit wrong here? Could some of this be my fault? Am I listening to her feelings? Could my attitude use a little adjusting? Am I valuing our relationship more than getting my own way? Could it be my turn to submit? If not this time, then when?

Beloved Jesus, it is hard to ask these questions. I don’t want to yield, let go of control, admit I am wrong. But Your Holy Spirit is within me leading me to blessed peace. Remind me the relationship is always more important than the issue we are arguing over. Help me to be Your daughter and forgive, submit, be kind, and trust You for the outcome. You have shown me over and over again that You are faithful and more generous than I could ever ask or imagine.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Just call home

I called my mother last night. Truth be told, I have not always been great at keeping in touch. Maybe that was why she was so delighted to hear from me. “It makes me so happy that you called me,” she giggled into the phone.

Recently I have noticed, with great joy, my relationship with my adult daughters improving. They visit, spend time talking with me, even asking me what I think about matters in their lives. Maybe it’s because they are in their later 20s and maturing. Hopefully it is because I have been more respectful and less controlling. Whatever the reason, our improved relationship has given me a peace and a confidence in life. No matter how the rest of the world is going, when your family loves you, nothing else is more important.

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

With Father’s Day approaching, I remember my own wonderful dad. He’s in heaven now but I don’t need to ask him what he would want for me and what would make him happy. He would want me to do what is right and show others kindness and mercy. He would want me to take loving care with my relationships with my mother and brother, with my husband and daughters. He would want me to continue in relationship with them, not matter what else is happening. When we hurt each other, to talk it over and mend the relationship. When life gets busy, to make time for each other.

Perhaps that is why it is so powerful when Jesus reminds us that God is like our fathers. He wants us to read His word because He has something to say to us about our lives. When we are humble and seek His advice, He rejoices. He longs for us to come to Him in prayer because He wants to be close to us. He wants to hear our voice and share our life with Him. When we pray, He rejoices.

Truth be told, I need my mother’s love. I want her encouragement, approval, and wisdom. And when I hang up, I feel peace.

Likewise, I need my God’s love. I want His encouragement, approval, and wisdom. And when I take the time to humble myself as I read His word, enter into prayer, write down the thoughts He shares with me in my journal, I feel peace.

What does the Lord require of me? What would delight my Father in heaven? Taking the time for relationship with Him. As I do that I find myself having more mercy for others and strength to do the right thing.

But it’s not just for Him. It’s also for me. Because in the end, my improved relationship with Him gives me peace.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Sheila Fields on Motherhood

On Mothers Day 2013, a panel of women shared their thoughts on Motherhood at Montclair Community Church (MCC).
One of those women was Sheila Fields, mother of six adult children, one of them was Pastor Joe Fields, a Youth Pastor who died at the age of 31. I attended this service because I wanted to hear what Sheila had to share, which was amazing. She gave me her permission to share her talk. Sheila is a woman of great insight, wisdom and wit. Enjoy and be blessed. Thank you Sheila, for sharing your heart with us!   

What do you enjoy the most about being a mother? What are some of your greatest joys?

To me, having babies was like winning the big lottery. I loved each stage; the infants, the adolescents, the teens (not my favorite) the young adults and the grown adults. It all went by too fast. I am glad to have this opportunity to reminisce about all the precious moments I enjoyed with my children.

However, it also brought back moments of some regrets. I made mistakes. I have a list of "wish I could do over" moments. I regret how I handled many situations but even more I regret words spoken and mostly words not spoken. I'm sorry I didn't teach my children to have a faith that views the prize of eternal life with Christ as the most important thing in their lives.

The greatest joys were in the small things, the cute things they say, the drawings and papers to hang on the fridge, the surprise hugs and kisses. Weddings and babies are life's biggest joys.

What are some of your daily struggles in motherhood?

Letting go. You have to allow your children to make their own mistakes and learn how to resolve them.

Is there anything you wish someone would have told you before you became a mother?

I was the best mother to my dolls. I thought I had the job down pat. I soon learned that you can't hold your babies upside down by one leg or throw them in the toy box for days on end until you're ready to play with them again. I wish I had been more prepared. I wish I knew how hard and exhausting it was going to be. I wish I had been more mature.

What is the best practical advice you've ever received about mothering?

It's not original and I'm sure you've heard expressed different ways. I say it this way "Discipline to teach not to punish, discipline from love never from anger." I've tried to pass this on to my children who are now parents.

What has been one of the greatest challenges you faced in motherhood?

As I've said I'm very proud of all my children, they have grown into lovely, loving, good, descent human beings. I don't mean to slight any of my other children, I could talk to you about the specialness of any one of them for hours, days maybe. But today I want to talk about my youngest son, Joseph. Joseph was a child who taught his mother more than she ever taught him. He was the son who God used to give his mother a testimony. Joseph was the child who gave his mother the best gift EVER, the gift of authentic faith.

Many of you knew him. Around here he was known as P.J. or Pastor Joe. He was the youth pastor here at MCC until his death on December 17, 2005 at the age of thirty-one while undergoing his third liver transplant. It's been almost seven and a half years. Jerry and I were blessed with very good children. I don't take any credit, they just came that way, and Joe was beyond belief. I don't think he ever said "no" to us. He had some health issues as a baby and then he was going along pretty well until high school where two momentous things happened (1) he had a born-again experience (2) he was diagnosed with ulcerated colitis. He had surgery for the colitis which at first seemed successful but then took a turn for the worst. The doctor said they would see what they could do, they did not expect him to make it BUT, guess what? God (your God, my God, the one and only true God) had other plans. Joe recovered and was fine until his liver disease presented itself.

We didn't use the term in those days but, Joe had a bucket list. Our good God delivered big time and Joe was so grateful. He got to go to Moody Bible Institute and become a Youth Minister, he met the love of his life, married and had a child - so many joys he never thought possible.

After Joe's born again event, he never looked back. He lived every waking moment for the glory of God. As a youth pastor he greatly influenced dozens of young people and he was a great witness to all who knew him including his own parents. He was the best Christian I've ever known. I don't expect to ever meet another like him.

I always considered myself a Christian but now, looking back, I would describe my early Christian walk as a Christian zombie. We all know them: a stagnant walk, no growth. This passage from Isaiah 29:13 sums it up pretty well: “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’” As I observed the way Joe lived his faith I wanted his kind of faith, I wanted my faith to grow. I wanted to know the Bible. In the church I grew up in, we were not encouraged to read the Bible, in fact, it was discouraged. Now I view that as criminal! I had no idea of how much I was missing. Before he died my heart was already changing.

When he died I knew I couldn't have loved him more but I didn't shed a tear. Jerry and I knew that in all probability Joe was not going to have a normal lengthily life so we had been somewhat prepared but my reaction was totally unexpected. I was filled with the most wonderful peace. I believe it was the peace that God promises in Philippians 4:6-7 where it says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I was happy for Joe because his suffering was over. I believe that no matter how well you knew him, you never knew how much he suffered. He never complained and he never said why me?

Joe was prepared to die. I might even say he was looking forward to it. He believed all that our faith teaches us. He knew of God’s promise of victory over death. He knew God promises His people eternal life. I also embrace those beliefs. I thank God for comforting us with the knowledge that he was with the Lord. Of that we had no doubt.

And how have the Promises of God impacted me in the challenges of motherhood?

God has comforted me in my distress, He has helped me with my burdens, He has given me wisdom in my challenge, He has given me strength in my difficulties and He has provided me with peace regardless of the troubles I faced. Are you kidding me, I have learned to trust God with everything.

I hope I was able to convey what I wanted to get across. I talked a lot about Joe but, it wasn't about him, it was about me.

I am transformed because God used my son to open my eyes to authentic faith and how to get it. I am covered in God's grace like hot fudge on ice cream. I am filled with the Holy Spirit. I am a new creation. If you've known me for any length of time, I don't look any different but, if you could see what the potter has done with the clay that was my heart and soul, you would behold a beautiful sight.

I am a happy mother today, I am the mother of six fantastic, special, wonderful children and I am a child of God. Could anyone be more blessed then that?

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Gift

On my desk when I returned from lunch I discovered a gay yellow wrapped gift with luscious chocolate truffles inside. What is this, I wondered? Lori, the VP of Management, gave me a gift for Administrative Assistant’s week. This sweet gesture was unexpected and certainly undeserved from my perspective, as I support another executive.

Aren’t those the best gifts? The ones we don’t expect and don’t deserve?

Peter tells us: His divine power has freely given to us everything we need for a life of godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called use by His own glory and might by means of which He has freely given to us His precious and splendid promises, so that through them you may escape the corruption that is in the world caused by sinful desire and become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 2:3-4).   

God gives us everything we need, not just for a plain old ordinary life, but to live a life like Jesus did: a god-like, glorious life. We are welcome at Jesus’ table to partake in His nature. I love that word, “partake” like we get to be on His team, be invited to His party. 

This is what God has given to us when we believe in His Son Jesus. The Holy Spirit is freely given to us. It is unexpected and undeserved. It is extravagant and exhaustive. It is everything we need.

And what do we do with such a gift? As for the truffles, I opened them and ate them, of course! Later, I shared some with some of the other women in the office.

Some gifts end up in the back of a closet, or even in the garbage. We lose them, break them, re-gift them.

Like all gifts, God’s Holy Spirit is meant to be used and enjoyed. The Christian life is about just plain ordinary people tapping into the extraordinary power of God. Ordinary people like me. Like you. We don’t try harder to live a godly life. We merely grow closer to God, by staying in relationship with Him by prayer, reading His Word, meeting and worshipping together, serving others together. As we stay close to God, He transforms us.

God wants to transform you too. Have you stayed close enough to Him to let Him? Have you opened your gift?

More on opening your gift, click here.

Read what Peter said yourself: 2 Peter 1:1-11

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The True Grace of God

What is the grace of God anyway?

Growing up, I associated “grace” with Mary, the mother of Jesus. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women...” The repeated prayer convinced me grace was something extraordinary Mary had. She was favored by God, unique, perfect, something I could never live up to.

Later I discovered the Bible revealed Mary was surprised and afraid when the angel Gabriel came to her and announced she would give birth to the Messiah. It was Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who greeted her with those words when she went to visit her for understanding and comfort. While Mary was a good woman of great faith, she was not chosen because she was flawless.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior we all receive this blessing called the “grace of God.” It is a free gift. Like Mary, none of us receive it because we deserve anything from God. Grace is “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” I found this definition on Google just now, so it must be true, right?

Peter gives us a more complete definition of grace.

Peter’s purpose for writing is reveals in this last chapter: I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. God’s grace is not merely a free gift to us. It is a gift we receive to give to others. Throughout the book Peter explains how to use grace:

  • Have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)
  • Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)
  • All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing (1: Peter 3:8-9)
  • Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
  • Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
  • Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)
This is not easy. Therefore Peter reminds us to be diligent and watchful. Be alert and of sober mind, he repeats three times (see 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8). As we continue to pay attention and grow in our faith, the Lord will empower us to use the gift of grace He gave us for others. When we stay close to Jesus as we walk through life, the fruit of love will bloom.

Saturday’s sunshine enticed hundreds of people to walk, bike, and lounge under the blossoming trees in Branch Brook Park. The trees were graced with gorgeous flowers, but not for the trees. Everyone nearby enjoyed the beauty. So it should be with our lives. God gives grace to us and surely we are blessed, joyful, to be envied. But it’s not for merely for us. Everyone nearby should enjoy the beauty of God’s grace manifested in our lives.

This is the true grace of God.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

If they do not believe

1 Peter Chapters 2 and 3

How do you draw an unbelieving husband towards faith?

This is a question heavy on my heart, not only because it is an issue for many of my friends, but also because it was my concern for years. I came to faith and then waited 18 years for my husband to make a commitment to Christ. During that time, I read and re-read these words from Peter as if he had written them especially for me.

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Note Peter does not recommend a straight-on Evangelical technique. He does not urge wives to share the four spiritual laws or the ABC’s of faith. Peter does not tell us to sign our husbands up for ALPHA or some other spiritual activity. I tried all those things with my husband Al with no immediate success. No, Peter’s advice is to love our husbands by submitting to them.

As we continue to read his letter, Peter is consistent, no matter who he is talking to:
  • Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives (1 Peter 3:7)
  • Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters (1 Peter 2:18)
  • Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13-14)
  • Be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil … repay evil with blessing (1 Peter 3:9)

Submit - be considerate - repay even evil with blessing. Why would Peter say that? What about when the husband is dead wrong? When he is doing something clearly hurtful to his wife or to his children? Surely we are to speak up then? He’s the one who’s the unbeliever! Hello?

No offense, ok, but why are we convinced we are always the one in the right and they are the one who needs to change? Honestly, I am talking to myself here as well. Why can’t we allow them to make their own choices (which they will anyway!) and choose to do right ourselves, no matter what they are doing?

Let me repeat: our response is our responsibility. Are there ways we can serve our man with integrity? Are there areas where we can defer to them and say “I don’t want to but because you want to, I will”? Can we put his needs before our needs? Can we forgive the hurts? Can we consider how he must feel? Can we stop judging him, repeatedly pointing where he is wrong?

Peter pulls out the trump card with the example of Jesus’ life.

Photo by Caroline Pierce
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps... When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.

Jesus was able to submit to the cross because He trusted God the Father to vindicate Him.
  • He did not trust His disciples to stand by Him – they did not.
  • He did not trust the religious leaders to give Him a fair trial – they did not.
  • He did not trust the Roman governor to see through the schemes of the Jewish leaders and release Him because He was innocent – he did not.
  • He did not trust the Roman soldiers to be gentle with Him because He was not rude to them – they did not.

EVERYONE did wrong to Jesus, and not just a little wrong. They betrayed Him, beat Him, spit on Him, mocked Him, and nailed Him to a tree.

Jesus submitted because He trusted God.

Peter invites us to do that too.

Sure, if there are people being hurt, there need to be boundaries. And sure, we are to use words to share the gospel…

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Love people by serving them with humbleness and kindness. Trust God because He’s got this. That is the bottom line. I think this works with not only husbands but also teens, co-workers, neighbors, and extended family members.

“He himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness… the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer…

How do we die to sin and live for righteousness? Submit to others. Even our husbands. Even when they can’t be trusted. Because we can trust God.

For how it turned out for me and my husband, click here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Not my true home

1 Peter 2:11-25

The first thing we saw when we walked in was the fireplace flanked on each side with beautiful wooden bookcases. It was love at first sight and we bought it. Almost 30 years later this remains my favorite place in our house. Al and I love to sit in front of the fireplace in cozy Queen Ann chairs, a cup of tea on the nearby table and a good book in our laps.

As much as we love our house and have tried to make it comfortable for us and welcoming to family and friends, Peter reminds us, this is not our true home.

I love how The Message says it: Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Even better is the ERV: Dear friends, you are like visitors and strangers in this world. So I beg you to keep your lives free from the evil things you want to do, those desires that fight against your true selves.

When we forget that this is not our home, we feel angry when things aren’t fair. When government officials overtax us or the local municipality over-regulates us we grow indignant. By getting caught up in where we live, in trying to make it pleasant for our family, we get distracted from our primary goal as followers of Christ: His Kingdom come. We complain, blame, and sometime cheat, because after all, this is OUR home so we should be able to do as we please.

Peter tells us: For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials He has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you.

I think this is easier to do when we remember we are just passing through; it’s not our home anyway. We must respect authority for Christ’s sake, not for the person who is making the laws.

Recently we moved our office and my boss encouraged me to make my mark on the barren dusty desk that greeted me on my first day. So I placed my beloved family photos around and settled in. But don’t be deceived, Peter reminds me, it is not the man in the corner office who I am serving. I am serving Jesus. Like my home, I can get too involved in my work, becoming possessive about it, forcing my ways on others because “my way is better.” I can feel entitled to slander my boss or gossip about co-workers because, after all, this is my job, they are messing up my work and therefore they deserve it.

Even when the boss and co-workers act foolishly or our clients treat us badly, we do not have to act in kind. No matter what the other person does, our response is our responsibility. We can still submit to authority, be respectful and kind even when the other person does not deserve it. Like Jesus we can trust God to work things together for good.

It is not about the person in authority at all! It is all about me and Jesus. I serve, submit and do right for Jesus, because I trust Him. It has nothing to do with what others are doing.

Father, help me take the time to pause and pray before I react, gathering wisdom and strength from You. Allow me to see the other person’s perspective. Free me to serve because You are worthy, You can be trusted and You love me. And I will give You all the glory.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

the price of reconciliation

1 Peter 2:1-10

So then, stop doing anything to hurt others. Don’t lie anymore, and stop trying to fool people. Don’t be jealous or say bad things about others.

Sounds simple right? Don’t say bad things about other people. It would be easy -- if I just put duct-tape over my mouth.

Now they are together and they smile.
Later they will talk behind each other's backs.
I find women are drawn to disparage other people. It is natural for us. We bond by talking about relationships. We share our feelings. We empathize and encourage each other. We work things in our hearts and minds by talking. We need to be honest and share about our relationships. We’re just being honest. Right?

Wrong. It’s sin. It is bad to say bad things about others, even if it’s true.

We are called to be living stones, with Christ as a cornerstone. God desires to use us to build a spiritual house. If our words break down relationships with one another, how’s that going to work out?

We are called to be priests, leading others who are far from God towards reconciling with Him. How’s that going to work out when we cannot even reconcile with each other?

Why do we find ourselves having conflicts with our husbands and then talking about that with our girl friend? When our teens disappoint us, why do we call our sister? When the boss irritates us, why do we complain to a co-worker? Is it because we want to resolve the conflict? Hardly. It’s because we want sympathy. We want someone to comfort us and tell us the other person is wrong and we are right. Or is it only me?

Peter tells us “you were saved from that way of living. You were bought, but not with things that ruin like gold or silver. You were bought with the precious blood of Christ’s death.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) Our reconciliation with others is also bought at a price. We pay it with humility and sacrifice. Maybe we need to forgive. Maybe we must muster the courage to confront the person who has hurt us. Whatever the price we have to pay, Jesus paid a higher price.

What do we do when we find ourselves with a friend who is talking badly about others?
  • We can say something positive 
  • We can change the subject
  • We can walk away
  • If it is a sister in Christ, we can gently correct and redirect her to the person with whom she needs to reconcile.
To indulge in the conversation and offer only sympathy and reassure them they are right may derail reconciliation and ruin relationships.  Besides, let's face it, what we say about others says more about us than them.

Beloved, it is easy to see this now as I sit alone at my keyboard. Remind me again when I am hurt, disappointed, or frustrated. Remind me You have paid the price for me. Give me the strength to turn away from sins of the tongue. I can’t do it myself obviously! I need Your help. When I am in conflict please give me the courage to talk to the right person and the humility to be kind. I will give You all the glory.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

What do you think about Jesus?

Peter was a fisherman when he met Jesus. At first, Peter was merely curious about Jesus, but after He provided a miraculous catch of fish, Peter became a follower. Peter followed Jesus and watched Him heal the sick, lame and blind. He experienced Jesus feeding thousands with a lunch for one. He was there when Jesus cast out demons and walked on water. Peter watched as Jesus brought dead people back to life. Finally, he witnessed Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven. 

But Peter also ate with Jesus and slept beside Him. He saw Jesus sweat, sigh, laugh, cry, and bleed. Peter felt the grasp of His hand, saw the smile of His face. Peter knew who Jesus was.

Scholars think Peter was a teen when he encountered Jesus. A natural leader, Peter became a prominent advocate for the church. Towards the end of his life, Peter wrote letters and told us who he learned Jesus is and therefore who we are as His followers. 

…It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him…(1 Peter 1:18-21)

God created us like Himself, with free will. His intent was to have a loving relationship with us. We were born free to choose to love God, or not. However, choosing not to love God leads us away from God and ultimately away from each other too. Knowing we would stray like a rebellious teen, God always had a plan. Jesus was God’s plan, from the very beginning, even before He created the world.

That is so amazing to me. It is difficult to wrap my mind around how an awesome and infinite God would love us that much. He knew the pain and the price He would have to pay to create me and then save me, yet He created me anyway. 

He created you anyway too.

It is easy to buy into the fuzzy image of Jesus we see in movies and photos. Jesus is portrayed as a mild-mannered Clark Kent, long hair and long robe with children on His lap. Yes, that is Jesus: loving, gentle, kind. But like Superman, the mild exterior is covered a great strength and purpose. Beyond the Babe in the manger is God who existed before time. Word and pictures fail to describe Him in all His grandeur. 

Who is Jesus? Peter, who walked with Him, will tell us more. It is important that we know.

Father, Your love is so amazing, so beyond what we can comprehend. Help me see You more clearly. Allow me to be astonished by You today! 

Friday, February 20, 2015


The Book of Job, Chapter 42

What does this room tell us about it's owner? Would you say she is sloppy? Disorganized? Careless? Immature?

You'd be wrong. My daughter Debbie is not age 5 or even 15. She is 25. Debbie is one of the most organized people I know. As a girl she would line up her folded socks in the drawer in a single line in color order. Careless? Not a bit! She cares deeply what people think about her to a fault. She is always impeccably groomed; her outfits well put together and her make up flawless.

So, why on earth does her bedroom look like a bomb went off?

Because it's a snapshot, and snapshots only give us a point-in-time view of reality. It is not enough to tell us what is really going on. 

Debbie is a teacher on her winter break. She is in the process of deep cleaning her room and I caught it in the middle of the process. We did this one day together, sorting out her clothes closet. We took EVERYTHING out of her closet, considered each dress, shirt, shoe, and undergarment before sorting each item into save/discard/give-away piles. In the middle of it most of the contents of her drawers and closet were on the bed, on my lap, on the floor. However, when we were done, the room was not merely surface clean. It was completely clean. 

Life is like that. Sometimes in the middle of the process things look like more of a mess than ever, but in fact, buried emotions are surfacing, old wounds are healing, spiritual dullness is being scrubbed away. It may look like a disaster on the outside but that is merely a snapshot, only a slice of the process we must go through to be the best we can be. 

Snapshots only reveal the external of where we are right now, but cannot tell who we will be. Sometimes things stay dormant for a long time, like this ocean front lot. It was an adorable cottage before the waves of Superstorm Sandy splintered it into pieces. The house was removed, leaving this sad little sign.  For over a year the sign sat in the empty lot, a symbol of storm's devastation and the community's struggle to rebuild. 

This past weekend, we were at the beach again inspecting progress of the community and behold, there was the sign but now there is the beginnings of a new home around it. Suddenly hope and the house is blooming like spring. 

The misery we saw in the Book of Job was merely a small segment of his life. Before the story began, the Lord had greatly blessed him. As the story concluded, we see Job received a double blessing.

The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters...After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. 

At first, I could not find peace after the loss of Job's children, even though he did have ten more children later. Now I see I was looking from an earthly perspective. From the perspective of heaven, Job's children were not lost to him eternally, only temporarily. They were waiting for him in heaven. From God's viewpoint, Job was granted a double blessing of children too, because the first, although separated from Job, were never lost. 

Often, my life looks like my daughter's untidy room: disorganized and out of control. Or it resembles the barrenness of the empty seaside lot. But that is only a snapshot, a point-in-time. As God provided incredible blessings for Job, I am trusting God for great blessings in my life. He's just not done with me yet.

He's not done with you either.     

Beloved, even though life has it's bumps, messes, and absolute disasters, help me to remember You have a plan, You are not done, and I can trust You with my life, even when I cannot see and cannot understand.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Purpose of God

The Book of Job, Chapters 31-42

Why have bad things happened to me?

Job has been asking this question. His friends said Job brought these things on himself and God was punishing him. However Job does not agree.

a bad thing that happened to me
in October 2012
Look, I will sign my name to my defense.
Let the Almighty answer me.
Let my accuser write out the charges against me.
I would face my accusation proudly
I would wear it like a crown.
For I would tell him exactly what I have done.
I would come before him like a prince. (Job 31:24-37)

Then an amazing thing happened. God responded to Job, but not with reasons. Instead, God presented Job with questions of His own:

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
Where is the home of the east wind?
Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
Who laid out the path for the lightening?
Who provides food for the ravens when their young cry out to God and wander about in hunger?
Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar and spread its wing toward the south?

For four chapters God continued His questions to Job, making His point: you are without the knowledge required to question My ways and My motives. In the end Job agrees:

I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me...
I had only heard about You before, but now I have seen You with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said and sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.

In summary: God knows best. We cannot accurately discern His purposes. We need to trust that He is good and faithful.

Does this answer satisfy you?

Me neither.

One of the questions I had when we started looking at Job was why it took 42 chapters to get to this simple point. I concluded it is because grief is a journey and we must walk it, not rush it. God speaks up in chapter 38 but He could have answered anywhere in this process. He was not required to answer at all because, as He pointed out so eloquently at the end, He is God and will do as He sees fit. Job needed to ask the questions and go through the gambit of feelings to be able to accept the truth at the end.

God did not rush Job through the process in order for it to be over sooner. As a mom, I am sure watching Job suffer was painful for God as well. Only a parent knows the truth of "this will hurt me more than it does you" intimately. God was angered by the lies told by Job friends and how those who should have consoled Job made it more painful for him. But God did not push to resolution before the time was right.

We can learn by God's example. We can't rush ourselves or others through the process of recovering from pain. The stages of grief: denial, anger, blaming and bargaining are all valid, necessary, and cannot be set aside. We cannot quicken the process by giving a pat answer, even the right one. We must walk the entire journey. Regardless of our feelings, God is there with us each step. God is already there on the other side where we emerge with acceptance and prepared to receive His peace.

We have also seen something very important: the process of grief, when we go through it with faith, provides an insight to God we never would have had otherwise. Job declares, I had only heard about You before, but now I have seen You with my own eyes. For Job, this insight into God made all the difference.

Who knows the purposes of God? Perhaps part of the reason for Job's suffering was so we can see the workings of God and be encouraged and comforted.

Beloved, we see Your answer, but it is not one we should give to others too soon. Truth without empathy is not kindness. It is not Your way. Even though You restored Job's health, doubled his wealth, and gave him more children, even this is not enough for a broken heart. A broken heart needs time to mend. Thank You for Your patience with us. Help us show each other patience. Help us to have patience with ourselves. Help us to reach for You as Job did. You did not punish Job for questioning Your ways. You rewarded him with Your presence. You are a rewarder of those who diligently see You.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Withholding Kindness

The Book of Job, Chapters 6-19

Job had already lost his livelihood, his ten children, and his health. With heartbreaking honesty, Job described how his pain increased as even his surviving loved ones scorned and abandoned him.

My relatives stay far away, and my friends have turned against me.
My family is gone, and my close friends have forgotten me.
My servants and maids consider me a stranger. I am like a foreigner to them.
When I call my servant, he doesn’t come; I have to plead with him!
My breath is repulsive to my wife. I am rejected by my own family.
Even young children despise me.
When I stand to speak, they turn their backs on me.
My close friends detest me. Those I loved have turned against me. 

I imagine Job felt like a desolate rocky mountain.
Job was not only hurting and alone, but he was aware of their disgust and rejection. All he wanted was for someone to take pity on him. Job wanted a friend to listen to him. Instead, Job's friends blamed the troubles on his own sinfulness. Others close to him were repulsed by him. By withholding their kindness, they hurt him all the more. Instead of offering comfort, they increased his pain.

How horrid to further injure a friend who is already suffering by withholding kindness!

Beloved, I remember so many times I have avoided loved ones who were hurting. They reminded me of the unavoidable pain of life and the certainty of death. Just the thought of them made me sad and so I ran from them instead of leaning into the situation. I did not want to visit them because I was afraid I had nothing to say or that I would say the wrong thing. I forgot You were ready to direct me and give me the courage I needed. Father, forgive me and help me remember the agony of Job and do better in the future. Thank You for Your forgiveness. 

Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. (Job 6:14)