Sunday, July 20, 2014

Following Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  To me, it means listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, doing what He guides/tells/instructs me to do.....even when it may hurt or seem impossible.  If He wants me to do something, He will provide a way. 

Sometimes it is easy; other times it is hard---a leap of faith.  For over two years I have been cooking for a shut-in in the poorer section of my city.  At first, there were two of us combining our resources to accomplish this, even ordering her a Dwyane Wade birthday cake two years running.  Then, one of us moved across country, and I found myself alone with this task.  It was financially difficult at times, but God always provided......sometimes by a paying cake order from school; sometimes from added tutoring; sometimes from another night of petsitting.  That is where the faith comes in.  There were weeks when I told Him, "You know I can not afford this, so You have to make it happen."-----and He always did.   Along the way, I added a homemade dessert to the menu---and He provided.  Recently, she accepted my offer for me to make her birthday cake this year.  Her son told me today that once they tasted mine, no one wanted the store-bought they had.  Then he requested that cake.  I am the one who offered it the first Sunday of each month.  I am taking a faith walk that God will provide the resources.  I know He will because He always does.

I have recently come to realize (I am a slow learner about some things.) that this baking-mania He has put on my heart is a ministry.  I bake from scratch for my school kids and sometimes for the staff.  I no longer question that voice when I "hear it".  I just obey.

That, folks, is what it means to follow Jesus. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Messy Messiah

This Easter article about Pope Francis has me thinking.  This man has the whole Jesus discipleship down pat.  He understands that "the Jesus way" (as I call it) is sacrificial.  In this article, he breaks away from the old tradition of washing the priests' feet.  Why was that done, anyway?  Is it because Jesus did it of the twelve?  To me, today, that seems elitest.  Francis has shown himself to be a "People's Pope," taking selfies with young tourists, washing the feet of prisoners, mingling with average people and outcasts. Anti-catholics will assail him because of theology, but this man knows what it means to follow Christ's example.  
To truly follow Jesus' example is messy and uncomfortable for many (most) Christians. Let's see why.

Jesus did not exalt himself above others; though He was the King of Kings, he arrived lowly in a stable and His first bed was a trough for feeding animals.  Once He began His ministry, He had no home.  When He entered Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, He was on a lowly donkey.  He lived a life of simplicity, never connecting with the rich and powerful; in fact, those were the people He assailed against----their theology and arrogance.  He was a "people's" savior, always seeking out the underdogs.  There was Zacheus, the hated tax collector; the Samaritan  woman at the well whom most spurned;   the prostitute who was on the precipice of being stoned; and the unnamed woman of ill-repute, who washed his feet with her tears and anointed his feet with the expensive perfume that had presumably been used to attract her clientele. Then there were all the people He healed, including the leper and the bleeding woman.   He was a "messy" savior because in His day, who wanted to be associated with those social outcasts?  He was judged harshly for those associations.

What about us today?  How many of us truly take to heart these words from Matthew 20:27-28:  "and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life--a ransom for many."  or this, which I think encapsulates everything He meant about service:  Matthew 25:36-43:
                             For I was hungry
                              and you gave Me something to eat;
                              I was thirsty
                             and you gave Me something to drink;
                             I was a stranger and you took Me in;
                            I was naked and you clothed Me;
                            I was sick and you took care of Me;
                            I was in prison and you visited Me. (verse 36)

Then the righteous will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You?  When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You? (verses 37-39)

And the King will answer them, I assure you:  Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.(verse 40)

Then He will say to those on the left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!

                            For I was hungry
                              and you gave Me nothing to eat;
                             I was thirsty
                              and you gave Me nothing to drink;
                            I was a stranger
                              and you didn't take Me in;
                           I was naked
                              and you didn't clothe Me,
                             sick and in prison
                             and you didn't take care of Me. (verses 41-43)

Living out these words in the name of Jesus is messy, missionary work.  When people think of missionaries, they think of going overseas to some third-world country; on the contrary, missionary work is done any place God plants you, especially in serving any of the above-mentioned people:  incarcerated, homeless, the marginal of society.

For a year-and-a-half I had the pleasure of working alongside people in a local park ministry (until they left to minister to a homeless population in California).  Without going into a lot of detail, it was the most rewarding thing I have been associated with.  I had long-ago become disenchanted with the mega-church trend.  Not only is it isolating, but it is so unlike Jesus' way, and self-serving to those in charge; just look at those tv preachers (but I digress).  I do not ever envision myself going back to a large, mainstream church.  It holds nothing for me.  I have not been led by the Spirit to seek out another church at the moment; I will know when I am.  For now, I serve my lovely shut-in on Sundays.  That is my calling for now.

What is your calling?  On this Easter, Resurrection Sunday, how can you be more like Christ?  It is messy, and it is uncomfortable, but it is so rewarding.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cultivating an Attitude of Thankfulness, Part 2

I began writing on cultivating an attitude of thankfulness here.  I am not a prolific writer; I blog when I feel moved to do so.  Thankfulness has been on my mind a lot lately.  I believe God is using that word to teach my dissatisfied, ungrateful self a lesson.  I once wrote that for much of my life I have been dissatisfied with that life.  While I won't go into detail here, my closest friends know why.  It has been an extraordinarily hard life in the sense it has been fraught with abandonment issues and constant attacks from the devil from every angle.  

While I did not know it in much of the chaos, God was there.  He never left me.  I saw a saying years ago that went something like this:  If you don't feel God, guess who moved?  As I look back on the last twenty-five years or so, I have much to be thankful for:  my parents are now octogenarians and in reasonably good health and mind, I am a cancer survivor of nearly 7 years, and God has always provided for my son and me.  While I don't count many people in the "friend" column, because to me a friend stands the test of time and circumstances, I do have a limited number I know I can count on if the need arises. 

Therefore, in this "me-generation-the-devil-with-anyone-else," I am reminded I am wealthier than the vast majority of the people on this earth who live in abject poverty....materially and spiritually.  That is why, in my miniscule corner of the world, I have to find a way to be representative of Jesus to those around me.  It may take the form of something small or insignificant in most people's eyes:  homemade cupcakes for kids who may never get that for their birthday or "just because"; made-from scratch cake for downtrodden co-workers on Mondays; or a Sunday meal for a stroke survivor shut-in.  That is how I choose to show my thankfulness to the God who has carried me when I could not carry myself...even when I didn't recognize He was doing so.

I leave you with this verse to ponder during this Holy Week:

Colossians 3:17:  "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

"Whatever you do" .....Whatever you do, no matter the people involved and how they treat you, do it in the name of Jesus, for we work for Him, not man.....and give thanks to God.

Cultivate an attitude of thankfulness~~~~

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cultivating an Attitude of Thankfulness --Part 1

It is a wonder that God has any patience with me; I am such a slow learner, and He has to constantly remind me of things I should already know.  Tonight I was reminded that we as humans (and I am speaking specifically of me) are grumblers; we are seldom happy with what we have.  Perhaps society has created this monster within us that tells us we should want this -or - that.  We are conditioned to not be happy with what we have.... or our lives. 

Psalm 107:1 tells us, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"

God  does not promise us our lives will be easy or that we will have what we want.  He does tell us, however, that He will never leave us.  He loves us, and we are to "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1 Thessalonians 5:18) 

in.all.circumstances.....All circumstances means ALL.   It doesn't matter whether we are happy  with our circumstances; it is His will for us.  We may have a job we trudge to everyday; we may have difficult people we live with; we may have financial hardships.  No matter what the issue is, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances....for this is the will of God for us.  I don't think God dictates every situation in  our lives because we are free agents, but He can use those situations to His advantage to teach us .....if we are teachable.  Some of us are too arrogant to listen to Him. If we do listen, He can show us what He wants us to learn. Every situation can be a teachable moment if we change our perspective.... To that end,  we need to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.  No matter what our lot in life, we are to thank God and look for something positive in it.  Every situation can be a learning experience, and we should look at them like that and thank God.   That is not to say we don't pray for a change if we feel we should; by all means, we do that.  Still, in the meantime, we are to give thanks.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Stranglehold of Worry

Where does worry get us?  Over the years I have gotten better; in my younger days I was a devout pessimist who worried incessantly.  Whatever could go wrong, would go wrong, in my estimation. Yet, my worst-case imagined scenario never materialized.  I didn't know any better at the time, but worry is not biblical; in fact, it is the antithesis of faith.

 Matthew 6:27 admonishes us:  "Can any one of you add a moment to your lifespan by worrying?"

Isaiah 26:3 tells us:  "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts on You."

There are numerous other verses that pertain to the detriment of worrying.  The point that Christians have to realize is that nothing that happens to us is a surprise to God.  The God of the universe is omniscient.  We all have our stumbling blocks and attacks because we live in a fallen, decrepit world.  

A high school friend Annie has been an incredible encouragement to me as she has chronicled her family's journey of faith through several unemployments.  We all have "life crud" that threatens to derail us.  It is how we choose to deal with that crud that defines us, shapes us.

My mantra is "Look up; always look up."  That is because every answer that we need is found in God.....if we seek Him and trust in Him everyday.  I find I have to rely on Him moment-by-moment many days because of the depravity around me.

To paraphrase the verse from Matthew again:  How has worrying helped you?  How has it changed your circumstance?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Living, Breathing Faith

Last week when I posted I said that I rarely post unless I feel the urging of the Spirit.  Today is one of those days.  In the last week God has been dealing with me about something.  Ironically, it has been the verse I referenced in the last post:

            Isaiah 41:13:

               "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and
         says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.'"

While I am not ready to discuss it here, the Lord has abundantly blessed me in the last few months in the area of finances.  There has been  As I stated in the last post, His fingerprints are all over it.

Having said that, this is the moral He has been trying to get into my thick skull this week:  If something happens in your life that is His will, it will happen no matter what....unless you openly defy Him.  I  don't plan to do that.

While the devil has been playing with my head all week, yesterday he was particularly active; it seemed he was going to ruin this blessing God has bestowed upon me.  There seemed to be no way around it.  Then last night, a possible solution was offered.  As of this moment, it has worked; the evil one has been thwarted yet again.

I leave you with this cornerstone verse (for me) again:

          "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
       'Do not fear; I will help you.'"

To have true faith, we can not walk by sight but trust Him.  Even though He is the one who gave me that verse, I didn't fully trust Him.

Perhaps I should have that verse tattooed since having it at my computer desk has not cemented into my  brain.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hanging on His Word

Recently an acquaintance asked me when I was going to blog again.  I replied that I didn't know.  It is not like I have a lot to say.  I write when I feel prompted by the Spirit, which is not often.  '

The last time I updated this blog was January 1...over two months ago.  Much has happened since then; some of it has been great; some of it, bad.  The Lord has taught me much, though.  No matter the circumstances,  this is my verse that I am living by, clinging to: 

Isaiah 41:13: 
       "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
              'Do not fear; I will help you.'"

The good things that have happened in the last few months, the blessings, have His fingerprints all over them. With them have come challenges, but He has led me through them and taught me lessons along the way.  I keep that verse at my desk and read it daily. 

I am learning (albeit slowly) that my circumstances are not to define my attitude.  For most of my life, my circumstances have done just that. I wish I could say that I have been generally happy with my lot in life, but that would be a lie.  Even so, God is teaching me through them.  In the last two months He has taught me much about relying on Him, often minute by minute.  Many days the oppression has been stifling, suffocating.  If not for Him, I would not have been able to endure it.  I stumbled across this book, Jesus Calling:  Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  It has been a great encouragement to me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Out of the Bondage of Fear

For much of my life I have been shackled to fear....fear of meeting new people, fear of new situations, fear of the unknown.  That has resulted in my being an introvert who is painfully shy.   When I was much younger,  I feared meeting new people and taking risks.  In college I somewhat grew out of that, but I remained painfully shy.  There are ghosts associated with that, of course---ghosts that shall remain just that---at least for now.

People who know me now can not believe it when I tell them I am an introvert or how shy I actually am.  That is because I am basically two people.  At work, I am a take-charge person who is competitive and doesn't tolerate foolishness.  This stems from my self-confidence with my profession; I am good at what I do---not perfect---but good, highly competent and highly qualified.

Outside of work, I am the introvert who struggles around others.  God is helping me in that area, though.  I believe He is leading me to focus on this area this year as I start a new venture and branch out to seek to be more like Him.   Because in being more like Him, I must overcome fear.

These verses encouraging courage are going to be my touchstone:

       John 14:27:  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as
                              the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be

       Psalm 27:1:  "The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear?  The Lord
                             is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?"

       Isaiah 41:13:  "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and
                              says to you, 'Do not fear; I will help you.'"

And my favorite:            2 Timothy 1:7:  "For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness;
                               but of power and love and discipline."

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, Resolutions, and Legacies

Most people make resolutions at the onset of a new year------weight loss and getting finances in order seem to top the list.  I have spent much time thinking what I want in the new year.  I think I can sum it up by saying I want to be more pleasing to God, to rely more on Him, and to be more like Jesus. I have the traditional resolutions, but they seem to fall under this umbrella.

What does it take to please God?  I think He is pleased when I rely more on Him, seeking Him for guidance as well as in times of need.  That is what a relationship with Him is about:  reliance.  I really don't know how people make it through this life without Him.  It is hard.  Life stinks sometimes...actually, much of the time.  If I rely on Him, I can accomplish the resolutions I they weight loss or finances.  It may take a moment-by-moment reliance, but that's ok.  That is what He wants of His children.

To be more like Jesus-----That is a hard one.....and one I really need to work on.  We are commanded to pray for our enemies, and I have to admit, that is a hard one for me.  When we are in the midst of trials provoked by another, it is human nature to balk at this expectation. Likewise, we are commanded to pray for those in authority over us.  How many of us do that?  How many of us who don't like the current President, pray for him rather than curse him?  I have had to change the topic with my own family members when one of them brings up the President.  Such vitriol is not productive.  Period....

To be more like Jesus also involves giving to those in need.  He has taught me much in the last year about that......and He continues to teach me.  In giving to those in need, He has shown me to rely on Him to provide the resources.  There have been times when I have said, "But how am I going to do this, God?"  He has responded by telling me to let Him worry about that.....and He has always provided.    A friend recently posted, "Nobody has ever become poor by giving to others."  Think about that.

Many people say we have but one life, so we should make the most of it.....have as much fun as we can while we can.....get what "things" we can to enjoy life.

I agree.....that we do have but one life here on earth; but, what does it mean to "make the most of it"?  When we are gone, do we want to be remembered for all the "toys" we accumulated, all the trips we took, all the people we trampled on to "get to the top" of our profession......or, do we want to be remembered for all the good that we did for others, for the blessing we tried to be?

What will be your legacy?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

On the outside it was not a beautiful cake; one could tell it was not done by a pro.  But the inside was scrumptious when I tasted the batter----real butter, eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, coconut, sugar, flour----and the outside was equally divine:  butter, powdered sugar, cream cheese, walnuts.  The outside was every bit as decadent as the ingredients on the inside, but it wasn't "Cake Wars" worthy.  I was worried as I drove to deliver the cake to the client.  I shouldn't have been.  She knew the inside was far more valuable, because what is the purpose of the cake?  To sit and gaze at or to EAT?  It's the inside that truly matters.

So it is with us as humans.  1 Peter 3:3-4 cautions,
                           "Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles
                      and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes.  Instead, it should consist
                      of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet
                      spirit, which is very valuable in God's eyes."

Our society has everything mixed up.  We have a celebrity like Miley Cyrus named one of the most intriguing people of the year, hang on everything the Kardashians do, and brushstroke models in magazines so young girls think they have to strive to be anorexic to be beautiful.  Once we reach a "certain age," we are deemed old and society's eyes....and our society is driven by Hollywood.

God tells us in 1 Samuel 16:7:  "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

And, finally, Proverbs 20:29:  "The glory of young men is their strength; and the beauty of old men is the gray head."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Show your beauty with your actions.