Category Archives: Back to Basics

Come Like A Child

Jesus said, “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

What are little children like?

  1. They are filled with wonder. It’s easy, as an adult, to get so caught up in the business of life that we fail to slow down enough to appreciate the awesomeness of God’s creation and the little “love touches” He sends our way.

I truly enjoy spending time with our young grandchildren. I love seeing their excitement as they gather rocks in a stream, jump in a pile of leaves, or gather wildflowers for someone they love.

Are we filled with wonder and thankfulness at the little “love touches” God sends our way– like a note of encouragement from someone just when we need it, or a cute Hummingbird flying right up to us, or the sudden appearance of a rainbow, reminding us of God’s promises?

2. Little children are open to surprises. I like pleasant surprises, but the adult in me is often fearful of venturing out into the unknown. If I’m not willing to risk the unknown, it’s difficult for God to surprise me! Sometimes I’m like a kid at an egg hunt that’s so afraid of getting hurt, or lost, or failing to do as well as the others, that I just sit on a bench and watch the more adventuresome ones, and then envy them for all the eggs they’ve collected. If I’d just leave the bench, the Lord could lead me to a nice surprise. Inherent in the word “surprise” is the concept of the unknown. If I constantly cling to the security of the known, I’m not going to be surprised much!

In the summer of 2016, I almost missed out on a HUGE blessing because I didn’t want to venture out of my comfort zones. When our church announced that it would be sending a team to Romania to help with a youth camp, I didn’t even pray about going until after my husband signed up. Thankfully, the Lord didn’t give up on me, and I ended up going and receiving one of the biggest blessings of my life! God worked in and through me, and I gained a whole bunch of new friends!

Do I believe that God gives only good gifts? Obviously not, if I’m fearful of what surprises He might have in store for me. I’m so very thankful for His loving patience toward me!

3. Children are willing to risk loving and being loved. When my children were young, it was amazing how easily they would reach out to people, with no fear of rejection. They might be disappointed when someone didn’t respond to them, but that didn’t prevent them from reaching out again! They would seek people out!

In contrast, I’m too often fearful of reaching out to people I don’t know. My pride fears rejection and the possibility that I’ll embarrass myself (since I’m not a great conversationalist).

Besides not relishing the physical discomfort of a trip to Romania, I felt very insecure about reaching out to teens and young adults, especially knowing we might not share a common language. But God had a wonderful surprise for me there, too. I fell in love with those young people, and they responded warmly to me. I also gained new friends among the Romanian church members (especially our very gracious hosts) and I became close with the American team that went (some of whom were from a church in northern California).

4. Children are able to laugh a lot. Children laugh very easily, even at themselves. As an adult, I often take myself too seriously. God wants us to be able to laugh at our mistakes and embarrassments. Children also laugh just because they’re having fun!

In Romania, at camp, we had loads of fun and laughter, as we danced and played crazy games. Our insecurities gradually melted away as we quit worrying about what others thought and just enjoyed being silly. We had our serious moments, too, but there was plenty of laughter!

5. A child humbly accepts dependence upon someone else for wisdom, life and safety. Have you ever noticed how often a young child asks the question, “Why?” They know they don’t have all the answers, and they aren’t afraid to ask questions! In the Bible, Jesus often encouraged people to ask Him questions. Too often we adults refrain from asking questions because we fear looking ignorant or foolish. A young child doesn’t worry about that.

Children also understand that they need others, whereas we adults tend to want to be self-sufficient. One of the things that made giving up teaching difficult for me in 1983 was that I’d be totally dependent financially on Tom. The Lord would now have to meet my physical needs through someone other than myself. I had to surrender my fear of what I’d do if something happened to Tom.

I need to turn to God for all my needs, just as our children came to us when they were young. I need to trust in God’s care and protection. In all the years that I’ve been walking with Him, He hasn’t failed me yet! (And I know He never will!)

May the Lord help us all to be more like little children!

Water to Wine: Lessons in Faith, Surrender & Obedience

A number of lessons can be drawn from John 2:1-11 when Jesus quietly turned water into wine.

Jesus, his disciples, and his mother were at a bridal party when Mary became aware of the bridal family’s dilemma: they were out of wine. In that time period, that would be a cause for great shame for the hosts. So she sought Jesus’ help.

I also need to be continually and compassionately interceding for people when I’m aware of their problems, trusting that God knows best how to handle the situation. Knowing people’s problems can crush us unless we have the faith to believe God will intervene. The very fact that God makes me aware of a problem should be a source of hope that He’ll take care of it. He doesn’t put needs on our hearts to crush us, but to motivate us to pray.

I suspect Mary knew this because, even though Jesus said his time had not yet come and tenderly asked her why she involved him, she told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. She obviously expected Jesus to do something and she recognized the importance of strict obedience.

In verses 7-8 we see faith and obedience in action. The servants must have wondered why Jesus would ask them to fill the jars with water, and how that would solve the wine shortage problem. They may have even been fearful of ridicule or a reprimand when he told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet. Perhaps they wondered what they’d say to the master if he asked why they were bringing him water. But they obeyed. Imagine their surprise when they learned it had been changed to wine! In verse 11 we learn that this miracle caused the disciples to “put their faith in him.”

It is wise to obey God, even when it doesn’t make sense, and be prepared for a pleasant surprise when we discover what He’s doing. So,

a) take all my problems to Jesus, believing He’ll help

b) obey—exactly! (Lean not on my own understanding.)

c) fear not; trust Him (put my faith in Him)

It’s possible that Mary’s action in verse 5 also represented surrender on her part. She told the servants to obey Jesus and then waited to see what he’d do. Since he had told her it wasn’t his time yet, she may have just backed off and waited to see if he was willing to help. Her motive in seeking his help was good (concern for others), so she asked, surrendered, and waited. That’s a good example to follow. Take all my concerns to Him, then surrender to His will and timing, and wait to see how He chooses to answer.

Jesus only revealed his glory before his disciples and some servants. He performed the miracle inconspicuously, without drawing attention to himself. He also answered a request in a way that one might not expect him to answer: making wine for people who were already getting drunk and would not appreciate the quality of the wine he had made. This makes me think that I should also help whomever God leads me to help and not worry about whether or not I’m being taken advantage of or even whether or not it makes sense.

There are four lessons I get from this:

  1. Sometimes Jesus performs miracles just for a select few to witness. We must be careful not to share those miracles where they won’t be appreciated. If we suspect someone will just call it “luck” or “coincidence,” it probably isn’t intended for them. So, make sure I pray about who to share the miracles with.
  2. In my giving, obey God’s leading and don’t worry about the consequences or results. We humans don’t like to be taken advantage of and we worry about being conned out of our money, or contributing to someone’s vice (such as giving a stranger a hand-out and wondering how he’ll use the money). God tells us He only wants us to be cheerful givers, so if we aren’t giving willingly then we shouldn’t give. But if He gives us a generous heart, then give in the name of Jesus and let God deal with how it gets spent. Jesus, in making wine, could have been accused of contributing to people’s drunkenness, yet faith was the result in his disciples. Even if someone is lying to me, if it presents me with an opportunity to share the gospel, consider it money used for the glory of God.
  3. In verse 10 we also see that Jesus broke the human tradition of saving the cheap wine for when the guests were drunk. He offered the guests the very best, regardless of their condition, knowing they may be too drunk to appreciate it. That’s what Jesus does for all sinners. He offers Himself (the very best) regardless of the state of depravity they’re in, and regardless of whether or not they’ll appreciate it. Likewise, I need to offer myself as God leads (my time, energy, money, talents) regardless of whether or not I think the recipient will appreciate it. But let them know Jesus’ love is motivating me, so the gift won’t be wasted.
  4. Verse 10 also illustrates that Jesus is not bound to the human way of doing things. I often try to limit Him according to my understanding but I need to be open to anything no matter how illogical it seems to me. His way is always better! Just as He offered the best wine to drunk people, so He offers the best solutions to sinners. Trust Him and don’t limit Him to my understanding. Give Him free reign.

It’s always best to follow Christ’s example!

 

Claiming God’s Peace

My husband and I recently spent 3 1/2 weeks in Istanbul with our daughter’s family. God miraculously kept us healthy in the midst of others’ illnesses and close quarters.

Near the end of our stay, I prayed that the Lord would help me to overcome the overwhelmed feelings that usually hit when I return from a trip. He answered in an unexpected way, but it worked! He allowed me to get sick!

It began our final night there, but thankfully didn’t hit full force until we were home. When I have no mental or physical energy, it’s easy to surrender all of life’s demands to the Lord and just focus on praising Him. The first thing I thanked Him for was keeping us healthy in Istanbul! I’ve been enjoying wonderfully sweet fellowship with Him as I just rest at home.

Now, the challenge is to be able to do that when I’m full of energy! This is my strategy for combating overwhelmed feelings when they come upon me:

  1. STOP what I’m doing! Walk away, if possible. (If that’s not possible, I can still do the other steps.)
  2. Rebuke the devil in Jesus’ name (out loud if possible).
  3. Turn my attention to praising God & take a praise break. Place my concerns & “to do” list in His hands & focus on Him. Most of my tasks can wait at least for a few minutes.
  4. Ask God to direct and strengthen me for the task at hand.

All of this is easier said than done, but that’s my prayerful goal. For now, I’ll just thank Him for making me lie down in green pastures. (Psalm 23) He always knows what I need!

Pray Like Jesus Did

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus showed us how to pray. In his humanness, he did not want to suffer on the cross, and he let his heavenly Father know his feelings. But then he surrendered his will and prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” “…may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39 & 42)

I am very thankful that God patiently and lovingly listens as I pour out my feelings and desires to Him. I need that release of emotion. But I’m even more thankful when He empowers me to surrender my will to His, trusting that His plans are better than mine. It is fine to ask for what I want, as long as I recognize that what I want may not be God’s best for me or for the person I’m praying for. Once I’ve voiced my concerns and desires, I need to follow Jesus’ example and conclude my prayer with “Your will be done, Lord”.

God also recently reminded me that I need to be careful to pray according to Scripture. I can’t know God’s specific will for someone else unless I’m claiming a promise stated in the Bible. I was recently guilty of telling someone I thought God was leading me to pray a certain way for them. (But it was not a Scriptural promise.) I need to beware of that. When people are seeking God’s guidance in making difficult decisions, the last thing they need is human opinions! My opinions are often influenced by my emotions, which are not always trustworthy.

So, I must remember this: share my feelings openly with God, but be very cautious and prayerful about what I say to others! I sure don’t want to be guilty of stumbling anyone into making a decision that goes against God’s perfect will for them!

Do I Love Him Enough?

How much I’m willing to sacrifice for someone depends upon how much I love them (or how much I love Jesus). Selfishly, I like what’s most convenient and comfortable for myself. For me to step out of my comfort zones, I have to ask myself if I truly trust God enough to meet my needs, and if I’m willing to surrender my will to His. I must continually ask myself: which do I love most–Jesus or what He’s calling me to surrender? The only way I’ll ever surrender to Him is if I truly grasp the fact that He loves me perfectly and He is completely trustworthy. I pray He will help me to grasp both concepts more fully. Trust and surrender are always prerequisites to obedience. I’m not going to surrender to, or obey, someone I don’t trust. (Whenever I submit to a human, I’m actually trusting God to be my protector and the One who will bring something good out of all things.)

Heart-felt service flows out of love. When I first fell in love with my husband, I was eager to tell people about him and I joyfully worked at pleasing him. I wanted to look good for him and treat him well. My love was so passionate for him that this was not difficult. After being married awhile, I found that my level of passion rose and fell, as did my desire to please him. It is the same in my relationship with Jesus. When I’m passionate about Him, my desire to please Him is much greater.

I am rarely motivated to do anything just because I need to or should do it. (I may do what I need to do, but I won’t be excited about it.) I’m motivated by what I want to do–what I’m excited and passionate about. The more I comprehend the depth of God’s love for me, the more passionate I am about Him. Service and obedience flow out of that.

One of the most intimate times in my marriage was during the six weeks that our premature son was in intensive care. During that time, Tom and I clung to each other and intimately shared our feelings. Likewise, I’ve found that, in my relationship with Christ, some of my most intimate times are during trials and suffering. I don’t like the suffering, but I love the intimacy with my Savior.

Other times, obeying Christ can lead me to a glorious victory over one of my weaknesses. He gives me the grace and strength necessary to overcome them. But first I must be willing to make the sacrifice required, and that willingness flows out of my love for Him. I want to please Him more than I want what He’s asking me to release to Him.

Still other times, God simply blesses me with an amazing experience where I see His invisible hand in the way He orchestrates circumstances.

God intended for my life to be an adventure. Adventures usually involve some discomfort, but at least they aren’t boring. If my relationship with Jesus seems boring, it’s probably because I’m not trusting Him enough to follow Him out of my comfort zones. I’m choosing comfort over adventure, and self-indulgence over sacrifice, thus missing out on the greatest, most vibrant relationship I could ever experience. And when my relationship with Jesus is vibrant, my relationships with people also become more alive.

Do I believe that God’s grace is sufficient for whatever He calls me to do? Do I truly want to experience all that God has for me? If so, I’ll step out in faith and follow Him into the greatest adventure of my life: doing His will!

God’s Grace in Grief

Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of the law.”

The things God has revealed in the Bible are for all of us to know: His character, His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, His promises, and even some glimpses into the future. But there are many things that God alone understands. Those are the things where we must have faith in His loving goodness, trusting that He has good reasons. And sometimes, it is His will, through the Holy Spirit, to give us insights when we least expect them.

Our daughter Kristy and her husband have a 2 year old son and a one year old daughter. They are preparing to move overseas. On March 18th, they learned Kristy was pregnant. On March 21st, she believed she had miscarried and mourned. April 2nd, she was rushed to the hospital. Her ectopic pregnancy had ruptured. They removed her right fallopian tube. March & April are normally times of celebration for us, with family birthdays & Easter, so this was a bitter-sweet time for all of us.

On March 28th, Heather learned she was pregnant with Joshua’s & her first child. On Easter, April 5th, she suspected she was miscarrying. April 7th, the miscarriage was confirmed. Thankfully, hers was a normal miscarriage and everything looks good. But the grieving process began.

Kristy had a strong desire to name their child. She & Jonathan chose “Hope”. (I told her I felt Hope would be an appropriate name for either sex in heaven.)

Heather had always wanted Kristy & her to raise their children together, but with the up-coming plans for their move, it looked like that wasn’t to be. Now, however, her child & Kristy’s are forever together in heaven. Heather & Joshua named their baby “Faith”, because Hope & Faith go together.

I had no trouble seeing & believing God would give them testimonies out of this heartache, and develop our faith & character, but I’d decided I’d never understand, this side of heaven, God’s purpose in the timing. Why did this happen in a month that’s full of birthdays and family gatherings? But I knew God was under no obligation to explain that to me, and I didn’t even ask. I just told Him I trusted that He had a good reason.

On April 15th, during my Bible reading, the thought came to me that the timing had nothing to do with birthdays, but with Good Friday (April 3) and Easter (April 5). We were all experiencing the death & resurrection of Jesus in a very real way! And indeed, our Hope & Faith are growing in our hearts as well as in heaven! God is good, all the time–in joy & in sorrow.

P.S. On April 18th, we attended a fundraiser for a foster care children’s camp. Among the things we purchased were two Teddy Bears that will be given to two of the foster children at camp. We named the bears Hope & Faith, in honor of our grandchildren, and pray the recipients will experience God’s loving presence.

 

The Need for Discernment

Discernment is defined as “keen perception or judgment; insight.” The best way to gain discernment is through meditating upon the Bible and seeking God’s wisdom in prayer.

It’s so foolish to think that I have better insight into what’s best for me than God, who already knows my whole future. But I have a foolish nature and I often do think I know better than God, obviously, or I’d surrender to Him more quickly!

I have seen the power of prayer and waiting on the Lord, though. One assurance I’ve gained is that, when I’m truly seeking and desiring His will, He will help me to see through all my fears and sinful motives and find the right path, as long as I’m persistent in seeking His wisdom. He promised in chapter one of James that He will give wisdom when we ask for it, and that we only need to believe that we’ve received it and act upon it. He also promised to guide us. I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve prayerfully followed my “instincts.” He just keeps refining my insights until I’m on target.

I like what I learned from a children’s tape, once, about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing what to do. Wisdom is doing it. For example, you can know that it’s best to put on a seat belt when you get into a car, but you may ignore what you know. Wisdom is actually putting the seat belt on.

We can gain knowledge from many sources, but God gives us the wisdom to know how to apply that knowledge. He also gives us the grace needed to do it!

______________________________________

See under the category of Resources for a book I recommend on this subject.

From Brokenness to Surrender

I love the assurance in Philippians 1:6 that Christ will finish the work He has started in me. He won’t give up on me, even when I’m ready to give up. He’s right there, always encouraging, guiding, forgiving and loving.

To experience His love fully, however, I need to recognize my powerlessness. As long as I think I can change myself, I won’t allow Jesus to do His work in me. When I’m totally frustrated and throw up my hands in despair and confess that I can’t do it, He can step in and do it. My goal is to be better at surrendering before I reach that point of frustration and despair. I wish I could surrender totally and immediately upon the first prompting of the Holy Spirit, but my sinful, selfish, self-deceptive nature is so strong that I’m often thrown into a period of confusion, which doesn’t clear up until I see where I’m compromising. I need to develop the habit of crying out to the Lord for the strength to obey as soon as I’m aware of a spiritual struggle.

Here’s an example from my 1990 journal: One day, I wanted to pick up my photos but the Lord wanted me to take my young children straight home. Four different times, on my way, I said to myself, “It must not be the Lord’s will for me to go,” but instead of surrendering and asking for help to obey, I felt sorry for myself and frustrated, and I kept trying. Finally I did give up–when I was in the parking lot–but I would have saved myself a lot of trouble if I’d immediately turned to the Lord and said, “I don’t think it’s Your will for me to go now, Lord. Please confirm that, and give me the power to obey you.” I need to practice talking to the Lord instead of talking to myself when I feel those “tugs”.

Obedience comes more readily when I believe God knows what’s best for me. When I wanted to pick up the photos, God simply knew (as I saw later) that the kids and I would be a lot happier if I took them straight home, met their needs first, and then picked up the photos later. When I finally surrendered, He brought good out of the situation in that I shared with the kids my spiritual battle and how God finally had to “spank” me to get my attention. They thought it was funny that I needed a spanking, so everyone’s good humor was quickly restored. (My “spanking” was that the kids became disagreeable and uncooperative and that’s when I finally said, “Ok, Lord” and went home.)

Years later, I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of instantly surrendering by faith, believing that God has my best interests at heart, but I can say that I’m making progress! He is faithful!

New in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Jesus said the truth would set us free (John 8:31), but in order for that to happen, the truth has to go beyond mere intellectual assent and enter into our soul and emotions. This requires prayerful meditation and periodic reminders.

The following is one such meditation, and I pray all God’s children can rejoice in this wonderful news! And for any who do not yet have a personal relationship with Christ, I pray they will want to experience such wonderful freedom and victory, and seek to know the Lord.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

When God looks at me, He sees me through Christ. Thus, I am righteous, pure, holy in His eyes. My sins no longer define who I am. They just get in the way of my ability to hear God, and they give Satan a foothold to make me miserable. Satan points to my sins and condemns me and tries to make me feel ashamed. But God readily forgives me when I ask. He sees my sins as separate from who I am. For example, I may say foolish things, but that doesn’t make me a fool. In Christ, I’m declared righteous, even though I may do unrighteous things, at times. My sins need to be dealt with, but they don’t define who I am.

Hallelujah for the freedom from shame we have in Christ! He is, indeed, the lifter of our heads! I don’t have to hide my sins from God or anyone else. My stories of deliverance are my testimony of God’s power and love.

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Transparent, Transforming Love

There are many things, negative and positive, that motivate us to try to change: guilt, fear, anger, pride, a desire to be healthy or to improve at something, etc. Operating under those motivations may work for awhile, but sooner or later we’ll burn out and give up. Think of how many New Years Resolutions last less than a year.

On the other hand, once we’ve experienced Christ’s unconditional love for us–accepting us as we are and being willing to forgive and help us–we are motivated by a desire to please Him. When I am motivated by my love for Christ and my desire to be close to Him (and I know I can’t feel close to Him if I’m feeling guilty), then I sincerely call upon His power and strength to help me accomplish my goal or resist temptation. If I’m mad at myself for being a certain way, the change doesn’t last long. But when I realize how much God loves me and desires to give me victory over my weaknesses, then I respond in gratitude and thanksgiving and humility–realizing I’m unable to change myself, but thankful that God’s ready, able, and eager to do it. All He needs from me is my love and cooperation.

It isn’t enough just to intellectually know the love of Christ. We must experience it. We must learn to be honest and vulnerable with God, with ourselves, and with others. We need to face our sins and confess them to God and trustworthy people. The only way we can experience unconditional love is when we see someone accept us as we are–with all our flaws. But people can’t express that love to us until we’re willing to reveal our weaknesses–those sins that cause our pride to feel embarrassed, or fearful of rejection. It’s ironic that we can’t experience genuine acceptance until we’re willing to stick our necks out and risk rejection. That’s where faith comes in: believing God won’t hand us more than we can bear.

We do need to exercise wisdom in who we choose to open up with. They should be people who have proven themselves trustworthy in keeping private information confidential. But even the best humans are not perfect, and they may fail us, so we must also be willing to forgive them when they do. I praise God for Jesus, who is always faithful, and He understands me better than I understand myself! I love the tender way He reveals my sins to me. I am thankful because I know He is only doing it to help me, not to hurt me. I know He still accepts me and honestly forgives me, and He isn’t even disappointed because He already knows every sin I’ll ever commit. I’m the one who gets disappointed in myself because my pride keeps thinking I’m doing better than I am, and it’s surprised, hurt and embarrassed when I fall flat on my face.

When someone is confessing a sin, we should just listen. We shouldn’t make any value judgments about whether it’s a “big” or a “little” sin. If it bothers their conscience, it is a sin for them, even if we don’t see it as a big deal. We just need to encourage them to get right with God through confession and repentance, and pray with them and for them. We are all called to be holy because God is holy. Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. If we have given our lives to Christ, we have His Holy Spirit to guide and empower us. Hallelujah!