Forgiven

MULLING OVER IT

Have you ever laid in bed at night or taken time out of your day to think about someone who has hurt you and what they’ve done? Do you review a situation over and over again in your mind?  I think that many of us do this.   We might think of how we could have responded differently, said something differently, or even wished we had walked away before saying something we might have regretted.  I’ve even been known to royally tell someone off— after the fact and to myself when they’re not there to hear it, of course.  I picked up the habit of talking a situation over out loud (whispering quietly of course) from my Mom.  I remember hearing her go over situations to herself repeating what she would have or should have said as she thought it through.  I love my Mom dearly and she’s an amazing woman, but that’s one habit that I picked up that I’m trying very hard to drop… and not pass on to another generation.

I’ve been sick for a few days and I’m having a hard time sleeping tonight.  So, what did I find myself doing?  Two nights ago, I was laying in bed going over, in my mind – not out loud, some situations that happened 7 years ago that I hadn’t thought about for a long time.  I usually don’t come across unkind people.  In fact, I can count on both hands (during my entire life) and personally name (meaning I know them well enough for them to hurt me) people who have deliberately been nasty, unkind, and/or arrogant.  So, with much less than even 1% of everyone I know, you’d think I would have plenty of wonderful things to think about.  But, not that night. Someone I know had, at the time, kept taking the things I said the wrong way and would respond in a nasty, arrogant way.  He got angry at me for something I wasn’t even thinking, let alone actually saying.    He never apologized and when I called him on how he had responded, he said not to shoot God’s messenger as if he was God’s personal messenger sent to tell me something nasty.  Clearly, he didn’t think there was a need for apology.  Has that ever happened to you?  Something similar happened to me again several months ago with someone else.  I’m sure that if it (a misunderstanding that perpetuates a problem) has happened to me, it’s happened to other people, too, so I wanted to write about it.

WHEN IT HURTS

Don’t you hate it when people misunderstand you?  It hurts when they respond badly toward you based on their perspective of what you said and not on what you really said.  It’s as if they’re determined to think/assume the worst of you instead of actually having a conversation with you to find out what you really meant or simply trying to think the best of you.  And, if you’re like me, their unkind response and assumptions make you angry.

Well, I had enough of laying in bed rehashing all of that old stuff so I got up to wash dishes that hadn’t been washed while I was sleeping the day away.  Sadly there is no dish fairy or genie who comes and does the dishes for me, even when I’m sick.  As I was washing dishes, I asked myself why in the world I was bringing all that 7-year-old nonsense up again.  I thought I was past that.

Do you want the answer?  Even if my story might impact you?  OK.  Here is it…

LACK OF FORGIVENESS

I was bringing it up again because…  I had never forgiven that person.  I didn’t even realize it until now.

So, tonight I asked God to forgive me for my “unforgiving spirit” and to help me completely forgive that person in my heart.

Forgiveness isn’t only for the person being forgiven.  In fact, sometimes it’s not for that person at all.  He or she may not even be seeking forgiveness.  Maybe they’re no longer living.  Maybe they’ll never see life the way you see it and always look at you as if you’re the cracked clay pot and they’re the gold one.  Maybe they’ll always be the kind of person who assumes the worst of you.  That part doesn’t matter when it comes to forgiveness.  I believe that forgiveness is primarily for the person doing the forgiving.

What does it mean to forgive?  I looked it up in the dictionary for the purpose of writing the dictionary definition in my blog and there are a couple of definitions that apply specifically to forgiving an offense against you as opposed to forgiving a financial or other kind of obligation.

FORGIVE
1. To grant pardon for or remission of an offense or debt, to absolve.
2. To cease to feel resentment against.

SO, WHAT DOES HANGING ONTO RESENTMENT DO TO US?

Last night, as I was thinking through this it was pretty clear that I still felt resentment against this person and that my experiences 7 years ago have made me look at him in a totally different way ever since.  When others praised him or spoke highly of him all I could see was arrogance and a nasty manner.  When he was trying to be pleasant in social situations, all I could see was hypocrisy.  After all, he was always pleasant in public, but had been unkind to me in private.    But, was my perspective reality?   I don’t know.  When I called him on his nasty arrogance I tried to explain what I had meant, that I hadn’t even thought what he said I meant, and then said something like, “I don’t believe I deserve what you said or how you said it.”   His response:  “Don’t shoot God’s messenger.”  It was as if he felt that he had not only not misunderstood me but, also, that his manner was completely acceptable… labeling himself as God’s messenger.   I do believe that my later perceptions of him came out of my hanging on to those offenses and letting resentment built up.  Have you ever experienced that?  Resentment can blind a person toward reality.

My goodness.  I got to thinking about myself.  What if I had a bad day and said something I shouldn’t have said.  (I’ve done that before… on more than one occasion.)  Will the person I spoke to think of me in light of that unkindness forever?  I hope not because that’s not who I am in reality.

 WHAT IS THE POINT?

Regardless of the situation, regardless of whether someone is intrinsically unkind and arrogant or sweet, but just had a bad day, forgiveness of offenses against you lays firmly on your own shoulders.  There’s no point in going through life being resentful of others.  You’re the only one who is harmed by hanging on to your resentment.

If you choose not to forgive and let it go, you’re letting that other person rent space in your head… and for what purpose?

Don’t waste any time thinking about it further.   Forgive.  Let it go.  Experience freedom and peace about the situation.

 

Look for an upcoming post going further into forgiveness and why it’s so necessary.

Hatefulness or Love?

My heart is heavy today as I write this post.  More and more our government and a very vocal, but minority group of people in our country are becoming religiously intolerant and breeding an atmosphere of religious intolerance of one particular kind.  And the media is promoting the same thing.  This post may make some people mad, but I feel that it needs to be said.

Religious Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Folks, the Constitution of the United States of America gives all peoples in the US the right to religious freedom and the right to freedom of speech.  It is in our very Constitution.  It is a part of the American way of life.  That means that as people living in the US we may worship in any way we wish and speak about the object of our worship freely.  It means that we can share our faith with others.  It doesn’t matter if a person is a Hindu, a Mormon, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Protestant Christian, a Catholic Christian, an Orthodox Christian, a Seventh Day Adventist, an Agnostic, an Atheist, someone into witchcraft, or any other group.  We all have the same rights to freedom of worship and freedom of speech.  Along with that comes the right to live as our beliefs and faith teach us to live and not be forced to do something that is contrary to our very beliefs.

Now, along with those rights comes responsibility.  We are American citizens.  Our entire country was founded on immigration… many people from many nations.  By nature, our society is a hodge podge of various cultures from each family’s unique and individual culture (our histories, backgrounds, ways of doing things, etc.), to religious cultures, to regional cultures (for example, folks on the Bayou are different from those in Pennsylvania Dutch country or the Smoky Mountain region or the mid-West), and so on.  But, more than that… along with being a human being in any society comes such things as just plain good manners, caring about others, being kind and considerate, working together for the common good, growing together as a country, and growing individually in every way possible.

What I see becoming more and more prominent in America today is hatefulness.  Evidently hate speech IS allowed, but only if it is against Christians.  If it is against any other group, it is not tolerated.  The same person who is vicious with Christians and can get away with it and even have the government use him as a consultant on such things would be blasted out of the water should he say the same type of things about Muslims.  In my humble opinion, NONE of it should be tolerated.

Our men and women in uniform, people of many religious faiths, have fought to protect us and to protect the rights of US citizens regardless of their beliefs.  Yet, in the military, Christians are being viciously and angrily targeted in a very real way… a blocking of their very right to worship God and speak of Him.  The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is an organization that fights for the Constitutional rights of American citizens as well as for people all over the world.  Currently, they are helping with cases where our own military is taking away from Christians in the military the very religious rights for which they fight and serve.  Here is a petition for some work the ACLJ is doing.  I have to ask why the Pentagon is disregarding hate speech and is consulting with someone who is an extremist himself in his hatred for, disregard of, and vengeance against Christians.  His attitude, extreme intolerance of Christians, and name calling is not what America is all about.  Why is he advising the Pentagon on religious freedom and freedom of speech issues in the military?  His goal to take away religious rights from Christians is very clear.  Yet, Christians make up a massive portion of our US population.  Is the intention to debase, label as extreme, and stop all Christians from being able to freely worship and speak of their faith?  Evidently, that’s the goal in the military.  What happened to our Constitution?  Why all the viciousness?  And why are the very people who are fighting for our Constitutional freedoms not allowed those same freedoms?

Name Calling

Calling people “monsters” and “unconstitutional carpetbaggers” because of their faith does nothing helpful.  The Constitution assures their right to worship and speak about their beliefs.  According to the Constitution, those people have the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  This person’s behavior and attitude says everything about him and nothing about those he is attacking except for what he personally thinks of them.

That’s a real problem because he’s using what sway he has to influence others to do the same.  But, it’s a two way street.  It’s also a real problem in the “Christian” community.  Note the quotation marks.  There’s a saying that there are some bad apples in every barrel.  Well, without a doubt, there are some people who call themselves “Christians”.  But, in reality, they live and teach their children to live completely opposite to what the Bible teaches us.  Name calling against those whose lifestyles or beliefs are different, hatred against anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe, legalism to the extreme… it’s all there.  But, don’t be fooled.  People who live contrary to the teachings of the Bible are not followers of Christ (or Christians).  Don’t confuse them with true Christians.

What does the Bible teach?

Galatians 5:22-23
But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:25-36
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

Do any of these verses encourage name calling, hatefulness, unkindness, determination to say things that provoke others?  Not that I can see.  But, this is how the Bible teaches us to live our lives.  To be sure, the Bible teaches us to also live in purity and watch what we say, eliminating crude speech and jokes from our lips, to be obedient to God, and so much more… but, our lives are to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit.   If we are loving others the way Christ loved us, how can we name-call and be vicious toward them.  We can’t.  This is not to say that all Christians must be perfect.  We’re all human beings who are striving to live the way God wants us to live.  We blow it, ask forgiveness, learn, grow and move on, strengthened in our Christian walk.  Over time, we learn to live more and more like Christ commanded.  Can we do it in and of ourselves?  No, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  (Philippians 4:13)

I Corinthians 13:13
“So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
I Thessalonians 3:12
“…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…”  
John 13:35
“By this will all people know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Over and over the Bible teaches us to love.  In I Thessalonians, it’s not just love for one another (Christians), but for ALL.  That means all people, not just the ones in our church or the ones with whom we agree or having something in common.

So, I’m feeling sad that people who are not Christians are attacking Christians and trying to take away our Constitutional rights in this free land.  But, I’m also sad that in general the Church of Christ has been so lacking in demonstration of love towards each other and toward all peoples that we have lost our witness.

Ephesians 4:29
“Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Attacking people who believe differently will not help change their minds.  Being unkind to them and calling them names doesn’t ever help a situation.  All these things do is to put up walls and show that you’re not walking the talk… you’re not living out your Christian life.  So, church people who are negative and offensive, who attack others for believing something differently or living differently need to understand that this doesn’t show Christ’s love to others at all.  It pushes them away from God.  Perhaps that’s why people like the one in the petition I posted above are so angry, offended, offensive, and vengeful.  They’ve experienced anything but Christian love, Christ’s love… agape love.

We need to stop being the Holy Spirit in the lives of others.  Yes, our job is to tell them about Christ and to live the true Christian life, but it is NOT to be their personal Holy Spirit.  It is not to badger them into the Kingdom through negativity, criticism, attacks, anger, or anything of the sort.  We are clearly to love them even if they are being unlovable so that they can’t help but see God’s love through us.  Then we pray and leave it up to the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to them and to show them their need for Him.  It isn’t until someone feels loved and accepted as a person that they’re willing to open up.  We don’t need to love the actions, lifestyle or choices of others, but we are commanded to love them as people.

So, my precious brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that all of us will seek to know Christ ourselves, to understand God’s love personally so that we can show it to others.  I pray that our lives will be filled with prayer for others who need Christ rather than attacking them personally.  Because if we truly pray for them we open our hearts to showing love to them.  Let’s pray that God will work in us so that we can have an impact and that He will use us to change the world around us for the better.  As Jerry Falwell often said, “Nothing of eternal significance is accomplished apart from prayer.”

 

The Sting of Death

Evidently the person who wrote this wanted to remain anonymous.  But, I liked it so much that I wanted to share it with you all.

Bee stingOnce a boy and his father were driving along the road in the family car when a bee flew in the window. The boy got very upset when he saw the bee buzzing around his head and he began throwing his arms around madly, almost causing an accident. Maybe you think he was a coward, but that boy was a special case. You see he was allergic to bee stings! The doctors had told him that if he ever got stung by a bee again he would die of the sting! So naturally enough the boy was very frightened of the bee.

The father tried to brush it out of the car window, but couldn’t make it go out. So he quickly grabbed the bee!  But it escaped, and buzzed around the boy’s head again making him scream with terror this time. Well, the bee was still in the car, but the father pulled over to the edge of the road and said to the boy, “It is OK.  You are all right.” Then he opened his hand, and there sticking into his palm the boy could see the bee sting!  His father had allowed the bee to sting himself! He had taken the sting out of the danger. There was no danger about the bee any more.

In much the same way Jesus Christ has taken the “sting” out of death itself. He let death “sting” Him instead of ourselves, so we could live forever and never die. How wonderful! In I Corinthians 15:55-57, the Bible tells us about that “sting” being taken out of death by Jesus Christ:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Sin makes us unable to face a Holy God after we die. We cannot keep God’s Law. But Jesus Christ has fixed that for us, He has given believers the “victory” or made us winners over death. Praise God, we will never really die when we trust in Jesus as our Lord.

– Author Unknown

Busyness, Focus, and Living a Godly Life

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~ Socrates

It’s Saturday.  Another week has gone by and I’ve been so busy that, as I look back, I have no idea what half the busyness has been all about.  Recently I feel like I have been letting life happen to me…  and getting grumpy in the process.  That is a sad state of affairs!

I’ve done my usual running errands, dropping off and picking up kids, going to Tae Kwon Do Class, doing house work, and working in the office for our business.  The week has included volunteering, giving haircuts to the guys in my family, cooking meals, baking, shopping, planning, and making important phone calls.  And then there was homeschool.  Although I’ve tried to find time for writing, the only time to accomplish that seems to be in the wee hours of the morning (like right now,,, sleep was elusive and it’s 3:13 am as I write these words). Yet, with all of the busyiness there’s a sense that things have been left undone.  I have arrived at the end of the week feeling like time has flown by and left me as I ponder, “What important thing did I even accomplish?”.  My mind has not been focused and I feel like I’m being pulled in a bunch of directions.  Lately time goes by, but I don’t feel effective (or efficient).

Have you ever felt like that?

Talking things out has always helped me find answers and focus.  So, for those of us who are going through this, how do we get past it?  If we look at our lives and what we see as our purpose in this season of life, what is it?  Focusing like this needs to be a mindset.  I  honestly believe (from experience) that multitasking simply allows us to lose focus and do many things not so efficiently.

Focus on what is important in this season of life and get rid of the superfluous.

List your priorities.  My personal priorities in this season of life are growing in my relationship with God, being a godly wife, rearing my kids, and homeschooling.

How does one develop a personal relationship with God and why should that come before anything else?  Well, to answer the second part of that question, we women can’t be godly wives and mothers if we’re not taking care of the “learning to be godly” part of the equation.  But, what exactly does it mean to develop our relationships with God?  That part is simple.  Have quite time so that you can refocus on the rest of your daily life with a new perspective.  Get your Bible, a pad of paper or notebook, a cup of coffee or tea and sit down.  (I’m not a morning person, but I have found that doing this early when the kids are in bed ensures that it is, indeed, a QUIET time.)

Once you start your day with a focus on God, you’ll be surprised at how much you think about it at little moments here and there during the day.  When something comes up that you might be struggling with, thoughts of what God has been teaching you through His Word come to mind as a reminder.  Having God’s Word in your mind makes it easier to make the right choices, move past the issue, and develop the ability to show grace toward others in your life.  Even as I write this sentence, I’m reminded of what I’ve read recently and how it applies to actual situations in my life.

“A wife of noble character, who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”
Proverbs 31: 10-12 (NIV)

Being a godly wife becomes easier when I work on my own personal relationship with God.  Being in God’s Word in the morning helps remind me throughout the day to hold my tongue and be careful of what I say (James 1:26), remember that my husband was created with a need to be respected (Ephesians 5:33), esteem him and take care of his needs (Philippians 2:3-4), live a life filled with grace toward my husband as God has given grace to me (Ephesians 1:6), and so much more.   Because I’m focusing on changing myself (God changing me) for the better I focus less on trying to change my husband at all.  This stuff is tough.  Our natural tendencies are to look after our own needs and do what’s best for ourselves, try to change others, etc.

But, something interesting happens.  When I respond the way God asks me to respond, my husband’s responses toward me become more loving.  (Don’t take this the wrong way.  He’s an amazing man and far more filled with grace than I am.  I know without a doubt that he loves me with all his heart.)   It’s the same in reverse… when he responds the way God asks him to respond to me, it makes it so much easier for me to live “peaceably”, show respect, and live with grace.  I just wish that I’d remember that every day, all through the day, every time I’m tempted to tell him how he should be… every time I open my mouth to correct something… every time I choose to respond in a way that is contrary to scripture.  But, I do have hope that over time, as God continues to work in my life and as I continue to work on what He’s teaching me, those responses will become less and less a part of my life and godly responses will become more of the norm.

I don’t know one woman who hasn’t tried to change her husband.  But, ladies, God gave you the husband you have.  He’ll work in you.  He’ll work in your husband.  Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition.  (I’ll give 50% if you give 50%.)  It’s a 100% proposition.  I’ll give 100% regardless of my spouse’s behavior or attitude.  It’s not your job to be the Holy Spirit in his life.  Its your responsibility to build him up, encourage him, love him, respect him, honor him, support him, be there for him… and work on changing what God wants you to change in your life, not in his.  Let God be the one to work in your husband.

“Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

Rearing my kids and homeschooling is a full time job, in and of itself.  The thing about homeschooling is that it allows me to have input in my sons’ lives at all times (through teaching, through my example, through spending fun times together, through reading together, and in so many other ways).  There’s the formal part of school and then there’s life.  Homeschooling isn’t just doing school at home.  It is focusing on rearing my child and using all of life (from morning to night) to teach him in various ways.  So, regardless of whether we’re sitting down and doing math or social studies, going grocery shopping together, reading just for fun, baking cookies, having conversations in the car, taking care of the dog, or anything else, it is all an opportunity to speak into their lives and teach them about relationships, God, life, self-discipline, and a vast array of other things.

It’s so easy to be strict in order to keep order in the homeschooling process.  But, I have to keep reminding myself that my focus is on my children as a whole.

There is so much to distract.  It’s important to avoid the tendency to get on the computer and do something when my child is needing my attention (one of the reasons my blogs have turned from daily to… random).  If there’s not enough time to do everything, then I have to set priorities.  My children are a priority.

So, to answer the comment at the beginning about not feeling effective (or efficient), once the focus is clear then everything funnels through that priority funnel.  Spending time reading with, baking with (etc.) my youngest son is an effective and efficient use of time.  Spending time making up on-the-spot silly songs with my austistic son when they bring a smile to his face is an effective and efficient use of time.  Having my youngest do chores with me while we sing (for example, picking up toys from the living room floor and moving small furniture while I vacuum) is an effective and efficient use of time because we’re doing something together, learning how to focus on work, and making it fun at the same time.  Making time for my husband and actually listening to him while he’s talking is an effective and efficient use of time.  Spending an hour on Facebook is not an effective and efficient use of time if I have many other things that need to be done.

So many of us who have been career women before having a family tend to have a “corporate world” view of life.  Daytimers, schedules, meetings, lists of tasks and accomplishments, completed projects… My career defined who I was in my mind.  They’re all good things, but they don’t define our lives.  They don’t define who we are, in reality.  Using that sense of self-definition means that playing with my son is not an accomplishment.  But, just think… if, during playtimes, my son learns to talk with me while he’s little and we keep that line of communication open throughout his growing up years, he’ll come to me to talk when he’s a teen and an adult and may need advice, may need to talk something out, or may just want to spend time with his Mom.  The precident has been set from an early age.  He knows I’m there for him now.  He’ll know I’ll be there for him always… even if it’s just to bounce ideas off of someone.  He’ll be in the habit of connecting with us.  Those times are valuable and have more than one long-term purpose.

So, whether you’re an At-Home-Mom or a mom who works in the business world, don’t let busyness keep you from your true focus.  Don’t let the business world mentality impact how you see yourself and your accomplishments in life, in general.  That’s great for business, but life is much more than business.  We do need focus and purpose or life happens to us rather than us making things happen in our lives.  But, remember that projects and specific accomplishments are not the only things that validate our lives.

Well, I have written far more than I intended.  These are things that I’m continuing to work on.  Thank goodness my children and my husband practice grace towards me as I should be doing toward them.  I hope that my experiences have spoken into your life in some way and impacted your perspective of busyness, focus and living a godly life.

Quiet Time in God’s Word

What exactly does it mean to have quiet time in God’s Word?  And how do you do it?

Well, first of all, having quiet time in God’s Word means literally reading the Bible.  If we want to get to know God, we need to go to His book.  Just like with any relationship, our relationship with God is a two-way street.  God has already shown us about Himself in creation.  But, He also showed Himself to us through written word.  He’s been reaching out to us and speaking to us.  It’s our turn to make an effort to get to know Him.

If we want to grow in our relationship with God, we need to know who He is and what His thoughts are so that we can understand more about Him and about ourselves.  That means that we need to take time just to spend with God.  Usually that’s called having “quiet time” or “devotions”.

“Let me hear your loving kindness in the morning,
for I trust in you.
Teach me the way in which I should walk
for to you I lift up my soul.”
(Psalm 143:8  NASB)

Here’s how to begin if you haven’t been having quiet times with God.  If you have, some of the ideas below may be helpful to include in your quiet time.  Now, keep in mind that you don’t have to do anything so formal as notetaking, but it is helpful.  If you do this, over time you’ll be able to look back at the notes and see the growth in yourself and your perspective.  It is a very encouraging thing to see growth over time.

First get a couple of notebooks.  One will be used for taking notes and the other will be your prayer journal.  Then put the following things together in one place where you plan to have daily quiet time.  You’ll need your notebooks, a Bible, and pencil or pen.  If you have a devotional book you’re using, put that there as well.  When you get up in the morning, grab a cup of tea or coffee and settle down in your “quiet time place”.

If you are a parent, I highly suggest that you do this before the kids get up in the morning.  Then it will, indeed, be a quiet time.   I am not a morning person.  But, I suggest a morning quiet time instead of waiting until later in the day for a couple of reasons.  First, you’ll find that during the day you get so busy with the kids and your schedule that before you know it, it’s bedtime and you haven’t read your Bible.  Secondly, it’s a great start to your day.  I find myself being able to think through (meditate on) what I read in the morning during the course of the day.  It just sets the tone of the day for me.  When I do it later in the day I am still learning, but I seem to miss out on keeping my focus during the day.

If your kids are too young to be independent in getting ready for the day, make sure you get up in plenty of time to have devotions before they get up.  If they are old enough to take care of brushing their own teeth and getting dressed themselves and they happen to get up while you’re having devotions, it’s OK.  Finish your devotions.  They can learn to get into the habit of getting ready for the day while you’re having devotions/quiet time.  It’s good for them to see you in God’s Word and it’s good for them to see you set a priority of God first in your day.  Some of the great men of Christian history saw their parents have quiet time with God and learned to respect their parents’ time for God.  It set an example which they followed in their own lives.  When my youngest son sees me reading my Bible, he wants to read his as well.

Start your quiet time praying that God will help you focus and give you wisdom to understand what He wants you to know from the scriptures you’re about to read.  Then get into the Bible and actually read.  There are lots of great books out there that are helpful, but they don’t take the place of reading the Bible for yourself.  Ask God to teach you as you read, to show you what He would want you to learn and think about during the day, and to give you wisdom to understand.  God says that if we ask in faith for wisdom He’ll give it to us.

Then read.  Take a chapter at a time and simply read the Bible.  (If you’re new to this, I suggest starting with the New Testament.)  If you’re using a devotional book those are usually broken down by day.  Read the section for that day and then be sure to get into your Bible to read the scriptures that go along with it.  Don’t just read books about the Bible.  Get into the Bible itself.  Take your notebook and write down what you’re thinking as you read.  God loves questions.  He wants us to use our brains and think through issues.  If you have questions, write them down so that you have a place to go in your research on a specific topic.   Write down the things that come to your mind, the impressions that you have about what you read.

Take time to pray after reading.  Your prayer journal is where you write down prayer requests.  Write down the date, the prayer request and have a space where you can write down the answer to that prayer and the date it was answered.  Having a special book for prayer requests is awesome.  Just be sure to write down when God does answer that prayer request.  It’s amazing to be able to look back and see answers to prayer documented in your prayer journal.  Pray that the Lord will help you to focus and “meditate” during the day (as you’re driving or washing dishes or vacuuming or whatever you’re doing) on the things that you learned that morning.

Meditate means think about, focus on, ponder, contemplate.  After taking a half hour or so in the morning to read God’s Word and pray, you will have His Word on your mind during the day so that as you go about your daily activities, you can think about what you’ve read.  You’ll be surprised at how connections are made between daily life and what you read in the Bible and how the Bible truly does apply to daily life.

Start having consistant daily devotions or quiet time and you’ll be surprised at how that impacts your life in a positive way.

Independence – Live My Way or Trust Him

I grew up in boarding school away from my parents.  We lived in Africa and at the time my parents had no other options presented to them for educating their children other than boarding school since both of them were required (by the organization that sent them to Africa) to work full-time.  (I can only imagine how my Mom and Dad felt sending their precious children to boarding school.  It must have been incredibly difficult for them.)

Mail was extremely slow so “correspondance courses” (the equivalent of homeschool in those days… hmmm, am I dating myself?) weren’t preferred because there wasn’t any immediate (or even fairly quick) response in grading and feed back on work that had been completed and mailed in.  That made school a long and drawn out process.  Some of the people who worked there (like my parents) lived so far in the boonies that they had to take planes to get to their stations and land on dirt airstrips in some dangerous situations because there were no roads.  So, mail came when the plane came… not every day, not even weekly.  Others lived on main roads (which were most certainly NOT highways or smooth streets) and may get someone from the organization delivering mail a little more often, but still not daily or weekly.

Thankfully now, in this day and age of technology (satellite and instant connection), wonderful homeschooling programs, improved local schools, changed policies in many organizations that operate oversees in third-world countries, and other things, there are plenty of options for parents to choose from as they make decisions about educating their children.

I was the kind of child who could be put into any circumstances and find a way to adapt and get along, for the most part.  There were other children who had a much harder time doing that.  In the boarding school there were some wonderful staff and teachers, there were some who evidently (from our perspective as children, at least) would rather not have been assigned to working with us, and there were one or two who were abusers, unable to control their tempers, directing perfect control over the children through fear, and still able to present a perfect front to the other staff so that no one would know what went on privately.

I can’t tell anyone else’s story and don’t wish to bring up huge conversations about any particular school or accusations against any particular person or people (hence use of the generic “Africa” and “boarding school” as opposed to the specific country and school).  My parents put their trust in these staff and, in my case, one of them in particular completely broke that trust.  I was abused as a child.  But, even though I won’t be telling her story, I will say that my sister was there with me and stepped in to stop anything that she saw or sensed.  I remember as a little girl sneaking down to her dorm room and crawing into bed with her where I felt safe from time to time.   My mom and dad weren’t there, but at least I had a place where my big sister could put her arms around me like a shield.  And then came the day when she left boarding school and I was “alone” there.  (I was the youngest of my siblings.)

Over time I’ll write about various things that I learned as a child in boarding school.  But, today I want to talk about something in particular.  One of the things that I learned was independence.  I didn’t need anyone.  I could do things on my own.  I learned to avoid trouble with adults and yet to still stand between bullies (children) and a few being bullied (children).  To be honest, the boarding school experience built in me a spirit of independence that is unusual in a child.  (I believe that most, if not all of the kids I went to school with would agree that they also developed a similar spirit of independence.)  So, how has this played out in my life?

Well, first of all, how would you feel if you were assigned to be a dorm parent to 26 little girls or boys?  How would you handle that situaiton?  I look back and am amazed because, as an adult looking back, I can see the effort they put into taking care of so many children from 1st graders on up.  Yet, in reality it was really not possible to be able to give much individual attention to each of the children.  The dorm parents had a daunting task in taking care of so many children coming from so many family backgrounds and parenting styles, so many personalities and temperaments, various ages and levels of maturity within the same ages, so many needs.  On top of being dorm parents, these staff also had other responsibilities… nurse, principal, teachers, etc.  In hind sight I’m astonished that anyone thought it was logical that they could effectively accomplish as much as they did.  They must have been exhausted… and often.  No one can keep giving and giving and giving of themselves without getting worn down after a while.

So, even though this is a part of my story of how people and circumstances affected my life (and not always in a good way), I have to stop for a moment and say THANK YOU to the staff at that school!  Thank you for working so hard.  Thank you for doing your best to teach us.  Thank you for spending time with us even though you were stretched thin.  For those who did extra things like having little girls over to your apartments to teach them something fun like how to bake cookies, thank you!  For those who observed and noticed when a child really was sick and needed the nurse or the hospital, not just playing sick to get out of school, thank you!  For each of you giving up your comfortable lives in your home country to go to Africa and teach children, be dorm parents and do many other things in a boarding school, thank you.  For those of you who actually showed us God’s love through your very life choices, actions, words and deeds, thank you!

For my favorite teacher, thank you for your joy and obvious love of teaching and of children because you motivated us to want to learn.   You have gone home to be with the Lord now, but you motivated a lot of students and left them with wonderful memories of you.

For my favorite piano teacher… the one who taught me my first two years… thank you!  I loved music and you encouraged that.  I wanted to do my best for you.  I saw you as a sweet, kind, gentle, loving woman and wanted to be around you.  Thank you for everything that you poured into each of us kids.

Now on to part of my story.  Instead of relying on any adult in my life as I was growing up, I learned to resolve problems on my own and do things myself.  Unfortunately over my lifetime that complete sense of independence has translated into not really needing anyone… including God.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a Christian and I love God with all my heart.  But, one of my biggest struggles has been to learn to depend less on myself and depend fully on God, His plan and purpose for my life, and His guidance.  There have been so many times over the years when I’ve been tempted to do things my way because that’s what I learned to do from the time I was a little child.  There have been times when I knew that God was there, but He seemed far off and, at times, I seemed to be the only one with a vested interest in my life and choices.

But, that is all a lie… false thinking.  First of all, God is fully vested in my life (and yours).  He created each of us.  Jesus Christ (fully God) allowed Himself to become a tiny baby (fully God and fully human), be temped just like we are, live the human experience with struggles and pain just like we do, and yet live a completely sinless life.  He freely gave His life to pay the penalty of sin for me and for you.  And, He rose up again three days later, victorious over sin and death.  I would say that He is fully vested in each of our lives.  It’s up to us to acknowledge that and come to Him.

But, more than that, I am not God.  I am not the Creator.  I do not see the big picture of what my life is going to be like.  Someone in my past (I don’t remember who) once gave an example of needle work.  We look at the work on our lives from the bottom and see only the cut threads, criss cross areas, and mess.  But, God is making a picture out of our lives.  He sees it from the top, the perfectly stitched needlework of our lives and what they are going to be like in the end.

So, independence from everyone, including God, is a foolish thing.  Although I can plan for my version of the future, all I can see is here and now.  Why would my independence and personal choices be wiser than God’s?  He’s the One creating a beautiful picture out of my life.  I only see the parts and pieces in the here and now.  God IS the Creator.  He does see the big picture.

He knows that experiencing only sunshine in our lives will bring nothing, but more independence and lack of growth.  He knows that if I go through struggles I will learn and grow just like a garden needs rain to grow and produce.  He knows that if He rescues me from the consequences of all of my poor choices I’ll never learn and will just keep making the same poor choices.  We all have to pay the consequences of our poor choices. Unfortunately, because of sin, there are plenty of consequences out there that are not of our own making, as well.  He knows that if I go through struggles not of my own making and learn to turn to Him, beauty will come out of ashes… the oil of joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3).  I can learn to lean on Him, learn from Him and allow Him to change me into a person who is beautiful on the inside, understanding and caring of others because of those experiences.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that God created us to be social creatures.  In His Word, He tells us that we need to worship Him together, encourage each other, love one another, lift each other up, pray for each other, serve one another, listen to each other, care for each other and so much more.  The theme is “community”, not independence.  There is no such thing as complete independence from each other in the Christian life.  We need each other.  God also knows that we (with our various personalities, perspectives, styles, etc.) will rub each other wrong from time to time.  So, learning to serve those who rub us the wrong way… learning to pray for them, love them, listen to them, work with them, care for them… that helps sharpen us and develop growth in us.  (“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpeneth another.” Proverbs 27:17)

So, independence from others and especially from God is neither wise nor good.  God is not a far away God.  He says to us, “I will never learn you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.”  (Matthew 28:20)  He created us.  He has a plan for us.  He is fully vested in our lives.  He will never leave us.

So, the next time you think that you must be independent of everyone including God, think about the following verses.  (Look up www.blueletterbible.org, type in the reference, and read the verses for yourself.  Blue Letter Bible is a website that has the Bible in various versions printed on the web.  You can actually go on there and read from chapter to chapter if you don’t have your own Bible.)

Matthew 6:8 – God knows your needs before you even ask Him.
I Timothy 6:17 – Don’t trust in uncertain riches, but trust in the Lord.
Ephesians 6:10 – Trust in God and in the power of His might.
I Timothy 5:11 – Encourage one another and build each other up.
Ephesians 4:7-12 – God gave each of us special gifts and capabilities for the purpose of “edifying” each other.

These are only five of many, many verses that tell us that we need each other and God, something that we know deep down (whether we want to admit it or not).  I hope that my life lesson will be an encouragement for you.  If you don’t know God, start reading the Bible and seeing what God has to say about you, about Himself, and about life.  Ask Him to really reveal Himself to you.  If you know God, I pray that this will be an encouragement for you to trust/rest in God in all circumstances and live in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ so that you can encourage them and they can lift you up and encourage you.

A Firmly Rooted Tree

Right on the corner of our property our “signature” oak tree has been living, tall and beautifully shaped… so big, I might be able to reach half way around the base with my arms.   Of all of our trees, it has been my favorite.  It seems like it must be at least a hundred years old, maybe even two hundred, as huge as it is.  I wish I had a picture to show you, but since it seems like it’s been there for ever, I have not been in a hurry to take a picture, opting to get the flower bed in around it first.

I wonder what that oak tree has seen over the years.  Have children climbed up into it and played?  Has it provided the shade for enjoyable family picnics over the years?  Was it ever a romantic meeting point between some young man and woman?

Our property must have been a farm at one time.  Trees and scrub brush have grown up over much of it and wild-life is enjoying the cover.  There were very old log buildings in some places and foundations dotted around the place where old buildings had once been.  My husband and I had not long ago finished hauling rocks from the foundations of old buildings to build a low, rustic, rock wall around that huge oak.   Then my husband cleared out the weeds, put down black plastic so they wouldn’t grow back, and filled in the area with top soil.

I had wanted lillies of various colors all around the oak.  So, my husband finished planting them.  I watered the entire area until some of the lillies started coming up, then focused on watering just those plants.  Little by little plants started popping up out of the ground.  Surprisingly, a few had already bloomed even though their stalks were very short.

On Sunday we went to look at the property where we plan to build a house to enjoy seeing the results of work that had been done in the last couple of days.  (To be honest, it was too hot for me.  My husband was the one out there breaking his back getting work done.)  We go there often to work… and look… and think… and dream… and plan.  One day our house will be built and we’ll move our family in.

It was early afternoon, right after church, and as we noticed black clouds with high thunderheads starting to  fill in the sky around us, my husband said, “We’d better get home before that storm hits.”  Not 10 minutes after getting into the house high winds started laying our garden flat.  Then came rain and hail.

It didn’t last long at all, but it did a lot of damage in our area.  Power was out in a lot of homes because trees were lying on power lines.  Trees had gone through the roofs of some houses.  Cars were pelted (and some totally ruined) with golf-ball-sized hail.  Thankfully, our house and vehicles survived and our garden plants later started to stand up up again.

Later my husband went back to the property on his way back from running an errand and called me with bad news.  Trees here and there on our property looks like a huge hand had twisted the tops off.  My favorite tree had gone down.  We all went over there to see the damage.

My husband and some friends went over there on Monday to cut up and haul off the wood.  The tree is so huge, they couldn’t get it all done so will be back again today.  There’s no point in letting that go to waste.  It can be used for firewood in the winter.

While they were working, my husband looked down in the hole that the tree had made and discovered why this massive tree  went down.  It has lasted for so many years, but the sheer winds got to it because it had become heavy and was growing around a huge boulder.  Oaks have tap roots that need to go down deep in the ground.  Instead of having a deeply grounded taproot, this tree had spread roots in all directions over top of this massive boulder.  It had survived storm after storm over the years without a sturdy taproot going straight down.  But, this storm was one too many.  There was a hollow area in the middle that was over the boulder that just didn’t give it enough of a foundation to withstand the turbulence of those sheer winds, despite roots that had spread around the boulder.  It needed that tap root in the center, but the taproot had never grown firmly down into the ground.  The boulder was in the way.

I’m up at 4:00 am writing in my blog because my son had a nightmare.  He crawled into bed with us and lay there for a while until he had calmed down.  Once he was calm and sleepy again I tucked him back into his bed.  But, when I went back to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  There was too much on my mind and a sense of urgency to share it with you.  This tree came to mind and with it a lesson that it can teach us.

You see, spiritually we have tap roots as well.

Psalm 1:1-3  “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.  But, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields it’s fruit in its season and it’s leaf does not wither.  And in whatever he does, he prospers.” (NASB)

What kind of foundation do we have?  As a “tree” are we growing over top of a huge boulder, unable to grow a tap root deep down that will keep us standing firm no matter what the storms of life bring us?  Do we have shallow roots that will allow us to be uprooted when things get tough?

Do we think we’re Christians because we’re good people?  Do we think we’re Christians because this is a Christian nation?  Do we think we’re Christians because we go to church?  Do we think we’re Christians because our parents were and we grew up in a Christian home?

Each and every one of us is responsible for our own spiritual life.  We will not be going to heaven hanging onto our parents’ coat tails.  We will not be going to heaven because we are part of a group that meets together on Sundays or Saturdays or whenever your church meets.  We will not be going to heaven just because we’re good people.

God is a holy and pure God.  He cannot look on sin of any kind.  And even if we have so much self-discipline that we are able to completely control ourselves and our actions so that everyone around us looks at what we are on the surface and thinks we’re incredible people, God knows our very thought-life.  He knows us deep down inside.

Isaiah 53:6  “All of us, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.  But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Only someone with perfection could pay the penalty for our sins.  God gave us the opportunity to spend eternity with Him when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect and sinless life and to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross.  The punishment for sin is death.  We will all die physically.  But, we’ll also “die” spiritually.  Spiritual death means separation from the light, life, love and warmth of God forever and ever.  But, God loved us so much that He didn’t want us permanently separated from Him.  He wanted us to be with Him.  Christ, the Son of God, died so that we don’t have to spiritually die.  He died so that we could live in victory over sin.

He died so that we could be planted by the streams of living water, growing our taproot into Him, the most solid foundation possible in the storms of life.  He did this for us as a free gift.  All we have to do is accept that gift, turn away from sin and walk with Him.

Tough times will happen in this life because we live in a fallen, sinful world.  The consequences of sin are all around us and seen in many ways.  And we have to pay the consequences.  But, when we’re firmly planted and rooted in Christ Jesus we can have victory over our own sin and when “bad things” happen, we are able to stand firm.  We won’t break in the sheer winds, hurricanes and tornadoes of life.

And, because those tough things can and will happen, being firmly grounded and rooted in Christ during the turbulence of life allows us to grow and become stronger.

When He is our foundation, we are never alone in the storms of life.
When He is our foundation, we can endure trials with joy.
When He is our foundation, we can become the people God created us to be.

Remember, that person who is like a tree in Psalm 1 meditates on God’s Word day and night.  That means that we take time to read His Word daily, learn what He says and think about those things.  We ask Him to show us what it means if we don’t understand.  We meet together with other Christians (go to church, small group meetings, etc.) to listen while the pastor, who has studied God’s Word, explains it to us and to encourage each other in our walk with God.  His Word is His letter to us and helps us grow that spiritual taproot.  That is the thing that enables us to understand more about God and about ourselves.  That is what allows us to grow to the point of being able to produce amazing fruit in various ways in our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – Gal. 5:22-23).  That fruit is tangible proof of our relationship with God.  And it is all possible because of Jesus Christ and what He did to save us and give us the opportunity to spend eternity with God instead of being eternally separated from Him.

I’m being extremely straight-forward here because this is extremely important.

Do you know Christ as your own personal Savior?  Are you rooted in Him so that you can stand firm in the storms of life?  If not, I have shared what faith in God is all about under the My Faith tab on my blog.  Take time to read it.  This is the most important decision you will ever make in your life.  Life is short.  One strong wind can blow a tree down on your life.  Anything can happen at any time.  What matters here is important, but our focus must go beyond this life to the choice we have before us… eternal life (living with the Living God in His Light and glory, experiencing peace and joy forever) or eternal death (because of your choice to deny Him, being forever separated from the Living God and going on in aching darkness forever separated from the Source of Light, peace and joy).  The purpose of this life is to prepare us for eternity.  Make your choice for Christ today and then put everything you have into learning about Him and living for Him.

Although I will miss my favorite tree, I am thankful for the lesson that it provided for me and the opportunity that I have to share those thoughts with you.

Have a blessed week.