Friday, April 19, 2013

No Tipping That Scale

Our dog Gus sticks close to us - sometimes for the food,sometimes for the affection, and sometimes for the walks or rides we give him. His desire to please us makes Gus a great dog, easily trained and responsive. However, Gus isn't perfect. He commits canine sins such as overturning and pilfering the kitchen garbage, dominating the cat, and wandering away to meet new dogs and people without leaving a note.  When all evidence convicts him, he senses our displeasure and backs away, tail tucked and ears down. Which is fine - he is a dog and the Dog Whisperer says dogs must earn what they're given.

Although God is our Master, our Boss, we can't earn what He gives us, especially His love. And, if we had the sense dogs have, we'd sense our Master's love for us even when He's displeased with our sin. He's told us He loves us, He's drawn us to Him and He has embedded us in His hands and heart. 

"The LORD appeared to us in the past saying,
 'I have loved you with an everlasting love;
 I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'" 
Jeremiah 31:3

He celebrates His love for us with a splendid head to foot wardrobe of salvation and righteousness - not our own dingy good deeds but His unfailing love and untouchable righteousness. And what does He ask in return? - our delight in His gifts, our joy in His love, our gratitude for His grace. 

"I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with jewels."
Isaiah 61:10

His eyes crinkle with joy when He watches us - the way we smile all the way to our eyes when gaze at our babies and grandbabies.  His face shines with a mysterious, unearthly acceptance we don't deserve, can't earn, and can't lose.  
"Let Your face shine on Your servant;
save me in Your unfailing love." 
Psalm 31:16

He keeps loving us when we fail to keep His commands. He continues steadfast and unshaken by both our personal catastrophes and our personal bests.  We can leave behind whatever we juggle, our framed certificates and awards, our civic activities,  resumes, and contribution records because none of it adds a gram of weight to the balance of God's love for us.  That scale, filled with His own righteousness and salvation and unfailing love, has already been filled to overflowing, thanks to Him alone.  His love is independent of anything about us.

"Let them give thanks to the LORD
for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for mankind."
Psalm 107:8

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poison in the Pantry

A gallon of milk in our fridge tasted strange. In spite of the future expiration date, it was "off" and tainted everything it touched.  We forgot to mention this to Nick who thought we'd bought a box of bad Fruity Pebbles (healthy because of the word "Fruity").  Nothing ruins a good bowl of Fruity Pebbles or a chocolate chip cookie like bad tasting milk.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

Philippians 4:6-7 mentions a couple of bad tasting ingredients in our prayer pantries. Number one on the list is anxiety. Anxiety both doubles the punch of crisis and negates our prayers and peace. Fear-filled prayers and efforts to control the outcome don't please Him because these prayers show no trust in Him, no faith.  He wants us to pray from the calm assurance that He can, He will and He wants to intervene with peace and protection. He calls us to take the time and energy to de-tox from busy-ness, anxiety, worry and fear as we pray to Him with gratitude. 

As a matter of fact, the second poison in the pantry is ingratitude. Apparently, God knows  it's impossible to over season lives or prayers with sincere gratitude. God loves to hear thanksgiving pouring from His children's hearts and lips. Gratitude reshapes our prayer as we remember how God has blessed us in the past.

Spring cleaning means it's time to clean out the poisonous and stale ingredients in our prayer pantries.  Time to toss the expired faith, artificial joy, and traces of anxiety and to  refill with the gratitude, trust, and peace that touch God's heart and open the way for the fresh fruit of  answered prayers.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Out of the Ring, Fighting My Own Fight

"But I trust in You, LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in Your Hands."
Psalm 31:14-15a

On the way to school this morning, Nick and I were talking about how much easier it is to stand up for someone else than it is to stand up for yourself. Praying's like that for me. The issues seem crystal clear when it comes to praying for other people - unless they're my children - extensions of me.   

I just received a text from a friend who understands what I mean. Her son is being rushed to the hospital with chest pains and she's asking for prayer. 

Julie and Addy
So am I. Our daughter, Julie, had five additional moles removed after an initial one tested mildly atypical.  Now two of the new ones have been tested "mild" and "severe" - and they'll be removed May 1. There's no melanoma - just the assurance that if nothing's done, danger is certain, in time. Praise God, again, that she went to the doctor.  This is my child, my daughter who's facing serious issues as she turns 25.   I'm praying urgently, with purpose and passion, for her healing and that they scoop out every abnormal cell so she never has to deal with this threat again. 

Four generations of mamas and daughters.
Praying Addy walks in her mama's steps of faith.
Why can't we be allowed to tag team with our children, jumping in the ring to handle the tough stuff for them? Because they, too, are learning to say "But I trust in You, LORD; I say, 'You are my God. My times are in Your Hands."  As a parent I must resist every urge to obstruct my children's spiritual growth by trying to have faith for them.  My job is to stand by them, to fight my own worry, to work out my own faith, and to pray for them as they learn to trust the Someone Bigger and Stronger Who never leaves them to take their hits alone in the ring.   

Lord, God, our lives - moments, trials, victories -are in Your hands.  Help us pray, not worry; remember You love our kids more than we do (??); know You're constantly refining them to bring out their best; and believe You have a purpose for everything You allow into their lives just as You do in ours.  Help us demonstrate a faith in You that will matter to them, encourage them, lead them, but never come between them and You. Mamas want to fix things and Daddies want to provide.  You are both to our children and we trust You.
In the Name of Jesus, Who wanted to gather Jerusalem under His wing like a mother hen. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April Showers Bring . . . February Back?

"This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." 
Psalm 118:24

Unexpected chill. That's what this morning held for us here in Benton, Arkansas.  We were warned ahead of time that thunderstorms would assault the area, but were assured temperatures would remain warm. So much for forecasts; it's 44 degrees on April 11. Even I know that's cold for spring in Central Arkansas and it's only my third spring here.  I opened Jesus Calling, to April 11: "Be careful not to complain about anything, even the weather, since I am the Author of your circumstances."  Why shouldn't believers complain about the weather? Isn't that a God-given right - or at least a patriotic right? We're not to complain because complaining leads to discontent, and believers who trust God in all things are in training to be content, even when April showers re-introduce February to the area. 

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. . . " Philippians 4:11b

One of our first graders in choir last night was NOT content and she wanted the world to know it.  She wailed with loud moans and shed crocodile tears because it was time to stop making crafts in G.A.'s and go to choir.  Even though we were making coffee can drums in choir, she wanted THE OTHER crafts in THE OTHER room and never stopped looking back.  Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth barely describe her discontent. She used a marker to draw it:  a heart torn in two pieces with the caption "My hart is broken." Now that's discontent.

We, too, know how to put on a show when we don't get what we want, although we've learned to put on our shows with a little more finesse.  All the same, complaining promotes discontent. Discontent leads to anger and depression and this negativity assaults our co-laborers who just want to make a coffee can drum in peace.  Ironically, the complainer becomes the one complained about and the cycle continues.

Imagine a day without hearing a complaint come from our mouths.  Imagine a day filled with gratitude instead of discontent simply because  
"This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." 
Psalm 118:24

Father, complaining is a sport down here.  It's second-nature to many of us.  Teach us to replace our complaints with gratitude. Teach us to receive the gifts in every circumstance, to find the blessing from the unexpected, to leave yesterday's comfort to see what You've stored up for us today. You are our Good God Who knows without fail what we need in the moment to make us more Christlike. We open our hearts gratefully to receive whatever - whoever- wherever that may be.
In the Name of Jesus, Who thanked the Father in all things

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Holy Consecrated to God

"But you are a chosen people, 
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
God's special possession,
that you may declare the praises of Him
Who called you out of darkness
into His wonderful light."
1 Peter 2:9

Do God's children - His "Jesus is the only Way"-born again Bible believing, saved-to-the-uttermost children - become unholy when we think unholy thoughts, speak unholy words, or act as if God has no say so in our lives?  Didn't that already happen this morning? It definitely happened yesterday during the heat of a moment, the frustration of doing the same task again, the random thought that popped up from nowhere, the stress of too much to do in too little time, the tone in someone's voice or body language or presence.  

Praise God, our holiness doesn't depend on us, but on His grace. He has made those who believe in Christ His holy nation and no one can take our holy status from us: we can't even take it from ourselves.  

We can not and did not make ourselves holy, but we can consecrate ourselves to fulfill the holy role He's assigned us.  We do this by acknowledging the day is His, to be lived for His purposes.  We cleanse our hearts and minds with confession and repentance. We soak in His Word. We dress in His armor.  We step into the day confident Christ is with us and for us. When we're wounded - even if it's a self-inflicted wound (like those mentioned in the first paragraph) - we remain confident God will use our surrendered wounds to teach us life-giving lessons. 

"But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, 
whose confidence is in Him." 
Jeremiah 17:7

"We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose."  
Romans 8:28

Father, thank You for making us holy in Your eyes. You give us what we could never achieve. You bless us with Your grace. Help us return Your love by consecrating ourselves to You for whatever purposes You desire.  Guide us into meaningful confession and life-altering repentance.  Don't let us be satisfied with words alone. We bring it all to You and will watch confidently as You make something beautifully redeeming of our wounds. 
In the Name of Christ, our beautifully wounded Redeemer!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Private Flying Lessons

Gus and I walked by a fence this morning where we saw a flying lesson in progress. Mama Bird sat on top of the fence giving directions to two of her wee children who seemed to be goofing off in class a bit. They preferred rolling around in the grass to trying for the top of the fence.  Suddenly, Mama Bird saw us and sounded the alarm: Danger! Danger! The babies panicked and "flew" into each other, each one trying to climb on top of the other to get higher with no one succeeding.  One baby broke loose and headed up to Mama while the other landed in the grass yet again. He regrouped, mustered his wits, spread his tiny wings and lifted himself high enough to latch on halfway up a loose board in the fence. We passed by and he flew up and over the fence to the rest of his family.

For some reason, this little scenario which will be played out millions of times this spring, depicted several spiritual truths:
As baby birds:  *We tend to goof off in the grass, squabbling with brothers and sisters in Christ instead of listening to our Abba calling us to come to Him so He can teach us to fly above our circumstances.  
*When the alarms go off, we tend to panic and try to climb on top of someone else's faith (the preacher's? a friend's? our parent's? Joel Osteen's? Beth Moore's?)  instead of exercising our own.  God calls us to trust Him alone; He doesn't want us to lean on middle men or women, tiring them out and expecting answers they can't give. He wants us leaning on the Everlasting Arms and crawling onto His wings. 
"He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 
Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; 
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not grow weary, 
they will walk and not faint."  
Isaiah 40: 29-31

As Leader Birds: 
*We're to set the example and call others to move in toward Christ.
"Do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure." 1 Timothy 4:22b
*We need to remember we can't fly for other people. We can only encourage and allow others learn to fly in faith as we pray with them, for them, and call out encouragement and testimonies of God's faithfulness to us.  
"Preach the word;be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." 2 Timothy 4:2

Thank You for Your patience with us when we fail to see the importance of what You're teaching us. Thank You for sounding the alarms, for providing examples, for working through people. But THANK YOU for working through us - through me - as an individual - for wanting to give me private lessons.  Thank You that I don't have to drag others down with a lazy or panicked faith - but that You call to me personally, never leaving me to face danger on my own.  
In the Name of Jesus, Our Supreme Example!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Get On Your Feet, C'mon and Make it Happen

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." 

Hebrews 13:8

So the light coming in our windows this morning woke me and a Voice said, "Today is a new day. You're awake in time to make a change. The dog's been running off because he's not getting enough exercise.  You tell me you'd like to feel more energetic and drop some pounds.  Here's your opportunity to do something about all of the above:  get up, get dressed, and take Gus for a brisk 20 minute walk. Now is the time to decide whether you're willing to work with Me to make it happen, or whether you'll keep waiting for Me to wave a magic wand and save you a lot of inconvenience and character - and, by the way, good luck with that last one."

I arose from my memory foam mattress, dressed to walk, found the leash, managed to attach it to a wiggling dog, took a deep breath, and opened the front door.  Trumpets sounded (a train horn blew) and the voices of many tribes and tongues sang out (cardinals, robins, mockingbirds, blue jays) in celebration of my decision to do what was best for woman and beast.   

Although I laughed out loud, God was telling me in His unique and humorous way that He was with me and celebrated my decision to join Him in working on things that bother me about myself and Gus.  

The Jesus Calling entry today starts with "I am with you and for you, your constant Companion and Provider. The question is whether you are with Me and for Me."  

Thank You God, for being my cheerleader and encourager in all things.  Thank You for caring about the things that bother me and for caring more about my character.  Thank You for using dogs, and birds and trains to to get me on track (Good one, God!).  Always speak as clearly to me as You did this morning and give me strength to respond with gratitude and obedience. May we join You to work on what bothers You about us and about Your church.  May we respond in gratitude and obedience as You mold our character. Thank You for never changing in spite of our rallies and our dips.  You are most Holy and most celebrated!
In the Name of Jesus - the Never-Changing One!

"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. 
And I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you." Genesis 28:15

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sparkly Spots

On the one pretty Saturday we had in March, Tom and I began Phase One of our annual back yard revival.  We cleared out leaves, washed cushions, and assessed damage to plants.  In the process, I accidentally smacked one of our nicer large pots and put a hole in the side. And all this time I thought that pot was made of durable rubbery material! It had endured hard winters and hot summers, heavy wind, torrential rains, chlorine water, and growing roots to suffer at the hands of my clumsiness. 

I didn't throw it out - it would be too expensive to replace and the break didn't affect its ability to hold a plant yet. The hole, however, faces away from the house, out of sight. 

We all have fragile, breaking places in our lives.  Sometimes we try to appear resilient - made of stronger stuff, but the world loves to find or make holes in believers with just a slap of words like: 
"I thought you were a Christian!" 
     "A real Christian wouldn't do  - or say - that." 
          "A real Christian would help me (out of this mess I'm in due to irresponsibility)." 
               "You're such a hypocrite."
                    "I didn't think Christians got angry."
                         "Is that really what Jesus would do?"
                              "You're being judgmental."

Yes, world - we're weak and imperfect. We're flawed and we make mistakes. We fail. We sin. We doubt. We break and we burn out. We're not Jesus, but here's what separates the sheep from the goats - there is more to us than us.   

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay 
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 
2 Corinthians 4:7
God is interested in the holes in our lives because He wants to fill them with His all-surpassing power. When we point them out to Him for His diagnosis, He doesn't cover the wound but strengthens us with His power. I'm still learning to accept and even embrace my weaknesses as opportunities for God to apply His power. Any one of those statements above could render a believer mute and shamed, chalking one up to Satan in the psychological warfare he's declared on us. Let's not fall for that trick again. God calls us to do the more difficult thing: to trust Him to use our fragile points, our flaws and the gaping holes in our character.  He doesn't want us to hide them but to fill the holes with the treasure He's put in us. The world doesn't need perfect believers but believers with sparkly spots.

Dear God, You are the Treasure worth living for and worth dying for. Fill my weakness with Your strength. You know my struggles and insecurities. I need Your power to overcome them and to come out of hiding.  Shame and regret can ruin a perfectly good pot, but I know You can and will produce fruit in any jar of clay willing to let You turn weaknesses into sparkly spots for Your glory.  
In Jesus Name, the Name of the only sinless One! 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lovable Donkey

"For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those 
whose hearts are fully committed to Him." 
2 Chronicles 16:9

Donkey, from the Shrek movies, won my heart with his first words. He's irritating in a fun way, unstoppable in a good way, and simply impossible to ignore.  He's a one hundred dollar bill glued to your shoe. He's chocolate you can't lick off your lips. He was born to reject rejection, and in the end, we're glad he rebounds from Shrek's rebuffs to make us laugh.

On the original Shrek DVD menu screen, Donkey bounces across the screen yelling "Pick me! Pick me!" so that you hardly notice the other enchanted fairy tale characters. His over-the-top exuberance pulls you in and you pick Donkey to watch him in action, yet again.   

Second Chronicles 16:9 implies the Lord is looking for believers like Donkey.  In school, you don't raise your hand, sit in the front desks, or make eye contact with the teacher if you don't want to answer questions.  Churches aren't much different: Wall-huggers and 80 percent of church members stand back and let the other 20 percent make eye contact with a needy world and with the work of the church.  What about when it comes to getting to know and trust God in new ways?  Do we catch His eye and make Him smile with our persistent  "Pick me! Pick me!" or is that me hiding in the back?  

Lord, God, pick me.  Strengthen me and make me useful to You. Pick me to surprise  someone with love, to encourage someone who's about to give up, to shine in a dark place, to keep on when others quit, to lend a hand where it's needed, to ignore the flaws of the ogres in my life, to overlook someone's mistake that costs me more than I wanted to pay.  Even if I don't know You do these things through me, pick me.  
In the Name of Jesus, Your chosen One, Your only Son!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Welcome Changes

"Now to Him, Who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us."  Ephesians 3:20

So spring hasn't sprung yet, but we Nolands are celebrating two other visible and welcome events.  

1) Julie has had a dark mole on her shoulder since she was a teenager. Multiple doctors have diagnosed it as harmless through the years, but any friend or family member who saw it told Julie to get it checked or that she had better keep an eye on it. However, when Addy's little fingers found and played with the mole (anything's a toy if you play with it) Julie, who's terrified of needles and knives, made an appointment to have it removed.  Even more importantly, she followed through and let them remove it.  They did a biopsy, "just to be sure," and discovered the mole wasn't harmless at all. Julie has since had additional abnormal cells removed.  We've been a bit in shock since melanomas aren't supposed to threaten sweet daughters in their early twenties.  Praise God for concerned, vocal friends and family members, and for tiny probing fingers. 

2) Our second celebration centers on finances: for the first time in fourteen years we're financially clear of credit card debt and have an emergency savings account.  Our problems started with a little bit on a credit card and grew to be a little bit on several credit cards before blooming into real debt on several cards. Just when we were sure we couldn't do it because of a house that wouldn't sell and two sets of utility bills, etc.- God sent the tools, people and jobs to help us pull out of the quick sand and step forward on solid ground.  In two years God has helped us pay off (and tear up) all credit cards, pay a large tax debt for 2011, and manage medical bills for shoulder surgery.  Praise God for Dave Ramsey's plan and for FBC Benton's push for Financial Peace University. Praise God for baby steps and strides of marital determination, teamwork and self-discipline. We're even getting a tax refund this year - unheard of in this house for decades. 

What "harmless" little thing lurks in your life?  How is God highlighting the potential for disaster?  What is He using to get your attention? In our cases, God used concerned comments, toddler hands, bills, and a financial class to drive us in the right direction. It would have been easier to keep sliding downward and for Julie to ignore what she couldn't see, but praise God, He kept working with us until we responded. 

Real change takes time, but a willing heart plus God's power leads to change worth celebrating.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Foggy Sunshine

"Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in His Name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.'"  Luke 24: 45-47

This morning I stepped out my back door to find foggy sunshine - or sunny fog.  It was still cool enough for fog, but the sun in the east behind the mist promised to evaporate all humidity within minutes.    

The day after Christ rose from the dead, when women vowed they had seen Jesus alive and men still processed the empty tomb, must have been like living in bright fog - or in foggy sunshine.  The rays of hope broke through with 
"He prophesied His death . . ."   
     "He said three days. . .,"  
          "We saw Him with Elijah and Moses. . . "
               "He promised to rise. . .,"  
and began thinning the fog of doubt still clouding their thoughts:  
"He died,"
     "He was guarded," and 
          "Surely, He didn't mean literally . . ."   

Then testimonies of Jesus sightings began pouring in from around Jerusalem until finally, the day came when the last dewdrop of doubt disappeared. The Light broke through their locked doors and minds ajar to stand among them.  The disciples heard, saw, touched, and believed.  Jesus, alive, answered every need. Jesus alive, altered every disciple.  Truth outshone fear and the world began to change. 

Lift the fog of doubt hovering around us Lord.  May we come to You for every need.  Help us see You in every Scripture we read. May Truth rock our worlds and alter us from fearful to full of certainty in You and You alone. 
In the Name of Jesus, the One Who Conquered death

Luke 24:36-49