It’s Okay to Take Baby Steps

She toddles and wobbles. She takes tentative steps and falls on her bottom. She strains and stretches and stands again. All the time he is watching from his position right in front of her, arms outstretched. He says, “You can do it! Look at my big girl! Come on, walk to Daddy.”  It doesn’t matter how many times she falls, or how wobbly her gait. He only sees her progress. He cheers her on no matter what. He knows she will find victory if she doesn’t give up. Finally she takes a couple more steps and lunges into his waiting arms. He smiles, hugs her to him, and says, “You did it! I knew you could!”

I’m sure that’s how I learned to walk. It’s how I am learning still. He still waits for me with open arms; He still cheers me on when I fall. He knows I will find victory if I don’t give up. He is my greatest encourager, my coach, my Heavenly Father.  Even when my progress seems insignificant, He still waits expectantly.

And He waits for you too.  Do you see His outstretched arms? Do you see the expectant smile on His face? Do you hear those words of encouragement when you have fallen for what seems like the thousandth time? He’s there. He knows you can do it. Keep walking; he’s waiting for you. He’s waiting to wrap you in His arms and say, “Well done my child, well done.”

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14

Does Not Play Well With Others

When my boys were young there was a family we got together with on a regular basis. This family had young boys too and when our families were together they enjoyed playing with each other. All except one boy. It seemed strange, but when I would see this mother with just this particular boy, he would be well behaved and a pleasure to talk to. However, when he was together with his brother and several of my boys there was a transformation. He could not get along with any of them. He was constantly tattling and arguing and just being contrary. He was a perfect candidate for the label “does not play well with others.”

It’s sad, but I see this all the time in the adult world as well, and Christians are not exempt.  One of my boys works for a car dealership and he made a statement the other day that has made me think. He said it was disappointing to see how many of the rude, demanding and grouchy customers were the ones with Christian bumper stickers on their cars and their radios set to Christian radio stations.

We have no excuse to ever be contrary to anyone. If you check the scriptures there are four groups of people mentioned.

Our enemiesLuke 6:27 says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

Other believers. John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Neighbors. Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Strangers. Matthew 25:35 says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

We would have a difficult time finding a person who is not in one of these groups. In every case, we are to show love and kindness. We should never be in a situation where we’re the one wearing the tee shirt that says, “doesn’t play well with others.”

Be like Jesus to the people you encounter today.

What Could You Endure for Five Seconds?

Years ago I had a pastor ask me this question. “Will all this matter in eternity?” It was in response to an issue I was sharing with him that had me very frustrated at the time.  I must confess, his response sort of made me mad.

Of course it wouldn’t matter in eternity, but it mattered NOW. And since I was living NOW, it was NOW that I was concerned with.

Fast forward about 20 years and I find myself asking the same question of myself and my children at times. Today I can’t even remember what that conversation with my pastor was about, but his question stuck with me.

Jesus said that today has enough troubles of its own so we shouldn’t worry about the future. And sometimes anything beyond the next hour is too much to think about. We can get bogged down in the cares of life and forget that this life isn’t all there is.

If I ask you to submit to excruciating pain for five seconds with the understanding that you would NEVER experience pain again for the rest of your life would you do it? Most people would because they immediately understand that they are being offered an incredible gift.  No pain forever?  I would absolutely do that!

The reason we can see the benefit of this trade is that we project our vision out beyond the five seconds to see what we gain in the long run.  The bigger picture of being pain-free would be worth five seconds.

Maybe the reason I’ve learned this lesson as well as I have, (and I’m still learning it in some areas), is that I have seven sons and had to choose each time to look past the difficulty of the process, to the joy of holding that precious little bundle in my arms. If I hadn’t figured out how to project my vision to a place beyond the pain, I would have only had one child!

Now think about your life. Even if you live to be 100 your life is only a blip on eternity’s radar. You can’t even measure 100 years against forever and ever and ever…

What you may be dealing with today could be the most challenging thing you’ve faced in your life.  But could you ask yourself that question, “Will this matter in eternity?”  Yes, it matters now. Yes, you still have to deal with it. But you can choose to face it with the knowledge that it is temporary. It doesn’t have to defeat you.

I love the song that Hillsong United does called “Oceans.”  One part of the lyrics says,

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.”

God calls us to keep our eyes above the waves.  Some waves are bigger than others but if we keep our eyes above them we will see God and not fear being overwhelmed by a tidal wave.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 (ESV)

Believing is Seeing

Evidence. It’s what every fact, every decision, every conclusion is based on. Attorneys collect evidence to make their case before the judge and jury.  Doctors collect evidence before they make a diagnosis.

In many instances a photograph can be the proof that something happened. Maybe a picture of you shaking hands with a famous person is something you can pull out to prove that you actually met that person. It provides evidence.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what faith really is. Is it just blindly believing something because someone  told you it was true?  I don’t think so. I think its more than that. I think it requires you to trust the person telling you. I also think it requires a decision on your part to believe the evidence.

There are instances in our lives where we have the evidence right in front of us and still choose to deny what we are seeing. There are other times when the evidence is something we can’t see, but have to choose to believe anyway.

Remember the old polaroid cameras? You stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and someone took your picture.  Then you all stood huddled together waiting for the photo to appear.  What picture were you expecting? Would you have believed that the picture was one of you standing in front of Niagara Falls? Of course not. You KNEW where you were when the picture was taken and you absolutely knew what would soon develop right before your eyes.

Perhaps that’s how we should think about faith. Imagine for a moment, that issue you’ve been praying about. Imagine posing and having someone take a picture of what you believe God is going to do. Perhaps it’s of you reconciled with a loved one. Or maybe it’s you in the job you’ve been asking God for. It could be a family member who has been very ill looking the picture of health.

Hebrews 1:11 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Isn’t that what you were doing while you waited for that polaroid picture to develop? You were confident that the fully developed picture would be exactly what you expected it to be. Well, maybe not exactly. You might have hoped that your hair wouldn’t look THAT bad!

I believe God wants us to look with anticipation toward the things we have hoped for, just like we do with a photograph.  Perhaps it won’t develop in seconds as you watch. Maybe you remember when you had to send off your film and wait a week to find out if the pictures even developed.  God may make you wait. But He is as trustworthy at the end of the waiting whether it’s sixty seconds or twenty years, as He was at the beginning.

Today I challenge you to look in a fresh way at that issue you’ve been praying for. Take a spiritual snap shot of what you are believing God to do and then trust Him as that answered prayer develops.

Remember, seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing.

Brighter Days

IMG_1951These days, it takes a strong person to watch the news and remain hopeful. It’s a good thing that isn’t where our hope lies! With talk of global warming, pandemics, economic pressures, increasing crime rates, the chipping away of our liberties, not to mention the increased persecution of believers all over the world, it is easy to become discouraged.

We are tempted to ask, “what will life be like for our children and grandchildren if things are this bad now?” We can get so focused on the dark that is getting darker,  we can forget that our hope is in the Light of the World. He isn’t worried that the evil seems to be increasing around us. He already knows what we will face as a body of believers, as a nation and as individuals.

It seems that everyone I know is struggling with difficult circumstances. It may seem like these difficulties are increasing. Maybe they are. Maybe it truly is getting “darker.”

But if it is, we should really be glad. Yes, I said glad. Think for a moment about our first reaction when the power goes out. Maybe a storm knocks out the power late in the evening and everything in your house and neighborhood goes completely black. What is the first thing you do? Look for a flashlight, find the candles and matches. You search for a source of light to overcome the darkness.

That is what God desires in our world. As the darkness gets darker, people will search for the light. We can help them find it. We can rise above our own circumstances, become vessels of God’s light, and share it with those around us. We may be going through difficult times, but when others see our light shine in spite of our circumstances, they will be encouraged to find the source of that light for themselves.

Someday we won’t need to shine our light. Someday we will be in God’s presence where there is no darkness at all. But for now, when the news is bad, when hope seems elusive, you can be part of the answer. Just hold your candle higher.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.” Proverbs 4:18-19

Listen, Consider, Act

We’ve all been on the receiving end of unrequested advice. Our response says a lot about us. Here are 3 ways to respond to such advice.

One way is to be offended and react with a prideful, “I don’t need your help. I’ve got this.”  A second way to respond is to be so insecure that you take everyone’s advice and act on it immediately because surely they all know more than you.

Neither of those will be useful to you.  The third way to respond is to listen to what is being said with an open mind and heart, and then decide if it is the wise thing to do.

A while back I heard a talk by Andy Stanley called Ask It.  It was about learning to ask this question: “In light of my past experience, my current circumstances and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?”

If we would approach every decision and lifestyle choice with that question, we would make far fewer dumb decisions. Plain and simple. That one question would make us wiser instantly.

So what about all that advice we didn’t ask for?  If we can learn to ask the question, we can filter out what is good from all the rest.  And we should remember, most people in our lives give us advice because they care about us.  If we react with pride we will miss the blessing God may be trying to show us. And, if we act without wisdom, just following others advice blindly, we are being foolish.

So, the best method I’ve found is to listen, consider and then act.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” – Proverbs 12:15 (ESV

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety”– Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)

Take Action

I believe 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 are key verses in walking with the Lord.

Verse 9 says, As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.”

If I could serve the Lord with my whole heart and a willing mind what a difference it would make! If I could truly submit to His direction and not hold back, or try to reason myself out of being obedient… but I often choose my own way.

Then verse 10 says “Consider now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be courageous and act.” 

Solomon is told to be courageous and ACT. Don’t just sit there, Solomon—DO something! That’s the kind of encouragement I need sometimes. I need to just take a deep breath and act on what God has said without trying to think my way out of doing something that requires courage.

On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” – Psalm 138:3

This has become my prayer. Perhaps you can pray the same prayer today.

Lord, give me courage!

A Promise in the Pouring Rain

Pop-up showers. That’s what they call the drenching downpours that come out of nowhere during the rainy season in Florida.  You can be sitting at a stoplight and it can be raining on one side of the road and not on the other.

Recently, I had taken my husband to work and went to a park by the water. This has become a sort of mini retreat for me once a week.  It’s a great place to think. As it turns out, it’s also a great place to hear from God.

This time I sat on a bench watching across the bay as one of those pop-up storms formed in front of me.  I watched it gathering strength.  The wind began to blow and the water began to stir.  As I watched it move toward me, I could see that it was raining between me and the other shore that I faced.  Just to the right of the rain it was clear and sunny.   Just like life, I thought.  Sometimes you can see a storm approaching and you know you are in it’s path but you look around and see other people completely unaffected.  Not even getting sprinkled on—how is that even fair? 

Then, as I was thinking I should probably head toward shelter, I looked at the clouds in front of me and right in the middle of the darkest cloud was a splash of color. A hint of a rainbow.  As I continued to watch, I saw small patches of color elsewhere in the cloud. None of the patches seemed connected. They were just small spots in the middle of this cloud. 

God spoke to my heart just then.  Even though that storm was headed my way, even though the sun was shining on other people, God was still with me.  God painted a piece of a rainbow just for me.  It was a reminder that even when the storms come, there is the promise of something good right in the middle of all the struggles.

I quickly headed for shelter and the rain poured from the sky for a time.  And then… you know what happened?

The sun came out again.

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” Nahum 1:7 (ESV)

A Most Holy Hug

Are you a hugger? Some of us are, some not so much.  Some of us might actually feel like we are going though withdrawal if we don’t get our ration of hugs.  Others would rather visit the dentist than be hugged. 

In my family I have both extremes. I have one son who is not at all the hugging type. He’d rather I wave to him across the room than have to hug me. Don’t worry, I’ve gotten used to it. It’s who he is and I know he loves me… just “don’t touch me, mom!”

Another son is just the opposite. He never seems to get his hug tank filled up. When he was younger he would constantly need hugs when I was busy doing something else. I would try to meet his need for a hug but he knew it was half hearted, and sometimes only one-armed. A one-armed hug just didn’t fit the bill. He would step back and sigh, knowing I was distracted and hadn’t been totally engaged in this particular hug.  

After a while, he became frustrated that I wasn’t giving him my full attention. That’s when he came up with a title for the hug he wanted. He would come to me and ask for a FPAH .  What is an FPAH, you ask?  It stands for “full-pay-attention-hug.”  It requires my full attention and both arms. It also is understood that it must last for more than 5 seconds. This boy didn’t want to be gypped out of a real hug!

As I read the scriptures, I am reminded that God has a hug that fits this definition. As many times as I’ve read Psalm 139, I missed this for a long time. But right there it is, in verse 5.

“You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.”Psalm 139:5

That sounds like a holy hug to me. God the Father, wrapping his strong arms around me, holding me against his chest and laying his hand upon my head. I’ll take a hug like that any day!

Those of us who are huggers have had a particularly difficult time during this past year. It’s hard to hug and maintain social distance of 6 feet!  You may be feeling like my son, and need extra hugs. When you get discouraged, remember that God is your Heavenly Father and go to him for a FPAH. He never runs out of hugs.

The Third Watch

Courtesy Flickr - hosullivanIn the scriptures, there are references to the third watch. Most scholars believe this is the time between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. The time most of us are asleep. That is unless we happen to be wide awake. Sometimes sleep is elusive.

I used to have trouble sleeping. I’d wake in the night and the silence in my usually noisy household would be overwhelming. As I lay there trying to do all the things that are supposed to help sleep ( I never actually resorted to counting sheep) I would become more and more anxious and the quiet would become heavier and heavier. I’d think of all sorts of things that only increased the anxiety.

And if I had one long sleepless night, I would find myself dreading the next night. What if it’s the same? What if I am awake again for hours, all alone? The more I would dread it the more likely it was to happen again.

I tried reading, I tried watching a movie, I tried writing. Those things were all fine activities, that I should have been doing in the daytime, not when the rest of the household was in pleasant slumber while I counted the minutes until sunrise. And none of those things helped me sleep.

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I went to God’s Word. I laid my anxiety before Him and asked him for wisdom and for peace.

Here is what He gave me.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.Proverbs 3:24

Do I still have sleepless nights sometimes? Yes. But now I know that if I am awake, God knows it. He has promised me sweet sleep so eventually I will sleep. In the meantime, I read my Bible and thank the Lord for His promises. I also pray for others who might be awake and anxious as I used to be. Now I believe that if I am awake, I might as well put that time to good use. I use it to pray not only for those who might also have anxious nights but also for anyone God brings to mind. I am not distracted in those moments and I can pray with purpose.

If you are troubled by sleeplessness, spend some time meditating on the verses above. Maybe even commit them to memory. And join me in praying for others who sometimes struggle in the third watch.