The Orchestra Pit

An orchestra must work together to produce beautiful music. Each member must be willing to lay aside his own agenda, his personal distractions and preferences and give his full attention to the conductor. When the conductor steps up to the podium all eyes are on him. As he steps up, each member comes to attention. As he raises his baton the musicians lift their instrument into place. They are literally on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the conductor’s next move.

It isn’t difficult to see the parallels between this picture and our walk with the Lord. We are to be as tuned into God’s next move as the musicians.

To carry this word picture a bit further…

It isn’t enough to just have the music in front of you. You could know each note, each rest and each musical instruction on the page and still not be able to properly play the selection. What if you had your music on your music stand but turned your chair and no longer faced the conductor? While you might play every note correctly, you would still lack something very important. The conductor sets the tempo; He is in control of the timing. Just playing the notes doesn’t make you a part of what’s going on around you.

Now suppose you have the music memorized. You take your seat, prepare your instrument and sit quietly while the house lights go out. The conductor steps up to the podium but you don’t know it because the room is in complete darkness. The musicians begin to turn on the lights on their music stands and finally the conductor does the same. Now in the dim light you can see him. As your eyes adjust you can easily see his baton lift and you are ready when he signals the beginning of the piece. If suddenly your light didn’t work, you might still be able to perfectly execute the piece because it is in your memory. The music is in your heart.  All you need is the confident leading of the Master Musician and the rest is…beautiful music.

The Masks We Wear

The Masks We Wear

If we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that we all wear masks at times. Even our closest friends only see what we want them to see. We hide our true selves for many reasons, but the root is usually fear of what others might think if they knew who we really were.  The risk of rejection is just too great so…we hide.

I wish that was as far as it went but I don’t think it is. At times, I find myself even trying to hide from God behind one mask or another.  I’m not alone in this….Eve actually did it first…hiding from God in the garden. Of course, she hadn’t read Psalm 139 so maybe she didn’t know that God was intimately acquainted with all her ways, or knew her words before she said them.

Once, many years ago, I was required to participate in a children’s costume party. My costume included a mask and when I was dressed in the complete outfit no one could possibly guess it was me inside. I found a certain freedom to act in any way I wanted since no one knew it was me and wouldn’t judge me for anything I did.  But it was an artificial freedom. Because I wasn’t perceived by the children as “real” they interacted with me from a distance, unwilling to get too close . They instinctively knew that what they were seeing wasn’t the whole picture. I felt freedom to act as I chose but I also experienced a sense of isolation. Several of the other adults knew who I was inside my costume and were the ones who would draw closer and interact on a more intimate basis.

Isn’t that how it is in life? Don’t we avoid people who seem “phony”, keeping our distance? Don’t we feel more comfortable with people who have earned our trust by being real?  How effective can we be in ministry if we can’t be real?  Who will allow themselves to risk a relationship with us if they sense we aren’t what we seem?

One final thought…who knows what’s inside the masks we wear in our daily lives better than the Lord? Who is more willing than anyone to draw close to us? Who has seen everything there is to see in us and still loves us? Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill the heavens and the earth? declares the Lord.

We don’t need to pretend to be something we’re not. We can be real with God. He knows all about us and loves us anyway.

What is Joy?

What is Joy?

Webster’s dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires…and the expression or exhibition of such emotion.”  Well-being is defined as “happy, healthy and prosperous.”

My first response to those definitions is that if you feel joy then it should show!  As I look more closely at those words, I find that what the world would call joy is covered well in the first part  – well-being,success and good fortune. Most people would agree that those are all good reasons to rejoice. But what if your life hasn’t been filled with good health, good fortune or success and prosperity? Is this reason to despair? Not for a minute! For believers, the rest of the definition is where we find our hope as well as our joy. “The prospect of possessing what I desire”…. eternity with Christ!  No matter what life looks like today, we still have reason to be filled with joy.

Many years ago I knew a man who, for me, was the personification of joy. John was no more than about 5’5” and wore glasses thicker that pop bottles. What little hair he had left was white. He was severely diabetic and also wore a colostomy bag. Yet every time you saw him he had a smile on his face and a story to tell about the goodness of God. The man dancing in the aisles each Sunday morning during worship?  That was John.  He wasn’t healthy or wealthy but he was wise. He knew the source of his joy – that he would possess what he most desired – eternity with his Lord and Savior.  Toward the end of his life, John lost his dancing legs to complications of his diabetes and yet on the day he went home to his Savior he was still singing songs of joy.

Psalm 118:4 “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

How will you express your joy today?

Being Invisible

Being Invisible

Last week I wrote in my journal, “Sometimes I feel invisible.”

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing has any real significance – does any of it matter to anyone? If I were to just disappear would anyone even notice?  Or am I already so invisible that it wouldn’t be evident to anyone at all?

Last week when I wrote in my journal, I had been experiencing an exceptionally challenging week. I’d known ahead of time that it would be difficult and I’d need God’s grace and strength to make it through. The circumstances were out of my control but my response to them wasn’t. I started with a good attitude, acknowledging my need for God’s direction. But as the week went on and I began to get tired, I also began to lose my perspective. By the time I wrote that I was feeling invisible, I’d allowed my focus to shift to myself.  Then, as He does so faithfully, God intervened. The method he often uses with me is the written word. His, as well as others that He has inspired to write.

This time He used John 3:30.  John the Baptist is speaking about his ministry when he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease”  The Lord also used a tiny little ninety page book by Nicole Johnson called The Invisible Woman, When Only God Sees.  In this little book the author talks about the building of the great cathedrals in the 1400’s.  Some of these magnificent structures took more than a hundred years to complete. Dedicated craftsmen spent their entire lives working on a project that they wouldn’t live to see completed.

The cathedrals are breathtaking to behold. But what’s even more amazing is to consider the thousands of skilled artisans whose names will never be known and who received no credit for their work even though they faithfully gave their talents for a lifetime. And the ultimate gift they offered? Some of them labored over miniature intricate carvings and then hid them behind walls…where they were intended for the eyes of God alone.

The question I find myself asking is – how willing am I to faithfully complete the tasks the Lord has given me? Am I willing to be invisible on purpose instead of whining about how unappreciated I can feel when no one seems to notice me or what I am doing?

My prayer today is, “Lord make me invisible so others may see You more clearly!”

Are you a starter or a finisher?

Are You a Starter or a Finisher?

There are three possible answers to this question.

A starter is someone who sees the vision from the very beginning and jumps in with both feet. Enthusiasm may run high…for a while.  Eventually the momentum slows down and then interest begins to wane. Maybe the task has become too challenging or maybe it has become tedious and …boring. Either way, it can be an easy thing to justify quitting.

Hebrews 10:35-36 says to the Starter:

“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

A finisher is someone who sees the vision – see what the end result could be, but also sees all the obstacles that need to be dealt with in order to reach the goal. Hesitation to take the first step has the potential to cause years of procrastination.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says to the Finisher:

“He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.”

God wants us to be something more. He calls us to be overcomers. We can overcome our excuses and our obstacles. We can persevere through the challenges and even our own boredom.  If we can say with Paul, that our desire is to finish the task God has given us, we will indeed be the victors!

Acts 20:24 – “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

Is God Good?

“Is God Good?” That is what we call a rhetorical question…like “do birds fly?” Our response is instant. “Of course birds fly.”

Is God good? Our affirmative response comes just as quickly. But the real question is – do we believe it in every instance? Do we believe Psalm 119:68 ? “You are good and do good.” Period.

I think we are quick to say we believe that God is good and we’d like to believe that everything He does is good. The problem is that life is full of circumstances which, from our limited perspective, don’t look so good. Our question to  ourselves during those times becomes “Is God still good?” His Word has already told us that He is. All the time. In every circumstance. Our lousy circumstances don’t turn God into a lousy father. Our Heavenly Father turns our lousy circumstances into good!

No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we must resist the temptation to evaluate God in light of our trials. He doesn’t change. He is always good and everything He does is good. He can’t go against His own character. We need to adjust our perception.

Four of my seven sons are color blind. When they look at an object they don’t see what I see. When they look at a cardinal in the pine trees in our backyard and the bird blends in with the branches because they can’t distinguish red from green they can make a false assumption that what they see is correct. However, if I tell them the bird is red and the tree is green – highly contrasting colors to a normal eye, they have two choices. They must either believe me even though their perception is different, or argue that their point of view is correct. But whether they see red or not doesn’t change the facts.

We do the same thing every time we doubt that our circumstances can be used for our good. I would never lie to my children and toy with their color deficiency – pretending to see colors that they cannot see. God would never lie to us. He would never tell us something that looks bad to us is really good – unless it’s the truth.

Our problem is that we look at our circumstances the same way my sons look at the bird and assume our perception is the correct one. We need to take our eyes off the circumstances and focus on what we know to be true.

Is God good? Take a good honest look at your circumstances for a moment and then lift your eyes to the heavens, above your circumstances, and gaze into the face of your Heavenly Father and ask the question again. “Is God good?” God’s response to your heart’s cry will be a  resounding “YES!”

The Wave

On Sunday morning while in worship at my church I was given a glimpse of what worship might look like to God. We stand in our churches week after week, participating in corporate worship often without giving thought to the fact that believers all around the world are doing so, as well. Now I know Sunday morning isn’t the only time believers worship, but for the sake of illustration, imagine with me for a moment.  Picture the earth as it turns, gradually bringing daylight to each part of the earth, a perpetual sunrise. Now imagine that believers all around the world arise and head to their chosen place of worship.  Picture the gradual passing of time bringing each congregation into an attitude of worship and praise.

Do you see it?  Have you ever witnessed the “wave” at a sporting event where all those in the stadium participate, raising their hands in succession all around the stadium in one fluid motion?  Could it be one way God sees our worship?  As one perpetual “wave” of praise going around the world?  And not just on Sundays but every day that we choose to rise and offer praise to God as we start our day.

Hebrews 13:15 says,  “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.”

You may be part of a large church or you may be just standing in your living room on a Monday morning, but no matter where you are, you always have the opportunity to be a part of a worldwide “wave of praise” being continually offered to God.

Choose to be part of the wave!

Funnel or Storage Unit?

Today I begin a new season in my life. I believe the Lord has been speaking very clearly to me about what is to be the theme of this season. He began with this simple question “Are you a funnel or a storage unit?”

I believe this is a question all of us would do well to consider. It’s a pretty simple process to make the connection between this word picture and our spiritual walk. We have all been given many gifts, blessings and talents that God intended us to use to further His kingdom. What we do with those things answers the question.

I believe that my honest answer for too many years is that I have been a storage unit. God has given me a desire to write and for the past 20 years I have been storing everything. I have notebooks full of writing that I have kept to myself.

Recently God has been showing me that it’s time to unlock my storage unit and become a funnel instead. He has much to say and He desires me to be a willing vessel – a funnel through which He can speak.

The motivating factor for my past behavior has been fear. Now I must come face to face with it and decide if it’s worth the risk to allow the things the Lord has spoken to me to be used to encourage someone besides myself.  Today I begin to share and to pray fervently that those who read my words will be encouraged and challenged to search their own hearts to find the answer to the question for themselves.

May I be so bold to ask…are you a funnel or a storage unit?

A New Direction

When I began this website a few years ago my primary purpose was to provide a resource for homeschooling families. While I still have a desire to support homeschoolers any way I can, I have seen my focus gradually shifting in a different direction over the past few months. I will be changing my website to reflect this new direction. As of January 2011 I will be launching a weekly devotion to be sent to subscribers by email. There is a link on the top of this page (“Sheryl’s Devotions“) where you can sign up to receive this email.

For several years I have been working on a variety of writing projects. I have quite a few ideas for books and one work of fiction in the editing stages in preparation to submit to publishers.  I also have a large collection of short devotional pieces that will become the content of the weekly emails. My hope is that the Lord will use these essays to encourage and perhaps even inspire others as they have inspired me.

The layout of my website will be changing but I hope to maintain the previous content as a resource for homeschoolers on a separate page. As this redesign takes place, please feel free to offer suggestions that might make navigating the site easier.

I’m looking forward to seeing what God will do in this new season of life. I invite you to join me and would appreciate your prayers as well!

Blessings,

Sheryl

Firsts and Lasts

I think anyone who has been a parent has shared the feeling of excitement that comes when your child does a “first.”  By that I mean, the first time you watch your child gain a victory over some skill or do something by themselves.  We applaud wildly when our little ones take their first steps or say their first words. When they are older, it’s other things that bring that joy, like reading by themselves or riding a two-wheeler for the first time.  We all spend those childhood years cheering our children on from one accomplishment to the next.

But there is a different perspective that I wish I was more conscious of and that’s the “lasts.”  So many times we have no warning that something will be done for the last time and we wish we’d known so we could take a moment and savor the experience one last time.  Things would take on a different meaning if you knew that it would be the last time.  I remember how many years I was awakened in the night to nurse a baby and how I would sometimes wish that season would end. But if I had known which time would be the last time, I think I would have taken a moment to acknowledge the experience as one that often brought a sense of peace and a pause that sort of said “all is right with the world.” There was just something about that middle of the night experience that I now look back on and treasure. As that time passed I told myself with some relief, that the little fellow was finally sleeping through the night.  But after experiencing it with seven babies, I wish I’d known which time would really be the last, because now I know that I would have looked at it differently.

Most times we are just living life, focusing on what comes next and we aren’t at all conscious of the passing of time. We probably miss a lot of lasts and never even notice. But last night I had an experience that reminded me that the lasts are important and I would do well to notice them. My youngest son has been involved in a program called Royal Rangers. It’s similar to Boy Scouts but since it is part of the Assemblies of God Church program, it has a strong Biblical focus. Last night Alex’s group had their Council of Achievement where they are presented with the merit badges they have earned during the previous quarter. Alex had worked very hard for several months and earned several merits as well as an impressive number of rank advancements.  I was so proud of him and at the same time, I became painfully aware that he was the last of the boys to have this opportunity and indeed, he was quickly moving forward and would move on to a new season as the others had.  He is really looking forward to moving on to youth group and likely won’t be in Royal Rangers next year so he  only has one more quarter to work on badges and stand proudly before the audience to receive his awards.

You might say that focusing on the “lasts” just brings sadness and you are right, it does, but it also brings an opportunity to stop and savor moments that you would otherwise totally miss because of the pace of life. We move through life so fast that we are sort of on automatic-pilot, switching to the next season without thinking about what was gained in the previous one. We do have certain times where we have learned to take notice  like school graduations and marriage, when we recognize that our children will be forever changed, never to return to their former lives.  When those things happen we greet them with feelings that are bittersweet. We wouldn’t take those moments away from our children, but at the same time we grieve a little for what is passing.  But this is what parenting is, isn’t it?  A holding on and letting go, over and over.

I would like to suggest that there are many more subtle moments in life when our children are ready to move on to a new season and if we were aware, we would  have some wonderful moments where we experience joy in the passing.  Yes, it will be  bittersweet  and some tears are likely to be shed, but they will be tears of joy as we see what has been done in that child’s life to get him to this new season.  Firsts are great, but  lasts are  necessary stepping stones and are perhaps worth the pause required to acknowledge them.

Of course it’s easier to notice the lasts for the youngest child because there are no more to follow but the lasts in the lives of the older ones are worth acknowledging too. I am praying that God will help me slow down and take more notice of the lasts that I may be thankful for each one and appreciate more what comes next.