Meditations of my Heart

Friday, August 26, 2016

Slip-Sliding Away


Psalm 94:18
When I said, "My foot is slipping," your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.

When the phone call comes, I feel myself slip-sliding away.  I'm caught off balance.  And in the shock of it all, I'm amazed at how God, in His unfailing love, allows me to think clearly when the fog of confusion rolls in, deep and dark and treacherous.

I, with my family's complete support, am able to meet this immediate need of our loved one, who has unexpectedly found himself in dire straits.  The rug has been yanked out from under him.  His feet have slipped.

He's lost his compass, and is in need of ours.

It's there.

There because of God's unfailing love.

The scenario, which plays out, as surrealistic and upending as it seems, is paradoxically an answer to months of prayer for this individual.  God did not act in a way I could ever have anticipated.  That's often His way.

And as we deal with the disruption in schedules and routines, riding the unpredictable emotional roller coaster, my prayers continue.  I need the Lord now more than ever.

He knows that, and invites me call upon Him, to lean into Him when I catch my focus and resolve slipping; my faith faltering.

Because I can only help this person whom I love when I understand God's unfailing love for him, for me, for all of us.  That love, the only love, that can support, uplift, save, and inspire us.

Yes, I'm leaning on God.

Leaning hard.

Because I know my feet, firmly planted in Him, will never lose their footing.

~
How had God's unfailing love supported you in times of trouble?

Prayer:  Father, today we thank You for answered prayers, even when those prayers fulfilled call for more prayers from our hearts.  We need You and Your unfailing love in our lives every day, that we might do Your will and serve others who are in need of comfort and hope.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Devil in Disguise


Psalm 119:10
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.

I am so grateful to God that He has graced me with an even-keeled temperament most of the time.  When life's punches come at me, more than likely, I will duck and roll with them, desiring to placate a situation instead of fueling the fire.  But Lord, forgive me!  When it comes to being behind the wheel of my car, I'm the devil in disguise!

Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not the one who incites road rage of any kind, but if someone in another vehicle pulls an inane or dangerous stunt, my first reaction is one that in no way mark me as a child of God.

So naturally, I am drawn to this passage in Chapter Nine of Jerry Bridges' book, The Discipline of Grace, where the author describes being frustrated by living in a tourist town, and exasperated by these visitors' lack of familiarity with it when he is in a hurry to get to work, at a Christian organization, no less:  "If I would be ashamed to have a tourist identify my impatient driving with a Christian, how much more should I be ashamed before God.  After all, He is the one I have committed myself to, to seek to please in all my thoughts and words and actions.  So our commitment to pursue holiness must embrace every area of life and must include both the significant and seemingly insignificant things we do."

Oops!  If we are committed to following the Lord and His commandments, are we setting that same example for all those who observe us in our daily lives?  Or are we negligently content to allow that devil-in-disguise persona to rear its ugly head?

Bridges offers more welcome advice as to how we can overcome weak spots in our lives that could lead to others not seeing us as Christ-followers:  "In addition to an overall commitment to pursue holiness in every area of life, I find it helpful to make specific commitments in areas where we are particularly vulnerable or prone to sin."

Specific commitments . . . Mine?  Here is the decal I've placed as a bold reminder on the rear window of my car.



Talk about a wake-up call!  You better believe displaying this Christian statement grabs my reins before that wanton, intemperate horse can even think of escaping its stall.

Some days, behind the wheel, are harder than others.  But as the psalmist declares above:  I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

Haven't we all, as Christians, vowed to follow Christ, to be His hands and feet in this world, to set an example of the love and grace found only in Him?

I know we have.

Is it ever easy?  No!  But it is, with God's help, ever possible.

~

In what area(s) do you need specific reminders to keep the commitments you have made to God?

Prayer:  Father, we thank You for Your help when it comes to keeping our oaths and commitments to You.  We will fall and we will fail, but we can rest assured that You will correct our steps and keep us on the paths of righteousness when we confess our sins and ask, with penitent hearts, for Your forgiveness.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Friday, August 19, 2016

This Old Stove



Isaiah 1:18
"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

Danny and I have been married for eleven years.  In that time, we have replaced all major appliances - refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, dryer - except one:  our stove.

It is over twenty years old, but still going strong.  And even though it's white finish stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding stainless steel of the fridge and dishwasher, we cannot rationalize the purchase of another one "just to match."

I find it hard to believe that with all the use our stove gets from Chef Danny, it has yet to give up the ghost.  And I do my best to keep in clean and shiny in between cooking sprees.  Her is what the poor stove looked like several nights ago after Danny got through with it.




I use 409 to loosen the grease and grime before sponging it off.


And sometimes, if a stain is really tough, I resort to the tried and true Brillo pad.


But no matter how intently I scrub, twenty years have left indelible scratches and nicks on the otherwise smooth surface.  From a distance, no one would ever notice.  Yet, we know all too well that they are there.

Just maybe, some of us, as Christians, are like the old white stove.  We have scars and remnants of past sins we don't want anyone to see.  So we hold others at arm's length, hoping they won't perceive our true selves, and bravely put on a clean and shiny facade when we sit in church on Sunday.

If we do that, we are deluding ourselves.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 2:23).  That means everyone, in the church, in the workplace, in the nation, in the world.

Everyone!

But the Lord our God settled the matter when He sent Christ Jesus to be the atonement for our sins.  Washed in our Savior's crimson, sacrificial blood, we are made as white as snow, without blemish or fault, seen by God not as a sinner, but as His beloved and redeemed child.

I may not be able to erase all those stains and flaws that mar the surface of this old white stove, but I don't need to allow them to remind me of my own imperfections.

Mine have been covered.

So are yours.

Alleluia and amen!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"I Can Do It Myself, Gammie!" Revisited


Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

I have altered this post, which was originally featured here on January 19th of this year, because it so aptly fit Chapter Eight in Jerry Bridges' book, The Discipline of Grace.  If you've read the post before, please bear with me, and see for yourself how the lessons resonate.

My husband, Danny, and I have our granddaughter, Virginia Rose, over to spend a Friday night with us.  We wanted to have her in the worst way over the Christmas holidays, but because everyone in her household was sick, we couldn't risk it.  So it's been a while since we've spent any one-on-one time with our little angel, and we are looking forward to every minute together.

The biggest change I observe in Virginia is her self-assured demeanor.  It's not that she hasn't displayed confidence in the past; she is always willing to try new things, but now she firmly verbalizes her self-reliance.

"I can do it myself, Gammie."

I hear that phrase time and time again, whether it's breaking eggs into the cookie mixture, stirring in the M&Ms, placing teaspoons of dough on the baking sheets, lugging a board game upstairs from its storage place in the downstairs closet, readying the game for a round of fun, or changing into pajamas, the mantra repeats.

"I can do it myself, Gammie."

But where Virginia's declared confidence truly shines is when she insists she can clean up after having her way with flour play on the kitchen counter.  This Gammie is skeptical (and, yes, I do help some), but I'm amazed at how much she is able to accomplish without a smidgen of help from me.



















Not bad for a five-year-old!

While I understand how important it is for children to develop their abilities and skills, the "do-it-myself" mentality can become an obstacle, a stumbling block, to their spiritual and emotional growth down life's road.  Children must also learn that asking for help when the task before them is daunting is not a sign of weakness or shame.  It is life-giving.

In Chapter Eight of The Discipline of Grace, author, Jerry Bridges, writes:  "If we are to make any progress in the pursuit of holiness, we must assume our responsibility to discipline and train ourselves.  But we are to do all this in the total dependence on the Holy Spirit to work in us and strengthen us with the strength that is in Christ."

Virginia, observing and then following the actions taught her, is learning to discipline and train herself.  But the challenge remains for her parents and grandparents to show her the path that leads to holiness.  The path that leads to dependence upon the Holy Spirit, the One who inspires and enables her to have the strength and determination to complete the work to which God has called her.

Life-long, life-giving dependence.

The best kind there is.

Amen.

~



For the next five weeks, I will be participating in a study of Jerry Bridges' The Discipline of Grace.  It is facilitated by fellow Christian bloggers, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, who invite you to read the book along with us.  Join me here next Wednesday for a new reflection.  God bless!

Friday, August 12, 2016

New Every Morning


Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

I'm not a morning person.

Don't get me wrong.  I love getting up in the morning, especially when everyone else is still sleeping.  It's so quiet and peaceful on our deck, with only the soothing sound of melodious bird song.  That's where I sit with my first cup of coffee, weather permitting.

But I'm not a morning person.

My head stays cloudy, fuzzy, until I'm draining my second cup.  I can peruse emails and check who has a birthday on Facebook, but half the time, with a few exceptions, I don't recall a thing I've read.  Whose birthday was it again today?  Did I remember to tweet that excellent blog?

And I won't, I can't, listen to any music or video before ten o'clock.  Period!

Do I talk with God?  Yes, but these are hazy bits and pieces of prayer.  Usually, the only things I'm lucid enough to verbalize are prayers of thanksgiving.  That's good, I suppose.  But it's only later in the day when I can pray in earnest, read scripture, and feel fully awake to His presence.

I'm not a morning person.

The irony in this is that I've thought of myself as a morning person for most of my life.  Maybe that is due to how early I had to rise in order to get my kids to school and me to work.  I had to jump start.  I had to rush (I despise rushing).  I had to push, push, push my reluctant self.

When I leave teaching, everything begins to shift.  I become more aware of my natural body rhythms when I begin blogging, and later, embarking on what would become the three novels in my Adventures in The Glade series.  What I discover is that my mornings are better suited to mundane tasks, like the gym and errands, whereas my afternoons, ideally between one and four o'clock, are my peak writing hours.

My mind is sharp, awake and aware.  My creative juices flow like torrent.

I am in my element!

So it should come as no surprise that today's blog takes shape in those afternoon hours so ideal for me.

No, I'm not a morning person.

But I am glad and grateful for each new morning the Lord gives me, and for His unfailing compassion and faithfulness.

~

Are you an early bird, an afternoon achiever, or a night owl?

Prayer:  Father, we thank You for Your great love for us and Your compassions that never fail.  No matter what time of the day or night it is, let us ever give thanks for the mercy and grace You show us each and every day.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I Love You, Mrs. Orlando!


John 14:21
"Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

When I teach seventh grade, I set high expectations for my students, both in the academic and behavioral arenas.  I know there will always be some children who never meet either one, but every day, I'm determined to try my best by encouraging them individually, and letting them know I genuinely care for each one of them.

The students, by and large, strive to achieve excellence.  But there are always the exceptions:  Those children, who no matter what effort is made on my part, refuse to stay the course.  In fact, they seem to reap an unhealthy satisfaction in making life difficult for their teachers.

One young man, in particular, floats to the surface of my memories; we'll call him "Max."  Max never walks into the classroom, he bounces in, chattering and jostling his fellow students.  Finding his seat is a daily challenge.  Focusing on the topic at hand is never high on his priority list.  Entertaining his classmates with silly faces, and turning around to talk to the person behind him?  That's Max's M.O.!

Needless to say, Max demands much of my attention, which detracts from the moments I could be interacting with my other students.  I must admit, there are times I find myself wishing Max would miss a day of school.

He never does . . .

One day, when it seems as though I've visited Max's desk for the umpteenth time to quietly correct him, he devises a new tactic.  As I'm moving down the row to help another student, Max calls out, "I love you, Mrs. Orlando!"  Of course, the entire class dissolves into hilarity, and it takes everything I have inside me to settle them down in the calmest way I can muster.

The dismissal bell rings.  "Max!"  I say sternly as he scrambles for the door.  "Come here a minute, please."

Reluctantly, Max approaches my desk.  I detect a slight flush rising on his cheeks.  Could he actually be feeling embarrassed, or is he fearful I will be calling his parents tonight?  "What is it, Mrs. Orlando?"  Max asks.  There is definitely a quaver of uncertainty in his voice.

"It's about what you blurted out in class today," I tell him.  "Calling out 'I love you, Mrs. Orlando' right after I had refocused you on your work, and disrupting the entire class.  That is inappropriate and unacceptable."

"But I do love you, Mrs. Orlando!"  Max adamantly insists.

"Look at me," I say, locking my gaze on his.  "Max, if you really loved me, you would obey me."

~

In Chapter Seven of his book, The Discipline of Grace, author, Larry Bridges, states:  "If we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and if obedience is a major part of such love, then it follows that we are to obey Him with all our heart and soul and mind.  We are to put everything we have into obedience to Him."

Are we, then, as professing Christians, merely giving God lip-service when we declare our love for Him, or are we submitting all that we have and are to Him in complete obedience to His will?  Are we, like Max, declaring one thing, yet doing another that in no way reflects true love for the Lord?

May we all pause today, and reflect intently upon where we stand on the obedience scale when it comes to Jesus' commandments.

Amen.




For the next six weeks, I am participating in a study of Jerry Bridges' The Discipline of Grace.  It is led by fellow Christian bloggers, Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, who invite you to read the book along with us.  Tune in next Wednesday when I will be writing a reflection on Chapter Eight.
God bless!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Whatever! (Part 2)


Crossroads; L-R:  Zac, electric guitar; Mark, drums; me, vocals and percussion; Danny, lead vocals and guitar; Rob, bass

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.

If you have followed Meditations of My Heart for a time now, you may recall that my word for the year is "whatever."  Yes, I know how flippant that sounds, but taken in the context of Paul's words quoted above, it has developed rich dimensions for me as the year has progressed.  You can read my original "Whatever!" post here.

When our praise band, Crossroads, gathers together in the choir room to rehearse before church one Sunday in January, Danny makes a random comment, which I can't recall at the moment, and Mark, our drummer, responds good-naturedly, "Whatever!"  Of course, we all laugh, even Danny, and I take that opportunity to share with the band why that is my word of the year.

"Whatever" becomes, at that moment, not just my word, but the buzzword for the entire group.  Though we still us it jokingly during Sunday morning rehearsals, we are cognizant of its deeper meaning:  "Whatever" happens, God has our backs.  He will see us through.

Recently, Danny and I are faced with a tough decision regarding the future of Crossroads.  Our mothers are getting up in years, and Danny's mom's health is declining.  Weekends are the only time we can visit either one of them.  With Sundays being taken up week after week with leading contemporary worship, this places constraints upon our flexibility.

We determine that it's time to leave.

After thirteen years of service to the church, this is a heart-wrenching decision for Danny, but he knows it's the right one to make.  The loss grieves us; there has been nothing more satisfying in our marriage than these precious times when we've had the honor to worship God together through the gifts of music He has so graciously given us.

As I ramble through my first churchless Sunday in I can't remember when, my heart is heavy and tears well unbidden.  Yet God, in His infinite mercy, brings to mind the words spoken by Maria (Julie Andrews) in The Sound of Music:  When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.

Danny and I have yet to see the window, but we know by faith it is there and waiting.

Just around the next bend in the road.  Or maybe, after the next hundred bends and twists and turns.

Whatever!

God has our backs.

He will see us through.

Always!


~

When and where has God closed a door in your life, but opened a window?

Prayer:  Father, in faith we come before You today, submitting in obedience to Your will.  Whatever may happen, Lord, we know we are Your children for whom You care immeasurably.  May our hearts and minds be focused on all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable in Your sight that we might shine Your love into all the world.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.