Friday, September 28, 2012

"You Will Keep the Fires Burning . . ."

Exodus 3:1-3
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.  Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.  So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up."

In her Sunday sermon, Pastor Emily throws down the gauntlet.

"What is God calling you to do?  What passion is He asking you to follow with all your heart, your mind, your strength?  Are you turning to look at God's burning bush?  Or, are you turning away?"

Emily recounts a time in her early twenties, fresh from college, when she and two of her close friends attend a small Methodist church in their community.  It belongs to a co-op of sorts with four other tiny churches.  Once a month, all the congregations gather in one place for worship, praise, and fellowship.

At one of these gatherings, Emily's pastor delivers a sermon about reaching out to young people for Christ.  The message hits her like a bolt of lightning.  She has an idea . . .

"Pastor Frank," she tells him at the dinner following the service, "I have a fantastic idea!  Why don't we combine the youth from the five churches and start a youth group?"

Pastor Frank is thoughtful for a moment.  "That sounds good to me.  When are you going to start it up?"

"Who, me?  Oh, no, no, no, not me!  You have the wrong person.  I know there's someone better out there to do the job."

Pastor Frank smiles at Emily.  "I don't think you understand, my dear.  When are you going to do this?"

Even though she doubts she has the time or the ability to lead a youth group, Emily accepts this challenge.  It makes all the difference in her life and in the lives of the young people she mentors.

"What I discover is this," Emily tells us.  "God can take the passion you didn't even know you had, and your pastors, your friends, your family can throw the gasoline of encouragement on your burning bush.  Don't think you have the time?  Don't think you have the capability?  Think again!

"If you're following the passion God has for you, He will give you the flame and the materials to accomplish it.  He'll give you what you need to stoke the fire.  You can be that burning bush setting the world ablaze with God's love.

"Are you, like Moses, willing to accept God's mission for you?  Or, are you looking the other way?

"If you follow the passion God has for you, you will burn brightly.  God will keep your fire burning.  And, you will never be consumed."
Are you "on fire" for the Lord?

Will you pray with me?

We know, Father, that You will keep our fires burning when we follow Your call to us.  May we accept Your challenges with passion.  May we set the world aflame with Your great love.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"It's Been a Long, Long Time Coming, but I Know a Change Gonna Come . . ."

Psalm 90:4
A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

This past Friday, I send my signed and notarized book contract for Book One of  The Glade to my publisher.  Not without praying over it first.  Wishing it Godspeed.  And, thanking the Lord for this amazing, incredible opportunity.

One which has been a long time coming . . .

I begin writing my novel in the summer of 2007.  An inexplicable do-or-die, now-or-never urge possesses me.  I accomplish enough and am pleased with the story's direction by the time school starts up again.  Too busy and distracted by teaching, I reluctantly shelve my book until the following summer.

It takes two more summers to complete.  And, the most awe-inspiring part of the whole process?  I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God, through His Holy Spirit, sits right beside me as I type each word.  Because, as odd as this may sound, I don't write the novel.

Through the Spirit, it writes itself.  I am but the conduit.

And, with a deep conviction in my soul, I know it's good.  It is worthy.  Yet, every agent I seek out is not interested in representing it.  No publisher takes the bait.

Rejections take their toll . . .

"Lord, I don't understand . . . You sat with me every single day I wrote.  Don't You want others to read The Glade?  How long, O Lord, how long?"

I read an article about the importance of writers building a platform.  I decide to begin blogging.  But, I have no schedule.  No direction.  Not really sure of what I'm doing.  Almost losing sight of why . . .

It is the month of May, 2011.  Sipping my morning coffee on our deck, I hear Him . . . Write a daily devotion.

"Me?  Really???  What about my book, Lord?"

Write a daily devotion.

A voice too clear, too insistent, not to obey.  And, I write daily devotions for an entire year.  All the while, growing an audience, gaining new and encouraging friends, and, most importantly, getting to know my God more intimately through His inspiring, comforting, revealing Word.

And, as the days and weeks and months roll by, I begin to see.  I begin to trust.  And, I realize . . .

God's timing is everything.

Because, He knows I have reached the conclusion that this book is not the end all and be all.  Nor the who I am in His eyes.  I'm finally understanding.  It takes time for all the manifold pieces to come together.  The way God desires His plan to unfold.

His plan . . . not mine.  His time . . . not mine.

And, just when I (note the "I") think He must want me to self-publish, He intervenes.  Quickly and decisively.  Out of the blue, three prospective publishers appear on my plate.

I query all three.  One responds.  Accepts.

Miraculously, with only a novel synopsis and the link to my blog.

The blog the Lord required of me.

All those days of waiting dissipate, dissolve like morning mist before rising sun.  This is the now.  This is the moment.

A thousand and one days in the blink of an eye.  His eyes.  His vision.

This is more than enough for me . . .
Do you trust in God's timeline for your life?

Will you pray with me?
We can be so impatient, Father, when we think we know what is best for us, our families, and what should happen right here and right now.  Teach us to rest in Your promise that the good work You begin in us will be faithfully completed in Your time and in Your way.  Let us enjoy and revel in every moment of every day, knowing Your grace, love, and mercy are more than enough for us.  Amen. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

"I Will Build My Church . . ."

Matthew 16:18
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

At a former church, Pastor Wallace notes that there are several members who belong to a motorcycle club.  This particular group devotes much of its time during the year to fund-raising rides for various Christian charities.  Wallace admires their work and decides to recognize them with a special service.

He approaches Tim, one of the bikers, after Sunday service.

"I've got an idea, Tim, and want to know what you think about it," says Wallace.

"Sure, Pastor, what is it?"

"I'd like to host a Blessing of the Bikes service here at the church.  Do you think your club members would be interested in attending?"

Tim's eyes are shining.  "You bet, they would!  That's a fantastic idea.  You set the Sunday, and we'll be here.  I'll even contact some other bike clubs to see if they want to join us."

"Wonderful!  I'll look at my calendar, choose a date, and give you a call tomorrow."

The date is set.

The Wednesday evening before the Blessing of the Bikes service, Wallace is leaving the church when he hears the unmistakable roar of a Harley-Davidson engine storming up the drive.  He watches as the biker rips into the parking lot and glides to a stop.  The moment the man removes his helmet, Wallace recognizes him as Kyle, a regular participant in the AA meetings held each week in the church's activity center.

"Hey there, Kyle!"  he hollers as he strides toward the biker.

"Evenin', Pastor," Kyle responds, removing his leather jacket to reveal a tapestry of tattoos on his burly arms.

Wallace shakes his hand warmly.  "Kyle, we have a Blessing of the Bikes here next Sunday.  How about joining us for it?"

Kyle looks like the proverbial deer in headlights.  "Me?  Oh, no, Pastor, I'm in no way good enough to come to your church."

"You're wrong on both counts," Wallace tells him with a twinkle in his eyes.  "First of all, no one is good enough to be in church, but that's exactly why we're there.  We need the love and forgiveness of a Savior.  And, secondly, it's not my church."

"It's not?  But, you're the pastor?"

"That doesn't make it my church, Kyle," says Wallace.  "The church belongs to Jesus."
Will you invite a friend to go with you to Jesus' church this Sunday?

Will you pray with me?
Help us to always remember, Father, that the church doesn't belong to us, it belongs to You through Your precious Son, our Savior, Christ Jesus.  Give us grace to invite, to accept, and to show love to all who enter through those doors on Sunday morning.  May we welcome others as You welcome us.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

" . . . When You Move, I'll Move; I Will Follow You . . ."

John 6:26-27
Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

Our "Squirrel-Buster" bird feeder hangs in our front yard for years.  We enjoy being able to watch the birds' activity from our living room windows.  They are quite the messy eaters, so enough seed drops to the ground to keep the mourning doves, squirrels, and chipmunks happy, too.

Recently, I note, with not a little concern, that the birds seem to be consuming their food at an unusually high rate.  I fill the feeder in the morning and, by the next day, the supply is depleted.  How can that be?

When I restock the feeder, I spy a thick coat of seed covering the ground.

It's as if someone has come along, picked up the feeder, and given it a hearty shake, allowing the seeds to spill out in a pile.  At first, I wonder if this is the doing of bored teenagers, slinking around the neighborhood, looking for pranks to pull.

But, then . . .

Standing in the living room, I glimpse a large shape moving near the feeder.  It's a deer.

Just one of many which live in and around our forested neighborhood.  Seeing her nuzzling the feeder reminds me of the time we saw a doe sticking her tongue into the apertures to retrieve some seeds.

Could that be it?  Are deer coming up and butting the feeder?

"I don't care if it's does or dodos messing with the bird feeder," my husband, Danny, declares.  "That food is too expensive to go to waste.  I'm moving the squirrel buster to the backyard today."

Using some clothesline, a pulley, hooks, and carabiners, Danny rigs the feeder so it is high enough off the ground to foil the deer, but able to be easily lowered when it's time to fill it.

"Oh, this is the perfect set-up!"  I tell him when he shows me what he's done.  "I wonder, though, how long it will take the birds to find it?"

"Maybe a day or two," says Danny.  "But, they'll find it, guaranteed."

And, they do!  Not in a day.  Not in two.  But, within the very hour of its location change!

I am so relieved.  And, gratified to know our feathered friends have faithfully followed and know where to come to be fed.

Are you letting Jesus feed you with spiritual food?

Will you pray with me?
As Jesus told us, Father, we do not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from You.  May we seek You daily for our spiritual nourishment and sustenance.  Let us follow Your lead and trust in Your ways.  Amen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Let us Pray, Let us Pray, Everywhere and Every Way . . ."

1 Thessalonians 5:17
. . . pray continually . . .

I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer. ~Martin Luther

Pictured above is a bookmark which I use in my Bible.  When it is given to me many years ago, I am a "wet-behind-the-ears" Christian who has not fully realized the power of and necessity for daily prayer.  Every time I look at it, I remember fondly the person who gave it to me, and marvel at how far I have come in my prayer journey.

But, oh, how many days of raveling I experience along the way!

All because I'm praying with my head, not my heart.  Believing in God, but not fully trusting Him.  Turning worries and anxieties over to the One who can calm the storm, only to snatch them back and insist I can overcome my problems on my own.


Because prayer isn't about recitation, it's about relationship.  It is being aware, every moment of every day, with every breath I take, that the Lord is present.  Indwelling.  Listening.  Caring.  Loving.

Because prayer isn't a monologue, it's a conversation.  I talk to God then, in silence, I wait for His answer.  His direction.  His inspiration.  His comfort.

Because prayer isn't about my will, it's about God's.  Who knows my needs before I ask.  Who knows what is better for me than I can ever hope to imagine.

The Lord is ever ready to listen to me.  To you.

To hem us in on every side with His great love.

"For the Father above, He is listening with love, and He wants to answer us, so let us pray." ~Steven Curtis Chapman
C. S. Lewis once said, "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes me."  How has prayer changed you?

Will you pray with me?
With every breath we take, Father, may we feel Your holy presence in our lives. Let our prayers be conversations of the heart, and not the head alone.  May we continue to grow through the Holy Spirit in our relationship with You.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11

Isaiah 40:1
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Today marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11.  But, I will always recall this infamous attack on our nation as if it happened yesterday.  The horrific images, like the scorching burn of a branding iron, seared in my mind.

It is morning planning time for me.   I have just ushered my homeroom students from our portable classroom to begin the school day in the main building.  Settling down at my desk to grade papers, I flip on my radio to catch a favorite talk show.

I'm working diligently, only half listening, when the bulletin breaks.  At first, I can't believe what I'm hearing.  Don't want to believe it.  How could this possibly happen?

The details aren't clear at first.  I'm picturing a small, two-seater plane which ran off course or out of fuel, crashing into one of the Twin Towers.  Coverage is non-stop but sketchy as reports trickle in.

Then, with reporters on the spot and prepared cameras rolling, another plane dives into the second tower . . .

There is no longer any doubt in my mind.  Our country is under siege.  I am frightened.  Confused.  Incensed.  And, in prayer . . .

I have a full day of teaching, or trying to teach, before I can see my own teens about whom I'm worried sick.  What else could be a target today?  A school?  A mall?  The capitol?

How am I going to comfort my children?  Comfort the students who have surely heard the heart-wrenching news, and who will be descending upon my classroom any moment?

My only relief is that my portable has no television.  The images in my head are horrific enough.  So, imagine my dismay when I pick up my children after school, and find out they've been exposed to these gruesome, terrifying pictures all day long!

Their eyes say it all.  Glazed over with shock.  Swollen from tears shed.  We hardly exchange a word on the drive home.

But, when we arrive and are safely through the door, there are hugs all around. I hold each one tightly and tell them how much I love them.

"Mom," my son, Daniel, says in a choked voice, "it's awful to watch, but you have to see it.  You won't believe it otherwise."

I go upstairs to my bedroom, shut the door, and reluctantly turn on the television.  The images are worse, so much worse, than ever my mind's eye had imagined.  The levee breaks.  All the pent-up emotion, held in for the sake of others, washes over me, flooding my soul with sorrow.

Bitterly, I weep . . .

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion ~Psalm 137:1
Where were you on 9/11?

Please pray with me:
Today, Father, we remember in prayer the victims of 9/11, their families, and their friends.  We pray that Your peace and comfort will surround them as memories of this tragedy are especially poignant on this day.  May Your mighty hand rest upon and bless our nation that we might remain safe and secure in all the days to come.  Amen.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Honesty, Sincerity, Just Like it Used to be . . ."

Luke 6:31
Do to others as you would have them do to you.

My friend, Ginger, is one devoted daughter.  When it becomes obvious that her mother's Alzheimer's condition is snowballing, Ginger chooses to live with her and be her primary caregiver.

Not an easy job.  Not by a long shot.  For as the months roll on, Ginger witnesses a plethora of erratic behaviors, one of which is her mother's obsession with hiding things.  And, because of her illness, she cannot recall where the object is.  Causing Ginger no end of frustration, especially when her mom's Visa card goes missing.

Sadly, Ginger's mother's condition deteriorates to the point where professional help is the only alternative.  Ginger and her siblings reluctantly, but realistically, decide their mom needs to be in a nursing facility where the staff knows exactly how to deal with Alzheimer patients.

It is shortly after her mom is settled at her new home when Ginger remembers the lost Visa card.  She scours the house.  Looking in this drawer and that.  Combing the cabinets and closets.  Even lifting her mother's mattress thinking she may have stashed it there.

All to no avail . . .

Fast forward one month.  Ginger is hosting a moving sale, trying to empty her mom's house of as much furniture as possible before listing it on the market.  She is inundated by crowds, all seeking a bargain.

And, in the confusion, Ginger realizes long after it and the pilferer have vanished, that a bottle of Chambord is missing from her wine table.

"I can't believe this!"  she mutters to herself.  "How could someone dare to take something without paying for it?  What's wrong with people these days?"

But, she doesn't have time to dwell on it.

A man and his 19-year-old son approach her, interested in purchasing the bedroom set for the son's new apartment.  Ginger is thrilled to say the least.

As the two work to disassemble the bed frame, she pops her head around the corner, "Do you have a television for your new place?"

"No, ma'am," says the son.

"I know it's not the latest model, but you're welcome to have the one on the dresser for $10.

"We'll take it," the father grins, and heads out the door carrying the headboard to his truck.

Ginger retreats to deal with other buyers.  She makes a few more sales and is just turning around to greet another couple when there's a voice behind her.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but is this yours?  I found it under the T.V. when I was lifting it."

She whirls around.  There, standing in front of her, is the 19-year-old.  And, in his hand is the missing Visa card.

"Oh, my!"  Ginger exclaims.  "I've been looking everywhere for that!  I'm so happy you found it.  Thank you so much!"

How easy it would have been for this young man, whose father is busy loading the truck, to have pocketed this charge card with its $7,000 credit limit.  Instead, he chooses to do the right thing.

"Martha," Ginger says, "when that boy handed me the card, it absolutely restored my faith in humanity.  His parents surely raised him well.  What a blessing it was to see a young person with such honesty."

Amen, Ginger.  Amen!
Have you ever been blessed by an experience like Ginger's?

Will you join me in prayer?
We pray, Father, that we always follow Jesus' commandment to do to others as we would have them do to us.  Keep our hearts clean and our intentions honest toward friend and stranger alike.  May our words and actions ever be testimonies to Your great love and mercy.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"But, if We Are the Body, Why Aren't His Arms Reaching . . ."

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage on another, and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Pastor Wallace tells the story of a man, Jay, who attended one of his previous churches.  For his entire life, all Jay has ever heard from his parents and other family members is he's not good enough.  Will never amount to much of anything.  So, why try?

And, sadly, Jay believes it.  Even though he has a good job and a family of his own, he doesn't see himself as worthy.  Especially, when it comes to serving in the church.

After a sermon Pastor Wallace gives about being the Body of Christ, and urging each person to find his or her gifts and use them in service to the Kingdom, Jay nervously approaches him.

"Preacher, that was a good talk you gave us today, but I don't reckon I'm a person God can use."

"Nonsense, Jay," Wallace assures him.  "God can use everyone.  You are a part of the Body as much as anyone else here."

"Well, sir, if I belong to the Body like you say, I must be the little finger on the hand.  It ain't good for much, and neither am I."

"Hold on a minute!  That little finger is more important than you think.  Had a buddy when I was a teenager who had his pinky and ring finger chopped off in an accident.  Before that happened, he used to be a fantastic basketball player. Guess what?"


"Without that pinky, he couldn't make lay-ups anymore.  The ball would just roll out of his hand.  Don't you think those pro-basketball folks pulling down the big bucks see great value in their little fingers?"

"Why, Preacher," Jay says, "I never looked at it that way.  So, you're sayin' as small as my gift is, it matters?"

"Yes, sir, that's it exactly!"

"But I don't know what my gift is."

"Go home and pray about it, Jay.  God will give you the answer."

The following Sunday, Jay comes up to Wallace after the service, a broad smile on his face.

"I done my prayin' this week, Preacher, and I got an idea.  We ain't got no one regular to keep up the church grounds.  And, it ain't attractive when you drive up and the outside looks a mess.  Makes folks wonder what's on the inside.  So, if it's alright with you, I'll tend the grounds here every week."

And, true to his word, Jay maintains the outside of the church property for 25 years.

That's a pretty powerful pinky . . .
How are you affirming and building up others in the Body of Christ?

Will you pray with me?
We thank You, Father, for the many and varied gifts You have given us.  Help us to recognize ours and encourage the talents in others so that, together, we may serve as Christ's Body here on earth.  Amen.

Sing a New Song

  Danny and I in his new music studio Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. ~Psalm 96:1 A new song shall I sing unto...