Sacred Prejudice

shutterstock_790179607A few years ago, I had an experience at a church association meeting that was so egregious that I was compelled to write about it.  If you haven’t read that post, it’s worth the read.  (The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians).  There is something about the ignorance of some people that continues to amaze me.  A preacher I spoke with recently said the greatest thing I’d heard in a while, “In my experience I have found that ignorance coupled with arrogance, is a dangerous combination.”  It was one of the most refreshing things I’d heard in a while, because he was right.  There are so many churches out there dying because of that very destructive combination.  It’s sad, but it’s also true.

I’ve been in church my entire life, and in those 52 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of things.  There have been things I’ve disagreed with along the way, but nothing that has been a deal-breaker in my faith.  It may be a personal choice of music or teaching styles, or it may be the preference of one program or another, but those struggles are going to happen no matter if you are in a church or some other kind of volunteer group.  It’s just part of the journey.  I even had a pastor who was so totally against women wearing pants to church (which was nothing but a preference), that I wore dresses the entire time I served in the church with him.  If you know me at all, you know how much I HATE dresses!  My point is that there are a lot of preferential things that can be worked around if you have a willing heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have wondered why so many people are running from older, conservative churches, even though some of them are teaching the truth of God’s word.  Some observers would say it’s because people want a more entertaining experience, or a less convicting one.  Some would suppose it’s because people want to have less accountability. Others would claim it’s because no one wants to be humble and submit to God’s way of thinking.  Any or all of those could be true, but I believe the reason people are leaving is the product of ignorance coupled with arrogance.  Honestly, so many churches have become better Pharisees than the Pharisees of Bible times.  I can’t help but think of how Jesus viewed (and continually rebuked) the views and practices of the Pharisees.  They were judgmental, arrogant and hypocritical.  They were so caught up in their “righteousness,” that they totally missed who Jesus is and what He taught.

As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in the eyes of some churches and pastors.  It doesn’t put me at a disadvantage with God, but there are still pastors and churches out there that see women as less than equal to men.  The Bible shows over and over God does not hold that opinion of women, but rather He has honored and used women in all kinds of important roles over the course of time.  I do believe that God made men and women differently and created us with certain skills and abilities that are fitting for the roles we often fill.  We are different creatures, but that doesn’t make women less intelligent or valuable than our male counterparts. shutterstock_737645134 I once had a pastor tell me that the reason Eve was deceived instead of Adam was because the serpent knew that women were totally susceptible to believing a lie.  Basically, that she was an easy mark, so-to-speak, which is why she was deceived and Adam was not.  In so many words, he said that Satan figured he had a better chance with her because she was a woman, and the fact he was successful in deceiving her proved his point was true.  This pastor went on to say that the reason women “as a class of humanity” are more susceptible to deception than men, is because it is part of our “innate female psyche.”  By nature, Eve was not equipped to make the kind of decisions that the serpent presented to her, because she was not capable of weighing objective facts and coming to an appropriate decision.   Although this pastor did state that there were exceptions to the fact that women make decisions based on a value system rather than on objective facts, he also stated these stereotypes are backed up by scripture AND scientific data (like the Meyers Briggs test).  Whether you are a man or a woman, I imagine you are scratching your head right about now.  Trust me, it didn’t sit well with me at the time either, but I later realized no amount of discussion or rebuttal could ever change the heart of that pastor.  Only God can do that, and it is for God alone to handle.

My point in sharing this particular experience with you is to illustrate, in leaps and bounds, the principle I mentioned in the beginning of this post regarding ignorance and arrogance.   Mankind has a way of taking God’s principles and perverting them.  Churches love to pick and choose when a verse should be interpreted literally versus when its cultural significance needs to be taken into account (practices and customs that cause certain passages to be read differently today).  As human beings, we are selfish by nature, which means we often develop our own opinions and then try to use God’s word to justify our perspectives.  Let’s be honest, if you want to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or bigoted, you can absolutely pull single verses out of context in the Bible to substantiate or even support your position.  You can write paper after paper or present arguments in favor of your positions, but in the process, you leave out the very most important thing God commands us to do: Love.

shutterstock_305140991The Bible tells us that in Christ, we are all the same (Galatians 3:28).  Of course, we all fulfill different roles in life, and God calls us all to individual places of service for which He also equips us.  Having different traits, backgrounds, or abilities should not divide us.  God sees us the same, even though we are each unique in so many ways.  Different is not worse.  Different is not less.  Different does not give us license, as people of faith, to look down on anyone or consider them to be less than we are.  Yes, there are many things God tells us to refrain from or be mindful of, but He reveals to us in Proverbs 6:16-19 the seven things He actually hates:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.

Take another look at that list and tell me what you see.  There is a pattern revealed of what bothers God so much that He actually “hates” it.  It is the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, aggressive, deceitful nature of people.  He commands us, as HIS representatives, to reflect His nature.  He commands us to love as He loves.  In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us exactly what He expects from us.  The religious elite had been trying to debate Him or trip Him up on what He was teaching.  One sect (the Sadducees) had already failed in their attempt, so another sect (the Pharisees) took a shot at it also.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”   

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

shutterstock_1020186199What a contrast to what so many churches and leaders have become these days.  Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbors unless he/she is of a different race or religion.  He doesn’t say to love your neighbor as long as he/she isn’t a homosexual or because he/she gossips, drinks or acts in other ways that seem contrary to God’s word.  He doesn’t give us permission to not love anyone, because He didn’t exclude anyone from His love.  He so deeply loved every single person, even those who hated and abused Him, that He was willing to die for them…for us.  Yes, there are many behaviors and activities in which He doesn’t want us to engage, but I find it interesting that what God chose to list, through His inspired word, as things He truly hates are those behaviors that reveal our pride, arrogance, and ignorance.  He is concerned with our hearts and our character.  We are all sinners, and if we try to hide behind our church buildings or cover up our prejudiced opinions of others being beneath us, then we have not only failed in the two commandments that Jesus declared hold up every other directive, but we have displayed the very behaviors that God hates.   After all, the only antidote for prejudice is humility.

So, I’ll close with the question I was pondering earlier:  Why are so many people leaving Bible-teaching churches?   Because it doesn’t matter how true your teaching is to God’s word if you aren’t willing to actually live it.   There are amazing groups of people out there who are truly focused on serving God by loving, forgiving, caring and teaching as He did.  Find them, join them and be open to what God is doing in your life.  Love the unlovable, forgive freely, but be wary of those who refuse to see their ignorance because of their arrogance.  Bitterness is sure to follow.

Blessings.

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!

Unexpected Gifts

shutterstock_148595204.jpgGifts.  It’s always a big topic of every holiday season.  We might be busy trying to buy things from a “wish list” of someone we know, or maybe we are thinking about what we ourselves might receive for Christmas.   But here’s a question:  Have you ever received an amazing gift you didn’t even know you wanted or would have ever imagined?  Unexpected gifts often bring unexpected blessings, and yet when it comes to circumstances in our lives, we don’t seem to have that reaction.

As people of faith, we know that God sees the big picture and has a plan for our lives.   We believe Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   We hold to Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”   We know what He has promised, but when things aren’t working like we think they should, we start looking at God like He is some kind of a spiritual grinch.  It’s easy to lose sight of the truth of God’s goodness when we are buried in our perspective on what we think that “goodness” should be.

shutterstock_755066917We want things to be good, prosperous, and somewhat easy, but we certainly don’t want and wouldn’t choose for ourselves things like pain, grief, loss, betrayal or being dismissed.  When we endure those things, it’s hard to see them as gifts.  Over the past year, I have been given many of those so-called “gifts,” and if I am being honest, I wasn’t too happy about it.  I have complained, been discouraged and even distraught at times.  I’ve definitely had moments of feeling like God is a grinch and that He just seems to want to take away everything good from us.  That being said, I have also learned that sometimes when we lose things or go through difficult times, it really does start to change our perspective.  It enables us, if we allow God to work, to see things differently.  It allows us to grow, and that is a gift.  I would dare say it is one of His greatest gifts to us – presenting us with situations that challenge us and force us to re-examine our lives, faith and service to Him and to others in whatever place we find ourselves. Sometimes He allows things to happen that force us to reach out to others, and in doing so we often find incredible people and incredible perspective.  When we open ourselves up to what God is doing rather than trying to explain it, we find love, compassion, care, and genuine concern.  We find His word speaking to us through channels we wouldn’t have previously considered, and all of these things we find coming from a source that we don’t expect.   When we stand back and truly see the goodness of God and His mercy in allowing difficult circumstances into our lives, we can become thankful for it.  It’s truly difficult for us to embrace our challenges, disappointments and discouragements or the people or things that cause them, but they truly are for our good.

shutterstock_243236653We have a good Father who loves us and wants the best for us always.  He has an amazing plan for our lives that includes our places of service.  He knows what’s coming, and while we are freaking out trying to see ahead, He is standing there patting us on the shoulder whispering, “I am the one who goes before you.  I’ll be with you, so don’t be afraid or dismayed.  I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”  (Deut. 31:8)  He knows that no matter what we are going through, that there is a PLAN!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I’ve been talking about “unexpected gifts” but they are only unexpected to us and not to God!  He is not only aware of what is happening, but He is working through all of it to bring us to the most amazing places in this life.  Remember, we see the messy threads underneath the tapestry that look jumbled and ugly, but when you flip it over, you see the beautiful image and artwork that God saw (and designed) all along.

In all of my personal struggles this year, it has caused me to truly step back and search out what God is leading me to do rather than making plans of my own.  He has been stirring things in my heart through some painful circumstances.  Would I rather Him stir my heart by providing beautiful scenes in nature or other wonderful experiences?  Of course I would!  But by bringing me to a place where I became too tired to fight, I was finally able to start listening more closely to what HE wants, and not what I would choose for myself.   If I had my way, I’d choose status quo far more often than not.  I would choose to narrow my vision and settle for the “ok” when God wants me to soar into the amazing!  Letting go of my own expectations of what should be, and dropping the weight that comes with pressing forward when God is telling me to be still, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It has also been one of the most liberating!  When I get out of the way and step back so that I can listen, it is amazing what I am able to hear.

shutterstock_727967878So as we approach this season of celebration, I am thankful for unexpected gifts and unexpected paths.  I am grateful that God doesn’t just know exactly what we need, but also knows the desires of our hearts that we ourselves haven’t even realized!  I am thankful that He continually works in our lives so that we can change our perspective and come into alignment with HIS heart.  When we trust that He is good and is always working ALL things for our good, then we begin to desire what He desires.  We want what He wants instead of depending on our understanding of what is “good.”  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  He can do that because when we delight in HIS will and HIS plans, then it’s easy to give us the desires of our hearts because they are the same as His.

Unexpected gifts – things that weren’t even in the realm of our imagination or things we would have never wanted for ourselves, can truly be the greatest gifts we receive.  I guess I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what’s on my own “wish list” for God, because the gifts He has for me are truly “exceedingly, abundantly above all I could ask or think.”  All I need to do is be willing to accept His gifts even when I don’t understand them completely.   After all, when we think He is saying “no” to what we want, just remember that it’s because He has an even greater “yes.”

Merry Christmas and Blessing to you all!

The Eye Of The Storm

shutterstock_1182832180We’ve all heard, seen, or even experienced being in the eye of a violent storm.  We’ve watched hurricane coverage on the news and marveled at those broadcasts that occur while the “eye” is passing over.  Things change drastically in the eye of the storm.  Raging winds calm down, torrential rains stop, and the dark clouds break to reveal the warm light of the sun.  It really is a beautiful pause, but the reality is that the storm is far from over.

In life, we encounter all kinds of situations and circumstances that begin to beat relentlessly on us.  It could be in a relationship, job, health crisis, church or spiritual upheaval.  When we are faced with extreme storms in our lives, our behavior often resembles that of someone caught in the midst of a literal storm.  We battle and struggle to keep our footing in the raging wind and rain.  We learn the direction in which to lean so that we have less chance of getting knocked totally off our feet.  We adapt as the elements around us change so that we can survive with the least amount of damage to us or what we hold dear.   Survival instincts are heightened and our scope of priorities seems to become more focused, and then it happens; there is an eerie calm that comes over us and a peace that allows us to breathe.

IMG_3002I said earlier the eye of the storm is a “beautiful pause,” because that’s all it is – a pause.  This temporary period of peace and calm is simply a chance to take a breath, gather yourself back together and think clearly for a little while.  It’s a moment in time in which we are reminded that there IS life out there beyond the storm.  It reminds us the sun is still shining and takes us to a place of hope that can strengthen our resolve in the face of knowing there is nothing we can do but endure the impending return of the storm.  This eye is where I find myself right now.  Standing in a place of peace, being reminded of how beautiful life can be, and creating an even deeper appreciation for every other time of calm when the storms weren’t raging.  In this place of peace, it is easy to see clearly the path behind and to gain perspective on the path ahead, even though I cannot direct it.

Facing the second half of the storm is inevitable when standing in the eye.  The peace and calm can be deceiving until we consider what is headed straight for us.  Survival is not guaranteed, nor can we be certain we will come through unscathed.  We may lose many things we hold dear before the storm is past.  We may find ourselves faced with decisions that require us to let go of what we have in our hands in order to hold to the things that might literally save our lives.  It may not be what we want, but if God did not open up an “evacuation route” before the storm hit, then our only choice is to do our best to lean into Him no matter how scared, discouraged or depleted we may become in the process.  He promised He would never leave us and that all things will be worked together for our good.  He didn’t say “most things,” or “some things;” He said ALL things.

Being in the eye of my current storms has provided both perspective and peace.  There is a shedding of things that don’t matter and a refocusing on the things that do.  Am I certain of what else is coming?  Not at all.  Am I certain the things I hold dear will be preserved or preserved in the way in which I wish them to be? No, I am not.  The storm is not over, but I am reminded that I know the Master of the wind.  I know the one who has the ability to say, “Peace, be still” to the raging storm and it will obey.  The best thing I can do is trust the One who is already working things out.  I know He will answer every question in His time and will sustain me through the remainder of this storm.

IMG_2995Sometimes we need the perspective that only the storm can bring.  We can become so complacent in our “ruts” in life, often assuming we will always be able to maintain the status quo.  We float through our days, almost mindlessly at times, and when the storms roll in, we are suddenly more alert.  We may be scared or disrupted by what is happening, but we are no longer able to be oblivious to what is going on around us.  We may endure the shakeup in our routines that come when the storm hits.  We may have seen it coming and tried to make preparations for riding it out, or it may have hit us without warning.  We struggle and react from a survival instinct, and it isn’t easy, but then the eye of the storm moves overhead.  It is then that we have that pocket of peace where we can take a deep breath and be reminded of what it feels like when there are no storms on the horizon.  We can be refreshed and even strengthened in these beautiful moments of perspective.

The eye of any storm is temporary.  It is wonderful and provides the much-needed calm we crave after battling everything that is bombarding us, but it is still temporary.  As a person of faith, the eye is a gift that reminds us God is truly in control.  It is a chance to turn our eyes back to Him and focus on everything good He has promised us.  It is a chance to reflect on what He has already brought us through and be grateful.  It is an opportunity for us to set in our hearts that He has not brought us this far to let us down.

Even if the storm causes you to lose things you wanted to keep, don’t give up.  No one said life was going to be easy.  As a matter of fact, our Father in Heaven told us trouble is a certainty!  “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)  This world is full of broken people, including you and me.  We are imperfect, and it doesn’t matter what positions we or others hold, what status we have in life or even the background from which we came; we all struggle.  You may be struggling with the stages of your own storms right now.  Don’t give up.  Even if the storm changes the landscape, don’t give up.  Most of us are creatures of habit and will do anything to keep from losing the stability of our routines.  We will go to great lengths to dig in our heels when God may be trying to move us forward.  This fight we put up internally is sometimes the exact reason we need the storms.  My grandpa always said, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  That’s great advice and we should never react out of fear or even being uncomfortable.  I read a quote earlier this week that said, “Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to move forward.  He knows you won’t move unless your circumstances force you.  Trust the transition, God’s got you.”

shutterstock_319293815If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.  Be steady and listen for God’s direction, but then be willing to do what He leads you to do, even when you know He is leading you into an area you’d rather not go.  But if you are genuinely seeking God’s will for your life, don’t take any path off the table.  We cannot seek His will or clarity in direction but then tell Him which paths we will not take.  And if He is answering your prayer for clarity but you keep creating your own noise that is making it impossible to hear, then He may allow storms in to shake your priorities back into focus.  He will bring you through the first half of the storm into the eye where everything falls into place, and you gain the perspective you need in order to not only survive the storm, but to come out with gratitude for the clarity.  My prayer for you is the same as it is for me, that we breathe and press on with courage and total trust that all is already well, even though we can’t see it yet.  No matter what the landscape looks like when the storm is over, I pray we can find joy and peace in having made it through, and have a renewed sense of strength and clarity in learning what is truly important and what is not.

Blessings!

Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

Paradise Lost?

shutterstock_732751837Have you ever walked through tough times in your life and come out on the other side, only to be plunged back into difficulties?  It’s one of the most discouraging things in life to think you have finally hit some smooth sailing and then your boat overturns again.  In my life, these times have rattled and shaken me to the core.  I have felt defeated, like the sun was never going to shine again, and have often felt like maybe God is mad at me for some reason to have allowed more trouble in my life.  Of course, there are all the cute quotes out there that remind us God is always good and is always working for our good.  Heck, I even believe that, but man, sometimes I don’t feel it.  I sit and wonder what God is up to and why there are times it feels like He yanks me out of a pleasant place only to drop me into a difficult, depressing or downright terrible place.  If I’m being totally honest, it makes me question His goodness and wonder why He doesn’t just put me (or others) in that pleasant place and let us stay there.  Sometimes it is life circumstances that just hit us, but sometimes God actually calls us out of the good places for a reason.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a man named Lazarus.  Many of you may know of whom I am speaking, but let’s take a look at it for a moment. Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus (and also the brother of Mary and Martha).  He became extremely ill, so Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus telling Him, “Lord, the one you love is sick,” because they KNEW Jesus had the power to heal him.  It probably seemed like a no-brainer that Jesus would come and heal his friend, especially since the Bible tells us that Jesus not only loved Lazarus, but also loved Mary and Martha.  They were a dear family to Him, and you’d think He would immediately run to take care of it.  But He didn’t.  He told the messenger, “This sickness is not going to end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  Then He stayed where He was for two more days before telling the disciples “let’s go back.”  When they asked why, Jesus told them that Lazarus was asleep and He was going to wake him up.  The disciples crack me up because they told Jesus that if Lazarus was sleeping, then he would get better.  As usual, they missed what He was saying, so Jesus had to clear it up by saying, “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I’m glad I wasn’t there, so that you may believe.  Let’s go.”  That sounds a little harsh, but Jesus also knew his disciples needed some strengthening of their own faith.

When Jesus got to where Lazarus lived, He found that he had already been in the tomb for four days!  Martha hears that Jesus is coming so she takes off to meet him.  She gets to Him and says, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” I always feel like Martha was irritated or even scolding when she said it, like “you took too long and now look what happened!”   So Jesus tells her that her brother will live again, but Martha misunderstood and thought He was talking about the resurrection.  After a brief conversation, Martha goes to get Mary.

shutterstock_1006999738

When Mary reached Jesus, she fell at His feet in anguish, crying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Same words, different emotion behind it.  The Bible says it was her anguish that deeply moved and troubled Jesus.   He asked where they had buried Lazarus, and then He began to cry.  Yes, He cried openly.  As a result, some people thought, “See how He loved him,” but others started to criticize.  They said, “He opened the eyes of the blind, couldn’t He have kept him from dying?”  What happens next is best read in the verses themselves (John 11:38-44)…

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.  “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Most Christians use this account to share the incredible miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and it IS miraculous.  We hear sermons about how God always shows up right on time, even when we think He is “four days late.”  We hear preachers and teachers talk about Jesus’ love for His friend and the emotion He showed in weeping openly over the situation.  Those are all great things to consider, but how often do we look at how Lazarus probably felt?  If I was Lazarus, I would have been ticked off!  Think about this for a moment:  Here’s a guy who had been really sick and was miserable.  He eventually succumbed to his illness and died, but in that moment, he was immediately in the presence of God.  He was in Paradise!  He has no more pain and doesn’t have to worry about anything anymore.  As a child of God, he is finally home.  I imagine him hanging out with Moses and Abraham, or maybe some of his loved ones who had already died.  What a great homecoming!  What a great time!  All the crap he had to endure on this earth was finally passed, and he could relax.  But then, from beyond the grave, a voice calls to him, “Lazarus, come forth.”  If I was Lazarus, I would be thinking, “Are you kidding me?  After everything I’ve been through, You are calling me BACK?!!  I’ve attained more than I could imagine and You are yanking me back into a world full of trouble, evil, pain and suffering.  Leave me here!”  We don’t know what actually went through Lazarus’ mind, but I think of how I would feel if it happened to me.

shutterstock_427738096There was certainly a bigger purpose for bringing Lazarus back than just relieving the grief of his family.  God used that event to show who He is and that He IS who He says He is.  He used it to show His power, but also his mercy and love.  Look, there was no denying the miraculous nature of what happened.  The Bible tells us that Lazarus was in the grave for four days already and that he stunk!  No one could deny he was dead – I mean “dead” dead!  There was no way to say what Jesus did was a parlor trick or anything else.   It was most definitely effective!  Not only that, but the disciples needed their faith strengthened, and Jesus knew that bringing Lazarus back would accomplish that.  But again, what about Lazarus?  What good did it do HIM to be brought back?  He lost all of the perfection of Heaven, AND he would have to go through an earthly death TWICE!  Is it just me, or does that seem mean to anyone else?  I’ve felt bad for him on that piece, because it really feels like he got the short end of that stick.  I think that’s why we don’t often talk about this piece of the story.  We don’t want to think that God would purposely bring us back from something amazing – or even perfect – just to drop us back into something where we are going to have to struggle.  We can say all day long that we’d be ok with it since it for His glory, but I really don’t think that’s how our hearts react when it happens.

So what was in it for Lazarus?  Think about it this way:

  • Lazarus got to see Heaven and knew exactly what it was like.
  • Knowing what was waiting in Heaven, and that death was not to be feared, would most likely have caused Lazarus to live with a boldness and courage he never had before or might not have had any other way.
  • He got to experience what the rest of us have to take on faith. He believed God, but he actually got see his faith realized with his own eyes, ears and hands.  That would definitely give you a new certainty most people don’t get.
  • He was free when he died and went to Heaven, but he was liberated when Jesus called him back to this world. One of the definitions of being liberated is “releasing someone from a state or situation that limits freedom of thought or behavior.”  By coming back after experiencing Heaven, Lazarus was liberated from fear and anxiety over death.  He was liberated from any doubt that God’s word was true.  He had seen it and it changed him.

So back to present day and all the troubles we endure in life.  I don’t have the big view that God does.  I know that His word tells me that “all things work together for good to them who love God and are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  I know that God loves us and cares about everything we are going through.  When we cry, He cries (remember how He was moved by Mary’s grief).  He knows exactly where we are, all the time.  Jesus knew Lazarus was dead without anyone telling Him.  He told it to the disciples even though he had not received that message from anyone.  God knows what we’ve endured to get to those pleasant places in our lives – places HE has actually created.  So why call us back away from those places?  Because it can change us for the better if we let it.  It can liberate us if we look at things differently.

shutterstock_293580959When things are going well for me, I need to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’m sure Lazarus wasn’t worrying about things on earth after he died.  He was simply enjoying being in Heaven.  I need to do the same thing in life’s pleasant places.  I need to just sit back and marvel at how true God’s word is, and that He has taken care of me just as He promised He would.  I need to just relax in that place and not worry about what else might or might not happen.  I’ll be honest, that is NOT a natural or easy thing for me to do, but it would be so much better for me.  When we worry about what might be coming next, we drain all the joy and peace out of the pleasant places in life.  When we do that, we wring the joy and confidence in God out of our lives as well.  Then we wonder why we are so stressed or why God feels so far away.

In those times when we are called out of the pleasant places back into difficulties, it’s so easy to be frustrated and even angry with our Heavenly Father.  We may say, “it’s ok because I know He is working this for His glory and my ultimate good,” but it often becomes just words.  It hurts to be pulled back from the pleasant places.  It hurts when we have to endure challenges after we think we’ve conquered them already.  It is frustrating and so often causes us to immediately lose sight of everything God has done for us or how He has, in the past, brought us through trouble TO the pleasant places. We need to learn to think differently about the challenges.  Rather than seeing them as a punishment or reprimand, we need to recognize that God needs people in this world who have seen first-hand what He can and will do.  He needs people who have unshakable confidence in our eternity so that we can live liberated lives here.  He needs people living courageous lives, in spite of their circumstances, because that kind of life touches and changes the lives of others.  Through that kind of life, we have opportunities to share what we have seen and know to be true about our God who loves us so much.

One last thought about this story:  Notice that Jesus called Lazarus by name.  He didn’t just come back to the grave and say, “come out.”  Do you know why?  Because if He had done that, everyone who was dead would have come out.  He specifically called to Lazarus because God does not operate in generalities.  He operates specifically, personally, on a one-to-one basis.  He has specific plans for each of us, and each of us has a different journey to walk. In spite of our different callings, God wants ALL of us to have peace, confidence and joy.

shutterstock_82458775So the next time I hear, “Deanna, come forth,” I’m going to take a quick look around before I leave the  amazing place in which I’m standing, and consider all He did to deliver me from trials in the past. By doing that, I can walk back into this flawed world with complete confidence and security in the truth of His word.  Only then can I live a liberated life, free of worry and fear in my circumstances, because I have seen His glory and His fulfilled promises first hand.  THAT knowledge and experience in the pleasant places is what will change the way I live in every place else.

Blessings!

Hope For The New Year

shutterstock_731389564Well, we’ve just come through the first week of 2018 and have heard the words “Happy New Year” over and over.  We rang in the New Year in all different kinds of ways, and now we are back to the day to day grind.  Some of us made promises to do something different this year, while others are just trying to not rock the boat and keep things the same.  So now what?  And why do so many of us focus on making changes at this time of year?  Is it because we are unhappy with the current state of our life or is it because we are discontent with decisions we’ve made in the past.  Change at the turn of the New Year is enticing because, after all, who doesn’t want a clean slate (or even a “do-over”)?

The New Year brings exciting, and often motivating, potential for change.  We are energized for new things, but what do we do with the changes that happen to us?  It’s easy to jump in to try and make ourselves or our lives better, but how often do we actually keep the promises we make on January 1st?  A study by the University of Scranton revealed that only 8% of people achieve their New Year goals.  That means a whopping 92% do not succeed, but why?  It’s my opinion the main reason we fail in keeping on track with our goals for changing is because we don’t change US!   We don’t change our perspective, so we instead look at our goals as nothing more than a task.  Tasks are something you do; resolutions are something you become.   We talk about “New Year’s resolutions,” but a resolution is not just an intent, or even commitment, to do something better.  It is defined by Webster as “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”  A true resolution is not the intent to get a result; it IS the result. It is change that brings the resolution, not the other way around.

shutterstock_627074813Change is a constant part of our lives.  It happens to us all the time, often against our wishes.  When things are going well, we don’t want change.  When things are going poorly, we want change, but only on our timetable and on our terms.  Real change often interrupts our intent to change.  We make promises to ourselves (or others) to do something different but then something outside out control happens, and we are derailed.  How many of you are dealing with unexpected changes right now?  Some of us are dealing with difficult changes in our jobs, families, health, etc.  Some of us suddenly find ourselves as patients while others have been thrust into the role of a caregiver.   It is difficult when the New Year brings change to you instead of you bringing change to the New Year.   There are also positive changes for some of us.  Some have become parents, homeowners, financially stable, and many other things.  It isn’t about whether or not change will happen, but how we deal with it.

We each decide what we are going to focus on when things change around us.  Sometimes all we can see is the loss or what seems to be the destruction of our hopes and dreams, but we do have a choice in our perspective.  We need to remember that ALL change brings loss.   It’s part of the natural process.  In order to have something different, whether good or bad, we have to let go of something else.  Sometimes that loss makes us say “good riddance,” but other times it makes us scratch and claw while screaming, “NOOOOO!”  But what if we started looking at change differently?  What if we could become better at rolling with it?

As a person of faith, I know God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28).  We all know it, but we constantly scramble when things aren’t going the way we would like.  We seem to lose sight of the fact that life is full of seasons, ups and downs.  Solomon said it beautifully in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
  • a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
  • a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 
  • a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
  • a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
  • a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
  • a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

shutterstock_568487266There is truly a time for everything, and our definitions of good and bad are usually based on limited information.  The question is: do we trust the One who actually knows everything or not?  Are we going to live through the changes in life like a wind-up toy, going along until it hits a wall and then bounces off and goes another direction until it hits another wall?   The reality is that we really do have a choice and the result of our choice will either bring peace or anxiety.  If we approach unexpected change as though it is totally up to us to figure out the problem and fix it, then we are going to live a life full of constant stress, because there will always be circumstances we cannot control.  On the other hand, if we could realize that what we see as “unexpected” is never a surprise to our Heavenly Father, and that He has promised He is working all things for our ultimate good, then we can live a life of confidence and peace in the midst of every storm.  It doesn’t mean it will always feel good, but we can trust that it will eventually all work out.

So back to the fact we have just started a brand new year, if you think this year will be different, you are correct.  If you think there will be changes this year, you are also correct.  If you think you will have total control over those changes, think again.  It is a beautiful thing to take the time to reflect on your life and make plans for positive changes or better decisions.  It is good to hope, but we need to make sure our hope is not inappropriately placed in ourselves or others.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  He knows everything we are going through and what is to come.  He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives as His children.  He has the power to handle any and everything in our lives, and He will always work things out when it is for our ultimate good.

shutterstock_484456384So I wish you all an amazing 2018!  It is my prayer that all of us can learn to lean on what we know in our hearts instead of going it alone.  We can become better parents, children, employees, bosses, church members, pastors or whatever other role we may fill.  The best way to do that is to fall back into our Father’s arms and let Him show us the paths to walk.  And when the next January 1st rolls around, we will be able to share not only our hopes for another year, but our resolutions – our results – from the journey we are embarking on right now.  That, my friends, is what a resolution is all about.

Blessings!