Bench-Pressing a Hersey Bar

“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”
― Author Judith Viorst

When I was raising my children and dreaming of one day being–dare I say it–a famous author, I enjoyed reading Judith Viorst’s column in Redbook magazine each month. I also read her books. I even wrote to her once and received in return a sweet postcard.

When I become famous, I’ll answer my fan mail too, I thought.

Mrs. Viorst could make us chuckle about what it takes to keep house and raise children and maybe even teach us about resisting chocolate. But she couldn’t tell us where the ultimate source of strength comes from.

Like me, you’re probably faced with areas of weakness or a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved quickly enough for you. Where do you turn? Bench-pressing a dark chocolate candy bar seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t truly solve a problem of any magnitude. (Much as this chocoholic hates to admit that.)

My children are grown, but being a parent of a grown child possesses its own challenges. I’ve always been good at the housekeeping thing, but there are days I’d sooner eat that Hersey bar than sweep and mop the floors. And then, there’s the never-ending challenge of keeping finances in order, relationships from falling apart, and my health from doing likewise. I’m getting old and sort of broken down.

Heaven, help me! Literally.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When I’m honest, I’ll tell you I’m challenged on some days to keep my eyes on Jesus, the one who keeps me strong. We face things like the annoyance of a cancelled appointment, a disobedient child, needing an unexpected surgery, or the death of a loved one. Scripture says these things, which we can see, are “light and momentary troubles.”

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? Yet we’re told to stay strong because what eternity holds is worth it. God wouldn’t tell us a lie about eternity; it’s his dwelling place and inherent in his nature. So trust him for that and stay strong.

God Calling

reading-the-bibleWhenever I have questions about what it is God is trying to say to me (in any situation), God’s word is where I first turn for answers. However, the quote below from Michael Molinos often comes to mind. These words are simple and clear, like scripture.

They also seem to come from someone who’s believed God. Someone who has experienced His love. A love that is faithful and sweet no matter what the situation is at present.

In all Your Journey as a Believer,
You will have two kinds of Spiritual Experiences.
One is tender, delightful, and loving.
The Other can be quite obscure,
dry, dark and desolate.
God gives us the First one to Gain us;
He gives us the Second to Purify us.

          ~ Michael Molinos, 17th Century Writer

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

Back Up? Look Up!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

October has arrived and people are planning fall events, one of which is called a Corn Maze. They’re meant to provide family fun and sometimes a little bit of Halloween mischief.

A corn maze is like any other maze built of shrubs. The difference between a corn maze and a maze of shrubs from those puzzles in the magazines is they’re 3D. The idea with any maze puzzle is to find your way from the opening of the maze and, without hitting any barriers, make it to the other side, where you can exit.

The puzzles are designed to have natural stops and starts built into them.fall-corn-maze-2-kids

I’ve done these puzzles numerous times. For the puzzle to be challenging going over the barriers doesn’t make sense. Besides, that’s cheating.

I could draw a line through one, but what’s the point? It’s more fun and satisfying to solve the puzzle and getting through by following the natural openings offered at each turn.

Furthermore, once I’m in, I can’t go around the maze. That means I’ll need to back up sometimes and start over.

So really, the only way out is through.

Life is like that. The way through isn’t straight. There are always many possible directions that look like the way to go, but we meet barriers at every turn. Natural stops and starts. We have to look for the openings that lead to other openings.

In a historical novel I read a few years back, two children asked the heroine to run through a maze. The first time she tried, she got lost, not to mention frustrated, as they ran ahead of her. The children, however, encouraged her to try a second time.

“Look up, instead of down,” they told her. “It might be easier.”

The advice didn’t make sense to her, but partway in, she looked up. There, in the upstairs window stood her Beloved, looking down at her in the maze. From his vantage point, he could see every turn that would take her to the other side of the puzzle.

Because she trusted him, she kept looking up and he guided her all the way out.

Naturally, the only way out was through.

A Three-Word Prayer for Serenity

The graphic below shows a prayer, commonly referred to as the “Serenity Prayer,”* attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian.

After knowing only the first four lines of the prayer, which I learned in 1984, it wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the entire thing. Even though at the time I hadn’t made a decision to follow Christ, the words made sense. Years after that, I was reciting the whole prayer from memory at a weekly small group.

Today, I believe the three most important words of this prayer aren’t, as some people choose to see them, acceptance, courage and wisdom. They are

“God, I surrender”

For me, surrendering to God creates a serenity and peace I can’t otherwise know.

SerenityPrayer with gull

*Usually Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is quoted using only the first four lines shown here.

Strength Over the Long Haul

“Just like a tree that’s standing by the water, I shall not be moved.” ~ traditional Christian hymn

How we respond when trouble comes into our lives does two things, in my estimation. Our responses can reveal our character. They can also develop our character. How we respond also reveals what we believe about God. In other words, how we see his character; his personhood, if you will.

At my age, I’ve been through numerous troubles. Some of them never happened–they were all imaginary and caused by nagging worries and fretting. Some of them were hardly worth mentioning. I was acting spoiled and being petty to think I had it so bad (Insert ‘pet peeves’ here). But in truth, I’ve also seen troubles hard enough to put my faith in God to the test.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The way I see it, whether I’m 21 or 61 (as I am now), those troubles come not to test my maturity at a chronological age, but to test my spiritual maturity. I believe our growth in spiritual maturity begins the moment we respond to the initial promptings of the Holy Spirit. We may not know who that is when we first respond, but later, we realize that it was him speaking to us and drawing us to God. Twilight tree Jeremiah 17

I’ve been slow to move at times, needing to repeat an experience to finally understand what God wants me to know about him. Over the years, however, I’ve kept in mind something I read early on from A.W. Tozer’s, “The Knowledge of the Holy.”

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Even after reading that book almost 20 years ago, that truth stays with me. Look in the table of contents of Tozer’s book and you’ll see he included each thing that makes God who he is. We can’t separate holiness, goodness or majesty from wisdom, love or justice. God is. Period.

May I go out on a limb and say his immutability–the unchanging nature he owns–explains why we can’t leave out any of his attributes? Nor can we forget that God will always be who he says he is. This unchanging nature is one reason I’ve discovered that God gets me through those troubles better than I can do it myself. (Insert “I change my mind” and “I can be moody” here.)

He guides me, comforts me, has each situation under control. And he gives me strength. I’ve seen it over the long haul, and that strength is only equal to the faith I have in him. Whether it makes sense at the time or not, I have to believe he’ll do what he says he’ll do. Formerly, when my faith was less strong, the realization that he was involved so intimately in my trouble often came later. Now, that knowledge is instinctive.

Trusting him has helped me get through some trouble recently. I wish I could tell you how safe I feel because of it. But it’s beyond words, and that’s probably what God intends. He doesn’t need to be understood as I sometimes think I should be.

Agree with me that Jeremiah the prophet is right when he says a person who trusts in the Lord and has confidence in him is blessed. Does that necessarily mean God gives us gifts so we can make our lives better? I think not.

I believe it means the blessing is the gift of God himself. The God who–because he is who he is–gets us through our troubles and gives us strength for the long haul.

Can’t Turn Back

Years ago in my small group, I was reminded of the scene where Jesus is once again being questioned by his own people–Jews–about who he is and why he does what he does. The scene takes place in John chapter 6. Jesus is explaining in terms that they obviously don’t understand.

He calls himself the “bread of life.” He also says if anyone drinks from him they’ll never be thirsty. After telling them that to eat his flesh and drink his blood means they’ll have a life in him, they’re totally confused.

“When many of the disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (6:60) After this, John records, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (6:66)

At first glance, I think if I were standing there with questions and Jesus said I had to eat him and drink his blood, I might consider making an exit as well.

Recently, I watched the movie “A League of Their Own” again. The film is about a women’s baseball league formed during WWII, but it’s about so much more. Toward the end of the movie, Dottie, who is by everyone’s estimation the best player in the league, decides she’s going home because her husband has returned from the war.

The bus is about to leave for the final series and her team is playing in it. Coach Dugan talks to her about her decision and makes the point that “baseball is inside” her.

“It just got too hard,” Dottie says.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” Coach Jimmy replies. “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.” With that, he turns and walks back to the bus and his team.

Sitting in my small group back then, I remember thinking of what Jesus said to his twelve apostles when that confused and probably disgusted group turned and walked away.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Peter, as usual, believes he speaks for them all when he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Coach Dugan quote

During that meeting it occurred to me that, even if I hadn’t actually put words to it, I knew I’d never want to leave Jesus and go back to what I’d been doing before. I thought about that lifestyle and it sickened me. How could I turn back and not follow? I thought. Jesus had gotten inside me.

But following can be hard. In fact,

“Jesus promised his disciples three things–that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” F.R. Maltby

Do you find that following Jesus is difficult sometimes? If Jesus says we believers are the light of the world, doesn’t that mean shining brightly in a dark world is part of the package? If we’re the salt of the earth, wouldn’t that mean being a savory addition to the lives we touch?

Some days I’m a measly 40-watt bulb with a heavy layer of dust covering me. Ask me to be salty and I might make some comment about preventing hypertension.

It can be hard.

Fortunately, and by the grace of God, we aren’t expected to be salt and light in our own power. Just like Dottie had a coach, we have the Holy Spirit to direct us and help us when things get hard. She had team mates and we have the members of Christ’s Church to encourage and support us.arrow with leader on top

Coach Jimmy Dugan’s words are true for many things. It’s hard to raise children. Working on our relationships to keep them afloat is hard. We aren’t going to just breeze through college or through a military career. Right now you might be involved in a project that’s overwhelming you.

But if it wasn’t hard, just like being a follower of Jesus can be, everyone would do it. It helps to remember what’s on the other side of this life.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Father in heaven, I thank you today that I have a choice to follow and that you rescued me from the lifestyle I seemed trapped in. When you give me a task to do that I balk at because it’s hard, remind me that you’re always in control. Thank you for making me salt and light to the world. Remind me that when I see your work in the world that the “hard” is what’s making this life as a follower “great.”

 

This is a Test

When I was a kid, it was common to receive messages from the Emergency Broadcast System through television broadcasting. Our show would be interrupted by a voice announcing the message and then a grating, buzzing sound would come on for a few moments.

That warning sound was so disturbing, I remember times we covered our ears so we wouldn’t hear it.

When the buzzing stopped, that voice would come on and let us know that the pause in our regularly televised program was “only a test” of the system. Had it been a real emergency, the voice said, we would have been given instructions on how to proceed further.

Sometimes I wish God would let me know ahead of time when he’s testing me. It seems that I often don’t know a situation occurring in my life has been a test of my faith until the whole thing has passed.

It’s true what they said about hindsight.

But I wonder. If God gave me fair warning of an upcoming trial and the manner in which I’d be tested, would I listen to it? Would I consider it a grating sound in my ears and cover them so I could ignore that warning?

Frankly, I don’t remember one time when I received advance warning of a trial coming in my life. A test, so to speak. But I remember times when, further into the difficult situation, I realized it was probably a test.

God wants to know how I’ll respond when things get a little “testy.” He wants to see if I’ll trust him through it to do the amazing things he can do in that situation. Will I respond to people and events as Jesus would?

Will I pray, seek his direction and stay out of his way?ex cu woman praying

A little over a year ago, a friend gave me the opportunity to leave a situation in which we both felt frustrated and somewhat angry. Another individual had entered our happy circumstance and jarred it with an annoying presence. He was only doing what he’d been asked to do and the permission he was given to do it was given by someone who had authority.

Still, the situation was “testy.”

When my friend said, “You can leave if you want,” I told her I’d stay. In this situation, which actually wasn’t a big deal compared to some, I realized immediately that God might have something for me to learn. And that’s what I told her.

While that situation was one in which I knew right off that God could be testing me and watching to see how I responded, that’s not always the case.

Often times, as I said, it takes me a while to recognize that God has a hand in the situation and that his hand is large and in charge. He wants me to do some footwork in most cases, but ultimately, he’s in control.

In the letter Jesus’s brother, James, wrote to Jewish Christians, he said

“You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete” (James 1:3, 4)

When I read scripture, I’ve learned to pay attention to the places where it says, “so that.” Those two words tell me there’s a good reason for the direction I’m being given by the writer. Because I know the writer’s words were inspired by God himself, I trust them.

Trusting those words, however, doesn’t mean it will always be easy to follow through on the directions. God’s ideas are usually simple ones, but he doesn’t make things necessarily easy for us.

That means if we’re to grow in our faith in God and what he can–and will–accomplish in our lives, we can’t cover our ears when he tells us “This is a test.” Listening–and follow-through–will keep us humbled. It will help us to grow. Listening and follow-through will keep us safe. Just in case of a real emergency.

Live Christmas All Year Long

We’ve reached it: 2016 A.D.

Just a week ago, we were celebrating Jesus’ birth; today we look expectantly into a new year. At least as far as calendar years go.

With Christmas and the beginning of a new calendar year occurring a week apart, I pause to consider how the two might tie together.

What if we made a resolution to live the Christmas spirit all year long? Take a look at some ideas I thought of and see if you can come up with a few of your own. I’d be glad to hear of them.

Incorporate Music
Occasionally around the first of December, I’ll see my friends post on social media or say outright that they listen to Christmas music all year ‘round. They often sound like they’re apologizing. “I confess,” they say. I don’t think they need to apologize.

Think about it. Traditional Christmas carols are some of the best praise and worship music you can find. Most of them are ancient songs or at least from the last two centuries. o-come-emmanuel

I defy you to read–not sing–the lyrics of a Christmas carol and not see the true message of what Christmas means to Christians all over the world. Consider how listening to these hope-filled songs can turn a trial-filled time of life into a time of remembering God’s faithfulness.

Enjoy Fellowship
Throughout the year we naturally think of some specific days to enjoy fellowship with family or friends. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day for example. Why not go the extra mile (and avoid some of that grocery shopping craziness) and plan a get together in March? September? For no reason except to enjoy the fellowship.

Not to be maudlin, but we are never promised another glimpse of our loved ones once we’ve parted. I’ve heard too many stories of people who lost someone dear to them and one thing they regret is not getting together more often. Just celebrate life together. It doesn’t even have to revolve around food. But do it; you won’t be sorry.

This is one resolution I plan to carry out for sure with as much time as I’m given in the next year.

Enjoy the Wonder
The Christmas story I’m familiar with involves a single star guiding several men from the near east to a place in the Judean countryside. They found Jesus there. While I don’t claim to know how the tradition of lighting up our homes came into being, it has a place in my history.

As a child, my father would drive us around town to look at the brilliant light displays other people had come up with. We kids ooh-ed and aah-ed the same way we did during the 4th of July fireworks display.

Have you ever gone out to take a look at the starry sky on a clear night? It’s worth it to drive out to the country (avoiding light pollution) and watch the “silent stars go by.” That’s truly a credible use of the word ‘awesome.’dew covered web

Consider also that God has given us wonders closer than the starry sky. We often forget to notice the everyday happenings that, if we think deeper about them, are miracles. His creation gives us reason to stop and wonder. Colorful birds. Fragile, intricate spider webs. Clouds building into a thunderstorm. You get the picture.

The birth of a baby–even if it’s not Jesus–is always considered a ‘blessed event.’

Be Generous
One of my favorite Christmas stories is “A Christmas Carol.” Even though I know the story inside out, I’ve always enjoyed the end. Scrooge discovers what it really means to give to others; the act makes him feel incredibly alive.
Love, generosity and need know no season. We all can find ways to share more of our treasures: time, money, resources and affection. I’m encouraged by the words of Paul the apostle:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition to noting that God is generous, Paul says He is gracious.

Keep Hope Alive
If we can say one thing about Jesus coming to earth and the purpose of His life, ministry, death and resurrection, it’s this: We have hope for the future.

During any given year we may face trouble which seems to be more than we can stand. You may be thinking of the past year or one in recent history in which you experienced a heavy burden. We all can; it’s one of those things common to us all.

However, for those who receive Christ, the message of hope stands stronger than any trial. Jesus told his disciples that in this world there would definitely be trouble. He also assured them they could “Take heart” because He’d overcome the world.

Remember that hope is something we keep in our hearts to keep us going. It’s also a message we share because we want everyone to know what we know. God has a plan and that plan is for us to be His.

Anno Domini
A.D. stands for anno Domini. It means in the year of the Lord but is often translated as in the year of our Lord. It is occasionally set out more fully as anno Domini nostri Iesu (or Jesu) Christi (“in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ”). The term anno Domini or A.D. is used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the Jesus’ conception or birth. The dating system was devised in 525, but was not widely used until after 800. The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today.

Is it any wonder?

He who gave so generously, with an accompaniment of angels’ music and the wonder of a bright star, brought the idea of fellowship in the Church and the reality of hope to us all.

Ten Things I Believe

In 1990, just for fun, I came up with a list of “Things I Like.” Not surprisingly, ‘a nice cup of tea’ and ‘telling a joke well’ made the list.

Before the year was over, I’d considered that list and decided I needed to write another list of “Things I Need” (relationally). What I learned about writing and reviewing that list over time was that I was the one mostly responsible for making sure my relational needs were met. If I looked at it any other way, I felt like a victim.

Now, somewhat belatedly, I’m convinced another list is in order. A more important list, and probably not complete, I name “Things I Believe.” After all, I’m a Believer.

For what’s it’s worth, here it is. And the only items on the list I could say are in order of importance are perhaps #1 and #2.

1. I believe everything God said about Himself in scripture.Jesus Is ---

2. I believe everything Jesus said about Himself and that I am, because of my belief, now crucified with Him, reconciled to God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and will spend eternity with Him when He returns.

3. I believe there is a purpose in my life and that this purpose is to please God, however He defines His pleasure.

4. I believe the various experiences of my life–trials and joys, no matter when they happened–God is even now using to further His kingdom.

5. I believe in the intrinsic value of every human being.

6. I believe in the power of prayer.

7. I believe God speaks to people in a variety of ways and His purpose for speaking is for His glory to be shown in the world.

8. I believe there is an enemy in the world named Satan and that it is possible to be deceived by him as well as it is possible to stand against him with the power of God’s word and prayer.

9. I believe that there is a cost in loving as God commanded, but as we risk according to God’s definition of love, our relationships with Him become deeper. We are healed and our relationships with others become healthier.

10. I believe that my beliefs can and will affect my behavior.

Bonus belief: I believe that Numbers 1 and 2 are the basic foundation for the rest of the beliefs listed.