Lamenting the Hearts of Men

The daily news causes my heart to cringe. I mostly avoid the news until I become aware from other sources that something occurred that requires more of my attention. Unfortunately, most of the time the event is bad news.

News of natural disasters horrifies, and I feel sadness for people experiencing these tragedies. My prayers go out for them. But what horrifies even more are those tragedies caused by people—violence, both mental and physical, resulting from hate, rage, bigotry, pride, or other abhorrent outpourings of the hearts of men. (When I say men, of course I mean humankind.)

At a recent Cru staff conference, we were asked to lament what is heavy on our hearts. Lamenting is defined as  feeling or expressing sorrow or regret for something. Not only does a lament express sorrow, it also can voice feelings of regret.

My sorrow. People pursue their own way apart from God. People have forgotten God and show no regard for Him. Blinded by selfishness and self-reliance, men and women determine their way is the best way. If this is true, why do we consistently feel this world falling into a deeper spiral of despair and hopelessness? We see the evidence in the news and in our personal lives. But God has a purpose for each person. When we surrender to and live out that purpose, He is pleased to shower us with provision, peace, fulfillment, and hope. And that hope is in Christ.

To some, righteousness is a loathsome word. It is often viewed as self-righteousness and judgement. However, I’ve come to learn that righteousness simply means being right with God and right with people. How much more enjoyable would the news be if we all lived with this as our goal? Jesus, the righteousness of God, will fulfill all our desires and needs. Romans 9:33 says,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem [that is, Jesus] that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”

It hurts my heart and baffles my mind how people continue to live in ways that will bring them shame and disgrace. Why don’t people strive to live without disgrace?

My regret. I too have a heart that contains detestable things. My past actions have not always been stellar. Nor will my future actions. I am not immune to the words of sorrow I speak. Therefore, I lament not only the hearts of men, but also my own.

However, I gave and continue to offer my life in surrender to God’s plan. I trust in Jesus who willingly guides me into a life without shame. My goal is to pursue righteousness—living right with God and with people. All people.

What is your lament today?

What Was Jesus Thinking?

While reflecting on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, I wondered what was going through His mind.

When accusations flew at Him,
He remained silent.

When mocked and beaten by soldiers,
He remained silent.

When forced to carry His cross, and then enduring the nails, He remained silent.

During all this, what was He thinking? Was He praying? I think so considering the life of prayer He led. I believe in His suffering, His prayers and thoughts were of me—and you. He loved people so much that He willingly went through the humility and agonizing pain of the cross for them, for us.

He took His suffering and undue punishment quietly because He could see the big picture.

When we suffer through hard things, we should remember His love, and we too should think of the big picture. There’s more to come, and what we endure now through the power of the Holy Spirit will be redeemed and rewarded.

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

Skillful Living

I’ve never been much of a worrier. I don’t generally concern myself with things that could go wrong tomorrow. As Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Amen to that! But I am a planner—definitely not spontaneous. There is wisdom in being prepared for future events. However, being a planner can create two problems:

  • Obsessive planning can be worry in disguise.
  • Constant planning can rob me of the present.

I want to expand on this second point.

Today is the day that matters.

Each day offers something to learn and something to do. We have opportunity to build relationships with God and people, growing our faith in the process. Some days are tough, some wonderful, and some seem uneventful or ordinary. God wants us to rely on Him, lean on Him, to come to Him, and learn from Him. He has wisdom to reveal if we’ll keep our attention on TODAY. When we learn from Him, the day becomes much more than ordinary!

This week I read a comment about Proverbs 1. The Bible in One Year used an interesting word in its definition of wisdom, which was described as “living skillfully in whatever conditions you find yourself.” To do something well, one must possess knowledge and skill. As we attain wisdom, we learn to navigate skillfully through life’s twists and turns. The only real wisdom is that which comes from growing closer to the Author of wisdom.

Learn to balance healthy planning while living fully and skillfully today.

Light or Dark. It’s Your Choice.

img_2132Light and dark—these are common metaphors for good and evil, and very real in the spiritual world. We have a choice to turn toward light or into the shadows of darkness in any given circumstance. Being aware of this choice and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide every moment is crucial. He desires to walk with us into the light. My daily devotional put it this way, “[He] seeks to guide us into the light with every thought, emotion, action, and decision.”

In even a little thing like a thought, the dark lures us. We must choose to take every thought captive before it manifests into emotion or action, and allow the Holy Spirit’s power to work within us. When we do, we resist the dark. Make wise choices as filtered through James 3:17.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Are your choices:

  • pure?
  • peace-loving?
  • considerate?
  • submissive?
  • full of mercy and good fruit?
  • impartial?
  • sincere?

If so, then they are wise choices.

In the final days before the 2016 presidential election, questions abound. What will our nation look like in the next year? It already feels chaotic and without a moral compass. Can it get worse? My prayer is for hearts to open to God’s love and truth. I pray Ephesians 5:14:

…’Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’

We desperately need the light of Christ to turn back the darkness.

I also pray Matthew 4:16, that before we fall into even greater darkness, the people of our nation will see a great light. On we who dwell in the shadow of death, the greatest light will dawn.

In God We Trust.

Sometimes You Have to Sell Your House

Budgeting. It might as well be a four-letter word. Despite the initial hatred of the idea, we learned how freeing it is to spend within a budget.

We never kept a close eye on where our paychecks went. We had one income for the most part while I was a stay-at-home mom. We paid the bills fine. We took vacations. But, we had a little bit of debt. Although it wasn’t much, it was there all the same. We both believe in tithing, and we made sure that didn’t fall through the cracks. Yet when opportunities came up to give something extra to a cause, we couldn’t do much, if anything.

A friend told me about YouNeedABudget.com. She told me what a huge difference it had made in her finances. We decided to try it out. We started keeping track of all our spending. It was tedious – keeping receipts, entering expenditures in the proper categories, budgeting the next paycheck. After about a year, we really started seeing a difference. It was becoming easier to pay bills, and we had a little left to save!

About the time we started budgeting, I got a full-time job working from home. That was a big jump in income from my stay-at-home mom pay… So, not only was our budgeting paying off, we were now able to start saving more and having extra for those times when we wanted to give to special offerings at church or give to a charity. We were also starting to get involved in missions. We both wanted to be able to give to missions, and also to be able to go on mission trips.

Sometimes you have to sell your houseMy husband felt it first. He half joked about selling our house and getting something less expensive. I always said, “No way! I don’t want to move!” We built our house on an acre and a third. We had a creek, trees, and lots of space (which is kind of a rare find in our area). We planned to raise our kids there until they graduated high school. I loved our home. We had lived there for 11 years.

In 2012, I went on a mission trip to Zambia. It’s funny how God uses mission trips to change our perspective. When I returned, I began to feel what my husband had already been feeling. “God, you want us to sell our house?”

This was a tough decision for me. However, I came to recognize this was something God was asking of us. He wanted to make it possible for us to have more freedom to be generous like never before. We could refuse and stay in the home we’d been comfortable in for so long. But in doing so, we would miss out on his greater plan.

Sometimes you have to sell your houseWe followed His leading and sold the house we loved. We moved 10 minutes away to another house the same size – with a considerably smaller yard. (My husband doesn’t mind the yard work so much now!) We cut our mortgage in half. We are living debt free. We have paid cash for home improvements, a new car, vacations, and mission trips. Last year, we were able to be generous like never before! God is providing for those in need through our obedience, and we are blessed in the process!

When God calls, He usually asks us to do something we might not do on our own. But, wow, what amazing things happen when we do what he asks! We are already seeing new things He has in mind for us. And, we’re ready to say, “Yes!” More to come…

Build Bridges, Not Walls

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

When someone hurts you – I mean really hurts you – it can take a very long time to allow forgiveness in. Why is it we tend to wallow in our emotional pain and anger? We were hurt, so we want to stay mad.

I understand this tendency when we are wronged in some dramatic or terrible way. Unfortunately, those things happen. It takes huge doses of courage for parents to forgive their child’s killer, or for an abuse victim to forgive their abuser. I can’t say for sure I would have that kind of courage.

But, what about when we’re hurt by a series of small things – arguments, thoughtless comments, exclusion? Small things can add up. But, can we forgive and move on, especially when a friendship is at stake?

For the sake of our relationships, forgiveness is essential. Friendships aren’t perfect because we are imperfect. We all start arguments, say thoughtless things, exclude people at times. We are in a constant battle between selfishness and selflessness, pride and humility. To keep from building walls between us, we have to humble ourselves when we are wrong and say, “I’m sorry.” And we have to be able to forgive when wronged. The longer we wait, the higher and stronger the wall that’s built, until it’s near impossible to break it down.

As Christ-followers, we are called to forgive as we were forgiven by Christ. We are to extend infinite grace and forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we agree with or condone the other person’s actions. But, it does mean that we care enough to talk through issues and work out solutions together.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” Matthew 18:21-22

Lack of forgiveness affects not only you and the relationship with the person you refuse to forgive, but it affects those around you who watch you pile on brick and mortar.

Christ was a carpenter, not a mason. He didn’t build walls, but bridges.

Trust Despite the Question Marks

My first mission trip was to Swaziland, Africa in 2008. I learned a lot about trusting in God’s provision when he calls us to do something for His kingdom.

It was September, 2007. I had just made the decision to go on my first mission trip. Wow, Africa! I was excited to be going on a performing arts trip. We were planning to partner with a local Wesleyan church for a free concert in a park in the middle of the city of Manzini. My role was to sing on the worship team, but also to dance with my two dancer friends. We had two dances as a group, and one dancer (not me) did a ballet solo on pointe.

DSC_0172Shortly after making the decision to go on this grand adventure, my husband and I took a vacation to Maine. It was beautiful! We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast on a hilltop with a wonderful view. A couple days before heading home, we spent the day hiking. Our trail followed the shoreline. The path was an uneven path, not a paved walkway. Yet, not too difficult. We were hiking on the mountain side. It was a full day, and I slept well that night!

The next morning, I awoke to something completely unexpected – pain – all over. Before I even got out of bed, I asked my husband to find me some ibuprofen. Was I THAT out of shape? Our trip ended, and we went home, but the pain continued. I’m not one to go to the doctor at the first sign of a cough or runny nose. I just ride it out until it’s gone. But this was different. The next week, I made an appointment. My pain was in most of my joints, on both sides. The doctor referred me to a rheumatologist. What just happened??

The day I went to the rheumatologist, the pain had gotten so bad I couldn’t even bend down to tie my shoes. What was I going to do? I was supposed to be traveling to Africa in 5 months. I began to give in to fear and anger – and doubt. The rheumatologist did lots of blood tests. My symptoms were presenting like rheumatoid arthritis. I began steroids to reduce the inflammation and pain. Then, she decided to put me on long term drugs used for treating RA. How were these going to affect me physically? Would there be side affects?

Do I go to Africa?

There were so many unknowns about the drugs, the arthritis and about going to Africa in general. I prayed to God to tell me what to do. After I got over the self-pity because of what I was experiencing, my fear began to subside. My prayers were being heard. I knew what I needed to do. I would NOT let the devil convince me that my fear should keep me home. I would go to Africa. And then there was peace.

The long flight was a bit difficult. I experienced some stiffness and pain, but it was manageable. The dancers and I rehearsed for quite a while after arriving and settling in. I overdid it. I started hurting and had to lay down for a while. That evening, we were supposed to dance at a worship service. When I woke up from my nap, the pain was still bad. It hurt to walk. How could I possibly dance? Fear began to set in again. How would I manage this trip if I can hardly walk? I prayed, and others prayed, too. This is where God showed me he gives power and ability to those he calls for a purpose.

About 45 minutes before the worship service was to begin, I started feeling better quickly. I realized I would be able to dance after all – and I did! I knew for a fact, that was God at work.

During the remainder of the trip, I still had some stiffness and pain, but every time I needed to walk, stand to sing, or dance, I was able. The glory of that goes to God who gives what we need just in time.

swazi1 swazi2 swazi3

Since then, the arthritis has only gotten better. I’ve never had an episode again like the first one. I still take medications, but on a much smaller scale. In fact, there is a possibility I will be off of them within the next couple years. We’re taking it slow just in case.

“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.” Psalms 103:3

Maybe He will heal my physical disease this side of Heaven. If not, I know my spiritual “diseases” are being healed daily. The lesson I learned on that trip to Swaziland about trust prepared me for more things to come.