What Is A Christian To Do?

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Hate crimes, police shootings, terrorist attacks and injured stray cats are all recent events that have filled me with sadness. And yes, I purposely included cats in the same sentence as the lives of human beings. The reason why is because the cat incident hit the closest to my physical home.

Our backyard borders a small patch of trees and a drainage creek. We see our share of animals pass through. The stray cat was a new visitor. It looped back around to park his weary body under our front porch glider. I could see his matted fur and the swarm of flies that followed him as he oozed infection onto the concrete.

It was not a problem I expected to see in our backyard. We shooed him away, but he kept inching his way back until he found his familiar spot on the front porch again. Truth be told, I didn’t want this problem hanging around my house or present in my life.

I did the Christian thing and prayed for the cat. I prayed that the cat would simply disappear. I prayed for the cat’s suffering to end. I wrestled with Christian guilt because truth-be-told, I wished the cat hadn’t showed up here. In the end, the cat did not hear my prayers. He stayed where I could no longer ignore him.

We asked neighbors if they knew the cat’s owner. No one claimed the cat. I didn’t have to imagine their relief that this cat ended up in our yard and not in their yard. The cat was still our problem.

Eventually, we transported the cat to a local animal shelter. The employee examined the cat and used a sensor to detect a microchip. My heart lept just a little when she reported that there was a microchip. There was real hope to reunite cat and owner. Most likely, I will never know the end of this story. However, I can find some solace in the fact that we did something to potentially improve the cat’s circumstances.

Sometimes the problems in this world feel like that injured stray cat. We didn’t ask for the problem. We don’t want to deal with the problem. We don’t have the resources to fix the problem. Or worse yet, maybe we simply don’t care about the problems because it doesn’t directly affect our day-to-day lives.

The Bible has it right: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act (Proverbs 3:27). All of us have more power than we realize. Everyone deserves our good. Jesus shows us the better way: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36.) May we look upon others with compassion and love rather than with intolerance and hate.

The best expression of faith that I can come up with is to show kindness in the moment. It may not change the world, but it can offer hope for that given moment. Maybe that is the best any of us can do on our own. We show kindness and hope that together with the kindness of others, God uses those moments to become a movement of love that changes the world.

The Math Doesn’t Add Up

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Math is orderly and predictable in how it describes complex circumstances. I like math! Math has always been relatively easy for me. This explains why I became an engineer, married an engineer, and have two sons who chose math-related careers (engineering and actuarial science.)

Only one math class tripped me up in college: differential equations. I still managed to pull off an “A,” but I worked harder than I ever had to in a math class. Now that I am older and long since removed from my college days, I keep coming across math that causes me to stumble. The issue is not the application of differential equations as I haven’t used it since that class! The heart of my problem is that the math doesn’t add up: plus one minus one does not equal zero. Zero implies neutrality. You are not in the black or in the red as the plusses and minuses even out.

The year that my brother-in-law died at 52 years old is the same year that the first great-grandchild was born. We still had the same number of people at family get-togethers, but everything had changed. Of course, there was the surplus of joy in having a little one around again. The many pictures of four generations together are evidence of the new life in our family.  However, there is also a void that the number zero does not encompass. It is a gap in our hearts and a missing smile in pictures of the new family memories we make.

I see the same math in the cancer ministry I lead. A survivor succumbs to cancer and I enroll another survivor just starting their cancer journey. Our numbers stay the same, but the math doesn’t do justice for the emotional fall-out. Math doesn’t capture the hurt that zero brings. We acutely feel the loss through a survivor’s death and the pain that gain brings when another person is diagnosed with cancer.

Those are the times that textbook math doesn’t add up for me. I am reminded that these moments are when my education really begins. God opens my eyes to His math based on His perfection. Zero doesn’t exist when I trust in the completeness of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God fills voids with ever-increasing gains of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The negative is turned into a positive by God’s supernatural touch.

God’s math doesn’t have to make sense on paper for God prefers to permanently write it on our hearts. As we embrace His new math, God reveals wisdom and reassures with mercy. Finally, a math education that I can actually apply to my life!

Philippians 3:8

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

 

 

 

God Moments Can Become God Stories

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I knew it was going to be a busy week. I was still learning the ropes in my new volunteer position. The ministry had finished their annual fundraiser and there was a flurry of activity to follow up on. In addition, we were headed out-of-town to visit my in-laws.

That day I was a woman on a mission with a long to-do list. If I adhered to my schedule, I would cross everything off my list and be home to make a nice dinner for my husband. I was on-time with my self-declared agenda until I dropped off information at the church’s welcome desk.

That’s when my plans abruptly changed. The person behind the desk commented, “Oh good, I was looking for those ministry forms because my friend is battling cancer.” As a cancer survivor and the administrative leader of a ministry that supports cancer survivors, I recognized the lead-in to a lengthy and emotional cancer story.

I am not proud to admit that in my mind, the flesh reaction was, “I don’t have time for this. I am on a schedule with my things to accomplish.” Immediately, I heard the Holy Spirit’s rebuttal in my soul, “This is why you are here today. Take a breath, slow down, and be present for this person.”

I recognized my God moment. The Holy Spirit only gives perfect advice. There was no doubt about what was at the top of my to-do list. I listened intently to the person’s cancer story, offered encouragement, and gave tips for enrolling her friend in the ministry.

Once I had shared the practical, I turned to the most important aspect of my God moment. I offered to pray. We prayed for her friend, for her, their friendship, and the circumstances of this particular cancer story. I walked away from that God moment encouraged by God’s blessings in my day.

God provides the opportunities to remind us that our God moments can become our God stories. In reality, it is even bigger than that in God’s kingdom. Obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudges opens the floodgates for blessings to flow. God’s beautiful intervention insures that our God moments can become part of someone else’s God story!

Psalm 42:10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Isaiah 66:14

When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.

 

Chance Connections

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It caught me off-guard. I was in a paper store attending a free “Make It, Take It” card-making session. One of the employees was helping the teacher at the table where I was seated. As the employee’s hands moved, her ring finger caught my attention.

I asked to see her wedding ring up-close. Sure enough, her ring brought back memories. My fiancé (now husband) included me when it was time to go jewelry-shopping. I was instantly drawn to an engagement ring with a single diamond and a matching wedding band with a chip diamond. The uniqueness of the rings’ finish hooked me. The rings have a split design with contrasting brushed and polished finishes. I had not seen another ring like it in twenty-eight years until that day at the paper store.

I just had to know more about her wedding ring story. We compared notes like giddy high school girls showing off their boyfriends’ class rings that they had received. We were married a year apart in neighboring states. She had a different style of wedding band while mine was bought as part of a set. It was a fun connection in an otherwise typical day. I walked out of the store smiling at this chance connection that God wove together.

For a moment, I thought that maybe God had given me a glimpse of heaven. We won’t meet a stranger in heaven because we will discover connections we were unaware of while in our physical bodies. We will be amazed with connections that God used to encourage, to mature, and to love on His people in preparation for heaven. We will learn how every little act of obedience and service to God resulted in a connection that will be celebrated in heaven.

On earth, our most basic connection is our shared sin against God. God’s heart is to connect us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses our faith to bind us to God and Jesus. This special connection that begins on earth will take us into heaven’s glory with many more stories of God-ordained connections.

 

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. Thy were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Endurance Can Speak Volumes About Faith

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My stomach didn’t feel right. It wasn’t long afterwards that something I caught or ate fully manifested itself. The worst of it gradually subsided over the next four days. However, new symptoms appeared. I was very hungry. I was tired of being lethargic. I longed for the motivation to accomplish something on my to-do list. I was bored of daytime television. Plain and simple, I was grumpy!

I knew this detour of sickness would be short-lived and minor in the big picture of my life. Why is it so hard to endure when I am in the midst of troubling circumstances? Why do I struggle to gracefully handle a couple of bad days?

I want to be one that rises to the occasion and follows the examples shared in the Bible of how to endure suffering. Jesus knew the depths of suffering, punctuated by separation from His Father, yet never sinned. Once Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus, his life became very messy with opportunities seized to glorify God. Endurance can speak volumes about one’s faith.

Maybe you are like me and still learning how to endure joyfully. God uses our circumstances to remind us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. May the experiences we would rather avoid draw us closer to God’s heart.

The following principles have helped me to strive for endurance with patience and joy.

1) Embrace Suffering:

Or perhaps more aptly described: give into it. There are times when we are to put everything else on hold and focus on the suffering in order to rest and heal.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

2) Make the Most of Suffering

Suffering is oftentimes the best platform to share our faith. People are paying attention to your life and want to know the reason for your hope.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and  respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

3) Pace Yourself

Rely on God’s grace for your good and remove your expectations. We are to desire more of God’s agenda and less of ours.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

4) Reach Out to Others

Ask for prayers. We can’t endure in our own strength as life is too hard. Victory comes through our prayers and the prayers of others.

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. (Exodus 17:11-12)

5) Keep Praising God

Worship fixes our eyes on Him, softens our hearts to receive, and causes joy to well up from deep inside.

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. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

6) Trust God

We don’t have to figure it all out to endure. Rather, we trust that God has it all figured out and is using our circumstances for His good.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

 

 

 

The Best Answer Is God!

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They showed up with no note or name attached. An anonymous donor dropped off a big bag of cards for our ministry that supports cancer survivors. The cards were beautiful with themes and messages for every occasion and age of recipient.

There were over 125 hand-crafted cards in that bag. I was in awe that someone touched every single card and poured their time, energy, and money into those cards. Then, that person gave the bunch away without any strings attached. I wish I knew who to thank. I want to send them a card, give them a hug, and let them know the blessings their cards will be for our cancer survivors.

In the book of Acts, the men of Athens didn’t know who to worship. As a result, they filled their city with many idols. In Acts 17:23, the Apostle Paul connects the dots for the people: For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

As Christians, we know who to worship: God the Father. We don’t have to wonder if God loves us for we are God’s favorite creation made in His image. We know the depth of God’s love through His Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins. In a world with more questions than answers and more doubts than certainties, God speaks truth deep into our hearts. Jesus’ resurrection cements our eternal hope in God.

Paul expressed it best in Acts 17:24-25, 28: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else… ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

The answer to my question of who to thank is God. My gratitude for the cards is lifted up as praise to God for meeting the ministry’s needs with bountiful and oftentimes, surprise blessings. God connects people in unique ways to serve Him and share the love of Jesus with others. God even uses a piece of decorated card stock to let us know that He is always the best answer!

 

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ants Go Marching

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Ants

The ants go marching. With the first real warmth of an ever-nearing spring, ants have entered my kitchen domain. After observing their behavior, I have reached the conclusion that ants are not very smart.

Ants don’t heed warning signs. I placed poisonous bait because the ants’ behavior is so predictable. Once the foraging ants are hooked by the bait, they return with even more ants. Although dead ants litter the counter, the live ants ignore the warning for their future and return to what is sweet and attractive in the present. Before too long, the entire colony will follow the same path of destruction.

We are so much smarter than ants. We can recognize what will harm us. We would never lead others astray. We wouldn’t follow the crowd into danger. We think and act beyond present self-gratification. Right? Regardless of our answer, the bottom line is that all of us need God’s help. Satan is an enemy that will use anything to entice and ensnare us in sin.

Through God’s Holy Spirit, God equips us to be on guard and to follow in our Lord Jesus’ footsteps of obedience. We never march alone for Jesus knows our suffering and temptations in life. Even more comforting than being able to sympathize with us, Jesus has secured our victory over Satan and evil. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross settled the matter once and for all by upholding eternal life in Himself and eternal defeat in Satan.

May we joyfully live out the victory that is already ours!

Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Colossians 2:15

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

 

 

Am I Good Enough?

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I have a creative side with a roomful of craft supplies to prove it. My latest project (or obsession according to my husband) is making cards. With stamps, edging scissors, and varied textures and colors of paper, the combinations seem endless. My style is straightforward with layering and color contrast.

I see the cards as an expression of my faith for each card will hold a prayer for the recipient. I join others to make and send cards to cancer survivors and their families through the Cancer Hope ministry of SouthBrook Christian Church. (Click here for my previous post on this wonderful ministry.)

A core group of people meet to share ideas and produce cards for the ministry’s use. I bring my stash of cards to share, pleased with the results of my efforts at home. That is, until I compare my cards to those of the more creative and craftier people on the team. What once filled me with satisfaction, now feels embarrassingly simplistic. I ask myself, “Am I good enough?”

Satan wants us to compare ourselves with others. For it takes our perspective off of God’s gifting to us as individuals and places it in an arena of competition for God’s seemingly limited blessings. Satan uses lies to discourage us from God’s purpose for our lives. The truth of God reminds us that:

  • God has more than enough blessings to go around and then some more.
  • Everyone’s part in the body of Christ is needed and used by God.
  • Done for and through God, our efforts will always be more than good enough in the hands of God.

The question is no longer, “Are we good enough?” The question becomes, “Do we trust God enough to use us for His glory?”

Colossians 1:16

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

 

John 6:9-13

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

 

 

What Good Do You Carry Around?

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The elderly gentlemen in the self-checkout lane appeared to struggle with bagging his groceries.  He was methodical and very slow. In response to the subtle, but yet perceptible frustration of the lady next in line and in front of me, he placed the divider bar behind his groceries. The lady took the cue. She efficiently rang up her groceries, bagged them, and squeezed past the man. She was quickly on her way again.

We have all been there and can relate to this scene. In my younger years, I would have been discreetly rolling my eyes and cursing my bad luck to pick the slowest line. Life can be one busy obligation after another with places to go, things to do, and people to meet. Interruptions and delays are not welcomed in over-scheduled days.

Now that my husband is semi-retired and our boys are on their own, life isn’t so crazy. My days are still full, but there is much more flexibility in my schedule. Impatient tendencies can creep back in, but refreshing grace abounds more so. (Besides, I find that I can be the one who is slowing down the line!)

Situations like the grocery store scene always remind me of Proverbs 3:27. The words are a clear command from Scripture. Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Our importance, our schedules, and our busyness do not exempt us from doing good. We are to judge the need rather than the person. There are no limitations on the good we are to do. The good doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, just a simple act of love for that given moment in time.

The man was still finishing up when it was my turn to check out. I approached him with a smile, offered my help, and then wished him a good day as he went on his way. It didn’t take much effort on my part, but it sure felt good to act.

We all have the power to act with kindness, a smile, and an extra dose of patience for those around us, wherever we find ourselves. What good do you have to offer to someone in need? More importantly, what good are you holding back? God gives us the opportunities and His goodness to share with others. It is a responsibility, a privilege, a blessing, and sometimes a sacrifice to act. Done in the power of God’s love, joy results!

1 John 2:5

But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:

 

Dull Is Never A Good Thing!

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I can’t remember where or when I bought my kitchen knife set. It has been that long ago. Over the years, I have thought about nicer and newer knife sets. However, the set I owned was good enough for my use, or so I thought.

There were hints that it was time to upgrade. Certain knives could only be used for tasks that didn’t require a pristine knife. When we visited our kids, I was impressed at how well their knives sliced, diced, and pared. I still didn’t see it as a problem because I had plenty of knives to choose from. My knives got the job done and that’s really all that mattered to me.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2015 when I opened my gift under the tree. It was a brand new and very sharp knife set from my older son and his wife. I asked my daughter-in-law how they came up with the idea of a knife set. (Yes, I really did ask despite the obvious!) She replied in a very gracious manner that my knives were dull and difficult to work with. I was so used to my dull knives that I had forgotten what it was like to work with sharp knives.

If we aren’t careful, the same thing can happen in our faith lives. We can become spiritually dull over time without recognizing what gradually happened. What are we doing to sharpen our faith? Are we participating in the body of believers? As we serve alongside each other, we are sharpened by rubbing elbows with more mature Christians. Be jealous for their gifts and learn from their example.

Spend time in God’s Word. The Word equips us with a sharper sense of God’s vision and purpose for our lives. Be transparent with other Christians revealing our rough edges. As we share our hearts and pray for one another, we sharpen each other for the tasks God has given us.

We are the tool that God uses to accomplish His work here on earth. May we be ready, sharp, and willing in the hands of our Father God.

 

Proverbs 17:17

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. 

 

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.