Friday, May 29, 2009

I Am Still

I am still

Psalms 46:10-11" Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

"No more laughing, no more fun; Quaker meeting has begun!"

With those words, my young cousins and I pasted deadpan expressions on our faces. Lips clamped tightly shut as we silently vowed not to utter a word or crack a smile. The object of the game was to see who could keep still the longest.

I'm not sure where the game originated. We played it often as we sat on the back porch of my Mennonite Grandmother's home on a Sunday afternoon while our parents visited in the parlor. Because Sunday was a day of rest, we weren't permitted to play active outdoor games like tag or hide and seek. Instead, we contented ourselves with board games like Chinese Checkers and quiet indoor contests.

Inevitably, our Quaker meeting game only lasted a moment or two as the giggles attacked. We usually ended up laughing so hard, one of the adults would cast a frown in our direction to remind us to be quiet on the Lord's Day.

Being still was difficult for me as a child and that never changed as I grew into an adult. Each time God spoke the words to my heart, "Be still and know I am God," I would paste a reverent expression on my face and quiet my heart.

But just like our childhood game, the stillness didn't last as my mind began to whirl with worries. "Will God really do what I've asked Him?" "What should I do about this situation?" I conjured up a thousand reasons why I ought to step in and try to solve the problem myself because I lacked trust in the sovereignty of my heavenly Father.

It was easier to do things myself rather than to sit idly by and wait on Him. This attitude of controlling busyness originated from my inner fear that somehow I wasn't good enough for God to guide, protect or provide for me.

I wish I could point to a specific instance where God finally broke through and taught me to be still, but the truth is, I'm still working on the issue of being still before Him and trusting Him fully.

Whenever I feel the old controlling mechanisms kick in, I have to consciously stop what I'm doing and manually work at changing the way I react. I try to lay the situation out before God and ask for His help so I can wait patiently before Him for the answer.

Sometimes I have to do it several times a day because my heart wants to revert right back to worry mode. During those times, I do what I know to do - I place scriptures in plain sight and stop to focus on Him and His words frequently. I pray a lot - exposing my willful desire to solve the problem in my own feeble strength. Then I make a conscious effort to still my mind and focus on Him so I can hear what He is saying with His still small voice.

My cousins and I couldn't "be still" for very long as we played our childhood Quaker Meeting game. But with His help, today I am learning to quiet the anxieties of my heart and to be still in His presence.

Father God, I know I'm not alone in this. So many around me are suffering from anxieties and worry born of the inability to trust You fully. Help us to work each day to focus our eyes and hearts on You - to relinquish our need to control our lives. Help us to learn to be still and KNOW You are God, our strength and fortress. Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I am a treasure!

Today: I am a treasure

Deuteronomy 26:16-18 "The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with your soul. You have declared this day that the Lord is you God and that you will walk in His ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands, and laws, and that you will obey him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possessions as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands.

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." ~ author unknown

My daughter, sister-in-law and I spent Memorial Day cleaning my mother-in-law's front porch. Ugh - what a dusty job as we sneezed our way through piles of old cardboard boxes containing fabric, craft supplies and yarn.

My first inclination was to cart the filthy cardboard boxes and their contents to my house where I could toss them in the dumpster without offending Mom. But as we began pawing through them, I discovered many real treasures! One box contained pre-cut quilt squares, just waiting to be stitched together. We also found a few already stitched into pretty pillow tops that just needed stuffing. Of course, they needed to be washed to get rid of the slight musty smell, but someone had gone to a lot of trouble to cut and sew them all. I can always use new throw pillows - or perhaps sell the squares at a yard sale.

Another box held pre-printed fabric panels with designs perfect for making baby quilts for gifts. Again, they had a slight musty smell from being packed away for so long, but the box had protected them from dust and unwanted critters. As I examined them, I refolded the panels and laid them aside, trying to figure out where I could store them. As a pastor's wife, there are always new babies being born to church members and I like to give them gifts.

On and on the afternoon went as we found boxes of stuff - from whole skeins of yarn to small balled up remnants, rolls of quilt batting and even several unfinished quilt tops that were pinned together with batting, ready to be stitched. Cammie found one she loved and asked me to please finish and launder it for her bed.

We never did get to the cupboard that held lengths of quilt fabric and the boxes under the game shelf. That's a job for July 4th when we gather there again! But the point is that the boxes we did manage to sort through held things that were treasures to Mom. As her arthritis became worse, more items were moved to the enclosed porch because she needed the room for her motorized wheelchair, hospital bed and clothes downstairs. She asked us to sort through them hoping her treasures would be passed down to people who would also value them.

While we can't and won't keep everything for lack of storage space, many of her treasures will be valued and used up eventually - not just thrown in the dumpster.
God created man in His image, originally intending him to maintain the earth; to please and enjoy His presence as well as the world He created forever. Sin separated man from God. Much like Mom's treasures which were boxed up and moved to the front porch, sin caused man's heart to become dirty and unusable.

But God isn't content to let His treasures disintegrate with age or disuse. He constantly goes through the dirty, dusty, musty piles of refuse, looking for His treasures so He can wash them and restore them to places of use and honor in His kingdom. He turns the musty, cut up fabric of our lives into beautiful quilts and then uses them to wrap others in His warmth.

How often Satan's trash becomes God's treasure! Consider a person, like the woman taken in the act of adultery. Those around her wanted to trash her life - to stone her because of her sin. But Jesus forgave her and restored her sense of value and worth.

Without His restorative power in our lives, where would we have ended up eternally? Because we have been redeemed, we are privileged to share that trash to treasure story with others. The challenge is before us. Let's get to work!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I am valuable!

TODAY: I am Valuable

Matthew 6:25-26 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?"

"Oh look! There's a yard sale sign. Pull over quick!"

My husband tells me the car won't stop at yard sales, but when I'm driving - it does. LOL!

I'm not sure why I enjoy pawing through other people's cast offs, except that maybe I'm hoping to find just the right "treasure" - that one thing I really need and can't live without at a real bargain price.

Over the years I have found some neat treasures too - all kinds of bargain children's clothes to help clothe my 7 grand kids; toys to keep at my house for when they come to visit; furniture to overhaul so I can change my home decor, kitchen gadgets and so on. These things were useless items to their owners, but now occupy places of honor in my home.

At least they do until I need to clean house or pack up the moving van! Then they go out the door into my own yard sale and bring in a few extra, much-needed dollars to purchase something else.

The point is, the things others think of as expendable trash have become useful and enjoyable to me. Sometimes they need a little TLC, but they are treasures nevertheless.

Think for a moment of where you were before Christ found you. What kind of crisis were you going through at the time? What hardships or trials drew you to Him? Did you feel like a heap of trash - with no value to anyone?

According to one Christian psychologist, 99% of people who seek Christ are in a crisis situation at the time they call out to Him. Many feel worthless and hopeless. Only 1 % of Christians can actually say they "grew" into the family of God. That's a staggering statistic!

God saw us among the enemy's trash and bought us back, took us home, and put us to use in His Kingdom. Yay! He fixes us up, repairs the broken parts of our lives and loves us because He sees value in us - He sees what we CAN be.

True, even after He works on us we may bear scars of sin or of our poor choices down here on this earth, but He finds ways to bring beauty and wonderful things from those scars. They become our personal experience evidence of Christ's love and care in our lives. As we share those experiences with the hurting around us, they too allow Him to rescue them from the "trash." What a beautiful trash to treasure story!

As one Christian bumper sticker put it:

"I know I'm somebody 'cause God don't make no junk!"
Our value isn't determined by our perfection, but rather by His grace.

Thank You Lord!

Don't be afraid to share your story just because of your scars or imperfections. The hurting around us need to see those things to know He can minister to them too, right now, right where they're at. Just as He still bears the scars from the cross, He values the scars that remain from our hurts and mistakes. He redeems them by using them to touch the lives of others. We are VALUABLE to Him.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I am Heard!

Today: I am heard

Psalm 69:33 (Amplified Bible)

For the Lord Jehovah Shama (Shaw-Mah') hears the poor and needy and despises not His prisoners (His miserable and wounded ones).

Have you ever been talking to someone and realized they weren't listening to you? Maybe their eyes darted back and forth watching everything else going on in the room. Maybe they were zoning out, planning what they could say next. Whatever they were doing, you knew they hadn't really heard a word you were saying.

Moms tend to do this too with their kids. Johnny will come home from school and be so excited he will burst if he can't chatter a hundred miles per minute about his day. Meanwhile Mom stands at the stove trying to concentrate so she doesn't burn dinner.

Or have you ever noticed how the kids seem to need your undivided attention when you're on the phone? All day long they played just fine in the other room out of your sight, but when the phone rings, they're right there needing your listening ears?

We all need to know that the people we talk to are listening to us. Being heard helps us feel validated, like we are important, not merely afterthoughts or nuisances.

With people, we can tell they are really hearing us by their nonverbal cues like how they stand before us with an open, accepting posture. They will not cross their arms or legs and will lean slightly forward toward us or lean their head toward us. Making direct eye contact is another way to let us know they hear us.

A good listener gives verbal clues too - like repeating back what they heard us say. They will nod and say "yes," "That's right," or "Uh-huh." They will also respond appropriately when we pose a question or pause for a response.

So if we rely so heavily on verbal and visual clues to know we've been heard by a person a we talk to them, how do we know an unseen, formless God hears us?

In Psalm 69:33, the Hebrew name for God - Jehovah Shama - is used. The name means "I Am the One who hears you (listens to you). By His very nature God is a Listener. Knowing He cannot lie, especially when speaking of Himself, we know He listens when we call.

We know He listens because of the scriptural examples He gives us. I'm thinking of the story of Hagar. Twice she encountered the God who sees and hears. She named her son Ishmael which means "God has heard" based on her experience with Him in Genesis 16.

We also know we are heard by our own past experiences with God. At times He answered our prayers instantaneously. Other times, He gave us assurances that the answer was on the way - like a "hug" through a scripture, a friend who knew exactly what we needed or maybe even a physical sensation of being held and comforted in response to a prayer we prayed or a need we expressed.

Still, during my 34 years in ministry, I've heard so many people say, "I feel like my prayers aren't going any higher than the ceiling. God's not listening to me." The problem isn't that God has failed to listen to us. It's that they don't FEEL heard or validated. And because they don't feel Him, He must not be listening. So they pull back from Him and begin to wallow in their feelings of low self worth.

In other words, they begin to listen to the lies that they have believed most of their life. "I must not be good enough for God to answer me." "What have I done wrong to make God hate me?" They begin to turn their eyes inward, rather than upward and miss the little hugs and reassurances God sends along the way.

In counseling with these women, I usually try to encourage them to work at drawing closer to the Lord, rather than worrying about the answers to prayer. As they begin to focus on Him, they can see the little signs all around them that encourage and fortify their hearts.
"God really does listen to me," they say with an incredulous smile as they relate the littlest details where they see His hand at work.

We know we are heard when we turn our eyes on Jesus and look full in His wonderful face. The things of this earth really do grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Am Victorious


Deuteronomy 20:1-4 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them,because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall say: Hear O Israel, today you're going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.
I am a visual learner so the Lord often helps me understand His presence in my life through visuals - pictures of His relationship with me.

Many years ago when I started on my journey toward wholeness, God showed me a picture of how I saw myself. I was dressed in Roman-type armor - you know, the sandals that laced up the calves, a skirt of leather strips which covered the thighs, a leather breastplate, etc.

I had removed the helmet and stood with one foot balanced on the helmet. In my hand I held a long Roman spear with the butt end planted in the ground. My other hand perched on my hip.
I stood there on my cliff poised for battle, my long hair whipped back away from my face as the winds of adversity buffeted me.

I saw myself as a strong, fearless warrior for the Lord. However, I failed to see how alone I was on that hillside as I tried to handle the battles on my own. I didn't know how to trust Him through the battles. I was afraid of being a "bother" to Him so I stood firm on my own two feet, fighting FOR Him.

Twila Paris sang a song many years ago called the "Warrior Is A Child" As God began showing me this picture of Bonnie, the warrior princess, I began hearing the refrain of that song : "deep inside this armor, the warrior is a child" - a broken, wounded, hurting child. God dismantled that visual in one fell swoop. I was reduced to a small frightened child with no armor at all, naked and exposed to the elements.

Thankfully, God never leaves us in a place of brokenness. He always heals and works with us to bring out the beauty and strength He sees in us. For me it meant a long process of healing as He slowly changed my picture of myself from warrior princess to warrior bride.

What does a warrior bride look like? That picture of Christ is still evolving in my heart and life. But as of now to looks something like this: I am riding on the back of a strong white horse, but I am not alone. Christ rides on that same horse, right in front of me and I am comforted as I hold on tightly to Him.

I can feel the strength of His armored breastplate as I rest my cheek against His back. Even though I know we are at the forefront of the battle, I can't see the enemy because He fills my immediate vision. He feels strong, safe, secure.The muscles of His arms ripple with strength. I can hear His war cry ringing in my ears and I'm not afraid though I sense the enemy is quaking.

As His warrior bride, I fight with Him instead of alone, though most of the time, I must admit, my energy is spent clinging to Him so I don't fall off the battle steed! Because of that, I don't carry a spear. Instead, my weapon is prayer - watching the works He is doing and praying for those I see in the battle all around me. At times, He deposits me on the ground so I might minister to the fallen in battle, like Lucy of Narnia with her Aslan-given gift of heavenly cordial that has the power to heal those who drink of it.

How do you see yourself in this battle?

As Christians, we are definitely warriors on the forefront of the battle. He has given each of us a work to do to bring healing, encouragement and victory! Allow our Warrior King to give you the necessary training and weaponry as you fight this battle with Him.

After all, I've seen the end of the book - and WE WIN! Hallelujah!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Am Chosen

I am chosen
Ephesian 1:3-6

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. (The Message)

When I was a small child, there was a large portrait of Jesus and the children at the bottom of the stairway leading to my Sunday School class. It portrayed a smiling Jesus seated among a cluster of children. I loved to envision myself in that group of children and thought how wonderful it was to be loved by Him.

As an adult I am awed by the idea of being "chosen" by Him. It's not because I'm good enough, or flawless enough. Rather, it's because He chooses to love me - to want me. It's His choice. He sees my innermost being - my naked real self - and He likes what He sees. It's because He sees past the destruction of sin to the innocent being He created.

Wow! His choice gives me value.

What a priviledge to write this message so other women who are hurting might learn to know they are chosen too - to be lifted from their own inadequacies to the knowledge that His love gives them worth!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Am Born For A Reason

Several weeks ago, a fellow pastor's wife began a series of e-mails about who we are in Jesus - the "I ams" of scripture. While I have seen similar lists over the years, this list once again challenged me to begin a series of e-mails and blogs of my own to encourage my Christian friends. Understanding who I am in Jesus has lifted my heart so much, I decided to share them here as well.

Day one:
I am created for a purpose Psalm 139:16 (The Message)

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I'd even lived one day.

In Bible college many years ago, our class song was written by a gifted music ministry student.The chorus to our class song has always stuck with me:

I was born for a reason
Not just by chance
God has a purpose
For letting my breath last
If I seek Him I will find HIm
He will see me through
For with the help of God
There is nothing I can't do.

It had been an eventful year for me. I went off to Bible college convinced I would one day go to the jungles of South America and translate the Bible into the native tongue of some remote Amazon tribe.

But somewhere along the way, I began to believe that I wasn't good enough, my motives weren't pure enough so God couldn't use me as a missionary. I abandoned my teenage dreams in a pool of crocodile tears.

Thankfully God didn't abandon me! He continued to work with me, bringing experiences across my path to help me discover the writing ministry He had in store for me. That year, the class leaders came to me and asked me to write the dedication pages of our college yearbook. I was to write about Sister Mary Campbell, an intrigal part of Zion's history and a shaper of many young college students.

What an honor! And I felt so insignificant and unworthy of it.

I argued with God saying, "I'm not a writer!" And it was true. At that time, I had never written anything for publication. I had never even dreamed about being a writer. But because I couldn't say no to anyone, I told my classmates, "Sure I'll try."

I sat and stared at the blank piece of paper. I struggled to put something down - anything - all the while fearing it would be horrible and ruin the whole yearbook. I wrote sentence after sentence, scratching them out and crumbling the paper into trash can missles. As the deadline approached, I finally was able to draft 4 simple sentences that described Sister Mary Campbell. I turned in my feeble attempts, feeling like it was a big flop.

But when I saw the finished page with the words embellishing her photo, I knew the words were just what they needed to be. They fit Sister Campbell, her life and her ministry:

To be born for a reason is to live a life of dedication.

To be born for a reason is to live a life of self-sacrifice.

To be born for a reason is to live a life of quiet waiting before the Lord.

To be born for a reason is to live a life of faith.

As the years passed, God began showing me He wanted me to write. I fussed again, believing I was inadequate and untrained for such a profession. I even quit a writing training course after only 5 lessons because I was too intimidated about the process of writing, revision and submission.

God took me back to that yearbook page and reminded me of the struggle to get those words down on paper. "That's what a writer does," He said softly. "She works to find just the right words to bless, inspire and move the hearts of her readers. You already have the heart of a writer and I will teach you what you lack."

And He has!

Each one of us has a purpose in God's plan. He orchestrates every event of our lives to educate us, to develop the necessary skills and bring us to the place where we can fulfill that plan.

What is God's purpose for your life today? If you don't have any idea, begin by praying for the Lord to reveal His purpose to you. Then sit down and look over the past events of your life.

What lessons have you learned? What people have inspired or encouraged you? What obstacles have you overcome? All of those things are signposts to guide you toward the fulfillment of His purpose.

Share your heart with someone today!