Saturday, March 24, 2018

But What About the Joneses?

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” ~Luke 12:15 NLT

There is a song I hear on the radio, while driving to and from work, that has pierced my heart. The song is “I Want to Go Back” by David Dunn.  What has always stood out to me about the song is this one particular statement:
When I was a kid,I didn’t care to keep up with the Joneses; I was just happy that they lived next door.
For those non Americans reading this blog who are not familiar with the idiom "keeping up with the Joneses",  it basically means "to try to emulate (match or surpass) or not be out done by others".  It is a reference to living a constant materialist struggle of comparison with others. This is a common issue for many people living in first world countries.  Sadly, for many, enough is not really enough. Having nice things isn't bad, but we have to question our reasons behind wanting them. Are they sincere or is it because so and so has them or, "I have the money, so why not?"

There is so much to be learned in scripture about this subject:

In Luke 12:13-21, a man who is most likely already wealthy comes to Jesus wanting him to make his brother divide the family's inheritance with him. Jesus responds accordingly:
“Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”... “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-2 NKJV)

What I find so interesting about this encounter is that Jesus instantly switches from rejecting the request of this wealthy guy who is coveting for more, when he probably has need of nothing, to addressing his disciples, who are living completely sacrificial lives. He turns to the people whom he had told, "Take nothing for your journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece." (Luke 9:3) and begins to talk to them about the key to true provision:
 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.  Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?  And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?  And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind.  For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Luke 12:22-34 NKJV)
Notice Jesus did not promise his disciples wealth, but he did promise them their needs, both physical and beyond. He promises the disciples,who have given all, their needs, yet to the man who most likely has much already he offers nothing. Perhaps he knew that more would ruin him; by what he tells him, it appears that is probably the case.  Something awesome I discovered while studying this passage is that when Jesus said, "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom", that word "kingdom" means "authority or power". If I have to choose, I'm choosing spiritual authority and power over material wealth any day.

It is important to note that the same Bible that talks about how much God loves to bless his people also says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) The "needle" was a reference used to describe a small door built into a gate. It was created for the safety of the city and was a way that travelers could still get in at night. It was so small that a camel could be unloaded and shoved through, but that was the only way it could fit through. Therefore, Jesus wasn't saying it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, but rather that it was difficult. When His disciples heard Jesus say this, they were astonished and said,  "Who then can be saved?" Jesus responded, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)

Perhaps you are reading this and you are "The Joneses".  You have been blessed greatly financially.  The only question I'd have before congratulating you is, "Are you as close or closer to God now than you were before you were "blessed"? I put "blessed" in quotes, because how it has affected your life determines whether it is really a blessing or a curse. Just because something looks good doesn't mean it's from God.    I truly hope if you were asked that question your response would be something like, "Yes! I give more; I am able to have the freedom now to spend more time with God and be involved in ministry more; etc." I really hope your answer would look something like that. Sadly, many people's wouldn't. It would involve having God, and sometimes even family and friends, as less of a priority and material goods and luxury experiences as more and more of a priority. 

One of my favorite documentaries is called "The Men Who Built America". It is about the business men, like Norman Rockwell and John D. Rockefeller, who became extremely wealthy in their industries. All the men it highlights ended up with more wealth than any man could probably spend in a lifetime. However, most of them never felt like they had enough, because they always wanted more than the other guy, whichever guy that happened to have taken their "wealthiest in America" spot at that moment.  What a sad way to live!

1 Timothy 6:10 says, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Quit thinking about how the grass might be greener on the other side of the fence. Yeah, that grass might be greener, but what is going on inside that house? Is a family falling apart because the parents are coveting after greener pastures themselves? We have to learn to just be happy for the Joneses, or, if relevant, pray for them, but never compare ourselves to them. Quit thinking, "But what about the Joneses?" What might be a blessing to the Joneses could be the destruction of you.  God knows what you need and if you put Him first, He will provide every bit of it.  

Let's get back to this:
When I was a kid,I didn’t care to keep up with the Joneses; I was just happy that they lived next door.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Missing Jesus

"...Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?..." ~ John 1:46

Every Christmas I hear it. Every Christmas I read it...the story of Jesus' birth.  Every year something new stands out to me about it. This last year was no exception.

Reading aloud from Matthew chapter 2 on Christmas morning, I read how King Herod questioned the wise men from the east as to where Christ should be born:

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. (vs. 5-6)
This was a reference to a prophesy spoken by the prophet Micah hundreds of  years before:
 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. ~Micah 5:2
I then read how an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, telling him to take his family and flee to Egypt for their safety. Joseph obeyed. As recorded in vs 14-15:
 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. 
This was a reference to a prophesy spoken by the prophet Hosea hundreds of years before:
 "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." ~Hosea 11:1
A little while later, once again, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to return to Israel, that it was now safe to go back. Scriptures expounds:
But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." (vs. 22-23)
As I read through these scriptures I began to think about how, if someone had only heard the prophesy about the Savior coming from Bethlehem, but only knew Jesus as the guy from Nazareth, or if they only knew of the prophesy of  Him being called out of Egypt, but didn't know that as a baby he had ever lived in Egypt, would they have missed Jesus?  Would they have missed realizing who He was because they were so focused on that one detail and totally have missed the fact that he was love incarnate?  I couldn't help but wonder...would I have missed Jesus?

Many did. John 7:41-43 states that, "Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of him." 

Right after that conversation the officers, chief priests, and Pharisees began to talk among themselves about Him. Nicodemus stood up for Christ, but the other leaders responded, "...Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." (vs. 52)  Though, according to Matthew, multiple prophets had spoken of the Savior being a Nazarene, this group was all focused on the fact that He would come from Bethlehem. Apparently they had no idea He had been born there.

Even Nathanael would possibly have overlooked Christ, had Philip not been his friend and led him to Him:
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. ~John 1:45-46

In the same way that so many were able to miss Jesus, despite Him walking and talking with them, so we also can miss things in our lives, if we are not careful.  It can be so easy to find ourselves zoned in on one thing, one area of life, etc. and total miss out on the big picture. We have to be careful not to be so focused on the mundane that we miss what's most important. As the saying goes, sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees

We can be guilty of this in so many ways:

When reading scripture:  It is so important to read scripture in context. Everyone seeking a relationship with Christ needs to read the whole Bible and when studying the Bible they need to read not just a scripture, but everything around the scripture in context. For example, John 3:16 is a wonderful verse, but we can't embrace it, yet ignore verse 3-8

With relationships:  It can be very easy to get so consumed in the routine day in and day out responsibilities of life, that we can neglect the most important relationships in our life. We can also miss out when we choose to focus on and magnify a few faults in another, rather than choosing to focus on and celebrate their many strengths.

With God given callings:  Sometimes, we can lose the big picture and come to think inside a box that God never created in the first place. God is a very creative God and He doesn't always do things exactly the way we expect. The truth is, He rarely does. We can also be at fault in thinking that only certain gifts and talents are useful within certain positions. Due to this we may cast them aside, when scripture teaches us to use them all. (Matthew 25:14-30)

This list could go on and on, but the point is this: DON'T MISS IT! Don't miss what's most important. Step back. Take a good look at it all. Realize what is most important and focus on those things. These people who lived during the time of Christ were walking, talking, and eating with Jesus, yet many overlooked him because they didn't know his full background; they only knew the part that didn't line up with what they were watching for. Because of this, they missed Jesus.

Don't miss Jesus. 
Don't miss Him in the sunrise and the sunset.
Don't miss Him in the sounds of the streams or the sounds of the birds.
Don't miss Him in the smell of the rose or the smell of fresh rain.
Don't miss Him when you hold a cute puppy or are held by a loved one.
Don't miss Him in these things, because He created and gave you all of them.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Ultimate Roadmap

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." ~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV)

A few years ago I was staying in central London for a couple of days with friends, while on my way back to the states from Norway. My friends had to work during the day, so I was on my own when it came to finding my way around, other than them having pointed out a few important nearby landmarks. The first day I went out I didn't really care where I went or what I did. I had been there before, was still extremely exhausted from the activities from the prior week, and just really didn't care what I ended up doing. But, I reasoned, "Girl, you're in LONDON. You gotta at least leave the apartment!"

So, I did. I had no map, quickly got lost, and didn't care at all...that is I didn't care until it was time to go "home". Then, eventually, I finally gave in and bought a map, in a rather questionable looking area, in the smallest shop I've ever seen. I was desperate. 

Within a matter of minutes, I was back on the right course, and had arrived back at my destination in very little time. Road maps are wonderful things!

Now, of course, most of us use "road maps" in the form of GPSes on our dashboards or on our phones. I am so GPS dependent it's a little scary. I've traveled across the U.S. by myself totally at the mercy of that little voice coming from that electronic box to get me to where I need to go.

To most people it's common sense: Have a GPS or map? Then use it! If you're going on a trip you don't purposely leave it at home. No, you bring it with you, and if you realize you forgot it, you feel helpless very quickly. 

Well, there is another "road map" that's much more important than any GPS. It's one most people are familiar with.  A lot have it.  Some have more than one. Yet even those who have it may neglect to open it and allow it to navigate their lives each and everyday. The roadmap I am referring to is the Bible. 

This map will not guide you to Houston, or Boston, or San Diego; it will guide you to somewhere much better. It will guide you to Heaven. It will explain to you the only way to get there and the safest, most enjoyable way to complete the trip. Are you taking the time to use your "road map"? I don't recommend waiting until you're overwhelmed and feeling lost to pick it up; but if you are already feeling that way, by all means, do pick it up! The more you read it and let it direct you, the closer you will be to being back on the course God has destined and desires for you. 

Not only will this roadmap get you to Heaven, it will also teach you how to experience more peace while on this earth. Need advice on finances? It's in there.  Advice on any kind of relationship? It's in there also. Whatever the life question, the answer is in there somewhere. But, to truly understand it, it definitely helps to know the author personally. So, dust off that roadmap, or go get one if you don't have one yet, pray (talk to the Author), then open it up and let Him talk to you.

In the words of an old song by Don Reno:
I'm using my Bible for a roadmap; The Ten Commandments they tell me what to do. The twelve disciples are my road signs; And Jesus will take me safely through.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dear Friend

Dear Ember,

We said our goodbyes to you this week...or at least we began the process. We will, however, never say goodbye to our precious memories of you and will continue to look forward to that day in which we will get to say hello again.

For now, I choose to reflect on some of the treasury of memories we have shared together and take a moment to share them with others, in hopes that they too will bring a smile to their face as they have brought a smile to mine.

Memories of our IBC days... Sometimes on weekdays, when we would find out the night security alarm was broken, and, thinking it wrong not to take advantage of the opportunity, we would stay out late rollerblading at the canals, etc or, often, when the alarm was working, we would stay up late on campus for both legit and pointless reasons. Then, the next morning, your roommate Steph and I would shake your bed and do all kinds of other mean stuff to you trying to wake you up for class. Most of those times you never even budged. You were the Energizer Bunny at night; Sleeping Beauty in the morning. I will never understand how you slept through all that.

I remember being at a tent revival service we were having in the same neighborhood as IBC. A very young girl wandered in off the street. You ended up holding her the whole service where you sat on the front row, directly in front of me. The girl was wild, squirming around, playing with your hair, making lots of noise, etc., to such a point that I questioned whether she actually was hearing anything the minister said. Then the altar call was given.  Within just a couple of minutes that little girl was speaking in tongues as God filled her with the Holy Ghost. That day God taught me to assume nothing, things are not always as they appear.

Memory of General Conference in Phoenix...I had been in Phoenix for days already, staying with my family in a hotel, when you decided to come to conference at the last minute. The next thing I knew you had arrived and were begging me to stay with you at your hotel. Sight unseen I finally gave in. Upon arrival to the hotel I realized why you had begged me to stay with you. It looked like those places in movies where criminals on the run hide out, or where the victim is found. I went to get a towel from the front desk. When I got there, the door was ajar (by ajar I mean open and looked broken) and I rang a bell and waited a good long while for someone to come to the front desk. No one ever came. There were other very disturbing things about the room that I can't fully remember now, but I feel like it involved both leaks and bugs. I did not sleep well that night...actually I am not sure if I slept at all. Needless to say, I am hoping you never again chose to book online one of those super cheap non-chain hotels without reviews and sight unseen.

Memories of Vacation in Daytona Beach...My family had booked a three bedroom condo. My parents, my cousin and her husband, and us were supposed to all stay in the same condo. We arrived to find out that, oops, they only had two bedroom condos at the largest available. I all of a sudden felt homeless, or at the best that it was gonna be a long week sleeping on an air mattress. Then the most wonderful thing happened, the resort gave you and I our own corner, ocean front, just steps up from the pool, condo, free of charge. And the rest of the week was bliss...
Well, other than the day we decided to rent those big wheel looking things to ride on the sand. It looked easy. We quickly found out it wasn't. We thought "we'll just ride down to that next pier".  We quickly realized that "next pier" was much further away than we had assumed and that we weren't nearly as coordinated or in near as good shape as we had thought. But, we were both stubborn and goal oriented and persevered...and both almost passed out in the process. If I remember correctly I think we walked those big wheels back.

There are so many other times I could mention, but one seemingly insignificant one stands out in my mind....Staying at your parent's house, sitting out on their patio getting our farmers tans, while we both drank our waters and read our non-fiction books in silence. We of course later discussed all the cool stuff we were learning from our books, but for that moment we were perfectly content sitting in silence sharing something we both enjoyed doing.

There's so many things that make me smile that I will always remember about you. You were the only person I knew that referred to anybody, male or female, as "Dude" and got away with it. You were always trying to talk me into things. I was always telling you no. Now some of those things I wish I would have said yes to...not the random things you would try to get me to sell though. You were the one with the sales skills, not me. I love how I could come to town to visit you and by the time I left feel like I had seen the whole city and met everyone who lived there. I love how you liked road trips/ traveling just as much as me, and wish I could have went on every trip you ever tried to talk me into.

We were different in so many ways, but it was our similarities that through distance and time kept our friendship solid. I learned a lot from you my friend, a lot about not letting past negatives weigh down future hopes, a lot about living life fully, a lot about many other things. I am still a work in progress in applying these lessons, but I have learned them.

I will miss our tag team goofy voicemails. I will miss you making fun of how pathetic I am at texting back quickly. I will miss seeing the irritated look on your face when I said your name like "Timbeeeer". I will miss hearing you say "Dude" or "Chica". I will miss you.

As much as I will miss you, I thank God that I am one of the lucky ones who was blessed to have known you.

Until we meet again my friend...

Love you,

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Time to Mourn

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:...a time to weep...a time to mourn..." ~Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

Greetings to all. As many of you will already know by the time you read this, my uncle passed away this last weekend.  He was a great man.  Due to living a great distance apart from each other, I was not privileged to have know him as well as I would have liked. So, in mourning his death, I also mourn that fact. But I rejoice, because of the good times I did get to spend with him and because I know that he is now without pain and in a much better place.

This morning, I knelt to pray with all kinds of thoughts swirling in my head. I had my list of things to pray for. High on my list were my family members, among many other people, places, and concerns. However, I felt to begin by saying, "God, I want to hear from you."  Immediately I felt God speak to me, "Cry."  I went into agenda mode, "God I don't have time to cry, I got a lot of things to talk to you about today!...there's this, and that, and...." Again, he interrupted my protest, "Cry".

You know when a three year old falls down, isn't really hurt that bad, but has that moment where you see them working up that cry face, and then, with effort, the tears come? Well, that was me today...until it became real.  I am guessing this command to me by God was due to an accumulation of withholding tears of sadness throughout a very rough year in general. 

You have to understand, when it comes to spiritual things, tears pour from me. When it comes to being extremely frustrated or even physically exhausted, sometimes, whether I like it or not, tears just come. But, when it comes to plain ol' sadness over circumstances or loss, at some point in life I apparently got in the habit of sometimes just allowing myself to go numb, put a tough face on, and never fully grieve. This is not the first time God has had to literally instruct me to cry. Actually, it's happened a few times.

The fact that he has had to instruct me to do this more than once, had me guessing there was probably scripture on it, and, indeed, there is. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a "time for mourning" and a "time for weeping".  Psalm 126:5 encourages us that, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy". 

The psalmist David spoke to God, "Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?" (Psalm 56:8). Another way this could read is, "You are well aware and have taken into account my state of exile: put my tears into thy bottle: have you not taken record of them?" There was something very important that David, a man after God's own heart, realized. He realized that God sees every tear and that tears are necessary.

So, you might be wondering why I am sharing this with you. I am sharing it because I believe there are many others out there, and perhaps you are one of them, who need to be told, "It's ok to cry. It's ok to weep. It's ok to mourn." It's not just ok; it's necessary. It's how God made us to function. It's how God starts the healing process. 

Whether you have suffered the loss of a loved one, whether you have suffered a physical loss, whether you have suffered a financial loss, whether you have suffered an emotional loss...whatever kind of loss you have suffered: There IS a time to weep. There IS a time to mourn.  If you haven't experienced that time yet, whether the loss was recent or decades ago, if  you have not yet truly mourned your loss(es), that time is now. Attempting to skip the mourning stage of grief does not shorten the process of healing, but rather extends it, sometimes making it indefinite. As Psalm 126:5 shows: it is tears that beget joy.

Many of you, especially men, particularly those in leadership of any kind, be it the head of a household, pastor of a church, etc might feel a need to keep your "game face" on at all times. This may be because you are afraid once the tears start you won't be able to stop, or it may be because you are afraid everyone else will fall apart and think you are having a break down if they see you shed a single tear. First of all, I assure you, neither of these things will happen. If anything, it will simply remind them that you are truly human. I encourage you: if you are feeling a weight from grief of anything, go into your prayer closet, shut that door, and put on your greatest "not really hurt 3 year old" expression, until the real tears come...until the real healing and joy begins to take root inside your heart.

Real men cry. Real women shed tears. And a very real God sees those tears, remembers and records them, and brings comfort. You don't have to understand everything to feel peace. As a matter of fact, scripture describes God's peace as being a "peace that passes all understanding." (Phil. 4:7) Whether you understand your losses or whether you don't, know that there is a God who desires to hold, comfort, and strengthen you, not despite your tears, but because of them.

  "...weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." ~Psalm 30:5