Sunday, April 06, 2014

Through the Eyes of a Child...

This past week has been a week that is heavy on my heart.  Some friends of ours lost their 9 year old son, his twin sister lost her brother and a part of her, and their other son lost his brother.  Grandparents have lost their grandchild and wounds of other friends who have lost children have been reopened.  There are no words to describe what I feel or the heaviness of my heart.  I cannot even imagine the pain, loss and gut wrenching agony of these families.  No matter what their age, parents should not lose their children.

Yesterday, Highland Oaks partnered with a school in our neighborhood to host an egg hunt.  They were already having Saturday school so they wanted us to have the egg hunt before Easter weekend as an incentive to get their kids to participate in Saturday school.  It worked!  Their attendance more than doubled!  But that was not the best part of this day.  The best part of this day was the blessing of getting to serve others; the blessing of see children with full bellies.  Because it's only in serving others that we realize how truly rich we are.  Most of the kids in this school do not have much.  They do not have things we take for granted... like more than one meal a day. We served the kids at the school breakfast before school and then lunch at noon when they were finished. The utter surprise and joy on these kids faces when they realized they could eat as much as they wanted was overwhelming.

We had one child at breakfast who kept saying he wasn't hungry and didn't want to come and get a plate.  Once I finally coaxed him over, he came back 5 times to get more with the biggest smile on his face.  When they were heading to class, some of the kids would ask if they could have a sausage biscuit to save for later.  At lunch we served pizza and one of the kids came and ask me if he could have another plate.  I thought he wanted another plate of pizza, but he wanted another plate so he cover his plate with pizza to save it for later.  You see, what we have learned in serving this school is that some of these kids only get one meal a day.  They are not used to having enough food to eat, they are used to try to space out and save the food they have.  I told him to go and eat his pizza and we would give him more and that we would even give him some he could take home.  He still had a hard time eating his pizza and not saving it.  It broke my heart.

Children of any age should not die to childhood type illnesses.  Parents should not outlive their children and children should not go hungry.  But all of these things happen.  I do not understand it, I cannot comprehend it, and I have no words to try and explain any of it.  But what I do know is that in all of it, God is present.  God is near to the brokenhearted and God is near to those who are hungry.  And I know that God expects us in our abundance to help when we can.  He expects us to be there to show others that He is truly present by the compassion and love He shows through us.

We may not be able to do much, but we can always show people we care.  We can tell people that their is a God who understands and who is near.  We can be Jesus with skin on to the hurting and hungry around us.

It can sometimes be so easy for us to ignore the hurting and hunger that goes on around us.  But when you see things happening to a child, it makes you take notice.  May God be ever present with these families and with these children. May He comfort those experiencing any loss as only He can.  May He give them legs to stand on when they cannot stand and air to breathe when they cannot breathe.  May God be present with these children who wonder where their next meal will come from.  May He give them strength and endurance and exactly what they need for every minute of every day.  May the children we see always be a reminder to see everyone around us, not just the children, through the eyes of Jesus.  Because He died and rose again for every one of us... and none of us deserved it... no matter how much we might want to think we did.  Praise God that He sees us through the blood of Christ and does not see us as we truly are.  Praise God that He is God and we are not.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
    but the Lord delivers him from them all;
Psalm 34:17-19

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
Psalm 147:2-4 

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Mark 10:13-15

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Mark 9:36-38 


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sharing God's Love

I have not been able to sleep well for several days.  Thoughts keep coming into my mind so maybe someone else needs to hear what I feel the Lord is telling me.

I have been reminded over and over the last week that if we are seeking God and our hearts are open, God will give us opportunities to share with others about what the Lord has done for us.  And I have also been reminded about some very important truths about God... truths that continued to show up this morning in our bible class.

God will always give you opportunities to tell and show others about Him.  Whether God gives you a platform of 7000 people, a platform of 200 men or women, a platform of a bible class or whether He gives a platform of one; it's how we use those opportunities that will speak volumes into the world around us about who God is.  Regardless of the platform God gives you, God calls you to use that opportunity well.  God calls you to share with others what He has done in your life.  He calls you to give them a message of faith, hope and love.  He calls you to speak love, mercy and compassion into their lives and hearts, and God calls you to be a listener... because sometimes He may speak to you through the words and/or actions of others.

I love how The Message phrases James 1:19-21... "Post this at all the intersections, dear friend: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.  God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger.  So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.  In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life."

James 2 (NIV) says, "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment."  Period...

Matthew 12 says, "The mouth speaks what the heart is full of", so I want to make sure my heart is full of God's love, God's compassion and God's mercy.  If God's mercy always triumphs over judgement, then why do we always seem to be trying to judge others.  If God's mercy triumphs over judgment and if I have God living in me, then the words I speak should always be words of Love, words of Hope, words of Compassion and words of Mercy.

So if "mercy triumphs over judgment", the question becomes... How are you going to use those opportunities when God presents them to you?  What if... the moment you spend with that person or that group of people is going to be the only moment in which they will ever hear words about who God is?  What if... that moment is the only moment in which you have a chance to share with others what God has done in your life?  What if... what you speak in that moment defines what a person thinks about God for the rest of their life?  What if... in that one moment you have the chance to change someone's life?

The what if's of how my words or actions about God can define God for someone else is humbling, it's terrifying, it's sobering, it's overwhelming.... but it's also exciting.  Because in that moment, I have the chance to tell them about the God "I" know.  A God who is full of Love, a God who is full of Compassion, a God who Listens, a God who has changed my life and a God who has told me through His word, that Mercy always triumphs over judgment... Praise God!

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 
1 Corinthians 13:13


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Posture of Receiving

I have been thinking about something for the last two weeks.  So I guess it's time to get down on "paper".  The last two Sundays have been a little different.  Two Sundays ago, Chris had to work so I was in worship by myself.  Of course by myself is a very relative term.  There were hundreds of other people here and our friends that we sit with every week were here, but I was a single.  This past Sunday Chris worked in Preschool Praise (our children's church) during the worship time so I was again by "myself".

During these two weeks I have been really thinking about something.  It's about the way I posture myself.  Typically, Chris is in worship service with me.  We hold hands a lot of the time and we always hold hands during prayers.  I realized with him not being there, I found myself with my arms crossed a lot.  I normally would not even have noticed or even thought twice about it. But for some reason I started thinking about the body language of having your arms folding across you.  It really felt like I was shutting myself off; and I felt like God was calling me into something different. It was as if God was saying open up and receive all that I have to offer you; let me fill you up. I have raised my hands during worship songs for years when I am praising/praying to God through songs.  So I decided to spend those two services during meditation and prayer times with my hands facing up on my lap.  It probably sounds weird, but it was amazing the difference it made.  It gave me more clarity and a better listening ear for what God was trying to tell me.  Our minister calls it "the posture of receiving".  He has talked about it before and asked us to do it on certain occasions but it wasn't something I continued to practice. Not because I didn't like it, but I never really thought about it afterward. And it hadn't been brought up today except by God calling me to it.

When you sit or stand with your arms folded across you it does or can give the impression of being closed off; whether you intend for it to or not.  It made me start thinking about how I am around people after church or before church when I'm talking to them or better yet when they are talking to me.  Are my arms open or are my arms crossed in front of me.  Body language says a lot when you think about it.  If someone wants to talk to you and you stand in front of them with your arms folded are you giving them a message you may not intend?  Does it look like you are bored or don't care about what they have to say?  Does it look different if your arms are open; even if they are just by your side?  Does it look more inviting? Does it look like your listening and that you really care?  Does it look like you are there for them with open arms rather than looking like you are ready to leave?  Does it make you more available to give that spontaneous hug or touch on the arm they may need?

I believe that God wants us to always be in the posture of receiving.  In doing so, we will be more open to receive the things that God wants to bless us with. It's hard to be a blessing to others unless we first open ourselves up to God's spiritual blessings for us.  By opening ourselves up we will also be in a posture that allows us to bless others with God's touch or God's compassion more easily.What does our posture say about us?  Are we closed off from God and others; or are we open to receive God's heart and thoughts for us so that we can in turn pass on that heart of compassion to others?

These last two weeks have made me realize I want to be open to receive whatever God chooses to fill me with.  I want to open to give to others whatever He calls me to give.  So I want to be intentional about what my posture looks like.  I don't want others to see me as closed off or bored and ready to be somewhere else.  I want them to see me and to know that I am there for them.  I want to be intentional in practicing the posture of receiving.

One last thought...  I always search for scriptures after I write down my thoughts for my own applications.  The 2nd verse below I already had in my heart to use.  So today my search was for "open arms".  And only ONE verse came up!  Wow!  I really feel like God is speaking to me today!  Practice the posture of receiving so you can in turn practice the gift of hospitality in whatever area God calls you to.  Are you ready to receive what He has to offer?  I am!

"She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy."
Proverbs 31:20 

"You shall have no foreign god among you;
    you shall not worship any god other than me. 
I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it."

Psalm 81:9,10


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Blessing of Community

Community... the word community may bring to mind different things to different people.  It may mean the city you live in, it may even mean a TV show you watch, but for me community means my church.  Community means the church staff with which I am privileged to work.  Community means my small group that we do life with.  Community means my bible class.  For me community is an extension of my family.  My community is a part of my family.  My Community is a safe a place.

There has been a lot going on in my community in the last couple of weeks.  There are people who have had to go back into the hospital, there are people who have lost loved ones, there are people who are just flat hurting or who have been hurt.

As I have sat with people in my community this week, I am reminded of how blessed I am. I don't know how people do life without community. My community has been with me through some really hard times.  This week I was blessed to be a shoulder to others in my community.  And the thing that is so cool about that is that even though I am visiting with others to try and bless them in some way, I walk away being the one who is blessed.

On the way into work this morning, I heard of a 16 year old girl who had been kidnapped.  They knew who had done it and were looking for her, but they feared for her safety.  As I prayed over her, I prayed that her family has community.  That they have someone that can be there for them and with them.  Then I heard a story of an incident that happened in a Panera Bread restaurant.  A mother and her 2 year old toddler daughter went to have lunch in a Panera.  The little girl had to wear orthopedic shoes.  A patron in the restaurant actually complained about the little girl, not because she was being disruptive (which would have been bad enough), but because her shoes were "squeaky" and making to much noise.  That breaks my heart.  Then to top it off, the manager asked them to leave because of this patron.  Panera has apologized for the incident for which I am thankful.  But what is wrong with people when they complain about 2 year old because her shoes, which she wears to help her, are too "squeaky"?

As I said, that story as it pertains to the little girl and her mom breaks my heart.  But what breaks my heart even more is the woman who complained.  Someone who feels the need to complain about a 2 year old's shoes must feel pretty sad and lonely inside.  They may be a person who just needs someone to stop and say hello; someone who needs someone to notice them and give them a smile.  Maybe they are someone who needs to be surrounded by a community that loves them. 

God created us to be people who love one another.  He created us with a need to be around people.  He created us with a need to be loved and to love others.  If we are not loving one another could it be it's because we don't feel love from others?  Could it be we need a community who will surround us in our times of heartache, loss or trouble?  Sometimes you need to be able to feel that love of community in order to know how to show that love to others.  Love of community is the love of God in my opinion in it's purest and rawest form.  I know from experience that being part of a community of God's people is sometimes the only thing that will get you through.  Because it's through that love that you feel the love of God.

I admit my first thought this morning of the woman who complained was a little bit judgmental.  But then I was reminded by God, that woman may not have community.  She may not know what the love of God feels like, so how can she know how to show that love to others. If you are in community with God's people, you are blessed.  If you need to feel that kind of love, look for a community of believers you can be a part of; a community of believers who know what it means to show love and provide a safe place.  We would welcome you at Highland Oaks Church of Christ if you yearn to be a part of community. 

I would also like to challenge you, when you see someone such as this woman or many others like her, try to remember that they may not be part of a community. Or maybe their community hasn't learned how to show love and love others in all circumstances.  Maybe they don't know about God's love and maybe they need someone to show them what God's love looks like.  Sometimes just giving someone a smile or saying hi to them can do wonders to change someones disposition. And sometimes it may not; at least not in that moment.  But you never know how a kind word you speak to someone today can change their life.  Maybe not now, maybe not even in the weeks to come; sometimes it may be years later.  But I've often heard stories of people who remember a time years ago when a spoken word, or a gentle touch by someone set things in motion and set them on a path that changed their life.

Sometimes it's so easy for us to judge someone else.  But you have no idea what is going on in that person's life outside of what you see in that moment.  You have no idea of the hurt or loss they may feel.  You have no idea of the struggles they may have.  You have no idea of the loneliness they may feel.  So I challenge you as I challenge myself to try and ALWAYS see people through the eyes of Jesus.  To always show other the love that Christ shows you.  And remember... that smile, that hello, that gentle touch or compassion you show them in that instant could be the spark, the touch of God, that changes their life!

 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Colossians 3:12


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Holidays... With a Heavy Heart

I love the holidays!  I love that all my kids come home.  I love that they remember things from their childhood about the holidays.  I love that there are certain things, foods, etc. that they associate with each holiday.  All of those things have created many memories that I hold close to my heart.

But holidays can also be for some, a time when your heart is breaking.  A time when you are having to relearn how to live, to relearn how to be happy or to relearn how to just breathe because you've lost someone close to you.  Losing someone is never easy, when it happens around the holidays it's even harder.  Because you almost feel like your holidays have been tainted.  I lost my dad to cancer in November of 1973 just 2 weeks before Thanksgiving.  I was almost 12 years old.  And to this day, 40 years later, I still miss him.  Yes, it's been long enough that it's not the focus of my holidays, but I still think of him none the less.  But now, I remember more about all the fun we used to have and the things we used to do and I don't focus as much on the loss. But the loss is still there nonetheless.  I still miss him when I hear my granddaughter say or do funny things, because I know he would have adored her and would be teaching her all kinds of mischief!  I missed him especially when I got married and when my kids were born.  He would have taught them so many things.  Things I still tried to teach them, but it wasn't the same as having him here.  I still remember seeing my mom break down that first Christmas he wasn't there.  Knowing how much I love Chris, I cannot imagine that kind of pain.

And it's because of all of these things that my heart is so heavy.  Our church has been hit hard this year with loss, with grief and with tragedy.  We lost a great man to cancer who was a great friend, father, husband and son.  We have a member who lost 2 members of their family to cancer within a couple of weeks time and he himself has battled cancer but is in remission, Praise God!  We have lost several of our older members in the last year.  We have members who have lost children unexpectedly. And I know people who have lost moms, dads, brothers, sisters and other extended family. There has just been so much loss. 

It breaks my heart and weighs me down to know what the holidays will be like this year for those families.  And then my heart is full of joy and praise because we have also had numerous members who have battled cancer and praise God are now cancer free! We also have some members who are finishing their cancer treatments and we continue to praise God for the healing He is doing in them.  We even have one member who had an aorta rupture and she survived to tell about it! In fact, she was dead for 10 minutes and came back!  That doesn't happen, so God has big plans for her!

I write all of this to say, be aware of those around you who are hurting.  Whether it's because they've lost loved ones or it's because of another reason you cannot even fathom.  Don't offer them advice just let them know that you there, that you care.  Wrap your arms around them and remind them that they are loved.  And wrap your arms around those who have fought the battle and are winning.  Remind them that God has a purpose for them.  Remind them that it's ok to be joyful and to praise God for "their" healing.  Because deep down it's hard for them when they know others have lost the battle.

May God wrap His arms around each of this holiday season.  May He fill your heart with love and thankfulness for the journey He is bringing you through.  And for those who are suffering loss, may He wrap His arms around you and fill your heart with wonderful memories, may you feel the presence of your loved ones in the traditions you keep and in the laughter of your children and grandchildren.  And may we all remember that He is risen and the tomb is empty and we will see them all again!  Praise God!

"but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint."
Isaiah 40:31

"The Lord bless youand keep you; 
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;"
Numbers 6:24-25 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Listening for God

I had something happen a little over a week ago and it still keeps coming to mind... and it still bothers me.  A little over a week ago I was on my way home from work and there was someone walking around at the light I go through every day with a sign asking for help.  At this particular location there is always someone there.  Sometimes it's the same person and sometimes it's someone new.  I don't help every day, but there are times when I just feel a strong urging from God to help.  On those days, I put my window down.

The other day was one of those days.  I can't explain it, but I just felt a strong urging to give them some money.  I didn't have much on me, but I rolled down the window to give them what I had.  What happened in the next few seconds still makes me mad and I still can't stop thinking about it.  As I had my arm out the window handing some money to this gentleman, the light turned green.  The second the light turned green, with my hand out the window handing someone who needed food some money, the truck behind me started honking... yes honking!  I could not believe that someone would honk their horn for you to hurry up when you were offering someone assistance.  It wasn't like I had been sitting there for several minutes... it had literally been seconds... probably one second! I gave the money to the guy and told him God bless you and drove on... But what I really wanted to do was throw my car into park and go give the guy behind me a piece of mind!  I could not believe that someone would be so rude.

What has happened to people?  How has society degraded to the point that someone will actually honk at you for taking to long to help someone? (And by too long I'm talking no more than about 5 seconds!)  I was brought up by my parents to be loving towards others, to give when you can to help others, to treat others the same way you want to be treated.  What has happened to society to get us to a point where we don't even show common courtesy to those around us?

And then, 2 days after this happened I was leaving a parking lot and saw a man and his wife and their 4 kids with a sign.  He had just lost his job and they were trying to get enough money to get groceries.  Again, I rolled down my window and gave him some money.  Again, I heard a horn honk... but this time it was a guy in another lane who was trying to get his attention so he could also give him some money. In fact, people all around were rolling down their windows! Wow!!  What a difference!

I know in this day in time, it's hard to know if people really need the money.  There are stories of people who do this for a living and are making a fortune. I have no idea if that is really true, but if it's true, God will take care of those people.  What I know is, there are times when I feel completely prompted by God to roll down my window.  What I know is, there are times when I feel God causes me to overhear a conversation someone is having with someone else because he wants me to help.  And what I know is, even when I don't feel prompted to help in certain situations, I will NOT honk for someone else who does feel prompted to hurry up!  I also know that it is not up to me to judge whether or not someone is "really" in need.  If I feel prompted by God, it is my job to give, not to judge.

There are people all around us every day.  Some need help, some don't.  Some need someone to talk to, some don't.  Some need someone to just listen, some don't.  Some need help with a meal, some don't.  We are called to help whenever we can.  We are called to be Jesus with skin on to a world that sees too little of who Jesus Really Is.  We are called to be Jesus with skin on to a world that may not see Jesus except through us and the way we live or the kindness we show. I want them to see the Jesus I know.  The Jesus who is loving, compassionate and available to give help when needed.  The Jesus who has a kind word, a smile, an ear to listen, even money when needed.  And one more thing I know... I generally never have cash on me any more, but Every Time I feel that prompting from God, there is always some kind of cash in my wallet.

If we listen, God will speak.  Maybe through a strong sense of something you feel deep within you, maybe through something someone says to you.  It may be in a variety of ways, but He Will speak to us.  The question is... are we going to listen?  And the bigger question is... how are we going to respond?

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,
for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:1-2


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Power in the Light

This morning as we were getting ready for worship, our electricity went off.  A few weeks ago there was a bad wreck in our neighborhood that took out a light pole and our power was out for about 5 hours.  Normally, this morning wouldn't have bothered me except that I hadn't finished with my hair... which requires electricity.  :-)  We have room darkening shades and black out curtains in our bedroom because we like to sleep with it totally dark. So when the electricity went off it was amazing how DARK it was in there!  It's also funny how trained we are to turn on the lights.  Knowing that there was no electricity, the first thing you do is still reach for the light switch.  It's like instinct; second nature.

Fortunately, this time the lights were only off for about 2 minutes and then they came back on.  So we don't know what happened but we were glad it was short lived.  But while the lights were off, I raised up one of the shades in the bedroom to let the light in from outside.  Our house faces the east so there was lots of light to come in and dispel the darkness.  But what was most interesting to me is what happened when the lights came back on.

Since we were getting ready for church I went ahead and let the shade back down and when I did I noticed something.  Remember we have room darkening shades... but the light coming in from outside was so bright I could still see the the outlines, shadows and distinct images of the trees outside of our window.  It was very clear that the light was shining through a tree.

It made me think about our lives as Christians.  As Christians, if you are walking in the light, walking with Jesus, you can never really totally pull the shade down and cover your life.  If you are walking with Jesus, even when you think things are at their darkest, He is right there with you.  Keep treasures of His word in your heart and even if life is trying to pull the shade down on you, His light will shine through you just like it shined through that darkening shade in my room.  It may not be as bright as you want it to be, but it's there. It's there enough to let you know that you are not alone.  He shines through your darkness and provides you with a light filled with warmth.  And no matter how dark it may seem at the time on the outside, God's light shines through you and out of you from the inside.  It shines so brightly that the darkening shade that might be your life cannot block it out and it's very clear who you are and Whose you are.

So no matter what may be going on in your life, remember that someone around you may be watching and noticing the light that shines forth through you. Just as we instinctively
reach for the light switch when the electricity goes off, we can instinctively reach for Him when we feel like our spiritual light is going out.  Because when you walk with God, even when you feel like you are in the dark, you still have His light shining through you.  So let your light shine... it just might shine brightly enough to break through someone's darkening shade!

 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4,5

In the same way, let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:16