Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Are You Willing to Sacrifice?

I haven't written in a while.  But today I read an article written by my son-in-law, Warren Gray, that was published for Mavs Moneyball.  As I'm sure you know, I love all sports!  MAVS included! So of course, I read the article. (I would have any because it was written by Warren!) If you are a MAVS fan, check out Warren's article here.  

Not only do Warren and I have a love for sports in common, we also have a love for the Lord, a love for His church and a love for His people in common.  Warren's article talks about a "what if" situation where as a fan would you not watch the MAVS for an entire season, including playoffs, if it meant they would win The Finals.  As I read his article, I could not help but relate it to how we as people sometimes see the church.  As people in church we always want things to be going "what we call well" or maybe "our way".  We want to always be on top or at least what we think it means for the church to be on top.  Which typically means we want things to be going our way or done or way.

But just like in sports, we don't always have things going our way... because there is someone else in charge.  For the MAVS, it's Mark Cuban... for the church it's God.  Sometimes when we think things are not going the way we think they should be, our first instinct is to bail.  Kind of like how people's first instinct is to bail on their favorite sports team if they start losing.  But if you bail, you don't get to be a part of all of the good things that might happen "at the end of that particular season".  You don't get to see the end game.  No matter what we may think of any given situation, God is always in control... even in and especially in, our churches.  And if we want to see where God is taking us, we have to stick around and be a part of the valleys if we ultimately want to see what is happening up on the mountaintop.

No doubt, sometimes the valleys are hard and sometimes they are long, but isn't it worth it to stick together through the valleys so that you can be a part of the mountaintop? God's word is full of times of difficulty that culminate in mountaintop experiences.  But you always have to go through the valley on the way to the mountaintop.  To me... the mountaintop is worth the wait and the sacrifice it requires.

I ran across a quote from Patrick Mead this week... And it has been fitting for more than one occasion this week.  (I love the way God works like that!)  

"God doesn't take the broken pieces of our lives and put them back together again; He rearranges them into a new mosaic, a stained glass window thru which His Son can shine."  

He does the same thing through the broken pieces of our churches.  And what are the broken pieces of our church.... we are.  The church is not a building.  The church is the people that are inside of it.  The church is you.  And if we commit to sticking together and sticking around until the mountaintop, we will be part of a beautiful masterpiece that His son can shine through out into the world.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rest = Restore

We have a new sermon series beginning next week entitled "Restore" in which we will be going through Luke 10.  At Highland Oaks we have graphics to highlight each sermon series and various events.  In the graphic for "Restore" the word Rest in Restore is highlighted.  It was like the word Rest was jumping off the page at me.  I started thinking about restoring my spirit and thought in order to do that I need to first "rest".  Not only to rest physically and mentally (which I need), but I also need to rest with God.  It's only in "rest" that I can be restored.

A couple of songs also came to mind immediately when I saw the word restore.

Restore My Soul
The song Create in Me a Clean Heart has in one of the verses "Restore unto me the joy of my salvation"

It really made me start thinking that in order to be "restored" I must first "rest".  I looked up the definitions of 3 words and listed a few of the definitions I saw for each.

relief or freedom, especially from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs
a period or interval of inactivity, repose, solitude, or tranquility  
mental or spiritual calm; tranquility
to be quiet or still
to bring back to a state of health, soundness, or vigor
to bring back to a former, original, or normal condition
to reproduce or reconstruct
to give back; make return or restitution of (anything taken away or lost)
to restore or replenish
to revive; reestablish
to restore to a former state; make new or as if new again
to begin again; recommence
To me, all 3 of the words connect to each other in some way.  And for me, "rest" is at the beginning of each one.  If I want to bring myself back to a former state of health, (restore) sometimes I have to "rest" first.  If I want to renew my spirit, I have to "rest"... physically, mentally and spiritually.  If I want to reconnect with God because times have been stressful and crazy, I first have to "rest" with Him.  Rest is such an important part of ours lives.  It's required for a sound mind, it's required for a sound body and it's required in order for us to make a connection with the Almighty.
To be restored, I must first rest. And restored may not mean restored to my former self, it most likely means restored to the person that God is calling me to be.  It may mean restored to see through His eyes; it may mean restored to act upon His visions; it may be restored think more like Him.  In fact, one of the definitions of restore is to give back.  God has given us so much.  It's time for us to rest, be restored, and give back to others what God has so freely given to us.
May we all find rest in Him; and may be we restored to think, smell, act, see and love like Jesus.  
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 
Matthew 11:28-30

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Radiating With Joy

As I was searching for the perfect verse for a friend today I decided to see what it said in different translations.  The verse was Numbers 6:24-26... "May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."  This translation is from the NIV which is what most of us know.  As I was searching the other translations I found the one that was perfect for her.  It is from the Living Bible translation which says... "May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of You; may He be gracious to you, show you His favor, and give you His peace."

What caught my attention was "may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of You".  How awesome is it to think of the Lord's face radiating because of You!  But to read that verse causes some soul searching.  Do my actions, do my words, does my life cause the Lord's face to radiate with joy?  It's easy to get caught up in the world around you and to forget what, better yet who, you are really living for.

This time of year it's a little easier to be more Christlike because the world is generally more Christlike.  Around Thanksgiving and Christmas it seems like most everyone is, for the most part, more kind, more compassionate, more caring, more giving, the list goes on and on. But what about when the holidays are over.  Some may even say that during this time of the year it's not as noticeable who is living for the world and who is living for Christ.  But what happens after the holidays?  What happens when the world goes back to living like the world?  Will our life look any different than the world?  Or will our life cause "the Lord's face to radiate with joy because of us"?

"To radiate with joy because of you" makes me think of my granddaughter.  Just being around her makes me happy, joyful, excited, giddy, it just makes me overwhelmed with a love I cannot describe.  I've even had people tell me, "you can just see the love and pure joy radiating from your face".  That's how I want my actions to make God feel.  I want Him to be filled with love and joy being around me so much so that "His face radiates with joy because of Me!"

I wonder what the world would look like if we all lived our lives in a way that "made the Lord's face radiate with joy because of us".  My guess is the "world" would look a whole lot more like "Him"!

May the Lord's joy radiate through you and may His face radiate with joy because of you!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Do We Show Mercy Well....

In our Bible class yesterday we were looking at James 2 and talking about how "mercy triumphs over judgement".  It has made me think about the word mercy and the different definitions it has.

By definition the word mercy can mean the following...
"An act of kindness, compassion, or favor"
"The disposition to be compassionate or forbearing"
"Something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing"
"The discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishement"
"Compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power; compassion, pity, or benevolence"

These are all things I freely give in any situation.  But what about times that mercy might not fall into one of these categories.  What about when that guy on the freeway cuts me off because he didn't get over in time to exit?  What about that person in front of me in the express line that has 30 items instead of the 15 they are supposed to have?  What about the person who walked into a door in front of me and lets it slam into me?  What about the person who comes and gets at the front of the line when you have been standing in line waiting for 30 minutes... or longer?  What about, you fill in the blank....  There are probably hundreds of other scenarios you have been in, in which mercy was the last thing on your mind.

But what has hit me hard is that I'm not only called to show mercy to those I know are in need but also those who may seem harsh or just down right rude.  I admit, the worse time for me is when I'm behind the wheel of a car.  Let's face it, it just seems like some people are horrible drivers and just don't care who they cut off or almost sideswipe.  We've all been there.  But I also know there have times when I myself have been "the other driver".  The one who probably cut you off by accident.  I may have been the one that was preoccupied and let the door slam on you without thinking about it.  And in thinking about those times, sometimes it's not because I am intentionally not paying attention, it because something heavy is on my mind.

Could it be that when I am frustrated with someone else because I think they are not paying attention that maybe they have something weighing them down as well?  Maybe that guy that just cut me off on the freeway just got a call about an emergency in their family.  Maybe that person in the express line with too many items is a single mom who has been working all day and is trying to get some food for her kids before she is late to pick them up at day care and charged extra fees.  Maybe that person who let the door slam on me is someone who just got some horrible news and they are paralyzed with what they've found out.  It could be any number of reasons.

We've all been in these frustrating situations.  I know it's frustrating even maddening when things happen especially when you are driving.  But my goal for this week is to try and extend mercy in every situation... including those that happen on the freeway, in a grocery line, through a closing door, etc.  And if I can do it this week, then it can become a pattern.  I need to remember that while there are some rude people out there, most people are not intentionally rude.  And you know what, even those who are rude may be that way because they have never been shown mercy. 

We cry out to God asking him for His mercy on a regular basis.  We cry out to God knowing that He is there and will grant us mercy... regardless of our situation.  We cry out to God asking Him for His mercy to protect us.  We cry out to God when we are in agony asking and begging Him for His mercy.  Are we as willing to extend mercy as often as we are asking God for His mercy?  My goal, is to try and show mercy always...  because Mercy Always Triumphs Judgement! 

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.  James 2:12,13


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