Saturday, March 15, 2014

Snapshots For His Glory -- Exodus 3:2;4-5

I am reminded today that even a common, ordinary moment in time can suddenly be transformed into a holy and sacred one.

So be on the alert at all times, keeping your eyes and your heart wide open.

Because you never know when the ordinary can suddenly become the extraordinary.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Dark Side of Social Media

Darth Maul artwork credit
'Yes, in the past, you lived the way the world lives, following the ruler of the evil powers that are above the earth. That same spirit is now working in those who refuse to obey God.'~ Ephesians 2:2, NCV

This past week or so, I’ve found myself an unhappily captive audience to some ‘stuff’ that has been going down on the pages of several Facebook friends.

I use the word ‘captive’ quite loosely because in reality, I DO have the choice to just click off the page/site and do something else, like:

  • Pray
  • Take a walk
  • Clean my toilet
  • Or grab a cup of coffee and hunker down with a good book

Any one of those things or another would be a whole lot better than watching the sniping via status updates that come through my daily news feed, but often, I find it’s like a train wreck – you just can’t look away, although you desperately want to.

I know there are many positive things to be said about social media.  You can get to know and converse with people around the world, anytime day or night. You can make new friends, reconnect with old friends and family members, find MIA classmates, coworkers and lost pets. 

There are pages for reminiscing about happier times and places, for finding and sharing information and favorite photos, for posting links to funny videos, and pages on which to ask for and find prayer and community support.  These are just a small handful of the things I’ve found to be good and helpful and fun.

But social media does indeed have its Dark Side, with Facebook and Twitter, seemingly more and more often lately, serving as the virtual playground for cyber bullies and mean girl cliques.


artwork credit
Over and over, people pick on and call out others in ways I believe they WOULD NEVER think of doing face-to-face, using the anonymity of their keyboard and computer/iPhone screen as their shield, and brandishing their words like Crocodile Dundee’s knife or Peter’s Narnian sword, even as they make feeble attempts to undercut their snarkiness and ill intent with well-placed terms of endearment (like ‘sweetie,’ ‘honey,’ ‘dearie,’ and the infamous, overly-used and totally worn out, ‘why, bless your heart’).

The playground then becomes the battlefield, and I’ve witnessed both the godly and the godless, Christian and carnal 'friends' warring and wounding one another.  And THIS, my friends, should not be.

photo credit
For others, when this occurs, the safest, easiest and best option would seem to be to retreat. Keep your head low and run away. Wave the white flag of surrender and give up. Kill the accounts and unplug from all things social media. To be honest, I consider doing this at least once a week. 

However, if you’re among those of us whom God has challenged to faithfully commit to shine His light into a ‘dark’ place by bringing His encouragement, joy, hope, support, compassion and understanding to the land of social media, then take a deep breath. Take heart. And remember the following things:

  • Not everyone will like nor want to hear what you have to say. But we weren’t created to please man, but instead, to please God (Ezekiel 2:3-7; Galatians 1:10)
  • Have confidence in your God given gifts and purpose (1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 1:3)
  • Put on your armor daily. Not just pieces here and there, but the FULL armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17)
  • Stand firm (Ephesians 6:11, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Corinthians 16:13)
  • Don’t give up or lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 12:3)
  • Press on (Philippians 3:14)
  • And stick close to the Lord, Who is Your Commander-In-Chief and your place of refuge and protection (Psalm 32:7; Psalm 61:3; Psalm 91:1-4; Romans 8:31-37)

Because while there are those out there on the virtual playground who seem to delight in pushing and kicking you around, and even more on the cyber battlefield who want to crush, 'kill,' and silence you – there are that many more who are hungry and thirsty and desperate for the message of hope, help and healing that is available through a life given over to Jesus Christ.

The message God has seen fit for you to carry on and hold out to them.

iStock photo
'You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.' ~Ephesians 5:8-10, The Message

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Prayer For Today

'Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.' ~ Colossians 4:2 (NLT)

I came across a prayer some 20 years ago, on the inside cover of a little daily devotional booklet called ‘Forward Day by Day,’  which I found on a table in the narthex of the Episcopal church where my husband and I were married.

I remember being so captivated and moved by the sweetness, simplicity and sincerity of its wording. For me, it was like a prayer, a poem and a song all rolled into one wonderful package.

I carried the booklet with me everywhere, using the prayer during whatever quiet moments I could find during the course of my day, as well as reaching for it whenever a time of chaos and crisis would hit (which back then, seemed much too often).

A few years later, after my husband stopped attending church with me, I left that particular church with much sadness and began looking for another one.  None of the churches I attended afterwards, nor the church I finally wound up calling ‘home’ for many years, carried this particular devotional booklet. They offered others which I began to use and learned to be content with. 

I soon forgot about ‘Forward Day by Day,’  but every so often, some of the words from that wonderful prayer it contained would come back to me. Yet, as years passed, it became cloudy as to where in the world I had read or heard of that prayer.

So, imagine my delight when, this past weekend as I was taking photos of some historic sites in a little town that neighbors my own, I stopped in a very old, very lovely and very small church – and found a few copies of ‘Forward Day by Day’ displayed on a table in the back!

Christ Episcopal Church, Bordentown, NJ

Christ Episcopal Church, Bordentown, NJ

Christ Episcopal Church, Bordentown, NJ

Also to my great joy, the prayer is STILL contained within the devotional, this time located on the back of the booklet.  The prayer is written by American clergyman and author, Phillips Brooks, and it’s my privilege today to share it with you here.

It’s my sincere hope and desire that, during this Lenten season AND every day, it will encourage, inspire and bless you, as well as draw you closer to the One Who loves you beyond what you could ever imagine:
O God,

Give me strength to live another day;

Let me not lose faith in other people;

Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery or meanness;

Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them;

Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity;

Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things;

Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth;

Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness, and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls;

In the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stepping Into Lent

Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent, believe, and walk in the way of Christ.

Photo credit
Today is Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the 40 days in the Christian community known as Lent. 

Many throughout the world will set aside time today to attend church services and have ashes placed upon their foreheads in the sign of the cross by priests, pastors, ministers or religious laypeople; most will fast from all but one meal, and give up something they enjoy or of value for the next 40 days as a sign of self-denial and sacrifice. Fish, veggie dishes, fruit platters and other meatless fare will be the order of the day today and for the next 7 Fridays.

However, some Christian denominations don’t recognize Lent at all, so for them, this won’t be considered a day of any special significance.  

And, interestingly enough, there is no mention of Lent in the Bible. The closest thing to it that I can see, in my opinion anyway, is Jesus’ being led away into the wilderness for 40 days by the Holy Spirit, in preparation for His ministry. He had nothing to eat or drink. It was a time of cleansing, of purifying – physically, as well as spiritually.

Save for the moments Satan appeared before a hungry and humbled Jesus to tempt Him, and when angels came to minister to Jesus after Satan took off in a huff, He seemed to be all alone.

Yet nowhere do I read or get the sense that God abandoned His Son in that wilderness.  Perhaps Jesus was brought to this barren and solitary place, where all distractions were removed from Him, not only to be tested, but also in order for Him to be able to spend uninterrupted time with the Father in conversation and reflection, in preparation for what was to come. The joys and the sorrows.

Lent to me, then, is to be a season of sincere reflection and preparation for those of us who call Christ our Lord and our Savior. A season where we make it a point to rest and spend time conversing with Jesus, free of distractions.  A season where we walk along life’s path, content to be closely yoked with Him in service as He teaches us His unforced rhythms of grace.  A season of temptation and testing.  

A season where we reflect on and acknowledge our rebellious and sinful nature and desire to repent of it.  A season of longing for our inner transformation, hungering and thirsting to be like this humble and obedient Servant King.  A season of preparing ourselves for whatever plans the Father has for us in the near or distant future. The joys and the sorrows.

Therefore, in my honest and humble opinion, the partaking of Lent should not be entered into lightly and frivolously, but intentionally and seriously. There’s no room for showboating or bandwagon mentality here. It shouldn’t be performance driven nor be done out of guilt, shame or family tradition.

And heaven forbid it should be seen as or turned into a kickstart for a new diet program or part of a health plan designed to get your body swimsuit ready, as I heard being discussed at great length on a local TV news show this morning.

Jesus was very clear about His loathing of acts being done for appearances sake, for the approval and praise of man, or done out of routine obligation or tradition. His strongest warnings were always towards the religious elite (Pharisees and teachers of the Law), whose motives didn’t line up with their actions (check out Matthew 23:13-36 for some examples of this and Jesus' words to these folks).  

A woman with whom I attend a Bible study on the book of Matthew said recently that Jesus was all about "living out the ‘heart of the Law,’ whereas the Pharisees had made it all about living out ‘the letter of the Law'."
Wise and truth-filled words indeed.

Now, PLEASE hear me and believe me when I say that I AM NOT criticizing anyone who has ever made the decision to give up something – coffee, chocolate, junk food, social media, television, meats, dairy products, etc. – during the Lenten season (been there, done that many a time). 

Neither am I pooh-poohing  someone’s involvement  in a Lenten challenge, like reading through the New Testament in 40 days (and believe it or get outta here, I'm actually taking this one on this year).

What I AM saying is we need to be so very mindful of our motives for doing so.  We should always ask ourselves:

"Why am I doing what I'm doing?"

"Who am I seeking to please?"

And if you’re not sure why – ask God:
“Is this what You want me to do, Lord?"

"Is this sacrificial offering pleasing to You?  Or are You looking for something else from me?"

"What do YOU want me to do or to refrain from doing?”

Can I tell you how hard I struggled this year to step in and find my place among those taking this always challenging Lenten journey, asking myself AND God these very same questions?

And, not surprisingly, His answers were revealed to me within the pages of Scripture, God's very Word to us:

What can we bring to the Lord?
What kind of offerings should we give him?
Should we bow before God
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
                 Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
 to pay for our sins?

No, O people, the Lord has told you
what is good, and this is what
he requires of you:

to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micha 6:6-8, NLT

And, when you have some time, check out Isaiah 58 in its entirety, for you may just find the answers to your questions there. 

The grace and peace of God be with you this day and always, my friends. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fear Factor

This morning, after my son had pulled out of his parking spot and drove off to work at the ungodly hour of 5:30 AM, I remained standing outside on our tiny front steps, staring up at the moon. 

Even though he is almost 21, I still walk out with him, under the various guises of hanging up our decorative front porch flag, taking some early morning pics, or putting out the garbage and making sure the front door is locked. Sadly, over the past few years, our neighborhood seems to have become home to some pretty unsavory and even dangerous characters, and we’ve come to know the township police officers here on a first-name basis.

I heard a noise near our alley, and felt a chill hit me that didn’t come from the frigid morning temperatures. Literally frozen with fear, I couldn’t move. I held my breath and waited. Nothing happened. No one appeared. 

Breathing out a sigh of relief, I glanced back up in the sky towards the moon, which looked to be fighting to be seen amid some clouds and the tree branches, and this verse suddenly came to mind:

In this life, we never seem to run out of things to fear, do we? Whether due to bad, past experiences (our own or even someone else’s), or because of future unknowns/uncertainties, all of us have a fear factor. 

We don't like to admit it, but we're all afraid of SOMETHING. And, for the most part, not all of us are afraid of the same things.

Some people are afraid of heights (that would be me)

Some are afraid of insects or big dogs or bats (oh my!)

Other folks are afraid of flying, of driving in snowy/icy weather or across bridges, or of public speaking (me once again)

And still others are afraid of the dark or of thunderstorms

At times, it may feel as if our fears, much like the bare, spidery tree branches in the photo above, are reaching up, entangling us and choking the light and life right out of us. 

In the midst of moments or even seasons that appear to be or truly are dark and fearful, we may think "what to do?", as a friend’s son used to say when he was very small.

The only thing you CAN do when you’re afraid: put your trust in God.

Some time ago, not long after I was handed my breast cancer diagnosis and just before I was about to be wheeled into surgery because of it, I was handed something else. Psalm 56:3

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

Being a still-wet-behind-the-ears follower of Jesus and pretty much new to Scripture PERIOD (let alone its memorization), I had never heard of this verse. But, like a drowning woman, I grabbed onto it like the lifeline that it was for me (and still is), and held on for dear life!

I repeated it over and over in my head as my journey to the operating room took an unexpected detour to a ‘holding room,’ because the results of an earlier, routine (but obviously pretty important) pre-admission test had not come back yet.

I whispered the verse out loud again and again as medical personnel scurried around me, checking my vitals, making frantic phone calls to the lab for those missing in action test results, and doing their best to reassure me that everything would be fine.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

But this verse REALLY hit home once I was finally brought into the blindingly bright and starkly sterile operating room as several folks from the surgical team lifted me off the gurney and placed me onto the hard, bare operating table, while two others each grabbed an arm of mine and stretched them out to insert more tubes and attach more wires.

It was a frightening moment for me, and a somewhat bizarre thought wormed its way into my brain. I wondered if Jesus had felt that same sickening fear overtake and overwhelm Him as the Roman soldiers stretched His arms out onto the cross? Could the Father have impressed these very words from the Psalms upon Jesus during His time of agony in the garden of Gethsemane? Did He bring them to mind as nails and hammers were poised above His hands and feet? 

Did KNOWING that He could COMPLETELY trust in His Abba bring Jesus some measure of comfort, peace and the strength to endure what was coming at that very moment?

Because they did for me. Those 9 simple words -- “When I am afraid, I will trust in You”  -- plus the realization that Jesus could relate to what I was going through (fear), supernaturally brought me to a place of peace, comfort and the strength to endure what was coming, at the same time removing that fear factor.

And just for the record: although it sounds absolutely unthinkable, outrageous, and even sacrilegious for me to compare my circumstance to Jesus’s, please know that is certainly NOT my intent here. I merely wish to share my thoughts from the moments before my surgery, and to point out that IF that small portion of Scripture had indeed invaded Jesus's thoughts that long ago Friday afternoon, I HAVE TO believe that He surely must have benefited from it as well.

I deposited that verse, securely and permanently, into my heart that day, carrying it with me as I headed off to surgery. I continued to carry it into the second surgery that came along 6 months later. It remained there through the upcoming, draining chemo treatments; through the endless, taxing tests and painful procedures that awaited down the road.

And for all the dark and scary situations and experiences that have confronted-- and continue to confront -- me and my family since then, it remains my ‘go to’ verse.

Beloved - maybe you’ve found yourself in the midst of a dark and scary situation right now:
  • The loss of a loved one
  • or of a job
  • or of a home 
  • The shattering of a marriage 
  • or of a friendship
  • or of a parent/child relationship 
  • Or your own health or financial crisis

And that light at the end of the tunnel everyone speaks of?  It seems somewhat hazy and not very bright -- if it can be seen at all. That still, small voice of God others remind you to listen for can often barely be heard above the crashing waves and deafening claps of thunder in your life’s particular storms.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

Dear one – may I encourage you and urge you TODAY to grab hold of this verse with both hands? And don't EVER let go. Carry it close to you in the midst of fear and uncertainty; as you walk through the tunnel's darkness and maneuver the raging storms.
Memorize it
Meditate on it
Whisper it
Shout it
Believe it
Own it

It’s not a magical incantation. It’s a powerful statement of faith and trust in the only One Who can bring you out of darkness, shelter you in life's storms and factor out your fear. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Counting The Invisible

"So God created human beings in His image. In the image of God He created them. He created them male and female." ~ Genesis 1:27, NCV

Last week, while I was at our family’s favorite bagel shop, a headline from one of our local newspapers caught my eye. It read:

“Counting The Invisible”

Intrigued by the title, I picked up the paper and quickly scanned it to find they were speaking of that community of folks who live hidden among the shadowy fringes of our society:

The homeless.

I bought the paper and returned home to read the rest of the article.

I learned that members of an organization here in our area recently took a day to launch themselves throughout our neighboring city of Trenton for their annual count of its homeless population.

The teams of people took the time to speak with each homeless person, asking questions about their basic needs, where they were currently staying and then supplying each one with a backpack containing sandwiches, water, socks and a resource card offering info on social services available to them. They were also encouraged to come to the local shelter to stay, as the temperatures here have been in the single digits lately.

The article went on to give figures from last year’s census (a total of 668 homeless men, women and children in our county alone!) and to say just how difficult it is to get an actual true figure for the homeless, because many ‘couch surf’ with friends or spend time during the day and evening hours riding the River Line (a fairly inexpensive, light rail system which travels between the cities of Trenton and Camden).

The director of this outreach organization told his teams to be sure they paid attention and listened to the responses of the homeless, without cutting them off if and when they opened themselves up. He’s quoted as saying:

“Don’t get so caught up in the logistics of it that you miss that part of it, because we’re talking to people.”

That really hit home and has stuck with me. As did the moniker of ‘the invisible.’

For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering one night a week at a local soup kitchen operating out of the basement of a tiny neighborhood church, as well as doing intake there at their once-a-month food pantry and clothing closet.

Last Thursday night, after having read that article, I looked more closely than usual at all of our guests -- familiar and unfamiliar; homeless or living well below the poverty line -- who filed into the building for a hot meal. I wondered – did they feel invisible? Did we make them feel invisible by our words, our facial expressions, our interactions or lack of interactions?

How easy it can be to deem the folks who frequent these outreaches as ‘the invisible,’ as we hand them their dinners or bags for their groceries and clothes while proudly feeling we’ve done our civic and Christian duty.

Because they are precisely the people society don’t wish to see. Those whom we would much rather remain invisible.

Some barely speak above a whisper, mumble continually to themselves as they rock back and forth, or suddenly laugh out loud for no reason. Others shout things I cannot repeat here, sometimes picking fights with us, their table mates – or with tormenting demons none of us can see.

Their clothing is wrinkled, ripped and grimy; their hair unkempt and greasy. Many reek of body odor and alcohol.  Or worse.  The hands that reach out to take their food are often dirty, bruised, shaking and housing who-knows-what beneath their fingernails. 

Their faces are dirty, too; some with teeth missing or eyes that are sunken in, displaying broken windows to souls that appear to be long dead and best forgotten.

And yet – the Bible tells us that we – human beings – were ALL created in the image of God! What a revelation, then, that each face that stares at us from a street corner, or through our car window while sitting at a red light, or across a table at a soup kitchen is the face of Christ, just as we are attempting to show the face of Christ to them!

It would do us well -- and I include myself in this -- to realize that, in spite of all the blatant differences and blaring oddities I mentioned above….the members of this ‘invisible’ population are like us in a variety of ways.

Like us, they have a name; a name that desires to be known, remembered and spoken out loud with joyful recognition, welcome and tenderness.

Like us, these folks have a story containing a beginning, a middle and someday, an ending. A story which begs to be told; to be known; to be laughed and cried over; to be understood and remembered.

And like us, they came into this world desperately needy from the get-go. Displaying wrinkly, tiny red faces, with eyes closed tight against the blinding light of life. Arms flailing and fists clenched, lungs filling up with their first breaths, and exhaling angry cries of protest at being torn from the warmth and safety of their mother’s womb.

And then someone, somewhere, cleaned them up, swaddled them in a blanket and gently placed them into a parent’s waiting arms to be held. It would be nice to believe that these who are now invisible were welcomed and loved once upon a time, their entrance into the world rejoiced over.

But I know that far too often, that is not always the case. Many are born already unwelcome, already unwanted, already despised and rejected.

Already invisible.

But that is NOT SO with God. NONE of us are invisible to our Abba Father. He has seen us and known us LONG BEFORE our physical birth. David, king and psalmist, has this to say in Psalm 139:15-16:

“My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body.”

 And in Jeremiah 1:5, God tells the young prophet,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

I’m no Bible scholar, but I HAVE to believe that this visibility and knowledge God speaks of wasn’t only reserved and true for prophets, kings, psalm writers and Bible heroes, but for ALL of us common folk as well.

Father God sees us and knows us intimately. He is aware of our comings and goings, even knowing when we sit and when we stand. He takes great delight in each of us. He quiets our raging, chaotic, anxious minds and hearts with His love. He rejoices over us with singing. ALL of us – those whose lives are applauded and bathed in the bright klieg lights of notoriety. Those whose unassuming, ordinary lives tend to give off a softer, more diffused glow. And that so-called ‘invisible’ population -- those who find themselves standing outside society’s borders, living life among the dark shadows.

Maybe someone reading this today needs to remember or to be made aware that there is someone in their family, someone camped out in their neighborhood, someone sitting among their church’s congregation, or someone standing outside of their workplace, favorite coffee shop or local train station who LONGS to stop being invisible. Who only wants…no…NEEDS to be seen.

But not seen as just a number on a city's yearly census

Not seen as just a recipient of yet another social services program

Not seen as just part of some church’s monthly or annual outreach project

And not seen as just another poor, unfortunate soul 

But seen as a human being and beloved child of God. Yes, they have a need. But more importantly, they have a name that longs to be spoken. They have a story that begs to be told. And they have a face that wants to be seen. And recognized.

And perhaps, if you look closely, that face you recognize JUST might be the face of Christ

Homeless Jesus, by Timothy Schmalz

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), by Hillsong United

Then Peter called to Him, "Lord, if it's really You, tell me to come to You, walking on the water."

"Yes, come," Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and waves, he was terrified and began to sink. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. "You have so little faith," Jesus said. "Why did you doubt Me?" ~Matthew 14:28-31, NLT

Jesus --

Trust Him to call you.

Trust Him to be there for you.

Trust Him to hear your cries for help.

Trust Him to catch you when you're sinking in an ocean of doubt and fear, and your circumstances appear hopeless.

Trust Him to carry you to safety.

Trust Him to provide you with everything you'll ever need.

Trust Him.

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