The Circle

 

I see their faces as I write their names. Each one in my “inner circle.” The space God has placed souls. The one I married and promised the rest of my life to. The ones I birthed, the ones they vowed the rest of their lives to. The babies born to them. My parents, his mother, the siblings having special needs. The circle increases in diameter…

Morning prayer-time is sacred. I rarely miss it, but when I do, I really miss it. I wonder how it affected their day. Did they miss something because I missed praying for them?

A few years ago, I had a son-in-law deployed to Afghanistan. For this reason, I started journaling my prayers differently. Since a young adult, I have always journaled my prayers, but the reality of a loved one being placed in what is considered “real danger” drove me to make sure he was prayed for specifically every day. So I started writing each name, pausing to see their faces. Reminding God that these sweet ones were important to me and I needed Him for them. To watch over them and protect them, help them with whatever they faced that day.

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“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6

There is a whole-wide world out there, I know, but these dear ones mean the whole-world to me. I am sure your circle means the same to you. Because they are so important to us, we can be consumed with worry when their lives are in danger or they are making bad decisions. We want to change their opinions or fix every mistake they have ever made. That is not our job, but praying for them is. Giving them to God is the first, very best thing we can do and trust Him to work things out for their good and His glory.

I keep a box of tissues handy because sometimes when I write those names tears come. Tears of joy, God is there to celebrate with, tears of grief, He is still there, and they are in the best Hands as I hand it all over to Him.

 

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Sometimes I do not even know what to pray. Tim Keller writes in his book Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God,

“The Spirit, even when you do not know how to pray, takes your core prayer and prays as you should be praying before the throne. (Romans 8:26) When you struggle in prayer, you can come before God with the confidence that he is going to give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows. He does care, and He loves you boundlessly.”

Dear reader, pray for the whole-wide world, but please, never forget to specifically pray for your circle. Watch your love grow for them and know the peace of God that passes all understanding.

The Great Gift Exchange

 

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With Christmas coming soon it causes me to think about the day after. December 26th is as big as Black Friday there in the exchange department.  All the wrong colors, wrong sizes, and just plain wrong gifts that were received just the day before, finding their way back to where they came from.

This exchange makes sense because both the exchanger and exchangee (if that’s a word) receive something of somewhat equal value. Not so with the exchange in God’s economy. He gets something broken. Scarred. Pitiful and weak. And we get Him. His Holy Spirit coming to live in us. His inheritance. Heaven. Only God’s love would agree to this.

There’s a Big Daddy Weave song that really got to me the other day. Got me to thinking about the word “exchange.” In this case, Jesus, exchanging His righteousness, for mine. I never thought about it like that before. I only thought about mine exchanged for His. I couldn’t be righteous enough on my own so I needed His help, I needed to trust Him for the kind of righteousness that made me “right” with my Heavenly Father. The kind that allows for salvation. I could not be good enough, work hard enough, or even believe strong enough. Even though I trusted Him to be my Savior, I needed a reminder that in order for the exchange to take place, He had to take on something unimaginably awful, not a good gift at all but me, I got something unimaginably awesome.

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6

Our sin, (and we are all sinners, Romans 3:23), has blown it for us. Makes us unclean and unrighteous, and carries us away from God. This would translate to hopelessness if it were not for Christ.

My righteousness is “as filthy rags.” That is what I have to offer. He took that on the cross. He received the punishment for that. And all I had to do was believe. To think about the fact that He was nothing but righteousness, and me, nothing but unrighteousness. And He agreed to the exchange.

 

Jesus I Believe

Big Daddy Weave

I wanna walk with You Jesus
Feel your presence
And know You’re near
I wanna see You Jesus
Move in power
And cast out fear

I need to hear You now
I need to know it’s You
I’m standing on your promises
I know your Word is true
You’re bigger than what I see
It’s You and in exchange for me
‘Cause even the impossible can be reality
Jesus I believe

Jesus I believe

I wanna say what You’re saying
Speaking life to what is dead

And I wanna cling to You Jesus
Oh, hanging on to your every breath

I need to hear You now
I need to know it’s You
I’m standing on your promises
I know your Words are true
You’re bigger than what I see
That it’s You in exchange for me
‘Cause even the impossible is your reality
Jesus I believe

Jesus I believe

So let your kingdom come
And let your will be done
Here on the earth
Just like it is in heaven
God let your kingdom come
And let your will be done
Right here on earth
Just like it is in heaven

I need to hear You now
I need to know it’s You
I’m standing on your promises
I know your Word is true
You’re bigger than what I see
It’s You in exchange for me
‘Cause even the impossible is your reality

I need to hear You now
I need to know it’s You
I’m standing on your promises
I know your Words are true
You’re bigger than what I see
It’s You in exchange for me
‘Cause even the impossible is your reality
God even the impossible is your reality
Jesus I believe

Jesus I believe
Help my unbelief God
Jesus I believe

Songwriters: Jason Ingram, Michael Weaver

The greatest gift exchange of all time. Dear Reader, I hope you are a believer and have experienced this exchange. It is my prayer that you realize, every, single, day, what a great sacrifice He made because of the great love He has for you. If you don’t know the words to pray, this song could be your prayer. The prayer that saves you or revives your heart to love Him more fervently or gives you hope in your “impossible,”  for nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). Accept the exchange, truly, one size fits all and is for ALL who believe. (John 3:16)

When we exchange an item, they take back the goods, but they can’t be damaged, they can’t be worn-out or stained or torn. At the cross, He took us back, messed up, damaged, scarred, broken to pieces and exchanged all that for His Spirit in us, His Kingdom, ours…forever.

The “No Thank You”

When my little granddaughter was two, she had to have a blood transfusion. When the nurses came in to start her IV, little Lilly pleaded with them, “No thank you, No thank you” she would cry out. It was heartbreaking to hear her try so politely to refuse what was about to happen. A treatment that would help her recover from a dangerously low hemoglobin level, but she didn’t care about that. All she knew at that moment was something was going to hurt and she didn’t want it.
When we can control what we let into our lives, the use of “No thank you” is the polite way to refuse the choice in front of us. But what if we do not have that luxury? What about the things we can’t control? And is it ever appropriate to say “No thank you” to God?
I’ve said “No thank you” to Him before, not in words, but by my actions or lack of. The time He presented an opportunity for me to give till it hurt a little bit, and I refused. The time He said, He was waiting to speak to me through His Word and I just kept scrolling. The times He has asked me to do something, share something or say something for Him and I didn’t. Just like a two-year-old, it might hurt or be inconvenient to be obedient and I didn’t want it. Sometimes my own façade of politeness is my undoing.
This is the place where child-likeness and child-ishness have to part ways. A child is innocent, has no choice but to trust those who love her to make the right decisions that affect her, painful or not. I am not innocent. I get to choose to be disobedient and refuse the blessing. Just tell myself “be thankful” and move on.
Somehow I don’t believe that “giving thanks in all things” applies to my disobedience. There are the sins of commission and there are the sins of omission. Could what I am omitting, or not doing in obedience, be what is holding me back from experiencing the blessings of living an obedient, abundant life?

The more I learn about Jesus from His Word, the more I see how living given to others is important. He came to show us the loving heart of God. The way He shows this is how He gave.

Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;”

Receiving all things from God’s hand with thanksgiving is the only way.  The good and the hard. Being thankful, “Yes” thankful, turns whatever we receive into a gift that can, in turn, be given to someone else. We are not here just to serve ourselves.
To know that we are ambassadors for Christ, (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing Him in our world, should make us ready ministers, not wanting fame or privilege but a life of service and humility. (Mark 10:43) Jesus is our example. He took time in the mornings to pray and ask His Father into His day. He went out of His way and to places that others considered beneath Him because He knew people needed Him. He comforted, He healed, He prayed until He sweat drops of blood asking His Father if there could be any other way than the Cross. He never said “No thank you” and neither should I.

Dear reader, I don’t know what you might be saying “No thank you” to today. What you have been prompted by His Spirit to do in order to follow Christ. God knows your heart. Looking back, I know every time I refused an opportunity to be obedient, I missed out on something for others that would have helped me to recover from my low empathy level. One of the most dangerous pathologies in Christianity.
Starting this Thanksgiving week, I am purposing in my heart to make it a “Thanksliving” week. Right off the bat my husband reminded me of something I neglected to do and I was tempted to throw in the towel. The Lord’s Spirit, not mine believe me, prompted me to do the thing and thank my man for the reminder. The enemy lost that one. This week I’m going to try to say give thanks more often and say a few more “yeses” to God and others. How about you?
Like the transfusion that hurts but is life-giving, obeying God can be painful, yet it yields blessings that we just cannot realize any other way. We would tell Lilly, “It only hurts for a little bit.” God tells us the same thing. In the frame of eternity, our current struggles are so microscopic.

Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Glory renewed.

He Reads Minds

 

 

He Reads Minds – Kind of a scary thought, isn’t it? But there is really nothing you have ever thought that God wasn’t aware of. We are created beings. Not so with God. He always was, always will be, mind-blowing right?

“…whatsoever things, are pure, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

God is omniscient. This adjective used to describe our God means “having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding: perceiving all things.” He knows it all. The good, the bad, the messy and the beautiful. He doesn’t just see the outside behavior, what you actually do, but he knows the thoughts and intents of your mind and heart. God goes for the deep work that needs done. Scripture supports this:

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 KJV)

Having a free-will means we are free to not think good thoughts as well as to think good thoughts. This is the battle we face every, single day and we have to have a weapon to win it. That weapon is the Word. Dear reader, you are a warrior on a winning side when you get into the Bible. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Use it to reap all the rewards of strong faith. Courage. Strength. Peace. Hope. Joy. To name a few.

The enemy is described in the Word as a “roaring lion.” Have you watched those National Geographic films where the lioness prowls around a herd of animals on the Savannah? Looking for the younger, weaker ones to take down. Satan is like that. Different than God, Satan is a created being that went against God.

1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:”

Satan cannot read your mind, but he can see your actions. The way you behave when you are not in His Word, not staking your joy on God’s truth. I believe he uses this observation to spring into action and cause you to doubt God’s good plan for you. He moves in just like he did in the Garden.

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Ann Voscamp writes, “If Satan can keep my eyes from the Word, my eyesight is too poor to read light—to fill with light. Bad eyes fill with darkness so heavy the soul aches because empty is never truly empty; empty is only a full, deepening darkness. So this is what it is to be. Eve in the Garden, Satan’s hiss tickling the ear. “Did God actually say…?”” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Ann points out the need for us to look at our lives through a “biblical lens” in order to decipher the meaning of it all. (One Thousand Gifts, Devotional, Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces)

In Jesus’ great Sermon, there are some verses, Matthew 6:22-23, where He teaches about light and darkness. How our eyes can be good and provide light for us, or bad and fill us with darkness. The choice of where to go with our field of vision is ours. And the choice is made in our minds with the information we allow to influence us.

The fact that God can read your mind need not be a scary thing, especially when we remember this promise in 2 Timothy 1:7,

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Speak those words the next time your knees are shaking or you are tempted to believe you are powerless, unlovable or losing your mind. I have, believe me.

“No” With Love Attached

He cried his little heart out in my arms. It was late, bedtime even, and he wanted…candy. And this was not the first request, but his daddy had already shared some with him earlier and they had a “talk” about no more until tomorrow.
I don’t like the answer “No.” I didn’t like it when I was a kid, young adult, or “older” adult. I wouldn’t ask for something if I didn’t want it, how about you?
Have you ever begged God for something? I mean really asked with all your heart, over and over and only to experience that little word with the biggest meaning of hurt, that you think your heart just can’t possibly absorb? You are not a little girl anymore, so the asking is not “Could I have …this?” and you could take the no and move on. But, “Please God, You know how important this is to…and how could this possibly not be Your will?” This kind of over-and-over prayer that comes with deep, on-going disappointment. Heart wrenching even.

“Likewise the Spirit also helps our weaknesses: for we do not know  what we should pray for as we ought: for the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He that searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

So what we don’t have words for, when we don’t even know what to pray for “as we ought” the Spirit of God prays for us. And because the Spirit knows what the will of God is, (and we don’t) the prayer is offered perfectly and answered perfectly. Not saying it’s easier to take when it is so different from what we are asking, what we see would solve a problem, or help someone who is struggling. Because the picture is much bigger than we are capable of envisioning.
Dear reader, God is so big. He knows the end from the beginning and all those that are connected to your life and actions. If I think about it too much, my head hurts with the responsibility of it all. All I can do is trust Him and try to overcome the need to control anything. Just live abiding in Him and absorbing His Word.
“No” can seem unkind, especially to those in our close circle of family, friends and church. But it does not have to be when we remember to attach the love to it. To not use it in an automatic way to brush off responsibilities or make things more convenient for us. I love how Ann Voscamp says “You are willing to love only as much as you are willing to be inconvenienced.” That phrase “love is not convenient and I love this person” is one I say in my mind when I am asked to do something for someone that I quite truthfully do not want to do because it’s a bad time for me or I think I’m too busy. Try it, it works for me.
We girls love the romantic comedies where the guy, eventually, gets down on one knee, and asks the question that he pretty much knows will be answered with a “yes!” And of course, through the course of the story, he has had quite a bit of a struggle winning that “yes.” With the possibility of a thousand missed opportunities and missed connections leading up to the climax of the movie, and the happily ever after. This is the movies, dear reader. Anything can happen, and does.

Not so in real life. I would love to write that this life is fair. All our prayers are answered with the “Yes” we expect and everyone lives happily ever after, here. But that is not the truth. We will have trials. We will be persecuted. We will not always get the candy before bedtime. But that is okay, because the love this parent is modeling at the start of this post, is like the love that God has for us. He knows the whole story. God knows our whole story and He has to do what is best for us, because that is what His love does.

The Little Boy with Light-Up Shoes

 

I know these are pretty common now, but I wish they were available when my kids were little. Those shoes where the soles sort of flash and light-up as they step. So cool!

The other morning I got to keep my great-grandson until his daddy got off work. Since the sun does not show up till later and later every day, he walked out of the house in the dark, but his shoes lit-up his path on my front sidewalk, with every step he took.

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

I thought of that verse as I watched him walk the sidewalk to the car. Darkness dispelling bit by bit as he took those little steps. Lights show up the best the darker the path. And words can be like lights that enlighten dark spaces when we are not sure what to step into.

Sometimes all it can take to brighten a dark, dingy day, is a word of kindness. A smile. A listening ear. And there is the light. A thought or word of praise, for God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). And there it is, in the middle of what would send you spiraling down, down…lifts you up.

“That was the true Light, which gives light to every man coming into the world.” John 1:9 (NKJV)

The light to walk through the hour-by-hour or day-to-day is not like the kind of light that lights miles ahead. If we only look at the light at the end of the tunnel, we will end up with tunnel vision. The hear-and-now and right-in-front of us will get missed. He is always there for us and wants us to notice His light for the small steps and not just for the giant leaps.

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I was just thirteen years old when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. He said those words as he stepped onto the moon that we gaze upon from 238,900 miles away. It’s glow caused by the reflection of the sun, which, by the way, is 92.96 million miles from us.  Another interesting fact I found was that the moon reflects only between 3 – 12 percent of the sunlight that hits it. We glow when we reflect the Son. We all seem to have varying degrees of reflection. So many parallels.

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I love space movies. Not the “Alien” kind at all, but the documentaries out there about the astronauts and space truth and travel. They reinforce my belief that our beyond intelligent God created the universe and rules it from His throne in the heavens.

The words I attached to this blog, “Renewed. Refreshed. Redeemed.” are a reflection of what His light brings to my life. Dear reader, this is what He does. There is no day that goes too badly, nothing that can be just too old, or spoiled so rotten, that He cannot bring His glory to it. Sometimes just watching a little boy with light-up shoes can remind you of that. Glory Renewed.

 

 

The Pumpkin Party

 

 

IMG_2004How was your weekend? If we could have coffee and a visit I would tell you about this. My son’s family invited me to go with them to the Pumpkin Show in Circleville, Ohio, last Saturday. On that day, in that little town, I witnessed something really beautiful!

Let me set the scene for you. It was crowded, I mean packed, with people. This is what happens when the world gets invited to a small town to celebrate bigger-than- huge pumpkins. Where all food trucks have the star ingredient of pumpkin added to their recipes and wearing the color orange is what makes you blend in no matter where you’re from. It didn’t hurt things any to have the most gorgeous autumn weather the good Lord could have arranged and the ability to attend an event that has been held for 113 years in a row with no admission fee.

Except the parking, of course. This event is an opportunity for those locals to make a little extra cash and who could blame them? After all, they had their community bombarded by tourists and turned upside down on account of an orange fruit*.

*Side bar: I had to do a little research to see if a pumpkin was a vegetable or a fruit. Webster says it’s a fruit. However, because it is not sweet like other vegetables that are technically called fruits, such as tomatoes, beans, green peppers, etc., the pumpkin can also be considered a vegetable.

Okay, let’s get back to the parking. The closer you get to the action, the more the price goes up. We saw five dollars, then eight dollars and then ten dollars as you got closer to where you wanted to be. But that was really all the money you “had” to spend to enjoy this great show. You could walk right up to the prize winners and take your picture with them. It’s not everyday you get to see an over 1,400 pound pumpkin. You could watch a very talented pumpkin carver make his magic and there was a free concert in the town square with smiles and friendly faces all around. I enjoyed seeing those wearing the special pumpkin sweaters and t-shirts that gave away the fact that this was a yearly pilgrimage for them.

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My grandkids called it the “Pumpkin Party” which I thought was adorable. So let me tell you about what I loved about the “Pumpkin Party.” I saw grown-ups play concession games with their kids. And I looked at this in a whole different way than I used to as a younger adult. I used to think it was a waste of money and couldn’t see that maybe this was a positive memory for a child that may have never seen this side of their parent or grandparent.  I saw kids patiently wait their turns for tickets and rides and then the sweetest thing of all… at the concert.

“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Psalm 8:2

At the front of the stage were children, dancing with pure joy to the peppy country music that was being played. My granddaughter joined them and it was such a delight to watch these children, who did not know each other, enjoy the dance together. On my left I saw a little Asian family. A precious little girl, holding on to her Daddy’s fingers, moving to the those twangy tunes that seemed to me so strange given her ethnicity. To my right, another family that appeared to be from the other side of the world as well, clapping and toe tapping to “Chattahoochee” and “Kaw-Liga.”  Their little boy doing the cutest thing with his swaying body. Everybody enjoying this day, getting along, being one.

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Dear reader, don’t you wish everyone would put down their differences and take their lead from the little ones who see things so simply? It was a party and it didn’t matter where you came from or what you looked like. It didn’t matter if you had a lot or a little. It was a kind of no judgement zone and I loved it. I wondered why we all could not be more childlike. The scripture says God ordains praise from their lips. This praise silences  foes and avengers.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

From what I could see that day, in this small town, we all wanted the same thing. To enjoy life with our family and friends. I just have to say “thank you” little Circleville town, for reminding me that God’s love is like a circle, with no beginning and no end. Because He has no beginning and no end. And He is love. (1 John 4:8b) This circle includes everyone. His love is for all people. God’s love encircles us with mercy and grace. May your little town continue to have pumpkin parties for another 100 years, and find us coming together time and again, over a pumpkin.