Reality Check


 

thUCGH0M3XI admit it – I like reality TV. I watch the shows knowing that the term “reality” is to be taken loosely but how can you make someone say or do something? It’s captured on camera, right? Well, according to an article I read, here’s the truth from a reality TV insider: “I can manufacture love where it doesn’t exist, hate where it doesn’t exist, I can make it seem like you’re tired or excited or angry, anything.” Nooooo, tell me it isn’t so!!

And then there’s photoshop. Most of us know that the pictures we see on magazine covers are not real yet many women still strive to look the way the celebrities and models in the doctored photos appear. And many times when I’ve helped myself to a few less pounds and when people have commented on my picture asking how I stay looking so great, I explain to them that there’s an app for that!

And don’t get me started on the news media! With parody and satire websites that post fictional articles and media outlets that spin stories like a politician, who knows what’s really going on in the world we live in?! There’s so many conflicting stories, we’re left wondering “who’s telling the truth?!”

In these times of such uncertainty, deception and confusion, it’s vital that we cling to what we know is the truth. For me, there are a few realities that I can be assured of even when everything else around me seems in doubt.

Reality-Check1. Jesus is still on the throne – when the world seems dark and broken and it appears that Satan is gaining ground, I can trust in the fact that Jesus is in control and I am assured of how it all will end. No matter how bad things may get and no matter how hard life may be, Jesus is still the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. One day, when He decides, all will be made right in the world and I find great assurance in that fact.

2. God’s word is truth. I like to read a lot. Some of it is fiction and some of it is supposedly non-fiction. But really, when I read articles or news stories I can’t be sure if what I’m reading is the truth. In most instances it’s one person’s perspective and opinion and no matter how convincing they may seem, I never really know for sure if they are 100% accurate. But one thing I can know for sure – the Word is the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God. When the news gets me down or an article I read leaves me in doubt, I can always go to God’s word for truth, encouragement and the building of my faith.

3. My salvation is assured because Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Many people wonder what their purpose is or why they are here. They fear death because for them it’s a huge question of what will happen when they die. Others live their life filled with guilt and condemnation associated with their mistakes, poor choices or circumstances that still hang heavy over their lives. I know because I was one of those people. But the moment Jesus became my Lord and Savior, my life was forever changed. I no longer fear eternity because I know it will be spent in heaven with my Father. I no longer live with the burden of my mistakes because I have received forgiveness for my sins because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. I no longer deal with sadness, anger, bitterness and resentment because I am filled with the joy that only the Holy Spirit of God can provide. This is a truth that can be reality for anyone who asks and that’s why this truth is the greatest reality of all.

4. I have biological and spiritual family that love me, accept me and are there for me in my greatest times of need. There is no greater feeling than knowing you are loved and accepted by God but having family that loves you and accepts you is a close second. For many people today, their relationships are in question. Much like everything else in our world, they don’t know how real or how solid their relationships are. They find themselves questioning the authenticity of each person in their life. And even though you may not have biological family that you can depend on, spiritual family can fill a need we all have for authentic relationships.

5. I may not know what my future holds but I know who holds it. I know that if the time comes when I have nothing but God, I have all I need. The reality is that He is the answer to all my fears, all my doubts, all my questions and all my needs. He is my reality.

thXTBUEOJMIf your reality is uncertain, maybe it’s time to cling to what is real. Maybe it’s time to surrender to the reality that God loves you, accepts you and is waiting for you to turn to Him. He desires to be in a relationship with you. He longs to give you the gift of salvation and forgiveness. All you have to do is ask. He is so much more than you could ever ask for or imagine. Don’t spend another day in doubt when the One who is real is right in front of you.

 

 

Out of Focus


IMG_2933Have you ever gone back years later to visit a place where you played as a child? Did you notice that it wasn’t quite like you remembered it? Or worse, it was nothing like you remembered it as a child. Have you ever told your children stories of the enormous hill you went sledding on or the tree that you climbed that was bigger than any tree your child has ever seen? And then you take them to see the hill or the tree and suddenly you look like the biggest liar EVER. Well, it happened to me.

In that moment I wondered what in the world happened. How could the hill and the tree have gotten so much smaller? I looked at the hill with disbelief because the hill that I went sledding down at 10 years old was so much bigger than the hill that now stood before me. And the tree. I thought the tree that I used to climb with my friends was the biggest tree ever known to exist. And then there was the wall I used to walk on. My dad would hold my hand and walk alongside me. I felt so high up in the air and it was so scary. Yet when I drove by that wall many years later it was only 3 feet tall. Seriously?! It couldn’t be the same wall – the wall I walked on was towering up to the sky. But it was in fact the same wall, on the same street, in front of the same house my grandparents used to live in.

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It’s funny how when you look back sometimes, the things that you thought were so huge are not really as big as you thought they were. You have a picture in your mind that has been there for years but in that moment, they just don’t seem the same as you remember them.  The thing is, the size of the hill and the tree or the height of the wall didn’t change over time. What changed over the years was my perspective. I had changed. I had grown. The way I saw things and the perspective from which I saw them had changed. They had not changed, I was just seeing them with a different set of eyes.

How different could our lives be if we changed the way we look at things? What if instead of looking at the challenges of life with childlike eyes that viewed everything as so much bigger than us, we looked at them through mature eyes that see them as not so big after all?  How much easier would life be if we were able to look at our problems and think “That’s it? Wow, that’s nothing!”

IMG_2932What if, instead of being fearful of the enormity of what we face, we could see that in reality it’s nothing like we imagine it to be? What if we could see things in the moment as they really are and it not take years later to see our situations and circumstances as a small bump in the road instead of a huge obstacle that seems impossible to overcome? What if we could see the good in a situation now instead of focusing on the bad? What if it didn’t take a really long time to see that what is happening now may actually be a good thing instead of bad like we think it is? What if we could pick out the positives and discard the negatives now instead of years from now when we look back on this season?

Does this sound impossible? Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.  The reality is already there, we just have to learn to see it. The hill, the tree and the wall didn’t change. There were always the size they are now. But the way they appeared to me changed because my perspective changed. The same can be true for our circumstances. They may not change. But the way we see them can definitely change. If we begin to refocus our eyes on God and how big He is, then our problems suddenly begin to look smaller. Instead of saying “God, I have a big problem!” we should be saying “Problem, I have a big God!”.

th (5)God never promised that our lives would be problem free but He did promise us that He will be right there with us as we face our problems. Many times we fail to recognize when our perspective is out of focus. We become fearful, worried and obsessed with our problems because we are seeing them through childlike eyes. But we have tools available to us that can help us to refocus. When we spend time reading the bible, in prayer and quieting our busy minds in order to seek God’s presence, we find that our perspective begins to change. The problems we face begin to diminish and we begin to grow in our faith in Him. Before long our focus is restored and our perspective is renewed. It’s not easy to refocus, but it is possible (Phil. 4:13).

Has the way you see things gotten out of focus? Do the problems you face seem impossible to overcome?  It’s time to refocus on the One who has overcome it all (John 16:33). Don’t wait until years from now to see the truth. It’s time to see your situation for what it really is and not what it seems to be. Refocus.

When the Puzzle Pieces Come Together


thIRE44WN6I’m not much of a puzzle person. They seem like they would be fun to put together. But when I open the box and see all the pieces, I can’t envision the completed picture when all those pieces fit together. So I tend to give up before I even get started.

 

For the past 6 years God was putting together pieces of a puzzle in my life and I wasn’t even aware of it until it was completed. It all started when my family and I moved to Tennessee in 2007. We knew God was calling us there and we thought the reason was to take care of my grandmother. But six years later and with the puzzle complete I can see that there was so many more pieces that I didn’t recognize until the puzzle was completed.

 

Many times in our lives we can’t see how the challenges in our lives will fit together as part of God’s plan for us. We only see the individual pieces of our circumstances and fail to miss the big picture that He is creating. When we allow ourselves to focus on the chaos of all the pieces of the unformed puzzle, we miss the opportunity to trust God that He is putting all the pieces together according to His will for our lives. I spent most of the last 6 years focused on the individual pieces. I didn’t realize how God was putting it all together to form a beautiful picture of one of the most special seasons of my life.

 

Our move to Tennessee wasn’t an easy one. Florida was home. We had friends, church family, jobs and a wonderful home. We were excited to live near our family again but that’s where the excitement ended. But nevertheless, in December of 2007 we headed north – the first challenging piece of the puzzle.

 

We moved my 95 year old grandmother in with us almost immediately. It didn’t take long before all my preconceived expectations of having her live with us were shattered. Being a caretaker turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done – the 2nd piece of the puzzle. And I spent much of my time fixated on this piece of the puzzle and wondering why God would place me in such an arduous position for so long.

 

And then there were the other responsibilities. I was also a wife, a mom, a church administrator, a small group leader, a children’s ministry teacher, the chief housekeeper and yard person, a friend, and a daughter to parents who no longer lived hours away but mere minutes. Balancing it all had become the 3rd piece of the puzzle and it was demanding much of my attention.

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And then it happened. After almost 6 years there, I experienced a moment I can’t really explain, but I know was from God. One morning while getting ready for church, God revealed to me a beautiful completed puzzle. And in an instance He showed me all the precious puzzle pieces that I had missed along the way because I was too focused on the bigger, more difficult pieces that didn’t seem to fit into my plan. He showed me how the difficult pieces had to be part of the puzzle in order for all the others to fit into their place during this time in my life.

 

There were the people – I met some of the most incredible and courageous women I’ve ever had the privilege to know. The military wives I came to know during that time blessed me in ways they will never know. The fact that our paths crossed was no accident. It was a purposeful plan from God to reveal Himself to me through them. To be able to witness God work in and through them is a gift I will forever cherish.

 

There was our church – I’ve never served with people like the Godly men and women I served with at our church in Tennessee. I will be eternally grateful for the impact they had on me. I learned how to live out the command of loving God and loving others by their example. There truly isn’t a more dedicated and loving group of servant leaders on this planet. I am blessed for having had the opportunity to serve alongside them for that season.

 

There was my family – it  was a blessing to be able to live near my parents again. I was able to build on my relationship with them after many years of living several states away and to see my children develop a lifelong bond with them that had not previously existed. It was a precious experience that included creating memories we will never forget. I was also able to reconnect with family that I had not seen in years and introduce my children to family members they probably never would have had the chance to meet had we not moved there.

 

There were my friends – I have a new best friend that I wouldn’t have in my life had it not been for our time there. She is the best friend I’ve waited a lifetime for and was there to encourage me for 6 years while I was focused on my problem puzzle pieces instead of the big picture. And I was also able to reconnect with a childhood friend whose friendship proved to be one of the more precious puzzle pieces of them all. The two of them kept me encouraged and made me laugh during a time that could have easily consumed me.

 

There was my grandmother – what I thought was a struggle was simply a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. In seeing the worst of myself revealed through the frustrations of being a caretaker, I realized just how desperate I am for more of Jesus in my life. He showed His incredible love for me by moving me out of the comfort of my life in Florida to a place where He could show me the areas where I needed to be transformed more into His likeness. And it was through my grandmother that God showed me His compassion and His incredible love for those we may find to be not so loveable. To have her in our home and for my family to have that experience was invaluable.

 

thJXHSSNIWSo when the storms and challenges of life hit you, remember that they are only a small piece of an incredible puzzle that God is putting together in your life. Keep your focus on trusting Him and His ability in all things to work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The pieces may seem like a chaotic mess but God will place them in the exact order to reveal a picture He created especially for you. And when that finished puzzle is revealed you will see God’s amazing love for you and know every piece was worth it no matter how difficult it was.

My Soul Felt Its Worth


January 2014 514It’s been a weird couple of months. Really, it’s been a weird year. I’m not sure weird is the right word but it’s the only way I can think of to describe a year that didn’t go like I expected it to. I began the year planning a family vacation to Florida. Who knew 6 months later I’d be packing our household and planning our family’s move to Florida? More than ever before, 2013 was a year of realizing that God’s ways are definitely not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8). I would never had thought we’d end the year the way we did.

The year began good. My grandmother was still living with us and although taking care of her was not easy, it was something we had resolved to do as long as we were able to provide the care she needed. It became evident early in the year that she was at the point of needing around the clock care and our family made the difficult decision to move her to an assisted living home. With our newfound freedom and time we did a lot of remodeling and repairs to our home and were able to take some weekend trips which were both long overdue.

prayer 5As the fall approached our attention turned to our plan (God’s plan really – we were just following His lead) to move back to Florida. We packed, put the house on the market and took a house hunting to trip to find a new home in Florida. Our need for God’s direction and guidance was undeniable as we put our trust in Him alone to work out the details of uprooting our family and moving to a new state. We prayed a lot. We prayed for His favor in selling our home, His will for my husband’s job situation and for His wisdom as we made decisions involving the move. It’s funny how much we seek God when we need something and it’s not hard to keep our focus on Him when our need for Him is so great.

And then our prayers were answered and it all began to fall into place. The house sold, my husband got a job transfer and we settled on a place to live in Florida. My dependence on God diminished. The stress of moving and packing took my time and focus. The move approached way too quickly. I felt the desire to spend time with all the friends and family who meant so much to us and I wanted to personally say goodbye to each person who had impacted my life while living in Tennessee. But too many obligations and responsibilities tugged at my time and I left without being able to do so which added to the pressure I was feeling. I was consumed with the move and began to feel overwhelmed.

Samsung November 2013 983Moving day arrived and my youngest son and I watched the movers load our belongings onto the truck while my husband was at work. We had a good visit with my grandmother the day before moving day. She was in good spirits and felt well that day. The movers left and we loaded up the stuff we were moving ourselves including the dog and the cat and headed off to Florida. My husband still had another week to work before transferring and stayed behind to wrap up the loose ends.

While passing through Atlanta, my phone rang. It was the assisted living home. My grandmother wasn’t doing well and the Hospice nurse said they didn’t think she was going to make it. I couldn’t understand how one day she was fine and the next they were telling me that she had just days to live. Another reminder that God’s ways are not our ways.

We spent the weekend in our new home sleeping on an air mattress while we waited for the movers to arrive on Monday with our household goods. My mother and the nurse kept me updated on my grandmother’s condition, which was not good. Very early Monday morning my phone rang. I knew they were calling to tell me that she had passed away. Just 4 hours later the movers arrived with a semi-truck full of boxes. It was not an easy day and by the end of it I was an emotional mess.

I had just moved to a new state without my husband alongside. I had a new place filled with boxes that needed to be unpacked and organized. My grandmother, who had lived with us for the past 5 years, had passed away. I was feeling the guilt of not being there with my grandmother when she passed away and not saying all the things I should have said to her before I moved. I had not been to church in a couple of weeks and God was far down on my list of things to do. I felt distanced from Him and wanted to close that gap but couldn’t seem to slow down long enough to spend time with Him and in His presence.

My son and I traveled back to Tennessee for the funeral, to reunite with my husband and oldest son and then to travel again to spend Thanksgiving with family. It was a whirlwind. I needed God but just couldn’t seem to make it happen. I knew in my mind that He hadn’t gone anywhere. It was me. But for some reason I just couldn’t get it together. I was feeling pretty worthless.

Christmas approached and I lacked motivation to decorate or shop. We didn’t have a dining room table yet so we planned to eat Christmas dinner out at a restaurant which added to my lackluster holiday spirit. Unseasonably warm weather didn’t help the mood.

candlelight serviceThen came Christmas Eve. Our tradition has always been to attend a church service on Christmas Eve. Reluctantly I found a church to go to. I just wasn’t “into” Christmas and my struggle with getting back into God’s presence only added to my gloomy mood. I sat through the service and listened to the pastor read the Christmas story from the bible. I barely noticed that we took Communion because I was so distracted with my thoughts. The service was coming to an end and we stood to sing “O Holy Night”. I’ve sang that Christmas song so many times I can’t even remember. I know the words by heart. It’s one of my favorites.

But in a moment of time my world stopped when I sang these words – “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.” I was overcome with emotions. God, in all His majesty, stopped time for me. He showed me His incredible love for me in a quiet Christmas Eve service in a small, nondescript church in Florida. My eyes were opened to the words I had just sang. I lay in sin and error but because of that baby born in the manager, the One who died for the sins I lay in, the One who loves me unconditionally, the One who loves me whether I pray every day and read my bible or whether I put Him at the bottom of my “to do” list, the One who loves me in spite of myself – He showed me my worth to Him through the words of a song on Christmas Eve. The next lines spoke to exactly how I felt in that moment. “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees!” I wanted to do just that. I wanted to fall on my knees and rejoice.

God's loveI realized in that moment that I had allowed my feelings to take over my reality. My reality is that I am a child of God. I’m a born again believer that the Creator of the Universe finds invaluable even when I don’t “feel” like I have any value whatsoever. In an instance my eyes were once again opened to the love that He has for me and that whether I “feel” like it not, nothing will ever change that. Now that is reason enough for any of us who call Jesus Lord and Savior to fall on our knees (even if we don’t feel like it)!

Every Man For Himself


cruzThis morning as I watched Senator Ted Cruz speak from the Senate floor, I became engrossed in the details he shared about what had happened to the original 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and the sacrifices they made in their quest for liberty. These were well-educated, successful men who had all they needed for themselves and their families yet they valued liberty more than their security. As a result many lost everything they had. Most of them had nothing to gain personally and everything to lose when they made the choice to put their signature on one of the most well-known documents in history, certainly in America’s history. Their personal sacrifices were made in part because they saw the bigger picture. They knew what they would have to endure for the remainder of their lives in order for generations to come to live in freedom would be worth it. They knew the costs yet they were still willing to lend their signatures because it was not about them, it was about freedom.

selfieAt this point I will now do what I vowed never to do when I was a teenager – sound like an old person complaining about “young people these days”. Heaven help me. But seriously, have I become that person I disliked so much as a teen or were the older folk really right and I was just a dumb teenager? Or is there something truly disturbing about the behaviors of the next generation? I’m not sure but there are a few things that I do know for sure that I’d like to share. My generation certainly had issues, there’s no doubt about it. Like all younger generations, we were viewed as self-absorbed, lazy, know-it-alls who were lacking in knowledge of what the “real world” was like. And while every younger generation, including the current one, has plenty of those same qualities to go around, I dare to ask the question – is it just me or are young people today, generally speaking, taking self absorption to a whole new level? The good kids, the questionable kids and the completely rogue kids today all seemed obsessed with themselves. I’m pretty sure they spend more time taking pictures of themselves than they do anything else in their lives and the term “selfie” will soon be an official dictionary word if it’s not already. If I never see another duck face selfie again I’ll be just fine but I somehow doubt that will happen. Social media and reality/competition television shows have driven the desire and pursuit of instant fame through the roof. The need to have more Instagram and Twitter followers than anyone else they know is bizarre to me. And the lengths at which they are willing to go to become known is scary. And I’m pretty sure the use of the word “scary” when referring to young people throws me directly into the old people category.

But it’s not just the young people in our society. Adults too are willingly crossing moral and ethical lines to get ahead in the workplace and justifying destructive and hurtful behavior because they “deserve to be happy” no matter who gets hurt in the process. We’re living in a time where the sacrificial mindsets of the 56 individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence would be mocked and ridiculed. Maybe it is just me but it seems that there are fewer and fewer people who are truly willing to sacrifice so that others (outside of their immediate family and friends) would benefit. It’s an every man for himself kind of world we’re living in.

declarationAnd as I listened to the devastating consequences that many of those 56 men and their families endured because of their dedication to the cause of independence, I questioned how we all can be so selfish and so unwilling to sacrifice at that level today. What has changed in our human nature since their time? What would those men and their families think of us today if they could see how we treat the freedom many of them sacrificed everything for?

And then my thoughts went, as they often do in those melancholy moments, to my Lord and Savior. I thought of the ultimate sacrifice that He made on our behalf. I thought about how different my life would be if Jesus had thought “I’ve got nothing to gain personally and everything to lose by sacrificing myself.” I thought of what my family’s lives would look like if He only thought of Himself in that moment instead of knowing that His personal sacrifice would give freedom and liberty to those held captive by sin for generations to come. I thought about how different our world would be if Jesus had an every man for himself mentality instead of an attitude of “my life for every man”. I gave thanks in that moment that no matter how discouraging things may seem to me at the times when my focus is on the negatives, I know that if I’ll just turn my thoughts back to Jesus, I find peace.

freeMy peace is in knowing that when I was still a self-absorbed, lazy, thought I knew-it-all young person, He loved me. My peace is in knowing that when I’m a self-absorbed, lazy, think I know-it-all “somewhat middle-aged” person, He loves me. My peace is in knowing that because of Him and the sacrifice He made, there is hope for those who are drowning in their hopelessness. My peace comes from knowing that the only freedom that REALLY matters is the freedom HE died for, the freedom from the bondage of sin. My peace comes from knowing that I live in a country where I can still be free to share the good news of the freedom in Christ thanks to the 56 men and their families that sacrificed so much for that freedom a long time ago. My peace comes in knowing that I have the choice to be that crabby, “somewhat middle-aged” person complaining about young people or I can choose to love them as Christ loves them and as He loved me at their age. My peace comes from knowing that the Son set me free therefore I am free indeed.

 

Beyond the Crashing Waves


August 2013 1397On our recent vacation to Florida I was lying in my perfect beach chair, under a perfect beach umbrella, looking out at the perfect calm waters beyond the crashing waves and thinking “can it get any more perfect than this?!” and the answer was no, not at that moment. I was relaxing among sheer perfection and relishing every second of it. But the calm beyond the waves was calling my name and I had to get out there to see if it really was as peaceful as it appeared from my point of view. When I reached the water and began to make my way toward the peace I could see in the distance, my focus was interrupted by the waves that suddenly began hitting me with pounding consistency. The harder I tried to get toward the calm waters, the harder and faster the waves came at me. The distant calm seemed to be getting further away instead of closer. But I was not about to give up that easily.

I looked back at the perfect chair and perfect umbrella I’d left behind. I was so very tempted to just turn back and return to their ease and comfort. But when I looked back out over the crashing waves, the peaceful, still waters ahead once again called out to me.  I began to get frustrated because it seemed like for every bit of headway I made after a wave passed, the next wave just seemed to push me right back to where I’d just been. But then I glanced back again to the chair I’d left behind and realized I had made it a lot further out than I had thought. Even though it felt like I really wasn’t getting anywhere, my persistence was paying off. I looked forward to refocus on the destination and it was a lot closer than I had realized. Just a few more waves and I’d be there. And the further out I got toward the calmer waters, the less punch the waves seemed to have. They were losing their power to knock me backwards. Either my determination was making me stronger or the waves were getting weaker. Either way, I was re-energized for the final stretch.

waterThere was no real line that I crossed, I was just there. I looked around and realized that I was in the calm, peaceful waters that had been almost impossible to reach – but they hadn’t been because I was now right smack dab in the middle of them. There was a stillness out there that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. The laughter of the children playing close to shore was so distance I could barely hear it. I was so far out that when I looked back to the shore I was a little afraid for a moment because I was alone in the deep – and it was really, really deep. But it was the most peaceful place I had ever been and it was worth ever bit of energy, frustration and determination it had taken to get there.

Many times we see the peaceful waters in the distance from our current vantage point. We know it’s calling our name but some of us never leave the comforts of the here and now because we decide where we are is “good enough.” But God desires so much more for us than “good enough”. He wants to give us the very best but we get too lazy and too comfortable and decide to settle because His “very best” requires commitment and maybe a little hard work on our part.

water4Then there’s those of us who leave our place of comfort and venture out toward the deep but as soon as the crashing waves come at us we retreat back to where we came from. We decide the calm isn’t worth it and we determine to go right back where we were. Others make it further toward the peace of the calm waters. They fight the waves and keep pressing on in spite of the difficulties and challenges. But no matter how focused they were in the beginning, the waves become too much for them and they quickly forget the destination that lies ahead. They loose their focus and become consumed with the crashing waves that rob them of their energy, determination and ultimate goal. They begin to believe they can’t make it so they turn back and retreat to the starting point.

August 2013 1424My encouragement to you today is that no matter how hard the waves are crashing all around you, the still and peaceful waters of Christ are not out of reach. Stay focused. Be determined to reach the stillness of His presence knowing that He has so much more He wants to give to you – more of His love, more of His peace, more joy, more blessings than you could ever imagine or hope for. Take your eyes off the waves and look out to the calm that lies beyond the distractions and obstacles. It hasn’t gone anywhere and it’s not beyond your reach. Keep pushing back against the waves and every now and then take time to glance back so you can be reminded just how far you’ve come. The harder you fight and the more determined you are, the closer you’ll get and the waves will lose their punch. Then suddenly you’ll look around and realize that you don’t know when, or really even how it happened, but you entered into the stillness of the peaceful waters of Christ and it was all worth it. Just keep swimming.

The Monopoly Strategy


monopolyOne of the best gifts we bought our son for Christmas was the game Monopoly Millionaire. I grew up during the height of Monopoly’s popularity and remember playing for hours at my friend Donna’s house along with a group of friends from school. To see my son discover the same enjoyment I had when I played so many years ago has been so much fun for me. However, the bad part about playing with my family is that I shared my strategy for winning and now it’s not so easy to beat them. When I play my goal is to buy everything I land on. I spend every fake dollar I have to acquire the most property because I know that I can defeat them by taking from them each time they land on one of my properties, especially once I start building houses and hotels. They don’t stand a chance when I keep taking and taking from them what they hold on to so dearly. They wrongly believe that if they hold on to their money and I spend all of mine then they will win. They don’t realize that even though they may have money in the beginning, eventually I will take it all away from them.

monopoly2We live in a world today where so many people are simply taking from others. They believe they will “win” if they can aquire more and that they will defeat the hurts hidden inside of them by taking from and hurting others. For many their life strategy is “I’ll hurt you before you have the chance to hurt me.” They take trust, time and love from those closest to them and misuse it, abuse it and never give it back in return. They play the monopoly strategy until those who love and care for them have nothing left to give. The game never ends for them because once they’ve taken all they can from one person they just move on to someone else and continue the game. The problem is that no one ever wins in this game.

monopoly5But there’s a different strategy for life that may not work in the game of Monopoly but it’s a proven winning strategy when it comes to real people and real relationships. It’s the strategy modeled by Jesus and one that all believers are called to follow. The world we live in teaches us that the way to defeat people is by taking from them. But God’s way is not to defeat people but to win them over to a relationship with Him by giving to them. When we give of ourselves sacrificially to others – we can give our love, our attention, our time and our trust – we model the same selfless love that God showed when He gave His Son to die on the Cross for us. It was an understanding of that sacrificial love that won me over into a life committed and surrendered to my Lord and Savior. It’s the same strategy that we as Christians are called to today. When we sacrifically give to others – from those we are in intimate relationship with to those who are complete strangers to us – we win them over to the love of Christ by showing them how much He loves them.

monopoly7What’s your strategy? Are you a taker? Are you selfishing hanging on to all you could be giving due to fear of being used or rejected? Are you trying to defeat people for a better position or more pay? Are you taking from others but giving nothing in return? Are you trying to defeat past hurts by refusing to give forgiveness, your time or your love to those who caused the hurt? Has your strategy changed from a giver to a taker because someone betrayed your trust? Are you unwilling to give until you receive?

Or are you a giver? Do you give of yourself – your time, your love, your attention, your resources – in order to win God’s way? Have you experienced the joy and the blessing that comes from giving instead of taking? Do you seek ways that you can give more to those you love? Do you give even though you may receive nothing in return?

monopoly8Being a giver does not come without risk. But with God’s guidance on how to give and who to give to, you can minimize that risk. The joy you will receive from giving will far outweigh any risk involved. There are so many people who are empty because others have taken from them. So take a look around and see who God puts in your path that desperately needs to receive what you have to give. There’s someone waiting to filled with the love and hope that can only come from God. Let God use you to show others the incomparable love of Christ through sacrificial giving and in turn you will see how truly amazing our God is.

 

The Fixer


scandal 2One of my favorite shows on TV is “Scandal”. The show’s main character, Olivia Pope, is known as a “fixer”. Or more appropriately, she is The Fixer in Washington, DC. When someone finds themselves in the midst of a major problem or scandal that needs fixing, Olivia is the go-to girl. She has an uncanny ability to know exactly how things will play out in each situation and she has a response plan in place before her client hardly knows what has hit them. She is cool under pressure and a brilliant communicator. She is a strong woman who can handle most anything thrown her way and she never reveals her hand before it’s time. Even her own team many times has no idea what she is thinking because she is unbelievably difficult to read. The show’s characters are complicated, Olivia being the most complex by far. Her life revolves around her repairing the damage of one scandal after another. But like everyone, even the seemingly unbreakable Olivia Pope has a weakness. And while she is the Queen of fixing everyone else’s problems, the one thing Olivia cannot fix is herself.

mr fix itLike Olivia, many of us live our lives as fixers. We are constantly attempting to fix things like our marriages, our finances, our family drama, our job situations, our kids, our loneliness, our sadness, our addictions, our hurts and our brokenness. Some of us accept the help of others by receiving their advice, counseling, methods or resources. Others simply say “I got it” and attempt the needed repairs all alone because they have all the tools they think they need at their disposal. Olivia Pope has a team that works with her but she is undoubtedly in charge and what she says goes. And each team member is forever indebted to Olivia because they too have been “rescued” from impending disaster by the one and only Olivia Pope. Although she is surrounded by others she is completely in control and very unwilling to relinquish one bit of that control.

You may be like Olivia Pope and you may be a really good fixer. In fact, you may be the best fixer among those you know. You may have fixed long-standing family feuds, you may have fixed your marriage or your finances, you may have even fixed a personal addiction, a problem with your child or a major job issue. But like Olivia Pope, you too have an area you cannot fix, yourself. No matter how hard we try we will never be able to fix certain things. There will always be areas of hurt, unforgiveness, anger or other wounds to our hearts for which there is only one fix.

God healsGod is the original fixer and He alone can fix the areas that you and no other person or thing can fix. I was a fixer and I always found a way to fix that one thing that I just knew would make my life complete. The problem was that I never really fixed what was really wrong. Each thing that I thought would bring me happiness was only a temporary “fix” and I found myself right back where I started, feeling empty and looking for my next fix.

Finally someone told me I didn’t have a happiness problem, I had a joy problem. I based my happiness on my circumstances. I thought that if everything was fixed in my life then I’d be happy. What I didn’t realize was that there would always be something that needed fixing. But that if I would surrender my life to The Fixer, Jesus, then I could still have joy even when there was some area of my life in need of repair. I didn’t need a better husband, a bigger house or more stuff. I desperately needed a Savior. I needed to admit I couldn’t fix everything and that I needed Him to fix me.

nativity 2I needed to stop living a life of sin where all I thought about was myself. I needed to surrender my life to Jesus and seek His will for my life and not my own. I needed to stop trying to pretend like some things I couldn’t fix would simply fix themselves with time. I needed to trust God to heal those areas I’d never be able to fix or the areas I didn’t want to face. I needed the love of Christ and the peace that surpasses all understanding to fill the voids of my life. I needed the strength I have in Christ alone to overcome the things I’d never be able to in my own strength. I needed the promise of eternal life that I received the moment I said “I believe”. I needed His comfort in times of sorrow and His guidance in the times I felt lost and confused. I needed to believe that things could get better and they did when I placed my hope in Christ alone and no one else, including myself. I needed that precious baby born in a manger so long ago who came from heaven to earth to die the death that you and I deserve so we don’t have to. I needed his forgiveness of my sins so that I would be able to forgive others. I needed His unconditional love and acceptance more than I ever realized. I needed fixed. I needed Jesus.

Game Over


nfl 3My husband and I are NFL fans and most Sundays we have football on the TV no matter what teams are playing.  Because we live near Nashville we see the Tennessee Titans games locally. My 100-year-old grandmother, who lives with us, is also a football fan and more specifically she is a Titans fan. Yesterday she was watching the game from her room and about midway through the 2nd quarter she came out and announced “well, the Titans have lost.” I told her the game was only in the first half and even though they were behind there was still plenty of time for them to win the game. After all, in the NFL things can change very quickly and you can’t assume a team has lost until every last second has ticked off the clock. But my grandmother’s mind was made up. She had already given up on the Titans and she had written them off before the game was even half over.

As Christians we many times face the same scenario. By all accounts it’s game over. We check the scoreboard of our life and we decide there’s no way we can come back from our current situation. We give up hope as we determine that there is no possible scenario for us to stage a comeback from our dire circumstances – the marriage is over, we’re never going to get out of debt, we’ll never be happy or find Mr. Right, finding a good job is a lost cause, the family drama will never end, our spouse will never change, overcoming this disease just isn’t a reality. We walk out and give up and add our situation into the “loss” column. Yet many times we are just an instant away from a game-changing moment. If only we’d just hung in there just a little bit longer……..

scoreboardI’ve done it myself and I’ve witnessed it in the life of others. We decide early on that there is no way that whatever we are facing can end up being a “win” in our lives. So we just give up. We lose hope. We don’t have enough faith to believe that things can turn around. We can’t imagine any possible way. We proclaim that it’s going to take a miracle but then determine that miracles don’t happen to people like us. We can’t do anything to change the outcome, it is what it is. We underestimate God. And so that’s it.

In 1996 my husband and I walked out of 2 Jacksonville Jaguar football games thinking the game was over only to hear the stadium erupt as we left and we had to listen to the Jaguars stage an incredible comeback from our car radio. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we were never going to leave a Jaguars game again before the final second had clicked off the scoreboard. The Jaguars went on to have one stunning game after another and as fans it was thrilling to be a part of. No matter what the scoreboard said and how bleak the situation looked we believed they were going to win because we’d seen them do it and we had the faith that they we able to overcome even the most dire situations.

comeback2Our lives and the lives of many people we know have paralleled the Jaguars 1996 miracle season. I have experienced and I have seen it firsthand in the lives of others great comebacks when by all accounts there wasn’t a chance. My own marriage made a miraculous comeback when it seemed like there was no hope left. I’ve seen friends overcome impossible obstacles. I’ve known people who have come out on the winning side when the odds were highly stacked against them. I also know those who are right now in the middle of a losing battle. They feel like giving up. They know it looks like it’s game over. But like those of us who have lived through an unbelievable comeback, they are putting their trust in God to stage the comeback of all comebacks. They know that they cannot win without Him. They know the odds are not in their favor. But they know never to underestimate God and to never, ever walk out until the last second has clicked off the time clock.

touchdownHow much time is left on your clock. Have you already called the game when there’s still plenty of time left. Are you heading out the door because you’ve decided the game’s over? There’s still time left. Don’t take the chance that you may miss the very moment when the momentum shifts in your favor. You may be giving up just before the breakthrough. Praying to God right now and telling Him that you can’t see any way your situation can change but that you know that He is more than able to turn your loss into a win, may just be the game-changer you’ve been waiting for. Don’t miss that moment when the heavens erupt into a chorus of cheers because you hung in there and made the decision that you’re not giving up until you have a victory. It can happen. You’re moment is coming. Don’t find yourself on the outside when it comes. Take a seat and ride it out. Your comeback is playing out right now – and trust me, you don’t want to miss one second of it.

Talk Is Cheap


I watched the Presidential Debates last night like many Americans. And according to Twitter, my go to “authority” on people’s reaction – I was not alone in my thoughts that both candidates can say things that sound right and good, but until they back it up with action, then their words are nothing but more empty promises. Both spent countless hours preparing for the opportunity to tell the American people what they believe will bring about change and both shared their action plan for backing up what they said. The problem is that much of what they say does not line up with what they have done or will do in the future. Sometimes there are unforseen obstacles that prevent them from keeping their campaign promises. Sometimes it’s other people not doing their part in the process. Sometimes they run out of time before they can accomplish what they set out to do. And other times they simply don’t believe what they say is even possible but they say it anyway because they think it’s what we want to hear.

As Christians, we are often like politicians – we talk a good talk but our words don’t line up with our actions. We too face challenges and timelines that we use as excuses to prohibit us from acting on what we say. Many times we choose not to act when we should be choosing to persevere in trusting God, like we say we do. We may say we trust God to fix our situation but then we do things in our own abilities to bring about the outcome that we believe is best. We tell God we trust Him with our finances but the first time we’re short on cash for the monthly bills the first thing we do is skip tithing to our church. We tell our co-workers we believe in and trust God but when the rumors of lay-offs surface we are among the first to display panic and worry. When our marriage begins to fall apart we pray to God proclaiming our trust that He can restore it. But when our spouse tells us they don’t want to try to work things out, we cry out to God and ask how He could let this happen and question whether He really cares or not. We attend church and read our bible saying all along we believe in the promises of God and we trust Him when He says all things are made new in Christ (2Cor. 5:17), that is until the moment the enemy whispers in our ear that nothing has changed and that we’re the same old person we’ve always been and our doubts and insecurities begin to once again consume our thoughts. Just like the candidates in the debate last night, we may believe 100% that what we say is the truth in the moment that we say it. But as soon as we come up against an obstacle or our circumstances change, we may find ourselves no longer having trust in the words we spoke when everything appeared to be going our way. We can suddenly find ourselves doubting the very truth we previously spoke with such certainty.

I read a quote recently that I can’t get out of my mind. It said “Believing God exists doesn’t make you a Christian, acting like God exists does.” It really make me think – when I say I trust God in a particular situation, do my actions show it? Do my thoughts align with the promises of God that I say I believe in? Is my life proof that I believe God is who He says He is, and that He can and will do what He promises in His word? When you say you believe in God and trust Him in all areas of your life, you can bet that there are people watching to see if the way you live your life reflects what you say you believe. Whether it’s your children, co-workers, family, friends or neighbors, they are watching and they see how you respond the moment something goes wrong. Our spiritual maturity is most effectively demonstrated to others when we act in accordance to God’s promises and not according to how we feel or what we think.

Non-believers, the lost and lonely are looking to those of us who shout out our beliefs to back them up with action. When we tell others they just need to trust God with their situation, we must show them what that looks like by staying the course and remaining faithful to our walk when the going gets tough in our own lives. When our paychecks are short our children must see our trust in God through our obedience to tithe even when the numbers don’t add up on paper. Our co-workers need to see authenticity in our lives so that they know that when we say we’ll do something, we mean it. Our closest friends and family must witness consistency in our lives by our being the same person around them as we are in public to others. Our neighbors don’t need to see our boyfriend leave our home on Sunday morning to head back to his own home just before they watch us drive off to church. The stranger in the store who recognizes us from their first-time visit to our church on Sunday should not overhear us gossiping about someone to our friend on the other end of our cellphone. If what we say we believe doesn’t line up with how we act, we are nothing more than a talking head to the lost.

How do your actions line up with the words you speak? Do people know you’re a Christian because you say so or does the way you live point others to Christ? As Christians it’s time for us to stop being all talk and no action. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is because if we can learn anything from the presidential debates it’s this – talk is cheap, people want to see that you’re for real. They want to see some action. It’s time to show our trust in Jesus by our complete surrender to Him as Lord in all areas of our lives. It’s time we let people see who Jesus is by living a life that glorifies Him and demonstrates that He is worthy to be praised. The advice is the same whether you are a Christian or you’re a candidate for the office of President of the United States – the time for talk is over, it’s time for action.