Thursday, February 22, 2018

How God's Holy People Can Impact an Unholy World

Two small words. Only three letters.

Moses asked God, "When the people ask me, 'What is His name?' What should I tell them?"  God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you" (Exodus 3:13-14).


Oh, the power in His name.

These two words, in all caps, hold within them the fullness of God.

In light of the recent school shooting in Florida, where 17 souls moved from this world to the next by a senseless act of evil, I can only respond with this:

As long as we live in this world full of sin, evil will manifest itself through broken people. We cannot always stop a person from doing evil things, but we can illuminate the dark around us by being God's Light and Hope, offering the only cure for their broken hearts - Jesus Christ. 

This world needs to see Hope through those who claim to have Christ in their hearts.

Until we stop ignoring our call to be holy, we will continue to drift through life having no impact on the world around us whatsoever as evil continues to place a stronghold on more and more of our society.

This breaks God's heart!

Recently, I was studying through week five of "Live Like You Belong to God" and noticed I AM stated backwards becomes a question: Am I? So, I began to ask myself some Am I questions:

Am I living the holy life God's redeemed me for and called me to? 
...but as the One who called you is holy, you are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy because I am holy (1 Peter 1: 15-16).

Am I living a distinguishable life from the unholy culture around me? 
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Am I living as a new creation or am I blending in with worldly ways and habits?
For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (Ephesians 5:8).

I AM has never wavered in His character. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. In contrast, we live with the constant tension between our flesh and our spirit. We struggle daily to not waver, but we often do.

Then, how in the world is it possible to live the holy life God has called us to?

It's not. 

But with the power of I AM in us, all He calls us to is possible.

We are the temple of God because the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
For the temple of God is holy and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:17). 

The Holy Spirit is working right now in and through Believers to make us holy perfect - perfect in our representation of a holy God. He's chipping away at all that's unholy and shaping what is holy into the image of Jesus Christ. It's called sanctification. 

Every day we must intentionally ask:

Am I willing to die to self today so I can present Christ well?

If God's name, I AM, plainly states the holy, unwavering character of God without reservation, then...

Am I, without trepidation, displaying God's holy character well under the authority of His holy name?

We, the nation of God's holy people, must fall humbly to our knees in broken repentance, asking Him to forgive us of ignoring His call to holiness - to stand up and stand out. We must pray for the courage and strength to die to self and walk in obedience. Only then can we rise up to live separate, distinguishable, countercultural lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, and resist the evil one who is seeking to destroy our families, our youth, and all people through broken lives and broken minds.

Dear Jesus, 

Forgive us. Give us courage to stand out among the crowd and be recognized as Your ambassadors, your holy people. Help us to heed the call to be Light and to bring hope to a hopeless world. 

In Your powerful name (I AM) we pray, 

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hospitality - Extending the Heart of God

Don't you just love it when God connects the dots in His Word to help us understand and apply truth in our everyday lives? 

God continues to point me to what living a holy life looks like - how Believers are called to be set-apart, to stand out, to be distinguishable from among unbelievers. 

Some dots He's connecting for me:
  • 1 Peter 1- my meditation since January 1, 2018. "Be holy because I am holy (vs.16b).
  • Live Like You Belong to God - our small group Bible study by Kay Arthur, emphasizing the holy life we're called to.  
  • Books - all threaded with the same theme of hospitality and holiness. 
One of the books I've read this month, The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell, has ignited an even deeper passion for something my husband and I already do - open up our home.

I just couldn't put it down. I fell in love with its cover the moment I saw it in the bookstore and even more with the idea of The Turquoise Table. If you've never heard of Schell's book, you're probably bumfuzzled, thinking, "What's the big deal about a turquoise table?

I'm so glad you asked.

A simple, but life-changing, invitation was extended to gather people in Schell's front yard. The meeting place was an ordinary, wooden picnic table, painted her favorite color, nifty turquoise. Her table has become a welcomed go-to spot for neighbors, friends, and family who desire rich, quality time of getting to know each other. They simply talk while sharing a freshly baked plate of cookies, a hot pot of coffee, sweet iced tea, or some refreshing lemonade. Nothing fancy, because this table is not about entertaining. It's all about being present in the lives of people, and being an extension of the heart of God.

The Turquoise Table became a life-long dream of implementing an age-old art. While studying abroad, Schell was inspired by a French family who used their time around the dinner table to deepen relationships with family and friends. Ever since, she's longed for a table just like theirs. Longing for real community in a new neighborhood, she had to get creative. So, she purchased a picnic table and designed a plan to gather her neighbors in her front yard. Now, not only does she have a turquoise picnic table in her front yard, but many more have popped up all over her neighborhood, across the United States, and even in other countries. It's a movement that's changing homes and hearts all across the world.

We all long to belong, don't we?

God, the Creator of all things, extended the very first invitation to Adam and Eve to commune with Him, and He's been inviting people ever since. God invented community for His people to not only commune with Him, but also with each other. His people, Believers, are called to love and care for one another. As we follow Christ in obedience by loving and meeting one another's needs, we are extending His invitation out into the world, inviting them to join God's community of Believers.

Holiness is reflected through hospitality.
The word holy is embedded into the word hospitality. Therefore, when God's holy people are hospitable, the character of God is on full display. This gives me goose bumps!

My turquoise table is being made out of something that represents the opening our home for over 30 years. In January 2017, we finally replaced the original front door to our home. It was 40 years old, warped, and would hardly close. But, it had served us well. Many, many people have walked through that door into the place where we do life, onto the red carpet where we make disciples, counsel, and enjoy one another's company. After years of weather, wear and tear, it was time to let her go.

But I just couldn't let go of that old tattered door completely. It was so much a part of what God has done in our lives, and what He continues to do as we seek to reflect His holy character through hospitality. We welcome people in, love them, and teach them what God's taught us through His Word. We've dedicated each of the three houses we've lived in as a place for ministry. Whoever God would lead to walk through the door, we would embrace and love them because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7-8)

After a year of leaning against the fence behind our carport, the ole' door is being refurbished by a good friend and turning her into our very own turquoise table, extending our behind-closed-doors hospitality into the front yard.

Can I just say, "I'm about to burst with excitement!" I can't wait to see the finished product. (Oh, don't worry. I'll post more pics as progress is being made.) I can't wait to invite people from our neighborhood to gather around the turquoise table to shoot the breeze, relax, build relationships, and enjoy life together.

That ole' front door will continue to serve her designed purpose as she displays what's written on our hospitable hearts to all who long to belong, "Yes, we're OPEN!"

My Pleasure,

Monday, February 5, 2018

The HeArt of Welcome

For a long time now, I've pondered the idea of putting a book together for those who want to learn the deeper meaning of the HeArt of welcome. Anyone can invite someone into their home, neighborhood, community, or church, but what does welcome look like when reflecting the image of Christ?

My family always had a picnic table in our yard. Whether at the lake or in our backyard, the picnic table was always open. I guess this is where I first witnessed the HeArt of welcome. My mom and dad had the gift, but they also had the heart of Christ. Our doors were always open to those in need or for just being present in the lives of people. We had more fun around those tables. From slurping watermelon to scarfing down fresh, fried fish, from char-grilled hamburgers and hotdogs to homemade coleslaw and Lay's potato chips, our yard was always full of fun, food, family and friendships.

I miss those lazy days basking in the sunshine with gobs of people gathered around. I miss my dad's silly jokes, my mom's amazing cooking, and not having a care in the world. I miss the table talk - conversations about anything and everything. I miss the laughter. And, I especially miss not having to watch the clock because we had to hurry off to get to somewhere else.

Time was never short. We were never in a hurry.

Time was rich and full because being present with each other is what mattered. 

Now, we never seem to have enough time to "get-it-all-done." We cram into the white squares on our calendars crazy stuff that really doesn't matter in the eyes of eternity. Why are we so scattered, forgetful and worn slap out? It's because we meet ourselves coming and going, doing this, going here, there and yonder, believing we're living the full life God promised us, when all we're doing is filling life with lesser things.

I'm sure in my parents' 50 years of marriage they entertained some angel strangers and weren't even aware of it. And in our attempt to accomplish more and more, we're missing out on the simple art of heart - welcoming people into our lives and our homes; not for the sake of entertaining, but for Jesus' sake.

Hospitality originated with God. He created us to bring Him glory, and He's always desired to do life well with us. His name, Immanuel, means God with us.

Community has become a Christian buzz word - a word magnified and overused until no one wants to hear it anymore. You see it everywhere, even churches have inserted it into their names as if Church doesn't mean community. Living in "community" isn't man's idea - it was God's idea. Gathering His people in His fullness of His presence was always His intent. This is where our hospitality flows from - the heart of a loving God pouring in and out of hearts devoted to Jesus Christ. Christ's heart is all about inviting people into His space. He never shuns or shies away from anyone desiring to belong. His heart gushes love, compassion and mercy all over anyone who is willing to walk by faith, live like Christ, and obey His commands.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining (1 Peter 4:9). 

A cheerful heart doesn't just give money away or place it in an offering plate during a worship service. A cheerful heart gives time and talents as well. This is the HeArt of Welcome. It's being present in the moment with and for each other. We love because He first loved us. And we give of ourselves out of our love for Him.

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us
 and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 
Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another 
(1 John 4:10-11, CSB).

How can you show the HeArt of Welcome where you are? I'd love to hear your ideas.

My Pleasure,

P.S. If you haven't already, would you please subscribe to my blog. I'm working on a book proposal and I need to be able to show publishers I have an engaged audience. Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Live Life to the Full Even In the Shadow of Death

I was hoping when 2018 opened its door that death would not overshadow the excitement of new beginnings. But, in spite of the fresh, new beginning, within the first four weeks, four souls I've known have exited this world and entered their eternal surroundings.

Life and death are inevitable on earth.

And, until Jesus returns, death will be the portal into our out-of-this-world, forever home.

My parents never sheltered me from the hard of life, death especially, and for that, I'm forever grateful. I can't even remember the first funeral I attended, but I do remember how the lives we celebrated powerfully impacted my perspective on life growing up. From teenagers who committed suicide, to friends killed in car accidents, to teachers who lost their fight to cancer, and grandparents who just withered away naturally, death leaves behind no rhyme or reason. 

Throughout my life, death has continued to teach me much about living. My familiar place to reflect on life is on the piano bench at our church. I've been playing or singing (or both) for all kinds of services and life events for over 40 years, but funerals have always been a unique place of ministry for me. Even for my dad and mom's celebrations, I played and sang. My heart spills onto the keys and, through the music, I seek to bring healing and comfort to hurting people as well as praise to God, the Giver of life. Being asked to be a part of so many home-going celebrations has been my honor. Serving in this way provides a fresh perspective on what really matters, and gives me time to reflect on how I'm living my one life.

A shadow of grief looms over us when someone we know and love leaves this earth. It presses in hard on the reserved space in our hearts where we hold them dear. We feel lost without their physical presence, but God walks with us through our grief and holds our hand with His comfort, hurting with us as we cling to all that's left - the sweet memories.

God has given us a wonderful gift of remembering. Whenever we choose, we can reach down deep into that sacred space and draw from a well of cherished memories. God also gives us tears to cry, helping to empty our hearts of the pain and sorrow, and as He catches every tear that falls, He holds them close to His heart of holy compassion.

Memories of joy.

Tears of sorrow.

God's tender touch helps us maneuver in and out of the shadows.

In the midst of grief, God also brings eternal hope. He gently calls us to focus on His Light, His Son. Christ, our Hope, illuminates the dark with light, and tramples death with life everlasting.

Death is a hard pill to swallow. It hurts. The pain can be excruciating. No one understands the pain more than God, Himself. Even Jesus, born under the shadow of a cross, could hardly bear the weight of our sins and the death that loomed over Him as He cried out to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. But, for the joy set before Him, He chose to die - to be the perfect sacrificial Lamb for you and for me. His death broke the Father's heart, but it also broke our chains of sin enslavement. His death set us free. Our Victor, Jesus Christ, swallowed the sting of death for us so we would have nothing to fear when we face death. He conquered death and the grave.

Death could not thwart God's redemption plan, therefore we are redeemed!
Death could not defeat Christ, therefore it will not defeat us!
Death's grave could not hold Christ, and it will not take hold of us!
Death has lost. Life has won!

We have Christ's promise and hope of being fully restored and wholly healed. All of those tears we've cried on earth? Every one of them will be wiped away. Praise God!

He has called us to live fully in His Light even in the shadow of death. For in His presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), every moment of every day, and that's where we, His people, are to remain - in the light of His presence. 

How has the shadow of death impacted your living for Christ? 

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Better Is a Never-Ending Quest" (Honda's slogan in 2018)

Guess what! Honda gets it! "Better is a never-ending quest."

Honda knows they haven't arrived, but they keep moving forward, getting better and better with each new car design.

This past weekend was a great reminder of this truth. The more I attend writers' conferences, the more I'm convinced better is what I'm always longing to be. I want to be a better writer and communicator. I want to be better with weaving words together to tell God's story well. The more I  learn and apply, the better I become. Therefore, I keep learning, growing, and moving ahead.

No matter what you're aspiring to do well, better describes progress. Whether from yesterday to today, or from last year to this year, better is a mark of improvement on what you've accomplished so far and a dose of encouragement to keep moving forward.

Better is not an the end-all.

Just like believers and the sanctification process, it's on-going until we see Jesus face to face.

Followers of Jesus Christ are on a never-ending quest to be better today than we were yesterday.

Read 1 Peter 1. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is constantly working in us to refine us into the image of Jesus Christ, the radiance of God's glory, to be obedient children until we receive the goal of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls. 

In our Red Carpet Winter Bible Study, we're learning what it looks like to "Live Like You Belong to God" (from Kay Arthur's 40-minute Bible study series). This past week we looked for words like Light and holy, distinguish and separate - words that define God and His chosen people.

We were reminded that God's first words recorded in Scripture are, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3).  God separated the light (day) from the darkness (night), and He's been separating the two ever since. In the physical separation of light and dark, a spiritual truth was told.

Believers are called to be the Light of Christ in a world filled with darkness. God's chosen people have been called to be separate. He called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light to proclaim the praises of our holy God (1 Peter 2:9).

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16 CSB).

Ask yourself: Is my light shining in such a way that I'm distinguishable in a crowd as one who lives in the presence of Jesus? Is my behavior as such that I can be identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ?

People should be able to distinguish us from non-believers wherever we go. We are not called to blend in, but to stand out.

We're called to be holy. 

But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy because I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16 CSB).

Holy does not mean perfect. Holy means set apart.

Allow this thought to permeate your mind and influence your behavior as you move through your day: 

Our better is becoming more unique, more holy, more set apart, more distinguishable...

just like Christ.

My Pleasure,

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fill It and Spill It

It's really a no-brainer. What's poured in is what pours out.

Luke 6:45 (CSB) says, A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.

Our mouths speak from the overflow of our hearts.

It's been impressed on my mind and heart in 2018 to not only read and study 1 Peter, but to memorize it.

Yep. Memorize it.

The whole book.

One chapter at a time.

I know it sounds crazy, but I'm truly drawn to do this, so I will with the help of the Holy Spirit.

All Believers are all held accountable for how we handle the Truth of God's Word.  As a writer, speaker and musician, words are always flowing in and out. The responsibility can be overwhelming at times, but it's also humbling and such a great privilege.

We must store up God's Word whether we're regular teachers of the Word or not. Our words invoke fires. Fires can be harmful or helpful to the landscape of a heart. Depending on the words we store, the words we speak or write can either drain the life out of a heart, or move it to beat with passion and compassion.

Branding God's love letters deep into our minds and souls not only refreshes our spirits, but it brings the One worthy of our worship into His rightful place in our hearts. When Christ is seated on the throne of our hearts, there's no room for idol worship or idle words. 

There may come a day when our memory of the Word will save our life. Who knows? The time may come when we won't have a plethora of Bibles lying around on every shelf, right at our fingertips just begging to be read, or a host of church buildings on every street corner to run to when we feel life is forging out of "our" control.

Our nation as a whole is withdrawing from the Truth of Jesus Christ. It's our responsibility as Believers to hold one another accountable with the Truth of the Word. If we're not looking to Christ and His Word for wisdom, guidance and direction, then how can we expect non-believers to. When we're looking for Truth in all the wrong places, we are leading others to do the same. The way things are shaping up, we could easily find ourselves in a stark place where the Bible is not allowed, or we could be imprisoned for being a Believer.

In a documentary about Christians being persecuted, one story took my breath away. An imprisoned man remained alive and sane by scribbling down words from Scripture he could write for memory. Though he was beaten time and time again for proclaiming God's Word aloud, or when a guard would find the scribbled words on minute pieces of paper in his prison cell, God continued to give him clarity of mind to cling to those life-giving words, and gave him the strength to endure his inhumane suffering. Eventually, he was released because of the very words he spilled out on paper and by mouth every single day. Our survival could depend on the portions of the Word we've committed to memory one day.

Speaking God's own words back to Him brings Him pleasure, and me too. Repeating the portion of Scripture I'm memorizing is something I look forward to. As I move through each day, quoting what I've learned helps to set my mind on things above (Colossians 3:2); focusing on things that will last, and not so much on the things that won't. Even the mundane becomes more purpose-filled with the words of God on my tongue. 

God's Word heals. 

God's Word refreshes. 

God's Word is life!

So, instead of wasting our breath on things that won't matter days, weeks or years from now, let's join together in filling our minds and souls with the beauty and breath of the One who is the Source of life and has created us to bring Him praise, honor and glory.

Won't you join me?

My Pleasure,

Monday, January 8, 2018

You've Got Mail!

Don't you love to get mail? No, not an email, but the old fashioned kind - snail mail. A real life, handwritten card or letter addressed to you. I certainly do!

Receiving genuine encouragement in a one-of-a-kind handwriting from another human being lifts my spirits and makes me feel important. Of course, any type of encouragement is welcomed and greatly appreciated, but those who go the extra mile? Well, it just means a little more.

In 1 Peter, this apostle of Jesus Christ addresses his letter, "To those chosen..."

My ears and eyes perked up as I lingered on the word, chosen. Peter's letter is written specifically to anyone who has chosen Christ.

That means me!

I've got mail!

Expressed throughout this passionate letter is the core of what we believe, who we are in Christ, and what we've been called to. It encompasses the very oxygen of the Christian faith, and with such clarity, it sends a fresh wind into the hearts of the chosen ones of God.

Peter emphasizes how we should live as God's chosen, His beloved, and when we behave as if we're not chosen, we're displeasing the Father.

How do we know we're chosen? 1 Peter 1:2 explains:

...chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, 
through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, 
to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.

God's chosen are recognizable. Our faith and covering by the blood of the Lamb are evidenced through the Holy Spirit working within us to transfigure us into the image of Christ. The Spirit's sanctifying work does not stop until we see Christ face to face. Until then, we must seek to be obedient day by day.

Most people, and even many pastors and teachers, don't like to speak on the concept of the foreknowledge of God mentioned in the above verse. And those who do, seem to dicker and bicker over what it means. But in my finite, simple mind, this is how I understand and will seek to explain this mystery:

Anyone who has chosen or will choose Christ, God already knows.
Anyone who has completely rejected or will reject the Son, sadly, He already knows that, too. 

God has given us a choice, and He knows what we'll choose. Because of this, God chooses us before we choose Him. He can't help Himself. He has to know because He's omniscient - all knowing. It's who He is. His desire, though, is for no one to perish (John 3:16-18), but He also knows many will, because they will refuse His grace gift of salvation and reject His Truth. 

And it breaks God's heart.

Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to write the letter to the chosen. I believe he wrote it to clarify our calling to live separate, holy lives, and to encourage us in our sanctification process. Peter included specific instructions for how we are to behave in this world while all the while understanding we're not part of this world. It's by our behavior that we encourage those around us to choose or not to choose Christ. A serious responsibility, my dear friends.

As I continue to read and ponder through 1 Peter over the next months, I'll continue to marvel at the mystery of how God chose me knowing I would choose Him. It's inside this mystery that we can know for sure, and live as His chosen.

Have you got mail?

My Pleasure,