Smile Don’t Cry

“Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Suess

I say that this quote is one of my favorites, but do I like the sentiment, or do I really try to live it? Hmmm. I do tend to lament the ending of something that was beautiful or fun or exhilarating. This week I have seen the ending of a life, of a dream, of a job, of a program and said goodbye to some friends as they move away to start a new life chapter. Each of these made my heart hurt, but then I realized that the reason for my heart-hurt is because each of the things I am losing have brought me joy in the form of either love, or expansion and growth, or encouragement, or fun! My heart is so full with my blessings that when it is pricked, it feels like it is bleeding. What a blessed girl I am to have so many good things that my heart aches when loss or change comes. Heart emotions of pain from past joys lost aren’t always the reason for pain, but grieving can be a sign that great blessing has taken place.

Happiness may come and go, but JOY is a state of being created by the sum of what we have been given. The more we realize what we have been given, aka, the more we are grateful for our blessings, the more joy we experience. It’s like a beautiful dance where the music never stops. We are guaranteed to eventually lose everything that we have here on this earth. The beauty of being a Christian is that we have a joy that we will never lose! We have been given the greatest gift of all: unconditional love and eternal life with Christ. Once we accept Jesus as our Savior and make Him the Lord of our lives by honoring His commands, our gift and thus our joy cannot EVER be taken away.  Jesus Himself says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-29) What a wonderful promise! So, when circumstances bring us down, we have something to make us smile through our tears and pain. The apostle Paul had it all: heritage, status, power, position, respect, zeal for his principles and beliefs. He was a big deal! He forsook ALL of it in the light of the gift of eternal life He received from Jesus. “I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [and of growing more deeply and thoroughly acquainted with Him – a joy unequaled]. For His sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all garbage, so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 AMP) Paul endured the best of life, and the worst (flogged 5 x, beaten with rods 3 x, stoned 1 x, shipwrecked, in danger of being murdered, was hungry, thirsty, cold and naked – all for sharing the Good News of Jesus). YET He rejoiced because he was able to grab hold of the unequaled joy of a life in Christ.

I am guilty of perhaps staying a little too long in the depths of my losses, instead of leaning into thankfulness to Jesus for the blessings that I had for the time that I had them. When my eyes flap open every morning and my lungs grab a good-morning breath, am I more sad because the comfort of my soft, clean, warm bed is over? Or, do I smile and thank Jesus for the restoration that I have received, and for the gift of the day in front of me? Do I allow sadness to become my constant lifestyle in the wake of a loved one going to heaven to be with Jesus? Or, do I, after I have mourned the loss, try to focus on the blessing of the time that I had with them and radiate to others the joy of knowing that I will see them later? That IS the promise that Jesus gave us when we came to Him!

Let’s let our smiles and joy in the knowledge of our future outweigh what Jesus promises are our temporary tears of today.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
2 Corinthians 4:17

Eyes to See

Have you ever looked at any “Magic Eye” images? They are pictures of what looks like patterns of colors and shapes, but if you are able to change your focus, you can actually see a three-dimensional image jumping out of the pattern. Try it on the picture I’ve included.* These pictures are a fascinating optical exercise that brings a certain sense of accomplishment when you are able to see the images. If you cannot see them, it can be frustrating and you can begin to doubt if there is really anything to see.

There is an amazing parallel between these beguiling multi-level pictures and what it means to follow Christ. When someone tells you there is more than meets the eye in a Magic Eye image, you must believe it or be curious enough to try to discover what you might be missing. The same is true when someone tells you that there is a Creator and Savior that wants a relationship with you. Belief or curiosity must drive you to explore.

When you begin to try to learn how you can see the embedded picture in an image that looks like a mesh of colors, you must be willing to give it a try and stick with it until you experience a bit of what you are looking for.

With your attempts to navigate both the complex image as well as faith in a triune God, you must be willing to shift your focus. You will not find what you are looking for by doing things in the usual way. What you see and experience is found when you are willing to look at things from a different perspective. However, when an image and Jesus begin to come into focus, it is exciting and you see things in a dimension that reveals so much more than what is perceived from the surface.

That is where the parallels stop. A Magic Eye image brings happiness at the seeing. Seeing Jesus for the first time with the eyes of your heart brings joy and opens up a whole new way of seeing and living that brings unconditional and perfect love, relationship, belonging and purpose to your life – for eternity.

Elisha was a prophet in the Old Testament who was so focused on God that he could see the things of God clearly where others, who were not as dialed in, could not. An army determined to annihilate Elisha for his helping their enemy surrounded him and was ready to strike. Elisha’s servant, was understandably panicked, assuming he would be picked off, too. He came to Elisha in despair. Elisha, cool as a cucumber, told him not to worry because God’s army was greater than the one attacking them and was there to help. “Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” 2 Kings 6:16-17

Elisha’s focus was on God. He was committed to follow and trust Him no matter what the path, so Elisha wasn’t stressed. In this particular situation, Elisha saw that God was going to win this battle. He prayed that God would open the eyes of his servant who did not yet see, and the Lord did! The more we seek to see the Lord and the things of Him, the less stressed and more trusting we become. We see His intervention on our behalf and sense, even if we don’t see, that His greater purpose will be accomplished in each situation, good or bad. Then, from a heart of exuberance of what we see, we go about the task of sharing this marvelous vision that we now have by praying for and telling others about Jesus.

When we are curious about and begin to seek to know who Jesus is, and what a relationship means, our focus begins to shift. He promises that if you “call on me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord”. Jeremiah 29:12-14

Jesus doesn’t try to make entering into a relationship with Him difficult or complicated, but He does want it to be intentional, not casual. When we see and experience Him in all His glory, that is when things are TRULY in clear focus.

*instructions for seeing a magic eye image : https://www.magiceye.com/faq-items/help-how-do-i-see-in-3d/

Are You My Mother?

Mother’s Day reminds me of the children’s Dr. Seuss book Are You My Mother? by PD Eastman, about a baby bird that hatches while his mother is away. He then sets about the task of finding his mom. He asks everything from animals to inanimate objects if they are his mother. His last ask is to a bulldozer, or a “snort”, who then dumps him back into his nest, he is reunited with his mom, and all is back right with the world. Mother’s Day is not always a fairy land of memories and/or celebration for kids, or moms. Sometimes the relationships of biological parent and progeny are complicated.

There are other kinds of mothers that can emerge in our lives besides our biological moms. There are those that adopt – for life, for a season, for a sport or activity (team moms, band moms, etc.). There are career moms and office moms, and there are spiritual moms.

If you don’t have a spiritual mom (parent), go get you one! Pray for the Lord to bring someone into your life who is more tenured (older) than you. One with experience and perspective that you do not have. One who loves the Lord in a way that you can see, feel and sense whenever you are with them. It may, in fact, BE your biological mom – what a gift! These beautiful souls will lift your name to the very presence of Jesus, so that you feel stronger and more able in any given situation. And if they don’t offer to adopt you, ASK THEM! Be like the little bird searching for his mom. The person you ask will be humbled and encouraged that God has used them to impact you. Their physical time with you may be limited due to life situations, but their prayers for you will be intentional and specific.

My husband said that when his grandmother, who he knew prayed for him every day, went to heaven, he actually felt the loss of her prayers on his behalf. I love to sit at the feet of someone like her that has an infectious and intimate love for Jesus. I am so enamored with the way they peer through their God-lenses as they wisely view life. They relay a love and a peace and a joy that I wish I could capture in a bucket. These people read and study the scriptures and then LIVE THEM.

In cultures where the written word was not used, or not used often, there was a hierarchy of learning that came through mentoring, storytelling and teaching. Apprentices learned skills, disciples learned doctrines, generations learned history and practical application. In early Christendom, the stories of Jesus, His life, His love, His miracles, His death and resurrection and His Kingship was passed down mostly by word of mouth until copies of eye-witness accounts, inspired by God and written down for posterity, began to circulate. In the Old Testament, God gave orders to teach the next generation of His love and commandments. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to his spiritual son, Titus, directing him in the first chapter toward what kind of person he should look for in a spiritual parent, aa well as who to steer away from. In the second chapter, Paul says to teach older men and women and for them to then pour into the younger men and women – in speech and by example. He told of the importance of the teachers LIVING what they teach: “it makes the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” Titus 2:10

“The grace of God…that offers salvation to all people…teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and Godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness…These then, are the things you should teach.” Titus 2: 11-15.

Paul goes on to say – teach these things because you know FROM EXPERIENCE that living outside of the grace and love-centered life that Jesus leads from is unfulfilling and brings destruction. Keep those following behind you from pitfalls. Raise them up! Younger people – PAY ATTENTION! LEARN WELL! LISTEN!

In your life, there are those more spiritually mature than you that you can learn from. There are also those you can pour into. Pray for and seek out a spiritual mother or father. Pray for and seek out one to whom you can BE that spiritual mother or father. There is “no greater joy than to hear that [your] children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4

Celebrate Good Times – Come On!

We do birthdays big and long in my family. It’s a cause to celebrate the gift of having you in our lives. You get signs hung from the ceiling, special privileges, presents and lots of cake…depending on the number and times you celebrate with friends and family, it could be more parties and cakes than just one.

Two special men in my life celebrated the big 2-5 this week. A quarter of a century on this planet. It sounds like a lot, only because it is! But in retrospect, it seems like it passed so quickly. I have another friend anticipating another kind of birthday – one where he is being released from incarceration into freedom. Another is experiencing a re-birth from addiction into sobriety. Another just had a valve replaced in his heart and is experiencing a new birth by way of a literal new lease on life. Yet another is slowly being released from a mental hold that has bound her for years. These are all MAJOR causes for celebration!!! And I am not one to pass up a good celebration. 😊

The most major reason of all to celebrate a birthday, is when a person is born AGAIN!! Now this is one topic that can get even gregarious people to shrink back, put up their guard and think “here come the kooks.” I think people feel this way because the statement is unnatural. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church that even the Lord understands this confusion because God Himself says: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (I Cor 1:19) Just as the wise and studied Nicodemus of the Bible asked “How can someone be born again when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4) Jesus answers “truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again… [nor] enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (vv.3,5)

Being born again is what Jesus describes as not a physical birth (that of breaking water), but one where we accept Him as our Lord and Savior and are thus delivered from death to life. Apart from Jesus is eternal death. Realizing His love for us and accepting His sacrifice for us gives us new eternal life with Jesus, our Creator. This perpetual fellowship and closeness with Jesus is His gift of His Holy Spirit that comes to reside in us at the moment of our acceptance of Him. Crazy, right?! But incredible! What other religion speaks of a deity who desires such a close relationship that He wants to live inside of you? None! Our belief and acceptance of Him have no bearing on the fact that He is in all and through all things, but His Spirit isn’t inside of us until we ask Him. He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Revelation 3:20 says, “behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him”.

Once we open the door of our heart to Jesus, He describes the PARTY IN HEAVEN that follows! “I tell you there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”! (Luke 15:10) Talk about a celebration! Have you ever been in any kind of arena with people cheering and going crazy over a sporting event, a singer or band, a speaker or political figure? It can be deafening and exciting and contagious! Heaven is far bigger than any arena and the sound of joy coming from there can only be imagined. If that celebration hasn’t occurred for you, yet, because you are still mulling over the crazy confusion of who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him, please pray to Him for clarity, and reach out to someone who can help shed some light for you. The party for you is waiting. And for those of you whose party has happened, celebrate on!!

Burn Baby Burn

“I saw a copperhead!” This was all it took to get my mom wholeheartedly set on burning the 20’ x 20’ and 3 foot deep leaf and lawn clipping pile in the backyard. “It is housing rodent and snake nests. It needs to go!” So, despite the week’s rain and the wind advisory for the day, the fire department came and gave us their approval and our permit to burn the pile. With a hose handy and my husband as sentry lest the flames go astray, the burning commenced.

There is a song by Hillsong whose lyrics are “I will never be the same again…Whatever you need to do, Lord, do in me…sweep away the darkness, burn away the chaff, and let the flame burn to glorify Your Name.” I couldn’t help but sing that as I watched the process of burning the pile. It was tedious. There was resistant fodder as beneath the surface was wetter than the top and the pile was so deep that the cinders just seemed to sink and smolder without making progress. Something we wished had taken just a few hours ended up needing to be a several day ordeal.

Not unlike we humans trying to deal with our sin…we think/hope that when we come to believe in Jesus, our sins are forgiven so our struggles should disappear and we begin being our perfect Christian selves in the blink of an eye, right? Um, no. The Apostle Paul describes it hilariously, but exactly – our knowledge of the perfect One, and His desire for us to live a better way, simply makes us aware of our sins, so we struggle even more as we recognize their control over us. Paul says: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing.” (Romans 7:15,19). The devil, satan, the serpent – more crafty than any beast – successfully tempted Eve and Adam (Gen 3:1-6), and snakes, rats and mice, deemed unclean by the Lord (Lev 11:29-31), will always be the metaphors for nuisances in our lives that seek ways to create a wedge between us and our Father. Paul comes to this conclusion: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death [because of my sinfulness]? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-35

We must seek to burn away the things in our lives that create a disruption in our relationship with the triune God. And just as our backyard fire took tending and patience for the fire to burn away the stuff that had been there a looong time, and was deep-seeded, so we must be diligent and patient in burning away the things in our lives that have been there a while. It won’t be overnight, and we can’t do it ourselves! But the closer we get to Jesus, the easier it becomes because He helps us to burn away the chaff. In the App series The Chosen, Mary Magdalene, who was healed by Jesus, relapsed into sin. She knew Jesus’s redemption, and the joy that held, but sadly, slid into old habits. When friends wooed her back to Jesus she told Jesus that she was so ashamed. She said she “threw away” her redemption He had given her. He then asked her “what kind of redemption would it be if you could throw it away in one day?” He told her that He and the Father wanted her heart, and that they had it. He said she wouldn’t be rid of sin and temptation until she is with Him for eternity, but for this life, once you give Him your heart, you are forever forgiven. (Season 2, Episode 6)

God’s enemy, and therefore our enemy, satan, would like nothing better than for us to be so lost and ashamed in our sin that we try to hide ourselves from our Savior. The evil one wants the snakes and the rats to have permanent residence. We need to perpetually clean house by staying close to our Redeemer. This allows God’s refining fire to do its cleansing and purifying work in us because until we are with God in our heavenly home, we will never be rid of the struggle against sin. When in heaven, we will be clothed in pure white, the filth of our sins having been washed away by the blood of the Lamb: Jesus Christ, the Righteous!

See Ya In Paradise

Jesus, Savior of the world, King of the universe, humble blue-collar servant, sinless human was crucified and died between two criminals on a cross. There is much speculation, but no consensus as to exactly what crime these two men committed. Regardless, these two men saw the exact same Jesus. One was changed and met Jesus in heaven that very day. Here are some possible thoughts of the criminal-turned-saint:

______________________

Mom always said that my bad decisions would be the death of me…turns out she was right. Here I am, condemned to die for my actions. My buddy and I always joked that a best friend doesn’t bail you out of jail, he is in jail next to you. Well, here we are. It’s not so funny now.

The soldier guarding us just told me that I’m lucky that I didn’t tick off all of the religious leaders like the one called Jesus. Lucky?  I’m getting crucified, man!  You call that lucky? That man Jesus did get a pretty vicious scourging first though. So. Much. Blood. He is so jacked up that he doesn’t even look human. I don’t know how he is standing. If I’m being honest, I’m so scared I can barely stand, myself.

They’re here for me.  (big intake of breath and slow exhale) Here we go…

That Jesus guy doesn’t look so tough. Boy, I’m beginning to see what that soldier was talking about calling me lucky.  As bloody as He is, the crowd and the religious guys are still yelling at Him, hitting Him, spitting on Him. What is on His head? It looks like a…a…crown? But it is made out of those spiky thorns. He has blood oozing from every single part of His body. He looks dead on His feet.  He must have done something unspeakable!

Well– serves Him right if He made so many enemies.  Wait—did someone just call Him Miracle Worker?  Could this be the same guy that did all the stuff that defied reason?  …healing people and bringing them back from the dead? HA! Some Miracle Worker! What crime could He have committed? Man, He really messed with the wrong crowd!  All I ever heard was that He taught love and forgiveness stuff…ugh!  Maybe these idiots were just jealous at the following He was amassing.

Those religious guys really going after Him… No response…weakling!  Can’t you even stand up for yourself! Maybe with His mass of followers He tried to overthrow one of them, or came against their religion, or maybe even Ceasar by the way even the soldiers are going at him – do they think they are so tough beating and bullying a walking dead guy! Look how he handles it, though. SILENT! Grrr (teeth are gritted now), if someone did that to me – What a wimp!  I would have spit on that guy who pulled out a clump of my beard…and I’d have slugged the guy up in my face like that!  Wonder why He doesn’t say anything? Why don’t you fight back…don’t you hear what they are saying? Give ‘em a fight!”

Roman pigs! This beam is so heavy! I can’t believe we have to carry the cross they are going to kill us on!  I can see why they pulled that Simon guy in to help Jesus.  I don’t know how He is walking at all. He’s bleeding so much…I need to make sure I don’t slip on His bloody trail.

…Whew… I…. don’t….know if I…. can… do… this!  I can’t let them see my fear…can’t…let them…see….Stand up!….stand up for heaven’s sake!

Look at that guy.  He is actually moving forward without their prodding…almost as if He is “letting” this happen.  What is he thinking?

Ok, okaaay! You don’t have to throw me on the ground! I can hardly stand anyway! Oh by the gods…here it comes….
AnchorAloud “grrrrrrr, ahhhhhhhhh”…..the naaaails,
“ahhhhhhh”, (breathing, screaming) “Scum bag Romans, I hope you all die!  The wrath of the gods on you all!”

•  •  •

Can’t….breathe….

There is such a crowd under this Jesus man. Some shouting and a few are crying. Is that His MOM? I am so glad my mom isn’t here to see me like this! I can barely turn my head, but I must get a glimpse of Him…  Still no sound…

Oh…He’s speaking……………what did He say?!  Forgive them?
Is he out of His mind!  A pool of blood beneath Him, His own blood, and He says forgive them?  Curse them, I say! Who is this fella’? Could he be?????

Gods of Rome, help me… oh the pain! He is so much more marred than I am, yet so silent… I wonder if He’s still alive?

Wait, He’s speaking again…..He…He is seeing to his mom? Who is this guy, Jesus? I cannot compile a thought in my head save for my pain……

What did my buddy say?  Now you, too, would hurl insults at this silent man?

What is this feeling coming over me? I  think… no, wait…….. I DO!……. I—KNOW! HE IS! He is exactly who His followers claim – a King! And He is NOT of this world!

Aloud: “Hey, dude! Have you no respect for God?  We are getting what we deserve! This man did nothing to deserve His punishment!………………..Jesus…….remember me…… when you come into your kingdom………”

……….me…in….paradise?!…………………………

©3/28/2004 – for His glory
©4/1/2009, 4/17/2022 – revised

HERE HE COMES

In an airport in Barcelona many years ago, I saw my life flash before my eyes. The airport began to shake hard as a loud rhythmic reverberation enveloped us. This sound was accompanied by an inaudible chanting and it seemed like everyone was running in a frenzied manner toward something that was beyond what we could see. Come to find out, and much to our relief, a renowned soccer celebrity had just arrived. It was not an earthquake! In a country where the sport is revered, the star was being heralded and people were clamoring to catch a glimpse of the famous Rivaldo. When we asked about the commotion, we were regarded with unbelief when it did not register to us who the figure was. My question, “Who is Rivaldo?” was regarded with incredulous looks likened to an accusation of blasphemy.

Now picture this same scene in the early centuries of the Roman Empire. You are living in or visiting Jerusalem for the Jewish celebration of Passover. All of the sudden, there is a frenzied commotion ensuing and people running to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Worker, The Prophet, The Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth. People are taking off their outer garments and laying them down to carpet the way for the coming King of the Jews, who is riding on a donkey colt and headed into town. They are also laying palm branches and reverently, excitedly, joyfully, emotionally crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10) If you didn’t know who this man was, you probably didn’t get out much, because the stories about He and His teachings had spread far and wide.

What would you do in the midst of the maelstrom? Join in the fray? Try to find out more of who this person is? Shrink back, a little afraid and in awe? Pay attention to what this person says and does?

This was the kick-off scene as Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem on the week that is the crux of the Christian faith, Holy Week. People had seen Jesus do radical things: heal the lame, blind, infirmed and those out of their minds. He raised the dead and even forgave sins. He defied the legality of religion and pointed instead to a humble and loving posture of our hearts toward the God who loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son to tell us, and then demonstrate, just how much.

This King, a humble servant-Savior, was expected to overthrow the current oppressive regime. Instead, He came to free us from the bondage of our minds and hearts and the hold those things have on us. He came to show us how valued and valuable we all are. Some recognized that this man was worth fighting a crowd to catch a minute with the Messiah. Do we fight that hard to spend time with Him? Do we recognize Jesus for the Messiah He is instead of trying to fit Him into what our finite and fallible minds want Him to be?

Through Jesus the Christ, we have victory. Victory over anything that keeps us from experiencing Him, both now, and for eternity. Let’s fight to get close to this Bright Morning Star (Rev 22:16) who not only came to us then, but is coming again. Here He comes! Let’s be ready!

Maintain Your Lane

Cars don’t fly…yet. Oh, there are several that have been test-flown and are awaiting approval, by both the DOT and the FAA. Yep, you will need both a driver’s license and a pilot’s license to operate them. You will also need lots of cash – like $1.5M, give or take. So, while we wait for those cars to get more available and affordable, we can look at the many advanced features that continue to be added to our road cars. The feature I most recently went to battle with in a rental car was the LDW and LKA, or lane departure warning and lane keep assist.

The difference in LDW and LKA can be likened to the tactics of an authority figure who has set guidelines for you. First, you are warned when you begin to drift from those previously set guidelines. In a car with LDW, this warning begins with a calm and soft beep, a flashing light on your dashboard and perhaps your side-view mirror, and/or a mild, but noticed seat vibration. If ignored, these signs progress to the louder more significant audio warning and the more jarring seat warning. The LKA, on the other hand, is like the authority figure in your life becoming physically active in redirecting you when you have actually “crossed the line” and have mildly strayed from said guidelines. They give you a calm, but firm and consistent push back into your “lane”. The car with LKA refuses to let you drift far or change lanes altogether (even when you fight with it), unless you follow the protocol of putting your blinker on, and have no foreign object within the required number of feet of your vehicle.

My husband will be the first to tell you, actually, probably my kids will be first, that I don’t like to be criticized while driving. There is always a perfectly good reason why I am deviating from typical safe driving strategies, and besides, most of those are for other drivers that aren’t as good as me. Well, you can imagine how well I took to this automated disciplinarian. Especially when the car didn’t ask me why I wanted to change lanes and wasn’t using my signal. It just prohibited me from doing what I wanted to do. It didn’t really care about my excuses. Dumb car. Actually…smart car.

Jesus, out of His great love for us, gives us a whole driver’s manual for life: His Word, the Bible. Why? For our safety and the luxury of a life more easily navigable.  “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 If we read and follow the Bible, we know the guidelines on how to get the most fulfillment and joy out of life. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11 When we begin to stray from the path He has for us, He often gives us audible cues from His Holy Spirit inside of us and from those around us who also know His Word and know us. When we fail to heed the warnings, He sometimes incorporates the discipline of actually shoving us back toward the path He has laid out for us. At times, we respectfully submit. Other times, we don’t really like that. We fight back. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

What will it take to keep us from drifting out of our lane? Gentle reminders, hard shoves, or a crash? Or will we go off-road altogether and only be sorry when we go skidding into the pearly gates trying to give our excuses to the God who will at that time be done with excuses?

There will be potholes, bumps and crazy drivers that we will encounter on the road of life. But, when we as believers maintain our lane by burning our fuel to honor the God who sets eternal life with Him as our ultimate destination, we will arrive in heaven to hear Him say, “well done good and faithful servant!…Come and share your Master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:21

Look Up

You can always tell when someone is “on a mission.” They have their eyes fixed on something ahead that is far beyond their eyesight, their pace is sure and usually rapid, and their approachability vibe is non-existent. If one of us on said mission is on a path where the footing becomes irregular, or treacherous, the fixed eyes then focus on what is just in front of us, even if we aren’t actually seeing it, but simply reacting to what is necessary to navigate the terrain.

I was recently in the mountains. Beauty surrounded me. I took time at various vistas to appreciate God’s creation, but as I descended, I was unable to look around, because one wrong move with my feet could lead to my taking a big tumble. At one place, I happened to glance up toward the sky for a quick second and the beauty of what I saw took my breath away. I had to come to a complete stop so that I didn’t miss soaking in the beauty of what was up above me – a stunning panoramic view of the mountains with the sun just on top of them. I then heard loudly in my head, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1 The Psalm goes on to say that the Lord doesn’t slumber, He watches over and protects us as we come and go FOREVER. Now, you might be thinking that there have been times, maybe even now, where you don’t feel very protected, and you just aren’t sure if God, perhaps, just might be sleeping on you. Are you overwhelmed, weary, hurting, gut-wrenched? Stop and look up!

I was not able to fully appreciate the serenity of the beauty in front of me until I physically STOPPED my forward momentum so that my focus wasn’t on my path, but on what was above me. Sometimes, we are so in the trench of navigating life that we don’t take the time to stop it all and look up. God never moves, sleeps or leaves us! But we MUST stop and focus for a minute on Him. God promises to be the God of all comfort, peace, rest for our souls, strength in the storm, organizer of the chaos and joy in the journey. We miss that when we don’t allow for “reminder time.” There is a reason God says “be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 I urge you to read all of the two super short yet power packed Psalms 121 and 46. These Psalms are reminder time well spent! It makes us remember that God is bigger than our boogey men, and is ever-present…and because of this, WE “WILL NOT FEAR though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea.” Psalm 46:2

God may not take away the treacherous path, but He WILL change our perspective when we look up. We will trust that there is an eternal purpose because God wastes nothing. We will know that God will work these ashes into beauty because He is a God who redeems. We will feel that we are loved and not alone. Crowder sings a song called Lift Your Head Weary Sinner. It speaks of coming off of the treacherous path where we haven’t been acknowledging God. In my opinion, this lack of acknowledgement can be in our life in total, or in short stints along our journey. Some of the song lyrics are “Love is here to lift you up, here to lift you high…All who’ve strayed and walked away…Fix your eyes on the Mountain”.

Let’s stop and look up, so that we can be reminded of the Mastry of the One who says “Be still and know that I AM God.”

Do Not Feed the Alligators

During a recent trip to Florida, I was reminded that it has a great deal of inland water. There are lakes and canals and ponds and inter-coastal waterways and the like. I was also reminded that there are a fair number of alligators who much enjoy this warm, wet environment, and it is not uncommon to see them in and around these bodies of water. Thank heaven, we experienced the uncommon and did NOT see any! I learned a few things about gators that should make me relax about seeing them, but no.

Alligators are apparently afraid of humans, so if you are swimming in a big group, you are generally fine. Solo swimming, however, could lead to the big reptiles thinking they have hit the jackpot for their supper. On land, even though gators can move pretty quickly, they are said to not have endurance on their side, so they tire quickly. No one could tell me exactly how short the distance is before they run out of gas, so I see no reason to chance it. Additionally, humans on land are thought to be too big of a prey for the gators to pursue – unless they feel threatened – or are mating – or are guarding a nest…

The one thing that I hear consistently is not to feed the alligators. There are so many questions running through my head about the necessity of signs posted about this, that they could comprise a good 15-minute set for a comedian. Besides the logical reasons not to feed: “you might get eaten, or donate an arm to the dinner menu”, there is another issue to consider. Because alligators are generally afraid of humans and retreat when they see us, when they get fed, they become less afraid of us and more willing to approach. Alligators cannot be domesticated, and cannot be trusted. If they get used to being near humans and no longer fear us, any random encounter with one could go poorly for the land-dweller(s). I also would think that if they associated people with acquiring food, and a gator with high expectations approached someone to no avail, perhaps the gator would settle for said person as a fair substitution.

This reminds me of the enemy of God and all who follow Him, satan or the devil. In scripture, we are told that satan began as an angel named Lucifer, or “morning star.” He became prideful in his place with God and then tried to usurp God’s authority, so he was banished to the earth (Ezekiel 28:12-17; Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12). He became known as satan or the devil, and will eventually end up in hell/ the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41). The enemy is on the prowl to take as many away from God as he can before his fate is sealed. Peter warns followers of Jesus in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Just like signs in Florida warn us not to feed the alligators, my mom has always said that when we invite temptation and sin into our lives, we are bringing the devil near to us. We are feeding him. And then he gets used to hanging around us, and we him. We begin to sacrifice the abundant life that God offers when we are filled with Him, and trade it for the lies of temporary satisfaction and eternal punishment that satan brings. John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

James, Jesus’s brother, admonishes us to not feed the proverbial alligator, satan, but rather to cling to the Father in thought, word and deed: “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 I don’t know about you, but I like it best when the alligator is fearful of me and is high-tailing it in the other direction. I want satan to do the same. He cannot be domesticated and will continue to pursue and shame God’s followers day and night (Rev 12:10). Put him in his place and grab hold of the One who loves us and will give us full life, not seek to take it from us.