Friday, October 9, 2020

What If...?

 Have you ever daydreamed about a scenario and wondered…what if?  I know I have. A while back, I wondered what if I could spend my days writing curriculum so Sunday school teachers could teach kids about Jesus in a fun meaningful way.  My ‘what if’ actually happened and I am truly happy as a clam doing it. I have received such a blessing from the work I do because it was God’s plan for me. 

What if’s make things happened, what if’s make dreams come true, what if’s are the mind at work in new and exciting ways to bring about change. Usually, great things come when the what if’s actually happen. But sometimes, what if’s hold us back. I’d like to share with you the greatest what if story I have ever heard.  It all starts with a woman named Naomi.   

Scene 1: Naomi has lost her husband and both of her sons. However, she has two wonderful daughters-in-law. Naomi must return to her homeland Bethlehem. One daughter-in-law returns to her own family. The other daughter-in-law, Ruth, refuses to leave Naomi. She claims undying loyalty and devotion and shows much kindness to Naomi and so travels to Bethlehem with her. 

What if Ruth did not travel with Naomi? Being an older woman, traveling alone, might Naomi have come to harm on the road?   

Scene2: Ruth and Naomi get to Bethlehem and Naomi remembers about a cousin and sends Ruth to glean in the field of Boaz.

What if Ruth was not an obedient daughter-in-law? What if Boaz no longer lived there?

Scene 3: Boaz notices Ruth and her hard work ethic. He discovers that she is taking care of Naomi and recognizes her faithfulness and loyalty to his relative. But he also sees that she is beautiful and vulnerable so he has his worker protect her. 

What if Boaz was too busy to notice Ruth or inquire about her? What if the worker did not protect Ruth or leave extra grain for her? What might have been her plight? 

Scene 4: Boaz arranges for Ruth to be redeemed (i.e. released from the one the culture at the time dictated she should marry) and marries her himself. 

What if the one she was supposed to marry refused to let her go? What if Ruth was thinking what if Boaz is not a nice man?   

Conclusion: Naomi is blessed with a new family. Boaz is blessed with a caring, loyal, hardworking, faithful, beautiful wife. Ruth is blessed with a wonderful hubby and motherhood. 

 Though they were not aware of it, the lives of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz were intertwined in such a way that there was meaning and purpose in every detail. A God-sized plan if you will was being played out through these people.

 What if…

-       Ruth had not stayed with Naomi and she chose to go her own way.

-       Ruth wasn’t such a hard worker and faithfully go to the field every day to gather grain.

-       Ruth didn’t humble herself at Boaz’ feet or she refused to marry Boaz.

 These were all choices that Ruth made. Just think if she made one different choice, she may have missed out on all that God had planned for her. She may have missed out on love and children.  She may have missed a blessed life.

 And what of the world? What? You may be thinking to yourself what does Ruth’s what if story have to do with the world? Well, my friend, I am so glad you asked.

If not for Ruth and who she was and the choices she made to be faithful, loyal, and obedient, it comes…the world may have missed out on a Savior – Jesus - the extended blessing. 

Check out Ruth 4:18-22 “This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed (Ruth was Obed's mother), Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.”  From the line of David came the Messiah – the Savior - Jesus. 

Yes, God possibly, probably, most definitely would have made it happen some other way if Ruth had made different choices, but the important thing is He wrote it into Ruth’s story and she followed His plan. 

All this to say, God has a plan for every one of us. He has a plan for YOU. It is our job to figure it out and just DO IT! We can’t let the what-ifs stop us from making the right choices. Each of us can be a Ruth – faithfully serving, staying loyal to family, being obedient to God and ever hard working doing His kingdom work however and wherever He places us to do it. 

God’s plan for you this day, in this time, no matter what is going on in the world, is meaningful and purposeful and blessed. So very blessed. No what if should hold you back from doing the work God has planned for you. None. Zilch. Nada.

And the blessings, oh the blessings when you follow His plan for your life, they are abundant! You will be blessed because of what you do and you will be a blessing. It just doesn’t get any better than that. 

 So, kick those what-ifs holding you back from following God’s plan right out the door. They have no place in your story – the story that God wrote for your life so many years ago. Make the choice. Be a Ruth! What would happen if you did?

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Seeds of Faith

1 Corinthians 3:6-8 "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor."

These words are rich with meaning for the Christian, a follower of Christ.

They remind us of the privilege and responsibility we have to plant seeds of faith in the lives of the people we meet as well as the people in our own homes and families. However, what happens with those seeds is not in our control. God controls that. Paul says here, "God makes the seeds grow". That takes some of the load off our shoulders, but we still have the responsibility of planting and watering those seeds.

I recently planted some zinnia seeds around the base of a crabapple tree in the backyard. I broke up the soil, pulled the weeds, drew lines in the soil with my finger and dropped the seeds carefully into those ruts in the soil, and then gently covered the seeds with the fine soil I had just tilled.  Was my work done? No, of course not. As you may have guessed, after preparing the way for the seeds and planting them, I watered the ground where the seeds were planted. And every day I have watered and watched, waiting to see some sprouts. Today, after about 10 days, I am finally seeing those little seedlings popping out of the ground. It takes time and patience. It takes effort.

Here's another scenario. Last summer, I planted snapdragons, lots of them, in the pots on my patio. At the end of the season, as they died off, instead of just plucking the dried plants out of the soil and tossing them, I first sprinkled the seeds from inside the blossoms onto the soil in each pot. Fall came and then winter that brought along with it some snow and then the spring sunshine and the rains followed. Guess what I see popping up in all of my pots?  Loads and loads of little seedling snapdragons.

Are you getting the point here? Without planting there is no harvest. Think about that in terms of the kids in your home or your church or family members or even your neighbors. When kids see us reading our Bible or hear us praying, that's planting seeds. When you invite your child to grab their Bible and read with you, that's watering what you have already planted.  When your family members or neighbors hear you give God credit for His provision, that's planting seeds. When you, in turn, provide for your neighbors or family members' needs, that's watering what you have already planted. We don't know what God has planned for any of these people, but we do know that He promises that He will grow the seeds that we plant.

That's why it is so important to keep planting and keep watering seeds of faith in the people we know and love. It matters! It matters in the lives of those people and it matters to God's kingdom.

To demonstrate the magnitude of planting seeds, here's what I'd like you to do. (You can do this yourself if you have an apple handy.) Imagine that I am cutting an apple in half. Inside, I see the yellowish apple flesh and in the center, I see several apple seeds. Now, imagine that I am removing one seed, just one, carefully and gently. I hold the dark tiny apple seed in the palm of my hand and notice the stark color contrast against my skin. Can you see it? Look closely. I can plant this one seed. And I can water it regularly and we know that God will make a tree grow from that lone seed. What we don't know is how many apples will grow on that tree. We don't know how many more seeds will be planted and watered from those apples.  We don't know how many more trees God will grow from those seeds. And it goes on and on and on.

Planting seeds of faith perpetuates the growth of God's kingdom as people become followers of Jesus. It perpetuates lifestyles that honor and obey God. It perpetuates goodness, kindness, and love in our homes, our neighborhoods, and the world.

My father-in-law painted a picture of an overturned wire milk crate that was tossed aside in his garden. Straining to grow through the small wire openings on the top of the crate were 4 tulips in full bloom, reaching for the sun's warm rays.  I believe people are reaching, more now than ever before,  for God's warm loving embrace. We can be planting and watering seeds of faith that God will grow into beautiful blossoms or maybe even tall towering oaks of righteousness for His glory. (referencing Isaiah 61:3b)   

So, each time you see a flower bloom, let it be a sweet reminder of the tremendous privilege and responsibility we have to plant seeds of faith in the lives of people we know. Why?
Because it matters! Eternally.


Monday, April 27, 2020

5 Things Parents Can Do To Get Through the Remainder of Schooling at Home

Right about now, I am hearing many parents say, "the newness has worn off", "my kids are miserable doing school at home", "this is not fun anymore for them or me".  If you are having these feelings and thoughts, you are not alone. Many parents are feeling the same way. Guess what, many teachers in schools have these same feelings near the end of every school year - "the kids are just done", they say, "they want to be outside", "they are ready to move up".  As a teacher, I experienced these same things and said these very same words every single year. Why do you think the end of the school year is filled with fun activities, field trips, and end of year parties?

Parents, give yourselves a break!! You've made it through the bulk of it. You have about 4 or 5 weeks left of school at home.  You can do anything for 4 or 5 weeks, I promise. But in case you are looking for help to get through these last few weeks, here are 5 things you can do now to make it easier and less painful for you and your kiddos:

1. Before sitting down to begin the school day, give kids a chance to get their blood pumping. In school, kids have recess before settling down for the school day, you can do this at home, too. Have them jog in place to the Rocky theme song, or set up an obstacle course for them to do in the yard, time them doing 10 squats and 10 jumping jacks and then see if they can beat their time. Keep it fun and light. Think about what physical activity your child likes - maybe it is hitting a baseball and running bases - whatever it is have them do it. It helps prepare them to think and process well. (You don't have to tell them this is the PE part of doing school at home.)

2. Keep a schedule - but loosely. If you notice your kids getting antsy or fussing about doing a worksheet, STOP and let them take what I call a "brain break". Have them take a walk/run or ride around the block, jump on the trampoline for a bit, play ball with the dog, or frisbee with a sibling, allow them to play with legos, or read a book. Give them about 10 or 15 minutes to stop thinking, do something they like and then come back to it. It is important though to tell them ahead of time how long they have for their brain a break and it also helps to give a 2 or 3-minute warning before time is up.

3. Have planning conversations. Invite your child into the process of their schooling at home. Ask questions: What is your favorite subject? What is hard for you? What will help you? What do you need? And then work together to figure out a plan to get it all done - everyone agrees to it - and then stick to it. Consistency is always key! It may surprise you to find out that your child gets hungry mid-morning or late afternoon and that's why they are struggling to get through the work. So, plan a snack time in your schedule. Asking questions and telling them why you are asking them, helps them know you are in this together.

4. Start your day with prayer.  Prayer has been taken out of schools - but not taken out of school at home, so use this opportunity to take time for God and invite Him into your child's day.  Not only is this a great example for your child, but now you've involved God in the process.

5. Make the evenings fun-filled. As a family, create a plan for the week. Making the night fun gives everyone something to look forward to. You don't have to do something every day, but here are some examples for each day.

Monday - Make Monday Great Day: make a new recipe, bake together, Watch 'How It Is Made' on TV, build a fort, give the kids boxes and have them build something, learn how to make or do something new (youtube is a great resource for this)

Tuesday - Treat Day: ice cream sundaes, popcorn, whatever treats your family likes, go for it!

Wednesday - Wacky Wednesday: crazy hair, backward night (breakfast for dinner, dessert first), goofy clothes, be wild and crazy and make it a competition - small prizes go a long way, just sayin'.

Thursday - Thinking Thursday: Question of the day, the riddle of the day, (you can find these online) have kids fill in a blank and write their answers down (I love it when..., What I love about my favorite movie is....)keep track of these and turn them into a book that will become a family treasure

Friday - Family Night: Game night, family hike or bike ride, movie night, plan and plant a garden together, have a pillow fight, camping in the backyard, plan something that you like to do as a family, as a family, bless another family by delivering a plate of cookies or decorating their front walk with kind messages

Sunday - God Time: Make sure to take time for God by watching adult services online and then accessing Sundays church activities for the kids.

These are just a few ideas to help everyone get through the remaining time of this temporary normal of schooling at home. You CAN do this!! Just remember to relax and keep in mind, every year at the beginning of a new school year, teachers spend time reviewing. If your child missed something this school year, chances are it will be reviewed next school year. Relax, parents, you got this!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Hope - the Anchor

Hope keeps people going. Hope keeps our dreams and desires alive. Hope keeps us encouraged and excited. (Hebrews 6:18) Hope is the anchor that keeps us secure and firmly rooted in what we believe to be the will of God for our lives. Hope keeps us dreaming! Romans 5:5 tells us, "And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." Yes, hope is the anchor and hope is of God.

If hope is the anchor - How exactly does an anchor work? What is the job of an anchor? The anchor on a boat is attached to a chain or rope. It is dropped into the water and the weight of it causes it to fall the very bottom. The boat is then put in reverse so that the anchor will lodge itself securely into the ground at the bottom of the water. That is how it works. But the job of the anchor is to keep the boat from drifting. It offers the boat stability.

Hope does the same thing for us. Hope keeps us from drifting away from what we long to be true for our future or for our present.

                                 HOPE is Having Optimistic Persistent Expectations.

Hope keeps us secure and stable. When hope is lost, so is the battle. Hope causes a person to make tough decisions for a better life. Hope causes a person to keep fighting for a better marriage. Hope causes a person to keep working on pulling weeds from that garden week after week. Hope is the anchor that inspires our persistence - our perseverance. In 1 Thess. 1:3 we read, "We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Hope says to us - just keep going, don't quit, don't stop believing.

The following story is kind of odd for a serious message, but here goes…
We have 2 dogs. We try really hard to take them for a daily 'walk'. We don't always succeed, however. We can't even say the word 'walk' around them or even use the word in a sentence about something totally different without their ears immediately perk up and them getting all excited. Besides that, the minute we start putting our shoes on, their tails start wagging and they begin following us around the house from room to room as if they are that little ball attached to a wooden paddle by an elastic stretchy cord. We often ask ourselves how do they know we are going to take them for a walk - we haven't said a word. Well, the answer is, they don't know for sure, but they are hopeful. The hope of a walk keeps them from letting us out of their sight for even a moment. The hope of a walk gets them all charged up. Hope usually does not disappoint them. Hope keeps people all charged up with expectancy, too!

Our dogs hope for a daily walk. People hope for other things - a better job, a baby, a new house, a husband. It could be anything. Hope is the anchor that keeps you from disbelief in what could be or what will eventually be. Don't ever lose hope! Not ever!

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Romans 15:13

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Hebrews 6: 19a 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

God Has No Limits

Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."

We serve a God who has no limits.  Think about that for a moment. No limits!!!

I read a little story once about a boy who was out fishing.  He was standing right on the very edge of the river, casting out his fishing line. An older gentleman was a short distance away watching. All of a sudden, the little boy felt a tug on his line, he pulled and released, pulled and released and out of the water came a 12-inch long bass.  The older gentleman quickly ran over to the little boy to share in his excitement only to find the little boy unhooking the fish and throwing it back into the river.  The older man, wide-eyed said, "What are you doing? You just caught a whopper. Why on earth did you throw it back in the river?" The little boy looked up at the older man and said, "My frying pan is only 9 inches wide."

Sometimes, I think we are like that little boy. God is trying to bless us, He is trying to provide us with God-sized opportunities, but our minds only see a 9-inch frying pan.  This is where faith and obedience come in. God wants us to use the power we have in Him to rise above that kind of limited thinking.

I firmly believe if God has placed something on your heart to do, He will make a way for you to do it. Whatever it is may seem unlikely, or it may seem outlandish, and we can easily come up with dozens of reasons not to pursue it. But if God placed that desire/idea/dream /opportunity on your heart - who are we to say "Oh no, that can't happen!"  You know who put those words in your head - the one who wants to thwart God's work. WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!!!  Don't believe it!!

God has placed inside of you great potential. He has big plans for you. Jeremiah 29: 11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Those plans came with all you need to accomplish them.  I love this quote from Erma Bombeck, "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and that I could say, "I used everything you gave me."  When we use what God has blessed us with for His glory, to further His kingdom, somehow it just exponentially increases. I have seen it happen. For example, at our church, we have a staff team of just 5 very committed, very gifted ladies on our Children's Ministry Team. They love the Lord and serve with a full heart for God and kids.  Sunday after Sunday, week after week their whole focus is on making sure kids have a good time learning about Jesus. And they do.  Many, many children have come to know Jesus as Savior through their efforts and the use of their God-given talents.  And each week we see more and more children coming to the church. That is our increase. You see, God does not want us to sit on the sidelines. He wants us in the game.

One time, Jesus invited His disciples into the game. Jesus appeared to his disciples near the Sea of Tiberias. 7 of the disciples went out to fish. That night they caught nothing. Nada! No fish for you! When they came back in the morning, Jesus was on the shore and called out to them but they didn't know it was Jesus. Jesus asked, " Friends, haven't you any fish?" And of course, the answer was "no".  So Jesus gave them another opportunity to fish. He told them to go back out in the water and throw their nets on the right side of the boat. When they did (obedience/trust) they were unable to haul the net in because there were so many fish in it. They weren't just little fish either. The Bible describes them as large fish - 153 of them. Whaaaat??  The story goes on to relate how they ate a nice hot breakfast of what else, cooked fish.  (John 21:1-14)

The disciples got in the game. They obeyed and tried again even though they had just come back from a night of fishing without catching anything.  And what happened? They got more fish than they could have ever imagined.  Was that because they were expert fishermen? After all, it was their job. No! It was because they saw an opportunity. They held fast to what could be - the possibilities. When they went back out on the boat the 2nd time, they weren't even sure it was Jesus that gave the instruction. There is a lesson there, as well. Sometimes, sometimes, we are not sure if the direction is from the Lord. What we might find is that we are not really sure until we see that the net is full.

Remember those powerful words found in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."  God's power in you will allow you to do those things that He asks you to do, those things He planned for you. Not 'some' of the things.  'ALL' things. Why? Because He has no limits. The one thing those disciples knew how to do, was fish. But even they couldn't fish that day without God's help. I am of the belief that God wants to open the floodgates of blessing in our lives, in our churches, in our homes, in our schools, at our workplaces. He wants to accomplish through each of us way more than we could ever ask, dream, hope or imagine. He calls us to trust Him. He calls us to get in the game. And we can - because He can! He has no limits except the ones we place on Him.  Just sayin!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Pray Without Ceasing

I believe it is God's desire for us to communicate with Him. Communicating with God verbally or in our thoughts is called prayer. His Word encourages us to talk to Him "without ceasing", and "at all times".

                                             I Thessalonians 5:17 "Pray without ceasing." 

Ephesians 6:18 "Praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication to that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints."

I have charge of the Preschoolers in our church.  I can't imagine serving anywhere else. Preschoolers are so much fun and they learn through movement. Anyone with a 4 or 5-year-old, knows they love to move - A LOT!!  and practically all the time.  Anyway, one of the things we teach them when we are learning about prayer is that we can talk to God anytime (we point to our wrist, aka wristwatch) anywhere (we move our hands to each side of our body at about shoulder height) about anything (we reach our hands to the sky). This, of course, is a simple way to teach kids about talking to God and they totally get it.

But, as adults, prayer needs to go deeper still. Every occurrence, every occasion, every circumstance, every decision we need to make can become a stirring of the Holy Spirit within us to pray.  Prayer needs to become a habit. So much a part of ourselves that it is as frequent and natural as breathing.

I have read a book called The Practice of the Presence of God several times over the years. This book changed my thinking about prayer. The cover of the book invites us to read the spiritual secrets of a humble brother who enjoyed closeness with God.  Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite monk whose sole purpose in life was to remain always in the presence of God - no matter the task, no matter his circumstance - anytime, anywhere, anything!

In his 7th letter to an unnamed friend, Brother Lawrence wrote, "The least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. (God) You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of."  God is always available - just a thought or even a whisper away.

The book goes on to talk about S. Clement of Alexandria. He was a gifted teacher of new Christians in the church at Jerusalem.  I can easily identify with Clement on several levels. You might want to look him up and read about his life. It is quite interesting.  Back to topic...around 190 A.D., Clement wrote the "Stromata" in which he described a man that might be very much like Brother Lawrence. He wrote, "the great business of a philosopher, that is, a wise Christian, is prayer. Such an one prays in every place, at every time, not indeed using many words, or thinking to be heard for his much speaking, but in secret in the depths of his soul, while walking or conversing with his fellow-man, or reading, at the table, when at work. His praises rise to God unceasingly; not only in the morning, and at noon, but in all his actions he glorifies God as do the Seraphim."  Anytime, anywhere, about anything!  Unceasingly in thought, word and deed!  

These types of prayers are called breath prayers; they are short, simple, heartfelt, meaningful, spontaneous, important and valuable. Examples might be when you are watching your child quietly play - you speak a blessing over your child, or pray for their future. When you see a beautiful flower, thank God for the gift of nature. When someone you know comes to mind, ask God to give them the desires of their heart. Short, simple prayers that keep us communicating with God, and in His presence all the time.  Breath prayers can be prayers of praise, worship, love, needs, thanksgiving, blessing, help and so on and so on. Anytime, anywhere about anything! 

Today might be a good day to begin practicing breath prayers and perhaps, like Brother Lawrence, they will become a habit in us leading us to remain always in the presence of God.  I pray it is so!
Breathe in - "Father", breathe out - "draw near to the persons reading this blog today."  

There are many good articles on Breath Prayer. Following is a link to just one.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

God's Love

God looks for us - He searches us out and calls us by name.  He leaves the 99 to find the lost 1. He waits eagerly for us to come to Him.

He loves us in spite of our faults, in spite of our sin, in our brokenness.
God delights in us in spite of all of these things.

He understands.  He cares.  He grants mercy.  He forgives. He provides.
He loves fully and completely.

He knows us inside and out because He created us - He thought us up and then spoke us into being.
Because He knows us so well He can love us perfectly.

He loves unconditionally as only He can.

He loves personally.

The only thing He wants in return – is fellowship - that we love Him back.  That we talk with Him and get to know Him. That we believe.

What do you do with a love like God’s?
You accept it. You bask in it. It's a gift.
You truly realize just how great His affection is for you - how He loves you so!

And then you share it. 

"We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19 

That's it...simple.