To Love


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

Doesn’t that sound simple? To Love. This is all God has called us to do. Love him, and love others, but why are we making it so difficult?

We let our differences get in the way. We let our opinions get in the way. We let our selfish selves get in the way. If we want to live a life like Jesus we need to look at his model for us. 

Jesus engaged and interacted and sat with those who were “different” from everyone else. He listened to them and gave them his undivided attention. He loved them in a way no one else would. He didn’t let their differences get in the way. He is the Son of God for goodness sake and he came down to our human level to be with us and love and serve us. Why are we not doing this today? 

If you call yourself a Christian, why are you casting judgment on others? If you call yourself a Christ follower, why are you not loving your neighbor? 

He called us to love. That’s it! It’s simple and yet for us we overcomplicate it. 

I am learning what it means to love. To see those who are different than me, who have a different belief than me, who have a difference of opinion than me and sit to gain understanding of who they are and why they believe the things they do. It is not my place to cast judgement. I surely don’t have all the answers, none of us do. So we need to change our judgement to gaining understanding for the person in front of us. 

I have a constant prayer that I will see people the way God sees them. I want to see his children the way he does!

We are all unique and beautiful in our own way. Learn about the uniqueness of your neighbor. They were made in the image of God just like you were. Don’t you forget that!

Think of a person who is different than you and that you have possibly cast judgement on and rode them off. Reach out to them. Tell them you want to learn more about them and just sit and listen. Don’t offer advice. Don’t state your opinion. Just be with them and show them love the way Jesus does by giving them your undivided attention. 

If we all do this, honestly, the world would be a better place! If you call yourself a Christian and a follower of Jesus, do as he did. Love him and love your neighbor. It’s that simple. Get yourself and your selfish motives out of the way and be Jesus to the person in front of you. 

 

WRESTLING………..REALLY?

That…is one of the strangest sports I have ever watched!

Some of you may have a family member or friend who has a child in that sport in high school,  I really don`t “get it”, but wrestling has been “tangling of bodies” type competition for thousands of years.

Jacob wrestled with God.   In Genesis we begin to learn of Jacob, who tricked his father Isaac into blessing him instead of his older brother Esau.  Jacob goes through a journey of places and marriages, and births of children and increase of wealth due to the fulfilled blessing of his father Isaac (Genesis 28:1-4).

Jacob was an upright honest man and a worshiper of the One True God.  By the time we get to Genesis 32, he has 11 sons, and some daughters.  Jacob is about to see his brother Esau, whom he tricked out of their father’s blessing.  That night as he tried to sleep…

(Gen. 32:24-30 NIV)”So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him ’till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob”s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man,Then the man said’,’Let me go, for it is daybreak. But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’  The man asked him, ‘What is your name?‘  ‘Jacob, he answered.  ‘Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’  ‘Jacob said, Please tell me your name.’ ‘But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?  Then he blessed him there.’ So Jacob called the place Peniel,, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

WOW! That was some wrestling match!!! (I have a friend who says he doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t limp!)

That wrestling (or struggle as is often interpreted) resulted in the beginning of the 12 tribes of Israel.  (Jacob’s 12th son Benjamin, was born after this incident.)

If you are like me, you have wrestled with God over a situation in your life.  Maybe many a sleepless night, or days of quiet thoughts and prayers, until the peace comes.  I have cried out to God “I will not let you go until you give me the correct answer!”

Sometimes the answer is not what you want.  My years of knowing God has shown me the answer is not always noticeable right away.  That’s where faith and trust are necessary in our walk with the Lord.  I look back and say “Now I see why God did it that way!  It was for my good!

Wrestling or struggling with God is a good thing!  It means you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  Wrestling in prayer for others is good too…that’s called interceding.  But, since we live in this sinful world, the instruction in Ephesians 6:10-18 is to consider wrestling with sin and winning.

.“Finally, my brethren, be strong on the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”(NKJV)

Whatever wrestling match you are in right now…be strong in the Lord…and WIN.  Even if, in wrestling with God you must give up to His best for you...YOU STILL WIN !!!

I’m waiting, God. Where are you?

My church is currently revisiting the book of Psalms, with a different pastor preaching each Sunday. It is so refreshing! Isn’t that the beauty of God’s Word? It is alive and each time we read it, we gain new insight and a fresh perspective on how to apply it to our lives.

Recently, pastor Michael spoke on Psalm 13 – God in our waiting. He reminded us that we all are in a place of waiting at some point in our lives. What do we do when we don’t know where God is, we don’t know what God is doing, or our life looks nothing like we thought it would?

What then?

I remember years ago when I had been severely hurt by someone I thought was a friend. It was painful. It was confusing. And quite frankly, it was depressing.

What did I do?

First, in my tears I turned to the Psalms. The Psalms of lament comforted me somehow. Knowing there were others who had endured such pain and made it to the other side reassured me that I would, too. Seeing that God is okay with me asking WHY? was comforting.

Then, God asked me to pray for that former friend. I began to go on prayer walks every day. As I rounded the corner by her house I made sure to cover her in prayer. God had me do this for a full year. I don’t know the effect it had on her, but I can see now that this was the key to healing my broken heart.

Finally, I lifted up praise to God. Even if I didn’t know what would come of this break in our friendship, I knew God was still good and in praising Him, I allowed the Holy Spirit to take over my mind – renew my mind and change my heart. Do you know what? It’s impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you have abandoned yourself to worship. IMPOSSIBLE.

Without even knowing it, I was following the example that is laid out in Psalm 13 –

So, what should we do?

First, we LAMENT

1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Then, we PETITION, or PRAY

3Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Finally, we PRAISE

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Yes. He has been good to me.

Even if.

Even though.

God is still good.

Amen.

(If you’d like to hear the sermon mentioned above, you can click here to find it.)

Lessons in Understanding

Written by Gladys Johnson

The voice of the questioner seemed to come from over my shoulder as I was kneeling in prayer asking for the will of the Lord at a troubling time in our pastoral ministry. In fact, I was kneeling behind the pulpit. 

I answered the voice, “My vision.” 

The voice said in a sticky, sweet way, “Give it up, and you can go free.”

I stood to my feet. “Of course,” I said, “that’s all I have to do.”

I was a lady minister, called to the ministry at the age of 14 years. Looking back, I don’t think anyone, including my parents, pastors, or youth leaders, took my calling too seriously.

My husband, Lloyd, and I began to date at 17 years of age. Awfully young, but these were pre-war depression days. He was a young man who had to work because of family problems, and his mother had died when he was 9 years of age, leaving him and his sister to be cared for by the father who was not equal to the task.

I came from a large, loving family, but poor. I knew I had a call from God on my life, but had no idea how to fulfill that calling. Lloyd and I were in love. But God was not through dealing with me. One Sunday morning, as we sat together in our church in Portland, Oregon, the pastor began a Missionary sermon, and told the story of a young lady who had given her life to ministry in China. Before he told the entire story, my heart told me the lady’s name would be Gladys (Gladys Aylyard). I began to cry. Lloyd and I left the service early, got into his car, and drove a few blocks away. Lloyd stopped the car and asked me why I was so upset. I told him about my calling to the ministry.

“I know all about that,” he said, “and I will never stand in the way of you fulfilling your calling.”

On the strength of that statement, we married when we were both 19. We were happy. But God did exact that promise from Lloyd in years ahead. 

When I stood to my feet after hearing the suggestion that I give up my vision, I felt a certain finality. When I began preaching, I felt no opposition to a woman in ministry, for this was the way I grew up. My pastor and his wife both preached. This was now the late 70’s. We were in the strong Jesus movement, which allowed for no women in the pulpit. I felt that opposition many times. It seemed to me now that all I had to do was give up my vision, and I could be free. It sounded so good to me, even though I knew that voice came from Satan himself. For a full week, I wrestled with the suggestion. Then, one day in my home, I began to repent for entertaining a suggestion from Satan. I thought about Jesus in the wilderness, and how He met Satan’s suggestion with the power of scripture. As I prayed, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “And how did Jesus come out of the wilderness?”

“Full of the Holy Spirit,” I replied. And received a fresh overflow of His Spirit and determination to go on.

I had heard the voice of Satan before. Again, I was kneeling behind the pulpit in prayer, a favorite spot of mine. A voice said to me, “I’m going to empty this church just like I did the Baptists.”

We had purchased the church from a Baptist group a few years before, and they had sold because the body of the church had gotten down to 9 members, due to unfortunate circumstances. They had dealt very fairly and kindly with us.

My first thought was, “Oh, those poor people. They never knew what hit them.” And I said out loud, “You’re a liar, Satan…get out.”

We had experienced a wonderful move of the Holy Spirit in the church, with many healings; body, soul, and spirit, and the Lord had knit together a body of believers who loved each other greatly.

Satan was over-confident, and bragged too much. He openly displayed his tactics. I stood on Luke 10:19

“Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

(At the end of this writing from my Grandma she wrote this,

“In this book I would like to share with you some of the lessons the Lord taught me in our pastoral ministry.”

She wanted to write a book, but never finished. Now I am living out her legacy by writing a book myself with some of her stories and some of my own.)

(Baby Nikki with Sweet Grandma)

God’s Not Afraid of Your Honesty

Have you every pushed God away when you were in a dark season because you felt like you were not “good enough” to be close to Him?

I used to shy away from God during my dark and difficult times. I would retreat, as if I were actually hiding from Him. Finally I know that my authentic self is exactly who He loves and who He wants to come to Him. He’s not surprised by my insecurities, anger or frustration. He’s not surprised by an unsavory word or loss of composure. He knows all of that anyway – even if it’s just inside my head! Instead, He welcomes it. He says, just come into my presence and lay that down. Put all your cards on the table.

Margaret Becker said it well in her song Honesty:

God’s not afraid of your honesty
He can heal your heart if you speak honestly
Humble sorrow and the honest cry
He will not pass by

So many of us spend so much time
Smoothing things over, pretending we’re fine
As if life could ever be so cut and dried…. 

In this age of social media, most of us put on a good face online. Even when we are at our lowest. Most of us are afraid to be too real because we aren’t sure what others will think of us. What if we don’t live up to others’ expectations? One little glimpse into our imperfection might “lose” us a friend! Pure authenticity doesn’t feel like an option.

But it is with God. He wants us in our most authentic posture always. He wants our honesty. He can work with that!

Look who Jesus hung out with! He hung out with the real folks who admitted they were broken. He didn’t preach AT the people. He simply sat down with them. His mere presence was life-changing. It still is. He wants to sit with you, but he is a gentleman and allows us to turn to him in our own time.

What He wants is ME. In all my broken beauty. And He wants YOU too.

God’s love for us never waivers for a second. He is a God of endless chances and “do overs.” He never falters like humans do. He knows our hearts. He knows how difficult this life can be, and He is always right there working all things together for our good in the big picture we cannot see. All the while the Holy Spirit is there to show us compassion and wrap us in peace as we journey on.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:17

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

Spiritual Battle

We cannot underestimate Satan. I recently experienced what it was like going into battle without armor. There was a particular time a couple of my friends had some very heavy things they were working through and I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to often my support and care and fight with them through their struggle. I didn’t want to take on the burden, but be a sounding board and someone to offer advice from an outside perspective and pray with them and for them. This is exactly what I was doing. However, after two days of fighting I felt off. I felt a heaviness upon me and I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t know what was going on with me. I knew my friends possibly may feel this way because this was their struggle, not mine, so what was going on with me? I felt as though I had been hit by a truck! I was exhausted! I don’t remember the last time I was this exhausted without physical activity involved.

I was fighting a battle unprepared. I came to realize I walked into this battle without armor on; without protection for myself. I was praying for protection for my friends, but I didn’t have anyone praying protection over me. And as I was praying for others, I stepped onto the battlefield and was exposed to the flaming arrows of Satan. This is like going snowboarding without any of the proper gear – jacket, pants, goggles, gloves, helmet, board, boots. I would never go on the mountain without any of these items, which is how I need to view each day as we battle against Satan.

I learned a valuable lesson that day, never start a day without putting on the armor of God because you never know what your day will bring and you must always be prepared. As my alarm goes off each morning, I pray and put on the armor of God before I even get out of my bed.  Pray, because prayer is a spiritual weapon against Satan. There is nothing he can do against prayer. It’s powerful and it ushers in the presence of God which he cannot defeat. Pray for others, but don’t forget to pray protection for yourself.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God.” Ephesians 6:10-17

WEARINESS

Today I am simply weary. I don’t even have the strength to post something positive on social media to make it appear as though all is well. All my needs are met for today. My immediate family and close friends are all safe and sound for today. But, people have worn me out, and I am fighting to stay grateful, thankful and positive. I can be nothing but honest today as I write this. Just the raw truth.

I have been reminding myself all day that the only one we can fully count on is Jesus himself. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand….” That old hymn continues to loop in my head. I welcome it. TURN UP THE VOLUME. It’s slowly drowning out the background noise.

Disappointment comes in many forms, but the hardest for me to swallow continues to be when a person I trust betrays me. That pain just runs deep. I have had my share of betrayal in the past several weeks. Not one, but several people whom I thought I could count on have run off the rails. Today I am just on the verge of throwing my hands up and writing off human beings. I want to run away with my family and live in the wilderness, off the grid, with a canine companion.

I suppose there would not be so many references to weariness in the Bible if it were not an expected part of life. Our weakness reminds us of God’s strength. Without him, how could we press on? I know that he is all that is keeping me going today. I must press on toward my calling and my goal. I must be kind and faithful to others regardless of how they treat me. He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him.

My word to share with you today is simply that we are human, and we are weak. It is okay to have the days where we feel so heavy and dreary. It is okay to admit it to ourselves and to others. BUT, we must remember to focus on HIM and his faithfulness to us on the dark days. That focus will pull us through. Mediate on the Word with me:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

If the Door is Open, Walk Through It

I am drawn to doors.

I notice them when I look at a home.

I photograph them when I am on vacation.

I envision in my mind the most lovely doors whenever there is a reference to them in someone’s speech. Sometimes they are polished and perfect.

Other times they are a bit rough, but beautiful in their own way.

The Bible uses DOORs as a reference, too. I counted 235 this morning. Of course, most of those are referring to a physical door. Building the temple. You can’t come in, the door is shut. etc.

But many are talking about doorways into our soul or opportunities.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.   (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

If you are like me, this is the image that came to mind when you read that verse –

Yes, doors are everywhere in scripture. Where are the doors in your life? Are you facing doors of opportunity? Do you see many doors to choose from and have to make a decision?

I’ve always thought this was such a difficult process – then just the other day I heard one of my favorite Bible teachers, Havilah Cunnington, say this:

I think we spend too much time in doorways and we never walk through the door.” 

I was agreeing, yes, YES!

She went on to say that God is really good at shutting doors to places where we are not supposed to go. If the door is just too hard to open, pass it up. (And I would add, DO NOT, as the old song goes, “look for a window.” No! That room is off limits.)

But if a door is open to you and you are standing in the doorway, pondering, crying, wondering, whether you should walk through it. The answer is YES. Remember, God is really good at shutting doors to things you are not supposed to be involved with. Ask Him to show you.

Your opportunity is on the other side of that open door. Take that step of faith and believe that God will direct your next steps.

Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

JUST DEAL WITH IT!

This sounds like something dismissive or rude that someone might say! BUT, this is the favorite “tag line” of a very special 94 year old woman! She insists that this is the best advice she can leave for her family and friends. At her age, we can be sure she has experienced all the ups and downs life can bring, and with that she is rooted in deep wisdom!

Job 12:12 says,  “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”

She says, “Life will always bring unexpected challenges. There will be many things that are completely out of your control. What you can control is how you DEAL WITH IT!”

I am one of those people who love a good surprise when I’m on a trip, or casually hanging out with friends. However, I am still learning to gracefully deal with life’s everyday surprises that knock my plans off track. I admittedly am not consistent when dealing with such surprises! I like a plan, and I like it to stick. With age, I am becoming more flexible (albeit perhaps at a slower rate than my family and friends would like – ha).

Everyday glitches in life are just a part of it. The real challenge is properly handling the big life course altering things that happen. The unexpected things. The death of a close loved one. The end of a relationship you expected to last forever. A car accident. A devastating diagnosis. So many situations can waltz right in to our lives. In a moment, life can completely change course.

It is in these challenging times that we are faced with a choice to cower and let life defeat us, or rise up and DEAL WITH IT. Of course, on our own we may not have the strength. BUT, with God’s help and the ones we love, we can push through the greatest challenges life can throw at us.

Whatever it is that you are facing today, be sure, this too shall pass. You CAN deal with it with God’s help. He promises never to forsake us. He is with us through it all.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Psalm 34:17-18 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

2 Cor. 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Lost in the Woods

When you think you are lost and don’t know where to go, keep going because you never know what you will find.

This is what I was telling myself as I was running along the paths on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. If you don’t know about this place you need to look it up. There are 8,000 acres of land with which now has 2 hotels, a small village of shops and restaurants, a farm, horses, and a mansion called the Biltmore house. This home was completed on Christmas Eve in 1895 after 6 years of construction. This home has 100 rooms, 43 bathrooms, and 6 floors! HUGE! And the man who built it was named George Vanderbilt in which he and his wife and their daughter lived in this massive place. Now this land is a national forest and the home is a high demand for tourists.

I woke up one morning while staying at the Inn on this Estate and decided to go for a run to see what I would find. It was raining and as I was passing the front desk the concierge called out, “Have fun and try to stay dry.” I turned back to him with a huge smile on my face and said, “I will get wet, but I’m ok with that!” And he smiled back and said he would have a water ready for me when I return. So sweet!

I headed out on the estate. I didn’t truly know where I was going or where I would end up, but I had a plan to run about 4 miles along the river, I just had to figure out how to get there. I found a road that went right past the majestic horses and in the distance saw this road paralleled the river so I headed there. I ran along on a muddy path next to a river as rain was falling. I continued until this muddy trail turned into a paved path and continued on. I followed the path and it crossed the road and then turned into another dirt trail. There were signs for hiking so I decided to follow them. I got to a point while I was running I realized I didn’t see the signs anymore. I was still on some sort of path, though it was covered with leaves. Maybe it was a maintenance path or horse trail, I wasn’t quite sure. I continued on and got to the point I had no idea where I was. It was raining and fog was rolling in, and no person in sight. I was in the middle of the trees, no clue where I was until I looked up to my right and there through the trees was the Biltmore House. I laughed to myself at first because I couldn’t believe how far I had actually ran. Way past the 4 mile mark I set out to do.

In that moment I felt a sense of comfort and peace and joy! I felt Jesus was with me. Tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t stop smiling. I wasn’t really lost after all! The path wasn’t distinct, and yet I kept taking step after step. I kept in mind to keep going because I didn’t know what I would find. And in turn I ended up seeing a side of this mansion the general public doesn’t see. It was incredible!

I thought about this moment and related it to life. We may not know what we are doing or where we will end up, but if we trust God and keep going we will see something spectacular. And sometimes the path doesn’t look like much of a path at all, but if we put our fears to the side and keep our curiosity in front great things will happen and God will show up!

Keep going!

(the trail looked a bit like this except less leaves on the trees and some fog)

(A portion of the front of the Biltmore House)