Living Color

We can’t see well in the dark. In dim light everything looks gray. We cannot see color without light. The brighter the light, the more vibrant the color!

“There are special light-sensitive cells in the retina termed cones which are responsible for color vision. However, they work only in bright light. In the dark it is almost impossible to tell the color of an object.” (healthguidance.org)

Genesis explains creation to us. God created the heavens and the earth, and by verse 3 of the entire Bible He separated the light from the darkness. He spoke light into existence. He IS light.

John 8:12 says: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

God tells us to BE the light in this dark world, and that if we follow him we will have the light of life.

So, where am I going with this?

God created all of us IN HIS IMAGE. Humans come in a variety of colors (not to mention all the other differences!) If we truly follow Jesus, then we will embrace all the colors – the variety that He put in place. Racism still runs rampant. It pains me when I hear someone who claims to be a Christian use racist comments. People who feel superior to other races are in the dark. They cannot see the beauty of the color because they are not the light and are not IN the light. Only in the light can we truly appreciate and enjoy the variety of color!

In God there is no darkness at all. If you struggle with hatred or feelings of superiority – draw near to the Light Himself. He will push the darkness out and set you free to walk in the light in fellowship with all. Let us continue to share the light of Christ with all we meet! Only the light of Christ can conquer the darkness of racism. And without light, there is no life!

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:5-9

A Lord of Compassion

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:35-40

We serve a Lord of compassion. Jesus was compassionate to everyone he met, except for the people who were being unkind or judgmental of others. Those he challenged to do better. We are expected to treat others as we would be treated, and to show compassion to those in greater need than our own, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. What we do for those, we do unto the Lord.

Compassion is defined as: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. synonyms: sympathy, care, concern, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, leniency, tolerance, kindness, humanity, charity.

Last week I went to Little Caesar’s to pick up a cheese pizza for the kids playing in the pool at my house. A Hot ‘N Ready cheese pizza is only $5.41 with tax. It was Friday night at almost 8:00 so the place was packed. If you don’t know, Little Caesar’s is just a small lobby with a big kitchen. Everything is to go. It’s a working class joint.

The kids working were slammed and stressed. The 20 people packed in the lobby were people just getting off a hard day of work at places like Goodwill, Walmart, Auto Bell. I could tell everyone was tired and impatient. Most were looking at their phones and noticeably irritable. They all wanted to get their inexpensive pizzas and get home to their families to enjoy their Friday night after a grueling work week.

I just stood there in the crowd smiling at people and trying to make light conversation. I had been there at least 10 minutes and there were several people who had ordered ahead of me. Some were pleasant to me, some were not.

Then, in walked a very frail looking man, I’d say in his 60s, who made his way to the counter and asked for the manager. He quietly and humbly interrupted the busy manager to ask if there was any way he could get a discount on a pizza because he and his wife were very hungry and all they had was some change.

The manager politely said he was too busy at the moment serving the customers who were waiting, but that he would see what he could do once the rush died down.

The man began to ask individuals in the lobby if they could spare a couple dollars. He was shaky and very thin and he kept pointing to his wife standing outside. Every person turned him away, and every person tried to put their head down and did their best to look busy on their phone and waved him off. Some at least looked at him to tell him “No.”

He finally got to me. I knew it was coming, and I had been thinking of what I would do. Was this man an addict? Was that really his wife? I was ashamed that I even let those questions run through my head. I thought, what WOULD Jesus do if he were here? It doesn’t matter what this man’s story really is. He is in need, and I have another $5.50 in my pocket right now. Money’s tight, but I have more than this man has, and I am called to share when I am able. Plus, there is an audience watching to see what I do.

“Excuse me ma’am, do you have just a couple dollars to help me and my wife get a pizza? We are so hungry and the manager said he’d work a discount if I wait. That’s my wife right out there. We just need a meal.”

I looked him in the eye. Everyone in the lobby was watching me. This was my chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus. “Sir,” I said, “I just happen to have $5.50 in my pocket and the pizza is $5.41. I would be honored to help you get a pizza.”

Everyone watched as I handed him the money and he limped to get in line behind two others who were about to order. He finally ordered and got the 9 cents back. He walked to me and reached in his pocket to get an assortment of pennies, dimes and nickels to put with the 9 cents of change. He handed it to me with tears in his eyes and said, “THANK YOU. I worked for 25 years driving a truck and had to have a knee surgery and it took all we had. I still can’t walk well and I cannot find a job that will take care of me and my wife. This pizza will be so good. God bless you for your kindness ma’am.”

I continued talking with him as we waited. My pizza came up next. He shook my hand again and thanked me. I said, “It is a pleasure sir, and God bless you.” I smiled and waved to everyone as I left. “Have a great night everyone!” All those irritable people waved and smiled at me as I walked out the door.

Perhaps that very small act of kindness had put everyone’s frustrating wait for pizza into perspective. Perhaps it spurred some of them on to be kinder to others that night. All I know is that God gave me an opportunity to be a light, and I am glad I took it.

I cried when I got to my car. I thanked God for the opportunity He had given me and I prayed for that man and his wife, the employees, and all the patrons I had encountered that night. I don’t know any of their stories, but I do know that God showed Himself in that lobby here in East Charlotte last Friday night. He is good, all the time, and He asks us to be an extension of His love to all we meet. Opportunities abound – we just have to be aware and willing!

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

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

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.”

TRUST

TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. synonyms: confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence; reliance

Between the daily headlines and personal disappointments of 2017, I many times find myself lacking trust. God clearly tells us that He is the only one we can fully trust – the only one who will never let us down. However, as humans, it is not only inevitable, but understandable to put our trust in other things. Children trust the adults in their lives with everything. We trust our family members to act in our best interest. We trust friends to keep our confidence. We expect the people close to us to be honest and supportive. We trust that our finances will remain stable. We trust that we will remain healthy.

The older I get, the more I realize that these hopes are dashed much more often than I expected them to be. It disheartens me to see too much news. The acts of hatred and violence of all kinds run rampant. I also realize the ups and downs of finances, health, and relationships.

Without consistent communication with God through prayer and by reading His Word, it is easy to continue down the path of disheartenment and become distrustful of God Himself. It is sometimes easy to hold Him accountable for the disappointment we feel in the people He created in His image, and the circumstances that are out of our control.

Here we are at Christmastime again, and though the joy of the meaning of this season supersedes the chaos I see in every corner of earth, those headlines do take hold of me sometimes. Those personal disappointments in people that I thought I could trust, that I thought would be in my corner for life, loom in my heart and my mind. They somehow become magnified at this time of the year.

My Grandmother used to say two words to me (and to many others) at times of despair and difficulty…at times when there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel…

BUT GOD….

No matter what we see, hear and feel…. BUT GOD….

God is here. He is in control. He holds EVERYTHING in His capable and perfect hands.

So, when the world looks bleak, and when we feel personal pain and despair and begin to lose our faith in goodness, let us remember: BUT GOD is here.

Some encouragement today. A Merry Christmas and a peaceful and joyful 2018! Let us push on in faith and trust in our Heavenly Father.

Joshua 1:9  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Psalm 9:10  “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

Proverbs 3:5,6  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Psalm 56:3  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Psalm 20:7  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

Psalm 13:5  “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

Build on The Rock, not on the sand

Last week I was on vacation with my Mom in Corolla, North Carolina. The beautiful Outer Banks!

We went on a wild horse viewing tour one day in a 4-wheel drive truck. Highway 17 actually continues up the beach on the last 11 miles of the sand where the horses run free! What an amazing experience viewing God’s creation.

While driving over and between the sand dunes, our driver pointed out the tip of a windmill that was sticking out from a dune. He explained that it was part of an entire small town that had been swallowed by sand dunes. For decades it has been buried! And, not only that, but the dune had actually moved several thousand feet over time, with the entire town inside of it! It was a very small town called Seagull with about 120 residents, but all the buildings and houses were and continue to be at the mercy of the migrating dunes!

This, of course, reminded me of the story Jesus told about the wise and foolish builders.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27Let us build our lives on the Rock. The foundation that does not move. Let us not build on the shifting sand where we could collapse or be swallowed and buried!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
ON CHRIST THE SOLID ROCK I STAND;
ALL OTHER GROUND IS SINKING SAND.

Edward Mote

EQUALLY Made In God’s Image

The enemy LOVES to distract God’s people. He can accomplish so much this way.

In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, senior devil Screwtape advises his junior apprentice devil to corrupt people by creating mass distractions that divert attention from the real issues at hand: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood.”

How many witch hunts is the “church” currently involved in? Of course I am generalizing here, and picking on those that continue to come to the forefront of the news. But, if you consider the amount of time, money and effort put in to “battle” against what people DO that Christians “don’t like” versus the same sum of efforts put into building others up and showing the UNCONDITIONAL love of Christ, then you’d be hard-pressed not to find a gross imbalance.

Why don’t we focus on WHO people are rather than just WHAT they do? God is the only one who can change a heart or a behavior. It is not our job to try to do those things. Our job is to welcome ALL with open arms and to show the love that Christ has shown us.

If people are validated, unashamed, and feel heard and respected (even if they are not always understood), they are more likely to be good people. We don’t have to agree with another person’s race, politics, beliefs or sexual identity or orientation to show them the love of the One who created them. No race or nationality is superior to another. The fear that seems to steer so many “church people” to be hateful of those who are different is baffling to me. God commanded us not to live in fear. He commanded us to live in love.

We must allow people to be who they are and celebrate their uniqueness. The personal choices someone makes should not keep them from being allowed in the church or to be treated as an equal. (Obvious exclusions would be disruptive or disrespectful behavior, and that should go for everyone equally as well).

People who see the true love of Christ will want it. And, once they accept it, he will work on their behavior from the inside out.

Instead, I see the church creating division rather than welcoming diversity.

Old “Christianese” phrases like, “love the sinner, hate the sin” are overplayed. Anyone who says that to someone struggling in life… BACK AT YA! We are ALL sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Not one of us is better than another! Jesus came that we ALL might be saved. The end. Each journey with Him is unique and in its own time.

Let’s truly follow Scripture and tame our tongues, shall we?

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” James 3:9-12 NIV

So, let us beware of our own thoughts and speech. Let us also not remain silent when we hear hateful or degrading speech about others. Let us see one another through God’s eyes – as beautiful, unique and loved.

With all that’s happening in the world with famine, wars, and disasters, let’s stop focusing on what bathrooms people use….let’s focus on lifting up those in need. Let’s focus on the real issues at hand and stop allowing Screwtape to send us scurrying around with fire extinguishers in a flood.

Ray of Life

I’ve had difficulty writing my post this week. Monday was the great North American eclipse, and the following day, August 22, would have been my friend Amy’s 41st birthday. 7 months after her passing, the physical and emotional anguish I was feeling as her birthday approached was debilitating. I just felt frozen. Add to that all the hatred presently spewing about in our country. I wasn’t feeling “Life Words.”

I decided not to drive south to a place where I could witness the total eclipse. I figured that 98% of the eclipse at my house in Charlotte would still darken the sky enough to see a star or two. I was shocked at how light it actually stayed with just 2% of the sun shining down! I was a bit disappointed, but amazed at the same time. I’m sure the anticipation of Amy’s birthday pushed me toward the disappointed side.

Then, yesterday, I noticed a Facebook friend’s post. Sally had just celebrated a birthday during the eclipse. Her post lifted me in a way that nothing else had for days as I had been locked in a bit of depression.

Please take a look at her Life Words:

“It only takes a little light!!!….it only takes a little love, kindness and gratitude to light up even the darkest situations.”

And here is how God lifted me from my dark place. A person I have never even met face to face posted these words of life.

Immediately I began to thank God for the time I had with Amy. I began to remember her love, kindness and gratitude, which she displayed even in her darkest of times. That little bit of light shined bright enough to illuminate my heart and my mind and pull me back up.

Thank you Sally Goodwin for your words. I hope to shake your hand one day!

Remember, a positive and encouraging word can reach into the darkest of places. You never know when what you say or do will touch someone who needs it. Let this remind us all of the power of our words. Be mindful of what you say AND what you post on social media! Let darkness and death words be eclipsed by light and life words!

“The power of the tongue is life and death— those who love to talk will eat what it produces.” Proverbs 18:21 (ISV)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

Face TO Face

It’s been 6 months since my friend Amy passed on to her reward. Not a day goes by that I don’t want to call her up and laugh, cry, pray or whatever with her. I have photos galore, journal entries, memory upon memory to keep her alive in my mind and my heart. But, I miss that face to face, voice to voice time.

This summer I have a part in helping to care for Amy’s little girl who has just recently turned 9. She was just 8 when her Mommy died. Do you remember how long days seemed to be when you were a kid? Time seems to drag. You want to grow up. You want tomorrow to come because you have great plans. You feel like it takes forever to wait, wait, wait, wait.

Just the other day she said something to me that really dug into me. I’ve been pondering it since. It made me think about our relationship with God, our Father.

She said, “I am starting to forget what it was like to be with Mommy.”

OH….goodness. I thought, “how could this be?” But, upon further reflection, for a 9 year old girl, 6 months is an eternity! Of course she has pictures of her Mom that she sees every day. But, since she was just 6 years old her Mommy had been sick a lot. Especially the last 6 months before she died, Amy couldn’t do what most Mommies were doing with their little girls.

I realized that it is partially up to me to keep memories of Amy alive. It is up to me as Katy gets older to tell stories about her Mom so that she knows just what an amazing person and friend she was. I knew her Mom very well for 20 years, so I must pass that knowledge on.

You see, Katy remembers generally how her Mommy was. She knows what she looks like. She remembers that she was hilarious and kind and that she loved her dearly. But, she is starting to forget the details, the specifics. She also didn’t have enough years with her to build a huge bank of personal memories and knowledge of her Mom.

This is kind of what it’s like with our relationship to God. When we step back and don’t spend time in the Word or in prayer talking to Him on a daily basis, we start to forget what it was like “being with Daddy.” We remember the gist – that He is good and kind – but we start to get dim on the details. The promises He gives us that we can claim. Reminders of His loving and generous nature and the way He wants us to be with others.

Memories of special times with God are great. Gaining knowledge by listening to others who are very close to God is great.

BUT, nothing compares to the daily FACE TO FACE personal time that He desires to have with us. That is where our relationship gets deep. That is where we gain the most intimate knowledge of our Savior and Creator.