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Archive for May, 2012

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”        Psalm 56:4 CJB

Everyone was in bed. The doors were shut and locked for the night when rain began pelting the house from a bad storm system. A sudden bolt of lightning struck the house, igniting a fire.

One small child, awakened by the sound of the lightning striking the house and the sounds of the fierce storm, became afraid. He started down the hall to the parents’ room on the other end of the house, but was unable to get there because of a wall of flames. The child panicked, not sure how to escape the burning house. He sat down in the middle of the hallway and cried because he was so afraid.

But in the midst of the darkness and smoke, he felt a man’s hand grasping his. Believing it was his father, the boy followed him to safety out the front door.  Immediately the man vanished,  as soon as the child was safe.

Bewildered, the child began to look around for his father, who came around from the back of the house calling for his son. “How did you get out?” asked his father.

“I  was too scared to move and sat there crying. But then I felt your hand holding mine, leading me out here,” said the boy.

“That wasn’t me, Son. I couldn’t get to you  because of the fire.” The father began to weep, thanking God for saving his son.

In the midst of the danger, God was there to relieve a small boy’s fears and to lead the child to safety.

Lord, help me to remember you are there with me when life’s troubles threaten to engulf me and I feel like that frightened child. Help me to trust you enough to hold onto your hand and follow you to safety. Amen.

 

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“But the LORD’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from now for those who honor him. And God’s righteousness reaches to the grandchildren  of those who keep his covenant and remember to keep his commands.”        Psalm 103:17-18 CEB

How do we pass down God’s righteousness to  our children and grandchildren? By making memories with them as we educate them.

Because they live near a famous historical area, my son took his children, aged 7 and 3 to see some of the local  sights, including history museums, battlefields and historical homes over the past year. Just before Memorial Day, he bought them both flags and taught them what Memorial Day was about.

The first thing that greeted us as we entered their house for a visit was my 7 year old grandson, explaining what the holiday meant in a very serious voice. He understood in his own 7-year-old way what patriotism was about because his parents had taken time with him and made memories as they educated him. Even at seven years old, he wanted to be sure we understood what the holiday meant too. What a joy to spend time with him, making more memories with his Lego®  blocks and his flag.

Likewise, when the Lord is at the center of a family’s heart and life, the parents don’t just educate their children about faith in Christ by telling them about the Lord. They model what Christianity looks like. They teach them the important aspects of their faith with the stories they tell along with the everyday lessons about Christianity.

It’s the joyful time spent together living and laughing, telling stories and playing them out together that cements those lessons into their children’s’ hearts. The memories of the laughter mixed with the lessons will come back to the children and draw them back when they slip away. It strengthens them when they need extra encouragement through the hard times and it will help them remember the Lord’s commands when they seek direction for their lives.

Lord, help me to spend time with you as well as with my family, making precious memories while passing on to them your love, mercy and grace. Amen.

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My dear brothers and sisters, always be more willing to listen than to speak. Keep control of your anger.”        James 1:19 ERV

“Cloudy, rainy days are perfect for soup.”  Grandma gathered the ingredients for her prize-winning pea soup recipe. She decided to use her new pressure cooker that night to help the soup cook faster.  She smiled to herself. “Oh yes, the family will eat well tonight!”

She checked the rubber sealing ring on the cooker before tightening the lid, then turned up the heat to build up pressure and tenderize the hard, dry peas. Then she left the kitchen to  finish some mending.

Within a few minutes, she heard a loud crash in the kitchen.  What a mess! The pressure cooker popped its top and pea soup dotted the walls, ceiling and floor. Right away, she knew what happened. Something blocked the steam vent, causing pressure to build up inside the pot with no escape.

Well, supper was a little late that day as Grandma cleaned up the mess and started again, this time using a regular soup pot. We might not have noticed, except that Grandma kept looking at the green polka dots on the ceiling  and her new pressure cooker  now resided in the attic.

Likewise, when we fail to vent our anger properly, it causes pressure to build up inside us.  We may eventually blow up, spewing anger over everyone around us. Or, the pressure will  build up to an unhealthy level,  causing physical or emotional internal damage.

Today’s verse offers sage advice on anger management.

Listen first – this gives you a little space/time to diffuse the emotions of your anger
– Listen to your emotional response to the anger. What triggered your anger?  Is it in proportion to the offending event, person or problem or is it magnified out of proportion from past events that weren’t dealt with properly?
– Listen to what the other person has to say. We may have made untrue assumptions about something they said or did that caused anger to build up.

Speak second – Take time to choose your words carefully if/when a response is needed
– Speak the truth in love
– Speak in “I” terms about how you feel and not “you” terms which can ignite further anger, hurt or retaliation in others.
– Talk about the problem with a counsellor or pastor first to gain an outside perspective if you are having difficulty.

Keep control of your anger – don’t let it control you.
– channel it into  a healthy activity
– use it as a healthy motivator – for example, an emotionally wounded person becoming a helper for other victims
– practice forgiveness. It doesn’t let the offending person off the hook for their actions – but it does relieve you of the need for getting even.

Lord help me to properly vent  my anger so that I don’t hurt myself or those around me. Amen.

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“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”        Romans 12:10 NLT

The man, standing beside a trash can at the Metro station in Washington DC a little over 5 years ago, wore jeans, a tee-shirt and baseball hat. He took out a violin and began to play six classical pieces, leaving  the case open by his feet as a street musician would do for donations.

During his 43 minute performance, over a thousand people passed by. Only 7 paused for a moment to listen  Altogether,he collected only $32 for his performance.The man was Joshua Bell, one of today’s most famous violinists, playing six pieces that are considered the best classical pieces written for violin, on one of the most expensive instruments available – the same one he uses in his concert performances.

The stunt, proposed by the Washington Post   as a social experiment about five years ago, sends a strong message to us about our interactions with people. Prior to the experiment, Bell believed he would at least draw a small crowd. He never expected to have to work so hard for such little recognition.

We pass by many people every day and never even see them. What would the world be like if we worked a little harder to acknowledge their presence with a smile or a kind word? Or if we stopped to take delight in the music of their lives?

Lord, help me see, hear and love others as you do. Amen.

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“We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.”        Romans 15:2 NLT

“Oh! you’re a writer. Would you look at this piece I’ve written and tell me what you think?”

As a veteran writer, I enjoy encouraging new writers, But that question bothers me because I know how sensitive I was about the criticisms I received as a newbie. Since a harsh or careless criticism could deter a potentially good writer, I want to be gentle enough to  encourage the writer’s growth, but honest enough to help them see things that really need to be changed.

One of the ways I can do that is to become a model, a teacher and a mentor, and not a critic. Anyone can say, “You should change that,” or “This line doesn’t work for me.” But:

  • As  model I will critique my work to be sure I understand and follow the principles of writing I’m trying to  explain to my student.
  • As teacher I try to take time to explain why something is ineffective; offer suggestions for change based on what I’ve learned from others; as well as taking into consideration my student’s writing style.
  • A mentor I  let the student know I’ve had to work hard in the past to overcome  similar issues in my writing and in some cases I still struggle with them  when I sit down to write.

As Christians, we face a similar challenge. We are often quick to critique the lives of others in our zeal to see them walking on the “right” path. But how do we come across? If we are harsh or careless with our criticisms, we can drive others away rather than drawing them to Christ. We need to be:

  • Models, so we can show others how to be a Christian by walking the walk. We must study God’s word for ourselves and work hard to apply its principles for living to our own lives first – especially aspects like love, compassion, giving and forgiveness.
  • Teachers, taking time to listen to others around us so we can see when their hearts are open in those  “teachable moments”  for  words of Scripture  that offer comfort, instruction, guidance or correction.
  • Mentors, living open, honest and transparent lives, and being realistic about our failures so others can learn from the ways we have overcome our hardships and shortcomings.

Lord, it’s easy to be a critic, but help me instead to do the more difficult work of a model, teacher and mentor so I can draw people to you and build up their faith. Amen.

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“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”        Galatians 5:13 NLT

Ten men suffered from leprosy, a nerve-deadening, skin-devouring disease. Their lives were hellish as they were forced to live apart from their families for fear of infecting them too. They faced the possibility of losing first their fingers and toes, then possibly other parts of their bodies from infections, burns or other problems.

But one day, Jesus came walking down the road. They saw him and cried out to him, hoping against hope that he would perform a miracle for them,  freeing them from their debilitating disease.

Jesus had compassion on them and healed them, freeing them to live normal lives. They could go back to their families, their work, their houses and live happy, productive lives again. The ten men went on their way, excited to show the priests they had been healed and resume normalcy.

But one man turned back, looking all over for Jesus to say “thanks.”

The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to the men later. But  if I were to write an ending to their stories, I think I’d portray the 9 men returning home to their families. Sure,  they talked about the miracle at dinner parties and gave God the glory. They’d share about  what it felt like to be touched by Jesus. Maybe one of them would write a book about it which would become a best seller.

But what about the one who returned to thank Jesus?  I imagine he went on to become a humanitarian – one who cared about other lepers. Perhaps he gave up all he had to buy food and seek medical care for these outcasts because he had once been there. He wanted them to know the same hope in Christ that he had experienced. Maybe he even went to live nearby them to help in any way he could.

Think about a time when Christ set you free from a major crisis in your life. Did you get all excited, then go back t life as usual, perhaps sharing your testimony on occasion? Or did you suddenly become aware of all those around you who suffered from similar problems?

We may not like to think about it – but Christ sets us free from the suffering and crises we face to equip us with the compassion and knowledge we need to help others in similar situations. We may have experienced freedom from our suffering, but we’re not truly free until we serve others with a heart of love.

Father, give me the heart of a servant. Amen.

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“But the wisdom that comes from God is first of all pure, then peaceful, gentle, and easy to please. This wisdom is always ready to help those who are troubled and to do good for others. It is always fair and honest.  People who work for peace in a peaceful way plant a good crop of right-living.”        James 3:17-18 NCV

There are two basic types of peacemakers.

The first type is the problem-oriented peacemaker who tries to resolve conflicts by helping two parties reach a satisfactory agreement. They negotiate, diffuse tension and push compromise until both parties reach a consensus. Basically, it focuses on the resolution of the problem, and generally produces a short-term result until the next problem arises, much like arbitrating a truce between two toddlers fighting over the same toy.

The second type of peacemaker is one who focuses on the people more than the problem itself. He delves under the surface of people’s lives to explore the issues that lie at the root of the problem.  By helping both parties to understand why they feel as they do and to give them the means and opportunity to change how they feel, he facilitates a more lasting solution. This type of peacemaking addresses heart issues so that when peace reigns in a person’s heart, it will show in the way they treat others.

Spiritually speaking, Christ is the second type of peacemaker. He is more interested in changing people’s lives, their thinking and their actions than he is in helping us to reach a compromise. He offers us a more difficult, intimate  solution – that of facing the unrest of our own hearts, forgiving those who have wronged us and allowing Him to cleanse, heal and renew our inner man. Only when we allow Him to work in us can we move on to build strong, loving relationships with others around us.

Change my heart Lord so that I might experience your peace and spread it wherever I go. Amen.

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