“GIGO…”

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

For those of you who grew up in the 80’s, maybe you will remember what GIGO means.  It is a term that I learned while taking computer “programming,” classes, because there was no such thing as user friendly software at the time.  Who remembers writing those old operations on BASIC like:

2<

+<

2<

RUN

To get the answer 4?  It was then that I learned the important concept of “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”  This means that if the foundational parts of your equation are wrong, then your final result will always be wrong as well.

It is on my spiritual journey that I have found this to be true in all circumstances.  One thing, in particular, that I have become keenly aware of in the last few years is what I allow into my mind.  I am thoroughly convinced that the images and ideas that I fill my mind with will determine who I am in the future.

Memory is a powerful thing.  It can overtake you at any moment it chooses.  Thoughts and emotions can be triggered by the slightest cause, and many times I am unable to stop it.  I am held captive either for the good or the negative.  For example, I have a tan overcoat.  And every time I wear it in the wind, I am transported back to a particularly painful experience in my past.  Why?  Because one of the strongest memories of that day, as horrible as it was, was standing in the wind trying to make sense of it all.  And I have an image in my mind of watching the belt from that coat blowing in the cold wind around me as I stood outside and struggled to figure out what I should do next.  Whenever I feel the wind whipping around me in that coat, I am overcome by emotions like despair and confusion.  And there is nothing I can do to prevent it, the memories just come on their own.

A more pleasant memory is the smell of crayons.  They immediately transport me back to elementary school, bringing with them the joy and excitement of starting a new school year and getting that new box of 64 Crayolas with the built-in sharpener. Ah, the sweetness of chocolate milk and nap time for a 6-year-old.

Memories are powerful.  And our brains are designed to store pretty much everything we come into contact with, in case we need the information for later.

So, I have begun to really pay attention to what I put into my mind.  I only want things that will be a positive addition to my life.  I only want things that will draw me closer to Christ.  I only want things that will strengthen and deepen my relationships.  Unfortunately, most of what I see on tv does the exact opposite.  While I was growing up, I remember my dad covering my ears when someone used bad language on tv.  I wonder, if he were watching with me today, would he be covering my eyes too?

90% of what I see on tv today is pure garbage; greed, lust, deceit, anger, sex without boundaries, egos running rampant…  I am convinced that if I allow contemporary media to control the images in my mind, that I would soon be just as “me centered” as these folks being transmitted over my air waves.  I am sure that I would begin to find many behaviors acceptable, because I would become de-sensitized to their depravity.  I am sure that I would become discontent, because every life I see on tv appears to be much more materially rich than mine.  I am sure that my marriage would suffer, because my image of true love would be distorted to look like some romantic contrivance that always has roses and happy endings.

My journey has led me to see what this world is capable of doing to my mind.  And all these negativities will plant themselves in my heart, my attitudes and my actions.  So, I am trying intently to stay away from those things that I used to call harmless fun, and to focus on those things that will lead me to my ultimate goal: peace, fulfillment, and harmony in my life and relationships.  And by God’s grace, I think I am getting there.

Peace Friends. 

 

“Blessedness…”

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” – Ephesians 1:3

 

I have found in my faith journey that one of the key differences between being a follower of Christ and a non-follower is the way we view the world.  I have found that there is a secular worldview and a Christian worldview.  Having a secular world view, for me, means that all my attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs are built around a standard that I set.  They are all “me” based.  

To have a Christian world view is to have attitudes and beliefs built around the teachings of Jesus.  We may think they are the same, but in my case, many of them are radically different.  One of my biggest hurdles was changing the way I think about blessings.  

My old world view says that I know I am blessed because I have a good job, a nice house, and can provide for my family’s needs (and most of their wants.)  I am “blessed” because of material things.  

However, if you look at the true blessed people of the Bible, it was rarely about money.  In fact, if you go back to the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) Jesus stated that God’s blessings were poured out in numerous way that had nothing to do with money.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

It isn’t easy to see mourning and hunger and persecution as catalysts for blessings in our lives is it? But Jesus says that is exactly where we see God. Blessedness, for me, is living in the daily presence of God. It is knowing that He is with me, regardless of what is going on in my life. Blessedness is understanding the eternal reign of God and my place in His kingdom. It is not placing my peace of mind on the fleeting comforts of this world that can so easily be wiped out in an instant.

It is a hard thing to grasp the spiritual blessings that surround us. We can’t see or touch them. But when I experience the love of brothers and sisters in Christ, when I feel the joy of being in His will, when I have peace in the midst of turmoil – That is when I know I am truly blessed.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ fall afresh on you my friends. And may the spiritual blessings of peace, love, joy, comfort, and fulfillment abound within you. Amen

“Treasured Child…”

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” – John 4:23

When I first began attending church, I would walk into a sanctuary with stained-glass windows, sit down in a pew in the back of the room, and listen to the music and singing.  It was something I looked forward to every week, because the music was pretty and made me feel peaceful.  It didn’t matter to me that I did not know the words to any of the songs.  I couldn’t really sing along, but I did stand when everyone else stood.  I bowed my head when everyone else bowed. And I shook hands when everyone else hugged.  This is how I learned “to worship.”  And I really enjoyed it.  For even an outsider like me can be touched by the Spirit of God in such a place.

However, as time went by, God in His infinite grace gave me a much greater gift:  He taught me to live a worshipful life.  I have learned there is a difference.  Don’t get me wrong, I love corporate worship.  Being with other believers and lifting my praises up to God as part of a huge choir of faithfuls is moving and powerful for me.  However, when God taught me to connect with Him in a more personal way each day, our relationship transformed.  

Over the years our interactions have evolved from Almighty Creator of the Universe/little insignificant me to Loving Father/Treasured Child.  When God taught me to worship Him throughout my day, I began to see Him throughout my day.  I saw His grace when I made mistakes.  I experienced His providence when I had decisions to make.  I felt His joy in the everyday pleasures of life.  It is a profound wonder to experience the presence of God while pumping gas, doing laundry, grocery shopping, or having lunch with friends.  This is the stuff of the abundant life.

If this kind of connection has not been your experience, it can easily become so.  It takes some intentionality at first, but as any habit, at some point it will become as breathing and happen naturally.  The rhythm of everyone’s daily life is different, but these are some practices you might try:

1.  Get up 15 minutes earlier and spend that time (preferably in the quiet) reading the psalms.  It is a great way to start the day.

2.  Practice a daily 5:  Set the alarm on your phone for 5 times each day.  Every time the alarm sounds: stop, look around, thank God for whatever situation you are in and ask Him to reveal Himself to you in that moment.

3.  Practice the Daily Examen:  Spend a few minutes at the end of the day reflecting on your day.  Where did you experience the presence or blessings of God?  Where did His providence provide for you?  Where were you loved?  After reviewing your day, remember to thank Him for His faithfulness to you in that day.

Whatever way you choose to connect with God in your daily life is the right way.  Don’t allow your relationship with Him to be confined to one day each week.  By embracing a daily interaction with our Lord and Savior, we can truly experience the path of blessedness.

“Ben Gay and Orthopedic Shoes…”

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone?  A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Mornings are getting harder for me friends.  One day I just woke up, got out of bed, and sat back down again.  My feet really hurt.  What was that all about?  And I seem to be getting more tired earlier in the evening, I can’t stay up late any more and make it through the next day.  I have aches and pains that were not there a few years ago.  And one day, I woke up, went to do my devotional and realized that I couldn’t read the words on the page of my Bible.  Good Lord I am falling apart at the seams…

As I become more mature (notice I did not say OLDER,) I am beginning to admit my need for help in getting through this life.  Orthopedic shoes, reading glasses, Ben Gay, and children to carry in the groceries are a few of the ways I have embraced my need for help.  Oh, I still rage against the age – I beat back my gray hair with a bottle, I run with the 8-year-olds on the basketball court, I listen to the music of my youth as I drive down the road with the windows down – wind blowing in my hair.  I even take things like glucosamine and vitamin drinks to make myself feel better.  But still, I am aware of my declining ability to do it all myself.

The same is true in my spiritual life.  At one time in my life, I believed that my spiritual life was private, personal, and needed no one else.  My connection with God was great and I didn’t need to share it with anyone else.  

As I have matured in my faith, I have seen how wrong I was.  This Christian life is hard.  And left to my own devices, I can become lazy.  I can begin to twist the gospel to suit my own views and interpretations.  Being accountable only to myself, I can justify any attitude and almost any action.

The most profound element of my spiritual growth has been my participation in Christian Community, specifically inclusion in my small groups.  Living life with people like myself – seeking God, going to work, taking care of family – has transformed me in ways that I cannot even describe.  It is within these communities that I have experienced the presence of Jesus, unconditional love, and a raising of my spiritual bar that I could have never have experienced on my own.

My life is so much richer and fuller because of the friends in my small group.  Within this group of people, I have found people that pray with me and for me.  I have found people that are concerned about my welfare.  I have found people that love me enough to speak the truth, even if I don’t want to hear.  They have the grace to accept me just as I am, and they feel a responsibility to help me to become more.  They make me a better person.  What a gift!

I am thankful that God, in His wisdom, created in us this need for community.  It makes life deep and meaningful.  I pray that each of you will admit your need for community, specifically folks to help you along on your spiritual journey.  And I pray that you will seek out those people that God has chosen for you to do life with.  They are His loving gift to you.

May you be blessed by encouraging, strengthening and loving people in your midst.

“Any Don Henley Fans Out There?”

“You will never know God, or your true self, unless you learn to be still.” – Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk

One of the most profound things I have learned on my journey with Christ is echoed throughout our culture. Unfortunately, most of us don’t make the time to listen.

We are under the wrong assumption that we have to “do something” in order to connect with God. No wonder, since our society is based upon productivity and the measure of our success seems to be how busy we are.

But both these influential voices in my life, Father Thomas Merton and Mr. Don Henley, speak truth into our current environment. I hold them in equally high regard, because to speak truth is to speak life. And both have come to learn that stillness brings a peace to the soul that “success” never will.

My truth is, that all the things I chase after and pursue can be found by just stopping and allowing my Gracious Heavenly Father to provide them. Learning to be still is more an exercise in trust than anything else. It is a hard thing for me to trust God enough to stop for a while and just soak up His presence. It is a hard thing for me to believe that He will take care of all the things that I am NOT doing while I am spending time with Him. However, I found this to be the path of blessedness.

Learning to be still for me does not necessarily mean sitting in a corner all by myself and doing nothing. For me, learning to be still means quieting my mind. It means allowing myself the grace of not being anxious or worried about anything else (grocery lists, projects at work, disagreement with my husband) and just living in the presence of the Almighty – even if only for a few minutes. For it is in these moments that He can work with me. He can fill my soul with His sweet Holy Spirit. He can whisper words of love and affirmation in my ear. He can strengthen my resolve with a touch of His hand. But my mind has to be quiet enough to receive these gifts. Sometimes, I do this while walking outside. Sometimes I do this at the altar in my sanctuary. Sometimes I do it on my back porch while watching the squirrels play.

It doesn’t really matter how you quiet your mind and soul. The only thing that matters is that you give God the chance to minister to your spirit. It is deep, and wide, and unending – this flow of grace from the Father’s hand. I urge you to learn to take the time to stand under the waterfall of His Holy Spirit and be renewed each day.

This is one of my favorite songs from Mr. Henley. The video is not so great, but it is the only one I could find to share that was not a cover version. And there is something about authenticity that is important in matters such as these. So close your eyes if you want. Sit back, and spend a few minutes in peace, letting the words sink deep into your soul.

“I Don’t Know that Song…”

“Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,”
whether to the right or to the left.”

Isaiah 30:21

Good morning friends!  What a blessing to be connecting with you again.  I have missed our time together over the past couple of weeks, but I must say, the break was restful.  It seems that the Lenten season has a mysterious way of filling me up and depleting me all at the same time.  So I have had a wonderful period of rest and reflection in the past few days, and I am repeatedly drawn to consider my faith journey – Where did I start, where am I now, and where is God leading me?

I think they are relevant questions to ask ourselves as followers of Christ because many times I am too busy or pre-occupied to notice the movement of the Spirit in my life at the present moment.  

As I look back over the last 10 years of my walk with Christ, I am astounded by the work He has done.  In His grace He has taken me to places I did not want to go, to places I did not want to leave, and to places where His presence was so very real to me that I was transformed for eternity.

I very much want to continue this experience of reflection because it is so rich and so affirming, something I desperately need right now.  And I invite you to join me each day over the next few weeks to fully explore this journey we are on, both as individuals and as a community.  Please consider blessing the rest of us with your comments and insights, for we journey together friends.

The day after Easter, our church staff left town for a multi-day retreat.  It was sorely needed as we were all worn out from all the ministry activities of the Lenten season.  During meal times, the rest of the staff began singing a familiar children’s blessing.  I did not know the song and was left on the outside of the experience.  

Now don’t go thinking poorly of my staff family.  See, they were all raised in the church – going to church camp, vbs, and Sunday School.  What is ingrained and natural for them is foreign to me, because I came to the church as an adult.  And sometimes they forget that.  I don’t know the songs, games, rhymes, and other tools used to teach our children the Good News.  And I am so thankful for that.

Because of my journey, I can more easily relate to those in our church with similar backgrounds.  I can understand the doubts and skepticism more readily than some of my counterparts because I have been there myself.  And I am thankful for that, because there is nothing harder than an adult having to admit that they “don’t know.”  But when I tell folks that I was in the same boat, just a few years ago, they are suddenly at ease and more open to the experience.

Many of us are self-conscious of the fact that we don’t know the songs, the language, or the rituals of the church.  Most of us are afraid to admit that we have never read the Bible or don’t know the stories.  We make the wrong assumption that everyone else does know, and will judge us inferior for not knowing.

Friends, let me put your minds at ease.  The great majority of us don’t know the stories.  We don’t pray every day, and we certainly can’t find the Book of Nahum if asked.  

But let us not allow those things to keep us from the greatest blessing we can have – a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Let us not shy away from opportunities to learn and be surrounded by grace because we fear what others will think of us.  This is the strategy of our enemy – to make us so self-conscious that we deprive ourselves the chance to know Christ and His family.  And therein, we lose our chance to experience His love, His joy, His grace, and His peace.  Don’t allow that to happen friends, it would be a tragedy for you and your family.

Maybe you don’t know where to start.  That is understandable.  Neither did I.  So as I look back on my journey, these are the things I found to be most helpful starting out:

1.  Buy a Bible and read the Book of John.  If you are unsure how to go about that, please contact me and I will help you.  There is nothing I like better than helping people to pick out their very first Bibles.  It is a wonderful blessing to me.  The Book of John is found in the New Testament (the second half of the Bible) and is, in my opinion, the best place to start because you can really get a good feel for what Jesus is all about – loving other people.  A Hint:  In the very first line, “the Word” is referring to Jesus – the living revelation of God.

2.  Maybe you are not a reader.  That is ok.  Try listening.  www.biblegateway.com, has a narrated version that you can listen to for free.  I recommend the NIV version read by Max McClean – this man’s voice is like an instrument.  Listening to him read the Bible for me is like listening to the symphony.  It is a joy in itself.

3.  Ask questions.  Listen to a really good sermon each week (we have a pretty good one 🙂 ) and really think about what it is saying to you.  If you have questions, or need some help understanding something – then contact either me or our Pastor, Wade Griffith.  Either of us would be overjoyed to discuss your questions.  

sermon videos:  www.libertycrossingsumc.org

Pastor Wade’s email:  wade@libertycrossingsumc.org

The main thing is that we continue on our journeys with small steps.  No one ever became a biblical giant, or rock-solid Christian overnight.  This walk of faith is developed over a lifetime, we just have to keep moving forward.

Blessings friends.

Heavenly Father,

Thank You that You have a plan for me, and that plan is good.  Thank You for never leaving or forsaking me.  Thank You for walking with me, each step of the way.  And thank You for surrounding me with encouraging friends that walk the path with me.

In the name of my Savior I pray,

Amen