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proverbs-15

When my children were small and learning to talk, I delighted in the sound of their voices and each sweetly expressed syllable. Heather spoke with a high-pitched, tinkling voice while the boys—especially Connor—had unusually deep, raspy voices for such young children.

I met each simple request, exclamation, and phrase with keen interest and excitement. I’d lean nearer to hear the words of my precious ones, wondering what amusing little speeches might leave their lips.

In the same way, a believer’s prayers fill God’s heart with joy. Scripture even tells us that “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” (Proverbs 15:8 NIV)

Though written directly to the people of Israel, God extended His promises to those who claim Christ as savior. As Christians, we can look to the truth of Proverbs 15:8 to encourage us in our practice of prayer.

At the time of the Old Testament writings, a sacrifice entailed any number of complicated preparations of meats, grains, or other items presented to God in an attempt to gain God’s favor and direct attention to the needs of His people. Sacrifice required a lot of work!

Prayer? Communing with God? That was—and is—all about relationship. Prayer is a heavenly invitation from the King to meet Him in the throne room where we can marvel at His beauty, find safety in His presence, and express the deepest part of ourselves to a Father who bends close—leaning ever nearer to capture each word in His memory.

Unlike an earthly parent who may listen half-heartedly to her tween’s dramatic relaying of the latest sixth-grade drama in the lunch room and respond with a noncommittal, “Uh huh. Really?” our Abba Father delights in the times we set aside to pray…to thank…to request…to worship.

And during those moments—whether we’re joyful or depressed, content or needy, subdued or expressive—we have the Maker completely to ourselves. Oh, the beauty of being able to pray!

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Enclosed in an empty, bleached environment I stood alone. Suddenly, a large rasping snake lifted its fierce head next to mine and whispered threateningly, “You’ve just lost.”

Unusually bold, I glared at the creature and responded, “No. I. Haven’t.” Then, I awakened.

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The dream had been terrifyingly real and for the better part of the day I struggled to rid myself of the frightening image. Maybe I had a bad case of indigestion from the previous night’s pizza or my writer’s impractical creativity provided fodder for fantastic imaginings, but I was reminded that a Christian is at battle against an invisible foe—a spiritual war waged outside of human time and space.

This is the stuff that sometimes seems too Hollywood to believe, but scripture exhorts us—

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Eph. 6:18 MSG)

 Alright. It’s plain that you and I, Christian, have an enemy who is more powerful, smarter, and craftier than we. But, we are not left defenseless. In fact, the Heavenly Commander presents us with all of the tools needed for warfare—God-issued, spiritual weaponry grounded in prayer and Bible-soaked-living.

Defensive in nature, these weapons are designed to help us to know the enemy, understand his tactics, and recognize his ploys. These same tools of warfare teach us to align our personal, spiritual compass with the One in charge of angel armies and to remember that the war has already been won.

Today’s battles are merely insurgent attacks by an enemy who knows the end of his earthly rule is in sight. And one day soon, we’ll celebrate the victory of eternal life in the presence of the King of all Kings—Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Leaning my full weight across the body of the practical, dark blue Samsonite , I managed to partially close the uncooperative zipper–it’s tiny teeth stretching in protest as I yanked on the metal grip in an attempt to coax it around the corner.  No joy.

Unwilling to give up, I perched awkwardly on top of the suitcase–legs splayed on either side of the bag as I released the second zipper.  You know…the one that expands the depth of the bag?  Nothing.

Hrmphing, I did the only thing I could.  Flinging the top open, I snagged my favorite name-brand-imposter-and-much-cheaper boots along with my purple Conair blow dryer and placed them neatly in my husbands overnight bag.  Perfect!

 

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I do try to pack light, but this time I just had too much junk jammed into the carry-on.  And, if I admit it, sometimes I’m the human equivalent to that old, banged-up suitcase. The junk I’ve collected gets shoved inside until its ill-fitting contents burst from the inside out. Does anyone else relate?

How many of us remember the unkind words spoken by a trusted friend or loved one? Words that wounded so deeply they left a permanent impression on the tender flesh of our heart.

Like me, have you ever held onto mistakes of the past and even allowed those memories to hold you hostage to the traps of shame or self-accusation—unable to fully accept God’s grace and mercy. Could God really forgive me for that?

Over time, our hurts, failures, sins and regrets collect into a jumbled mass of personal junk and there we are—trying to shove them down…close them in—hide them from sight. Until we burst open. Because that burden? It is just. Too. Much.

There is a better way, friends. A way to be free of the junk! And it doesn’t require anything except giving the junk to someone else. That’s right—deposit it all at the feet of Jesus. He accepts anything and doesn’t concern Himself with what it is we’re handing Him. He’ll accept the brand new or a worn, filthy rag tucked at the bottom of the pile.

And when we offer our shame, guilt or pain to Jesus? All of the unwanted junk—each of those burdens–disappears. After all, Christ took them from us.

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.   Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.                                                           We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him. (Isaiah 53:5-6 MSG)

It’s time for us to dump the junk and hold onto the truth!  I love traveling light.  How about you?

Recommended Book:  Traveling Light by Max Lucado

 

 

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“What do you dream about doing? What are your hopes for the future?” When I asked the questions, the young man looked at me—his dark glasses framing serious blue eyes.

“I don’t have a dream,” he said, shrugging with something like resignation.

“Then I’m going to pray God gives you a dream,” I responded—sounding more certain than I felt.

Shouldn’t everyone have a dream? The idea of something that inspires hope? Excitement? Possibility?

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I think so…but this dear one—and many others—struggle with such joy killers as depression and anxiety. I’m not talking about the blues or generic concerns, but the sort of life-altering conditions that overwhelm with their intensity and duration. If you’ve experienced these types of struggles, you understand what it is to feel as if the future holds no promise…no hope.

 

The Church tends to throw Bible verses in the direction of those who experience the pain and loneliness of mental illness. Other believers—even the wise and well meaning—spiritualize the situation or question their fellow-Christians faith. You just need to pray more!

 

Fortunately, awareness is growing and more people are sharing their stories—reminding those in the middle of the storm that it will end. The rains may rage for a time, but one morning you will awaken feeling the sunshine on your face! Your hopelessness will be replaced by promise and your joylessness with laughter. Friend…you will release your burdens and dream again!

 

In the meantime—remain under your doctor’s care, seek wise counsel, and develop a support network. And, continue to rely on the truth of God’s love for you despite how you may feel.

 

Friends and family of those living through the hard of mental illness? Listen. Ask how you can help. Pray that your friend, child, husband, or other hurting one will soon be able to dream again.

 

Recommended Books/Resources:

Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengston

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.bdsalliance.org)

 

 

 

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I don’t have a bucket list and I never make New Year’s resolutions. While my intrepid husband conquers mountains, launches himself from the safe confines of an airplane, or explores the waters in which bull sharks thrive; I curl up contentedly on the sofa with the dog at my feet and a book in my hand–Jane Austen…Mary Higgins Clark…Jodi Picoult. Do you know how much adventure exists between the pages of Jane Eyre?

 I’m a middle-class mom shuttling middle-school kids in an SUV with French fries wedged between the console and the passenger seat. One child sits in the far reaches of the vehicle and the other perches next me—constantly switching the channel on the radio. The boy yells in response to something the girl said, “Knock it off, drama queen! My day was worse than yours!” Angrily, my daughter cranks the volume and the thrum, thrum, thrum of Lady Gaga’s voice fills the space. I sigh, fondly recalling the days when my children were non-verbal and easily soothed with a blankie or thumb.

There are dishes in the sink and our house is well lived-in. Scuffs along the baseboards bear the marks of superhero figures engaged in battle and the baskets on top of the refrigerator—meant to be a statement piece—hold a collection of stuffed animals the retriever borrows from my sweet girl’s room. With a scouring pad foaming in my hand, I take out my frustration on the glob of green toothpaste smeared on the counter and question whether I will ever be able to keep up with the demands of being a wife and mother.

Then one evening David the Intrepid asks, “How was your day?”

“Mediocre,” I respond. “I worked all day, helped the kids with homework, threw dinner together, tossed in a load of whites…nothing special. It was just—ordinary.”

“Sorry to hear that,” he says.

After a good night’s sleep and time spent in prayer, I looked my husband in the eye to tell him the truth.

“I wouldn’t change it.”

“Change what?”

“I wouldn’t change anything. I always wanted to be a wife and mother and if that means there are times of monotony, I don’t mind. Not everything is sunshine and romance, but I want to be the one packing ham and cheese sandwiches and searching the Internet for answers to 7th grade science questions. (By the way, does anyone remember what the endoplasmic reticulum does?) If that were missing? I would have missed out on the fullness of living a life for the people I love most.”

I don’t spearhead a huge ministry, inspire thousands with words of wisdom, or impress others with my flashy career. I just do my best to love people…to share an encouraging smile…offer a prayer for a hurting friend—and fully live as beautifully ordinary.

Scripture for Reflection—Living Life Fully

 I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:10 MSG)

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4 NIV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. 2 Cor. 9:7 (MSG)

 

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Against all odds, thousands of nut-colored seeds unfolded beneath ground and thrust their heads bravely through the hard crust of the last Montana snow. Each tiny sprig of green represented survival—a seasons-long battle spent dormant tucked below the inhospitable prairie soil.

They also represented the Farmer’s hard work.

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Before the sun cast its morning glow across the cliffs and beyond the creek, the Farmer sat astride the John Deere tractor with his favorite hat—the one my grandma hated—perched on his head. Nearly every day of every season; year after year, the Farmer worked the land.

In the summer, burnished stalks of wheat swayed in the wind until the heads bent low and heavy from the weight of their burden. By the time the prairie grasses stood bronzed by the sun, crops had been stripped and were left bare but for the craggy stubble alternating with the brown of the earth. Just before the cold held the land firmly in its grasp, the Farmer tilled the soil—turning and breaking the sandstone that ruptured the surface with a hatchet—and then carefully poured seed into neatly made furrows. If the seed was healthy and conditions were right then the Farmer and his wife—the one who taught me to make my first pie—might have something to show for their hard work.

What would have happened, though, if the Farmer failed to buy good seed? Or, if he had only planted every other field? Would the results have been abundant if the Farmer was unmotivated or shrugged his shoulders? God has a plan—I don’t really need to do anything.

The scenario seems foolish, I know. But, don’t we sometimes take the “hands-off” approach to sharing ourselves with others? I do—more often than I’d like to confess. Honestly, it is just hard to share Christ with others! I’ve mentioned before that I am a people pleaser—maybe we all are to an extent. But, I REALLY want others to like me. To respect me. And honestly?   I even want a few people to think I am special. Can anyone out there relate?

But this week, I read Hebrews 13:15-16.

“So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name. Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others.” MSG

I have a problem—a problem with holing up in my spiritual tower like an old, miserly Scrooge hiding away in his chamber and unwilling to share with others. Instead of coins, though, I have received the abundant and eternal treasure of the one and only Savior! If I fail to share the truth of Christ with a world struggling to survive the seasons and trials of life then I am not doing my work. I will be like a Farmer failing to plant the seed and work the ground.

Friend, my heart aches to take as many people as I can to heaven with me—by God’s grace and the work of the Spirit. Today, then, my prayer is that I would set aside the burden of self for the burden of people who need to hear about Jesus and the hope that He offers. Lord, give me a heart to join you outside—despite the conditions of rejection, derision, or animosity. Teach me to cast off my grudging, reluctant participation for an active,   hands-in-the-dirt approach to sharing holy love and true Life with others. Amen.

 

 

 

 

It was a simple gesture, but my heart found comfort in the encouraging words written across the face of the paper. With my husband deployed on the other side of the world, two tiny boys needing mothering and fathering, and a rogue mouse loose somewhere in the 1,900 square feet that encapsulated our home I was often overwhelmed, under-socialized, and in need of an uninterrupted bathroom break.

 

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One sunny Virginia morning, I unlocked the community mailbox and discovered a treasure—reassuring words of encouragement from an anonymous “sister in Christ”. This dear woman promised she had been praying for me and, because of her kindness, I was a little less alone in the challenges common to military wives.

The cards and notes continued—one for each week of a six-month deployment. Now, years later, I remember the kind way an unknown friend made such an impact in my life—with ink, paper, and prayer. Thank you, dear lady, for seeing my need!

They are everywhere–behind false smiles and polite responses.  I’m fine. They are stay-at-home mothers and working mothers.  Single women and married women.  Christian women and women who haven’t met Jesus yet.  There are women who ache to be seen, who need to know someone cares, who pray God will send them just one person to come alongside. And, friends, I am convinced Christ calls us to serve these dear ones!

Scripture tells us that we “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” and exhorts, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.” (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:9-13)

Did you notice the implications?  God created us–each a unique display of his creative design–for doing good works!  We are given the privilege of joining Christ in serving others and fulfilling our individual job assignments.  Assignments that build up other women and point them to the Servant-King!

Would you join me?  Will you look for her–that woman in need?  Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in how you can come alongside the one He impresses on your heart–whether for the moment or over a longer period of time. Like little children, lets imitate our Father and love others large today.

Scripture for Reflection

1 Peter 4:10 (MSG) Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.

Romans 12:1  (MSG) So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

Hebrews 6:10 (NIV) God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

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