Are Those Your Shoes or Mine?

We have been talking about the story of Job in our Wednesday evening Bible study at church.  My fellow church goers love to get me riled up about women being mistreated and not respected within the church body.  Let’s just say I get rather excited.  So, I knew when we decided to study Job, the topic of his wife would get me stirred up.

Job is described as an upright and righteous man by God Himself.  Hello, talk about the ultimate compliment from the one who made you in the first place!  Several horrible events take place that wipe out everything Job owns and worst of all his children (seven sons and three daughters).  He immediately begins to worship God despite all the heart breaking things that have happened.

Job develops sores all over his body and is miserable.  Finally one day his wife looks at him and says, “Why are you still trying to hold on your integrity.  What does it matter now?  Just curse God and be done with it so you can die.”

Growing up I remember constantly hearing how foolish this woman was, how flaky, how flighty she was for even daring to speak those words.  Seriously?  Put yourself in her shoes…most of us probably all of us wouldn’t have held out as long as she did before throwing our hands up.  We have trouble paying a credit card bill for something we couldn’t afford to purchase in the first place and we are ready to crawl in a hole and give up on life.  The slightest bump in our road comes along and we start whining—yes, I said whining because we act like brats.  Job and his wife lost everything they owned.  That would be difficult to recover from, but it could be done.  Can you imagine the grief of losing all your children in one day?  Where do you go from that?

I tried to imagine myself in her shoes, but I couldn’t do it.  Want to know why?  They are her shoes and not mine.  God didn’t call me to be Job’s wife, or anyone else for that matter.  There are people out there that I share similar experiences with, but ultimately I don’t know exactly what ANYONE is thinking or feeling because their shoes don’t fit me.

We study the Bible and learn lessons from it.  We are inspired by it.  We see things that we can apply to our lives, but none of us should strive to be anyone other than who God made us to be.  He sees our potential because He put it there.  God created each of us as unique, special and wonderful beings.  Of course He wants to spend time on us, investing in us, crafting us into a masterpiece…especially one with great shoes!

Jail House Rock

I was reading in Acts 16 about Paul and Silas and as usual ran across something I had never noticed before.  These guys experienced a full on attack from the enemy but were privileged to also see the power of God deliver them.

They had traveled to Phillipi and were followed around by a woman that was demon possessed.  Her head didn’t spin around and she didn’t spit out green stuff.  She just aggravated the fire out of Paul and Silas.  She kept yelling things, mocking them about being Christ followers and it was intended to distract them from sharing God with the people of this area.  After a full day of constantly listening to this lady’s empty compliments, Paul confronted the demonic spirit and cast it out of her.  As it happened, this woman had a reputation for being a fortune teller.  She was owned by a man who got pretty upset that she no longer possessed her “gift”.  He had Paul and Silas brought before the City leaders with all kinds of accusations.  This guy wanted nothing more than revenge for losing his money maker.  After being beaten, Paul and Silas were shackled and thrown in prison.  Around midnight they began to sing and worship God while the other prisoners were listening.  I imagine some of them were upset that what precious sleep they attempted to get was being disrupted.  Some of them may have even thought, “great, some more whack a doodles.”  There may have been some that felt refreshed, maybe they had given up hope that God’s presence was in that dark place.

In verse 26 we find that there was an earthquake and all the cell doors opened and everyone’s shackles fell off.  This is where I really want to spend some time today.  Here Paul and Silas sat in the middle of the night.  Midnight was the darkest part of their night.  They had been beaten, unjustly accused and judged to be guilty of nothing more than trying to help people.  They had every right to be depressed and angry.  After all, God is the one that sent them to Phillipi and look what that got them.  Instead of giving into the pain, shame, hurt, anger and humiliation…they sang.  Look at the power of a song of worship!  In the middle of that smelly, dark prison, God’s power was so strong that EVERYONE was delivered.  EVERYONE was set free.  You might say, think or feel—wait a minute…some of those people didn’t deserve to be set free, they were not the one’s worshiping.  Paul and Silas made a sacrifice to rejoice in their trial, so they should be the only ones deserving release.  (Once again, we think we know the ways of God.)

If two guys stuck in some remote prison could have that much effect on the people around them, what in the world could happen in our communities if a group of 30 people or 100 people decided to rejoice no matter what?  People who didn’t even know they were bound would be set free.  We would see people being delivered from addictions, self-esteem problems, financial issues, negativity, apathy, unhealthy relationships and the list could go on and on.  Through God we have the ability to make an impact on the lives of people we may never even meet!

Do You Fit In or Stand Out?

Eating healthy is tricky. A lot of people attempt it without having a good foundation or the right mindset. I like to offer suggestions to them on how a few minor changes to unhealthy food (that they think is healthy) can make living better. I am no food expert. But I have spent many years learning about nutrition, mostly in thanks to family medical problems and my own struggles with weight. I am constantly researching and learning about the best food to eat and the bad ones I should avoid.

I am often taken back by the number of people who think I’m not sincere. For the few who consider listening to my advice, I can still tell they walk away with hesitation and doubt. I am willing to share information that is FREE to them, although it has cost me copays to nutritionists and doctors, tuition to college, and a lot of years to learn. I have no intention of deceiving anyone. I simply want to gift everyone with the education, so they can reach their potential.

Then it hit me. My physical appearance doesn’t reflect my knowledge of nutrition. I seldom make time to workout. My muscles aren’t toned, my curves aren’t defined, and I even carry a little extra weight. I look like most of society. Even though we have been taught to “not judge a book by its cover” it’s human nature to do it. Think about it. If you wanted to hire a personal trainer, would you pick any regular person out of the crowd? Or would you pick someone who appears to actually do what they’re telling you to do? Although I can back my insight with facts printed in well-known medical articles and health magazines, it’s hard to convince anyone that it’s true when I don’t apply it to myself.

Likewise, it’s hard for Christians to share the gospel with nonbelievers if our lifestyles don’t reflect our knowledge. Have you ever been approached by someone who questions God’s word? Have you ever explained in detail the road to Salvation, only to feel like they have walked away with hesitation and doubt? It is difficult to convince others of the truth, even when the facts are written in the most prestigious book, The Bible, if we seem less than reputable.

Let me clarify that I am not talking about our sins. [Romans 3:23] And I’m not talking about our physical appearance. [Psalm 45:11] What I am talking about is our character… how we carry ourselves, how we react to situations, how we show God’s love. [1 Samuel 16:7]

I have heard many nonbelievers argue that Christians are hypocrites. And in many ways, we can unintentionally be. If we do not practice what we preach, or even practice (outside of church) what is being preached to us, it is difficult to convince nonbelievers of how changes to an unhealthy lifestyle (that they think isn’t so bad) can make living better. When we share our testimonies, we aren’t trying to deceive anyone. We just want to give advice on how to obtain the FREE gift of Salvation, although it cost our Lord and Savior pain, suffering, and His life.

A lot of believers attempt to be “Christians” without having a good foundation or the right mindset. When Christians look like most of society, no one wants to consider the information that we have to share. Like physically healthy people, we can become spiritually healthy with discipline. Spiritual workouts are important in toning our character. The Epistle of James is full of great reminders of how we, as Christians, should stand out in a crowd. For example, James 1:19 states My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. In order to look appealing to a nonbeliever who is searching for answers, it is important that we train ourselves to follow God’s word. We have to emphasize our best attributes instead of displaying the bad ones that must be avoided. If we exercise our appearance to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control at ALL times, we will be a visible example of the truth of God. Who could doubt that?

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. –3 John 1:11

That Stinky Stuff

There are days when I wake up with a scripture or song stuck in my head.  I suppose a better way to say that would be that it is stuck in my heart.  Sometimes it’s a fun song like “Have a Nice Day” by Bon Jovi.  Other days it’s heavier words like Isaiah 54:17, “But no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall show to be in the wrong.”

A few weeks ago I woke up humming the song “Beauty for Ashes” by Crystal Lewis.  That phrase just kept repeating over and over in my head.  I started really thinking about the meaning and not just the tune to the song.  Ashes are left behind after the hot dog roast.  It’s that stinky stuff we pour water over after enjoying roasted marshmallows.  Ashes are the unusable mess after a black smith creates a work of art.  No one pays attention to the ashes, they can’t be recycled, reused or taken home as a souvenir.  They are not pleasant to look at or touch–they are messy.  No one wants to pays attention to them except the Creator of the universe.  You may think your best days are behind you.  You feel used up, drowned by someone’s water that put your fire out…useless.

Isaiah 61:3 shows us a much different perspective.  “To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”  God takes all our junk:  depression, sadness, despair, guilt, apathy, shame…not only does He take it, He WANTS to take it.  Our beautiful Lord doesn’t make us figure out how to maneuver through the old fire pit alone.  He removes all the stuff we don’t need in our lives and replaces it with beauty, the oil of joy, the garment of praise, but it doesn’t end there!  He takes those useless ashes and creates a tree and plants it.  Trees are such strong plants that have deep roots, survive various weather conditions, can live hundreds of years and even provide shelter for other creatures.  The fire pit that once hosted a hot dog roast has moved into a new season.  Now there stands a solid, strong, thriving tree of righteousness.  Its limbs lift in praise while its roots continue to deepen and mature.

The next time a verse or song gets stuck in your heart, pay attention there may be a life lesson just waiting to be opened up to you!

Hanging Out on the Bottom

We often call the good times in our lives “mountain top” experiences.  Those are the times we can take a deep breath and survey what we had to go through to get to the victory zone.  We can see where we came from, maybe even excuse away poor choices or actions because we have now arrived.  Let’s take a little closer look at how a mountain is shaped though.

The lowest area between mountains is usually considered a valley.  Valleys cover a larger area than a mountaintop.  It is predictable to say that we will spend a greater amount of time in the valleys of our lives.

Usually we equate a valley with difficult times, but in reality it is often a lush area with a water source.  Think about it, when it rains, all the water flows down the sides of the mountain to fertilize the valley.  Think of all the miners who have found precious gems while panning in river waters.  Those same rivers flow through mountain ranges.  That life source pushes through soil, rock, trees, whatever it has too.

If we change our perspective about experiences in the valleys we can live a much more abundant life.  We can thrive in that fertile area, digging our toes into mineral laden soil in the river bed.  This can be a time where we can open our hearts to God for direction.  The last thing any of us needs to do is run towards a mountain to climb it without a plan of action.  Supplies and equipment are needed.  Every mountain is different than the previous one.  Chances are we are not returning to this particular valley either.  Once we get to the top, we will descend into another valley.  A different valley with new flowers, unexplored terrain…breathtaking views.  With a climb and hiking ahead of us, we must learn to pack light.  We are not designed to carry guilt, jealousy, bitterness, or depression on our shoulders.  God has made His backpack to custom fit each of us.

For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good–not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne (Matthew 11:30).
We can easily get comfortable in the valley and get stuck.  Even the best moments have an ending but they are always the beginning of another moment yet to be lived out.

Looking Out

I used to think one of the main responsibilities of living a Christian life was to look inward. One could argue that you should, in fact, examine yourself, but I would be deceiving myself if I claimed that this is what I was doing. Rather, I had a habit of taking stock of my “debt to income ratio” and comparing it to others’ around me. I know I’m not the first to do this…weigh all of the “good” things I do against my current sins and decide that I’m pretty much on top of things with my spiritual life.

There are many flaws to this line of thinking, the number one being that it’s all about me. The Lord has brought me to the conclusion that anything that is centered on self, is in direct opposition to living in Him. Pride loves to rear it’s ugly head in my heart. I am not happy to admit that, but it’s the truth. Actually, I’ve become convinced that this is the root of most (if not all) surface sins. The entire fall of man can be traced back to pride: Satan wanted to be God. Yuck! I don’t like thinking that I have anything in common with that guy, but when I’m in “me” mode…I do.

Today, in our Monday morning women’s group, I had a revelation. We were studying Hebrews 6 and it suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me! I became very aware of my lack of thankfulness for the privilege of my relationship with Jesus. Far too often, I think about my faith as if I have earned it. It’s amazing how quickly I can forget that the bible says, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The chapter we discussed in Hebrews talks about “being enlightened”, sharing “in the Holy Spirit”, and of having “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come”. I began to realize that upon saying The Sinner’s Prayer and being baptized at the age of 13, none of those statements applied to me. Most would say I attained salvation at that point, but I had little to no awareness of the reality of Jesus.

Remembering my old way of thinking, how I viewed life and faith at that point, gave me great compassion toward those who claim Jesus is their Lord without really understanding what that means. After today, I will no longer be able to look at a Christian living in defeat and be angry at the way they portray God. Instead, I will joyfully offer what I know of His goodness, the way so many women have done for me. Our Father was faithful to not leave me in ignorance, but He used willing servants to open my eyes to the fullness of Him.

I have by no means “arrived” and I have so much to learn, but I am sure of the goodness of God. No circumstance could convince me otherwise, and in this, my hope is anchored! My focus has turned from looking out for Jamie, to looking out for what God is doing and how I can be a part of it. He doesn’t need me, but He wants me! I don’t want to miss out on any opportunity He may give me to participate in revealing Him to someone else who needs to taste of His goodness. The Holy Spirit is a gift who is meant to be shared and I don’t want be the kind of woman who tries to keep Him all to herself.

Taking the Pressure Off

The Bible has to be the most amazing book ever written.  It is so incredible how you can read passages and feel a new connection to them.  I recently experienced this while reading to my son at bedtime.  We were reading in Matthew about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  In chapter 27:51-53 it reads:

At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)

I think we have all heard sermons, read books and seen movies about the crucifixion.  I am 36 years old and I unashamedly admit that I have never noticed the portion about believers being resurrected at the time of Christ’s death.  The death of Christ was such a powerful happening that it affected nature, religious traditions and immediately conquered death for believers in that area.  There is no information about how many people this affected.  We don’t even know how long any of these individuals had been deceased.  We are only told that they were brought back to life and appeared to many.

Can you imagine having a loved one come back to life after being dead for a few weeks or even a couple of years?  How would that change life for you?  Would you try harder to spend time with them?  Would you have a greater concept of the fragility of life?  What if you had been one of those people?  How would you spend your days going forward after being given a second chance?

The individuals brought back to life are described as “believers”.  They are not named by their accomplishments on earth.  There is no list of their heritage, possessions, social status, income level, education or all the good deeds they performed.  Bottom line…they were “believers”.  What a great thought for today.  When all is stripped away, what is at our core?  What really matters?  Despite all the legalism man has abundantly created, regardless of what denomination you associate with, no matter the circumstances of your life…the one and only question that matters is “are you a believer”?  We complicate a relationship with the Lord so much by trying to earn it, by trying to be good enough, by thinking we have to fix ourselves first before He will accept us.  Today is the day to take off the pressure cooker lid.  Like a friend of mine said, “this was a fixed fight”.  Jesus already won the battle for our sins; all we have to do is let Him love us.

Pass the Salt Please

It’s dinnertime and your mouth is watering. Before you ever take a bite of the savory goodness, what is the first thing most of us reach for? You got it, the salt.

Have you ever taken the time to think about the characteristics and uses of salt? Salt is one of the most basic seasonings. Too much and it ruins your food, not enough and you might feel like you are eating cardboard. I am domestically challenged and sometimes salt must be used to save a dish from the trash can! Salt is an essential component to human life. Too much salt in your diet can be a risk for heart disease. Too little salt and the fluid in your body can be unbalanced. Sodium is a component of salt and it regulates the electrical impulses in the nervous system. Although we do try and monitor salt intake in our house, my husband and I both put salt on our salads. Honey, you will be glad to know that the word “salad” literally means “salted” and comes from the Roman culture who salted their leafy vegetables, i.e. lettuce.

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus tells us we are the “salt of the earth”. Salt has been traditionally used as a preservative, especially for meat. We help “preserve” the Gospel by being genuine. Jesus spent His days on earth being open, honest, and bold. We have been issued the command to go out into the world and share the Gospel so that lives and hearts can be changed. His Gospel…not our opinions. Even though each grain of salt has the same components, it flavors where it is applied. You can’t impact someone’s salad any more than you can their life if you don’t shake the salt out. Contrary to popular belief, the salt will not jump out of the shaker on its own. God gives us opportunities every day to reflect Him, use them. When salt is shaken out, it scatters. It doesn’t clump together and turn its back on the baked potato! No, it becomes an addition or an improvement for the potato. We each have unique talents and gifts, however strange some of them may be…we are different but we affect the potato the same way. We season it and help balance the taste. We are not an offensive or judgmental flavor…just an enhancement.

Slapped by a Spelling Word

My second grader is learning the value of spelling words.  I am learning the value of using my time wisely to help him be ready for his weekly tests!  A few weeks ago his class was focusing on prefixes.  Some of his words were “redo”, “rework”, and “undo”.  Each of these words implies that an action has already taken place and energy is then spent repeating the action.

By the end of the week it was like a slap in the face.  God has done THE work and we spend countless days, years, and lifetimes trying to “redo” the gift of salvation.  One of the most quoted verses is John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  The Son gave His life and the only action on our part is to believe.  That’s it…believe.

We are not instructed to create a denomination.  We are not told to depend on religion.  Nothing man has rewritten, reworked, or undone can offer us the precious gift of salvation.  We waste so much time doing things that someone else says we must perform before God will accept us.  We spend our numbered days taking this message of love apart and putting it back together in a way we can manage it.  (If we could manage it on our own, we wouldn’t need it to start with because it would eventually fail from being human.)

We don’t realize that when we create more rules or change the Gospel that we are saying that Jesus’ death was not enough to save us.  Yeah, that hurts a little.  We tell our creator He didn’t do it right.

Let’s strip away all the “re’s” and “un’s” and simply accept the love of God.  Allow yourself to open your personal gift of salvation.  What does a present mean if you never open it—never receive it?  The Ultimate Gift Giver had you in mind when He gave His life on the cross.  His gift fits you perfectly.  It will never wear out, never has to be exchanged, and allows an eternity you could never earn on your own.

Why Me?

Mistakes. We all make them. And unfortunately, some tend to linger.

It’s very easy to ask “Why me?” if you’re stuck living with the reminder of a past mistake. You may even want to shout, “How much more suffering will I have to endure?”

The truth is, I’ve been there. A poor decision I made in the past has recently resurfaced, with more consequences to pay, and my initial reaction was to question God. “WHY?!” I found myself trying to reason with Him, explaining that I had already learned from this mistake and begged that it would just go away. “Is it really necessary to continue to punish me, Lord?” It didn’t take long before my heart reminded me that I am strengthened through Christ (Philippians 4:13). What a way to stop my self-pity in its tracks! So what if this mistake had re-emerged? God has seen me through it multiple times; He will do it again. Our Lord is faithful.

My attitude quickly started to change. Could this be my lesson this time around? Each time we are faced with a trial, it is an opportunity to condition our attitudes. It’s a way to learn to triumph through suffering. It is our chance to live Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

And in that, maybe it is also my time to allow God to show through me. Perhaps my reactions to the exposed mistake could benefit someone else. By me remaining steadfast (James 5:11) and showing that trusting in Him is sufficient, someone else in a similar situation may see His grace. We read in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

God allows mistakes to linger so that our relationships with Him will continue to mature. If we approach every reference of our blemishes with “What am I going to do to learn from this?” or “How can I maintain my faith through this?” then we become more whole. The less we lack, the more we become a mirror-image of Christ.

So, do you have a mistake that feels like a thorn in your side? Remember Apostle Paul sought relief from his “thorn” and was given this from 2 Corinthians 12:9, “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.”

Everyone faces adversity but the Lord is bigger than any of our problems. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). Embrace the opportunities to learn from your trials. Instead of asking, “Why me?”, search God’s word for answers to “What can I take from this?” We don’t have to understand, we just have to trust Him. If we can keep focused on the Lord, we will find comfort and soon our past mistakes will stop hanging around.