The Not-So-Good Samaritan

Do you ever desire a “do-over?” Or wish you could just push “rewind” and record a new response over one you regret?

I had one of those moments this past weekend.

It was halftime of the girls’ high school basketball game. The varsity cheerleaders were in position, ready to debut their coed routine. I was perched near center court, second row. Phone raised, thumb poised. I pressed the little red circle to start my video as the music began.

The team wowed the crowd with their flips, libs and pyramids. They nailed their jumps and cheers. Then, about halfway through the routine, one of the cheerleaders limped over to the sidelines. She sat down right in front of me, holding her knee, in obvious pain.

And I just kept videoing.

Another cheer mom, seated a few rows further up in the bleachers, finally ran down to the floor to assist her.

And I just kept videoing.

The routine ended, and the coaches and some of the other cheerleaders rushed to the shaken girl’s side. They carried her off the court so the athletic trainer could evaluate her.

Guilt began to swell up within me like the injured cheerleader’s knee.

Why did I keep videoing? Why didn’t I stop and help her? I was right there! She was right in front of me!

I was not “The Good Samaritan.” Instead, I was the one who passed her by.

As I reflected on this the following day, I identified three things that kept me in my seat:

  1. Agenda. I was too focused on capturing a video. I had difficulty deviating from My Plan. I felt conflicted.
  2. Appearances. There were a lot of people at the game. I didn’t want all of those eyes on me. I felt self-conscious.
  3. Adequacy. “I’m not the coach. I’m not a nurse. I’m not her mom.” The “I’m Nots” overshadowed the “I Ams.” I felt inadequate.

I wondered if the ones who passed by the wounded man in the biblical story of “The Good Samaritan” struggled similarly. It’s a familiar parable, but worth revisiting…

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-32)*

Perhaps their tight schedules wouldn’t allow for a time-consuming detour. Maybe they also cared too much about appearances. They could have minimized what they had to offer, or rationalized that it was someone else’s responsibility.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ (Luke 10:33-35)

The difference? The Samaritan not only saw the man, but he felt compassion for him. True compassion will lead to action. He did what he could. And it was enough.

So I’m asking God for a “do-over.” To be ready the next time I encounter a need. To feel genuine compassion. To let go of my own agendas, my preoccupation with appearances, and my fears of inadequacy. To offer what I have. To do what I can.

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Jesus didn’t ask us to help everyone.

But with His help, we can each help someone!

 

(P.S. I’m currently kind of obsessed with this song. Sharing, because it seems to fit with this post. And because I’m obsessed.)

*Scriptures are from The New Living Translation.

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Biblical Blackjack

I’m not the gambling type. I don’t like to take risks. And I especially don’t like to lose money.

But we were on a family cruise, and the on-board casino was having a “smoke-free” night. The whole gang was planning to go after our formal dinner in the dining room, so I decided to tag along.

For about an hour I enjoyed watching my parents try their luck on the slot machines. I also took it upon myself to help the casino staff enforce the non-smoking policy whenever someone lit up near me. Most of the rest of the family were seated at the $6 blackjack table, so I wandered over there to cheer them on. (I even took this innocent, but I later learned, illegal photo. Oops.)

blackjack-ii

After awhile, there was an opening at the table. The next thing I knew, I was occupying that empty seat. Two casino chips were placed in front of me, courtesy of my sister. Yes, peer pressure is still a thing. I may have been on a ship in the open sea, but I felt like a fish out of water.

I was nervous, and very conscious of the fact that I was playing with someone else’s money. I wanted to do well, give my sister a return on her investment, and prove “worthy” of her trust in me. It became my motivation as I played.

With a lot of coaching (probably also illegal) from the rest of the fam, I actually won the first few hands. And even more surprising, after another hour or so of “hits” and “sticks,” my two little chips had morphed into two small stacks of chips! Apparently beginner’s luck is also still a thing.

Being the conservative person that I am, I thought this might be a great time to call it a night and cash out. The chips totaled $70! I happily offered my earnings to my sis, who insisted I keep all but her original investment.

The biblical parallels from my casino escapade did not escape me. I was reminded of the Parable of the Talents. Jesus told this story of a master who entrusted each of his servants with various amounts to invest while he was away. The wise servants who doubled his investment were rewarded. But the fearful servant who refused to take a risk was reprimanded.

‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’ (Matthew 25:28-30, The Message)

I acquired some insights more valuable than cash from the casino that night. Here are a few of my spiritual take-aways:

  • Everything we have has been graciously given to us by God.
  • Our job is to wisely invest and multiply these gifts.
  • This requires faith–overcoming fear and taking risks.
  • The joy of pleasing the Master is our motivation and reward.

The next morning, I retreated to the balcony of our cabin to spend some quiet time with God. I picked up right where I had left off in my Bible study workbook, and caught my breath when I turned the page to read this:

In Matthew 25:14, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven will be “like a man gong on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property” (ESV)…In the parable He used as a kingdom parallel, each servant’s responsibility was to steward the master’s property well. “Now after a long time, the master returned and settled accounts” (Matt. 25:19, ESV). Each servant who’d faithfully invested the small amount of property entrusted to him was commended, then placed over much, sharing the master’s happiness. The servants weren’t expected to be trustworthy with what they hadn’t been given. They weren’t judged by comparison or graded on the curve. The only question on the master’s table was this: “What did you do with what I entrusted to you?” –Beth Moore (From her study of 2 Timothy called “Entrusted”)

This is one of the things I love about our God. He is able to perfectly orchestrate the timing of His lessons. I like to call them “God-incidences.” They are one of the reasons I know He is Real.

Just like in blackjack, where the dealer is the only person one plays against, God is the only One to whom we must give an account. Now is not the time to play it safe. Take the risks. Walk by faith. Use your gifts. Invest your life in others.

Make it your joy to bring Him joy. It will be worth it just to hear Him say:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, ESV)

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Merciful Truths

God’s Word doesn’t mince words. Sometimes the truth hurts. But it also mercifully, joyfully, frees.

Lately, the Lord has been using several merciful truths from this familiar passage to give me some joyful freedom.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:6-7, NAS)

Ok, quick grammar lesson. If you’re like me, you tend to put a period after verse six. In fact, many Bible translations do. In the original Greek, however, these two verses form one sentence. I believe they are meant to be connected, and for a surprising reason.

Truth #1:  Exalting myself is at the heart of my anxiety.

Ouch. This one hit me hard, because I knew it was true. It’s called Pride, and it’s Ugly. When we’re anxious, isn’t it because deep down we want to be in control of a situation? We fret and worry in vain attempts to secure the outcome that seems best to US.

Time for another grammar lesson. The command in this sentence is “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” Why? Because HE is GOD and I am NOT. Pride exalts myself, deceiving me into thinking that I know best. Humility surrenders self and yields to God’s sovereign control.

Truth #2:  Casting my cares on Him is an act of humility.

Some Bible versions translate verse seven into the imperative: “Cast your cares upon the Lord…” But in the Greek text this verb isn’t in the form of a direct command.* Casting our cares upon Him is how we demonstrate the command to humble ourselves. The NET renders it like this:

…humble yourselves under his mighty hand BY casting all your cares on him… (Emphasis mine)

Bible teacher Beth Moore sums it up this way:

The act of humility is in the casting. The pride is in the keeping.”**

One final grammar lesson. The verb for “casting” was “used of casting garments on a beast of burden.”* Luke 19:35 contains this same Greek verb, and gives us a helpful word picture:

So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. (NLT)

The disciples threw (cast) their garments on the colt, and Jesus rode on them in triumphal procession. When I cast my cares upon Jesus, I’m getting off of my high horse and allowing Him to take His rightful seat as King. I give Him my worries and admit my inability to control my situation. I say, “Jesus, be Lord over this. Jesus, please ride in triumph over this.”

Truth #3:  Believing God cares for me is a place of rest.

As I cast my cares upon Him, I am comforted, because He cares for me. He. Cares. For. Me.  Say it. Believe it!

Everything He does is motivated out of His love for us and for those we love. Instead of fretting about the outcome, we can actually, amazingly, rest. Because He genuinely cares and truly knows best.

This is changing how I pray. I no longer feel compelled to convince God that He should do what I think needs to be done in a particular situation. Instead, I pray something like this:

Lord, You know I’m worrying about _________. I confess my pride, my desire to play God here. I humble myself by casting my concerns upon You, because You are God. You alone are capable of handling this. I am not built to shoulder this burden, but You are. You are Almighty God, Creator, King. So I give it to You. You know what is best. I know You love me, and You also love _________. Instead of worrying about this, I will rest in the reality of Your love and care.

What welcome relief this brings!

Now whenever I feel anxiety rising, I try to remember to stop and acknowledge my pride. I’m learning to humble myself by casting my cares upon the Lord, letting go of my need to be in control, affirming that He is Able and I am Not. I’m resting in His loving care for me and for those I care about.

Yes, the truth can hurt. Pride and anxiety hurt too. But these merciful truths are beginning to set me free.

Seeds of Growth

 

*From a study of 1 Peter 5:6-7 called “Counsel Concerning Our Cares” by J. Hampton Keathley, at www.bible.org.

**From her excellent series, “The Basket Case,” which was the main inspiration for this blog post. If you’d like to watch it, go to www.tbn.org. Look for “Living Proof with Beth Moore” in the “Video Archives.”

An Important Note:  I wanted to share these biblical truths because they were helpful to me in my own struggles with worry and anxiety. I am aware that some of my brave friends battle more severe, chronic anxiety. I commend them for seeking professional help and encourage anyone who may be dealing with this to do the same.

 

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Images and Imaginings

Cruz Ultrasound ii

I have become an ultrasound nerd.

I realized this last week when some friends announced their pregnancy on Facebook by posting this early ultrasound picture. Yep, there’s the yolk sac, I thought to myself. I was actually kind of obsessed with it.

Official nerd status = confirmed.

At the local pregnancy center where I work we provide free ultrasounds to help determine a viable pregnancy or estimate the gestational age. As the Client Advocate, one of my responsibilities/ privileges is to chaperon these ultrasounds. It never gets old, peering through this window into God’s workshop, the womb.

With the advent of modern ultrasound technology, we’ve been granted unprecedented access to the heretofore hidden world of the unborn. As early as four weeks post-conception, we can visualize and measure a miniature beating heart! And I’ll never forget the time I witnessed a tiny six-week-old embryo move. MOVE. I had no idea.

But as amazing as this technology is, it has its limitations. Sometimes the image is fuzzy and undefined. Our eyes strain to identify the structures on the screen, in varying shades of gray. It’s an inexact science, an imperfect medium.

Much like our Christian life. Jesus has come and opened our eyes to an unseen spiritual realm we never knew existed. We now have some understanding of His activity. We get glimpses of His glory. But they are limited and incomplete. Like hazy pewter images pixelating on a distant screen.

The apostle Paul, despite the glorious revelations he received,* experienced this obscurity in his own spiritual journey. Listen to how he described the struggle in these different translations of 1 Corinthians 13:12:

…we see only an indistinct image in a mirror…what I know is incomplete…(ISV)

…we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror..all that I know now is partial and incomplete…(NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. (MSG)

Life on this side of heaven is like that. We strain to bring focus to our spiritual vision. We long for a clear and unobstructed view.

This past month, two clients graciously returned to our center to introduce us to their newborn babies. I had “met” these babies on the ultrasound screen some months ago, as they waved and kicked in grainy gray. But to see the color and definition of their perfect features, and to feel their warm bodies breathing on my chest was to know them in another realm entirely.

A day is coming when we will see Jesus face to face. Now we trace His image in black and white on the pages of His Word; some day we will touch the Living Word Himself. Now we “squint in a fog”; soon we will behold the Son in vibrant color, in all of His radiant glory. Now we sense His Spirit moving mysteriously in our midst; then we will feel the very breath of God on our faces as we melt into His enveloping embrace.

YES.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul also shared the certainty of this hope:

Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ISV)

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (MSG)

One day our faith will be made sight. The mist will clear and clarity will reign. This earthly womb we call “home” will give birth to a heavenly reality so beautiful we cannot even conceive of it.

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9, NLT)

So squint if you must. Imagine if you can. But hope always.

And remember, anything good in this life is just a faint echo, an imperfect image of unimaginably wonderful things to come.

*See 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 for more of Paul’s story.

**This song by Hillsong Worship, “Transfiguration,” has resonated with me lately along these lines:

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To Be Near

I felt two little paws on my knee, and looked up from my book to see what Beau, our almost three-year-old Shih Tzu, wanted. He didn’t have a toy in his mouth, like he usually does, pestering me to play. I didn’t have any food, so I knew he wasn’t hankering for a handout. Round brown eyes beseeching me, he waited patiently.

I finally realized that all he wanted was for me to pick him up.

I bent over to comply with his silent request. He held perfectly still as I lifted him up and placed him beside me on the comfortable swivel chair. He nestled in next to me, bedding down with a contented sigh.

Beau

We remained like that, side by side, for nearly an hour.

This wasn’t like him.

He can be absolutely insistent when initiating a game of tug-of-war. He’s a shameless beggar at the table. Active and feisty, he loves to play “hard to get” when I try to corral him. But on this day he was just happy to be near me in that cushioned chair.

I gave up trying to read my book, distracted by thoughts of how like him I am. I typically go to God when I want something from Him. When He invites me to come and “sit a spell,” I am sometimes skittish. It can be a struggle to set aside my plans and desires just to BE with Him, with no other agenda but to enjoy Him.

I was touched when Beau came to me, just to be with me. I enjoyed the warmth of his little body next to mine. I savored those moments together, snuggled close. I honestly didn’t want them to end.

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a, NAS)

I wondered if the Lord feels this way when we come to Him, just to be with Him. When we seek intimacy with Him, He draws near, pulling us close. How it must bring Him pleasure when we linger in His presence, content just to be near Him.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. (Psalm 73:28, NLT)

And how greatly we need the peace that comes from time spent with Him. We leave changed, more sure of His presence and secure in His love. We experience a deep and abiding joy that comes when God draws near.

…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11b, ESV)

We can cultivate an awareness of His presence throughout the day, pausing to whisper a prayer, keeping a song of praise in our hearts, telling others of His goodness. He’s always with us. Let’s bring Him joy as we celebrate His nearness today.

 

Lord, we draw near to You today. Thank You for Your promise that when we do, You draw near to us. May we linger in Your presence, and remain aware of Your closeness throughout this day. May we invite others to experience the reality of Your promise and enter into the joy of Your presence. There truly is nothing better than to be near You. Thank You, Jesus, for making this possible. In Your Name we pray, Amen.

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Calling Home

The twelve men had been with Jesus long enough to know that He enjoyed a unique relationship with God. On more than one occasion they discovered him missing, only to stumble upon him praying. Like someone on an extended journey, homesick, frequently compelled to call home.

They saw how He derived strength and serenity from those conversations. The intimacy He had with the Lord was intriguing. For months they had watched and now they wanted what He had.

One day, one of them finally had the courage to verbalize what they were all thinking.

“Lord, teach US to pray.”

They waited. Would He be willing to share His secrets?

Sensing their readiness for what He was about to reveal, the Rabbi began.

“When you pray, say…Father.”

Father?

Had they heard that right? Did He really just say…Abba?

Their Scriptures referred to God as “Father,” but only rarely. Just 15 times, to be exact. No God-fearing Jew would have the chutzpah to approach the Most High God and address Him as “Abba.” It felt irreverent. But, at the same time, inviting.

It was, indeed, an invitation into the intimate fellowship of Father and Son. A new way of relating to Almighty God was opening up. The Teacher continued to instruct and prepare them for this coming change.

It took some getting used to, this idea of familiarity with Yahweh. His was a name so holy it could not be spoken out loud, and could only be written if the vowels were omitted. It seemed outrageous that the great “I AM” would now answer to the name “Abba.” He was a God to be kept at a safe distance.

What they didn’t understand at the time was that Jesus Himself was The Way to closeness with the Father. He was the means by which men could be brought near to God. He was the path to Heaven, which would be paved by His death, and opened by the Spirit upon His return to the Father.

Soon it would all make sense. Then they would begin to call Him Abba, Father.

He invites us to call Him Father, too.

Regardless of what kind of dad you had, whether he’s in heaven or still on earth, you can experience the love of a perfect Heavenly Father. Jesus makes this possible. He closed the gap between Holy God and unholy man. He brings us before His Father’s throne and introduces us as family. We are welcomed as sons and daughters.

We are Embraced. Chosen. Forgiven. Adopted. Loved.

When we pray, we say Abba, Father.

He Hears. Responds. Cares. Answers. Acts.

It’s Father’s Day. Why don’t you call home? Your Father is waiting to hear from you.

Father

Notes:

–Some of the thoughts I shared in this blog were inspired by a commentary on the Fatherhood of God by Robert H. Stein. Here is an excerpt: “The teaching of the Fatherhood of God takes a decided turn with Jesus, for “Father” was his favorite term for addressing God. It appears on his lips some sixty-five times in the Synoptic Gospels and over one hundred times in John. The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching on this subject is evident for several reasons. For one, the rarity of this designation for God is striking. There is no evidence in pre-Christian Jewish literature that Jews addressed God as “Abba.” A second unique feature about Jesus’ use of Abba as a designation for God involves the intimacy of the term. Abba was a term little children used. This was not just a way Jesus taught his disciples to address God; it was the way.”

–Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be found in Matthew 6:5-13 and Luke 11:1-13.

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Trees Don’t Live That Long!

Today my dad turns 80!

And I just can’t resist the urge to say, “TREES don’t live that long!”

Don’t worry, he won’t be offended. We’ve said this to each other for many years. In fact, when he turned 60, I gave him a coffee mug with this sentiment and a cross section of a tree with his name on it. He still has it.

My dad is known for his great sense of humor. My sister once dated a college basketball player who unfortunately spent more time on the sidelines than on the court. A former collegiate “cager” himself, Dad just HAD to take a good-natured jab at her bench-sitting boyfriend. So he doctored an 8×10″ team photo of the poor guy, taping some broken toothpicks to his posterior. Splinters. From the bench.

His quick wit still keeps us in stitches. Two weeks ago our family gathered to celebrate Rachel’s college graduation. At lunch after church, he had us all laughing so hard that the entire restaurant turned around at one point to see what the commotion was about!

He stays active, and is an excellent golfer. He was an accomplished Air Force navigator during the Cold War years, and flew dangerous missions during a year-long tour in Vietnam. He always worked hard to provide for our family. And his stealth and generosity in picking up the tab at restaurants is legendary.

But what I admire most about him is his faith. He came to it late in life. Strong athletes and proud military men aren’t the first to admit their need for a Savior. I believe his finest moment occurred one night at the close of a Christian concert he attended with my mom. He humbled himself, got up out of his seat and went forward, with tears on his face, to accept Christ.

Tall trees don’t grow overnight. But in time that seedling began to sink its roots down deep into the Word of God. It soaked in the teaching of godly men, eventually offering its own shade in which other men could grow and learn biblical truth.

When I was going through a spiritually challenging season a few years ago, he got on the phone and shared a devotional passage that he thought might encourage me. It did. I found strength and shelter under the branches of that spreading tree.

So, Dad, on your 80th birthday, thank you. For being that sturdy tree for our family. For your service, generosity, and humor. But most of all, thank you for your faith in God and devotion to His Word.

We are so blessed that this tree has lived that long.

Tree-By-the-Water

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

(Psalm 1:1-3, NAS)

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Miracle Life

Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10, NLT)

tiny-hand-of-premature-baby

She made her entrance early into this world, weighing all of 2 pounds, 12 ounces.

Tiny premature babies face giant hurdles.

But this was 1936. There were no NICUs, no incubators, no supplemental oxygen.

There were only prayers. And the will to survive.

Her hand was the size of her father’s thumb nail, and her entire body fit in the palm of his hand. They brought her home from the hospital in a shoe box. There were no car seats in 1936, either.

But the hand of God was upon her. She survived.

The first five years of her life were rough. Bitter New York winters brought annual bouts of pneumonia, and frequent hospitalizations.

But she was a fighter. Strong-willed, like her dad.

She grew stronger, and then she grew up. Graduated from high school and business school. Got married. Had three kids.

She loved variety and change. The life of a military wife suited her well. Except for that one dark year when her husband was far away, in harm’s way.  But her Creator reached through the darkness, took her by the hand, and called her by name. She began to call Him, “Savior.”

Her kids grew up, and had kids of their own. She enjoyed traveling, especially if it took her near the coast, her favorite place to be. And those early prayers for her survival were now paid forward, as she became a faithful prayer warrior, interceding for others.

But always, there was that pesky shortness of breath. She accepted it as normal. She had just learned to live with it.

When she was in her early seventies, doctors discovered a hole in her heart. Congenital. From birth.

The hole was successfully patched in a procedure that was developed for newborns with the same defect. The doctor remarked that he had never performed the procedure on an adult before, much less a woman in her seventies!

But that’s my mom. She’s tough. A survivor.

Tomorrow that premature baby with a hole in her heart will turn 80.

EIGHTY.

Amazing.

Her life is a miracle. She is special–to God, her family, and all who know her.

Of course, the aging process can present its own challenges. As my dear paternal grandmother used to say, “Old age isn’t for sissies.” (She lived to be 98.)

But GOD never ages or changes. The One who brought her through eight decades of life will continue to be faithful to her–and to us.

Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. (Isaiah 46:4, NAS)

What a precious promise, spoken from the tender heart of a good Father. He who created us will carry us, every single day of our lives. “From life’s first cry, to final breath…”* He will remain. He will sustain.

So Happy Birthday, Mom.

Your life IS a miracle life, nurtured and sustained by the gracious Giver of Life.

You really shouldn’t be here, you know.

But we’re so very thankful to God that you are.

* Lyrics from “In Christ Alone,” by Stuart Townend.

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The Heart of Prayer

(Note: These principles were adapted from a class I taught at church a few years ago.)

Prayer heart

When it comes to prayer, it’s all about the “heart.”  Here are three ways you can connect your heart to His when you pray…

1–SHARE your heart.

A common question when approaching prayer is: “What do I pray for?”

The amazing answer is:  “Anything and Everything!”

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! (John 15:7, NLT)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

He cares about it all! Come to Him as a little child, running to a strong and loving father. Just like that child, you can talk to your Father about whatever  is on your heart…

O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8, NLT)

2–REFLECT His heart.

But as you spend time with your Heavenly Father in prayer, a funny thing happens. He begins to change your heart.  You will start to want what He wants and care about the things He cares about. Here are some great questions, right out of God’s Word, to help you align your heart with His as you pray:

1)  Am I in a right relationship with Him?  Is this request consistent with His Word?

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NAS)

God is not a “vending machine,” where you insert a prayer and out pops your selection. In this verse we see two conditions to answered prayer: abiding in Him and allowing His words to abide in us.  “Abiding” implies connection, relationship. This should be your first priority in prayer.

2)  Will it bring glory to God?

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! (John 14:13-14, NLT)

It’s not about me! It’s all about Him, His fame, His glory. Keep this in mind as you pray.

3)  Will it help further His purposes?

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (John 15:16, NLT)

We are here on this earth to have an eternal influence. Surrendering to God’s purposes for your life is essential to experiencing answered prayer.

4)  Is my faith in God or in a certain outcome?

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. (James 1:6a, NLT)

Look to the Giver, not to the gifts you desire from Him. Mature faith focuses on WHO God is rather than on WHAT we want.

5)  Are my motives pure?

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.  And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (James 4:2b-3, NLT) 

If you’re not seeing answers to your prayers, perhaps you need to pause and ask God to purify your motives and cleanse your heart. Then your prayers will more clearly reflect His heart.

3–TRUST His heart.

Prayer is always answered.  But a good father doesn’t say “Yes” to everything.

A parent will not always confer the “very thing” which a child asks, but he will seek the welfare of the child, and give what he thinks will be most for its good.”*

God answers prayer in one of three ways:

  1.  No, I love you too much.
  2.  I love you, but you’ll have to wait.
  3.  Yes! I thought you’d never ask!  (And I love you!)**

LOVE is ALWAYS the reason behind His answers! You can trust His heart, even when He says “No.” Remember that He loves you, even in the disappointment, even in the waiting.

Come to Him in prayer. As a dearly loved child. Welcomed by a good and perfect Father.

Pour out your heart to Him. Then ask Him to change your heart. Above all, trust His heart of love.

He will answer you.

And you will learn to love Him all the more.

 

*Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

**Ron Rimby, from “There’s an App for That!” (Italics mine.)

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Spirit Boost

There are soccer moms. And hockey dads. And then there are the “Spirit Boosters.”

That’s right.

It’s what you become when you have three daughters who prefer pom poms to push-ups.

Chris once had a red nylon polo shirt with that very title embroidered in black. Because real men can handle wearing that kind of shirt. (He wore it once.)

This past week we both took the day off to go “boost some spirit” at the WY State Spirit Competition in Casper. Rachel and her boyfriend Alex also joined us as we cheered for the cheerleaders.

This was Alex’s first “spirit” rodeo, so Rachel explained the terminology–things like “basket tosses,” “libs,” and “full outs.” We yelled for our favorite little cheerleader and Rachel’s former team as they competed in three events:  Non-Stunt, All-Girl Stunt, and Coed Stunt. Alex was a good sport, and seemed genuinely interested in the performances. (Score a parent point for him!)

After the competition, we all commented on the athleticism of a couple of the other teams’ male cheerleaders. They each held a petite female cheerleader high above their heads–with one hand.

It was sheer strength. Combined with total trust.

Cheer Base

I saw this quote on a cheer t-shirt a few years ago:

Any man can hold her hand. But it takes an elite to hold her feet.”

Indeed.

I can still picture those burly boys at the state competition, gripping two small feet with one large hand, while the cheerleader above them just smiled and waved at the crowd. They made it look so easy.

And what about the “flyer,” as the girl in the air is called? How long did it take her to develop that kind of confidence in her “base?” How many times did they practice that lift before she could set aside her fear? And do it with a smile on her face?

All of this reminded me of the verse our Bible study group focused on a few weeks ago, where the Lord says:

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)

As we studied this verse I was struck by the fact that it begins with two commands, each followed by two promises:

Don’t be afraid…for I am with you.

Don’t be discouraged (or “anxiously look about you,” NAS)…for I am your God.

The promises support the commands. Instead of being anxious and afraid, the Lord wants us to remember that He is Godour God…our God-with-us.

And as if that were not enough assurance, He goes on to make three more empowering promises:

I will strengthen you.

I will help you.

I will hold you up.

I love the way Pastor John Piper explains it:

…when God calls you to be free from fear (to overcome this natural emotion and have peace), he does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it. Five of them. That’s the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support.”

His promises are the basis for our confidence. They teach us to trust Him. Our fears begin to settle down. We learn to relax in His strong grip.

He’s got us.

We can have faith to fly, because the Almighty God is underneath us. He lifts us up with His victorious right hand. He could do it with the little pinkie on His right hand if He wanted to.

We will not fall.

Listen to what the Lord says to you through “The Message” translation of this verse:

“You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you. Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

So, chin up. He won’t let you down.

Hold your head high. He’s holding onto you.

Put your total trust in His sheer strength! He will carry you through!

Let His promises cheer your heart and lift your spirits today!

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