Archive for September, 2012

It will be an upgrade…

Friday, September 28th, 2012

I talked to a 40-year-old lady today who is in the last stages of breast cancer that has metastasized to the bones and brain. I’ve never met her before, but when I told her who I am she immediately said, “I’ve read your book and Hannah’s mother’s book. I remember her story from the news.” That opened the door for me to share about God’s plan and purpose for each of us, that before we were born God had our days numbered, that everything that happens to us is to bring us to a better understanding of Who He is, and that He wants our trials and heartaches and difficult times to help us get to know Him more intimately. I talked about how in our human minds we think of Hannah’s death as too early and tragic, but that from an eternal perspective it was right on time and a story of triumph and hope. She listened to all I had to say and then she responded, “Oh, I’m not worried about dying. I know I’ll be in heaven, and it will be an upgrade.” She went on to tell me that she had lived a very hard, rough life. At 40 years old she has five children and seven grandchildren. She said that her entire life had been very difficult with one battle and heartache after another. She’s looking forward to her upgrade.

I couldn’t help but think about the cruise that my sisters and I went on for Leigh’s 40th birthday a few years back. When we boarded the ship we found out we had been upgraded – and boy had we! The room was a large suite with a balcony with PLENTY of room for us four girls. You can imagine the squeals and shrills and hooping and hollering and picture snapping we were doing. That cruise ship with the luxurious of rooms cannot compare to what waits for us in heaven. We do not need to be too attached to what we have down here, because no matter how nice or how new or how luxurious, we are in for a LARGE upgrade when we get to heaven!

Hang in there. Don’t give up. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t despair. Heaven awaits you at the end of this life if you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, and it WILL be an upgrade!

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Hope

A fresh start…

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

As I was driving to lunch today, I found myself thanking the Lord for a fresh start. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, from teenage years to present. I’ve messed plenty of things up. I’ve made more than plenty of bad decisions. And if I focused on them and allowed myself to dwell on them, I’d be down in the dumps all the time. But I discovered years ago that God is a God of new beginnings. Each day is a new day for Him. He takes my poor decisions, my mistakes, my messes, and my heartaches and my disappointments and He turns them into a fresh start. What a loving, forgiving, gracious God.

He wants to do the same for you. Are you beating yourself up over bad decisions? Have you failed more times than you can count? Does it seem like you just can’t get it right? Today’s a new day. God is the God of new beginnings. He wants to turn all your disappointments into a fresh start. Starting today.

“Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot” (Jeremiah 18:3 & 4 The Msg).

Hope

A beautiful portrait of grace…

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

I read this quote today…

I don’t have a clue who the author is or whether there’s a spiritual implication, but you know me – there is now. Just this week I’ve had the opportunity three times to tell my testimony of God’s peace and strength and mercy and goodness during very dark trials – first Hannah, then Randy. Our six month journey with Hannah was very difficult, yet there was joy and glory all around us. God’s hand was on us all, and there was so much support. Someone described her death to me just this week as “quite glorious.” It was as though when she took her last breath, God’s glory was so evident that we all wanted to go with her! But the days leading up to and many, many, many days and months and years since have held some dark hours in a dark room of grief.

Randy’s death? A whole different story. My only brother, the oldest of five children. Randy fought some type of dependency for many years. It was alcohol for a while, then he found victory through Christ for that. And a few years later he messed up his knee, needed replacement surgery, was too much of a workaholic to take the time off, so prescription drugs became his crutch. That addiction escalated and we watched him spiral as one prescription wasn’t enough to satisfy him, so one turned to two, two turned to three, and three turned to four. Four highly addictive prescription drugs taken every single day. Randy’s 51 year old body could not hold up anymore, nor could his mind. Randy knew Jesus as his Savior, I know he did. But he never let him be Lord of his life. So on May 21, 2010 he took his own life. There were no glory days prior to his death. There wasn’t a host of people following a website, growing in their faith because of Randy’s testimony. His tragic death brought a dark, difficult road for our family.

But those dark rooms were not wasted. So much good has come from Hannah’s beautiful, faithful life. And those good things continue today! God’s beautiful portrait of grace. And no matter how dark that room was when Randy died – and still is at times, God was and is making a beautiful picture. Good things have come from Randy’s untimely death, good decisions made by family members and friends, hearts rededicated to Christ. And good things continue today.

Dark days spent in dark rooms are never wasted. God is at work making a beautiful portrait. A portrait of grace.

“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10).

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6 & 7).

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Hope

Filleted by the Master Chef…

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

One night last week Clay was grilling chicken for dinner. I was running back and forth from the kitchen out to the grill with the veggies, the potatoes, the corn on the cob, and on every trip I’d peak over Clay’s shoulder to see how the meat was coming. He was concerned that the chicken was going to get tough before the center was done because the pieces were so thick. So instead of chancing on ruining the taste, he decided to fillet the thickest pieces. As I watched him butterfly them open, I thought about how like my heart that piece of chicken is. I had a hard time shaking that visual.

A couple of mornings after that I was running on the treadmill and I decided that I’d pray for every person that is close to Hannah’s story, from the immediate family to the friends to the Board Members. That started out well, but as the prayers went on I found myself going back to that piece of chicken. The tears began flowing as I poured my heart out to the Master Chef, asking Him to please fillet my heart. Don’t let me get tough around the edges while the inside is still rare! I invited the Lord to search my heart through and through, butterfly it open to get to the inner most “red” parts. And sure enough as I prayed He revealed thoughts and actions and reactions and feelings that I needed to get rid of. That was not the way that 30 minute run was supposed to have gone, but it was the way the Lord had it go. It hurts to be filleted by the Master Chef, but the end result is clean, peaceful and freeing.

Has your heart been filleted by the Master Chef lately?

“For the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).

“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds” (Psalm 141:3 & 4).

Hope

I’ve gotta be up close where it’s at!

Monday, September 24th, 2012

I don’t like sitting in the balcony at church, any church. We’ve ended up in the balcony for “special occasion” services at Cudd because we got there too late to claim the floor, and I didn’t like it any of those times. I feel disconnected. Now I’m not saying everyone in the balcony should feel this way, I’m saying I feel this way. I don’t like it (did I mention that already?). I know the Holy Spirit is not floating around in the pews waiting on me to occupy the space on the floor level. The Holy Spirit occupies our hearts so where we are, there the Spirit is. But when I’m in the balcony, I have a hard time concentrating. And when I can’t concentrate, I don’t feel “the spirit.” At The Grace Event with Max Lucado last Thursday evening, we sat on the second row of the balcony. Mark Lowry, Christian Comedian calls it sitting on the shelf. First North’s choir did a beautiful job with Thou Oh Lord, and people had their hands raised in worship, tears flowing, heads nodding. I know because I was busy looking around from up on the shelf. I mean I was getting into it the best I could, and if I zoned in on one choir member I got it. But I was distracted with the space between me and the choir, distracted with the many people between me and the choir. By the end of the song the majority of the main floor congregation were on their feet. I know the words of the song, so there was good reason to stand and praise the Lord with the rest of the people. Except that I wasn’t feeling it. I was too distracted (did I mention that already?). I’ve gotta be up close where it’s at or I don’t get anything out of it.

So it is with the Lord. We cannot keep Him at a distance and expect to get anything out of the relationship. If we keep Him at a distance, we WILL be distracted by the space between us and Him. We will be distracted by the people that fill the space between us and Him. Even if those people are good people, even if the fillers of the space are good fillers. We cannot expect to get all He’s got for us if we only serve Him from a distance. We will feel disconnected. We have got to be up close where it’s at! We don’t want to miss a thing He’s got for us, and by keeping Him at a distance, other things will get in the way.

Get on down off that shelf and get up close where it’s at. Soak up all you can – His supply of love and grace and mercy and strength and forgiveness and blessing is limitless!

“but the worries of this life, …the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary [sitting at the feet of Jesus] has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41 & 42).

Hope

It just keeps coming…

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Last night Clay and I had the privilege of hearing Max Lucado in person at First North here in Spartanburg. Just because you can write like no other doesn’t mean you’re a good speaker. However, Max is both a great speaker and a great author. He opened the sermon telling us that he was 10 years old before he ever saw an ocean. He grew up in west Texas and when he was 10 years old his family drove to Anaheim, CA where he saw the ocean for the first time. He recalls that his impression was, “It just keeps coming!” The waves wash onto shore, one right after the other. Just when you recover from one, the next one will wash over you. It just keeps coming. So it is with grace. Just when you think there’s no way God could forgive that one, grace washes over you. Just when you can’t face another day of guilt, grace sweeps over you. Just when you are ready to throw in the towel, another wave of grace hits you in the face.

As Max was painting that beautiful picture I thought how abundant God’s grace is. Just like the ocean waters, there is more grace than we need, more than we’ll ever use, more than our minds can comprehend. And just like the ocean waters, the only way to bask in these waves of grace is to step into it. We can’t admire grace from afar with thoughts of, “Wow, that’s beautiful! It looks so refreshing as I see the waters of grace sweep over others” and expect to get the benefit. All of that grace is ours, we just have to claim it as ours. And just like the ocean waters, grace will never run out. It just keeps coming. From the lyrics of the song, How He Loves Me - If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking! Amen!

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15).

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Hope

He created that sea…

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

A little nugget I got from our Jonah Bible Study by Phyllis Shirer, paraphrased of course…

The God of Israel created that sea that’s tossing you all around. He can surely calm it.

When the storms of life are raging and we’re tossed around by the high winds, we forget that God is in charge. We think that He surely must not know what we’re going through. Did He check out on us? No, the problem is our focus is on the rough seas, not the Creator of the sea. Keeping our eyes on our circumstances will take us down.

The God of Israel created that sea that’s tossing you around. Take your eyes off your circumstances and look to Him. There you’ll find peace and strength and security in the midst of the roughest of weather. He provides shelter and safety and assurance that since He created it, He can surely calm it.

“‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him’” (Luke 8:25).

Hope

 

Today, right now…

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

My sister posted this quote on a friend’s Facebook page this morning, and it goes along with what we’ve been talking about the past couple of days.

Today I choose to trust you instead of demanding an explanation for what is happening in my life. Right now, I choose to walk through my fear and step out in faith. – Mary Southerland

What I like about this quote is the “today” and the “right now.” I can’t make any promises about how I’ll react tomorrow, next week or next year. But for today I choose to trust the Lord instead of demanding an explanation for what He does. Right now I choose to walk through my fear and step out on faith. The Lord doesn’t ask us to master this faith walk once and for all. He asks us to make a choice today, right now. He asks us to do the next right thing. And He gives us daily sufficient grace. We can’t stock pile it. We only get ample portion to see us through today, right now. And it’s just enough.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV).

“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” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5 & 6).

Hope

Have you ever tasted the Lord’s goodness?

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson was from 1 Peter 2:1-10. Verse 3 gripped my heart and I can’t shake it…

“Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3).

I am co-teaching with Di Easler and another lady the Love Sunday School Class, a group of senior citizen ladies. It was fun studying the same lesson as Clay and bouncing my thoughts off him while tapping into his insight. Clay called my attention to verse 3. The previous verse compares our desire for the word of God to newborn babies desiring milk. Why do they crave milk? Because they’ve tasted it and they know it’s good. Therefore they crave it. I asked those sweet little elderly ladies who have 30+ years on me, “Have you ever tasted the Lord’s goodness?” Their expressions touched me to the core. All of them nodded emphatically that yes, they have tasted the Lord’s goodness. No question about it! But the tears that welled up in so many eyes around the room were what moved me. They weren’t tears from God’s goodness during the good times in their lives. They were tears of trust in a God Who had been good in the very difficult times.

We talked about different heartaches that my new little friends had lived through. So many have lost their husbands to death, a couple of them have lost children, a few have wayward children or grandchildren, each of them with their own story of heartbreak. Yet each of them spoke with deep conviction and blessed assurance that indeed they have tasted the Lord’s goodness. One lady could hardly talk for snubbing as she locked eyes with me and said, “God is definitely good through the hard times. But those hard times don’t make me happy.” She never lost eye contact with me as the tears flowed. I don’t know her story. I’ve seen her over the years but until yesterday didn’t even know her name. But whatever her story, it’s a painful one. Yet the joy of the Lord is her strength. I couldn’t help but think back to my brother, Randy’s suicide. God was so good during those very dark days and weeks and months of grieving. He was so good. But those hard times didn’t make me happy. In fact, I remember telling Clay over and over, “I’m just so sad.” My heart was broken. But even still, God was good.

Peter is saying in this chapter that because we have tasted the Lord’s goodness we should serve Him with all our hearts. There’s so much more to that passage but I’ll leave you with this question, Have you ever tasted the Lord’s goodness? I dare to say the answer is YES!

Hope

Is God good all the time…

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Our First Place 4 Health class has started back up for the fall semester, and once again, I’m loving this Bible Study – Giving God Control. This week the lessons are on God’s goodness. Do I really believe God is good all the time? Or do I only see His goodness when life is good, when things are going good, when all is well? One of the questions in today’s lesson is (paraphrased because I can’t remember it exactly), “Has there been a time in your life when you couldn’t see God’s goodness, but you chose to believe it anyway?” I wrote, “How much time do you have?”

Early this morning I received an email that Aubrey Heath, the grandfather of three children in our church had just passed away. Aubrey was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer only a few weeks ago. His daughter, Nicole, the mother of these three beautiful McGill children passed away four years ago from sarcoma. So those kids lost their mother to cancer and now four years later have lost their grandfather, a grandfather who was very active in their lives. That breaks my heart!

And on the heels of receiving that news I got a text from my friend, Betty that her daughter, Savannah who is 9 months and 3 days pregnant is being hospitalized for observation with high blood pressure, hoping to stabilize her so she can go in labor on her own. A bouncing baby boy will join us soon. How exciting! My first thought was, Wow Lord, You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say You give and take away.

I have to choose for my heart to believe that yes, He’s good – even when death is way too up-close and personal to three children. He’s good – even when cancer is ugly and aggressive and wins the physical battle. And He’s good in the good times when the birth of a baby is just around the corner. He’s good when the life of a newborn brings more joy than we can express. Yes, God is good, in the good times and bad, all the time.

We can make that bold statement and stand firm on it because we know that God has a plan and He has a purpose and He works it all for our good. In His time. Not our time. We just gotta trust Him.

“Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me” (Psalm 69:16).

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

Hope