Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Good Question

As a council member of my church, I had the opportunity at our meeting last night to review a chapter in Reclaiming the "E" Word, and then give devotions based upon that material. I selected the chapter about living a purposeful life. It was well suited to me because it fit well with my favorite Biblical passage to explain why we are on this earth.

Hebrews 10:24 states: "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds." I believe that passage is the actionable statement for Jesus' message to love one another. I also believe the reason for our existence on earth is to care for one another. This is how I try to live my life and it was the basis for my book, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place.

The gist of the chapter was that church should be a place, not just to worship God, but to equip us for being Disciples of Christ in our daily lives. We should not have to be an in-your-face Christian for people to know that is who we are. Our very lives, through actions and behavior, should demonstrate that.

When people see us do good things, live with joy, respond positively to negativity, atone for our mistakes, and show genuine care for our fellowman, that defines us as a Christian. Certainly, there are many good people who do these positive things, but we as Christians should purposely strive to do them.

Of course, none of us wants to exhibit behavior that will cause others to think hypocrisy when we fail. Instead, it can be a good lesson to show others how we respond when we do fail - apologizing, atoning, having faith, and never repeating the same offence can speak volumes. After all, forgiveness is a cornerstone of our faith, and sometimes forgiving ourselves is the most difficult. But since we know we are forgiven, it makes it easier to live a good life.

So, the big question we should each ask ourselves is this: Do the people we encounter in our daily lives know that we are a Christian without us having to tell them?"

The answer can be a little scary.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sometimes Yes and Sometimes No

As a person of faith, I think receiving an answer of no to a prayer causes one of the biggest struggles, especially if that prayer involves a critical matter to the supplicant. After all, John 14:13 states: "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

I have prayed for healing for many individuals, but no more so than for my late husband. In fact, I prayed for a miraculous healing until he took his last breath. I surmised, What could have been a better way to glorify God? Just look at the incidents in the Bible where life was restored by Jesus and his disciples. 

No to his healing was a difficult answer for me to accept, but I must believe that dying isn't a punishment for the one who passes. It is just a temporary difficulty that can also be a horrific one for those of us who are left behind. If we truly believe the promises of Heaven, then we can accept God's answer even though we may not agree or like it.

Now, there have been yes answers to my prayers, too. Most recently, I wrote about a longtime friend who caused me a great deal of pain in wanting to end the friendship over an unfair judgement. I prayed about that and eventually found peace. But the better part? This friend called me last week and apologized! It was a good conversation because I had already forgiven her with God's help.

I think of the families in Charleston who experienced such a tragic loss at the hands of a gunman filled with hate. They demonstrated a true Christian following of Jesus in forgiveness. To do so could only be with God's help. No human alone could endure what they must have felt. Our nature as humans is to seek revenge, to be angry, to question God.  Instead, they found courage to bury themselves in the love of God for all mankind. To do that is in itself a miracle!

Now there have been many others things to which my prayers have also received yes answers. And I must admit, even with my share of difficulties, I am grateful to God for the life I've been given. I would not want to exchange places with anyone who has gone before me, resides in the present with me, or will come after I am gone. That, too, is a miracle.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Difficult Lesson

I recently gave approbation to something I believe, but also learned something very valuable. It's a difficult thing to write about, but it's important to share because many of us have probably experienced a similar situation or might in the future.

When I wrote Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place, I noted the importance of forgiveness - for both the one who forgives as well as the one who is forgiven. I also noted that people who see themselves as victims cannot see beyond themselves, and can do little to make this world a better place for others. A recent event resulted in that approbation.

A longtime friend sees herself as a victim of many things, and in the process said some unjust, judgmental things to me meant to be hurtful with no care for the truth. It was difficult not to be angry and it agonized me for almost every waking hour, but I did what I was supposed to do - I prayed.

I prayed for almost a week that God would help me to forgive, and then the most remarkable thing occurred. I finally saw this person's view of the world! I didn't agree with it, but it allowed me to replace being upset with feeling compassion. I finally started praying for that person instead of asking help for ME to forgive.

I don't know if the friendship can ever be restored, but I'm going to leave that in God's hands. I'm also praying that the person gets the help she needs to function successfully in this world, but I am ever so grateful that God gave me the tools to cope with this and any other difficult situation that life sends my way.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Another Gray Area in Everyday Living

Being a Christian or a person of faith has its share of challenges. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about being thrown to the lions, stoned to death, or otherwise tortured, but I do have a lot of gray areas when it comes to my daily actions involving others.

Today, I'm thinking about a simple annoyance and not something earth-shattering, but my actions, even in the simplest matters, should reflect who I am. That's the dilemma, and I'm talking about telemarketers and solicitors.

Have you ever felt inundated by phone calls, especially ones that you know are solicitations and robo calls? I certainly have, and I vacillate between answering the phone and putting it down on the end table so the caller just hears dead air, or leaving a message on my machine about being on the no call list (doesn't apply to charities or political entities), or just picking up the phone and being frank.

Being frank seems like it might be the best, but it's also the hardest, I think. That's especially true if it's a charity solicitation. It's difficult to say no if the caller is soliciting for a worthy cause, even though some may not be. I feel sorry for some of the telemarketers because you know they probably receive a lot of abuse.

But...we all have our limits, even if we practice generosity. I believe God expects us to share, but at some point, we have to decide which charities are most important. I donate to many including my church, and I'm not willing to exchange one of those I've supported for many years for another (unless God makes it clear to me that I need to do that).

So, I guess the next time my phone rings with one of those caller IDs that actually indicates the name of the charity, I need to be frank. It's not right to let them continue making useless calls.

On the other hand, for those IDs that say "unassigned" or give a city and state, I really haven't decided what to do. If it's definitely a scam (like I've won a prize for a contest I didn't enter, or an offer to lower my credit card interest on an undesignated card), I don't mind just letting the caller dangle a little bit. That's a very bad way to make a living by preying on others so maybe I can delay that a little for the next person they try to call.

If anyone has better suggestions, I'm open to hearing them. Consumer Reports suggests the following: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2012/07/how-to-stop-unwanted-robocalls/index.htm. Then maybe I'll just try a little experiment - I'll answer the next ten calls and then decide how to handle them individually. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Being Always Thankful is Easier Sometimes

Saturday I had one of those days. Not the bad kind, but the one where you wish you had bought a lottery ticket. Everything seems right with the world and things just go your way. We've all had them, and it seems easier to remember those because they don't occur as often as normal days or the ones that just make you want to bury your head in the sand.

My day seemed routine, but really improved in the evening. I attended a fundraiser for which I had had tickets for some time. Feeling very fatigued lately and a bit under the weather, I missed the awards ceremony for Kansas Authors Club District 2 that morning, but I didn't want to miss the evening event since it was paid for already.

At the evening event, I wound up winning a door prize basket and two silent auction baskets which were also a good deal. When I returned home, I had a message from a friend telling me I had won an award from the KAC  contest. It wasn't until the next day that I discovered it was first prize in the humor category which thrilled me even more. After always being a bridesmaid and never a bride (winning 2nd or 3rd and never first), I missed it. Maybe for me the key to winning is not to attend the ceremony.

All that aside, it was a good day, and I was happy to thank God in my prayers. I'm trying to do that daily, but it just seems easier to do when all goes well.

I'm reading a book that often talks about thanking God even when circumstances seem to warrant anything but appreciation. But, if we truly look at life, there is always something for which we can be grateful. Just the fact that we have our faith to fall back on and the ability to talk to God when things don't go right, is sufficient reason to be thankful. I just have to remember that we sometimes learn more from negative situations than from positive ones.

Romans 8:28 states: "And we know that in all things God works for the good56 of those who love him, who have been called57 according to his purpose."   Thessalonians 5:18 also states: "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

So there you have it - God wants us all to be thankful when things go well and also when they do not. I remind myself that many times God has made lemonade from my troubles which were lemons. But, I'm just so incredibly happy when things go my way like they did Saturday. Maybe that's giving me a little glimpse of what Heaven is really like - not just occasionally, but every day.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Appreciating our Heritage

Among the books I'm currently reading is one about Christianity's early martyrs. It's a book that I know one of my sisters will never read because she has difficulty even watching the crucifixion scenes so prevalent around Easter.

Although persecution still exists in various parts of the world, for not just Christianity, I think it's easy to forget the sacrifices that others have made to bring our faith to us. After reading some of the tortures and death accounts endured by Christian martyrs in the centuries following Jesus' resurrection, I found myself asking God in prayer to thank them for keeping my religion alive.

I don't want to go into detail about their sacrifices, but let's just say that beheading may have been the easiest of what some experienced. The trials and tribulations of their lives under persecution often made me grimace, and I was grateful to learn of their fates through words rather than a depiction of their suffering. Like many, it’s impossible for me to watch the crucifixion of Jesus without pain and tears.

I like to think that my faith is unwavering, but it leaves the question of: How much could I endure of pain and suffering? If early Christianity depended upon me, would I have had the courage and fortitude shown by the martyrs?

The answer, I think, is that their strength had to come from God, the same God who abides with us through our difficulties which pale in comparison. For whatever God asks me to do, I have to believe his promise in Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful;1 he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.2 But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I’m thinking there couldn’t be any greater temptation than to say you disavow what you believe in when confronted with such horrific punishment. No man would alone have the strength, so it must have come from the divine. (As a Stephen Minister, I also learned this is the verse most erroneously misinterpreted as, “God never gives you anything more than you can handle.”)

I will never take Jesus’ sacrifice as anything but with profound, humbling, sincere and eternal gratitude, and now I can no longer forget the importance of the early Christian martyrs’ sacrifices either. I am truly grateful to them for allowing God to use their lives in the most challenging way to bring my faith to me.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Life's Little Bumps

Have you ever been so frustrated and upset over something that you're happy no one is around because you know just how unpleasant you would be? Silly question. I guess we could all probably answer yes to that one.

I'm fairly laid back about many things, but over some things, I do obsess. For anyone who has read my first book, Christmas a Season for Angels, the one true story in it describes a scene between my late husband and myself.

I was frustrated that our insurance company wasn't responding fast enough to one of his hospital bills. After about the fourth time of my bringing it up, he took the paper from my hand, threw it on the floor, and jumped up and down on it. Looking at my startled expression, he calmly asked, "Have we run it into the ground enough yet?"

What's the best medicine for frustration, or at least for me? I think it's laughter, and my husband knew that even before we both broke out laughing, I could finally quit obsessing and handle the matter the next day. God certainly gave Steve to me for that and many other reasons.

Now, without Steve to humor and temper me, I had one of those (fortunately rare) occasions as I described in the first sentence. Frustrated over some issues in the software while helping my sons with taxes, I had hit my limit. I had much to do, and a recent health issue had caused a great deal of backlog in other things I needed to do as well. 

When I finally decided to stop for the night, I took my blood pressure. It was 178/96, and it never went below 164 before going to bed 3 hours later. I'm also on meds to keep it low, so it shouldn't have been and isn't normally that high.

I read before bedtime, and one of the things I'm now reading is Sarah Young's Jesus Today. The lesson that night was more than appropriate. It spoke of turning to God when life's little (or even big) bumps occur, and remembering that He is ultimately in charge. Good thing, because God is the only one who could probably have stood to be around me because I think my attitude this time would have even challenged Steve!

I awoke in the morning feeling much calmer. Unfortunately, my blood pressure will still have to be addressed when I have my physical next week, but maybe my anger and frustration alerted me to the fact that it was still a bit out of control.

So I did take heed. The next time something upset me, I remembered to ask for God's help and then let Him worry about it...and it worked!