Thursday, December 31, 2020

Give Careful Thought to Your Ways

I love reading and have been developing the discipline since 2012 when a group of ladies at my church decided to start a book club.  Though the group eventually disbanded, my reading continued.  As I read more, I try to push myself into genres that are less comfortable for me.  I have found over the years that I struggle with older books for a variety of reasons, but at the same time I love having read the classics.  So this year I set out to read A Christmas Carol.  I bought a copy which just so happened to come in a collection of Dickens' holiday stories.  Who knew there were others?

I did not read them all, but I read The Chimes, which was definitely more challenging to enjoy because I was more unfamiliar with the story than A Christmas Carol.  One character stood out, a man who wanted to make sure that all his debts were paid before entering the New Year.  Did I say "wanted"?  I mean he was piously obsessed with the idea and judged anyone who might not be able to do the same.  Convicted, I managed to come to terms with the fact that I have a mortgage that won't be paid off in 2020 and one credit card carrying a balance into the new year.

But another idea struck me, that there may be non-financial areas that I am indebted, and these matters could be tended to before the clock strikes midnight tonight.  So here I am, at almost noon on December 31, working through my To Do List.

This year was unprecidented in many ways, none of which I need to rehash here.  However, thinking about the last 365 days of my life, I can honestly say that I have seen God move in ways I never expected.  My 2020 goal was to give careful thought to my ways from Haggai 1:5. When I chose this focus for 2020, I had no idea what the year had in store.  I mean, come on, did any of us?  However,  I've give a lot of thought to a lot of things because of the significant challenges faced in 2020. Most of my thought has been in how I do things.  And from time to time, expecially in some of the earlier times, I thought of how I want to do things (as in, how I want to do things when all of this is over). To date, I’ve given little thought to how I used to do things.  In fact, I don't think I would have even begun to think about how I used to do things if it hadn't been for two unrelated people who mentioned the idea to me relatively close together.

In considering past behavior, I’m not advocating that people can’t/don’t change. However, types of changes and reasons for those changes may be insightful. For example, if your youth was filled with nature and exploration, but you no longer participate in these activities, you may learn that you’ve given up on a pastime that helped you relax and stay healthy. Alternatively, you may have developed allergies and decided it was no longer worth the effort to prevent rashes and sneezing. Theses two responses are markedly different.  In considering how you used to do things you give yourself the opportunity to measure your changes - for better or worse.

So perhaps, the greatest lesson I've learned this year when it comes to considering my ways is the necessity of a holistic approach when doing so. I cannot just look at how things are.  Some seasons are unavoidably challenging (hello, 2020?).  I could not have done anything to prevent this year from playing out the way it did globally, though I could make choices to impact the way it played out personally.  I don't mean in my health necesarily, for we all know that sometimes a person is careful and still gets sick.  Moreso, I mean that I can chose to put my faith in God and seek Him in every situation.

It's funny that the words of Haggai seem more fitting today than when I first read them.  There seem no better words to end this year with than the ones with which I began:
     Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
     This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.  Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands...”
     Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you...” (Haggai 1:5-11,13 NIV)
Indeed, God is with us.  In the temple. On the mountain top.  And in the drought. God is with us. Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Advent 2020: Two Perspectives on Love

This post is part of a series of reflections on Advent.
You can read the first post here: 33 DAYS AND COUNTING.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
(Luke 2:7, NASB)

Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, NASB)

How to love, as with most things in life, is part instinct and part experience.  From an early age we are taught ways to express love.  Some families are affectionate, and some are not.  Some give lots of gifts, while others put more value in spending time together.  (For more information on ways to express love, I highly recommend The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.)

My family was never especially affectionate. I don't remember cuddling or holding hands, and hugs weren't frequent.  In fact, my sister has reminded me more than once of the time I refused to hug her.  One Christmas, as we left my grandmother's house, I began the always awkward process of saying goodbye to my extended family with hugs.  These weren't the warm embraces I now give friends I haven't seen in a while.  To me, these hugs were just what we were expected to do; they were obligation.  As I worked my way around the room, I arrived at my sister, who instead of hugging, I told "I don't hug people I see everyday."  My comment, though out of place, was true.  We didn't hug everyday.  And in my early adolescent years, I could not make sense of why that day should be any different.

I've heard many people speak of seeing the variety of people as a testament to God's creative nature.  I understand this sentiment, but it's challenging for me.  Sometimes it feels as if we are a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece needing to connect in just a certain way for things to work out.  Those who have connected, or begun the process of connecting with other pieces, are optimistic.  They see their purpose or at least feel they have one.  Those who are still laying in the pile, though no less important, see things negatively. Could it be that our ability to love and be loved hinges greatly on this point of view?

The Christmas story, too, offers the opportunity to viewed from two different perspectives. The story most know begins with a young woman singing out "my soul magnifies the Lord!" (Luke 1:46). It progresses with a trip across country and culminates with the sweet scent of a new born baby and the star that shined so brightly.  The other reading of the story is very different indeed. It begins with asking God "why me" followed by months of rumors surrounding the unwed soon-to-be mother. An inconvenient census leads this girl to birth her child while the stench of a barn fills her nostrils with each deep, labored breath in the darkness of that night.  It is either the story of homeless refugees who fled for their lives or the generosity of the strangers who welcomed them in. We see either gold, frankincense, and myrrh or tears, blood, and dirt.

My younger son suffers from abdominal migraines.  His episodes have been intermittent over the past five years with more than one trip to the emergency room when the attack was more severe.  I thank God that they seem to be occurring less frequently.  He has only had one minor issue this year, but this morning I woke early from the bathroom light shining down the hallway and under my bedroom door.  It had been on for a while, but in my sleepiness I could not make sense of it until I heard the all too familiar voice at my door "Mom!  I feel lightheaded" as he dropped to his knees, crawling back to the toilet.  He had already taken his medicine and waited uncomfortably for the pain to subside. I sat beside him in the bathroom, rubbing his back and handing him toilet paper to wipe his mouth.  When the worst of it had passed (meaning, after he had thrown up), I got him some water to wash out his mouth.  I made the couch comfortable for him to lay down and watch television.  I got him crackers and sat with him until he fell asleep again. There was little I could do for him except lay down my plans for the morning for his needs.  And, ultimately, I was able to still accomplish the other items I needed in a timely manner.

In John 15, when Christ said that laying our life down for someone was the greatest expression of love, it is understood that He was speaking of His coming death.  Yet, we are only able lay down our life in that final way once, and quite frankly, many of us do not get the chance to approach our death with enough forethought to be that significant.  However, we have opportunities every day to lay ourselves down in our living. In so doing we teach others what true love.  Even Christ had been modeled this kind of love from His earthly beginning. When Mary laid Him in the manger, she was also laying down her own life.  It was not an obligation; it was an honor. May we be as wise.

Friday, December 18, 2020

FMF: Conclude

          At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”
(John 7:25-27, NIV)

          Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
          The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes."
(John 9:28-30, NIV)

We've all been there, playing a mental game of chess and we've move three steps beyond what is actually happening. We jump to conclusions so fast we should get a gold medal.  Please tell me I'm not the only one.  In the book of John an interesting juxtaposition exists between two groups of people who conclude who Jesus is.  In John 7, the people of Jerusalem decide Jesus is not the Messiah because they know where Jesus came from.  Two chapters later, in John 9, the Pharisees conclude that Jesus is not the Messiah because they don't know where He came from.  As it was in John, so it is for us.  When it comes to God, we rarely know the entire story.  Even when we know a lot, we may lack sufficient knowledge to understand its significance. God is up to something that we could not guess.  He does things bigger and better than we can imagine.  So as we conclude 2020, I tip my hat to God for filling this years with things that we couldn't have imagined, and I pray that He allows me to retire from my Olympic caliber spiritual high jumping career.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Empty Bank Accounts and Hearts Filled with Joy

I praise the Lord because he advises me...
You will teach me how to live a holy life.
Being with you will fill me with joy;
at your right hand I will find pleasure forever.
(Psalm 16:7,11, NCV)

It happened unexpectedly, as it usually does. I checked my bank balance and saw an amount significantly lower than I expected. With only $15 and four days until pay day, this was problematic. So I gathered all the cash I could find and warned my husband not to use our debit card. That was Sunday.

I must admit that the event came with a mix of emotions. I was already aware that we had been looser with our spending than we should have been, but I was struggling to make changes to improve our situation. A little less take out and a little more effort in our kitchen would have gone a long way. This knowledge brought guilt and regret. It was definitely humbling.

On Monday morning I made a plan for making it to Wednesday, using only the cash I had scraped together. Breakfast was easy. We already had plenty of cereal and oatmeal at the house. Lunch would also be easy - leftovers or sandwiches. We aren't very creative for daytime meals, but I like for dinner to be special. Don't get me wrong, we don't pull out our china.  We don't even have real china. In fact, dinner is often eaten sitting in front of the television, but the dinner meal is the one that warms my heart. Using a grocery store card with an unknown amount and a $20 gift card to a BBQ restaurant, I felt like God had provided, and I knew it we'd make it without an inconvenience to my family.

The grocery store gift card was for a store I don't frequent, part of the reason it had gone unspent. When I arrived at the store I was pleasantly surprised to discover it had a $50 balance. Again, I felt certain that this was God's means of provision. Not only was I able to buy the items needed for veggie wraps for dinner that night, I bought several sides for dinner Tuesday night to accompany the $20 of tri tip I would order from the BBQ restaurant.

On Tuesday I was reminded that God's ways are better than my ways (Isaiah 55:8). About 10am I realized I hadn't checked the mail on Monday. I opened my mailbox to find two small Amazon deliveries, a Christmas card, and two other envelopes I hadn't expected to come.  I knew the first envelope would come eventually but did not expect it to come that quickly. It was a reimbursement from my college for my Spring semester fees. My heart was filled with joy thinking about when I had discovered that this money was owed me.  I still don't know how or why it happened.  The fee waiver must be requested, and I had not made a request.  But at this moment of need, it was exactly what I needed.  I was reminded that God's timing is always right, even in hardship (Ecclesiastes 8:6).

But what about that other letter? I opened it and saw a refund from my insurance company for overpayment of my premium.  I have no idea why this money came, as I guarantee you that I paid only the amount requested when I renewed my policy.  It was the third of three Christmas gifts that would help to restore joy until me.  Those gift cards and fee reimbursements were gold, frankincense, and myrrh to my spirit.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Exchanging Sorrow for Joy

You changed my sorrow into dancing.
You took away my clothes of sadness, and clothed me in happiness.
(Psalm 30:11, NCV)

Since 2009 a group of my friends from high school have gathered each December for a cookie exchange. The first few years we gathered in the small apartment of my friends who host, but over the years as there have been more spouses, children, and friends of friends who attend, we have moved the gathering to their clubhouse. Though the clubhouse is sizeable, we tend to remain close together, huddled over appetizers with drinks in our hands. Thanks to the thoughtful nature of our hosts, there is always warm apple cider for folks like me who don't drink - and plenty of alcohol to pour into it for my friends who do.

If I tried to write about all the moments that have brought me joy through the years, I'm not sure a post like this would contain it. For four of the six first years I won the Miss Congeniality Awards: Most Creative, Best Decorated, and the like.  I appreciated those awards, but I wanted my name engraved on the platter, an honor only given to the overall winner.  In year six I came close, but ultimately lost to the very cookie I had voted for.  We still laugh about that. I did finally win in year seven with a Cheesecake Cookie that remains a family favorite.

Though the event is fun, the judging is serious.  There are rules that must be followed to make sure the event remains a cookie exchange.  That means that no matter how delicious or beautiful your entry is, if it isn't baked it won't win.  This has been a hard lesson, especially in early years.  Judges won't be fooled by store bought cookies. And a chocolate chip cookie - no matter how perfect - just doesn't have what it takes.  When a person joins us for the first time, there's just no way to adequately prepare them for what is about to happen.

If I'm being honest, there have been years that were tremendously hard to attend. More than once I've sat in the parking lot a few extra moments before I entered event to make sure that the tears I had just cried were well hidden. Yet even in the hardest year, something special has always happened. My spirits are lifted simply by being with people who accept me. I never want to leave, but when I do, my face muscles hurt from laughing so much. My tears of sadness have been replaced with tears of laughter. I am covered with the perfume of all the friends who have hugged me... and some frosting.

This year so many of us need this kind of exchange. I understand why we won't be gathering and even respect the decision. But it doesn't stop my heart from longing to once again feel that kind of joy.  Instead, I sit here in the early morning light with a strong cup of coffee and leftover cookies thinking of them.  This one's for you, girls.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Advent 2020: Two Bundles of Joy

This post is part of a series of reflections on Advent.
You can read the first post here: 33 DAYS AND COUNTING.

Christmas 2006 was especially meaningful for me. I connected with the story of Christ's birth in a way  I never had before.  Like Mary, I was "great with child" (Luke 2:5, KJV). The idea of traveling across country or giving birth in a barn, though remote possibilities, seemed less festive and more concerning to me. Fortunately, neither became a reality, and I gave birth to my 9 pound, 14 ounce, two-week-early baby in the place and manner we had prepared for. Every birth story is special, including the two that are part of the Nativity in Scripture. Rightfully, we focus on the birth of Christ, but His birth is actually preceded by an equally amazing birth: the birth of John. Why is it so amazing? I'm glad you asked.

It Reminds us of the Error in Human Judgement
Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7, NIV)

We are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth with three primary pieces of information; they were righteous, they were childless, and they were old. All three are important to know about them because it sets the stage for the miracle that was about to occur. It was commonly believed that childlessness was the expression of God's punishment, as is similarly seen in John 9 when the disciples asked Jesus if it was a man or his parents whose sin caused his blindness. However, Luke's account makes it clear that their childlessness was not a result of God's wrath, instead stressing their holy qualities. Not only were they both from the family of priests, they had kept all God's laws - and kept them well. We read this story with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that, just like the blind man, "this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3, NASB).

It Reminds us that God Can Use any Tradition
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. (Luke 1:8-9, NIV)

My husband likes to tease me by calling me "Anthropologist Amie" when I share tidbits I learn about historical culture. Most of the information is useless, but it fascinates me. Anthropologist Amie would like to point out to you that the priests' tradition was drawing lots to decide who had temple duty. In my church's tradition we nominate leaders and let church members vote for key leadership roles. Is one better than the other? Voting is certainly more in line with our American culture, but it is clearly not the only way. This feels like a powerful fact in 2020, perhaps more than it has in any previous year.  Over the past nine months we have done many things differently in churches around the world.  Our traditions have swayed, shifted, and stopped, but God is not in the tradition.  The tradition is just one way to express our adoration to God.

It Reminds us of God's Timing
But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John." .... Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:13,18, NIV)

How long had Zechariah prayed for a child?  Perhaps a more interesting question is, was he still praying for one?  Because Zechariah responds in the way he does, it sounds like he lost all hope of having a child. The Greek word that translates "be sure" in the NIV is GINOSKO, and it expresses a deep, intimate knowledge.  For Seinfeld fans, it's not too different than the Hebrew word YADA, as in He knew his wife.  In fact, in verse 34, Mary asks the Angel how she could be pregnant because she has never known (GINOSKO) a man.  I am not suggesting that Zechariah was asking the angel how to have sex with his wife, but instead, it shows the doubt Zechariah had that this would be something he would see up close and personal in his own life.  By earthly measures, his opportunity had passed, and Zechariah was well aware of that.  However, as the Bible models over and over again, God doesn't just do things, He does them at the right time.  If God had answered Zechariah's prayers at any other point in his life, John would not have been able to be who he was in Christ's life.

It Reminds of the Role we Play
After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:24-25, NIV)

Scholars can debate whether Zechariah played an active role in getting Elizabeth pregnant. Though God's miraculous power does not limit Him from enabling Elizabeth from getting pregnant without the help of her husband, scripture only tells us that one of these pregnancies (Mary's, not Elizabeth's) was by divine impregnation.  I choose to believe that Elizabeth got pregnant the old fashioned way. Zechariah and Elizabeth worked to see the promise fulfilled, but they gave credit to God for accomplishing it.

How many things in my life have I failed to give God credit for because I see the obvious work that I put into accomplishing them?  Too many to count.

So as I turn my eyes past Advent, to look at whatever may come my way, I choose to give God the credit now, even before life's next bundle of joy has been conceived in me.

The next post in this series can be read here: TWO PERSPECTIVES ON LOVE.

Friday, December 11, 2020

FMF: Beyond

Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure. (Genesis 41:49, NIV)

It's peace week here in the Advent* world, so it's only fitting that the Five Minute Friday prompt would be "Beyond." This week many believers have studied peace beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7).  It's a hard concept for many, myself included.  I often think that God's peace is for my benefit.  In part, of course, it is.  God loves His children and does not want us to be troubled (John 14:27), but God's peace is not like the world's peace.

In the story of Joseph, the peace given to him - through enslavement, imprisonment, and ultimately success - was not so that he had a fat resume or felt good about himself when he laid his head down at night.  In Genesis 50:20 Joseph reveals what he himself could only have learned from God: His difficulties and his successes were intended by God to save many lives.  Knowing that must have allowed Joseph peace.

If we, like Joseph, know that God intends good for us - even when others mean harm - we too can experience His peace.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

*You can read my 2020 Advent reflections by starting with this post here: 33 DAYS AND COUNTING.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Servant Leadership

Jesus called all the followers together and said, “You know that the rulers of the non-Jewish people love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority. But it should not be that way among you. Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant." (Matthew 20:25-26, NCV)

It's recently entered my mind that I'm not always a great leader.  I have a natural gifting for organization that I have worked to develop throughout my life, but when it comes to people - Lord, help me!  First of all, I'm frustrated easily.  I find myself wondering why a person would do, or not do, something the way they did it.  This is problematic because, as my husband has told me, I have a unique way of looking at things.  Sometimes my perspective is good, and sometimes it's not as good.  I don't understand people who are perpetually late, maybe in part because I am impatient. And I get tired of having the same conversation over and over and over again without seeing any change come of it. I clearly have a lot to learn.

Today I watched my boss walk away from the list of things he had planned to drive a forklift.  Keep in mind, my boss is a pastor. He does have many years experience as a forklift operator, but those years were also many ago. He set aside his plans to use the skills he has to get a job done - a job that few will know he did.

But I saw.

And God saw.

Inspired by his example, I did a job no one enjoys but everyone appreciates once done:  I cleaned the toilet in our office. Today toilets, tomorrow feet.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Advent 2020: Peace and Two Dreams

This post is part of a series of reflections on Advent.
You can read the first post here: 33 DAYS AND COUNTING.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Today we look for peace. Scripture tells us that peace is something we need to put effort into obtaining (2 Peter 3:14) but also something that is given to us by God (John 14:27).  Jesus is Prince over a kingdom of Peace which never stops growing (Isaiah 9:6-7), but when I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that I don't always feel the ever-expansive peace of Christ.

The inclusion of the wise men in our modern telling of the nativity is interesting.  Despite modern depictions, the wise men didn't present their gifts to the Christ Child while He was still laying in the manger.  When they saw the star that signified His birth, they travelled from the East, stopped in Jerusalem, and met with the King... all before continuing on to Bethlehem. In fact, because Herod called for babies under two years of age to be killed, some believe Jesus could have been almost two before the wise men came to Him. Regardless of when, Scripture tells us that they presented Christ with those now iconic gifts - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men had done what they set out to do, and they were ready to go home, "But God warned the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they returned to their own country by a different way" (Matthew 2:12, NCV).

Scripture seems to be full of accounts of people who received a message from God by dream or vision. In the next verse - literally, the next verse - another dream comes as a warning. This time, however, it is Joseph who is the recipient.
After they left, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, because Herod is starting to look for the child so he can kill him. Stay in Egypt until I tell you to return.” So Joseph got up and left for Egypt during the night with the child and his mother. (Matthew 2:13-14, NCV)
Why is it that God once spoke so often through dreams, but now it seems that He no longer does? First of all, we have something better than dreams.  We have the Spirit. We are taught that the Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), guides us (John 16:13), convicts us of sin (John 16:8), gives us power (Acts 1:8), and even tells us what to say (Luke 12:12). These are some of the things that were once accomplished by dreams. However, I think there is a second fact: we don't think that God speaks through dreams. Why would God speak in a way we are unwilling to hear?

What little faith I have! Of course God still speaks through dreams. Is my memory that short? I had a series of dreams about ten years ago that were unsettling. They weren't scary, but they shook my faith. I will admit, I don't think I responded in the way God wanted.  I suppose in that regard, the dreams did scare me because they required to do something that was well beyond my comfort level.  God, forgive me for not having more faith in that situation.

That brings me to this, and it may be just for me, but I feel like I need to write it all the same. If God speaks through dreams, historically and in my own life, I must respond appropriately to God-initiated dreams. A good friend and spiritual mentor recently shared with me a dream he had about me that he couldn't shake. He believed it was more than a dream, that it was a vision. The dream was too big, and would be too painful if I believed it and it did not come to be, so I pushed it away.

Peace is not always found where we thought it would be. The wise men went a different way. Joseph picked up his family and ran. What you or I will have to do, God only knows. We find peace in listening to God and heeding His warnings - sometimes from Scripture, sometimes from counsel, and sometimes from dreams.

The next post in this series can be read here: TWO BUNDLES OF JOY.

Friday, December 4, 2020

FMF: Present

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11, NIV)

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6, NIV)

On a table in my living room sit two pieces of art created by kids.  Last year, my older son presented me with ceramic bowls he made in a pottery class, and a few years before that my younger son presented me with a wire sculpture he made. They are both blue, and they were both presented to me as gifts, but they bear no other similarities.

In the old testament, believers were given precise instructions as to what they were to present to God.  Grain, oil, and animals were some of the items presented to God.  But even then, the law made allowances. If a person did not have one thing, another could be presented to God in its place.

Though the way we make offerings to God has changed, He still only expects us to present Him with what we have.  Like my children, God does not compare our gifts to others' gifts.  I would not have criticized my son's sculpture because it was not a bowl any more than I would have rejected my other son's bowl because it was not a sculpture. The beauty of giving to God is that He only asks us to present to Him what He has already given to us.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Advent 2020: Hope and Two Divorces

This post is part of a series of reflections on Advent.
You can read the first post here: 33 DAYS AND COUNTING.

It's the first Sunday of Advent, and I'd like to kick of this special time of year by talking about divorce.  Merry Christmas.  Ho ho ho.

Though my parents were married more than forty years when my father died, both of their parents were divorced.  Technically, my mother's parents were only legally separated, but they were functionally divorced with no intent to reconcile. My father's parents on the other hand were legally divorced. As the story has been told to me, my parents had married Thanksgiving weekend, and it was their first Christmas that my grandfather announced he wanted to divorce my grandmother. This was a decade before I was born, and obviously not one of the stories you ask to be told at bedtime, so some of the details are missing. Growing up, when I would think of my grandfather coming home one day in December to tell his wife of twenty years that he met someone new, my heart grew sad for my grandmother. My grandfather would stay married to his second wife until he died almost fifty years later, and my grandmother did everything in her power to avoid them. Even though she herself would go on to have a "special friend," they never married. It seemed she never could move past her identity as a divorced person.

The funny thing about our disassociation between divorce and Christmas, is that the Biblical Christmas story actually describes a couple's intent to divorce. Mary and Joseph's story is salacious. The couple was technically engaged, but legally committed to each other when the unexpected happened:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19, NIV)
Joseph doesn't always get much attention when we read about Christ's birth.  Like many dads, Joseph lived in the shadows of everything else going on around him: angels, shepherds, wise men, a government census, and the plot to kill his wife's child. It's easy to to miss Joseph in the grandeur of the story, but initially Joseph was struggling to find balance between his faith and love. In verse 19 we read that Joseph intended to quietly divorce Mary because he was "faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace."  As He often does, God had other plans.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-25, NIV)

The first week of Advent is about hope. Joseph found himself in a situation without hope, and so he planned to resolve the problem as best he could. He was going to "send Mary away secretly" as the NASB translates verse 19.  When God sent His angels to Joseph, the situation changed; Joseph had a reason to hope. He could live in the hope that his wife had not been unfaithful to him.  He could live in the hope that her child was the promised Savior.  Let's just be real here, he could even hope for the day he would consummate his marriage. Because Joseph chose to live in the hope God offered him, he was part of the greatest story ever told.  All because he allowed himself to have hope.

If this post finds you, like Joseph, trying to make the best of a situation you never anticipated... look for hope.  We cannot always immediately have that thing we are waiting for, but we can always wait in hope for it.  Romans 8:24-25 (read it HERE) reminds us that hope only exists in absence.

Hope beyond reason.

Hope beyond measure.

The next post in this series can be read here: PEACE AND TWO DREAMS.

Friday, November 27, 2020

FMF: Grateful

...and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18, NCV)

Pies are a terrible American tradition. There are too many ways they can go wrong. Yesterday, as my friend cut into my family's traditional cranberry pie, she remarked how it reminded her of crème brulee. You know, crunchy on the top and wet underneath. I assure you, it was not suppose to be like that.

So I did the only thing I knew to do.  I grabbed that pie and threw it back in the oven, and then I waited - impatiently - until finally, it was as good as it was going to get.  To be honest, I'm not sure if I even made it better.  It was still soft in the center, but now the edges were burnt.

Even though it wasn't the way I'd envisioned it, it was pie time.  My #nailedit worthy pie returned to its spot among the perfectly executed classics: apple, pecan, and pumpkin. Yes, we had four pie varietals at my house yesterday.

This year I struggled with Thanksgiving.  I always struggle with holiday, but this year was especially hard.  Just like my cranberry pie, too many things feel raw in the middle and burnt on the edges. But this is what I have to work with. I pray that, like my cranberry pie, God allows me to be grateful for the good parts of life instead of focusing on the rest.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Advent 2020: 33 Days and Counting

Thirty three. There are only thirty three days until Christmas. Every year, when I hear someone announce the days until Christmas, it freaks me out a little. Even in the simplest of years, there are always so many things to do. Certainly 2020 has scaled back my December plans. Four parties that I attend each year have been cancelled, and to be honest, I'm not even upset about it. There's just something about a countdown that freaks me out.

I must be one of the few who feel this way.  Christmas countdown calendars seem to be everywhere this year, and I don't just mean the cheap cardboard ones with terrible chocolates inside of them.  I mean beautiful, wooden creations that are meant to be used from year to year and that could last a family a life time, with drawers large enough to hold a Hot Wheels car, a Lindt truffle, or a golf ball.

In some Christian traditions, the season preparing for Christmas is celebrated uniquely.  We call the season Advent.  Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas with each week focusing on Hope, Peace, Joy, or Love.  Different Christian traditions have other focuses, but this is what we celebrate.  Advent means "to come," and there are two things we celebrate the coming of: Christ's birth and Christ's return.

Christ's Birth
The story of Christ's birth is likely well known to even non-believers thanks to Linus' monologue in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  A frustrated Charlie Brown asks if there is anyone who knows what Christmas is really all about, and Linus recites:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14, KJV)
I must admit that more than once I've heard Linus' voice when Luke 2 has been read in a church service, and it always puts a smile on my face. However, the story of Christ's birth actually begins in Luke 1 with the angel visiting Zechariah who would father John the Baptist, and it goes through Luke 2:39 with the story of Jesus being presented in the temple (not to be confused with Jesus being "forgotten" at the temple, which is the very next story in Luke's gospel account). Matthew 1-2 also tells the account of Christ's birth, but with different details than Luke. Matthew begins with Christ's lineage and concludes with the young family fleeing to Egypt for safety.  Both Luke and Matthew tell the most important part - the birth of Christ.

This is the image of Jesus we usually hold onto at Christmas.  As anyone who has cared for a newborn knows, He was totally dependent on His mother to feed Him and care for Him.  When our first son was born, we acted like a strong wind would break him.  In that same way, we like to imagine Him in Mary's arms while Mary and Joseph look lovingly into His face.

Christ's Return
For the believer, there is a second "coming" that we celebrate at Advent.  We believe that Christ will come again, as He told His disciples in Matthew 24, but this part of the story does not the paint the same images of Him as His birth does:
At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the peoples of the world will cry. They will see the Son of Man coming on clouds in the sky with great power and glory.  He will use a loud trumpet to send his angels all around the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from every part of the world. (Matthew 24:30-31, NCV)
Instead of fragility and need, Christ's second coming will be with "great power and glory."  It is both a promise and a warning.  So let us approach Christmas this year with a broader perspective, not just focusing on the Christ Child but also on the Son of Man.

The next post in this series can be read here: HOPE AND TWO DIVORCES.

Friday, November 20, 2020

FMF: Grief

Truly, truly I say to you that you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy! Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one is going to take your joy away from you.
(John 16:20-22, NASB)

Christians do not mourn like the rest of the world.  No where in Scripture is that more evident, than in John 16.  Jesus tells his disciples that He will be leaving them, something they could not understand.  Jesus moves beyond trying to explain what will happen to how they will feel.  They would mourn even though the world would rejoice.  However, for those disciples and for the modern believer, there is hope in grief because we know the sorrow will not last.  There will come a day when we are reunited with Christ and we experience a joy that cannot be taken from us.

Earthly joy is often limited.  We might be happy about something that happens, but we restrain ourselves because we don't want to lose sight of reality.  Or, we understand that something that caused us joy may have caused someone else grief.  The last year has been a time of balanced joy and grief for many.  One day we're jumping with joy and the next day we're punched in the face by grief.  Some times those days were the same days.

If our faith is secure in Christ, we are able to push through the pain (pun intended) like a woman in labor to the beauty that will soon be ours: Not just any child, but the Christ Child in all His glory.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Psalm 29

In my last post (Read it here: Psalm 23), I wrote that Jesus' sheep know His voice. Do you ever wonder what God’s voice actually sounds like? Maybe deep and booming.  Maybe high and squeaky.  Maybe He has an accent. In the Bible, God’s voice is described different ways. In 1 Kings it’s like a gentle wind or whisper (Read more here: Waiting for the Whisper). In Revelation, it’s like a trumpet. In Psalm 29 David describes God’s voice seven ways:

God's Voice is Above All
Psalm 29:3 says “The voice of the Lord is heard over the waters.” This reminds us that God created the entire world because in the story of creation, Genesis 1 starts by saying that God’s Spirit was moving over the waters.

God's Voice is Beautiful
Psalm 29:4 says “The voice of the Lord is majestic.” When you hear the voice of someone you love, doesn’t it sound good? David loved God’s voice and thought it was beautiful.

God's Voice is Big
Psalm 29:5 says “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees.” Cedar trees were thought to be the biggest trees in the world. I’ve never seen a cedar, but I do know that in California we have some of the biggest trees in the world. Some are so big that a car can drive through the middle of it. God’s voice could break a tree, even one that big!

God's Voce is Fast
Psalm 29:7 says “The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.” Have you ever seen a lightning storm? Lightning can move 200,000 miles per hours. That means that if lightning were moving around the world, it could go around seven times in one second!

God's Voice is Working
Psalm 29:8 says “The voice of the Lord shakes the desert.” When I think about the desert, I think about empty places. God is everywhere, even places that we don’t know or understand. (Read more here: Shake.)

God's Voice Changes Things
Psalm 29:9 says “The voice of the Lord twists the oak trees.” Have you ever seen a Joshua tree? Most trees grow straight up, but the Joshua trees grow twisted because the wind blows on them so much. Just like the wind can shape a tree, God’s voice can shape us if we listen to it.

God's Voice is Powerful
I think God’s voice is best described in Psalm 29:4. It says “The voice of the Lord is powerful.” Based on the first six descriptions of God’s voice, I hope you agree that God’s voice is powerful. 

There’s something really cool about all that power that God has. God is powerful, but He uses his power to help His people. Psalm 29:11 says "The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord blesses his people with peace." He gives us strength when we need it. I don’t mean physical strength (well, maybe), but I mean He gives us faith to get through hard times. With His help we can make it through anything. And He gives peace during those hard times.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23, NLT

I feel the need to make a short confession before I begin writing today: I don't love Psalm 23. I'm a little uncomfortable writing this because, after all, it is God's Word. In that regard, I love the chapter for what it teaches me in the same way I love any other chapter of the Bible. However, I don't have the same deep regard for it that some do. Quite frankly, it's not the chapter I turn to when I need comforting, and I hope it's not read at my funeral.

That being said, for many people it is a special blessing. It might be one of the only passages they have memorized. They may read it and find assurance in God. This is one of the great things about God's Word. It speaks to each of us as needed. Who knows, one day I may feel differently about Psalm 23.

One thing that I do love about this passage is that it reveals David's roots. Before David wrote the psalms, before he was a king, and even before he fought Goliath, David was a shepherd. Clearly his faith was formed out in those pastures. He spent a lot of time in fields taking care of sheep which helped him to see how God took care of him.

This idea of God as shepherd was shared by Jesus. In fact, Jesus called himself the good shepherd. In John 10, He said that:
  • He knows his sheep.
  • His sheep know Him.
  • His sheep know His voice and do what He says.
  • He will give up His life for His sheep.

I know we are already aware that Jesus often spoke in codes, so let's break the code of this passage.  Every time Jesus said “sheep” He really meant people who believe in Him. The implications of John 10 are awesome: 
  • Jesus knows His people.
  • His people know Jesus.
  • His people know his voice and do what He says.
  • Jesus gave up his life for His people. 
That IS a good shepherd. I'm so thankful that God knows me and that I know Him. Baaaa....

A Little Extra For You: Last year I worked through Lysa TerKeurst's Finding I Am as part of a Bible study group.  In it, TerKeurst studies Jesus' seven I AM statements, including the one I've written about today.  You may be encouraged by it, as I was.

Friday, November 6, 2020

FMF: Ahead

"After hearing the king, they went on their way; and behold, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on AHEAD of them until it came to a stop over the place where the Child was to be found. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy."
(Matthew 2:9-10, NASB)

"And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you... "
(Jeremiah 29:13-14a, NASB).

It might feel a little early to be reading a part of the Christmas story, but that's what makes this passage so wonderful. Most of the wise men's time following the Christ-star was not Christmas.  (I hate to totally destroy your ideas about the nativity scene, but, if you were not already aware, it was likely long after Christ's birth that the wise men reached Him.)

The wise men knew the star would take them to "the King of the Jews" (2:2), but I don't think that meant they understood the journey's end. When we read Matthew 2 carefully, we see that the wise men did not go to Herod's palace to find their King; they only went to Jerusalem. However, the town was so stirred by their arrival that the news made it to Herod, and Herod called them to him secretly (2:7). But the wise men were not seeking Herod, and, eventually, the Christ-star led them to the King.

When we follow the Christ-stars in our life, we don't see the whole picture.  We might only see one bright idea that we hold onto for a long time.  If we continue to follow what God has placed ahead of us, we will find something better than we imagined: Sometimes great adventures. Sometimes foreign countries. Sometimes royal palaces. But we always find Him.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Friday, October 23, 2020

FMF: Disappoint

In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed....
Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
(Psalm 22:4-5,11, NASB)

God does not disappoint, but sometimes He delivers in unexpected ways.

Let me tell you about my friend Sam.  He is in the process of becoming a pastor, but he also works at a cemetery.  He marries and buries, as all pastors do, in the most literal of ways.

One day he found himself working graveside for the funeral of a man who had killed his wife and child before killing himself.  The man's parents sat graveside and waited.  No one showed up, not even the pastor who was supposed to officiate the ceremony.

Where were this man's friends?  Where were the parent's neighbors?  Where was the "man of God" who was supposed to be ministering to them?  They had all disappointed.

Enter Sam.

I picture the scene like this.  In his maintenance uniform, he approaches the mourning couple.  He tells them that he works for the cemetery, but that he is also a pastor.  He then proceeds to read Scripture with them and pray for them.

Sam would probably squirm if he knew I was writing about him today.  He'd probably squirm just knowing his good deed had been told to me.  But in writing this story, I am not really bragging about Sam.  I am bragging about Sam allowing God to work through him.

That day he was God's representative, and God did not disappoint.  Even when everyone else did.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Happy Birthday to My Son, and His Hair

Mini Golf at the Mall of America.
You can't see his hair, but I promise it's there.
There are some things a person never forgets.

One of them, for me, was that Monday morning 18 years ago when I woke up with a terrible feeling I had never experienced before: I was in labor.

That eight mile drive to the hospital felt like a million, but we made it. By the end of the day I was holding a beautiful baby boy with a dark brown comb-over. Months later we'd finally get brave enough to cut his hair and find underneath those dark brown locks was blonde hair. And, eventually, that hair would gradually change back to a medium brown. Of course, one day he will grey or bald, depending on whose genes dominate.

The story of my son's life reaches far beyond his hair, though his hair hides a lot of stories.

There was the time a barber tried to calm him down by giving him a lollipop before the haircut was over.  Pro tip: don't do that.  Kids don't like hair on their lollipops.

There was the time I tried to cut his hair the night before school starts, but I forgot to put the attachment on the razor.  I'm glad mohawks were in style that year.

In the big picture, hair is nothing.  Yet God pays attention to even the number of hairs on our heads:
Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7, NASB)
Today, as that beautiful baby boy legally becomes a man, I can't help but thank God for all the years He let me wash, comb, (pay others to) cut his hair, and love him the best I could.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Who Stole my KitKats and Faith in Humanity?

“You must not steal." (Exodus 20:15, NCV)

I sometimes hear people refer to the Ten Commandments as a basic law of morality.  To this I wonder: have you ever met a person before?  I mean, seriously, people are terrible.  No, not always, of course.  Sometimes we do these really awesome things, but then other times... yikes!

Yet, we retain this idea that people are basically good. For example, most people would say it is wrong to steal. Most would even say that they don't steal because it is wrong. Unfortunately, as I learned again this week, one's ideals do not always match their actions. People steal.

I've had things stolen from me plenty of times. When I was a young girl, someone stole my Glo Worm. I forgot it somewhere and went back for it that evening, but it was already gone. In 2002 someone stole my car. My husband and I were out of town for a work conference, and one evening my husband somehow forgot the keys in our car with the windows down. This is quite uncharacteristic for him, and in the middle of the night he realized his error.  He went out to to get his keys, but the car was already gone. A few years ago I watched an elderly gentleman reach into an open drawer, remove a pair of scissors, and walk away with them. Most recently? Last week someone stole my KitKats.

To be clear, I'm not talking about a KitKat bar. I'm not talking about two KitKat bars. I'm talking about two cases of KitKats, 72 bars, which I had just purchased for $50.

Are they easily replaced? Sure.

Was it a valuable lesson? I guess so.

Do I feel personally violated? Definitely.

I guess my first mistake was assuming that because my church has been closed for six months that people do not enter the building. The doors get left open as we move from building to building in the course of a day's work, and, of course, people have keys. I suppose I got too comfortable, and I made a bad decision.

I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. My husband rolls his eyes when I rationalize: maybe they thought it belonged to them, maybe they thought it was abandoned, maybe they thought it was going to waste. In this situation, there is no way to rationalize someone taking these candy bars.  That's what makes it so frustrating. This wasn't Jean Valjean stealing bread to feed his family. These were KitKat bars. Gimme a break! (See what I did there?) To me, experiences like this prove the Ten Commandments are such a lofty code of conduct.

Writing to believers who were already familiar with the Ten Commandments, the New Testament author James expounds:
A person who follows all of God’s law but fails to obey even one command is guilty of breaking all the commands in that law. The same God who said, “You must not be guilty of adultery,” also said, “You must not murder anyone.” So if you do not take part in adultery but you murder someone, you are guilty of breaking all of God’s law. (James 2:10-12, NCV)
So, in the midst of my feelings of hurt, anger, and frustration, I must remember that I too have broken God's law.  I am no better than the person sitting somewhere 72 KitKats richer.

Friday, October 16, 2020

FMF: Hold

So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men and go and fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill, holding the walking stick of God in my hands.” Joshua obeyed Moses and went to fight the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites would win the fight, but when Moses put his hands down, the Amalekites would win. Later, when Moses’ arms became tired, the men put a large rock under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands—Aaron on one side and Hur on the other. They kept his hands steady until the sun went down. So Joshua defeated the Amalekites in this battle.
(Exodus 17:9-13, NCV)

In the battles of life, we all have different positions.  Some of us fight in the trenches, and some of us coach from the sidelines.  It's likely that at different times in our lives we will hold a variety of positions.

Moses' job in fighting the Amalekites was definitely unique.  He was the team stick-holder.  Baton twirler?  Nope, he held up a stick.  Stick up, team wins.  Stick down, team loses.

As time passed, Moses grew tired, as anyone would.  This is not unexpected, but when it happens at a bad time - say when you are fighting a war - it can certainly be discouraging. Fortunately, Moses came prepared.  He brought with him two partners, Aaron and Hur.

Aaron and Hur saw Moses' needs and tended to them.  They placed a rock under him so he could sit down.  Then, they literally carried his burden.  They each stood on either side of him and helped him lift his hands to God.  Together the battle would be won.

In my life, the Aarons and Hurs are the friends who choose to stay near me, to go to the mountain top with me.  They say: your burden is my burden; we will get through this together.

Leave me a comment telling me who the Aarons and Hurs are in your life.  I'd love for you to call them out by name.  And then, if you are feeling brave, let them know how they hold you up.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Ever Changing Church

When I stopped working in youth ministry over a decade ago we had just entered into a technological age that would change our future. The question of how to handle teens and their cell phones was a significant, albeit not life shattering, issue being faced. These teens had not grown up with a cell phone in their hands, though they were receiving them early in life, and so techniques like setting a basket at the door where everyone left their phones worked. It was a mostly effective solution to a new problem. As long as there has been a church, there have been problems needing to be worked out.  This is clearly evidenced in Acts 6:
The number of followers was growing. But during this same time, the Greek-speaking followers had an argument with the other followers. The Greek-speaking widows were not getting their share of the food that was given out every day. The twelve apostles called the whole group of followers together and said, “It is not right for us to stop our work of teaching God’s word in order to serve tables. So, brothers and sisters, choose seven of your own men who are good, full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. We will put them in charge of this work. Then we can continue to pray and to teach the word of God.”

The whole group liked the idea, so they chose these seven men: Stephen (a man with great faith and full of the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (a man from Antioch who had become a follower of the Jewish religion). Then they put these men before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God was continuing to spread. The group of followers in Jerusalem increased, and a great number of the Jewish priests believed and obeyed.
(Acts 6:1-7, NCV)
For the church in Acts 6, the problem was more than logistical.  The church was struggling to understand how people of many traditions (here, Greek and Hebrew) could (or if they even could) come together to truly be one body of believers.  So the leaders of the church came up with a simple plan: have some other men oversee the solution to the problem.  They delegated.

If you have ever worked with a person who used "delegation" as a means to pass off anything they don't want to do, please don't think that's what the church leaders were doing.  They were plenty busy with their work - a very effective work by the ways their numbers were growing - and so they thought it would be best to let another group of leaders oversee food distribution.

It's easy to think that leaders might have considered this work beneath them.  Reading that they didn't want to "serve tables" sounds almost dismissive.  However, by looking at who they chose to do this new work, we can see that it was something they considered essential and important.  Of the seven men, two have significant descriptions. First, Stephen is described as "a man with great faith and full of the Holy Spirit."  Why would you chose this kind of man to be a DoorDash driver food server unless it was a faith-related activity?  You wouldn't.  Clearly, the work being done was to feed their spirits as much as their stomachs. Second, Nicolas was Greek.  He would be a familiar face to the widows they served and would be able to resolve any miscommunication that arose.  He was greasing the wheels, in the best possible way. All seven of these men are described as good, faith filled, and wise.

In this case, church leaders didn't let tradition blind them to need.  They responded with How can we fix this? instead of But it's never been a problem before.   As the church grows and as times change, new problems arise that have serious implications; I think most of us have learned that this year.  However, when we've moved past the problems we faced in 2020, there will be new problems we couldn't have anticipated.  In some ways that is encouraging because it allows us to have hope.  We can look back and see that we've overcome many things before, so we can overcome whatever comes before us next.

Friday, October 9, 2020

FMF: Help

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
(Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

"You do not have because you do not ask God."
(James 4:23b, NIV)

I'm not good at asking for help.  I never have been.

About fifteen years ago my husband and I went camping with another couple.  We chose a location that was only a few hours from our home and near a moderate size river.  One afternoon we were playing in the river.  My husband, who cannot swim, stayed close to the shore along with our friends.  In my confidence I wandered out a little farther.

There was this strange moment that I still remember and, very likely, always will. I was suddenly uncertain if I retained control of my body.  The river was stronger than I had given it credit.

From his safety near the shore, my husband must have recognized a look in my eyes that even I did not.  "Are you ok?" he asked.

"Yes," I told him, trying to convince myself as much as him.

I was embarrassed by my need for help.  Embarrassed.

Somehow, and maybe only through the grace of God, I got back to safety.  I was shaken, but not swept away. I thought about what could have happened if I had been swept down stream. I immediately knew my response had been foolish. Though my husband was no swimmer, there were three adults who could have prevented what literally could have killed me.  They could have helped me if I had asked.

From time to time we find ourselves in the middle of the rivers of life.  We get caught up in situations we didn't expect, and we are unwilling to ask for help. May we all be a little less foolish next time.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Psalm 22

I woke to the first cool moment I had had in 36 hours. At 5 AM it was already 73°. For this lifelong Southern Californian, warm summers are no surprise. But yesterday? It had been one of those nearly unbearable days for this too practical girl who long before had decided having an air-conditioning unit put in her home was too expensive because we only use it a few weeks each year. I stand by my decision even though I hate myself each time we have a heat wave. So there I was, in my bed after a miserable night, trying to capture the last few minutes of sleep-like activity. I finally gave up pretending and headed to my kitchen to begin the early morning process of opening all the windows and turning on the fans to try to capture as much cool air as possible. As I pulled back the curtains I noticed the sun's red glow. I thought of a conversation had just days before in Bible study about how God‘s fingerprints can be seen in the beauty of nature. As I continued to open windows I couldn’t help but notice, again and again, the sunlight's deep red hue on such an overcast day. By 8 o’clock I was ready to leave the house to run an errand. It was at that time that I noticed the unmistakable sign that I had missed that morning: White ash covering my dark car. The overcast skies and red sun were not just a fluke of nature; they were a result of wildfire season.  I had missed the signs.

It's not hard to miss signs in the Bible.  If we read the Bible, we may read verse by verse instead of chapter by chapter, and even then sometimes a chapter is not enough to study at one time.  We tend to spend long periods of time considering small details instead of investigating how those details relate to the larger text. Before I began my journey through the Psalms, I often skipped them because of their poetic nature.  It's not that I thought they were unimportant; they were less preferred text.

As a result, I missed a key detail of the Psalms.  I was already familiar with the idea that Jesus talked about the Psalms, but never realized how much the Psalms talked about Jesus.  For those of you needing a brief history: The Psalms were written between 500 and 1,000 years before Jesus was born. They were essentially a songbook for the Jewish people. They would read and sing Psalms when they were together. The Psalms helped them to celebrate happy times and to feel better when they were hurting. 

Most believers know that when Jesus was on the cross He said some things. Depending on your denominational heritage, these sayings may be a part of your Good Friday experience.  One of the things He said was “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That wasn’t just Jesus calling out to God. He was quoting the first words of Psalm 22. The Psalm begins like this:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why do you seem so far away when I need you to save me?
Why do you seem so far away that you can’t hear my groans?
My God, I cry out in the daytime. But you don’t answer.
I cry out at night. But you don’t let me sleep.
But you rule from your throne as the Holy One.
You are the God Israel praises.
Our people of long ago put their trust in you.
They trusted in you, and you saved them.
They cried out to you and were saved.
They trusted in you, and you didn’t let them down.
(Psalm 22:1-5, NIRV)
Jesus was going through the hardest time of His life, but even as He called out to God, He put His trust in Him. He knew God would not let Him down. Even in the details of His death, Christ modeled perfect faith.  It's no coincidence that Jesus recited this Psalm.  I believe He wanted those those who heard Him to draw their attention to Psalm 22 which would help confirm His claims of being Messiah.  If the Psalms were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, how could they talk about Jesus?

Sometimes God gave His believers special information they couldn’t know on their own – we call this a prophecy. There are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. They talk about His family, His birth, and as we read in Psalm 22, His death:
A group of sinful people has closed in on me.
They are all around me like a pack of dogs.
They have pierced my hands and my feet.
Everyone can see all my bones right through my skin.
People stare at me. They laugh when I suffer.
They divide up my clothes among them.
They cast lots for what I am wearing.
Lord, don’t be so far away from me.
You give me strength. Come quickly to help me.
(Psalm 22:16-19, NIRV)
That sounds a lot like what happened to Jesus: His hands and feet were pierced, people watched him and laughed at him, His clothing was divided, and the guards cast lots for His robe.  Read the gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion and let me know what you think.  What other signs do you see (that maybe others miss) that point to who Jesus is?

Monday, October 5, 2020

Psalm 20

Some trust in chariots. Some trust in horses.
But we trust in the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall down.
But we get up and stand firm.
(Psalm 20:7-8, NIRV)

The Psalms are filled with imagery that helps readers to better understand God. In Psalm 20, David, the warrior king, talks about one of the things he knew best: horses.

When I was about ten years old, I went horseback riding in Arizona with my Girl Scout troop. There were several horses, and one much smaller pony. All the girls wanted to ride the small horse because it looked like a pony, and I got the chance. I've never been a slim girl, and I was extra thick in that just before puberty time when my body was storing resources for the the growth that was about to occur. As the horse trotted along, I was sure it was struggling under my weight. My body-conscious self underestimated the strength of that creature.

Horses are beautiful animals, and they have worked together with people for thousands of years. Horses help people do lots of things; they can be trained to work with farmers, police officers, and even with actors in movies. These animals are smart, strong, and can run as fast as a car. David appreciated the horse, but they were nothing compared to God.

A horse can pull the weight of more than 10 people, but God is stronger. Jeremiah 32:17 (NLT) says that God “made the heavens and earth by [His] strong hand and powerful arm…”

Horses can be friendly, but God loves us more. John 3:16 (NIV) says that God loved the world so much “that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Let's not forget that God created everything. That includes all the animals even horses. That makes God more powerful than any earthly force, including a horse.

Is it any wonder that David put his trust in God instead of horses or chariots? It's easy to put our trust in things other than God. Yes, we should trust seatbelts and airbags to keep us safe in our cars, but we should trust that God's will for our lives "is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:3, NASB).

Friday, October 2, 2020

FMF: Breathe

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”’”

So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
(Ezekiel 37:9-10, NASB)

The Valley of Dry Bones.  It's a great section of Scripture to be studying this time of year.  It screams Halloween.  

Ezekiel is shown a vision of a valley of bones - just bones - that have been left unburied and have become dry. God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  Now, I don't know about you, but I've always wondered if the prophets were at all uncomfortable with their jobs.  We know that Jonah was.  He so detested the people God told him to prophesy to, that he went as far as he could the other direction.  For him, "as far as he could" turned out to be not very far because he ended up in the belly of fish that spit him up on the shores, having received time to repent and allowing him to go where he was supposed to go in the first place.  But I digress.

Ezekiel's vision didn't even have him speaking to people. He was told to prophesy to bones. Ezekiel was faithful.  In his vision he called out to the bones and they began to rattle.  They came together with layers of life until finally they appeared to be bodies.  Yet, something remained missing.

So God told Ezekiel to call the breath back into these bones, and God breathed on them.

God explained to Ezekiel what he had just seen. The bones represent God's people, and they are without hope.  Their divided nation would come back together, and God would live among them again.

Indeed, God can do miracles where there appears to be no hope, a word I need to hear today.

For anyone who feels like they are in a valley of dry bones today, pray with me:
Breathe on me, Lord. Amen.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Friday, September 25, 2020

FMF: Your

The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.' "
(Leviticus 18:1-5, NIV)

I am the Lord your God.

It is a recurring statement made by God while instructing the Israelites in how to live. He says it over and over.  Laws on everything from clothes to hair to farming.  In Leviticus 18, God is beginning a discussion on the laws of sex. (#Awkward.)  More than an introduction to sexual parameters, God is clarifying why any of His laws exist.  Because, I am the Lord your God.

His people should not follow the example they had been given.  They saw the wrong way to do things in Egypt.  They were often tempted to go back, but this was not what God wanted for them. Even when things are wrong, it is easy to fall into old habits because they are comfortable.

His people should not follow the example they would be taught.  They were about to enter a land that would present new ways of doing things.  They were likely to be enticed by ideas they had never considered before. When things are new, the novelty blinds us from seeing the risks.

God tells His people not to follow these examples. Instead they should follow God's way.  He was God.  He was their God. If God is my God, I too must decide to step out of my history. Neither can I be distracted by my future.  I must live God's way because He has said me, "I am the Lord your God."

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Saturday, September 19, 2020


The voice of the Lord shakes the desert.
The Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
(Psalm 29:8, NIRV)

I had just drifted to sleep last night when I awoke to a familiar feeling. We were having an earthquake.

Earthquakes are nothing new to me. I've felt so many in my life that I can't remember a time when they were ever new.  I was born and raised in Southern California.  As children we learned in school what to do when "the big one" hits. I watched movies like Earthquake starring Charlton Heston without shock or horror. I happened to be at camp when the Northridge Earthquake hit January 17, 1994 at 4:30am. I had been asleep that night, too, until a girl in our cabin yelled, "We're all going to die." My friend expressed my sentiments on the experience when she yelled back at her to shut up.  She then rolled over and returned to sleep. The next morning the camp showed the news coverage in the common room and we learned how serious the situation was.  Even so, it was a part of the Southern California experience.

For over two decades the Northridge quake was what we compared all quakes to.  In July 2019 I was watching a Dodger game and noticed the cameras begin to sway.  Then a second later I felt it.  It was not very strong at our home, but the news soon began to report the quake was centered in Ridgecrest. This is quite far from us, and so we knew it must have been strong to travel so far. Since we have friends who live there, we were concerned for their safety.  We texted but got no response.  For a moment, this seemed bad. Terrible, actually.  We eventually learned our friends had been out of town.  They were camping (and totally safe) without cell service.

All the chatter was immediately that it had been "bigger than Northridge." And it was!  We would learn a few weeks later while passing through Las Vegas that they had also felt it.  Imagine an earthquake that could be felt from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The Ridgecrest earthquake is estimated to have caused $1 Billion in damage.  That sounds like a lot until you compare it to the Northridge earthquake, which caused up to $44 Billion in damage (and, keep in mind, those are 1994 dollars).  Why so much less damage from a larger earthquake?

Ridgecrest is the desert. There is less to destroy because there is less around.

I'm not going to say that yesterday's earthquake was God's doing. I don't think he's punishing a city for turning away from Him or sending down His wrath on Los Angeles.

I do believe that any time we are shaken (literally or figuratively), it is an opportunity to take stock of our lives. Where are we? Are we where we want to be? Are we where God wants us to be? Whether we are in the desert or the city, God's voice is there. He is prepared to meet us if call out to Him.

Friday, September 18, 2020

FMF: Church

I am by far the least important of all the Lord’s holy people. But he gave me the grace to preach to the Gentiles about the unlimited riches that Christ gives. God told me to make clear to everyone how the mystery came about. In times past it was kept hidden in the mind of God, who created all things. He wanted the rulers and authorities in the heavenly world to come to know his great wisdom. The church would make it known to them. That was God’s plan from the beginning. He has fulfilled his plan through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:8-11, NIRV)

I remember once telling someone that I wouldn't want to serve a God I could fully understand. What kind of God would that be? Today, as in the current era of my life, and today, meaning the last 24 hours of my life, that idea has been tested. I stand firm in my statement, but I am amazed by what I cannot fully understand: the church.

In Ephesians 3, Paul writes that the church is an integral part of revealing the wisdom of God, the mystery of God. Specifically, the church would be the vessel that shows how all are welcome into God's family - both Jew and Gentile. Though God's plan was fulfilled through Christ's death (think of the symbolism of the tearing of the veil into the Holy of Holies in Matthew 27:51), it would be made known through the church.

When I think of the church, I think of the old hymn, "'Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle." Eek. It sure feels a little wrinkled, like maybe God needs to toss us back in the dryer on high heat or pull out the iron to straighten us out. But, if I'm going to sing that song, I can't stop with that one line because I'd miss the important part, "'Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle... washed by the blood of the Lamb." Just like Paul wrote to the Ephesians, this hymn reminds us that we become the church only through Christ.

God, help me to be the church.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Friday, September 11, 2020

FMF: Could

The wise men answered the king, saying, “No one on earth can do what the king asks! No great and powerful king has ever asked the fortune-tellers, magicians, or wise men to do this; the king is asking something that is too hard. Only the gods could tell the king this, but the gods do not live among people.” (Daniel 2:10-11, NCV)

Imagine the most powerful man in the world is your boss, he has the power to kill you, and he has just come to you asking you to do the impossible.  The task: interpret his dream.  Oh, did I mention you also have to tell him what he dreamt?

The wise men of Daniel 2 did not believe in God. It appears they make a compelling argument: The king is asking them to do something that is impossible.  Only a god could do what he is asking, but the gods they know are not accessible.  Therefore, they believe the king's request to be impossible.

They are right in saying no man could do what the king asks. This simply isn't something humans can do. But Daniel did. Daniel takes no credit for what he was about to do.  He knew, like the wise men, that he himself could not accomplish the task the king had assigned.  The pivotal difference is that Daniel knew that God could do it. As Jesus said, with man this is impossible, but with god all things are possible (Matthew 19:16).

I feel a little dreamy today, thinking of that thing before me that seems impossible....

It is impossible...

But God could do it.

This post is a prompt from Five Minute Friday and was written in approximately five minutes. For more information, visit

Thursday, September 3, 2020


Each Thursday night as my Bible study group leaves our Zoom meeting, I sneak a peak at Twitter to find the early release of the Five Minute Friday word prompt. In case you aren't familiar with it, FMF is a writing community I have participated in, off and on, for the last five years. In all fairness, I was mostly off until last year when I began participating more regularly.  Each Friday our host gives us one word, and we allow ourselves about five minutes to write. If you'd like to participate, you can read more here: FMF. Over the last few months, the FMF community has been a source of encouragement to me.  Let's be honest - most of us have needed an extra dose of encouragement over the last few months.

Sometimes encouragement falls in your lap when it's least expected. A note from a friend comes in the mail or your husband brings you something to say he's been thinking about you. You thought you were doing well, but then you feel fantastic.

Sometimes encouragement can be hard to find. Today was one of those days for me. My boss was finishing a project at home, and so I sat in my office alone most of the day. I spent my time finding ways to do everything except the one task I had set out to do.  I'd work on something else, and then try to focus on the project I wanted to finish only to be distracted again. It was two steps forward, one step back as I questioned myself all day long. I was haunted by the discouraging criticisms that had been spoken to me yesterday. So, when I read there would be no FMF meet up tomorrow, I was doubly dejected.

I promised myself - this time will not be lost, too.  I will write tonight.  And I know what!

For my birthday, my boss gave me Ravi Zacharias' The Logic of God. Little did he know that I had been wanting to begin reading Zacharias' work, but had not yet gotten around to it. This was a great gift! But then, like most books, it went into the closet. The closet is where I keep my unread books.  I have a small top shelf where I pile them high until I read them. The books I have read and want to keep get moved out to a shelf in the garage.  The others get moved to a box in the garage (and I think you know where that box eventually goes). One night this week, after a few months on that shelf in the closet, I pulled out The Logic of God, ready to plow through it. I had only made it to the second page when I had to stop for his words, “Behind every question is a questioner.” I invite you to think about this with me. As far as I can recall, there was only one recorded incident of a person coming up to Jesus to ask Him a question. It goes like this:
A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.”

The man asked, “Which commands?”

Jesus answered, “‘You must not murder anyone; you must not be guilty of adultery; you must not steal; you must not tell lies about your neighbor; honor your father and mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

The young man said, “I have obeyed all these things. What else do I need to do?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

But when the young man heard this, he left sorrowfully, because he was rich.
(Matthew 19:16-22, NCV)
Don't read this wrong: there were a lot of questions asked of Jesus.  His disciples often asked Him what He meant and how something was possible. He engaged people, like the woman at the well, who in turn asked Him questions.  Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were regularly trying to trip Him up with questions. That's not an exaggeration; read Mark 12:13. My point isn't that people didn't ask Jesus questions, but this encounter in Matthew 19 seems to be unique because the man approaches Jesus with a question.  He had a question for Jesus. What was behind his question?  The man, a questioner.

We don't know why the man had this question, but from the question we can do know that (1) he had respect for Jesus as a religious teacher, (2) he believed in eternal life, and (3) he believed one inherited eternal life from doing good. If I can be so bold, I believe we also know that (4) the man recognized that all the good he had done up until that point didn't give him certainty of salvation. There was something in his life that didn't feel complete. The man asked Jesus this question because he wanted something more. Jesus told the man what he wanted to hear, something more. In this case, more meant everything.  Sell everything. Leave everyone. Change everything.

The questioner went away sad, having gotten an answer he could not accept.