Monday, December 31, 2012

Hope for 2013

 It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed my absence, but I have missed you. This season has been full to overflowing and I’ve been battling sickness through it all. Yet, it’s been a wonderful season filled with hope and I’m excited to share some with you.

With all that’s been happening in our world lately – wars, hurricanes, floods, shootings, and the loss of jobs and homes, many people are looking for hope. Is the answer more legislation, gun control, more government funded committees to study the problems? No, those only affect the symptoms of our problems. Those who hate will continue to hate, regardless of what weapon they use, spewing their anger on everyone in their path. No, what we need is to treat the source of our problems – the gaping wound we inflict on ourselves when we turn our backs on God.

We need to turn our hearts to God, seek His face, love Him, and obey Him. He is our only hope. The word study I’ve been doing on hope recently has reminded me of this fact. Using a Bible concordance, I am reading every verse in the Bible that contains the word “hope.” I chose to use the Message paraphrase of the Bible for its gritty, no nonsense wording, and even though it’s taking a lot of time, it is SO worth the effort. I’m getting a new perspective and stronger grasp on hope, despite the trials and heartaches of this life.

Let me share three favorites from just this morning, as well as a few others that have renewed my spirit to face this New Year. Perhaps you would like to begin your own word study and write the verses that mean the most to you in a journal. Respond to them in prayer – what questions do you have? What needs? What despair? Open yourself up to God; I guarantee you He will meet you wherever you are and bring you new hope and healing:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope.
Lamentations 3:19-21, Message

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.
Lamentations 3:25-27, Message
When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear
.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst. Why?
Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
Lamentations 3:28-31, Message

 
Other favorites:
·         1 Samuel 2:8-10
·         Psalm 39:7-10
·         Psalm 119:81-88
·         Psalm 131:3
·         Psalm 143:7-10
·         Psalm 146:3-9
·         Proverbs 24:13-14
·         Isaiah 33:2
·         Isaiah 49:23
·         Isaiah 51:4-6
·         Jeremiah 51:41-48

 Savor these words of restoration. And lift up your head. There is hope for 2013!

 

             

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas: An Empty Place at the Table

Is someone missing from your table this year? Has someone you love passed away since last Christmas? Or is there a family member who lives far away or is serving overseas? Or has someone distanced them self from the family because of estrangement, rebellion, or a lifestyle in opposition to what you believe? Whatever the reason, it hurts to see the empty space they used to occupy. I know. It can dampen your holiday cheer and the joy of the season.

Almost every family is missing someone for one reason or another. Because of that, many dread the holidays, and yet, that is one of the main reasons why Jesus came. Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh to show us the Father’s love and to identify with our pain and aching need for relationship – with Him and with each other.

So do we just pretend there isn’t a hole in our heart from November through January? No. Here is what God has been speaking to me lately about this very thing; the four R’s regarding the one I miss this year:   

·         Remember
·         Reality
·         Release
·         Rejoice

First of all, remember the person that’s not there. If they have passed on or live far away it’s easy to talk about them with sweet longing, and it’s healthy to do so. If they’re not with you by choice, rather than doing an awkward dance around the elephant in the room, why not mention them in prayer, or speak lovingly of them? This may be a little harder in some cases than others, but it is healing and might help breach the gap widening between them and other family members.

Secondly, face reality with hope. Death, divorce, drugs, and heart wrenching experiences can take loved ones from our presence. We can’t deny what is. But neither do we have to give in to despair. There’s always hope for forgiveness, healing, or a change of heart - theirs as well as ours. So hold on to hope. We never know what wonderful blessings God might have waiting in the next breath.

Third, we need to release our grip on the one we love and our desire to control them or the situation. Release them to Christ and His good and perfect plan for them, and us. This is the hardest one for me. At times I realize I’ve been holding them so tightly to my heart that I’ve gotten in the way of what God wants to do in their life. So I pry well-meaning fingers from my loved one and release them to His care, again.

Finally, let’s rejoice in the people we are with this Christmas. Whether we’re with family members, church friends, neighbors, or co-workers, we have reason for rejoicing. Christ has come - bringing hope, peace, joy, and love to our world, to all who will accept Him. And that empty place at the table? Let Jesus fill it with His presence and embrace all who gather there. It’s time to celebrate!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Swingin’ With the Lord

I’ve been reading through old journals lately and even though this isn’t a Christmassy article (I’ll start a series soon), I want to share what I found this morning. I wrote this on August 7, 1985. God spoke to me all over again. I hope it speaks to you too.

“This morning on my walk I saw a woman pushing two little girls on the swings. I laughed and said, ‘It looks like you’re keeping busy.’

She said, ‘Yeah, it’s quite a project to keep them both going at the same time. You can be sure they let me know if they think I’m falling behind.’

It reminded me how much we’re like little children sometimes. At times I begin to look at God as my source of happiness, instead of my source of joy, salvation, and peace in all the storms of life. If He should fail to keep me happy and satisfied, no matter what the circumstances, I mistakenly think He is falling behind in His duty.

I need to realize during these times that He is not failing me in any way. My swing may not be going as high or as fast as I would like it to. At times He will call me to accompany His strength with mine, and pump for the sky. And when He lets my swing go still, it’s not because God has left me alone – He is still behind me. I can turn to look, and there He is. But my attempts to move the swing on my own will be in vain. So I wait.

I wait on the Lord to move me when He chooses; when the time is right. Will I do it patiently? Trustfully? He knows I need times of stillness to remember that only in Him lies my power to fly. Then, suddenly I will feel the thrill of His power pushing me forward once again, higher and higher.”

Today, whether you’re swinging high or sitting still, I pray you will be aware of God’s holy presence behind you. I pray for peace and gratitude in your heart either way. I pray the same for mine.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Churches: Are They Obsolete?


Kelly and I saw a lot of churches on our trip through the Italian Riviera. Even the oldest and most ornate American churches are vastly different than those in Europe. Church leaders spared no expense or talent to create edifices of unequaled grandeur and symbolism. Most, took around 100 years to build, like La Sagrada de Familia (The Sacred Family) in Barcelona, Spain. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, construction of this church began in 1882 and they estimate it will be finished in 1226-28.

It seems like half our trip was spent gaping at one church or another. It was impossible to absorb all the splendor: marble sculptures, rich gold overlay, mosaics, paintings, multi-colored marble and stained glass, and ornate columns. They were magnificent and beautiful beyond description. The immensity of their design and embellishment is truly a treasure of antiquity. However, as for being places where people come to worship, they are somewhat obsolete. They are more tourist attractions now than anything else.




It reminded me of my sister’s refrigerator. A couple years ago it stopped refrigerating. Her husband made valiant efforts to fix it, but to no avail. They finally called a repairman who said it would have to be replaced.

“But it’s not even ten years old yet,” they countered.

The repairman gave a rueful smile. “Yeah, you used to be able to count on them lasting at least fifteen years, but now refrigerators and other appliances only have a life expectancy of six or seven years.” Manufacturers seem bent on planned obsolescence.

Is that where the Church is headed? Like many cathedrals in Europe, has the Church put so much emphasis on how we look to others that we’re becoming obsolete in this generation? We may not have fancy buildings, but often those outside the church think of us as stained glass saints. Nice to look at, but out of touch with real life.




The longer I walk with the Lord, the more aware I am of how desperately I need God. That's the message we need to hold out to the world. We are not beautiful and perfect, but so grateful to Jesus for offering us forgiveness and new life that we can't help but praise Him. The more we keep our focus on God’s wonderful grace and relate to others with genuine humility and love, the more relevant we will be in our world. God did not plan for His Church or His people to become obsolete. And His message will never fade or grow outdated. If anything, the Good News is more relevant than ever.

As the Message translation exuberantly proclaims:

“All his products are guaranteed to last—
Never out-of-date, never obsolete, rust-proof.
All that he makes and does is honest and true:
He paid the ransom for his people,
He ordered his Covenant kept forever.
He’s so personal and holy, worthy of our respect.
The good life begins in the fear of God
Do that and you’ll know the blessing of God.
His Hallelujah lasts forever!”
Psalm 111:7-10, emphasis added

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful for Balance: Cruisin


Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Each day this month I’ve been making a mental list of all the things I’m thankful for and it is endless. Recently I was reminded of the difference between praise and thanks – we praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He does. That makes the list even longer! In this continuation of my Italian Riviera Cruise series, I want to focus especially on some important lessons I learned on this trip about balance.

           
Kelly and I feel very blessed to have been able to go on this trip. It took a lot of saving and planning and work, both before and after. But more than once we mentioned to each other that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.


Sumptuous food is a treat - until it’s available 24/7 in a variety of venues. After gorging ourselves for a couple of days at breakfast, still full at lunchtime, and overstuffed and sick after eating dinner, we got smart. Back to cereal, coffee, juice and milk for breakfast, a couple of pieces of fruit for lunch (and an occasional treat onshore). Then we were able to enjoy what we wanted for dinner without being miserable.

Seeing new places and exploring each one is exciting, until you deboard on eight locations in less than ten days. Each place held unique splendor, history, culture, and flavor to take in – so much, that our senses went on overload. It was always a mad rush to get off the ship, see as much as we could, and get back before they left us behind. Kelly and I began to look forward to our seven days at sea to savor and review what we had experienced and just relax a while.

But seven days at sea is a very long time. At first it was marvelous to take dance lessons, lay in the sun, play tennis on the top deck, watch movies, meet new people, eat yummy food, see a new show or movie at night, or go dancing. However, we noticed that the longer we spent at sea, the crankier people got with the staff and each other. It got tiring to have the same conversation with someone new at every meal: “So, where are you from? How many cruises have you been on? Do you have children and grandkids?”

The service onboard the ship was beyond compare. I loved the break from cooking, housekeeping, and daily worries. However, when people began vomiting and having diarrhea after our stop at Casablanca, the staff had to take every precaution to keep the sickness from spreading. Everyone who had symptoms was under constant care; the rest of us were “served” to the max. We were no longer allowed to help ourselves at the buffet, or even get our own napkins and silverware. It gets tiresome when everything is done for you, especially when you can’t even salt and pepper your own food.
tennis on the 18th level

midship plaza

movie on deck

So in the end, even though the trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we will relive the memories again and again, there’s still no place like home. God knows we need balance in our lives. He gives us both work and rest, abundance and hunger, new delights and old comforts, times to be served and times to serve. I’m more thankful for that balance than ever before.

We were both eager to get home and see our family, get back to work, eat simple food, and re-enter life with all its highs and lows. One of our favorite verses during the trip was Proverbs 30:7-9: “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Balance. We need it in finances, home life, food, physical activity, and just about everywhere. It keeps us humble enough to keep seeking the Lord, and grateful for all the blessings He gives us every day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crooked in Pisa


Livorno and Pisa are both beautiful, ancient cities rich with astonishingly ornate architecture. Since Pisa was our highest priority, we didn’t explore much of Livorno except for the area around the bus station where we got off the shuttle to wait for another bus to Pisa.

The ride through the Italian countryside was delightful, dotted with houses, farms, and waterways. And Pisa has a charm of its own. Our bus pulled into a large parking area with a multitude of other buses. There was no clearly marked path, but it was easy enough to follow the stream of people intent on one destination. The church, baptistery, and leaning bell tower gleam white on the vibrant green grass of the Field of Miracles. Although people were everywhere, there was still a sense of awe and quiet that I can’t describe.

All three buildings are masterpieces of multi-colored marble, ornate design, in solemn adoration to God. The tower is the smallest, but most popular of them because of its reputation and history. The work had barely begun when the builders realized the tower was already tilting in the soft soil; no amount of engineering could correct it. Now people come from around the world to take pictures of each other “holding up” or “pushing back” the unruly tower that has defied all efforts to be made straight.



Kelly and I marveled at the beauty of this square, unable to resist taking pictures from every angle. The gelato was overpriced, but delicious, and we toured booth after booth of products celebrating the crooked tower on t-shirts, mugs, key chains etc. What is it about imperfection that intrigues us so?

The anomaly of a building that has defied all efforts to be straightened has a different attraction than that of people with the same bent.

We learned early on that wherever cruise ships land, hoards of salespeople hover ready to show their wares. We could count on a variety of “Louis Vuitton”purses at every stop pushed in our faces by grinning salesmen, as if they had something original and unique. Beggars place themselves strategically wherever there is traffic. We were warned not to give them money and to refuse with a gruffness that seems rude to westerners. Soon we understood why.

In Livorno a woman holding a baby was followed by three lovely, bedraggled, dark haired girls. They circled to beg from the same congregation the entire hour we waited for our bus. One woman finally succumbed and gave them some change. We were jolted from compassion when instead of saying thank you and moving on, the mother and children pressed her for more with increasing intensity. We moved from compassion, to annoyance, to anger.

Kelly and I were even more shocked on our trek to the field of miracles. We heard screaming and shouting behind us. We turned to see a man fighting a ragged group of teens that had appeared from nowhere to surround his wife. They pawed at her, moaning and grunting; fearing for her safety, her husband pushed them roughly until they backed off.

The day was a mixture of awe, delight, annoyance, and fear – conflicting emotions over crooked things. Of course, it’s not crooked to want to make a living or feed your family, but when that desire oversteps the boundary between what is legally, morally, and socially acceptable, it has become warped. I fought constant battles in my heart and mind about how I could give to the needy in these countries without being in danger of being pick pocketed or mobbed. Even though Kelly and I give to organizations that meet needs around the world, it saddened me that fear and distrust prevented us from helping those that seemed to need help.

What’s the answer to all this? I don’t think there’s a blanket response. The Bible tells us to be wise around those with evil intentions, but to show mercy and compassion to those truly in need. As with all of life, we have to take things one step at a time, looking to Jesus in each instance for direction and wisdom so He can make the crooked things straight.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Creative Solutions in Madeira


I hope you don’t mind if I jump around a bit as I reminiscence about our trip. I promise I’ll cover it all eventually. Our last stop before spending seven days at sea was the city of Funchal, Madeira – a Portuguese island. Our captain wisely steered our boat away from the original stop at the Azores and hurricane Rafael to a safer port. We had never heard of it before, but it was definitely one of our favorite places.

White stucco houses with terra cotta roofs nestle on the hillside, contrasting beautifully with lush green foliage and numerous gardens. As we rode the cable car to Monte at the top, we noticed how many yards sported banana trees and neat rows of vegetables and flowers. They made use of every square inch. The sea view was spectacular as well.

Kelly and I toured the Tropical Garden there sprinkled with plants, fountains, ponds, waterfalls, walkways, and museums: one with African artifacts and another of rocks creatively displayed under black-light and artfully situated to look like they had formed in that very spot.



The people of Madeira get my vote for being the most innovative place we visited. Because we forgot to inform our bank of the change in itinerary, our credit card was denied and we didn’t get to ride their toboggans, but we watched others enjoy their ride and took a lot of pictures.

Apparently before the cable car, the residents of Monte built these wicker sledges around 1850 for a fast ride down to Funchal. It’s become a famous tourist attraction. Teams of two men dressed in white keep the wooden runners waxed and push each toboggan down the narrow winding streets, delighting and terrifying their riders.

Down in Funchal again, we shopped our way back to the ship and happened upon the redeemed red light district we had hoped to find. When they decided to outlaw this business opportunity, the city council declared the street an artisan’s alley; only artists are allowed to rent there. Each door is an amazing display of talent and ingenuity.



I couldn’t help but think about all the creative solutions of believers over the centuries. Like Martin Luther, who recognized that the common people needed to hear and read the Bible in their own language, so he translated the Bible into German. He also wrote original lyrics, rich with spiritual content, and set them to well-known bar tunes. These great hymns of the church have been around for centuries.

We serve a imaginative God, and it’s no surprise that His children display the same kind of delightful inventiveness:

·         in getting God’s Word into places where it’s against the law
·         to meet the needs of our communities
·         in financial, political, and social problem solving
·         to reach the youth of our generation
·         in the skills and know-how with which we each glorify God and find our purpose in life

Originality hasn’t always been welcomed in the Church, not even today. But I hope that like the people on this beautiful island of Madeira, we can appreciate each other’s ideas and innovative solutions as we work to solve the problems of our generation. The message never changes, but the methods we use should always reflect our Creator who is not limited to worn out ideas and established mores.

That gives the words of Galatians 6:4-5 in the Message a whole new meaning:“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lost in Rome

Of all the places we visited, Kelly and I will probably remember Rome most vividly, not because it was our favorite (although it was incredible), but because we got so lost we almost missed our ship. Most of the time, we enjoyed being rebellious enough to find our own way at each stop. But this time it backfired.


beautiful ruins
The Capitole
After a one hour train ride, we got to Rome just before noon. It would be a challenge to see the sights and get back on the ship by 5:30, but we set out in high spirits. We had four specific places we wanted to visit – the Capitole, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, and Trevi Fountain. The streets of Italy are not laid out in a neat pattern of north, south, east, and west. And every so often they throw in a five or six street intersection just to keep you guessing.

Still, we were enthralled with the ancient splendor around us; every building exudes history. First, we reached The Capitole, an impressive conglomerate of statues, fountains, and patriotic fervor. Like two cows in an international herd, we marveled at the first century ruins on our way to the Coliseum. Cold rain soaked our clothes as we paused at a section of the Roman road – where Apostle Paul and Luther once walked. The Coliseum, where many brave Christians became human torches or lion food to entertain the masses, loomed beside us.*

Roman Road


The Coliseum

We bought an umbrella and kept moving; it was getting late. We had to give up the Forum and head for Trevi Fountain before it got any later. Our umbrella blew inside out. No bathrooms anywhere. But we kept winding our way through Rome. Every once in a while we saw a sign and raced eagerly ahead like hound dogs on the scent of their quarry. Then another intersection would throw us off. Eventually we huddled together in a gathering of multicolored, multi-national umbrellas to admire the magnificent fountain.

We cried halleluia as we squeezed into a pizza shop for shelter, the best pizza in Italy, and a bathroom break. Thus fortified, we began the trek back. We followed signs to the “Termine” for an hour and a half to catch our train back before realizing we were at a subway terminal on the wrong side of Rome!

Trevi Fountain

Vatican Square
Praise God for the wonderful Italian man who told us what subway would get us to our train station. After six flights of stairs and three long hallways we got on, but still managed to get off two stops too early. After completely circling the Vatican, we boarded our train and made it back to the boat just in time to collapse in grateful praise. I have to admit there were several times along the way when I wanted to sit down and cry.

I can’t help but compare this experience to the millions of lost souls in our world who desperately need Christ. They are in danger of missing the boat. Some stray in rebellion, others in ignorance. Many don’t understand the Christian language well enough to follow our directions. Some have a map, but need help reading it, or get lost at every intersection. Some try other routes thinking they know a shortcut to heaven, and end up more lost than ever.

If Kelly and I had missed our boat it would have been expensive, frightening, and inconvenient, but we could have met the cruise ship at the next stop. However, for those who do not find Jesus in this life, there is no alternative. I may not know my way around Rome, but I want to spend my life as a signpost to Christ. “I [have] one message… the necessity of turning from sin to God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…Life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love” (Acts 20:21, 24).

 *I thought about this when we watched The Hunger Games later on ship – an excellent commentary on our society’s hunger for reality shows that entertain us with the pain of others.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Italian Riviera Series

1" thick hazelnut brittle in Venice!
Hello friends,

You have been asking when I'm going to post more blogs and pictures from our recent trip. I will begin posting a series tomorrow about our cruise to Venice, Naples, Rome, Pisa, Cannes, Barcelona, Casablanca, Funchal, and Florida. What an experience it was!

Kelly and I are gradually getting back into the right time zone (having lost 9 hours, counting daylight savings time). We are re-entering family, church life, and work. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime and I can't wait to tell you all about it. But I have to say, Dorothy had it right, there's no place like home.

I hope you will check back often to hear all about our adventures and wonderful God lessons from our travels.

Be back soon,
Beth

Friday, October 12, 2012

Enjoying the Journey





My husband and I recently had the opportunity to visit Venice and it was a dream come true. We had a ball exploring the winding streets and along the canals. We always started out with a destination in mind, but soon got lost in the maze. We felt like mice looking for cheese at the other end. But what fun to be lost! Shops along the way were full of lovely jewelry made of Italian glass, fashionable clothes, leather shoes and purses, and of course, Venetian masks. Plus there was pizza, gelato, and pastries galore to be sampled. Our favorite treat was their hazelnut brittle – one inch thick and cut into pie shaped wedges.

Although there are dozens of fabulously ornate cathedrals, you can’t see them until you reach an open piazza. Once spotted after a few turns in the narrow walkways, you’re lost again. The signs are helpful though, especially for St. Mark’s Square. It seems like no matter which way you turn there is a sign pointing the way to the most famous church on the island. We had to laugh when we saw a t-shirt with two arrows pointing in opposite directions, each declaring “Per San Marco.”

However, with no schedule to keep, we were able to meander up streets and down, wander the small side canals, and eventually find our way to each destination relaxed and happy. Each surprise we met with on the way just added to the sense of discovery and delight. I think that’s an attitude I need more in my walk with Christ.

Too often I have an idea in my head where I want to go and when I want to arrive, and so often miss the delightful people and experiences He intends for me to enjoy along the way. Instead of poking around in His Word for delectable morsels and treasures, I’m desperately craning my neck to get a glimpse of the future. Where is that cheese anyway?! Instead of putting my hand in His and strolling along beautiful waterways and crossing bridges from here to there, too often I badger my Savior about where He’s leading me and when we might arrive.

How much better it is when I trust Him to lead me through the maze of life. Then I can relax, get to know others on the road, and let Him accomplish His purpose for me each day. So many of us love the promise He gave the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He also reminds us in Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Yes, there is work to be done, and we should make plans and set goals, yet not forget to enjoy the journey on the way. I hope these photos from our trip help you pause for a moment breathe in the beauty of that city and imagine yourself walking the streets of life with Jesus in trust and joy.

 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Holding Hands With God

My dad has big hands. As a little girl, my hand was swallowed by size of his hand, yet he never crushed me. Even though they were the same hands that gave me an occasional swat when I was disobedient (well, okay, maybe more than occasional), I didn’t fear his hands. I knew without a doubt that my daddy loved me. When he held my hand I felt secure and safe.

Recently I’ve been intrigued by all the times the Bible refers to God’s right hand. The more times I noticed it, the more I wondered about God’s intended symbolism, so I did a little study. And I was not disappointed.

The NIV Archeological Study Bible says: “The hand was symbolic in the ancient world. It was believed that from it one either bestowed grace or pronounced punishment. In addition, the hand represented the authority of an individual, the instrument of carrying out a person’s intentions. The…left hand was universally acknowledged to be the one used for sanitation purposes and, therefore, was less respected than its counterpart. Secondly, since most people were right-handed, the right hand was considered to have innately superior strength and capability.

“Because of its special physical status, the right hand was assigned important metaphorical significance, frequently expressing blessing, fellowship or comfort…it was believed to represent the character, will and actions of the individual taking the vow…the right hand represented God’s ultimate strength and provision for his people.” (“The ‘Right Hand’ in Ancient Thinking”)

Not only does our Father-God rescue and protect us with His mighty right hand, but He holds our hand, to reassure us of His intimate care. These verses are some of my favorites:

I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8

I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24
 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10
 
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:10, 13
 
And here’s the best part. If God is holding us by the right hand that means that our dominant hand is unavailable for use. We cannot, in our own strength, take care of ourselves; we must depend on God. Since He holds our right hand in His left, God has His right arm free to wield unlimited strength, power, comfort, salvation, and provision. Our weakness enables His strength to freely express itself on our behalf.

To that I say, “Here’s my hand, Father. I trust you, because I know you love me and will take care of me.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Too Much On Your Plate?

 Fall is here and if you’re anything like me, you’re already on overload. School has started, sports are in full swing, church activities are resuming, and the holidays are galloping toward us. Do you wonder how you can possibly do everything you’ve committed to? Do you feel squeezed by others’ expectations, or more likely, what you demand of yourself?

The answer is clear: something has to go, but the question is what?

*I love to garden, but I don’t like thinning because it requires pulling out perfectly healthy plants. However, I know if I don’t make room for the plants while they’re young, they will die later for lack of breathing space. Either that or they’ll mature into warped, intertwined shapes that look more like science fiction characters than vegetables. That must be why Ecclesiastes three, says there is a time to kill.

When we don’t have enough space to thrive and grow, something must be thinned out to give us room as well. Either that or we will see some warped character traits emerging because of our cramped spirit and physical exhaustion.

Over scheduling may not me the only issue. There may be attitudes, bad habits, or even unhealthy friendships that need to be rooted out. It might be time to decline a few invitations in order to plant ourselves fully in the soil of quietness and contentment.

Before you start yanking at random, here’s a gardening tip from my dad: some weeds look like garden vegetables. I remember the day Dad showed me the difference between carrot sprouts and grass before putting me to work weeding the carrot row. I conscientiously pulled every last carrot in the row, leaving in its place a neatly growing line of grass. I couldn’t tell them apart!

A Bible Study or church activity, for instance, may look like a healthy vegetable-sort-of-thing. But it might be the wrong plant for your garden right now. It may sap time and energy God wants you to use reaching a neighbor, caring for a family member, or even, spending time in prayer and personal devotions. The same is true for sports, music, and work opportunities. What looks like a carrot could be a weed; only our Father can tell the difference.

As we move into fall, God has challenged me to hold each day’s schedule up to Him for inspection. He gently pointed out that some of the “carrots” thriving in my garden were actually weeds. So I stepped back from a few activities that were sapping my energy and emotions. I’m devoting each day to His priorities and slowing my pace to a more reasonable level.

It was at first painful to pull things deeply rooted, which I thought belonged in my garden. Now I feel free to flourish in the space God has so graciously provided. It’s good to be in the garden with Him.

*Some material from “Thinning Out” in my book Moments for Homeschool Moms, available at www.amazon.com,  www.abebooks.com, and your local bookstore.