Category Archives: prayer

Doing Life Together…Helping Others

Philippians 2“Keep a close watch on all you do and think. Stay true to what is right and God will bless you and use you to help others.” 1 Timothy 4:16

These words from Paul to Timothy ring true for each of us. Keep a close watch on all you do and think, and then stay true to what is right. If we do this God will bless us and use us to help others…wow.

I shared earlier how important it is to keep our thoughts focused on what is good. We can’t let our sinful nature take up residence in our thoughts and never leave. Our thoughts often hold us hostage to the point that we are paralyzed, rendered useless not only to ourselves but to others. We are so caught up in our own issues and troubles that we stop looking around us.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

I suffer from night terrors. (Now that’s an awesome way to start a blog.) It’s not something that I like to share as they make me feel like a helpless child unable to overcome my silly fears. They started the summer before I began my freshman year of high school. It was during the summer and my father was traveling quite a bit. The anticipation of which would throw me totally out of whack. My dad made me feel safe, secure and basically untouchable. When he wasn’t there, I was a wreck.

This particular summer my night terrors began. I couldn’t sleep alone, I would sneak down the hall to my parents room and sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed. When my dad was away I would sleep with my mom. The thought of being alone in my room would cause me such anxiety that I would physically shake in fear. This went on all summer and finally my parents had to draw a line. I was terrified, I cried, shook, had a hard time breathing but they were standing firm. This couldn’t go on. I sat on my bed wrapped in several blankets with the light on…I grabbed a book to take my mind off and started to read. Yup…I took my mind off  of my fears and anxieties, and started to read. I read till I fell asleep.

Fast forward A LOT of years to present day. Now as a grown up with my oldest starting high school, guess what happened…yup night terrors. I will wake up in a sweat shaking in fear about anything and everything. Did you ever realize how much worse things seem in the dark, when you’re tired and uncertain. It has been awful! I felt like I was tired all the time, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t function. I was trying to fall asleep with the TV on hoping that the light and distraction would help. Sometimes it did, often it did not.

About a month ago, while I was lying awake in my bed, trying to pray myself out of this ridiculous fear, I remembered something one of the youth had said about something going on in their life that was causing them anxiety. So, I began to pray for them, that they would feel God’s peace and love. That led me to the struggles of another one of my youth, then a friend I had prayed for at church and a woman in my small group. The more I prayed for OTHERS the more Christ’s peace rested in me.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

I truly wish I could express the experience! Focusing on someone else brought me peace and freedom like nothing I had experienced before. I was allowing my anxieties, and the fears in my head to holding me hostage. The moment I turned away from MY fears and toward the Holy Spirit’s leading I was rescued from my anxiety. Now whenever I find my thoughts creeping to places that they shouldn’t, or old fears creeping in, I focus on others, specifically I pray. I listen to who the Spirit brings to my heart and I lift them up. The fears fade and Christ’s peace fills my heart.

It may not be this way for everyone. Each of us have a call on our lives. I know many people who have been called to minister to the poor, sit by a bedside in a hospital, work with individuals struggling with addiction, or evangelizing on the streets. In each of these I recognize a similar peace that comes from an altered focus. A shift of perspective from oneself to others.

Doing life together means that we are constantly and consistently holding each other up. We are seeking out opportunities to put others before ourselves, to come along side and link arms and move forward together. We weren’t created to exist on a desert island, we were created to be in community, working together to share the good news and to glorify God.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

 

 

Doing Life Together…Be Nice!

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“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

I was having a conversation this week with a friend and I said something. Something I immediately regret, regret to the point that it actually left a foul taste in my mouth. I couldn’t think of why I said it or where it came from, but there it was…ugliness in all its glory. After asking forgiveness for my words, I spent time thinking and praying about my heart and where that was rooted. I asked God to help me be more mindful of my heart and my words. Since then, I have been more aware of what I say and how I say it. Words have so much power.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.Proverbs 18:21

How many times a day do you find yourself in a situation where it almost seems natural to say something ugly? Whether it’s about a person, place or thing… James really stated it best when he said our tongue is a fire. “In the same way, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it boasts of great things. Consider how small a spark sets a great forest ablaze. The tongue also is a fire, a world of wickedness among the parts of the body. It pollutes the whole person, sets the course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:5-6

It has become so commonplace to speak ill of anything, that we don’t even realize we do it anymore. “That person really annoys me”, “I hate the food there it’s terrible”, “their customer service sucks”, seems harmless enough right? Who are we saying it too? Are we making a statement of our dissatisfaction or a direct judgement? In our culture where we hold so much pride in our freedom of speech, have we gone too far toward mainstreaming hatefulness?

Doing life together means we are all in the same boat. We are all supposed to be rowing together in the same direction with the same goal; celebrating God’s Kingdom here on this world and share His love, forgiveness and freedom with as many people as possible. If that’s true then how important is complaining about customer service or restaurant food you dislike?

This scripture from Ephesians states clearly that we are only to speak words which serve to build up the body and give grace to those who hear. We are to put away ALL bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving as Christ is forgiving.

We have become so consumed with, ‘shooting straight’, ‘being candid’, ‘speaking our mind’, and ‘not holding anything back’, that we have forgotten how to express love, forgiveness, grace and kindness. Did you ever hear Jesus speak an angry word to anyone, call them a name or rebuke them in front of others, No! He came to build up not to tear down.

People are going to be frustrating, we’re not perfect…none of us! We all have good days and bad days and have survived all kinds of experiences. God loves us each equally, with our flaws, where we are. We need to do the same. If we are going to be The Church, we need to behave like it. We need to strive to not speak a word unless it serves to build up the body, edifies people, speaks kindness and shines a light on Jesus, not us.

We are the body, we are Christ’s Church. We are His example to the world, when we are tearing each other down, gossiping, bragging, belittling and being unkind, what kind of example are we setting?

Finding Jesus in everyone, and everything isn’t easy, and there are people out there that are harder to love than others. It doesn’t make them less deserving, less needful or less desirous of our love and kindness. Doing life together means that everyone deserves our best…everyone.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Be careful what you ask for…

downloadAnd I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14.

I loved growing up in the 80’s. We had great music, awesome clothes, less than awesome hairstyles and the best movies ever! I know, I know,  what does this have to do with being careful what you ask for, well there is a saying that is quoted throughout one of my favorite moves, The Princess Bride these words are spoken by a poor young peasant to his beautiful young mistress. At a point early on in the movie she miraculously realizes that every time he responds to her requests with these words, “that what he is really saying, is I love you”, deep sigh. How romantic right? Yes teenage girls across the nation swooned and dreamed of their Wesley finding & rescuing them and falling madly in love.

The words spoken in this movie express more than just the romantic love we associate with these characters. These words express a willingness to sacrifice everything for each other. Walking away from what is secure, known and safe. Wesley will sacrifice his very life for the opportunity to be together…sound familiar? The love that Christ feels for us is such that He gave up everything…EVERYTHING, so that we would not be separated from Him. He left heaven, came to earth as a man, lowly and simple, sacrificed Himself in the most unimaginable way, so we could experience real relationship with the Father.

And if that weren’t enough, he promises to give us whatever we ask for in His name. He wants to give us exponentially more than we could ever comprehend. Jesus’ love is such that He sacrificed Himself to reunite us with the Father, but also such that He WANTS to give us every good thing, not everything we want, but every good thing.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17

His love is such that he won’t give us any less that what is the very best for us. We ask for what we want and His response is, “as you wish”. However,  just like when our children ask for a second helping of ice cream or an extra hour after curfew, we aren’t going to give them what we know is NOT in their best interest…no matter how much they beg and plead for it.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

Recently my prayers have been along the lines of, “God give me patience!”, or “Jesus make me more like you”, or my best one yet, “Lord give me your heart toward others”. These prayers, He loves, these prayers, He answers…sometimes in ways that aren’t comfortable or easy. You know what His answers have been, here are the children I gave you, now let’s stir them up into a frenzy…practice that patience. You want to see people, to love them as I do, go to where you are uncomfortable going, see how they live, see their struggles, now go and love them, right where they are.

He is answering my prayers by refining me, allowing me to enter into situations that will test my patience, bringing me into relationship with people who may stretch my comfort zone. Showing me how He sees the world and not allowing me to judge with my own eyes but to love with His. My heart has been broken, my eyes have seen what I cannot un-see, my patience has been tested to the point of breaking…I have grown.

I used to be afraid of these kinds of prayers, I would make them halfheartedly then wince at what I expected to be the ensuing pain of it all…it didn’t come. Oh don’t get me wrong, when you ask God to refine you, He will and it’s not always comfortable, but He isn’t out to hurt you or break you or beat you down. He wants you to grow strong and mature into the person He created you to be. He will never allow you to be pushed beyond a point you can bear.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Scripture also tells us how God will work alongside us to help us on our journey toward becoming more like him.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30

Never be afraid to ask God for anything. His answers will shock and amaze you, no prayer will go unanswered, sometimes the answer may be no, or not now or, OK hang on to your hat and see what I will do. No matter what you ask, expect an answer…always.

Doing life together

Eph4“If one of us bleeds, we all bleed.” I was reminded recently by an amazing woman whom I love as part of my family, what it means to be part of the Church. In Acts 2 we get a very good look of what it was like to be part of Christ’s Church where the believers, “had all things in common.”

While I was in college, I stumbled (and I do mean stumbled) onto a group of people who introduced me to Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. This family of like minded college students taught me, really for the first time, what it meant to live in Christian fellowship. We didn’t lock our doors, we ate each other’s food , we showed up uninvited and loved just being together. When one of us was in trouble, we were all there and stayed there till the problem was resolved. There was no need to small, or Goliath too big for this group to come together and pray out of existence.

This experience shaped my view of what Church is supposed to look like, what it means to be a family of believers, and to do life together. When I first moved to Tucson, I was additionally fortunate to find a church family, a church that became my second family. When my daughter got sick and was in the hospital (which was often) they were there in force, within hours. They’d bring food, they’d take turns each day giving me time to get home, shower and change clothes. They called, texted, emailed and annoyed the snot out of me…but I never felt alone, even when I was by myself.

I remember one particularly long hospital stay, I was about at a breaking point when I called my pastor and asked desperately if they could just, “pray Alex out of that hospital”. You know what happened…yup, within a few hours the elders of my church were there, Pastor Matt leading the way. I had gone downstairs for some coffee and when I came back up, her room was full of people, my people, holding hands around her bed praying.

When I saw them all there I was dumbfounded, and I actually asked, “what are you doing here”, Matt looked at me and quoted James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Alex went home the next day.

Scripture is very clear on how we should live life together, it’s more than clear, it’s specific; we however, complicate it. We want to fit our church lives into our ‘real’ lives. We chose our small groups and fellowship times around our social schedules. We serve when it’s convenient, we pray when we have time and we give according to our available budgets. What happened to going where we’re called, and praying without ceasing, and giving to God the first and best?

This week a friend of mine had an emergency. I received the call that she was on her way to the hospital…and then crickets. I was trying to figure out what to do when my dear friend reminded me that, when one of us bleeds we all bleed. I began to make arrangements for someone to pick up my daughter so I could go to the hospital, who was coming with me, who was calling everyone else to get them praying. One of us had a need, so we all needed to take action. For some it will be to pray, for others to make food, and others to help arrange schedules and provide respite. The fact is we each have a role to play in this thing we call life, and each role is equally important to the body.

This Sunday, pastor was preaching on Ephesians 4 and the gifts that God has given to each of His believers. Gifts that were given so that the body of Christ would be built up. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:16

Each of us has a role to play in the lives of one another. A role that God created specifically for us to play. Not everyone is equipped to sit by a bedside, believe me I know, but everyone is equipped for something. Not being certain of your spiritual gift does not give you a pass; everyone can pray, anyone can prepare a meal or hold a hand. We are on this road together, and road trips are always better with family, because when trouble comes…and it will, I’d rather have my family around than be out there alone.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Don’t Be Roadkill!

squirrel-in-the-road.jpg“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

A friend of mine shared a story with me a few years ago that has stuck with me. At the time we were discussing some of our students and how they seem to get stuck and not able to move forward toward their goal. I kept commenting that even though they can see the path, because that path is new and unfamiliar they are more likely to do an about face and return to the familiar at the first sign of difficulty, it was maddening to see so many not achieve their goals when they were so close.

He told me a story about a little ambitious squirrel. One day he was standing by the side of the road looking off into the distance, he was hungry you see as there wasn’t much food on his side of the road. As he gazed across the vast paved expanse, he saw a huge tree full of acorns. It was like looking at the promised land…and yes, the grass really was greener.

So, this squirrel started across the road, he kept his eyes on the tree, on the acorns and steadily, he began making his way. Just when he had almost reached the other side, he heard a sound, and saw some lights in the distance, he paused and looked around, he took his eyes off the tree, off the acorns, and began looking back toward where he came. The noise got louder, and he got scared, and started to doubt his decision and his direction. He stood in the road paralyzed not knowing what to do as the sound got louder and the lights got brighter… should he continue on his path toward the unknown or should he quickly return to the familiar? The noise gets louder and louder and the lights brighter and brighter, the confused squirrel begins to wonder why he’s in the road, why he risked this danger, what was he thinking and quickly he begins to run back the way he came, without realizing how close he was to safety.

He runs frantically back across the road…but alas the distance is too great, and the squirrel doesn’t make it to safety before the car reaches him.

Moving toward the new is difficult, scary and just about anything in life coming at us can cause us to doubt. We must keep our eyes focused on Christ if we want to succeed. If we do that, if we put Him first then we will reach our destination.

Serious words…often they seem easier said than done.

Jesus asked us to put off the old, to stop living in the past, to move toward something new, to move toward Him. The Apostle Paul tells us, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” Ephesians 4:22-24

So then, why do we keep reverting back to our old ways, doing what we’ve always done instead of moving toward Christ and all the love and freedom and healing He has to offer?

The million-dollar question right?

Short answer FEAR, I found an acronym that sums it up pretty well; False Evidence Appearing Real. We too easily listen to the lies of; it’s too hard, too far, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve love, grace, forgiveness. The real evidence, the truth, is that Christ came to earth while we were still sinners to save us and reconcile us to God. Thankfully He didn’t wait until we were perfect, holy and healed (like that was going to happen without him). He came for you, me, everyone; that is the real evidence. Christ came to seek and save the lost, broken, sinful, disinherited, mournful, disenchanted and displaced. He came for each of us.

We don’t have to be scared, we don’t have to FEAR, we only need to have faith that God is who He says He is, not who we think He is. He keeps his promises, always and forever. All too often we give up and lose hope right as we approach the finish line, missing out on God’s blessing and favor.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Remember the squirrel, if he had just kept his eyes on the tree, kept moving forward, not only would he have made it to safety, he would have received all the abundance of blessing that was waiting for him.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

What are we waiting for?

Jesus billboardDo not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Driving home today from our family vacation, I thought I was going to grab a pillow and nap while the children were sleeping…that didn’t happen. So, I decided to work on my lesson plan for our Wednesday night bible study…yea that didn’t really happen either. So I sat there, half wanting to sleep, half watching the clouds roll in for yet another breathtaking monsoon storm over the desert and half (yes there are three halves in this story I don’t do math on Friday’s) feeling like I should do something productive, I see the words JESUS SAVES pained in huge 8′ tall letters on a billboard by the side of the freeway. Then further down the road a billboard advertising “The Cool Church”, and no its not referring to the temperature in the sanctuary.

I counted around half a dozen various signs along the freeway over the course of about two hours. There were even a couple of large empty train cars with Jesus name painted on the side of them.

This got me thinking, REALLY? This is how we proclaim our Savior to the world; billboards, hip messaging (can’t use the word cool twice in the same blog, that is not cool apparently), talking about our houses of worship as the newest cutting-edge option to hearing the gospel? What happened to being set apart? What happened to not conforming to this world? I get it, we want to stay relevant, we want to get the word out and a billboard on the side of the interstate with literally hundreds of thousands of people driving by each month, seems like a good way to do it…doesn’t it?

What happened to discipleship, what happened to authenticity, what has happened to genuine relationships? I think I need to state this is not a treatise on the evils of modern communication or technology, I love my smart phone and social media and being connected. Nor am I saying that billboards on the side of the road are a bad thing. We know from scripture that God can use anything, anyone and any mode of communication to spread the gospel and to further His kingdom.

I think it’s important to remember that real relationship begins face to face and person to person. Relationship is the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other. Relationship can’t happen outside of interpersonal interaction. I think kitschy signs are funny, and finding new ways to get the word out about who you are is fine. However, if we are not actually touching people where they are with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are just words flying by at 65 mph.

The truth is Jesus didn’t write a bunch of scrolls and send them out to the masses asking for them to attend synagogue. He went to the people who needed him most. What seems to be a trend with some churches, as they experience attrition they advertise, doing whatever they can think of to ‘get their name out’, then hoping people will walk through their doors. Since when has our example ever been waiting for people to come through our door?

Jesus came to earth to save us, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day.” John 6:38-39

Jesus came to us, just as he came to the woman at the well, the blind, the lame, the broken and the dead in body and spirit. Jesus came…He didn’t wait for us to figure out how to save ourselves and fix our brokenness (as if we could). He came and found us in the gutter, living in spiritual squalor and gave us His hand and pulled us out of the mud, and washed us white as wool.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

He sent us out to make disciples of all nations…but here we sit waiting for people to walk through our doors.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Close your mouth and open your heart

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Vector illustration. three monkeysWhen I was a child, I liked to talk. To say that I liked the sound of my own voice would not be an exaggeration. My dad likened my verbosity to a torn pocket flapping in the breeze…and it was always flapping.

My mother would be trying to tell me something and I’m chatting away as if the only person in the room worth listening to was me. She would raise her voice to get my attention and tell me, “Elizabeth Rita, close your mouth and open your ears!”

I am happy to report that after 40+ years, I have learned to close my mouth and open my ears. Through the often loving and sometimes stern coaching of many a mentor, I have become a much better listener. I have come to really enjoy listening to people, their stories, their struggles, their lives. I love helping people connect to their purpose, to each other and to their calling. You can’t do that without listening, but you have to do it with more than your ears.

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Jesus didn’t make a move, a decision without consulting with His Father. They were one, of the same mind and heart because they were in constant communication. And not just casual, ‘”hey how ya doin”, conversation but real in-depth, relational conversation.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone. Matthew 14:22-23

It is when we are in real communication with The Father that we best hear His voice, share His heart. It is very difficult to do that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. We need to be intentional about our time with God, asking the Holy Spirit to help calm our hearts and minds to hear His still small voice.  If we aren’t making time to spend with Him how can we have a relationship?

How did your best friend become your best friend? Was it through quick 5 minute conversations between meetings or getting the kids out the door? No, it was through spending long hours of intimate conversation and shared experiences, growing together over time.

My best friend and I have known each other since we were 16 years old. We can finish each other sentences, our kids are friends, we vacation together. Did I mention over the long years of our relationship, we only lived in the same state for 2 years. We made our relationship a priority, we were intentional with our communication. Now 30 years later I can pick up the phone and have a conversation with her as if we lived next door and no time  had passed.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

If we make time for our family and friends, can’t we make time for God? I know it seems like a simple statement, however in application it’s not easy. We need to be willing to MAKE time for Him, real time, in a place where we can quiet our hearts and minds to focus on Him. Not so easy in today’s world. I am married (17 years), we have 4 children, I work full time at my day job and part-time at my church. MAKING time to be with Jesus can prove challenging in my schedule.

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. Luke 6:12

I am a morning person, I love getting up early and starting my day before the rest of the house is awake. This summer I challenged myself to give my first morning hour to God. I get up, go outside and sit in my backyard reading my Bible and praying. I can’t begin to tell you the difference it makes in my day. So much so that when I don’t make that time for God each day, it is so evident. I can feel it in my heart, thoughts and actions. Giving that time to God to build my relationship with Him, getting to know His Son Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit has made a tremendous difference.

Now when I listen to the words of others I am listening with my heart, His heart and speaking with His words though the power of the Holy Spirit. This is only possible as we make time to be with God each day, closing out mouths and listening with our hearts.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

 

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