Thursday, September 15, 2016

"It" Matters.

One of my favorite things to say has been "it doesn't matter".

If I am having a bad day, or a hard time, or struggling with something... ask me what's wrong and the first thing I would say is "it doesn't matter".

But one day, God told me that "it" does matter.

As Christians I think we have been taught that we're only supposed to have good days.

Christians are not supposed to be struggling, or feel that we have more than we can bear (God never gives you more than you bear, right?), and we are not supposed to be discouraged, or depressed, or anything but happy and joyful all the time.

So, in church on Sundays I would be happy.  And joyful.  And full of smiles.

But on Monday I would be discouraged and depressed and struggling.

And, I thought something was wrong with me.

"It doesn't matter" seemed like the right thing to say because I shouldn't be having any problems anyway, right?


Real life, human life, is full of troubles and trials and problems and difficulties.  And the Bible doesn't say that God will not give us more than we can bear... it says that He makes a way of escape for us in every tribulation... we need Him because all of life is more than we can bear on our own.  We can be assured that this life is not smelling roses and walking on rainbow paths every day.  We are going to hurt.  We are going to know pain.  We are going to know struggles and situations we do not understand.

And God cares.

About all of "it".

"It" matters to Him.

In my woes me state one day, Holy Spirit whispered to me... "stop saying it doesn't matter... it does matter... it matters to me.

What you feel ... matters.

What you fear ... matters.

What you think ... matters.

What hurts you ... matters.

What disappoints you ... matters.

What discourages you ... matters.

What you like .... matters.

What you dislike ... matters.

It all matters to me."

Why would "it" matter to God?

First, when your child comes home from school or work and has had a bad day, or seems upset about something... you want to know what it is.  Maybe you can't fix it, or decide not to get involved, but you at least want them to share with you.  You want to listen to them.  You want to offer advice to them.  As a child of the most high God, we should never assume that God is too busy to lend a listening ear to us.  No matter how small or big our problem is, He is a "very present help in the time of trouble".  The God who never slumbers or sleeps is never too busy to listen to your conversation with Him.  And, as you begin to speak to Him, don't be surprised if you find peace about the problem, or thoughts come to mind as to how to handle the problem... this is prayer without ceasing even if you think you're just talking about it out loud.

Secondly, God knows you.  Like nobody else knows you... He knows you.  He has searched your heart and He knows you.  He knew your spirit before you were ever conceived.  Things that make other people shy away from you, draw God to you!  Everything about you He already knows.  So, He knows your desires and your dreams and the plans He has for your life.  But, He also knows the hurts, the pains, the disappointments, and the struggles.  He knows the addictions and the sins, and the secret thoughts hidden from everybody else.  And, He loves you just the same!

Thirdly, His word declares that we are to "cast all our care upon Him".  The word care in that scripture in Greek means to separate into pieces, to divide... through distraction.  All this stuff in our lives matters to God because it distracts us from Him.  Instead of thinking about Him and His promises, we are constantly caught up in thinking about this stuff.  He wants us to have a mind and a heart focused continually on Him.  So, He wants us to "throw our heartaches and worries" on Him and let Him care for us.  The word "careth" in that scripture in Greek means "someone it matters to".  He careth for you!

Don't hide your "it" in life and pretend "it" doesn't matter or "it" isn't important.

"It" does indeed matter.

And, "it" matters to Him!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Every Canvas is Different... Just Be You.

Several weeks ago I went to my first painting class.  I am not very artistically inclined, but, they promised that if you can draw a stick figure, you can paint.  My husband and I went to a "date night" class where we each painted half of the picture.  He kept correcting mine and telling me when my lines were too thin, not in the right place, and not the right color... but ultimately I thought mine turned out pretty well.

Everyone in the class had the same size canvas.

We all had the same paints.

We used the same size brushes.

We painted the same picture.

And, they all turned out uniquely and wonderfully different.

Even the instructor's painting from that night looked different than the sample painting she had created earlier!

If you have ever shopped for handmade items, you know that the best thing about handmade items is that they are unique and varied and different.  With the same materials, the same artist will create multiple works, but each one is slightly different than the others.

That's the wonderful thing about handmade items... they aren't created in a mold by a machine.

No two are ever alike!

The same is true with you and I.

This is the beauty of God in us.

What He purposed for my life may be different than what He purposed for yours.

What He planned for my life is going to be different than what He planned for yours.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

We are both masterpieces of the artist and the creator.

We will both turn out individually as He created us to be.

We have different battles.  We follow different paths in life.  Different gifts and talents and abilities are within us.  I cannot compare my canvas to your canvas.  I have to allow God to paint my picture and write my story just like He is writing your story and painting your picture.

You cannot find your purpose until you find the person He created you to be.

In other words, you will never be satisfied, feel complete, and have purpose and direction until you live your own life.  Until you use your gifts.  Until you serve and give and love and live what He has placed inside of you, you will never find the happiness, joy, and abundance of life Jesus came to give you.  Comparing your life to others, trying to do what everybody else is doing, and trying to have what everyone else has is not what God intended for us.  One of the synonyms for unique is "peculiar".  God calls His people His "peculiar treasure" (Exodus 19:5).  We are supposed to be set apart and not the same as the world.  Even in the church and among other Christian people, we cannot compare our work, and ministry, and gifts, and talents to others.  Comparison is a very dangerous activity.  When we begin to compare ourselves to other people, there are only two results.  We either see ourselves as inferior or superior.  If we see that we excel in something (or even multiple things), we feel superior to others and that leads to pride.  If we see ourselves as lacking in an area, we feel inferior and that leads to discouragement and depression and low self-esteem.  Either way, we are not seeing the truth about ourselves and others.  We are not seeing the unique, peculiar, fearfully and wonderfully made person that God created and is forming and shaping.

Find you.

Be you.

Love you.

And, in all those areas of your life that seem to be messy and dirty and painful right now, remember that you're not finished yet.  It's a process and God is still working on you.

The ugly places of your life do not turn God away.  Psalm 139 says that darkness and light are the same to God.  He can see in the dark!  He can see everything that you try to hide and keep secret.  He knows everything about you!  And He loves you!

There's a beautiful scripture in Isaiah that says God gives us beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  We like to quote it a lot and it sounds good during Sunday morning sermons.  But on Monday when we're fighting a hard battle, we feel sometimes feel so desperate and alone... "where is God and why is this happening to me?"

If there are never ashes, He cannot replace them with His beauty.

If you never feel the heaviness and the heartache of life, you don't know what it's like to have your spirit lifted and experience His joy and peace.

If you are never sick, hurt, or broken, you cannot experience His healing power.

If you never feel unloved, you don't know what it's like to have Him wrap His arms around you.

If you never feel alone or afraid or confused, you would never understand how it feels to be rescued, delivered, and set free.

We don't like the dirty, the ugly, and the messy... but the reality is that we need it so we can truly see God at work in our lives.  Healthy people do not need a doctor.  Perfect people do not need to be fixed.  Jesus came for those who needed Him.  The truth is that we all need Him, we all just aren't willing to admit it.  When we turn to Him, we allow Him to show Himself strong on our behalf, to be who He is, to be the I Am in our lives.

Some of our masterpieces may be a little further along than others, but don't compare your canvas to anybody else.  Let God be the master painter, creator, potter, and author of your life!  Be the peculiar, unique you that He created you to be.

You're unfinished.

And, when you see someone else struggling and burdened and maybe not living what you think is right, don't judge them, remember that we are all unfinished.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

When It All Goes Wrong.

The artist who started my painting had something in mind.  Somewhere along the way, the work wasn't turning out as planned.  I wonder what went wrong?

Not everything we do works out as planned.

Not everything we do is good.

Sometimes it's not really any fault of our own, things just don't go as planned.

Sometimes we make bad decisions.

Sometimes we make unwise choices.

Society tells us that we should have things our way.  We should be happy.  We should live free and do whatever we want.  Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, said, "you say everything is permissible, I can do whatever I want... but not everything you do is profitable, not everything you do is beneficial". (Read 1 Corinthians 10:23).

Not all our decisions are good.

Not all our choices are wise.

Not all our ideas work out.

Even the most well thought out plans still don't turn out the way we hoped, dreamed, and wanted, all of the time.

And, when things fail on us, we're ready to give up, throw it away, toss it aside.

We see the blemishes, the scars, the discouragement, the disappointment, the mess, the hurt, and the pain.... and we're done.  Finished.  Walk away.  Give up.

But God sees the good.

God sees what is yet to be.

He is the One who has seen the ending from the beginning.

God is not figuring this thing out as we go along.

He is not waking up in the morning and deciding how to handle today.

He doesn't call a meeting and say ... there's a challenge how are we going to handle it?

He doesn't wring His hands in disgust and say ... I don't know what to do with this one.

"... For I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.

Declaring the ending from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.

I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it." (Isaiah 46:9-10,11b)

Go back.  Read those verses again.  Let them sink deep into your mind and your heart.

God knows exactly what He started and what the end will be.

"I knew you before I formed  you..." (Jeremiah 1:5).

He's saying to us, "I knew what you would be, what hope you would have, what dreams you would have, what ideas and talents and abilities I placed inside of you".

To me that is a comforting thought... yes!  God knows my future and He has great plans for me.

The real comforting thought though, is this... "I knew what your struggles would be, what your fears would be, what your hurts would be, what your pains and frustrations would be.  All those things you think you need to hide from everyone including me... I already know all about it!  And I love you!"

That, my sweet friends, is the greatest comfort of realizing that God knew us before He formed us!

Before we lived a single day, all our days were recorded in His book. (Psalm 139:16).

When we feel like a hopeless mess, a disaster, we have comfort in knowing that God already knew all of this mess we are in!  And, He knows where to go from here!

He has already seen the ending!

God has not given up on you!  You're just not finished yet!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

He's the Expert. Let Him Do It.

Think about something you are good at.

Maybe you are a very good cook and you can get into the kitchen and have a gourmet meal ready in minutes.

Perhaps you are a mechanic and you can easily diagnose problems with any type of vehicle.

Maybe you do landscaping and know all the secrets to a perfectly manicured lawn.

Whatever it is... think of something you're good at, something that you know about, something you could be called an expert at, or something that you are qualified to do.

Now, imagine what it is like to have to stand and watch someone who was unqualified, a novice, do that activity and you cannot help them.  You cannot give them direction.  You cannot do it for them.  You are forced to stand there and watch as they make mistakes.  As they mess it up.  As they do it totally wrong, you have to observe in silence.

How does that feel?

You want to run over them to them and say, "stop, stop, stop, let me show you how to do this."

You may just want to do it for them... because it would lessen the burden and be easier on both of you.  It would be quicker and less troublesome for you to just do it yourself.  After all... you're the expert.  You know what you're doing!

I believe this is how God feels as He watches us daily trying to do things all on our own.

We try and handle it.

We try and fix it.

We try and take care of things, all by ourselves.

And, we really have no idea what we're doing.

We need to realize that God is an expert at taking care of us.

Supplying all our need is what He does.

Not because we have earned His attention or blessing, not because we were good the day before, and because we deserve it... it's simply because of who He is.

1 Peter 5:7 says "Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you."

All your care.

Not just the big things.

The little, annoying, eat away at your mind and heart things too.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31)

God named Himself Father.  He actually calls Himself Abba Father which means "daddy" Father because He desires to nurture and love and care for us.

He named Himself Jehovah-Jireh because He longs to provide for us.

Jehovah-Rophe because He is our healer.

Savior because He longs to save us from all our sins.

Redeemer because He purchases us for Himself.

The Bread of Life because He wants to fill us and sustain us with His Word.

The Author because He began our story and He will finish it.

Prince of Peace because He offers us His perfect peace and understanding in the middle of life's chaos.

Alpha and Omega because He is the beginning and the end.

The Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep.

He said I AM that I AM because He wants to be our all-in-all and everything that we ever have need of.

You and and I don't name God.  God names Himself.  He spoke of who He is and the names He gives Himself show us who He longs to be in our lives.

And, He's an expert at everything He does!

He doesn't quit either.  The artist who began painting a masterpiece in your life will never toss it out onto the street because that would defy who He is.

Psalm 23:3 says "He restores my soul: He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."

Isaiah 48:11 says "For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another."

Now, this is one of those deep, theological thoughts that can be hard to wrap your brain around, but it is fundamental and foundational to understanding God's commitment to you and His work in your life.

God forgives, loves, protects, saves, heals, provides, delivers, covers, and cares for us... for His own name's sake.  He will never give up, and His love never fails, because that would defy who He is.  

He doesn't do it because we have earned it or deserved it.  He doesn't do it because we qualify or work really hard.  He doesn't do it because we go to church every Sunday and Wednesday or because we help teach classes, clean the church, or pay our tithes.  God does all these things, wants to do all these things, and desires to do all these things because it glorifies Him.

It exalts His name.

It brings honor to His name.

It shows His name to be greater, mightier, and higher than any other name.

He has accepted the responsibility of being all that His name declares Him to be.  He performs every duty and every function of every name and title so that His name will always be magnified and praised.  He receives the honor and glory for everything that is accomplished.  Men cannot boast of their own achievements and abilities in His glorious presence.  All the glory goes to Him.  He is Holy and Righteous.  And all His works are perfect and good so that everything accomplished might honor and exalt Him.

All of His good works are in spite of whatever we might attempt to accomplish on our own.  In spite of our failures and mistakes, He is God and He fulfills His Word and His purpose so that His name is honored and testified of.

You and I may be unfinished, but we can have the confidence that He will finish the work He began in us because of who He is.  Maybe your painting looks to be a bit of mess right now, but the artist still has the palette and the brush in His hand and He knows the plans and the thoughts He has for you and He is going to bring you to His expected end.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

When We Make A Mess.

Have you ever made something that was a really good thing?

Some people build stuff.
Some people sew stuff.
Playing instruments.
Some people are really good at sports or fishing or golfing.

Whatever your talent, interest, and gift might be... have you ever created something, done something, or participated in something and you stepped back and said...

"I like it."

"This looks good."

"This tastes good."

"This turned out well."

"I worked hard and accomplished this, I'm proud of the work I did."

That's a good feeling.  It's a powerful feeling.

Have you ever tried something and it didn't work out the way it was supposed to?

Epic Pinterest fails.
Crumbled pieces of paper from writer's block.
Burnt confections in the oven.
Furniture that falls apart when you touch it.
A failed business.
Or an important game that was lost.

Sometimes, instead of admiring our creations, we look at them in disgust.

I wonder if that's what the artist did with my unfinished painting?  Did they have an idea and as they started stroking the colors off their palette onto the canvas, they quickly became displeased with the direction the painting was going... it wasn't turning out the way they envisioned it, and that's why it ended up on the street?

I am so thankful to know that God is not like us.

The One who began the good work in you never fails!
He never quits!
He never gives up!
He doesn't toss us out on the street, kick us to the curb, or throw us away as a lost cause.
Instead, He pursues us, desires us, chases us, and longs for us.

"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy... He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities... Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him.  For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust." ~ Psalm 103:8,10,13-14

I am thankful that God knows I am human and that I am not perfect!

The prodigal son took his inheritance and he went off and lived it up and wasted all his money.  Riotous living.  Wild, unruly, uncontrolled behavior.  Lively and rambunctious.  What a great time he had.  What fun he had.  Until the money ran out.  He found himself starving, living in a pig-pen, wanting to eat the pig's food.

My daddy raised pigs.  I remember the smell of the pig pen.  On a nice breezy day, when the wind was in the right direction, that not so lovely odor could be smelled for a couple of miles.  I remember the slop buckets we kept.  Scraping our leftovers into five gallon buckets after each meal and once they were almost full we'd carry that bucket of nastiness up the hill and pour it into the troughs.  The pigs would run over top of each other to get to that watery, slimy mess.  And, I remember the fall Saturdays that my daddy woke us up bright and early so we could go with him to cornfields where we would collect the ears that the corn harvester machines had left behind.  I have been there, seen it, and don't think I could ever eat what I've seen my daddy's pigs feed on, unless I was desperate and starving.  The Bible said the prodigal son would gladly have filled his belly with the pig's corn.  He was desperate and starving.

If you read the scriptures closely, it says that "no man gave to him".  His position in his life at this time meant that he couldn't ask for what he wanted or needed.  He couldn't take what he needed.  He couldn't take the pig's food... even if he was willing to eat it.  He could only have what was given to him.  Otherwise, he could have been beaten and severely punished.

He came to himself and he realized that his father had plenty and his father's servants were well treated and well fed.  He decided to return home.  He was planning on asking to be a servant, just to be given a place to sleep and food to eat.  The Bible says that while he was still "a great way off" his father saw him coming and ran to meet him.

His father was watching for him to return!

His father was waiting for his return!

If you have wandered away, living wildly and unruly, uncontrolled and rambunctious, your father is watching and waiting for your return.

He is waiting, not to make you merely a servant, but to return you to sonship status.  The prodigal son's father put shoes on his feet, and fresh robes on his back, and a ring on his finger.  The shoes, the robe, and the sandals were all indicators of his position in life.  Not a lowly servant or slave, but a man of wealth and social position.  His father returned him immediately to full sonship status.

Our heavenly artist doesn't toss us out on the street when we've made bad decisions or our masterpiece has veered off course from what He has planned.  He doesn't decide not to love us or not to offer us forgiveness.  His mercy and His grace is sufficient for every situation.  His Word says that where sin did abound (was plentiful), grace did much more abound!

Wherever sin is, God's grace overflows!

Sometimes our masterpieces are not what God intends them to be.  We can honestly be a total mess a lot of the time.  But, as Jeremiah 18 says, the potter was making a vessel on the wheel and the vessel was "marred in the hand of the potter".  The New Living Translation says the vessel did not turn out as he hoped.

He didn't throw it away.  He made it over again.  It was still in His hand and He kept working on it.

I'm glad God is not like the artist who threw out my painting.  He sees us in our disorderly, chaotic condition and even though we aren't looking the way He planned, He desires to keep working on us and making us into the masterpiece He began.

He knows we're unfinished.

Monday, August 1, 2016

An Unfinished Work of Art.

Earlier this summer, my family and I were very blessed to go on vacation to Niagara Falls.  And, we were blessed to visit the Canadian side of Niagara Falls which is absolutely beautiful and gives you a complete view of all three of the falls at one time.  Being so close to the border, and having went through the ridiculous hassle of getting passports, I decided I would like to venture further into Canada and visit Toronto.

Toronto is a beautiful city situated on Lake Ontario.  I personally loved the mix of old and new as we drove past century old buildings and newly developed skyscrapers on the same block.  I liked the fact that their city policies keep them from tearing down old buildings, so they just add on to them.  Several of the buildings have such a neat historical value and yet look so uniquely modern at the same time.  We took a "hop on, hop off" bus tour that was very interesting and gave us the opportunity to view the city, avoid driving in the traffic and bypass the worry of not knowing where to go and where to park.  I, being the planner that I am, had researched the best places to visit and shop and found an interesting place called Kensington Market.  The internet said I would find lots of colorful handmade items, unique pieces of art, and a diverse cultural neighborhood with lots of fresh foods to try.  What I actually found was nothing like that... so either the internet is wrong, or we didn't get to the right place.

The tour bus dropped us off at the Art Gallery of Ontario and we had to walk several blocks to get to Kensington Market.  We had to walk right through Chinatown, which we learned is the third largest Chinatown district in all of North America.  After almost seeing a street fight, I instructed my kids to "keep walking".  "Don't look, just walk".  My son said we weren't quite safe, and I told him he might have to get his "Rush Hour" moves on.  We did find Kensington Street and therefore I think we found the market, which was old, rundown house after old, rundown house and yards and streets full of merchandise... but honestly, it wasn't what I was expecting and we only went into one of the shops.  Most of them were questionable, especially the herbal shops.

It was, however, an adventure and we realized that we had seen some of the best the city had to offer, and now we were seeing some of the not best of Toronto.  On the way back to the bus stop, we passed by a local art shop and sitting outside there were two canvases and a sign that said "free art".  Initially, I walked past them.  One of the canvases was way too large to fit in my car, the other was a lot smaller.

After initially walking past them, I told my husband, "I should take that home, it would make a unique souvenir, which is why I wanted to come to this part of town anyway.  I wanted something I couldn't buy at home or off the internet."  He went back and got it for me.  I sent him, just in case there was a catch to the "free art" part.

I often tell my kids how lucky they are to have me as a mom.  Not everybody has a preacher slash teacher mom that can make a Bible lesson out of anything.  And, while waiting for our tour bus, I already had a message forming in my mind.  And, the more I thought about it, and the more I worked on it, the more I realized this message would change me, and it might change others too.

I held in my hands, and now have hanging on my office wall, and unfinished piece of art.  To some, it may not be considered art at all.  I mean, it really isn't anything.... It's a canvas, painted black, with some red, orange, and pink paint strokes on it.  It's not a portrait, or a beautiful scene, or even some type of abstract.  It's really... nothing.  With no artist signature.  Just an unwanted canvas, tossed out on the street, offered for free to the person willing to pick it up.

But, it started out as something.  The artist had something in mind when they began it.  They picked the size of the canvas, the background color, and I believe had an idea in their mind of what this painting was going to be.  In the process something went wrong.  And, they left it unfinished.

As I stared at my free, unique souvenir, the first thing that came to mind was that I too was an unfinished piece of artwork.  Fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator, yet, imperfect, at times crazily messed up, and unfinished.

We are all unfinished.

Every one of us.

Not one of us has been given the artist signature and hung up in His heavenly gallery.  We've not yet reached the place of perfection that He has said, "you're now perfect in My image, come on home".  Some of us may be further along than others, but none of us have been completed yet.

But, unlike the artist who began this painting, the Creator who began the work in my life, and began the work in your life, does not quit and He does not give up.  He never fails.  He doesn't toss us out, throw us away, or walk away when we are not cooperating as we should.

Instead, He pursues us, desires us, loves us, and longs for us.  He began a work in us and He will finish the work that was started.

So, when you feel...

Messed up.
Torn up.

It's OK!

Shout that to yourself... It's OK!

You're unfinished!

When you see someone else making mistakes, messing up, not handling things the way you would if you were them, struggling, and behaving badly, don't judge them.  Remember they're unfinished too.  Their masterpiece may not be as far along as yours is, but God still has a plan to finish the work He began in them too!

As long as you're still here on this Earth, breathing in and breathing out, you're unfinished.

But, be confident!  He that began a good work in you, will complete what He started!