Pain

20 Jun

Pain ScaleI have many friends and family members who have recently experienced great loss or who are currently in the throes of physical, mental, financial, emotional difficulty. It breaks my heart for them. If I could, I would fix it for them. However, I can perhaps offer some hope based on a few verses I looked at this week.

Friends – The Lord hears your groaning!

I was reading this week in Exodus 6 along with some questions and commentary (from Lauren Chandler’s study Steadfast Love) on verses 2-8. In these verses, God reveals His name as that of “I Am,” or Yahweh (the Lord), to Moses and the sons of Israel. A great name, and one He revealed to His people when they were groaning from their great bondage! Verse 5 says that He heard their groaning. He gave them His full attention. He heard with a readiness to act on their behalf. That’s a really comforting thought. The Lord hears our groaning.

Friends – The Lord will act on your behalf!

In verses 6-8 there are at least eleven times, depending on your translation, where “I” is used. He’s the one acting. He’s the one to sit back and watch what He will do. Eleven or twelve times He states exactly what that will be. He promises that He will personally bring them out from under the burden, He will deliver them, redeem them, be in relationship with them, give them a home, be faithful to His promises from the past. Even more comforting words. The Lord will act on our behalf.

Friends – Don’t miss out because of the pain!

Sadly, in verse 9 it says that the people didn’t listen to this great encouraging message the Lord sent through Moses. The reason was their focus was fixed on their difficulties. Believe me. I do understand the tendency to continue groaning, to stay focused on the pain, BECAUSE IT HURTS! I get it. But if you and I would but shift our eyes from the circumstance, we can watch Him work in His way and in His time on our behalf. If you and I would but listen for His still, small voice, we might just hear His call to be in relationship with Him. We would get to know the great I AM – a thrilling, comforting privilege!

That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11 NAS)

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7 Examples from 7 Decades

17 May

D&NToday would have been my sister’s 70th birthday. Quite the milestone.  I’ve been anticipating this birthday and what I wanted to write about it. I had thought I might write “70 Lessons I’ve Learned from Nancy,” but decided against that. Instead I thought I would share 7 examples from Nancy’s 7 decades of living.

  1. Enjoy a good laugh – even if it’s at your own expense! Nancy loved a good joke. I would frequently get calls or texts sharing a funny story. Many fell into the “only Nancy would have done this” category, but I cherish these stories. She brought so much joy and gave us great memories to chuckle over again and again. She was also kind to listen to the jokes children would tell her at school and laugh with them – making that child feel special and of value. (Proverbs 17:22)
  2. Strive for excellence in all you do – Nancy was an outstanding teacher. Some of her students became teachers because of her example. She was a great cook, meticulous housekeeper, and an award-winning quilter. She made each of us quilts for significant events that we cherish today. She did as Paul admonishes – “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23 NAS).
  3. Obey – My sister had a track record of obedience. She obeyed as a child. She followed doctors’ orders to the “T”. She obeyed Christ. Was her obedience perfect? No. But the trajectory of her desire and heart were to do what she was called to do. She was also faithful to lovingly confront those who weren’t obeying if needed. (I might or might not know this from personal experience!) (1 Samuel 15:22)
  4. Don’t be a complainer – Nancy was born prematurely and was a surviving twin. She had immunity issues all her life that made her easily susceptible to illness. She had both of her knees replaced at the same time. She had a heart condition – to name a few. Yet, for the most part, she did not complain (2 Timothy 2:3-4). She endured a difficult childhood, in no small part to a little sister whom she practically had to help raise! Yet I never heard her complain. (She would say this was because she knew she’d get in trouble if she did!) I was included in many activities that for any teenager would have been embarrassing to have your younger sister around. I never knew it if she felt that way. Oh, we would have dog & cat fights like many other siblings, but for the most part, she included me with great grace. (Philippians 2:3-4)
  5. Be passionate about the things you enjoy and the things that matter – Nancy was a staunch Denver Broncos fan and a Texan through and through. She was passionate about her family. I don’t know of a time she did not support me, encourage me, pray for me. I watched her do this and more for her daughter Claire and husband Weldon. I observed her enter into the joy of friends and other family members. She “over-the-top” loved being a grandmother to Gibson and Lincoln. She was passionate about her relationship with Christ. She loved the Lord with her whole being. She held up God’s Word as the standard of truth for her life. She fought the good fight. (Mark 12:30-31)
  6. Pray – This example was the hallmark of her life. I was looking at some past texts from her. They were full of prayer requests or telling me she was praying for me. Prayer made her sensitive to others. She listened when someone was having a rough day and wrote notes or gave little gifts to encourage others in whatever they were going through. She didn’t just say she would pray. She followed up with a text or a call to see how God answered the prayer or if she needed to continue to pray about the matter. The margins in her Bible and her prayer journals were full of her heart cries to the One she knew would listen and answer (Psalm 62:8).
  7. Seek to have a life that counts for eternity – Today my niece sent me something Nancy wrote in her prayer journal on her 67th birthday. “I don’t have long years left, and truly don’t want to come to the end with a waste.” Bless her heart, she rarely wasted a minute, let alone the life God had given her. (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Thanks, my sweet sister, for setting decades of examples for me to follow. I miss you and love you. I look forward to seeing you with our blessed Savior one day soon.

Let It Go – Part 2

5 May

 

Study BibleI have a favorite study Bible – the Hebrew/Greek Key Word Study Bible, edited by Spiros Zodhiates. I was first introduced to it when the hubster purchased one at our local Christian bookstore. It combines key words in a text with the corresponding Strong’s Concordance number and will give a bit more commentary on what that word means and perhaps its usage back in the day. This study Bible is perfect for me since I love to find out meanings of words when I study a passage.  It even gives some user friendly indicators on the tense of verbs that open more of the riches to be found in God’s Word.

Our first version of this great tool was King James, then Rock was given a very nice New American Standard, which is our “standard” translation at the Hails’ home. My dad, who loved God’s Word, decided to buy one that he could use. His purchase was more a hard paperback version, not the leather one Rock owned. When he passed away, I was given his Bible where he’d carefully written his name and address on the front cover in case it was lost.

I tell you all of this to say that I treasured that Bible – not just because it was God’s Word, but it was my go to study Bible, AND it belonged to my dad. It was one of the few things I had of his that made me feel connected to him somehow. This Bible was such a great study tool. God showed me many things through using it. But having the Book he loved so much was a privilege.

Then I. lost. it. Not just “misplaced” lost, but “absent mindedly left it where I would not get it back” lost. I had forgotten it once before at a women’s retreat, but it was found, and I picked it up. This time, however, I left it either at an event arena or worse yet, on top of my car as I was juggling several things to get in after the event. I called the venue multiple times, but to no avail. They had not found it and no one had turned it in. I even begged to come there and look for myself in their lost and found, but was told I couldn’t. I called the office where my parents had once lived (the address he’d written inside), but no one had mailed it there. The Bible was gone, and I was devastated. My “connection” to my dad through this blessed Book was now broken.

Many people trying to encourage me after this loss would say something to the effect that the person who found it needed it more. I have to be honest. My heart was not comforted by that. I wanted MY Bible back. I wanted my dad’s Bible back. And that selfish attitude of clinging to what’s mine continued for months. The disappointment of losing a prized possession had gone from a natural response over  loss to way into the sin category. Jesus even addressed this sort of hold-on-tightly-and-not-let-go attitude with His disciples in Luke 14:33. “So no one can become My disciple unless he first sits down and counts his blessings—and then renounces them all for Me” (TLB).

Several months passed and I was bemoaning the loss of the Bible for the umpteenth time to my family, when my daughter gave me a loving rebuke in the form of a reminder about my dad – his passion to see people know Christ as Savior and Lord. She wisely reminded me that if I had to lose it, and someone picked it up, no other person than my dad would have been more thrilled to know that God could use it to draw someone into His kingdom. That reminder was enough for me. I released any hope of getting that Bible back because of the possibility that someone could know Him, could grow in Him, or could even share it with another to help that individual. I let that particular Bible go with this knowledge:

 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

This Christmas I received a new study Bible from my children – a great treasure indeed because of those who gave it to me, but still one to hold with an open hand. May I remember to hold all of my life…and my new Bible…before Him with that openness (Romans 12:1).

Susan

24 Mar
Sharon.Me.Susan

Sharon, Me, Susan

I met Susan Foster Hunt when we were in the third grade. Her father had passed away, and her family had just moved to Abilene. She was visiting my home church, and I introduced myself to her and sat with her in the service. Her family eventually joined that church. We became friends.

We were actively involved with all things offered at church – Girls Auxillary (GAs; Girls in Action – a totally Southern Baptist thing!), Sunday School, choir, youth studies. We went to the same high school and carpooled together. Our summers were filled with youth choir fundraisers and youth choir trips – such wonderful experiences, funny memories, big curlers in our hair, hot school bus rides all over the U.S., laughter, singing of our Lord at various churches. We would occasionally duet together on these trips, and went so far as to do an assembly program at one of the junior highs (middle school now) in our home town. I’m sure I had visions of being the next great singing duo, but alas, it was not meant to be! It was always a treat to hear her sing a solo. She knew how to communicate through music as it came from genuine love for the Lord and people.

Susan was much more popular than I was in high school, married in college, started having children, and stayed in Abilene. She went through a divorce and eventually married a man we grew up with in church, Mark. She remained a kind, loving friend, even when our paths went separate ways and frequent contact began to wane. We often kept updated with one another through our gal pal, Sharon. My family gave me a trip to Abilene for my 60th birthday to see these two beloved friends. Just this past year I was able to see her twice, along with other precious childhood friends.

Growing up Susan would patiently lend a listening ear to my laments on boys, life, whatever trauma I was dealing with at the time, and offer advice or enthusiastic support. She was one of those people who could tell you where you messed up, yet you never felt rejected, only loved. I was not an easy person to have as a friend, particularly in those years, so to have someone like this in my life was a blessing. Proverbs 27:6a says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” and Susan exhibited this kind of faithfulness to me when needed.

Susan lost her battle with cancer early this morning. I cried buckets of tears the day I learned she was not long for this earth a few months ago. I still tear up every time I give my husband an update on her. I’m tearing up now typing this.

Her deep, abiding faith in Christ was always on display, particularly as she battled cancer. As long as she was able, she continued to teach a children’s Sunday School class. She clung to the promises in God’s Word. Recently she told Sharon that she hoped she was doing this right – giving glory to God through it all. I know for a fact that her life “shouted the gospel” – a phrase I’ve recently heard that truly describes her. She is leaving a godly legacy for Mark, her children, grandchildren, and extended family. Her many friends through the years are better for having known her.  I know I am.

 

Let It Go – Part 1

23 Mar

When I was a young girl, my grandmother had a handheld mirror that I admired. Now, mind you, this mirror was not beautifully crafted. It didn’t have jewels all over it. In fact, it was quite plain. Just a unique oval shape, gold in color.  Nothing more.

I remember asking my grandmother how old the mirror was. Her reply was that it was from the Civil War. That did it for me. I was smitten and wanted to have that mirror as my own someday.

Just a side note: This is the same grandmother who, when asked her age, would tell you she was 104, though she was nowhere near that old.

Though I knew the age thing was a joke, somehow I did not connect her teasing with the Civil War declaration. I took her at her word on the age of this unique mirror, no documentation of authenticity necessary. She said it. I believed it.

MirrorI went on to inherit the mirror after my grandmother passed away. I proudly proclaimed the Civil War age of the mirror until the day I dropped it, and the handle broke revealing that the frame was made of none other than plastic! (Go ahead. Call me gullible, naïve, dense in the head. It’s true.) I had believed a “lie” about this mirror for years and acted on that belief when I declared to others its origin. Even a crack in the frame prior to the handle breaking did not deter me.

I dropped this mirror again the other day, and a piece of the frame around the mirror chipped off. (Two drops, and the mirror itself has never broken! Just the frame.) I was reminded of my steadfast belief about its history and had to laugh at how long I held on to that as fact.

It made me think of how often I have listened to the lies of Satan – lies about the Lord, His character, and His Word; lies about who I am in Christ, and so much more. It made me realize that I can still hold on to those thoughts, even when confronted with the truth. I think the Bible calls that sort of thing a stronghold. I need to let go of those thoughts through the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing them in line with God’s Word, not with what my circumstances or emotions say to me. His Word, not my experience, must be my standard for truth.

Satan does not joke or tease at the expense of a gullible, impressionable young girl. He means business when he tells us a lie, when he brings into question our beliefs, when he accuses us. He is out “to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). He wants those “Civil War” beliefs to be a fortress in our minds.

So it begs the question – Are you holding onto a “Civil War” belief? Is it keeping you from seeing God for who He is and all He has for you in Christ? Let it go. Stockpile your mind with God’s Word, and keep doing so until what He says is what you believe and how you act.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:2 The Message)

 

The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 The Message)

Remain True to the Lord

9 Jul

Senseless killings. Political unrest. Election outcomes. Economic upheaval. Serious illnesses or other difficulties of family and friends. Water heater replacements. Waiting on insurance adjusters to say what you’ll get on your wrecked car. … With all of these circumstances and the emotions that go with them swirling inside me, I read these words from Acts 11:23

“Then when he [Barnabas] arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”

pathWhat an exhortation – “remain true to the Lord”! But what does that mean? And better yet, how do I do remain true when it looks like all around me is failing, that things will only get worse, that God doesn’t care or isn’t acting to correct it, that there is no hope, or when I’m tempted to get off the path?

To remain means to persevere, to hold fast, abide. The very word carries with it a resolution of mind and heart to carry on, to follow through. It is an intentional decision one makes to stay the course.

Barnabas came alongside the Christians in Antioch to strengthen their faith. He wanted them to continue to acknowledge what God had done for them through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, to continue to surrender their lives to Him, to continue to let the conduct of their lives be changed by the power of His Holy Spirit in them. He wanted them to continue pursuing the object of their faith – God Himself, resting on Him alone. He encouraged these growing Christians to remain true even in the midst of persecution and difficulty.

This idea of remaining is found in other places in the Bible, and each instance indicates how to remain true.

  • Acts 11:23 –I must make an intentional decision to do this with my whole heart.
  • Acts 13:43 –To continue in the grace of God I need to remember that I did nothing to deserve God’s unmerited favor, that He is doing a work in my life, and will empower me to do what He asks.
  • Acts 14:22 – I need to continue in the faith knowing that difficulties will come but are used to make me fit for the kingdom of God.
  • John 8:31 – I must continue in God’s Word, letting it teach me, discipline me, nourish and encourage me.
  • John 15:4-6 – I must abide in Christ. He is my source of life.
  • John 15:9-10 – I must abide in His love for me, confident that nothing can separate me from His love.
  • Colossians 1:23 – I must not move away from the hope of the gospel, but be firmly established and steadfast in the faith.
  • Jude 3 – I must contend for the faith – to fight for it with a sincere passion for its truth and its purity.
  • Jude 20-21 – I must continue to be built up on this “most holy” faith. It’s my foundation.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 – I must hold fast the confession of my hope. The reason – God is faithful. Again, it’s resting on Him and not me or my circumstances. Staying in close fellowship with other believers will help in this as we encourage each other in love and good works.
  • Hebrews 10:35 – I must not throw away my confidence because of the reward that is mine – Jesus! (vv.36-38)

The world you and I live in is getting very troubling. Circumstances are grim. But God’s Word encourages Christians to remain true to the Lord, to our faith in Him, to our only hope – Jesus. I pray this will be the resolve of our whole hearts until He returns.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”           (Jude 24-25)

Relief vs. Relationship

17 Feb

The fall of 1977 was a hard time for me. I was recovering from a broken heart and really struggling to believe and receive God’s love, goodness, wisdom – you name it. The enemy was up to his old tricks of tempting me with doubt about the character of God and about my own salvation.

RelationshipI called a dear friend whose walk with the Lord I trusted and who had seen me in similar upheaval before. I asked her what she thought the Lord might be trying to teach me through these recurring circumstances. To be honest, I wanted relief. But my wise friend told me that though God does teach us through the difficulties of life, He’s wants something more – relationship. If I were to stay in the mindset that He’s trying to teach me something, then my view of God is that He’s out to “get me.” But if I will draw near to Him in that rough time, He will draw near to me.

I’m grateful that the Lord gave me grace and sense to receive that as welcomed news that day. It was like hearing something for the first time and being excited about the prospects. After I got off the phone with her, I told the Lord I was willing to let Him draw me more into relationship with Him, not even knowing what that would look like.

The next day I was reading in my regular Bible plan in Ephesians 2. The first verse jumped right off the page! “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” God was assuring me in His Word that I belonged to Him.

The rest of the chapter confirmed that assurance even more. The verses compare those who are lost with those who are in Christ. The verb tenses of those showing life before Christ are in past tense – “were dead,” “formerly walked,” “formerly lived,” “formerly were far off,” etc. The tenses for life in Him are in the present – “made us alive,” “have been saved,” “seated … with Him,” “have been brought near,” “are of God’s household,” etc. The whole of the chapter is a before and after contrast – one of desperate need for a Savior, and one that proclaims the preciousness of His grace.

When I finished reading the chapter and looking at all there was in that before and after picture, I wrote in the margin “Assurance!” along with the date. I rejoiced in my relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ.

I’m often reminded of that time whenever I come into a difficult season. To be honest, I need to be reminded because I get into the “give me relief” mindset quickly and forget that it’s a time to deepen my relationship with the very One who created me.

In the past couple of days Ephesians 2 has come up in devotional reading with my husband and in part of the prep for a Bible study I’m in. It’s been sweet to remember what God did for me then and to be assured He’ll do it again. It’s been good, too, to remember my friend who shared this truth with me. She’s in heaven now enjoying her relationship with the Father face-to-face. I’ll get to tell her thank you again one day, but my greatest thanks will be to the One who calls each of us into relationship with Him and made it possible through His Son Jesus Christ.

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13)

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