Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Pretend Birthday and the Celebration of Life

A few years ago, a friend of mine made an unexpected announcement on social media. “Today is my pretend birthday.” 

“What fun!” I thought, but wondered privately if “pretend birthdays” made any sense at all. The longer I pondered, the more interesting the concept became, especially since gluten-free cupcakes with buttercream icing and sugar pearls waited in my freezer for the proper occasion. 

I wanted to eat a cupcake, but a party and presents didn’t seem quite right, especially on a pretend birthday. Eventually, though, I decided to proclaim my own pretend day to celebrate. I didn’t throw a party or ask for gifts, nor did I buy gifts for myself, although I did eat a cupcake. Instead, I rejoiced and praised God for the gifts He’s already given.  

We celebrate birthdays because we celebrate life.

Birthday festivities are a celebration focused on the birthday person, but they are also a celebration of their life. On my birthday, I usually look back over my joys and sorrows, the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful experiences I’ve had. 

Not all of the thousands of days since my birth a few decades ago were pleasant, but they were necessary to make me into the almost-grown-up Leanna I have become. I choose to give thanks for every one of those days, the good and bad alike. They’re worth celebrating. 

Life is precious and every day has purpose.

According to David, the psalmist, God knows our inmost being. He designed every part of us, and He knows the very number of days we will live. Not one day escapes His notice. (Psalm 139) He knows our “baby” days as well as our elderly days, and each one matters to Him. 

Every day is an opportunity to serve our Maker, to praise His goodness, to give thanks for His redemption. As long as we live, we are to praise God and sing to Him. (Psalm 63:4) Even with our last breath, we are to offer praise to God. (Psalm 146:2 NLT)

The value in a pretend birthday

A “pretend birthday” may be unusual, but, as an opportunity to celebrate the preciousness of life, it’s a beautiful idea. Let’s take a few moments to revel in the life God has given us, in the beautiful days, as well as the hard. 

Look at the tapestry of our years and the lovely weave formed by all our experiences. How is God’s hand evident? How has He used both good and bad to make us into the people we’ve become? How do we use our lives to honor Him?

A pretend birthday, designed to focus on the One who controls our days, is always in order. No presents or parties required. Why not celebrate today? 

Happy Pretend Birthday to one and all!

“…In Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Psalm 139:16 nasb

Friday, March 9, 2018

When Three Flat Tires Reminded Me of the Words of Life

My email to home office summed up the sad situation. “I’m working from home tomorrow because I have three flat tires and need to deal with them.” I didn’t have three flats on one vehicle, but one flat on my truck, one on the tractor, and one on the flat-bed trailer. This is the kind of problem Sam always handled. It’s a shame he didn’t teach me how to change a tire. Since he didn’t, I needed help. 

A few days earlier, AAA came out to change the flat on the truck but, to my surprise, the spare tire didn’t fit. The man removed a large screw, the cause of the flat, and plugged the tire instead. “You should be able to get somewhere to get this tire fixed now,” he assured me. It was late afternoon, so I elected to drive to the tire store the next morning. Unfortunately, the tire was pancake-flat again within a few hours.

I assumed I could fix my problems, but I was wrong.

You can Google how to do anything, so I expected that time-tested technique to work again. I started with the truck tire and quickly encountered a problem. No jack in the truck. I refused to be defeated, so I hooked my small air compressor to the tire and left it for five minutes. No change on the air gauge. I repeated the five minute timer over and over. Still no change. The air flowed out the hole in the tire as fast as the compressor pumped it in.

I needed an expert.

My hope of avoiding a service charge flowed out the tire hole, too, and I admitted defeat. I texted my friend who owns a tire store and she agreed to send someone out. In short order, the tire-expert rolled the jack under the truck, jacked it up, and removed the tire. He did the same with the trailer tire and headed back to the store. Before long, he returned with a repaired tire for the truck and a new one for the trailer. (I still need the tractor-tire-repairman to fix that tire.)

Flattened tires and flattened lives

All my efforts to restore air to my tire failed. The problem wasn’t just low air pressure. The rubber dangled from the rim. I looked at the floppy tire and thought, “I’ve felt that flattened before.” You probably know the feeling, too. Life slams you like a steamroller and leaves you so deflated it feels as if you’ll never regain normal again. 

An image of Ezekiel and the valley full of dried bones came to mind. (Ezekiel 37) “Can these bones live again?” God asked him. 

“Only you know that.”

“Prophesy, Ezekiel.” So he did. The bones rattled around and came back together. Sinew connected them and skin covered them, but that wasn’t life. 

“Prophesy to the breath,” God told him again. Ezekiel spoke life to the bones, the breath of God flowed in, and those who were completely flattened and lifeless were fully restored.

The words of life

I felt like a bundle of tired, dried bones before. Maybe you have, too. If you’re like me, my best determination to “get over it” did little to restore zip to my step and joy to my heart. Only a God-given infusion of hope restored me and brought life. 
Just as Ezekiel spoke life to the bones, we, too, have the power of life in our words. We can speak words that encourage, and infuse hope, love, truth. We can help restore those who’ve been flattened by life, if we will. 

Today, let’s look for those who are in the valley of bones, bereft of hope and the breath of God and offer the breath of God to them. Speak life and watch as hope and joy return.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

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#wordsoflife #flattires #wordsmatter #powerofwords  #wordsoflife

Thursday, March 8, 2018

When God Speaks Through the Power of Scripture

Michael Perkins spoke last night at Bible study about the recently released American Family Studios movie, The God Who Speaks. He suggested, we “go where we seldom trod,” when studying the Bible, rather than reading the same familiar passages over and over again. I tend to camp in Psalms, Luke, John, and James as my default when I’m not specifically studying something else. They’re familiar, well-known passages with deep impact in my life. 

The value of fresh eyes

Earlier this week, I moved into Acts and experienced the sweetness of seeing passages with “fresh” eyes.  Mr. Perkins’ words reinforced that decision. Today, I recognized something amazing for the first time ever. I secretly agreed with the rulers, elders, and scribes’ opinion about Peter and John. They were nothing more than  “uneducated and untrained men” who followed Jesus and were transformed by their Redeemer. This morning, I experienced a major shock of insight, and it spoke a deep truth to my heart.

They weren’t uneducated after all.

Peter’s first sermon is recorded in Acts 2. He did not have prepared sermon notes, an iPad or paper script, or a teleprompter to help him. Instead, he quoted passages from Joel 2:28-32 and Psalm 16:8-11. He also quoted verses from Psalm 69, 89, 109, 110, and 132. He referenced 1 Kings 2:10, Nehemiah 3:16, and 2 Samuel 7:12. 

After he finished speaking, the people within hearing distance were “pierced to the heart” by Peter’s sermon. (Acts 2:37) His words moved them to action. “What should we do?” they asked. 

Why was Peter’s sermon so powerful? 

He abandoned himself to the Word of God and allowed that which is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Acts 4:12) to do its powerful work of piercing hearts. It did exactly that. The Words of God, not the words Peter generated, spoke to the people and changed them. 

Three thousand people came to Christ that day. 

As if to prove the first sermon wasn’t a fluke, Peter preached a second, shorter but still impromptu, sermon. In it, he quoted Genesis 22:18, and Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. He also referenced passages in Exodus 3 and Deuteronomy 18. The priests, captain of the guard, and Saducees came upon him speaking and were astonished and terrified by the power with which he spoke. 

Peter and John were arrested and carried before the rulers, elders, and scribes. Once again, Peter used scripture, this time to defend himself. 

The power of the two-edged sword demands to be used.

Peter experienced the power of the two-edged sword of God because he used it. He wielded those mighty words because they were already tucked safely in his heart. Peter did not graduate from the first-century equivalent of seminary. Instead, he did something much more important. He learned the word of God and hid it in his heart.

When Peter needed truth, he had it.

Even more important, Peter used the truth he had, and God wielded His own words, spoken by Peter, to move in hearts and change lives. He still does.

It is not enough to participate in Bible studies and know about the Word of God. We must know Scripture by planting it in our hearts through Scripture memory. This is the reason I’m working hard to memorize the first chapter of John. It’s why I memorized passages in James and other parts of the Bible. It’s the reason I quoted the Scripture I knew to myself, even when my cornea was so inflamed I could not see to read. 

I want to have the Word of God no matter what comes my way. The only way to assure possession of truth is to secure it in a place from which no one can steal. When I was a child, we called Scripture memory “learning it by heart.” Plant it deep and keep it there. In time of need, we will quickly recall it. 

We can memorize, and we should.

We’re never too old to do that which we must. Find a passage. Read and repeat it, write it over and over again, rehearse it until we know it. The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is our only offense weapon. Let’s hold it close and stand ready to use it at the first sign of the enemy’s advance. 

“The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13 nlt
Here's the link to the AFS documentary: The God Who Speaks
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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Seven Steps to Regain a Heart of Gratitude in the Midst of Our Concerns

The question on my Facebook post is always the same. “What’s on your mind?” Today, my mind is preoccupied with how often we fail to see the big picture because we’re so caught up in the difficulties of the moment. I’m reminded of the cliche, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” There’s truth hidden within those overused words. Sometimes, we miss the beauty of the forest because we’re so focused on the difficulty of the trees that seem to block our path. We easily overlook the slight detour that can take us straight to our destination. In those times, the power of gratitude fades from our consciousness.

When our heart of gratitude fails us.

I’ve written about the importance of thanksgiving, especially a sacrifice of thanksgiving, (Psalm 50:14) repeatedly. Recently, though, my heart of gratitude failed me. I’m weary of checking my visual acuity every morning, of worrying when my sight isn’t as clear as I’d like. My concern kept my eyes on the trembling tree before me and missed the beauty of the forest. 

I’m deeply concerned about our culture, the propensity for violence, the widespread acceptance of carrying weapons, and the fear that drives our actions. I’m terrified of a school shooting in our area.

The persecution of Christians, especially people I know and love, breaks my heart. The number of nations in which open doors for the gospel are slowly closing grieves me.

Giving thanks despite our concerns.

This morning, I sought the place of thanksgiving in the midst of my concerns. Though temporarily displaced, it’s not lost, after all.

In the big scheme of eye problems, mine are relatively small. So far, my vision loss has been temporary. I can see without glasses, even when one eye is blurry. At no point has my vision been too poor for safe driving. Voice-activated software is widely available and increasingly accurate, if the time comes when it is needed. God has always made a way for me to do that to which He’s called me, and He won’t stop now. 

Despite the issues in our culture, God is still on His throne. Both the faith community and the secular community are concerned about the issue of safety in our schools. We can work together, and we are. 

I hate the persecution and resistance to faith I see around the world, but Christianity has always thrived in times of adversity, and it still will. An ever-increasing desire for a vital, power-filled faith-life is present in most of the churches with which I’m familiar. Yes, there are dying churches, but there are many active, growing, mission-minded churches.

God is still God.
The trouble in this world did not taken God by surprise. Jesus Himself said we would have trouble, and we do. (John 16:33) He also offered encouragement. “I have overcome the world,” Jesus told His followers. He overcame both the trouble we face and all the ills and sin of this great big world. He can, and will, handle whatever comes our way.

How to regain a heart of gratitude

Gratitude is a choice we make. 

Begin with one area of concern at a time.
Look for God at work in the situation.
Seek points of hope in the midst of the difficulty.
Choose opportunities for growth and for gaining new skills.
Speak thanksgiving before you feel it.
Focus on the positive, not on the negatives, in the situation.
Continue to express gratitude, especially when it’s hard.

If we’re discouraged and losing hope in a situation, now’s a good time to take our eyes off our situation and look to the One from whom our help comes. Turn to Jesus and thank Him for what He has, and will, do. Give thanks. Even if it’s hard.

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power. 1 Corinthians 4:20 nlt

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#gratitude #givethanks