Thankful for Jesus and Girlfriends

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And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, Philippians 1:9-10 NIV

Today doesn’t feel special. The dogs started whining at 6AM like it was no different than any other day. I stumbled to the coffee pot to kick start my eyes and begin the morning routine, but today is not just another day, it’s my birthday. I remember when I would tell everyone weeks in advance that on September 30th the world revolves around me, but not this year, and as my social media feeds, emails and text messages ding they remind me that I’m older.

It could be maturity or it could be age, but I’m not feeling much like boasting. I even got out my iphone calculator in disbelief to do the math; 2018 minus my birth year. WOW! I’m really that number already and that much closer to the big 5-0. I remember when I used to label this number as old. I’m starting to realize that need to own it, but I will continue to refuse the label, “old.” On the contrary, I would argue that I’m just getting started.

Birthdays, especially this one, is forcing me to reflect. “Am I where I thought I would be?”, “If I could do things differently, what would I have done?”, or “What have I not done that I should set a goal to accomplish?” Regardless of the answers of these questions, my mind rests on the fact that I have Christ and Christ lives in me. What a relief!

I can’t imagine what my life would be without Christ; it is humbling to assess the transformation of my heart over my last 15 year walk with Him. As each birth year ticks by, I also have an even greater hope for the future and knowing He is with me makes any fears, regrets, challenges and hardships subside.

One of the things I am most grateful for are my Godly Girlfriends. Women who have, and are, pouring their lives and hearts into my life; helping me walk confidently and faithfully in the Lord. Women who listen to my pity parties, hug me often, encourage me daily and unapologetically scold me because they love me enough in truth and honesty.

I sure appreciate Jesus and girlfriends and I look forward to many more years to come as these bonds even grew deeper. I didn’t have these 20 years ago and if there is one thing I am most grateful for today is my journey in these relationships.

Words That Will Change Your Life

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Has anyone ever said something that touched you so profoundly that it literally changed your life? I can think of numerous statements that have forever molded my own life. While some were good and had a positive impact, others were harmful and have left deep wounds; which have taken years to overcome.

My Pastor began his sermon with words that he meant to change my life, “For better or for worse depends on what you do with what you are about to hear because what I am about to tell you is dangerous!” He proceeded to talk about Jesus, the one and only Son of God, who came to earth with the soul purpose of dying on a cross, not only for the sins of the world, but MY sin. When you personalize that message and get real with yourself – acknowledging that you are a hopeless sinner in need of a savior – this simple, yet profound, message should literally rock your world.

Why?

I think Jesus says it best in Luke 10:23-24,

23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.'”

Do you see the danger in these words? The disciples see Jesus and know him as the Son of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords and THE one and only Savior of the World. It was as true in Jesus’ day as it is today that the people he was referring to were so preoccupied with their own lives that they were oblivious to the danger that hangs in the balance; eternal life with Jesus or eternal condemnation without him.

The older I get the more I grieve at the obvious denial [or blatant ignorance] of how people justify their “right” to heaven. I’m especially heavy-hearted for those who go to church, keep up all religious appearances, even to the point of spewing out cliche phrases that they “think” are stated in the bible. This fits Jesus’ description that “many prophets and kings who wanted to see what true believers see, but do not see it, and what to hear what true believers hear but do not hear it.”

So how do you get your eyes to see and your ears to hear?

According to Proverbs 2:4-6, written by the wisest man to ever live, King Solomon,

My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

If this is offensive to you, I urge you to dig deep into God’s word and discover truth for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. I’m merely human and I attribute the confusion in today’s society is that to people listening to people and not seeking the only valid source, God himself.

Don’t assume that going to church is enough or what you have been raised to believe is sufficient to earn you passage into heaven. Heaven or hell rest in your ability to hear and see, so trust me… hearing this truth and not taking responsibility for it are dangerous words that I give to you. What you do with this will ultimately hurt or help you.

I pray that we meet in heaven so I can thank you for taking these words to heart and for recognizing that what I am saying IS meant for your good. I can tell you from firsthand experience that had someone not challenge me on what I was raised to believe, I would still be deceived into thinking that I was going to heaven and now that God’s Word has revealed the truth, it is to dangerous to keep it to myself.

Freedom Isn’t Free

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“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
Romans 6:18 (NIV)

Oh Shirley Jennings, where are you? I want to personally thank you for walking me through the book of Romans 15 years ago and for opening my eyes to biblical truths that no one, for 32 years of my life, could ever answer. One of those truths, which I believe you were quoting Dr. Vernon McGee, is, “There is no free will, either you are a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness.”

We’re celebrating the 4th of July today; the day that America gained independence and became a “free” nation. I would bet there isn’t a person reading this that wouldn’t agree that the freedom’s we are privileged to enjoy have come at a cost.

And so it is with our faith. Free from sin means we are eternally destined for heaven with streets paved with gold, gates made of pearls and many, many rooms. God promises this, but His promise comes at a cost

What cost?
Jesus Christ paid it all on the cross.
All?
The debt of our sin; past, present AND future.
Sin?
EVERYTHING that we do, think or say that displeases God… and those sins – which are inherent in our existence, separate us from God – means there is nothing, NOTHING, that we can do in our humanness to bridge that gap (Ephesians 2:8-9). The bridge is Jesus. Our part is our ability to believe “Jesus IS the way, the truth AND the life” (John 14:6) through faith (Hebrews 11:1).

We have a responsibility to either take it or leave it.
You take it… you take on the desire, the commitment and the choice to live every day with gratitude for what he did and show that gratitude through obedience to His Word and His commands.
You leave it… You are owned by and controlled by Satan. Simply put.

Oh how my heart grieves for those who are enslaved, entrapped and completely unaware of their slavery to sin; worldly pleasures. God gives us the ability to know Him and know – with confidence – that we can spend eternity in heaven with Him, but it takes work (the decision to follow Christ), it takes commitment (there is no other god) and it takes focus (love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength ((Mark 12:38)).

I am feeling convicted as I write and I mean no threat or harm to those who do not know what they do not know, but I write because I hurt for the lost, confused and deceived. For I study God’s Word and it is alive and active in me (Hebrews 4:12) and today I celebrate a different kind of freedom as a slave to righteousness. Even though I fail often, I am overwhelmed by his glorious grace.

Didn’t See That Coming!

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“I give you this charge, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:1b-2

It was only supposed to be a photo shoot to update my professional photo and the photographer, making small talk, says, “Any big plans for the weekend?”

Not expecting my answer to go very far, since I talk about it all the time, which usually ends with a sweet, “Wow! I couldn’t do that, good for you,” I answered his question with, “Yes, I am meeting with 3 inmates tomorrow for bible study at the jail.”

It was pretty obvious that the photo shoot got very interesting from there; Perhaps better words to describe it would be “weird”, or possibly “awkward” to be accurate.

He clarified, “I assume you’re talking about the Christian bible?” I responded, “Yes!” In the hope that this would open up a great spiritual dialog, but instead he said, “Well that’s interesting, since I have studied all the world religions and they all pretty much have their own take on it. At the end of the day they all say the same thing, so why Christian?”

I thought I would start with my testimony. After all, it is my own personal, “why Christian”. So I proceeded to explain that 18 years ago I was questioned, for the first time in my life at my daughters baptism, about my belief in infant baptism and I really wasn’t prepared for the confrontation. I was baptizing my daughter because I was raised to believe that it was the right thing to do; not because I understood why I was doing it. That day I surrendered my life to Christ and made a commitment to seek and know the truth. I wanted to raise my daughters in that confidence and to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how to get to heaven so they wouldn’t have to question what they believe if they are ever confronted like I had been.

He didn’t bite. He continued, “Well, if you are teaching your daughters what you believe and that is all they’ve ever known, are you – in essence – doing exactly what your parents did to you?”

I really couldn’t argue. He’s right! It’s not like I shopped religions and gave my kids an education in all of the ways the world practices their beliefs and helped them understand why Jesus truly is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except through Him (John 14:6), but I know what I know because I KNOW Jesus! I have the Holy Spirit living in me (Ephesians 4:30), I have witnessed my own life transformed (Romans 12:1-2), I have seen miraculous signs of things I could have never thought or imagined (Ephesians 3:20).

At this point we just tipped toed off the subject and back onto the photo shoot, but this conversation is still lingering in my mind. Several thoughts are jockeying around:

1 – This man is going to hell for not knowing the truth and I wasn’t able to give him any reason to think otherwise. He is deceived by the belief that their are many roads to heaven.
2 – I was not prepared to give a reason for the truth that I believe. I am a student of God’s Word and my life is a continuous process of growing in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18b), and I was weak, at best, to be a disciple of all of the truths that I have learned and know.
3 – What would I have said if given the chance to do it again? (Personal growth opportunity)
4 – Should I invite him to lunch and ask him to allow me to share the gospel? Maybe no one ever took the time to explain it and if he approached world religions as an academic exercise, I am sure it would be hard to differentiate why Christian.

In the meantime, you can be assured that I will be praying for him. Also, I will be continuing to learn and grow. This conversation is evidence that God isn’t finished with me yet. I do need to continue to learn and run the race that has been marked out for me (Hebrews 12:1).

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Just Not Fair

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One year ago, in the heat of my job search, I was asked the question, “What kind of job are you looking for?” Fast-forward to today and the exact job that I described starts in two days; the day after Easter. In an effort to leave my previous role in good faith, I gave a generous six week notice. To be perfectly clear about my intentions, I sincerely wanted to transition well. With over 80 stakeholders dependent upon me, I not only wanted to contact each one to complete any unfinished projects, but, I also wanted to leave that role, the company, my team and successor better off than when I started six short months ago.

TESTED:  One week into my resignation, the President of the company announced that the company will benefit from the recently passed Trump Tax Bill and decided to pass that savings along to the employees in the form of a bonus – Myself EXCLUDED. Even worse, one week prior to my last day of employment, He announced an incentive to which he denied me – AGAIN! A total loss exceeding $8,000. Ouch!

This news was such a blow. After all, I gave this company 110%. Since the beginning I went above and beyond the terms outlined in my job description. I accepted additional travel away from my family, adjusted hours to accommodate those who needed me outside of my normal business hours and frequently responded to emails/voicemail on off hours. Don’t I “deserve” this bonus?

Emotions aside, God has done a work in my heart over the past six weeks to the point where I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t deserve anything. I didn’t do anything that I did, or had planned to do, with the expectation of receiving bonuses. Since day one, I was wholeheartedly working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23), but isn’t it interesting that once money entered the picture, feelings of greed, selfishness and entitlement began to dominate my thoughts and motives.

The bible has a lot to say about greed and on this side of heaven, nothing is fair. Even King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, says in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”

Here are a few more:

Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

Proverbs 22:9, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.”

Luke 12:15, “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.”

So I conclude on this celebratory Easter weekend that I am ever so grateful for Jesus Christ and his death on the cross, that assures heaven for all who believe. If you find yourself in a situation that just isn’t fair, like me, be reminded of Matthew 6:20, But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Our eternal rewards far exceed the temporal things of this world.

If anyone doesn’t deserve something, Jesus didn’t deserve to die on the cross for me and I most certainly don’t deserve his ongoing gifts of grace and mercy. My past employer can keep my bonus money, because I know where my real treasure is. I now pray that God receives glory for my conduct this last six challenging, heart-tested weeks.

 

 

Youth Matters… Don’t Quit!

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Proverbs 22:6 King James Version (KJV) “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

 This past year I have been teaching bible studies in our local County Jail. I open my bible study each time with the question; “Tell me about your church background and how familiar you are with the bible?” The number one answer is, “I used to go to church when I was younger, but haven’t been in awhile.” A few even have some knowledge of the bible; yet they are still sitting in jail – as law breakers of our society.

I am convinced that whatever their exposure to church was when they were younger, these girls received the motivation to check out bible study in jail; when God plants the there, to get their attention and reveals to them a better way of life. He chose not to reach them on the streets, instead he uses the streets to capture their hearts and put them in a place where they have to stand face to face with the bad choices that they have made with their lives

It takes courage to sign up and have your named announced on a loud (and I mean loud) speaker and then to visibly line up to be escorted through the whinding hallways of spectators before arriving at the bible study room. Yet they come.

I’m always surprised and amazed who enters the room. I’m not able to ask what they’ve done or get overly personal, I’m just there to bring the message of hope of Jesus Christ, no matter what they have done. To love them, accept them and show them that God has a better way, a better plan and a brighter, hope-filled future. I feel a frog in my throat and tear up realizing how profoundly blessed I am to be able to minister to them in this way.

My main message today is to say… whether you are mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, foster parent, aunt, uncle or neighbor, thank you for bringing the children in your life to church. I passionately teach 3rd graders on Sunday mornings about having a relationship with Jesus and in many ways, it’s in the hope that they find Jesus and commit their lives to him while they are young in an effort to prevent them from having end up as societies

I realize that the world (TV, friends, social media, teachers, etc…) tell them a whole different message; a confusing message. I have my own teenagers to know that. Here is my petition… don’t quit.

Even if your child rebels and walks away from their faith later in life, even to the point of being put in jail, God can use your faithful commitment to draw them back to himself. I seriously can’t thank you enough for doing whatever it is that you have to do to get them here – weekly.

The other day I sat with a beautiful young girl who requested a 1:1 because she realized that she messed up her life and needed to get right with God. She prayed to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior and in tears she replied, “Thank you, I have lost everything, my job, my house, my car, my marriage, my kids and everything that I own, but I now have Jesus. I’m ready to start building my life over again, but this time with Him in charge.” How did she know that she needed Jesus? She said her Grandmother took her to church when she was younger and she has an Aunt who is “very religious” and prays for her. I was blessed to witness a transformed heart, right before my eyes, and if I could meet her Grandmother or Aunt I would say, “Well done good and faithful servants!”

 

 

Who’s Behind That Bucket?

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You’ve seen them, heard them and may potentially be one of them… a Salvation Army Bell Ringer. I’ve made a deal with myself this Christmas that every red bucket with a volunteer ringing, I will give whatever I have in my coin purse.

C’mon, don’t judge.

If you shopped as much as me, you would understand that this is frequent and generous – and if I am still empty from my last gift, I give a $1 or $5 – especially if there are kids ringing or they are subject to the harsh, cold winter elements.  Sure, I could tell you about the great and amazing things that the Salvation Army does with those donations, but you can read that online. What I want to do is to give you a perspective.

Who is that standing behind that bell, apron, bucket or Santa hat? For some reason I’m paying attention this year. I usually would drop money in, a few times a season, just to give to a good cause, but I keep thinking of 1997; 10 years ago. Back then, I worked for a staffing service. One of our laborers was injured on the job so under workman’s comp we had to give him some “light duty” work until he was cleared by his doctor to return to full duty. In just a few weeks, he was caught up on filing, cleaning, organizing and purging so being the season of bell ringers, we enlisted him to ring bells – paid! He didn’t want to, but if he refused, he was in essence refusing work ,and therefore, voluntarily terminating his employment. So reluctantly he set out daily for his eight hour work day of bell ringing. I really felt bad for the guy, I really did, but he was getting paid, and he was performing work, that was within his physical capability, so it was a win-win, right?

As a result of this, I am now much more sincere, appreciative and outspokenly thankful for those who elect to ring. I know most of bell ringers are not standing there out of obligation, but what if one is? Let alone eight hours of obligation? Could how we treat those people behind the pail be a ministry in and of itself? Maybe my poor laborer would have been more willing to set out for a day of being generous and want to serve in this capacity if people were kind and thankful. Unfortunately, that is not always true.

I have witnessed first-hand what it is like behind that little red kettle. Some people pretend you don’t exist. I always wondered, “How can you ignore that incessant ring?” I have even observed people literally going way out of their way to avoid the door that the bell ringers are in – using the Enter door as the Exit door as if to avoid that Grinch-like encounter. As believers, followers of Christ, let’s rally to thank everyone who is giving their time to serve. Why not? Shouldn’t we thank people for going above and beyond and for showing their support of such a great organization and worthy cause?

It’s so neat, now that I have decided to lean in and thank each volunteer for serving and expressing that gratitude by putting money into the pail, as almost to give a gratuity for their gesture, and showing genuine interest in the fact that a human being is bringing life to that lonely red pail. If any of them are there by force, maybe we can turn their hearts to feeling appreciated and cared for; not condemned, obligated or forced.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the responses that I have received from the bell ringers this year; it’s positive, refreshing and in a way, loving. It has given me a wonderful Christmas season attitude. I petition you to try it. See for yourself what a blessing it is to be nice, go above and beyond and express gratitude.

Tag! You’re it!

1 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

 

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