Archive for July, 2008

I’m reading through the book of Numbers right now. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details. Even so, I think it’s pretty cool that God includes them (but, yes, they can get a bit tedious). Including them (and so many of them!) shows that God cares about the little things. That details matter to Him. I’m so glad! Because it’s in the details that the difference is made in my life.

Like the detail that had me decide to join the Air Force after college. It’s where I met my husband.

Like the detail that placed angels around my bed the night our apartment was broken into and I was home alone sleeping. And the detail of the dripping sound outside my window that woke me up that night. These details led to me acknowledge that I wasn’t in control and there was One who wanted control. They led to me knowing God (or should I say beginning to know God).

Like the detail that put my husband at the same business show as the courier who took a brochure of ours and passed it on to a customer of his 20 years ago. It’s what started our business.

Like the detail that allowed me to be at my dad’s bedside when he died. It’s what gave me assurance that he had reached a point of acknowledging that he wasn’t in control and willingly gave control over to the One who waited to lead him home.

Or the detail that had me in any number of places at the right time to either avoid harm or receive something good from the hand of the Lord. The details are what enrich our lives, protect us, mold us into the image of Christ and allow us to be at the right time and place to help others.

You’ve heard it said that the devil is in the details. I say it’s the Lord who is in the details. Praise God for the details!

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“The LORD said to Moses, Tell Aaron that when he sets up the seven lamps in the lampstand, he is to place them so their light shines forward.’” Numbers 8:1-2 (NLT) 

I was struck by this detailed instruction to Aaron to set up the seven lamps so that their light would shine forward. Duh! It’s not like we want to see backwards, right? And it struck me. Last week I did some journaling about looking backwards and the negative impact that can have on my life. I don’t want to be a backward-looking person. Who’s the “Duh” now? I guess it’s me sometimes? We’re to place our lamps so that they shine forward, lighting our path, directing our vision forward, not backward. 

Jesus said “The eye is the lamp of the body…” (Matthew 6:22)

Let your eyes shine forward, not backwards. Comand your mind to set your eyes to shine their light forward. A little retrospective is a good thing – evaluating one’s behavior and performance for improvement is a good thing. But once the moment of evaluation has passed (notice I used the word “moment”) your forward shining lamp will leave that event in darkness and your focus should be where the light is shining – into the future that God has for you. 

Paul put it a different way: “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” Philippians 3:13-14 

We are called upward, not backward. We’re called to look to Christ, not to look at our past failures and successes (both can trap us). It is this upward/forward looking that gives us hope. It is this upward/forward looking from “whence my help comes” (Psalms 121:1-2, KJV) 

A search on the phrase “look forward” in my New Living Translation of the Bible, found 25 uses of it, all in the New Testament. We are to be a forward-looking people, keeping our eyes on the One who holds the future in His hands and who has laid out that future in a way that we cannot even begin to imagine. So I feel compelled like David to speak to my own soul at times: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God” (Psalms 42 and 43, NIV) 

Friends, let me encourage you to set your lamp so that it shines forward. Look into the future God has for you. It’s better than you can begin to imagine.

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 I was re-reading my journal from last year and the year before. What impressed me was how valuable journaling is.

  • It helps me sort things out while I’m struggling through them.
  • It puts me in a place where God can speak to me (or perhaps I should say “where I can hear God speak to me”). Often I can’t hear God through the jumble of life inside and around me. Journaling enables me to hear God clarify the key issues in the situation.
  • It serves as a reminder of where I’ve been and what God has done for me in the past. I so easily forget even the greatest milestones in my life, let alone the many, many “little” times He has been faithful to me.
  • It allows me to see my past more objectively. There have been times that I remembered as being failures or a “falling away” for me, but when I look back at the journal I don’t see that. I see someone who was holding on — perhaps by a thin thread, but still holding on — waiting to see the faithfulness of God. What I remembered about those times was a lack of faith on my part, a time of weakness…my journals show weakness, yes, even failings, but also great faith that God would intervene at any moment.  My journal shows my confidence that God would step in and change me and my circumstances. I am tremendously blessed to have this retrospective.
  • It allows me to see my growth over a period of time. Spiritual growth is often gradual and we can feel like we’re never making much progress. My journal provides a concrete record of my growth.
  • It encourages me — both while I’m writing in the present and years later when I read it.

If it can do these things for me, it can also do them for you.  

Perhaps you like the idea of experiencing these benefits but don’t know where to start. It’s not as hard is it might seem. Many people are intimidated by the blank paper (or screen) at first. Don’t be. Here are some ideas for getting starting:

  • Remember, NO ONE will be reading this but you and God. And God already knows it all anyway.
  • Spelling and proper grammar don’t count. Write in whatever shorthand works for you. (As you mature in journaling, you might want to write more formally so that you will actually be able to understand your notes a year or ten years from now.)
  • Start by writing notes about the most mundane things of your day. You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll slip into your thoughts about those most mundane things. And writing your thoughts and emotions is what journaling is all about.
  • Before you quit writing for the day, glance over your notes. Take a minute to ask yourself this question: “Is God trying to teach me anything through these things?” If so, add some more notes to journal.
  • Try to journal at least twice a week. Even if you don’t have anything to say. It will teach you to look for what God is doing in your life.

I took a class in grad school on spiritual transformation. One of our assignments was to journal what God was doing in our lives every day. Now I don’t know about you, but my theology says that God is active in my life every day, but my practice is that I really don’t recognize His hand every day. The practice of journaling during that time caused me to focus more specifically on God’s work in my life and the lives of those around me every day. What a blessing!

No, I don’t journal every day now, but I find that the more I journal, the more God is doing in my life…hmmm…I doubt that there’s a connection between journaling and God working in my life. More likely, it’s the connection between journaling and me being able to recognize God working in my life. And seeing God at work builds my faith. It also increases my love for God. Both are very good things!

Try it for a month. It’s addicting!

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 “God blesses those who realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.”
      Matthew 5:3 (Jesus is speaking) (NLT)

“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of my love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.'”
      Hosea 10:12 (The Lord is speaking) (NLT)

7When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the LORD. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. 8Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. 9But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.”
      Jonah 2:7-9 (Jonah is speaking) (v7 NLT, v8 NIV, v9 NLT)

There’s a sermon forming in my spirit from these three verses. It’s not quite fully formed, but you all get to read it in it’s beginning phase:

“When Jonah had lost all hope”…”God blesses those who realize their need for Him”…”Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace” God wants to pour into their lives…”it is time to seek the Lord.”

It is time to let go of (not cling to) old hurts and old habits and even old victories – all become idols that we look to…that we cling to…that become excuses for not doing what God wants us to do…for not being who God wants us to be. They are idols and if we let go of them, God has tremendous grace He wants to pour into our lives. Grace to forgive others…grace to break old patterns of behavior…grace to turn toward Him.

God blesses those who realize their need for Him and gives them the Kingdom of Heaven! (The Kingdom of Heaven here and now, not just in the sweet by and by.) Now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.

After Jonah 2:9, comes Jonah 2:10 – “Then the LORD ordered the fish to spit up Jonah on the beach, and it did.” (NLT) God’s grace, God’s unmerited favor, saved Jonah’s life and then went so far beyond that and worked through him to save a nation! Grace the double-powered prayer. Not only what God pours into our lives, but the working out of that in our lives.

If we first stop clinging to worthless idols…If we first recognize our need for Him…If we first seek the Lord.

Wow! Make it so, Lord. In my life first. Amen.

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Here’s the last paragraph from my blog on July 5, “Jumping Off the Anxiety Track:”

One other idea…I’ve decided to use the ring of the telephone at work as a reminder to praise God. Often when I’m over-busy, the telephone is a source of stress. That’s wrong thinking. Without the telephone I wouldn’t be able to talk to the clients God sends our way. The telephone is a source of blessing, giving us opportunities to meet our customers’ needs in a way that brings glory to God. Sounds like a good reason and opportunity to praise God. Imagine how different my day will be when I thank God every time the phone rings. I’m looking forward to it!

Wow has that been a good thing! I don’t always remember to do it, but every time I remember, whatever expression was on my face changes to a smile and a degree of peace enters my heart. Why didn’t I start this sooner? My next task is to find a visual reminder that I can put on my telephone that will help me to remember to praise God every time the phone rings.

I thought of the smiley face, of course, but that’s just a bit too cheesy for me to put on my phone. It’s fine in an e-mail, but on my phone? I don’t think so. 🙂

My preference would be something ethereal that reminds me of God’s shekinah glory.

There are also benefits from a business perspective. Since I was answering the phone on the first ring, now my clients have to wait 2 rings before I answer – no big deal. But when I answer, I’m more sincerely cheerful and full of positive hope than I was before. The rule in the office has always been to smile before answering the telephone. It changes your voice and communicates across the telephone lines. I’ve found that the true, inner smile that comes from having spent a few seconds praising and thanking God infuses my voice with an even greater degree of confidence, peace and pleasure that customers can sense.

Try it, folks! Praise God, thank Him or just worship Him before you answer every phone call.

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This week has been crazy and I haven’t dealt with it well. Wednesday I was working hard to meet a deadline that didn’t get met. (It’s still not met and today’s Saturday.) Not meeting deadlines with customers is rare for us and something I consider highly undesirable. In addition, my computer was doing all kinds of things it had never done before. Working in programs I use every day I learned many new features by accidentally hitting the wrong keys and causing the software to do unwanted things. (Thus requiring much time to figure how to return the screen to its previously unmolested condition.) This is not a good thing when deadlines are looming.

The day was a harried one to say the least. Looking back, I realize that my mind was essentially working on two tracks throughout the day – one track was the project at hand, the other was a constant barrage of what needed to be done, how it wasn’t getting done, how I needed to call the client and how I didn’t want to do that.

Ouch! That’s no way to get through a day victoriously! What I realized late on Wednesday is that if my mind can stay on two tracks at once (and it obviously can), I certainly have the power to choose the second track. Yes, the work at hand must fill the first track, but the second track should have been about the goodness of God and my confidence in Him, not about my anxiety over not finishing the project on time. At any point in the day, I could have switched from the anxiety track to the grace track – you know, the one that grabs hold of my confidence in God. There are any number of things I could have done to arrest my brain and point it in the right direction. I did none of them.

Lord, forgive me. Forgive me for falling into the trap of believing that it all depended on me. Forgive me for stressing. Forgive me for not purposefully bringing you into the center of the situation. Help me to choose Your confidence over the enemy’s anxiety.

Wednesday was a classic example of not taking my thoughts captive. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says this:

3Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; 4for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments 5and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. (NRSV)

I didn’t even try to use my weapons last week. I just let the enemy have a day of victory. But God is greater, and having repented, I want to do better next time. So I’ve been gathering a list of things I might do that would help me jump from the anxiety track to the God track. Here’s my notes. Maybe you can add to them.

  • Pray continuously. I know that wasn’t happening last Wednesday. I was fretting instead of praying.
  • Take a prayer break – don’t just pray in the background while working, stop working and pray. This might require taking a short walk down the hall. For two or three or ten minutes, stop working and pray.
  • Play worship music in the background while working. This often turns my mind toward God in the midst of chaos.
  • Play worship music in the foreground – take a worship break. (Pick your song carefully – do you need a soft worship song to mellow you into God’s presence, or do you need a loud victory song?
  • I almost always walk away from my desk at lunch. It helps me to gain perspective in the middle of the day. I didn’t do that last week.
  • Call a friend. I should have stepped away from my desk to call a friend. My friends would have told me to get over it and trust God. I needed to hear that last week.
  • Instant message a friend – it would have had the same results as calling a friend.
  • Take a short walk. It would have not only had physical and mental health benefits, it could have turned me toward God.

Now I know that last week I would have strenuously objected to most of the things on this list saying I didn’t have time for them. But that would have been a lie. Everything on this list takes less than ten minutes, some as few as two or three minutes. Unless you’re in the 2-minute countdown for the next space shuttle launch or in a true split-second life and death situation, you can take two to ten minutes to turn your day around. Since I’m not involved in the space shuttle program and I don’t work in the emergency room of my local hospital, so can I.

The point is to use these weapons that are at our disposal, not to keep them on the shelf. I especially like the way the New Living Translation writes the beginning of verse 5: “With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God.”

Had I employed my weapons, I would not have fallen into the trap of believing that meeting the deadlines (and thus ultimately the success of our business) all fell on my shoulders (aka, a very proud argument). Had I employed my weapons, I would have seen God victorious in the day – I would have known Him and His mighty power. Instead, I allowed my proud arguments to keep me from knowing Him on Wednesday.

One other idea…I’ve decided to use the ring of the telephone at work as a reminder to praise God. Often when I’m over-busy, the telephone is a source of stress. That’s wrong thinking. Without the telephone I wouldn’t be able to talk to the clients God sends our way. The telephone is a source of blessing, giving us opportunities to meet our customers’ needs in a way that brings glory to God. Sounds like a good reason and opportunity to praise God. Imagine how different my day will be when I thank God every time the phone rings. I’m looking forward to it!

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