Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My neighbor, Betty


When my neighbor Betty invited us to go swimming in her pool for the first time, we were a little unprepared for our experience. We opened the gate and were greeted by a swarm of kids also enjoying her invitation. My then eight-year-old son said, “I thought you said this was a private pool.” From his perspective, it didn’t look any different from the pool at the YMCA.

That’s Betty.

The absolute definition of hospitality.

She doesn’t just tolerate all those kids high on popsicles―she finds them blessings

As far as entertaining angels unaware, she has probably done it. I imagine if Betty had an angel or two slip into her backyard, she wouldn’t have noticed them in the crowd.

All Betty does is her way of serving Jesus. Eightyish now, she hasn’t bought into the conventional wisdom that says, hey, I’ve done my part, now let somebody else step in. She has no sense of entitlement because of her age. Instead, she still serves and teaches children in her church every Sunday. They love her as much as ever.

My granddaughter observed that Betty is always thinking of what she can do for other people. If you’re around her for any length of time, you see that.

She continues to decorate her home at Christmas in such a way that it seems like a wonderland making you want to linger in the wonderful sights and smells. She blesses others by making and giving away her lovely gingerbread houses or some other handcrafted item.

Betty inspires me in so many ways.

In a few situations in my life, I have been tempted to think I’m finished. But I think about Betty’s perseverance―how she doesn’t waver from what she sees as her calling, how she lives out the truth that we’re never done until we see Jesus. Because no matter what age we are, God wants to use us for His purposes.
 
She inspires me with how she takes on projects and sees them through exemplifying Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might."

I love that woman. She is a rare person in this world. I’m mighty glad and thankful she’s my neighbor.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 ).

“ . . . God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable: (Romans 11:29).

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

An explosion and the joy that comes from it


We’re going to have a big explosion around here this week. I’m opening the door to my front bedroom closet, which is so full, items are likely to shoot into the air. My sister, Tammy, and I are getting together  to put together our Operation Christmas Child boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. We’re hoping to prepare twenty-five boxes again this year. From that closet, I’m dragging bag after bag of school supplies, toys, and hygiene items to my dining room so we can assemble the boxes. It’s going to be a mess in there for several days.



In a wonderful turn of events, when I attended a Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference, I was asked to write a piece about the boxes we do for a Christmas Moments anthology Grace Publishing is producing called Merry Christmas Moments. I receive no royalties for this book, as all proceeds are donated to Samaritan’s Purse. This book is one in a series of Christmas Moments collections Grace Publishing has produced.

My article in Merry Christmas Moments is called, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." You can guess why. According to the Operation Christmas Child Website, “After receiving a shoebox gift, children have opportunity to enroll in The Greatest Journey Bible student course guiding them to what it means to faithfully follow Christ.” These boxes will bring joy to children in more than 100 countries around the world as they learn about God's love for them.

The boxes are quite an undertaking, but I love doing them. As I’ve written before, the way we are able to pack so many boxes is we shop all year at seasonal sales. My friend Dolly inspired me to do this. I don’t know how many boxes she packs, I’m sure in the hundreds, but she has turned her garage into Operation Christmas Child central and works on boxes all year.
 
So, get out there and pack your Operation Christmas Child boxes. You may not have shopped all year, but you can still do a few. Samaritan’s Purse has drop off locations all over the country. HERE is a link for them  and HERE is a link to the items needed for the boxes.
 
If you were wondering what to get your friends and family for Christmas, Merry Christmas Moments would make a great gift. It’s always great when you can give a great gift and help others at the same time.
 
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:18-20).

If you're looking for a Christmas gift, Grace Publishing has an anthology called Merry Christmas Moments. I have an article in it entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.
 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

People doing impossible things . . . and maybe you’re one of them


I stared at the television trying to process what an announcer had said about the contestant on a television talent showtwo things that didn’t compute.

Mandy Harvey was going to sing, and she was deaf.

She stood on stage with bare feet and delivered her song in perfect pitch. She sang barefooted so she could feel the drumbeat.

It seemed impossible but there it was. She went all the way to fourth place in the competition.

Wayne Connell, the founder of Invisible Disabilities, said in an NPR interview, “We’ve created an idea of how people are supposed to look when they’re broken, and so when you don’t fit that imaginary mold, then it’s a trick, or you’re a liaror you’re not really broken, so you shouldn’t be doing certain things.”

Mandy Harvey ignored conventional wisdom and went for it.

Then there’s Victoria Arlen who came back from a four-year vegetative state to become a Paralympics athlete, sports commentator, and celebrity dancer on “Dancing with the Stars” this fall.

She can’t feel her legs.

I’m not sure she even knows how she’s doing what she does. In an E! News interview she said, “I’m feeling good. It’s definitely a shocker to the body, but I can’t feel my legs. I can say that they’re sore, but I don’t really know if they’re sore.”

Again, hard to process.

In Discerning the Voice of God, Priscilla Shirer writes, “. . . God’s plans are frequently different from our own. His plans do not placate our low standards or personal expectations. His agenda far exceeds our tiny, myopic, narrow perspectives, requiring things of us that His Spirit must strengthen us to accomplish. Carrying the cross He gives us requires a grit and tenacity we may not have intended to exercise.”

This means that the usual excuses, which we have tried to appease ourselves with in the past are not going to flytoo afraid, not enough money, not enough talent, don’t have the time, too hard, takes too long.

Enough already. If one young woman can sing without hearing and another one dance without feeling her legs, with God’s spirit empowering us, we can do whatever He asks us to do. I’m sounding all-bold right now, but the truth is, that first excuse about being afraid is the one that haunts me. I feel as if I live constantly challenged with my own version of impossible with the blank page or blank canvas almost seeming mocking at times. In fact, before I started oil painting, I had a blank canvas that actually became mildewed before I ever attempted to put anything on it. What may seem easy to others is actually so very hard to me and something I can only do with God’s empowerment. I remind myself, “For  with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke1:37).

After I finished writing today’s post, I came across this quote from Richard and Henry Blackaby in our Discerning the Voice of God study, “Human reasoning instructs you to know your limitations and live within them. God says he will do the impossible through you.”

And there you have it.

So, if you need inspiration to face your version of impossible, watch the videos below.

You’re going to need tissues.

Mandy Harvey (click on blog title to go to site if video will not load).

 

And HERE you see the reason behind her overcoming life as she sings "It Is Well."

Victoria Arlen HERE in Dancing with the Stars debut.

And HERE is an interview with Victoria on James Robison. She, too, is a woman of faith.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Out of a mildewy mess, looking for a new thing


I moved a table in my office while prepping to paint the walls and pulled out a portfolio behind it. In it, I stored watercolor paintings and drawings, some large, which I had done since college. When I opened the flap, the scent of mildew wafted out. 

My heart sank. We had leaks in our roof, and I thought the damage was only in the ceiling—until now.

The portfolio was waterproof. Well, I thought it was waterproof, but unfortunately not waterproof enough.

I found dozens of paintings and drawings watermarked and mildewed, some ruined beyond repair.


 

 
 

I don’t even know how to explain my feelings, maybe shock. I showed Jerry and managed to tell my sister a few days later, but that was it for days. I didn’t want to talk about it.

I had given away many paintings over the years and sold a few, so the ones that remained had a personal connection.

A beaver dam in Colorado where Jerry and I once spent a week.
 
 

A birdhouse at my mother’s (she died in 2001).
 
 

The church where my father attended and my ancestors are buried back to a generation of the revolutionary war. The church burned down not long after I did this painting.
 
 

The bridge where Jerry surrendered his life fully to the Lord.
 
 

The painting I identify with my surrender to the Lord, done just days after the event and especially hard hit.

 

A cradle my daughter played with as a child.

 

On and on. The backs of some of these paintings look even worse. Expensive restoration is out of the question. I've been identifying with what it might be to suffer a flood, all those folks coming through Irma and Harvey who saw everything they owned swept away. It's not that I need anything else to hang on my walls, no problems there, but these were precious because of what they represented.

I didn’t even know how to start processing this, but I’ve continued to take it to the Lord in prayer. A message in Isaiah which is repeated in Revelation keeps coming to mind.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

The Message puts it this way, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out. Don’t you see it?”

In John’s account of the New Heaven and the New Earth in Revelation 21:5, we read, “Behold, I am making everything new.”

In some ways, God has already done a new thing creatively, as I have mostly been painting in oil for the last couple of years.

Sometimes, we can cling too much to even good things, and God wants to revolutionize our lives. I don’t know what that could mean for me, but I’m trying to be alert and present.

A few days ago, I took the paintings, about forty of them, and began doing the previously unthinkable. I started carving away the damaged parts to see if I could still have a composition that made sense. For a few of them this worked, others I’m going to have to live with the damage. Still, others were unsalvageable, so I cut out the small-undamaged parts and will maybe make a collage of them.

The larger application here is a truth I was reminded of at vacation Bible school a few months ago― “When sin messes everything up. God is still in control.”

Nothing else in my office was damaged but these paintings. I don’t understand fully, but I realize I’ve got to let this go and not keep going over it. Though the mildew got a shot in (I'm sure mildew was one of the results of the fall of man), God is still in control.

There are other things in my life that also seem irreparable, but again, God is still in control.

And He is doing something new.

He has my attention
 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

After Las Vegas and what we do now


All too often these days, a blog post I intended to write is scratched because something happens in the world that pushes it to the side. Sadly, it happened again, yesterday.

Much of C.S. Lewis’s book on apologetics, Mere Christianity, was taken from talks he gave on the radio over the BBC during World War II. According to Christianity Today, “Adolf Hitler’s influence on Lewis’s apologetics is an irrefutable fact. The Fuhrer’s evil campaign paved the way for the clear-speaking Lewis to engage listeners of the British Broadcast Service. Even as bombs fell over London, Lewis’s baritone voice boomed on radios across Europe.”
 
After learning of the events in Las Vegas, I turned again to Mere Christianity. Reading that book provided a line of demarcation in my life and moved me to full surrender to the Lord. Lewis says, “Enemy-occupied territory―that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

The horrible events in Las Vegas make us want to point our fingers at someone or something. It’s guns, or a madman, or terrorism or any number of other things we could mention. But the truth is we live in “enemy-occupied” territory. Above anything else, what we can point our finger at is evil itself, because this old world is broken, but thanks be to God, “the rightful King has landed” in a manger in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus.

At our church, we recently sang the hymn, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus,” a line of which goes, “let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.” This hymn was written by George Duffield, Jr., an abolitionist, and the son of the second congressional chaplain during the time of the Continental Congress. Both of these men knew what it was like to have courage rising with danger.

My son has been a big country music fan for years ever since the University of Georgia where he was a student hosted  a music concert for the first time in their football stadium. He attended that night, and ironically, Jason Aldean was performing, the same artist who was performing in Las Vegas when the shots rang out.

Who knew that in order for my son to continue pursuing the music he loves, he’d need such a great amount of courage just to attend the venues where the music is performed.

When I first saw the pictures from Las Vegas this morning, I knew it could have easily been my own son at that venue.

In many ways, those killed or injured are all our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our mothers and fathers. According to CNN, among them-- a nurse, a police department employee, a special education teacher, a recently graduated high school cheerleader, a kindergarten teacher, a Mom of three, an office manager with two adult children, a young woman who helped run a family business, an attorney, a school district secretary, a woman championed as the glue that kept the family together, and a Disney employee. That’s twelve. There are forty-seven more.
 
Friends, we are indeed in “enemy occupied territory,” so what we do now is we get going with what Lewis calls “our great campaign of sabotage.” The way we do that, is follow God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and spirits. We don’t cower in the corner or let the fear win, we press into God.

That may seem a strange counterattack, but consider the absurdity of sending a baby to be born in a cattle stall to deal with the sin of the whole world. Strange works.

Remembering today in prayer those that were injured and the families of those who died in the Las Vegas attack.  Our hearts go out to you. We are giving thanks for first responders in law enforcement who put themselves in harms way as well as medical personnel who saved many lives.

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon . . . prayer is essential . . . pray hard and long” (Ephesians 6: 13-17 The Message).

                Is there no balm in Gilead or in Newtown

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