Sit, Stay, and Leave It!

 

Some of my friends have asked how obedience training is going for Max and Ruby.  I have to tell you, it has exceeded all our expectations.  We went in with a pretty low bar; Jerry thought it was going to be a complete waste of money and I just hoped we could curtail barking and jumping.  We are still working on jumping.  They get so excited to see us!  We could be gone for fifteen minutes and they act like we have been deployed to Afghanistan!  And company??  Forget it.  But barking is getting much better.

 

So currently we are continuing to perfect the “sit” command, and learning “stay” and “leave it.”  Ruby learned “sit” right off the bat, but Max has stubbornly refused to sit on command.  For several weeks I have had to gently press on his hindquarter to get him to sit, but finally he has learned it.  What was so hard about that Max?  And when they sit, they are to look at our eyes before they get a treat.

 

As I write these words I am remembering how long the Lord had to work with me to get me to sit in His presence.  I was far too busy, I had an important to-do list, or I was too tired.  But God wanted me to be still and spend some quiet time with Him.  Even when I learned to physically sit still, my mind would still race.  It took a good deal of discipline, but finally I got it.  Sitting first thing in the morning is probably the most important thing I do all day.  It is when I turn my eyes on Jesus.  No one in the history of the world had a bigger agenda than Jesus, but He still found it necessary to get alone with God early in the morning (Mk. 1:35).  How much more important it is for me.

 

We haven’t practiced “stay” nearly enough, and it is something I want them to learn.  The event that prompted obedience training in the first place happened a few weeks ago when they suddenly darted out of the front yard and across a neighborhood through street.  I was so afraid a car would hit them.  I want them to learn “stay” for their own safety.

 

You can probably see where I am going with this.  God wants me to stay in communion with Him and WAIT for direction.  Oh how often I jump ahead of God with my own plans and ideas.  Waiting is so hard!  And again, it involves not just physically waiting but mentally waiting as well.  In fact, training my mind to wait is probably the most important part.  When we feel as if we must be taking some action, and that waiting is a waste of time, Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that in waiting we actually renew our strength:

 

but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

 

There are many other verses that instruct us to wait:

 

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Is. 26:3

 

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; Ps. 37:7a 

 

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. Ps. 33:20

 

“Leave it!” is the most recent command we have worked on.  Our trainer, Merit, dumped a pile of objects onto the floor…items that would be novel to a dog and therefore interesting.  She had items from her purse, small household items, thinks that jangled such as keys, and things that slid across the floor.  We were to keep walking Max and Ruby with the clear command, “Leave it!”  She told us to use a sharp tone with a sense of urgency.  After just a couple of trips around the floor, the dogs got it.  I have to say they caught on much quicker than I have.  God is still commanding me to “leave it!”

 

Scripture is full of the things we are to leave behind after we receive Christ as Lord.  We are to leave behind the things in the past; those past sins that would cause us to be covered in shame, a past lifestyle, and sometimes even good things as we move forward with the Lord.  Jesus told His disciples to leave behind everything and follow Him.

 

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 62

 

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor. 5:17

 

I actually found a list of 78 things we are to leave.  78!  (You can find the list here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/putoffon.cfm)  We are to leave things such as bitterness, pride, jealousy, impatience, gossip, and the list goes on.  But good news!  The Bible tells us what we are to pick up instead: forgiveness, humility, patience, and edifying speech.  When I tell Max and Ruby to leave it, I am looking out for their own good.  They don’t always recognize the danger.  Sometimes things look intriguing, but they are to walk straight ahead.  These things that God tells me to leave are things that ultimately hurt me, and I can imagine He is speaking to me with an urgent tone.  “Don’t even stop and look, Fran!  This is not good for you!”  He is not a punitive God; He wants what is best for us.  The problem is, we don’t often discern harmful from good.

 

So as our dogs continue with obedience training, so do I.  As I said before, for me, obedience is a lifetime pursuit.  I press on.

Lessons from Obedience School, Part 2

 

We had our second obedience class with Max and Ruby last week, and Jerry and I are learning as much as the doggies are.  As we have been discussing our lessons, we have realized a large part of getting our dogs to obey lies in giving clear commands.  They are really quick to respond when we use the commands and techniques our trainer Merit has instructed us to use.

 

When we pulled up to Top Dog Ranch last week, Max and Ruby jumped out of the car and ran eagerly to the door.  “Oh good,” I thought.  “They like it here.”  Well the fun stopped right at the front door.  I have to preface the explanation by describing the facility.  It’s really big, nice, and new, and it is built something like a gym, with high ceilings, a large open space, and hard flat walls and floor surfaces.  Perfect conditions for loud, reverberating noise.  Our dogs are having private lessons so we didn’t notice the sound much on our first visit.  But this time Merit was finishing a lesson with a large dog with a BIG bark that ricocheted off the walls and had the effect of stopping our dogs (especially Max) in their tracks.  They put on the brakes and did an about face towards the car.  So that fear set the stage for the rest of the session, but it was very instructive for us to observe.  Max immediately wanted to jump in my lap, but following Merit’s instructions from our previous lesson I told him, “off!”

 

Sidebar here: In full disclosure if we had been on our own, I would have let Max stay in my lap and would have cuddled him to sooth him.  I misunderstood something Merit told us in our first lesson, so I addressed it with her.  I thought she was telling us we loved on our dogs too much.  After all, I told her, they were “hired” to be lap dogs, and that is one thing they do really well.  She clarified that we can love on them as much as we want, but while we are doing training (at home or at Top Dog) they need to be obedient and we need to be the leaders.  So Max and Ruby have to keep four paws on the floor at Top Dog.

 

We worked on two things during our lesson: walking without pulling and sitting on command.  We have always used retractable leashes because we thought it would be a good chance to let our dogs run.  We have a very small yard so there is not a lot of opportunity for exercise except for treeing squirrels.  Car rides do not count as exercise.  Max is the worst at pulling and lunging on the leash, and when he does, he invariably gags and hacks.  I am afraid he will someday hurt himself, and he has never made the connection, “When I lunge at the leash it chokes me.”  Or sometimes they lag behind and we have to tug at them.  So at Merit’s instruction we bought six foot mesh leads, and oh my gosh, do the four of us get tangled doing it that way!  Hence, the need for lessons.  The idea is for the dogs to walk with a loose leash at our sides.  In order to facilitate this Merit had us buy anti-pull harnesses that squeeze their chests when they try to pull ahead of us.  When that happens, we are to stop, creating an anchor.  When they realize we are not going forward they will turn and look at us.  At that point we praise them for looking at us (‘Good look!), and walk a few steps forward before giving a treat.  We are introducing the command, “Easy,” and the goal is, as they improve, we will only need to say “easy” to remind them to stay by our sides.  (Well, at least that is the theory.)  If they lag behind, we stop and use the “Let’s go” command.

 

This lesson is packed with spiritual implications.  How much easier life is when I walk with Jesus, at His side.  Not lagging behind, being stubborn, or wanting to go off in my own direction.  And not getting ahead of Him.  That command, “easy,” really spoke to me.  I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 11:30 where Jesus tells His yoke is easy and that His burden is light.  I’m thinking a yoke must be a little like that no-pull harness.  It won’t squeeze as long as I am staying by His side.  The previous verse speaks to me as well:

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soulsMatthew 11:29

 

We are to accept His yoke and to learn from Him.  He is not harnessing us to hurt us or to make life more difficult; quite the contrary.  He wants to make our walk with Him easy.  Not easy in the way the world would define easy.  But when we stay close to His side, and keep our eyes on Him, even the hard places become easier, and we can find rest.

 

I noticed that when Merit would take Ruby by herself, Max became anxious and kept looking for her.  That reinforced Merit’s conclusion that Ruby is the alpha dog.  I used the commands we learned last week, “settle” and “look,” to get him to relax.  And remember, the stage was already set for anxiety by the big barking dog.  “Just look at me, Max.  I’ve got this.  You are safe.”  Isn’t that what Jesus says to us?  “I’ve got this.  Just settle and keep your eyes on Me.”

 

After walking, we worked for a while on “sit.”  Again, part of the lesson is getting them to keep their eyes on us.  When they look at us and sit, they get a treat.  Ruby caught on really quickly, but Max not so much.  He kept standing.  Merit explained that when a dog is anxious he wants to stand, to be ready for action.  And she said when he is anxious and standing, it is difficult for him to hear our commands.

 

Wow.  When I am anxious it is harder to hear from Jesus.  Because my own anxious thoughts keep filling the airway.  And even though I may be sitting, I am standing on the inside.  I am plotting my next move to get me out of the situation that is causing the anxiety or discomfort.  And my ideas are not the best at these times, because I am in fight or flight mode.  But I have learned that if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and wait for Him to speak, I then know what to do.  He will lead me to the place I need to be.  I love Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation.  Look at verse 2:

 

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.

 

This is what He wants for me.  He doesn’t want to hammer me with a bunch of commands and rules.  He just wants me to walk easily beside Him and keep my eyes on Him.  Life would be so much simpler if I would just learn to obey.  I wonder what I will learn in our next class.

 

Lessons from Obedience School

 

Last week Jerry and I began something we should have undertaken a long time ago.  We started a series of obedience lessons with Max and Ruby, our two rescue dogs.  Now just look at those little faces for a minute?  Do they look like trouble?  While we love these dogs dearly, they have some bad habits.  Habits that have gotten worse during the quarantine.  As a psychologist, I was curious to see if causation is at work.  Are others noticing behavior changes during this time?  Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed that I am not alone.  Animal behavioral specialists are taking a good look at what is going on with our animal friends.  So we decided that we needed to enroll in obedience school.  Even if Max and Ruby don’t get trained, WE can learn some new things to do.

 

Let me give you a little background information on Max and Ruby to add context.  When the last of our Shih-Tzus died, we decided that we would not have any more dogs.  We knew it would be hard because we have always had dogs in our home, and most have been Shih-Tzus.  And actually, having no pets turned out to be a blessing in disguise because about six or eight months later Jerry became very ill with necrotizing pancreatitis and was in the hospital for months, mostly in intensive care.  I spent hours and hours with him and having a pet that needed care waiting at home would have been an additional burden.  Finally, Jerry was able to return home and gradually began to heal.  After he had been home for a while, he was well enough to take some doctor-prescribed walks.  It was then that we thought maybe a dog that also needed walks might be good motivation.  We decided that this time we would rescue rather than buy from a breeder.  That turned out to be a great decision because in spite of these behavior issues, Max and Ruby have been wonderful dogs.

 

We knew two things going in: we wanted an older dog and we did NOT want a male.  We ended up with not one but two puppies, a female and a male.  We knew that the mother dog was a Shih-Tzu and we are thinking dad must be some type of terrier.  We wondered if they might be a little intimidated coming from living in a crate at a vet’s office to our house, but no, they trotted in like they were finally home!  It was like, “What took you so long, Mom and Dad?”  It’s like they think they chose us.

 

In the beginning we thought Ruby was the alpha dog.  She was bigger, although Max soon passed her in weight and height.  She also seemed to be bossier.  But after a few months we decided Max was the alpha dog.  From the beginning they have been barkers and jumpers.  And we haven’t been able to curb those behaviors at all.   Barking at the windows, barking at the front door.  If a leaf blows by we have to bark at it.  Evidently yelling at them to shut up and quit barking only exacerbates the problem, because they think, “Oh good, now we are all barking!”

 

Over time Ruby became fearful of almost everything, especially men.  And especially men carrying equipment.  Our yard guys and any type of service men send her into a barking frenzy, with Max joining in.  She will NOT go out in the back yard without us, because she was once dive-bombed by a hawk.  So anything with wings (bird, housefly, butterfly) scares her.  Max loves the back yard but wants us to keep the door cracked so he can come in at will.  But Ruby won’t have it.  Don’t we know a giant condor might fly in and kill us all?  She also hates the vacuum cleaner, thunderstorms, and well any kind of loud noise.  Don’t even say the word “squirrel” out loud; in fact, don’t even spell it.  And she gets very anxious if we leave her for a trip.

 

These are the behaviors and traits we described to our trainer, Merit Day, on our first visit.  She had some interesting observations after listening to us and watching them.  First surprise: although Ruby is the most anxious, she is actually the leader.  And according to Merit, some of her anxiety is due to her need to protect us.  She feels like most of the burden is on her to alert Max, and then us, to danger.  So Merit gave us some new rules and I have to say, we are already getting results.

 

We worked on getting them to look at our eyes, even while we were holding a treat.  She wants them to respond to the command “Look.”  They are to keep their eyes on us and not be distracted by the treat.  The next command was “Settle.”  This was said in a gentle, but decisive voice while we pressed firmly on their shoulders.  We are to stand between them and whatever stimulus is bothering them.  This is best done with outstretched arms while telling them to settle.  We are to provide direction and demonstrate that we are in control, especially when they perceive danger.  They need to know that we understand the situation and that we’ve got it covered.  She also instructed us to provide daily times when they are to physically follow us.  It’s amazing how quickly Max and Ruby are responding to these new commands.

 

I was sharing all of this with my daughters when Kristie said, “That’s just how we are to be with God.”  Bam!  Why didn’t I see that right away, but of course she is correct.  God doesn’t want us to live in fear and anxiety.  I have heard it said that “fear not” appears 365 times in the Bible.  That’s one for every day of the year.  And He expects us to follow Him.  God will stand between me and danger.  Deuteronomy 31:8 instruct us this way:

 

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

                

 

There are many passages about keeping our eyes on the Lord.  But a famous example occurs in the gospels relating a time when the disciples were caught in a nighttime storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The see Jesus in the distance, walking on the water, and in a bold move Peter asks Jesus to tell him to come to Him.  As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was doing well.  But when he began looking at the waves he began to sink.  In Hebrews 12:2 we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus as we run our earthly race.  In the original Greek that word “fix” means to look away from something else and look distinctly at Jesus.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that God chose me, not the other way around.  By the power of the Holy Spirit I was able to respond to his call to me.  And He didn’t just choose me; he rescued me.  He saved me from spiritual death and gave me eternal life.  He placed me in a new family, gave me a new home.  All I had to do was accept His payment for my sin.    

 

As I think about these things I have decided that the Christian life is one long obedience lesson.  In these frightening times of coronavirus, riots, and uncertainty, I will do better if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and let Him lead the way.  Stay tuned for next week!           

A COUNTRY IN NEED OF HEALING

What a year 2020 has been, and it is only half over.  It seems as if there is a new crisis every week.  Let’s just set the virus aside for a moment because I would like to look at our other issues.  If only the coronavirus were our only problem!   There is a revolution that is happening right under our noses.   Shootings, mass murders, vandalism, and riots are almost routine events now.  There are those among us who are destroying our monuments, desecrating our flag, and taking over our cities.  Our national anthem may be replaced.  And our police forces, the people who are there to protect us, now have targets on their backs.  What was formerly seen as evil is know declared good and acceptable; and what we many of us knew as good is now seen as bad.  The ends justify the means.  There is no longer polite discourse.  If I disagree with you that means I hate you.  Our presidential election is now upon us, and it is the most rancorous and divisive I can ever remember.  And there are some who don’t like either of our choices, but are just trying to decide which is the lesser evil.  We are a nation on fire.

 

With our world in chaos it is tempting to ask, “God, where are you?”  As I was wrestling with these thoughts this morning, I felt the Lord say, “Be still.  Come to Me.  Listen and be encouraged.”  He reminds me that He is still on His throne and is still sovereign over the universe.  We may go to our polling places and mark our ballots, but it will be God who decides this election.

 

He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  Dan. 2:21a NLT.

 

God may decide to use the next election to bring America (and maybe the world) into repentance and right relationship with Him.  And I’m not saying I have any inside knowledge about how He would do that.  He is sovereign; He could use either candidate to accomplish His will.  As mere mortals, and as citizens, we can only try to make an informed choice and pray for the best.

 

But God could also decide that we should get the government we deserve.  Perhaps America is on a fast track to destruction.  Other nations have risen and fallen.  We may also.  I am reminded of the history of ancient Israel.  God set them up as a nation and gave them a land.  He promised to bless them if they would be obedient to His instructions.  For many years Israel prospered, although she was never fully obedient.

 

God’s plan for Israel was a theocracy.  God would be their ruler and protector.  But the people of Israel looked around at the other nations who had kings and asked for a king for themselves.  I Samuel 8:6-9 tells the story:

 

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

 

Although we have never been a theocracy, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.  Our oldest institutes of higher learning once proclaimed Biblical truths, but now they indoctrinate students in secular humanism (and charge a pretty penny to do so).  Like Israel, we have rejected God.  We think we are so much wiser.  And like Israel, we think we can make the best decision about who governs us.  However, God continues to remind us that His ways are higher than ours.  Oh America, I hope it is not too late for us.  I pray that we will repent and return to God.  But in any case, God’s plan will not be thwarted.  He is doing something in the world and He will accomplish His will.  Our job is to pray and trust.

 

Thank you, Lord for allowing us to live in this great land.  We acknowledge that we do not deserve your favor.  You have blessed us abundantly and we have turned our back on you as a nation.  We ask that you bring us back into right relationship with you.  Forgive our sins and bring revival.  And let it begin with me.

POWER SOURCE

We are all so dependent on power.  If you have ever had a power outage, you know the helpless feeling as you wait for power to be restored.  At our house we are having issues with power and connectivity.  Most of it is self-inflicted because we changed Internet providers.  Once we get everything connected things should run smoothly, but oh my goodness!  We have a lot of devices, and when I say we, I actually mean me.  I love gadgets.  But when they don’t work they become a source of frustration.  

Jerry and I watch a good deal of streaming television, so the first order of business was to connect all of our TVs (yes, we have many) to the Internet.  Then we connected our phones and iPads.  We thought we were pretty much set after that, except Jerry struggled to set up a new email account.  I admit it was difficult for some reason, so I am just keeping my Gmail account.  Easy.  Later, I realized all my Amazon Echo devices were down, and one Echo Dot just would NOT connect to the new Internet.  Finally, after several hard resets I got it up and running.  I told you I have a lot of gadgets! 

So this morning, after getting everything connected (I thought) to the new Internet, I discovered that we have a faulty power outlet at our house.  It just happens to be the outlet I use to charge all my devises at night.  Even my watch must be plugged in.  So this morning when I opened my iPad, I was surprised to find that I only had 28% battery left.  Nothing charged overnight!  We checked the reset buttons and then the breaker box.  I guess we will need to replace that outlet.  When I sat down to my laptop to Google electrical outlets (and there are so many fancy ones!) I realized I hadn’t connected it to the new Internet.  Network connection was a quick and easy fix, but just writing these words has made me realize how dependent I am on my power sources.

All of this has happened at a time when God has had me studying and writing a conference talk about prayer.  I want to pray powerful prayers and I am completely dependent I am on my heavenly power source.  When I lose my connection to God, I am weak and my battery runs low.  Trying to do what I am called to do on 28% doesn’t work.  Just as I have to recharge all my devises, I must recharge my heart.  I must be connected to God’s network if I am to be effective.  

I read that the biggest power sources in the United States are the Grand Coulee Dam and the Palo Verde Nuclear power plant.  I can’t even wrap my brain around the amount of power they produce every second.  And yet, our God is infinitely more powerful. 

There is so much power in prayer.  I want to pray big, bold, fervent, persistent prayers!  Importunate prayers.  Jerry and I are doing something new this year.  Since we are both retired, we have more time for morning prayers.  We decided to pray specifically for one family member each morning.  We have nineteen in our immediate family, so when we get to day twenty we begin praying for our extended family, our friends, our church, our country, and our world.  As we have practiced this way of praying, I’ve noticed out prayers have become bolder and more specific.  One of our first sermons of the New Year was a challenge to pray Ephesians 1:19-21 for our children and grandchildren.  It is a passage about knowing God’s power.  What a privilege it is to walk right into the throne room and speak to God on behalf of my family.  I can’t wait to see how God answers these prayers.  

 “I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”  Eph. 1:19-21 ESV

BEING A WATCHMAN

One of the things I am enjoying in retirement is the time to really dig into my Bible study lessons at Community Bible Study.  This year we are doing a study called The Road to Jerusalem, the story of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Israel.  Yesterday’s lesson highlighted the life of Ezekiel who was appointed by God to be a prophet and watchman to the people.  His main job was to warn the people to turn from their idols.  That term, “watchman” reached out and grabbed me. What was the job of a watchman?  

My thoughts turned to the medieval towns in Tuscany and Provence that we have visited over the years.  They were all built on a hilltop and they all had walls surrounding them.  These walls provided fortification and defense against attackers and intruders.  Along the walls watchtowers were erected a place for a watchman or sentry to stand guard.  Strategically, the towers were erected at points where entry were more likely, and where the watchman could have a 360 degree view of the landscape, where they could spot enemies before they got too close.  If an enemy approached, the watchman’s job was to alert the town of impending danger.  I’m thinking sentry duty then and now is a lonely job.

So what does Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman have to do with me today?  I guess I think of watchmen as those people who will be on the lookout for the things that will threaten to destroy us.  Those who will sound the alarm.  Modern day Paul Reveres.  From a Christian perspective, watchmen are protecting our faith and defending our society from our modern day idols.  In my opinion, our biggest danger comes from our secular culture.  Watchmen have to be able to stand against the tsunami of a godless society.  As we were discussing these ideas, I was having my own private conversation with God.  “Please don’t call me to be a watchman.”  I thought of some of my friends who can stand boldly in the face of criticism.  I confess that is a lonely and scary place for me.  I don’t like it.

I remember a day during a sociology course when the subject of abortion was discussed.  I was the only person in my class of about thirty who expressed opposition to it.  And the backlash against me was fierce!  I looked around the room and though to myself that surely I can’t be the only one in this class who thinks abortion is wrong.  Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma?  The buckle of the Bible belt?   After class, several people came up to me and told me they were proud of me for standing up.  “Where was YOUR voice,” I thought.  

I don’t want to be a watchman.  I don’t like opposition.  I often feel that I can’t muster a cogent defense quickly enough.  I remember that day when I felt like I couldn’t get my words together.  I think of my friends who speak out on different issues and I find myself like those classmates.  I admire the watchmen, but I don’t want to be them.  However, in these times when religious persecution is on the rise (Christians being the most targeted group), perhaps God is calling all of us to be watchmen.  Because if we don’t watch, who will? 

All these thoughts were going through my mind when I finally allowed God to speak to me.  I realized He isn’t necessarily calling me to be a watchman to the world as much as He is to myself.  “You need to be a watchman over your own heart!”  Wow!  As always, God is right.  I have a full time job guarding against idols of my own.  An idol is anything that takes my time, energy, and devotion away from God.  My potential idols are more subtle than golden statues.  Self-indulgence, screen time, acquisition of things, even (Gasp!) Sooner football.  I could create quite a list.  I guess even my family could become an idol.  

So my first calling to be a watchman is a call to guard my heart from the benign or even “good” things that could take first place in my life.  I think of the words from the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, 

Prone to leave the God I love.”  

So today I lay open my heart before the Lord, and I ask Him to remove anything that has become an idol to me, and to keep me alert to the things that could sidetrack me in the future.  As I said, it’s a full time job.  But I also ask God to burden my heart for the things that burden His.  I want to “watch” for God, to see where He is moving and what He is doing.  Being a watchman is more that keeping an eye out for evil, more than warning about the dangers of sin.  A watchman also has the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the gospel.  As Believers, we get to announce to the world that God has provided a remedy for sin.  And we are all commanded to be on the alert, to watch for Christ’s return.  The more I think about it, I don’t get to opt out of being a watchman.  Nor should I want to.  It is an honor.

GIRLFRIENDS

This morning as I was listening to the words of I Need Thee Every Hour, I thought about how God is always ready to meet my deepest needs, often before I ask or am even aware of them.  For the past week or so I have been blessed with an abundance of girl time.  It wasn’t really planned to happen all at once…I guess it was just God’s timing. So I’ve had a couple of lunches and even a precious sleepover, a grown-up slumber party.  Some of these girls have been my friends for years and years. Others have been more casual friends, but these friendships have been deepened in the last few days.  I have even been blessed with a new friend.

When I was getting my degrees I had to lay my friendships down for a while.  It was a conscious but difficult decision.  I just didn’t have the time.  Every day was a school day, and for two years those days included a commute to Stillwater and back.  Nights and weekends were for studying, family, and church.  There just weren’t enough hours for joining the ladies who lunch. I say that as if girl lunches are a frivolous thing but to me, they are precious.  However I had to put them on the back burner even after I got my doctorate. Because after school came a time of getting licensed and growing a psychology practice, although I was able to squeeze in a ladies Bible study for a few years.  But life got busy, so I felt I needed to give that up too.

These days I am winding down my career and looking forward to retirement.  And I am finding more time for my women friends.  And I have gone back to that ladies Bible study.  There is just something so special about girl time, the time with trusted friends that allow you to let your hair down and be real.  These are unguarded moments, bound by our love for the Lord.  When we get together we laugh and we cry.  We share our secrets, our hurts, our failures and victories, our fears, and most of all, we share our God.  We pray together.  We pray for each other and for the families we have.  Yesterday a sweet friend showed me a prayer list she carries around on a note card.  She has had it for years.  I recognized many of the names on that card, including my daughters and grandchildren. I had no idea that she had been praying for them all this time.  Another friend has been a mentor and special friend to one of my girls, and I have a special love for her daughter.

As I think about these friendships, I see how God has worked to bring us together.  We have all been interconnected even though we may not have known it.  It may have seen like chance at the time, but looking back I can see His design.  One woman has sweetly pursued time with me. We have a friend in common and the three of us have determined to get together once a month.  Another woman has been walking parallel to me many for many years, but for some of those years we were merely acquaintances.  At one time she actually lived around the corner.    Now I realize the Lord was trying to get my attention.  “You need her in your life!”   I get it, Lord.  A brand new friend hugged me and said how happy she is that God put us together.  I look forward to that friendship deepening.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful women in my family.  I know they have special roles in my life, but I actually likethem.  There is nothing as special as a day with my daughters and granddaughters. Sisters, nieces, and cousins, and those special women who are no longer with us…God has blessed me with many wise and wonderful women.

So this morning in my prayer journal I wrote a thank you note to God.  I thank him for the friendship of godly women.  Some friends I get to see every Sunday at church, while others live far away…one even in Kenya.  Some I haven’t seen in a long time but I still carry them in my heart. I know I could call on them in a time of need, and they could do the same with me.  I have sweet friends I have known since high school, and though I don’t get to see them very often, I still count them as treasured friends. When we get together we pick up right where we left off.  These friends nurture my soul.  I pray the words of the hymn, “God be with Thee till we meet again.”  

I have decided that girl time is essential.  I hope to be a better friend and to do a better job of cultivating and maintaining friendships.  And I pray that I will be aware when God brings an important relationship right in front of my face.  I need my tribe of special women.

Mother’s Day

The older I get the less Mother’s Day is about being honored and celebrated and the more it becomes a day of gratitude.  I am so very grateful for the privilege of being a mother.  Let me say at the beginning, I recognize that Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many. Perhaps you have lost your mother or have a difficult relationship.  I get it. I remember many years standing in the Hallmark store with tears in my eyes thinking, “There is not one Mother’s Day card for my mother.”  It also may be difficult because you desperately want to be a mother and for whatever reason this has not happened.  Maybe you have lost an unborn child or children and this day is a painful reminder.   And tragically, you may have given birth to a child who later died.  My heart breaks for you.

I am richly blessed with three wonderful daughters.  As my wise sister has often reminded me, most of us get two shots at the parent child relationship.  The first opportunity is with our parents, and then later with our own children.  Even if you don’t have the relationship you would like with your parents, you can still resolve to have a good relationship with your own children.  Sometimes our best parenting lessons come by learning what not to do.

The greatest Mother’s Day gift I have ever received is the gift of being a mother.  I can still vividly remember the overwhelming love I felt for my firstborn daughter as she was placed in my arms.  And the surprising relief that I could feel the same amount of love for a second and a third daughter.  A mother’s love is never divided: it is multiplied.

I am also blessed that my grown children live nearby and I get to see them often.  I really like the women they have become, and I enjoy spending time with them even if it is just a quick pop-in visit.  And I am, so proud of them as mothers.  They have blessed me with nine beautiful grandchildren.  It is more than I ever could have wished for! 

There are many gifts in motherhood, but I think the greatest is that it truly teaches us about the heart of our Father.  I can remember the frustrations I felt as a young, overwhelmed mother.  There was nothing I could take to God that he had not already experienced.  “Oh Lord, they are always wantingsomething!” (Yes, I understand.  My children only come to me when they need something.”) “They don’t appreciate how much I do for them!”  (Really? How often do you thank me for all I do for you?”)  As they got older I complained that they were too busy for me.  I certainly didn’t surprise God with that one!  (“Hmmm.  My children are too busy for me too!”)   Of course, I always realized that God was referring to me.  As a parent, God has been so patient and loving with me.  

I remember when my babies were little my precious grandmother would tell me, “These are the best days of your life. One day you will want them back.” She was so right.  The days are long, but the years are short.  Oh, I don’t want to go completely back to the child-rearing years.  But I would just like to have one day, one hour with them as children.  One more handmade Mother’s Day gift.    I would love to have them snuggle up next to me and just bewith me.  Maybe that is what my Father wants: a day to just be with me.  A day when I don’t come to Him with my want list.  A day when I just enjoy His presence.    

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Psalm 127:3 (ESV).

Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.  

The Power and Privilege of Prayer

A friend is very ill today. I pray that God will touch his body and heal him, but if that is not God’s will, I pray for a sweet and peaceful home going.  This man has been a lifelong student and teacher of the Word, and I can imagine Jesus standing at Heaven’s gate eagerly waiting for him. But standing on earth is a wife, family, and friends who don’t want to lose him.  I am praying for his wife, his sweetheart, and his partner in life.  I understand the anguish she is feeling because I was at a similar place five years ago.  And I pray for his family…his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

I hope you will pray for this man (God knows his name), but I’m not writing to talk specifically about him.  I want to talk about the mighty power of prayer and the privilege we have to partner with God by means of prayer.  When Jerry was sick, our family experienced first hand the power of prayer.  Five years later, we are still running into strangers who heard about his illness and prayed for him.  I know that God in His great wisdom does not always say, “yes” to our prayers, but I’m so grateful that He allowed us to keep Jerry a while longer.  I also know that each of us has an appointment with death, and that our life on earth is like a vapor.  God’s “no” is no less loving that His “yes.”

After Jerry recovered, I wanted to learn more about prayer, and I learned a new word: importunate. Importunate prayers are the prayers that please God.  They are the prayers that plead and beg God for a request to be granted.  They are the prayers that pound on Heaven’s door, and will not give up.  The illustration that is used most frequently used to describe importunate prayers is the story in Luke 18 of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.  This woman just would not give up!  The judge finally granted her petition because he was tired of dealing with her. He was annoyed by her pleas.  But God is not annoyed by importunity; He is moved by it.  Importunity is Jacob wrestling all night with God.  It is Daniel, fasting and praying, in sackcloth and ashes.  It is Jesus in Gethsemane.  All through the Old Testament and into the New, we see people of God begging and pleading with Him.  John R. Rice says, “There are some blessings that a Christian will never have without pleading, importunate waiting on God!”  

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate day for us to think about prayer.  Because on this day, God gave all believers access to the throne of Heaven.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Before this day, only the high priest could enter the holy place, and he could only do it once a year.  That veil was a constant reminder that sinful man could not enter into the presence of Holy God.  But now, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we believers can go directly to God with our prayers, any time we want.  And even more wonderful, because of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit now dwells in us. Emmanuel.  God with us.

What a privilege is prayer. My hope is we will all take time on this holy day to partake of this great gift.