FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Grace for Squirrels

Yes, the squirrels, again.  We are still at war.  Or at least we were until this afternoon.  Here’s what happened.

During travels to the beach last week we stopped for a waterfront picnic and a little shopping in one of the small communities between our home and the beach.  I found something called a “Soda Bottle Birdfeeder” and had to have it.  Really.  I couldn’t wait to return home to “install” it – especially since it required me to drink a soda before I could use the bottle.  (A soda is a very rare treat for me these days.)

Anyway, I guzzled a Sprite thinking the green bottle would be ideal.  After washing and drying the bottle, I inserted the hanger, filled the bottle with birdseed, attached the spigot-like piece that would permit small birds to perch and feed and promptly suspended the feeder from an iron hook that hung over a branch of a tree in my backyard. The birds seemed to immediately find the new feeder and began devouring the seed. Joy – for me and the birds.

I marveled at the birds and new feeder for a day before noticing that it appeared to be hanging somewhat lopsided. A closer inspection revealed the handiwork of a squirrel. Unable to cling to the iron hook and unable to reach the “spigot,” a squirrel had apparently hung upside down from a nearby branch and chewed a hole into my “soda bottle feeder. Just a few more nibbles would have caused it to tumble to the ground had I not noticed in time! I bought the feeder because I knew the squirrels would not be able to reach the “spigot” and would not be able to grasp the hook; it never occurred to me that they would figure out how to chew holes into the bottle.

To say that I was livid would be an understatement! The squirrels had already overtaken the other feeders that I have in my back and side yards; “Surely,” I thought, “they will let the birds enjoy this one.” Even as I was inspecting their handiwork, they were munching away at the seed in my other feeders. So, I took the feeders down! Every one of them! Then I sat on my back porch and watched for hours how they (and, sadly, the birds) came to the branches and the posts in search of seed to find none. “Let ‘em starve,” I told my mom.

I wish that I could have captured the ruckus. It seems that every bird and every squirrel in the town descended upon my backyard. They screeched, grunted, cawed and made sounds imaginable and unimaginable. They flew away or scrambled through the trees only to return again and again to the sites where the feeders had stood or hung. I felt badly for the birds, but those squirrels! THOSE SQUIRRELS!!!! I just want to enjoy the birds. I don’t want greedy little squirrels eating up all of my seed – MY SEED!

And that is when the Holy Spirit spoke so clearly to me. “Have you no grace? Yes, even for the squirrels?” I thought, “Seriously?” And His Spirit said, “Yes. Seriously.”

Now let me go ahead and tell you that it wasn’t really about the squirrels but about me and my propensities for showing (or not) grace to others.

Max Lucado describes grace as “God’s best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly.” He says that nothing rivals it and that “when grace happens, generosity happens – unsquashable, eye-popping bigheartedness.”

If you’ve followed my blog for any time, you’ve probably read about my love for giving gifts. But if I am honest, I choose to whom I give. In that instance with the squirrel, it was clear that the same applies to grace. I choose to whom I extend grace. And I immediately wondered, “What if God chose to whom He extended grace? Would he extend it to me?”

 

Ephesians is clear that our behavior as Christians is to be permeated by kindness, characterized by compassion and evidenced by consideration of others. We grieve (1 Corinthians 12:26) and rejoice with others. We forgive (Ephesians 4:32). We love (John 13:34-35). We extend grace just as we have received grace (1 Peter 4:10).

So, I fed the squirrels.

Squirrel Feeder

 


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Crocodile Tears

When you’ve been in the “business” of education for as long as I have, you see (and dry) a few crocodile tears. Students, young and old, as well as adults, staff and parents, are apt to shed a few tears. While some are legitimate (true heartbreak or true regret over a poor decision), many are about as real as the Louis Vuitton handbags you can buy on Canal Street in New York’s Chinatown. Sorry.

For a period, I served as a mediator for special education disputes. I was called to facilitate the mediation process when parents and school systems found themselves at odds over services and supports for children identified under the federal law, IDEA. Mediation training prepared me for crocodile tears and lots of other drama and, possibly, physical altercations. During training I thought that this couldn’t possibly be real, but surprisingly, during my three years as a mediator, I saw it all.

Even today I have vivid images of the mother who set up a tri-fold display of photos of her daughter right in the middle of the table around which we, opposing sides and the mediator, were gathered. When I turned the photos face down (as we were taught to do in mediation training – no trying to muddy the waters with emotions, just stick to the facts), the mom immediately began to “cry.” I moved the process along, as I had been trained, without acknowledging her “tears.” So, she “cried” louder. I continued the process and pushed a box of Kleenex in her direction. (Prepared mediators always traveled with a box of Kleenex. THAT lesson was part of the training.) She added physical elements to her “crying,” groaning and body jerks. I continued the process. She laid her head on the table and pounded her fist while still “crying” and now gasping for air. I asked, “Do we need to take a break?”

Mom immediately sat up and turned her mascara-smeared face directly toward me and said, “No! You are a cold —– who obviously does not care about my beautiful daughter!” And in that very instance the “crying” stopped. She added, “Nothing works with you!”

Yep, crocodile tears!

As Christians, we cry our fair share of crocodile tears, too. We always have. The book of Judges bears testimony of such. Its chapters and verses reveal patterns of rebellion, punishment, repentance and deliverance – a cycle of apostasy. Indeed, the Old Testament relays several incidences when the children of Israel “cried” to the Lord (Judges 6:7, 3:9, 4:3; Jeremiah 9:1-3; Exodus 14:10, 3:7). Sometimes they, like the mom during mediation, “groaned” (Exodus 2:23). But as we read account after account of the people crying and groaning to the Lord and their liberation from enemies and deliverance from persecution, we must wonder about the sincerity of those “cries” and true remorse for their sin.

While we are wondering about the children of Israel, we might wonder about ourselves, too – our crying out for deliverance only to return ourselves to sinful situations, sinful thinking and sinful acts. Do we beg, plead, cry out to God offering “deals” and promises to “never do this again,” to “stop seeing this person” or “give up this bad habit” to be delivered and only return later to the place (pattern, habit, thinking, behavior) where we were before? How genuine is our grief and, even more importantly, our repentance? True repentance involves a change of heart and a change in purpose and, subsequently, a change in behavior.

As you wonder, are you truly repentant or just shedding crocodile tears?

 

Biblical Repentance:  https://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A330/what-is-biblical-repentance


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A Fowl Story

It started three days ago. This is the short version of the story.

Driving to a doctor’s appointment, I drove through a puddle of something on the highway. The cars before me had flown right through it, so I followed. It was pretty much unavoidable anyway since it covered both lanes. Anyway, I drove through it. Okay, nothing happened. Good. So, I kept driving.

I was running early for a change, so I decided to shop a little before my appointment. I wheeled into a parking space, literally jumped out of the car and rushed into the store. I had about 25 minutes to navigate TJ Maxx. If you’ve shopped there, you know it takes more than a few minutes to cover this “inside flea market” but I was going to give it my best, and I did.

Exactly 25 minutes later I was walking back to my car. As I approached to put my packages in the back, it hit me. The foulest stench ever! I thought, “What on earth is going on in this town?” I didn’t have time to give it a lot of thought; I had to get to my appointment. About 15 minutes later I was at the doctor’s office and when I exited the car, the odor was on that side of town, too. “Wow, something foul is really going on here today,” I thought before dashing inside. Yep, I smelled it when I returned to my car and I smelled it at my next stop. It was then that I realized that it was my vehicle not the air that was smelling.

Walking around my car for a quick inspection I noticed brown stuff on the tires and rear fenders. It wreaked! The temperature was rising and so was the odor, so I went to a car wash thinking it just needed a quick rinse. I paid the attendant to blast my car by hand then drove to my next stop. The moment I opened the car door, the stench hit me. I drove back to the car wash for another rinse.   I suggested the attendant focus on the tires, so he did.

Well, my day was pretty much shot so I headed for home only to arrive and find the stench was even stronger. I drove to a local car wash where the attendant scrubbed the tires before I drove through the automatic wash; this particular car wash offered an undercarriage wash feature – just what I needed! Returning home I found the stench still there but much less offensive. I shot the tire wells with a little Febreze and spritzed a little inside the vehicle before retiring for the night. (Yes, the night. “This” car wash business had literally consumed a day.)

While watering my lawn the next morning I caught a whiff of something foul. Yes, my car! For about an hour I scrubbed the tire wells, the rims and the rear bumper. I prayed more Febreze. All seemed well, but I checked about an hour later and spritzed a little more Febreze just in case.

Today, three days later, the stench is knocking me off my feet. My post master suggests that I take my car to a garage and have them place it on a lift so that we may inspect the underside.

It was foul. Actually, it was fowl – chicken poop to be exact! That’s what the brown stuff on the highway was. That’s what I had driven through. And that is what had stuck in the treads of the tires, splattered the tire wells and covered the underside of my car. Between the heat of the day (we’ve had temps in the high 90s all week) and the heat of the car, it was baked on the underside. It was under the hood! It was stuck in the nooks and crannies.

While having my car powerwashed (including the underside, engine and tire wells), I thought – “Hmm, just like sin.” It can seem like nothing or, at most, just a little something. Everyone is doing it. At first you don’t realize the impact, so you carry on as usual. It rears its head a little at first then slightly more. You catch a whiff of it, but you still think it’s no big deal. It is persistent. It will not stop until it has taken over. You read a Scripture or two, whisper an “I’m sorry” and try to make a quick deal with God. But sin is powerful. It is pervasive. It gets into the nooks and crannies of your life and your heart. It gets baked in and baked on.

First, we don’t recognize it as sin. We don’t call it by that name. We dress it up – we made a poor choice, we blew it, nobody’s perfect. We water it down – we made a mistake, took a misstep, goofed. No, we sinned.

Scripture does not describe sin as a “mistake” or a “failure.” God does not excuse sin as “bad behavior” or a “slip up.” Sin is serious; it is violating God’s law, and it is an offense against God (Romans 4:15, 1 John 3:4, Deuteronomy 32:51, Psalm 51:4, Exodus 32:33). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2)!

A spritz and a spray could not address the root of the foul odor that had attacked my car. I had to remove the source of the odor not just continuously try to cover it with perfume. It took intentional, focused, specific and time-intensive effort. I had to recognize that it wasn’t the air and it wasn’t just the tires. It was chicken manure, and it was caked and dried in the tire tread, tire wells, wheel rims and underside of the car.

Likewise with sin. Scripture is clear that the only way the problem of sin could be dealt with was through an intentional, focused, specific effort. That “effort” was a perfect substitute, Jesus Christ, experiencing the wrath of God for sinful man by dying on the cross and fully atoning our sin.

Understand then, that when you sin, it is not a trivial matter; it is not a mistake. Begin by calling it what it is. Until you do, you cannot address it.


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Amazed

Having worked in the field of education for more than 30 years, I was sure that I’d seen and heard it all, but I really never cease to be amazed.

I am amazed by the fashions of the students and the adults, like the guidance counselor who came to work with her shirt tied Daisy Duke style because she’d gotten her navel pierced the evening before and wanted to show it off…to elementary students!

I am amazed by the excuses for not doing homework and for coming to work late, like the teacher who said she woke up and decide to try a new route and got lost on the way.

I am amazed by the behaviors, like the teacher who thought a student might have intentionally clogged a toilet with paper too much tissue, so she gave her a paper towel and told her to use it to take all that excess soggy tissue out of the toilet. This one also falls under the category of amazing thinking – a paper towel to keep her hands clean while she took tissue from a nasty, recently used toilet? Hmm.

Fortunately, not all of the things that amaze me are negative. Daily I am amazed by the glory of nature – the beauty of the clouds, the majesty of the trees, the melody of the birds. In the Psalms David declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3). Nature alone is proof that He is and that He is great!

I cannot share these amazements, good and bad, without acknowledging that sometimes I have been amazed by my own thinking and my own behavior and surely I confess, it was not always good. Some of it was selfish. Some of it was vengeful. Some of it hurt others. I am especially sorry about that and this, perhaps, is why I am most amazed by God and His grace, His mercy and His love for us even when we falter.

As Deuteronomy tells us, He is “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10:17 ESV). Sometimes we forget that or, at the very least, we take it for granted. The Desperation Band sings, “You dance over me while I am unaware. You sing all around, but I never hear the sound. Lord, I’m amazed by you – how you love me! How wide, how deep, how great is your love for me! Lord, I’m amazed by you – how you love me!”

He formed light; He created darkness (Isaiah 45:7, ESV); He made “heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and” He preserves all of them (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV). He is “the Rock, His work is perfect, all His ways are justice.” He is “a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright” (Deuteronomy 32:4, ESV) and yet, He loves us. He loves us. So much so that He pursues us! As long as we live in this sinful and fallen world we will sin – even those of us who are believers (though Jesus paid our sin debt), and we may still have to deal with the consequence of sin. He knows the pain of sin, so He teaches us and shows us His way, a better way, the way that He desires for us. He pursues us. He never lets go of us. He loves us! He is amazing, and I am amazed!

LISTEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1SoPfCIm80


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BOGO?

You know you want it!  As a matter of fact, you don’t just want it, you gotta have it.  It might have something to do with the fact that it’s 3:00 am and you’re obviously wide awake.  More likely it has to do with the fact that you can really see yourself with it.  Why wouldn’t you have it?  You should have had it already?  Actually, you should have thought of it.  Clearly everyone except you has one.  It just makes sense to have it.  Life would be so much easier with it.   And it’s so cheap.

What is it?

WHATEVER they are selling during the graveyard shift of television – that period between 1:00 am and 6:00 pm when “good” television has signed off.  Rather than playing the National Anthem and really signing off the way they did when I was a young girl, networks and affiliates sell their airtime to sponsors, and sponsors use this time to sell us on the latest, greatest, can’t-live-without-it inventions.  It is the time of infomercials.

I’ve been sucked in, and so have you.  Even now a Showtime Rotisserie is perched on a Baker’s rack in my kitchen.  A PedEgg is tucked away in my luggage.  I’ve secretly been thinking about buying that “red pan” – you know, the one that nothing sticks to.

There are a few products that I would actually volunteer to do infomercials for.  I’m a firm believer in that Showtime Rotisserie.  Cooking is easy AND it cleans up even easier.  The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser really is magical.  It cleans EVERY thing from walls to tubs to tennis shoes.  I’ve told a gazillion people about these and other gadgets; they’re amazing.

When you discover a great product, don’t you want to tell?  If you knew the cure for cancer, wouldn’t you share?  Of course you would, so let me tell you about the best discovery ever.  It’s a balm.  And it comes from Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22).  No, it’s not for scaly elbows or dry, cracked heels.  It is for the sin-sick soul!

Do you need the balm?  There’s no BOGO ( buy one-get one free) offer.  You don’t have to telephone within the next seven minutes, and there’s no shipping and handling.  You don’t even need a major credit card or checking account.  You just need to “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

Do you already have the balm?  It’s a much better “deal” than a Sham-Wow or a Spin Mop, far more needed than a Slice-O-Matic and will serve one better than George’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine.  Share it.  Look for opportunities to tell others the good news not of the infomercial but of the Savior, the Balm in Gilead.  He will heal their sin-sick souls.

RESOURCES

There is a Balm in Gilead:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fcMxI_6xsk

Sharing Your Faith 101:  https://billygraham.org/story/sharing-your-faith-101/

 

 


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Window Shopping

It was almost a ritual.  Sunday School followed by morning worship that lasted most of the day (so I never understood why they called it morning worship) then home to a dinner that my mom had actually prepared just after breakfast, a nap for dad and then a short drive into town just as the sun was setting to go window shopping!

Those of you under the age of 50 probably have never heard of window shopping – looking at the goods displayed in shop windows, especially without intending to buy anything. If you have heard of it, your probably can’t understand it. Well, think of it like shopping online. You put a lot of stuff into your cart, but you never check out! Researchers (yes, someone actually studied window shopping) say that there are great benefits from window shopping – exercise, relieved stress and raised aspirations are just a few, not to mention you save money!

For us, it was a great family time. It was almost a kind of “date night” for mom and dad as they walked along whispering to each other, gazing into the windows of the furniture store, reminiscing about old times and making plans for their future – and ours. For my sister and I, it was a time of dreaming. Our favorite window gave a gaze into the local 5 and dime. As we grew, our interests shifted to the clothing stores. Sometimes we would stop for ice cream and enjoy our cones and sandwiches as we walked, talked and “shopped,” our imaginations running wild.

That’s what window shopping is really about – letting your imagination run wild. You imagine all the things that you could have, the life you could live. Imagination can be a good thing. And not. Especially when it comes to living the Christian life. We were not meant to live a life of imagining what could be, what we might have. John 10:10 teaches us that Christ came that we might have an abundant life, here and in the hereafter.

When you window shop you never go into the store, you never try on the goods, you don’t even get to touch them. You simply watch from a distance, separated by that pane of glass and separated from the joy of touching, holding, knowing, having. When we window shop God’s word, we read of all that He has promised – rest, power, strength, peace, victory, life eternal! (Matthew 11:28-29; Isaiah 40:29-31, Proverbs 1:33; John 14:27, Romans 8:37-39), but we separate ourselves from possessing these gifts and knowing the full joy of them. Just as we cannot really imagine owning some of the possessions behind the glass of the store windows, we tell ourselves that we cannot really receive God’s blessings. For certain, we don’t deserve His love.

We look with our human eyes and think with our human thoughts, so it is difficult for us to comprehend. God does not love us because we are lovable or because we deserve His love. Our hearts are innately deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We are evil and we do evil (Romans 3:10-12). But it is not just God’s nature to love; He is love, true love, not the sappy movies and Valentine’s Day kind of love but agape love, love that sacrifices, and He chooses to lavish His love on those who need it the most, those who least deserve it, those who rebel even against Him (1 John 4:10; John 6:44; Romans 5:8).

Unlike the cold panes of glass that separate us from the stores’ goods, God invites us to come – come drink, come eat, come live (Isaiah 55:1-2). Don’t let Satan trick you into thinking you are unworthy. He will have you forever on the outside looking in, nose pressed against the glass, desiring what you think is beyond you. Come. Come into God’s covenant. Come into His love (Isaiah 55:1-3).


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Lessons From a Squirrel

If we would pay attention, all of life can teach us a lesson, even a squirrel.  For example, just this morning as I sat on my screened porch for quiet time with my LORD, I learned that the porch is not always the best place for me.  I can too easily become distracted by the swarms of birds that come to my feeders, the neighbor’s cats that slither betwixt and between my Hostas, the beeps of the garbage trucks, the hoot of a faraway owl and THE SQUIRRELS.

This morning in particular it was a squirrel that distracted me, so much so that I stopped to capture video.  I’m thinking that it is a mother-to-be squirrel because she is obviously building a nest in my neighbor’s attic (not the neighbor with the cats).  I watched her sneak in and out of the attic venting carrying small branches of leaves.  She would poke her head from the venting, watch and listen for things or people that might harm her then, when she deemed it safe, climb to the roof ridge before scurrying down one side of the roof and making a jump to a nearby tree.  She would gnaw a branch from a tree then, with branch in mouth, make the return trip – jumping back onto the roof, climbing to the ridge then down to the vent and into the attic.  I captured a series of photos and three 10-minute videos.  She must have made a gazillion trips.

So what did I learn? I mean, other than not to have my quiet time on the screened porch. I learned a lot, but I will share just one lesson – one I believe is powerful. God calls us to be lifelong learners.

My neighbor’s attic is not that squirrel’s first home. It very likely is not her only home because typically squirrels construct at least two nests – one to live in and a backup in the event something happens to or danger comes near the first. My neighbor’s roof may not be the first roof that squirrel climbed. Squirrels are continuous learners, forever learning which trees to climb, how to escape from predators (remember those cats), where to build nests, how to find food (like they’ve discovered my bird feeders), where to hide their goodies, etc. They cannot afford to become complacent and to stop learning, and neither can we.

Proverbs 1:5-7 teaches us that the wise hear and increase in learning, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and that fools despise wisdom and instruction. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:13-14 that as believers we are to be continuous learners growing in the LORD. TM Moore writes, “The basic meaning of the word, “disciple,” is learner. A disciple is one who learns. A disciple of Jesus Christ is one who learns from Him.”

What are we to learn? A lot! Our calling is to learn about Jesus, who He is, what His plan is and how we fit into that plan. Colossians 2:2-3 (MSG) says Believers can be woven into God’s tapestry of love, be in touch with everything there is to know of God and “have minds confident and at rest” because they will be filled with the wisdom and mystery of God. Who wouldn’t want this?!

Jesus commands us, “Learn from Me” (Matthew 11:29 ESV). The verb “learn” as used here expresses continuous action. When we want to talk about an action that is happening now or at this time and is unfinished, we use the present continuous tense. Learn now, learn later, learn repeatedly, learn continuously. That’s a lesson from a squirrel. That’s a lesson from our LORD!

SOURCE

http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/talking-points/16887-lifelong-learners