FULLY ALIVE!

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


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Risk or Trivial Pursuit?

Forrest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.

Actually we apply a lot of metaphors to this journey called life. Oops, there was one right there! Perhaps you’ve compared life to riding an elevator. It has a lot of ups and downs and someone is always pushing your buttons. Sometimes you get the shaft, but what really gets you are the jerks. Or maybe for you, life is like cooking. It all depends on what you add and how you mix it. Sometimes you follow the recipe; at other times you just throw something together. Or maybe one of these best suits you:

Life is like a novel. You are the author and every day is a new page.

Life is like photography. We develop from negatives.

Life is like money. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once.

Life is like an onion. You peel off layer after layer and sometimes you weep.

Life is like a pencil. Sometimes you are sharpened. Sometimes you correct your mistakes. Always you leave a mark.

I think life is often like a game or at least that is how we play it. Something like Trivial Pursuit. We drift from day to day without a plan and without purpose, and we focus a lot of energy on things that don’t really matter. Like what we wear. Or what we drive. Or where we live. And what people say about us. All of these are trivial. Our focus should be what is important to God – what matters to Him.

Consider Psalm 50:7-15 (MSG), Scripture that you likely don’t read every day:

“Are you listening, dear people? I’m getting ready to speak; Israel, I’m about ready to bring you to trial. This is God, your God, speaking to you. I don’t find fault with your acts of worship, the frequent burnt sacrifices you offer. But why should I want your blue-ribbon bull,  or more and more goats from your herds? Every creature in the forest is mine,  the wild animals on all the mountains. I know every mountain bird by name; the scampering field mice are my friends. If I get hungry, do you think I’d tell you?  All creation and its bounty are mine. Do you think I feast on venison? or drink draughts of goats’ blood? Spread for me a banquet of praise,  serve High God a feast of kept promises, And call for help when you’re in trouble—  I’ll help you, and you’ll honor me.”

Did you get it?

He said, “This is God. I’m telling you what matters to me, and it’s not your religion, and show and rules even though you are following the laws and traditions of sacrifice.” For us today He might say, “I could care less about your fancy sanctuaries and what you wear to church and all those programs you have and rules you have made up. All of that is trivial.”

What God wants is faithfulness, obedience, full trust in Him, kept promises and praise, lots of praise, genuine praise, a “banquet of praise.”

Are you serious? Doesn’t God realize that we need those rules and procedures, rituals and hierarchies?

No, He doesn’t.

He wants you, challenges you, calls for you to step away from all of that and to risk simply loving, following and praising Him. And not just on Sunday. Every day. Every moment. He wants you to love Him with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…” (Luke 10:27, NIV)

I think He’d rather you play a game of Risk instead of Trivial Pursuit.

Your move.

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Unpack Those Bags

My pastor tells members of missions teams to pack their suitcases then take half of what they packed out! Good advice. But easier said than done.

How do you choose what to take out? That shirt? Those shoes? The towels? It all seems so important. Good boy and girl scouts are always prepared. You never know what will happen on one of these trips, so you try to plan for every scenario imaginable. And the good news is that if there is an emergency, you are prepared. The bad news? Navigating with that luggage!

Three experiences come readily to mind.

During the first, my luggage exceeded the maximum allowable weight. There I was with my things sprawled across the airport floor trying to shuffle, rearrange and part with (as in throw into the trash) my stuff. Some I was able to tuck into someone else’s luggage, but some simply had to be tossed. If only I’d left it at home.

During the second experience, my strap broke AND a wheel came off – all because my luggage was over-stuffed. It was a nightmare for me to carry it and a burden for team members to help me. After all, they had their own luggage.

And my third experience was similarly embarrassing and stressful. The team was literally running from one gate to another because we had mere minutes to catch a connecting flight. The team was running, and I was struggling, fumbling, dragging, dropping and stumbling because my luggage was simply too heavy. If only I hadn’t brought so much. I was miserable.

And that’s how it is when we carry excessive emotional baggage. It weighs us down. It keeps us from navigating freely. It causes us to struggle, fumble, drag and stumble. Romans 8:1-2 (NIV) teaches, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

If you are carrying heavy baggage, it’s time to unpack. Don’t shuffle it around or try to rearrange it. Toss it. Let it go.


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Traveling Light

Indulge me, I’m going to stick with this traveling, packing, suitcase thing that I started in the last post.  And I’m going to try to make it short and to the point. (I’ve been getting a little long in these posts – sorry!)

For about the past 10 years I’ve engaged much more actively in missions abroad.  I remember well, still, my first trip.  I started packing months before our departure.  I packed on paper (which I still do for most trips) before I packed my actual luggage.  I had a luggage scale at home, so I was constantly weighing my luggage.  Too heavy. Take something out.  Weigh it again. Take something else out.  I must have repeated this cycle a gazillion times.

There was NOTHING that I felt that I could take out.  Look, I was going to some strange land.  I needed to be prepared for every possible situation.  I was thinking (and I was right) there will be no convenient mart, drugstore or fast food joint around the corner in case I need something.  If you don’t have it in your suitcase, you do without, and I didn’t want to do without.  Definitely packed some Nabs! (Did you figure out what Nabs are from my last post?)

My pastor always advised us to pack then take half of the stuff out.  Then, on one trip, a roommate shared a tip that I have followed to this day when traveling abroad.  Pack old clothes!  Take old linens.  Wear old underwear.  Yes, wear it and throw it away.  Use it and toss it.  Two things happen.  Your suitcase gets lighter and lighter (so you can bring home lots of new stuff and souvenirs without exceeding your luggage weight limit) and your dresser drawers and closets at home get cleaned out!

We have a lot of stuff in our life suitcases that we need to just toss.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV) refers to the baggage or weight we need to lay aside.  I believe there are two categories of baggage here – past experiences and personal sin. 

Past Experiences include things like guilt, defeatist attitudes, feelings of rejection, fears of failure and poor self-image.  These are attitudes and feelings that weigh us down and keep us from being our personal best.  They are not from God!

Personal Sin is sin that is very specific to individuals, and we all have experienced the weight of our weaknesses and struggles such as unforgiveness, jealous spirits, pride, greed, lust, anger or bitterness.

Both, our past experiences and our personal sin, can drain our energy, slow our pace and cause us to stumble.  They are the equivalent of trying to carry extra luggage without wheels and those wonderful straps that connect several pieces together!  We become distracted from our purpose and focused on trying to maneuver with all that baggage.

Hebrews instructs us to “lay aside every weight, and sin” so that we can run. (Picture OJ running through the airport.  Oh my.  Did I just reveal my age with that reference?!)

The bottom line – WE DON’T HAVE TO CARRY OUR BAGGAGE!  Think how you feel when you drag your luggage to the airport, across the parking lot and into the terminal.  Then you finally check it, and you are free from struggling with it and stressing about it.  It is especially wonderful when you are able to check it through to your final destination.  You walk about freely through the terminal shopping, eating, etc.  You travel “light.”  God would have us “check” our past experiences and sin laying them at His feet so that we may navigate freely enjoying the abundant life that He offers us.  And unlike the airport, He will never give your luggage back to you all ripped and ragged and dirty. (I could really write some posts about that!)  He will carry it forever!

Can you say, “Check it straight through, please?”


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What’s In Your Suitcase?

For years my work required me to travel. I remember leaving home once at the end of June and not returning until just a couple days shy of a month later.  Now some would say traveling for 30 days is not that much and, indeed, I have enjoyed vacations longer than that, but this particular trip was actually several trips all combined into one long jaunt.  Over the course of the 30 days I had to attend formal events, casual events, active events, business events, inside events, outside events and everything else you could imagine WITHOUT being able to return home between events.  Now add the fact that I traveled via airplane and train and was thus governed by two sets of travel restrictions and regulations relevant to my luggage not to mention the fact that I was a woman traveling alone.  Who wants to try to navigate with a ton of luggage?  Not me!  Two bags max, preferably one!

Bottom line, I had to really think through packing my suitcases.

When I travel by car, I take a lot of stuff.  I can pack outfits in a variety of colors.  I can pack extra shoes and handbags.  I even sometimes take my own pillows.  When I travel by train or air I have to be cognizant of the luggage size and weight restrictions.  I also have to consider rolling that luggage, monitoring that luggage, lifting that luggage, etc.  You want to keep it simple.  You want to keep it light.  You want to keep it at minimum.

But a girl needs a lot of stuff!  You have to be prepared for the what-ifs.  What if I snag my pantyhose?  Got to have extras.  What if my hair flops?  Got to have a curling iron.  What if my shoe strap breaks?  Better have an extra pair.  What if the hotel catches on fire in the middle of the night? Yes, pack pajamas, a robe and slippers! (Yes, I actually think about the hotel catching fire in the middle of the night.)  What if the meeting space is chilly?  Be safe, pack a jacket.  I might get hungry in the middle of the night.  Room service is expensive and hotels don’t always have snack machines any more.  Hmm.  Pack some Nabs.  (Go here if you don’t know what a Nab is:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_Inc.  Smile.)

Through the years I have come to pride myself as somewhat of a packing expert.  I can travel light yet seem to have all that I need.  So once I had the bright idea to “kidnap” my friend for a weekend away.  I picked him up from his office and shared part of my plan with him once he was in the car. “I’ve taken care of everything,” I told him.  “I packed for you.”  He was amazed.  Especially when we got to our destination and he opened that suitcase!

That’s how life is for us.  Our life suitcase is packed each night for the next day.  We go out with a destination in mind carrying a bag with unknown contents.  Sometimes there is tragedy and heartache in that bag.  Other times there might be confusion or anxiety.  And sometimes there’s pure joy.  But we never know.

So as a packing expert I’ve learned to keep certain things ALWAYS packed and at the ready.  My luggage (and I have multiple sets) is never empty.  Certain toiletries, lingerie and first aid items are always packed as is a good book.  Pantyhose, socks and shower shoes are always waiting for me.  When I am ready to go on a trip, I simply add the items unique to the given trip.  That’s a good tip for travelers, and that is a good tip for life.

James 4:14 (NASB) says, “…you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.”  You don’t know what will be in that suitcase when you open it.  Make sure, then, that you have packed and have at the ready your own bag of essentials – prayer, faith, Scripture internalization, songs of praise, self-control, love…

Bon Voyage!


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Under Attack or On the Attack?

A military operation plan, or war plan, is a plan drawn up by commanders of military forces and organizations BEFORE and DURING times of conflict – especially if there is the desire and intent to “win” the war. 

All around us there is a battle taking place, yet we go out day after day, onto the battle field with no war plan and no strategy.  We find, therefore, ourselves under attack – feeling hopeless and helpless, overwhelmed and confused, saddened and depressed.  Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu, said, “Those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.”  In short, rather than be under attack, you need to be on the attack to win the war.  How do we do this as Christians?

First, understand the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) tells us that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  Next, understand the battle.  Though we have physical bodies, ours is not a physical war.  We are spiritual beings inside a physical body.  The war waged against us is in the spiritual realm, in our minds.  Satan knows that if he captures our minds, he can control us.  It is in our minds where we first begin to feel defeat.  “I am lonely.”  “I am sad.”  “I am depressed.”  “I can’t do that.”  “I am not strong enough.”  “I am not smart enough.”  “I don’t have enough.” Romans 12:2 (NASB) tells us, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” while II Corinthians 2:5 (NASB) tells us to “take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Thirdly, develop an offensive strategy.  Offensive strategy means that we do not wait for the enemy to attack.  We do not become reactionary.  We are proactive, and we go on the attack before the enemy comes to us.  We also develop an arsenal of offensive weapons (internalizing Scripture, praying and fasting).  It is not a question of whether Satan will attack but when, where and how.

The best offensive strategy is to be prepared!  You can make up your mind ahead of time how you will react in many situations – what you are going to do and what you are not going to do.  “No matter how they criticize me, I will smile and pray for them.”  “Whether I get the job or not, I will thank the Lord for the opportunity and praise Him.”  “I will be calm and focused during the business meeting.”  “At the family reunion I will focus on the joy of seeing the children and excuse myself from the negative conversations.”  “I will welcome this transfer and look forward to new relationships and adventures.”  “I’m popping in my new CD and singing along during the commute to work.”

When we think about it, little actually catches us by surprise.  We tend to know the who, what, when and where of our stressors and those are often the people, places, times and situations Satan uses to attack our minds.  A good soldier does not find herself in the midst of war wishing she’d brought her gun, worn her helmet or remembered her canteen.  She knows to expect certain encounters and plans likewise for them.

God gives us a plan in Ephesians 6:11-18 (ERV):

Wear the full armor of God…get God’s full armor…stand strong with the belt of truth tied around your waist, and on your chest wear the protection of right living. On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong. And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows that come from the Evil One.  Accept God’s salvation as your helmet. And take the sword of the Spirit—that sword is the teaching of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times. Pray with all kinds of prayers, and ask for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready. Never give up…”

See you on the front line!


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Beat Average

Health and wellness retailer GNC Holdings recently launched a new national brand campaign called “Beat Average.” The campaign is designed to open a conversation with health and wellness consumers about their daily personal wellness goals and how GNC can be their ongoing partner and ally in beating average.

The Free Dictionary details numerous definitions for average including “The usual or ordinary kind or quality.”   Hmm.  Not so good.

Jesus calls us to “beat average.”  He calls us to greatness.  He calls us to service. Mark 10:43 (MSG) says, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.” But how do we serve?      1 Peter 4:11 (NASB) says, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Too often we are afraid to serve God.  He might call us to the wilds of Africa, the streets of some remote area in Thailand, the jungles of Brazil or, Heaven forbid, some un-air-conditioned place with outside plumbing. And He might call us to have to walk miles in the scorching sun, miss a few showers and eat some unidentifiable food.  Or He might have us trade in household treasures, luxury vehicles and fancy clothes for a mud hut, a pair of walking shoes and only 2 or 3 changes of clothing.  Well, guess what; He might!  Sometimes those are just the kinds of places and kinds of situations He calls us to.

But rarely.

Most often He calls us to small acts of service right in our homes, our churches, our neighborhoods and our work places.  To love a child.  To lend a hand to a struggling mother.  To encourage a jobless father.  To share a kind word with a stranger.  To speak appreciatively to service workers such as policemen and postal workers.  To demonstrate patience with an overworked waitress.  To help your neighbor carry groceries in from the car.

Every act of service demonstrates the love of Christ.  Every act of service is an act of greatness.

Will you beat average this week?  Will you be great?  Will you serve? (Please post a comment sharing your service experiences.)

And don’t forget – serve the Lord with gladness! (Psalm 100:2 NASB)


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It’s All in the Preposition

For a few seasons of my life I served as an English teacher which is probably why I occasionally get fixated on words.  I especially find myself listening intently to what people say (as well as to what they don’t say because both are very enlightening).

I am particularly intrigued when people talk about the blessings of God and what He has done for them.  Indeed, as the author of Lamentations wrote, His mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness.  Personally, if I wake up, I count it a good day.  If I am able to get up and ambulate without assistance or much pain, I call it a great day!

I once had a job that necessitated me rising VERY early every morning (somewhere around 3:00 a.m.).  I would leave home about 4:15 a.m. to drive to my office.  I dreaded every morning, so I used to focus on thanking God all along the way.  “Thank you for running water.  Thank you for hot and cold water at my fingertips.  Thank you for inside plumbing.  Thank you for showers and toothbrushes.  Thank you that I have teeth to brush.  Thank you for sight.  Thank you for road signs.  Thank you for letting me learn to read.”  It might sound ridiculous, but I found it particularly strengthening and encouraging and I found that it gave me a different connection with God which was especially comforting as I parked and walked dark streets that were milling with unique characters at 5:00 a.m.!  (I had to go to work.  Why were these people on the street at that time of the morning?!!!)

But back to my point. (I really do have one!).  We cannot dispute that God has blessed us.  If He doesn’t do one more thing for us, we really can have no complaint.  What I find intriguing is how often people talk about what God has done for them as opposed to what He has done in them.  Both words are prepositions but what a difference.

In Ezekiel 36 we read that God will give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us while removing our heart of stone. Ephesians 4 says that we receive a new nature to be like God, truly righteous and holy and II Corinthians says the Lord makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.  This is what God does in us, and this is the testimony we must share – to encourage fellow believers and to draw non-believers to Him.

In I Samuel 16:7 (NASB) we are reminded that man looks at the for – “the outward appearance,” but the Lord looks at the in – “the heart.” Today as you think of your relationship with Him, what will you look at?