How God Writes Stories

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

—Psalm 139:16 (NIV)

Turning villains into heroes is not generally the theme of Hollywood movies. Usually the two are clearly defined, and we cheer for the good guys. A happy ending is when the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and the popcorn has just the right amount of salt on it.

That’s Hollywood style. In real life, if we pay attention, we will notice that God writes stories differently. Redemption is His theme. ALL the characters are flawed, and few escape without a harrowing plot. The story does not finish neatly in a few hours or even a few years, but over the winding course of a lifetime. 

At various intervals it may even seem boring—like nothing is happening—but that is just not so.

I love Saul’s conversion story found in Acts 9. The chapter begins in a gripping way, just as fascinating as any big screen flick.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1).

 The villain Saul had already established himself as the enemy of God’s people when he stood by watching the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58). Now Saul was working with the high priests to arrest followers of Jesus, known as “the Way.” On his way to Damascus to fulfill the story Saul was writing for himself, Jesus interrupts him and gives him a new direction. One that changes Saul to Paul, from  villain to hero.

Doesn’t God write the best stories? They are powerful because of how He writes them. For instance, God writes stories with great patience. 

Generally speaking, God lets people live a bit, make mistakes, and try out their own schemes. God doesn’t have to do this. However, the apostle Peter explains why He  works this way in 2 Peter 3:8-9: 

“…beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Being all powerful, God could zap us for our repeated disobedience and falling away. Yet He gives second, third and many more chances. So that we may come to repentance. Saul’s life bears this out, and probably yours does, too. I know mine does!

God’s patience reveals His boundless love.

Now I admit it: sometimes I struggle to understand the love part, because the world and God’s ways seem so harsh. 

However, God takes the exact measures we need, and does exactly what will work in order to draw a people to Himself. God is the original radical! As in the case of Saul, it wasn’t easy…

What a time he had trying to convince  followers of “the Way” that he was no longer their enemy. Because, who could believe it? Here was this persecutor now turned missionary. 

All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’” (Acts 9:21, NIV) 

Wow! Just a great example of how God writes surprising twists and turns into our lives.

When I think about my own journey, I can’t say I would ever choose to experience vision loss, but I did. God allowed that chapter to be written. I think about how sometimes people pray for my eyes to be healed supernaturally, and it could happen. 

Still I always say, vision loss is the glue that keeps me close to God. It drew me to Him in my time of need. There I was …writing my own story, going my own way, and He interrupted my life in a difficult fashion. The exact way He knew would work to get my attention and ultimately bring  glory to God. 

We see that many times in Scripture, as in the raising of Lazarus and the healing of the blind man in John 9. Jesus said, “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him,” (John 9:3). 

No, I wasn’t physically healed as they were, but my spirit was healed through a physical challenge. My testimony rests there.

We were made to know Him, love Him and serve Him. How we know Him is through the marvelously— sometimes difficult, but always successful way He writes our stories. Letting God be the author is the best decision we can make. In reality, the only way to guarantee a happy ending—and His is the perfect love story.

Still journeying,

Beckie

The Birth that Rocked the World

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

—Luke 2:33-35 (NLT)

My head kind of buzzes with dizziness when I try and take in all the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. So many fantastic things taking place! What a time in history it was! 

Angels appearing to ordinary people bringing extraordinary news. Fulfillment of ancient prophecy. A king becoming disturbed (and all of Jerusalem with him). A hope for the nation Israel and indeed—the world! An eternal change afoot… revealing the hearts of many. 

Here was a dividing line. A birth that rocked the world. Nothing could ever be the same again. God was speaking, but even more than that—God was acting. And He was using humble people to carry out His plan. 

The mission:  redemption. Call back humanity from the snare of Satan and the fall that took place in the garden of Eden. Provide a Savior in the person of God’s Son, the only One capable of being a divine link between God and man. A sinless Savior offering a sacrifice so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).

The motivation:  love. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” (again John 3:16).

The result:  victory! Jesus perfectly fulfilled his mission to provide the love link to God the Father through His obedient sacrifice. 

And it all started with His incredible birth, more than two thousand years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. So humble and modest, some might even say obscure. Yet…

God works in the most surprising and delightful ways! At the same time, He is totally reliable and faithful. God held to His Word given to the prophet Micah when he wrote:  

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” 

—Micah 5:2, NLT

I’ve heard it said that the number one reason for believing in Jesus and the inerrancy of Scripture is fulfilled prophecy. Strange things spoken hundreds of years earlier come to pass, all in God’s marvelously mysterious way. That’s not of man. Only God!

More prophecy was given to Mary at the dedication of baby Jesus at the temple. This is the verse I opened with (above). 

Eight days after Jesus’ birth, a man named Simeon spoke these prophetic words when he recognized baby Jesus as the Messiah. 

To me, this is a stop-in-your-tracks verse. 

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s awe when a stranger approached them and spoke of their child in this way?

Of course, maybe by now they were getting used to unusual things happening, given the angels, and the shepherds, and the star, Herod, and the strange dreams.

When you walk closely with God, what seems strange to the outside world often strikes you differently. In a good way,  a supernatural way.  I like to think that Joseph and Mary realized their child was special, but didn’t see the entire picture from their limited timeline. 

However, this in and of itself, caused them to walk closely by faith throughout their days, relying on God as they saw His hand at work in their lives.

It’s a great lesson for us. God is at work in all of our ordinary lives. We may not have angels and dreams and stars and prophets approaching us, but God is at work. What we do have is Jesus! The best gift ever!

God rocked the world with His  birth at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but God’s work in human history is not finished yet. 

I, for one, plan on following Him closely to watch the rest of the story unfold.

I hope you do, too!

Merry Christmas!

Beckie

Lie Detector 

“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

—John 8:44 (NIV)

I know of at least one fallen angel who won’t be happy about this post. He’s already told me I don’t know what I’m talking about; I have nothing new to say; I am not qualified to speak on this subject, and no one cares anyway.

Yes, it’s him again. The old enemy of our souls. The father of lies and the enemy of God’s people—Satan.

He never lets up, especially when we try to be active for change. He uses his time-tested tricks to try and bring us down or simply to silence us.

And I’ve got to hand it to him. He’s been doing a good job on me lately. I have been very silent for months, seeming to operate in a fog of confusion, and that right there, my friends, is a sign: it’s him!

The Bible teaches that our God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). He is a God of peace and order. We are also told to test the spirits (1John 4:1) to discern if what we are hearing is from God or from Satan and his minions. Knowing the difference gives us ammunition to fight our spiritual battles. By understanding who he is and what his schemes are, we can gain clarity to be victorious.

One trick he employs is to mix fact and error. This makes the lie harder to detect. For instance with what he’s been telling me, such as I’m not qualified to speak on this subject, well, he’s kind of right. I’m not a biblical scholar. But I am qualified to speak from my own experience with the Holy Spirit as my guide. And take it as that:  one believer’s experience shared to help others. Could it be flawed? Yep, but that is not a reason to shut down communications altogether. 

Encouragement from other believers and from God’s Word is spiritual food.  Necessary spiritual food. Remember Jesus’ perfect response when He encountered Satan in the wilderness?

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God ” (Matthew 4:4).

God’s Word encouraged Jesus and silenced Satan. A fine example for us. 

Here is another tactic of the devil. He strikes when we are down, physically or emotionally.  So beware the circumstances! 

If you are feeling tired or stressed because of life situations, that’s often when he moves in with his lies. He knows if he can get in your head, then your heart and actions are not far behind. Because what we think affects how we feel. How we feel affects how we act.

As a means of combating lies in my head,  I’ve been writing out prayers based on Scripture. Or turning Scriptures into prayers. This has a two-fold benefit. One, I am internalizing God’s Word by writing it out. And two, I am praying in a biblical manner. It’s an excellent way to talk to God, especially if you sometimes feel stumped, as I do.

As always, knowing God’s Word is the key. We are blessed we live in a land where we are still free to study and spread God’s Word. My prayer is that people will do just that and not let the fog of the enemy overtake them.

Journey Along,

Beckie

Rushing the Season

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

—1 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT)

Here’s a lesson we have learned many times before, but one I suppose we could stand to learn again. We continually bump up against it in our impatience and rush to get to the good parts of life. In this, we have picked up the mindset of the culture and the beat of our own finite flesh. We want the difficulties to stop, the trying season to end, the sadness to lift, and yet…God has all the time in the world.

It’s funny, when we see department stores doing a similar thing, we get irritated. Pumpkins in August and Easter eggs in February! 

“They’re rushing the season!” we say to each other.

The spiritual life has seasons, too. Many not as fun as the holidays either, so we try to rush through them, but for the opposite reason. Instead of bringing on the fun (as with a celebration), we want to bring on the relief.

Have you ever caught yourself thinking: 

When this problem goes away, then…

or

 

In a few years, such and such will happen, 

or  

Things will be easier when…

I suppose our dialogue runs like that as a coping mechanism, but God won’t be rushed. And thinking like this only serves to slow down the process of effectively dealing with the trial and  learning the lesson contained within.

As the verse above from Peter reveals, God has a purpose in allowing our trying seasons to drag out, and that purpose is a testing. 

Trials equal testing.  

Difficult seasons test and strengthen our faith. So even though we want to,  we cannot leapfrog to a conclusion until we have—KEY WORD HERE—”endured.”

Enduring takes time. No one endures quickly. The very definition of the word is “to withstand, suffer, or persevere.”

The Bible contains many examples of those who have endured trials and made it through to the joy awaiting them.

Hebrews 12:2-3 (NLT) tells us how to weather the trying season by following  the ultimate example. 

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people, then you won’t become weary and give up.”

Another word to notice from Peter’s verse is “many.” There are many trials to endure—not just one. 

I so feel that right now.

Life just doesn’t stop and become all neat and tidy, as I think it should. I remember once telling someone, “I don’t think I should have trouble with my kids, because I’m already blind. I mean, isn’t that enough?” 

That got a laugh. Because, of course, everyone has trouble with their kids from time to time, and all sorts of other troubles, too. They don’t line up neatly either and take turns. They overlap!

A partial list of my situations at present goes like this: my mother with memory loss requiring care from the family for over three years; my teenager who enjoys a good debate/argument (a future lawyer in the making), and a recent emergency surgery for my daughter. Oh, and the clothes dryer just broke.

Given all these, most days vision loss falls to the bottom of my concern pile. 

It’s true, these many trials can absorb our days, but enduring and being truly glad (as the verse says) always seems to be a matter of re-focusing—a doable feat if we have the mind of Christ.

His mind sees sweeping pictures, instead of mere moments. His mind sees a stronger believer who has been tested. He sees the way these trials will shape us for service. And His Word promises joy ahead.

“So be truly glad.” 

Lord, When situations threaten to sink my spirit, cause me to re-focus on You and the bigger picture You have for my life. You are the author of times and seasons, and You are on the throne during my difficult season right now. Thank You for the promises in Your Word that remind me of my hope and the joy ahead. 

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Journeying with hope,

Beckie

When Your Selfie Button Sticks

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

—2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

A sociology professor of mine once lamented a magazine he noticed in the grocery store checkout line. The magazine was called Self.

Self! Can you believe it?”

The magazine launched in 1979 and just recently ended its print run this year. It continues online, however, focusing on women’s health, beauty, fitness and style.

So, what’s wrong with focusing on women’s health, beauty, fitness and style?

It seems harmless enough on the surface, like so many other things. Yet it must be viewed in the larger context of the culture. That’s what my professor was doing. He was noticing a trend. Basically what he was foreseeing was a society of people focused on themselves, resulting in a shallow, narcissistic, and God-forgetting nation. And that was twenty years ago! It was before the term “selfie” so egregiously appeared on the scene.

Having a preoccupation with oneself leads to the type of thing Paul is warning Timothy about in the verse above from the New Testament.

Paul and my sociology professor echo the principle which is key to our Christian faith:  we are a fallen people, inherently flawed.  Anytime we overly focus on ourselves, we are in danger of forgetting our true nature and our need for God.

Attending to externals, which is largely the focus of the self movement, ignores our need for an internal makeover. We are trying to clean the “outside of the cup” (as Jesus told the Pharisees) while the “inside is full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).

Jesus is warning against focusing on externals for a reason. The New Living Translation says doing this leads to an awaiting sorrow.

Shudder.

The really dangerous thing is that most people today don’t realize self-focus is a problem or see it as a bad thing. At. All. The mindset has become engrained and the practices  normalized.

With the proliferation of social media, the temptation to post endless pictures of ourselves is real. We can become obsessed with checking our “likes” and start thinking we’re all that. May I suggest checking our “likes” in the Bible?  See the sacrifice Jesus made in leaving heaven to come to earth and be mistreated by sinful man. All because He wasn’t focused on self. He followed God’s will, put others first, and gained the reward.

Remember the secret to true joy? As in, J-O-Y?

Jesus, Others, and Yourself—that’s the formula. It may seem old-fashioned or corny, but like any well-worn phrase, it’s true because it works.

Here are a few ideas to try if you realize your selfie button is getting stuck.

*Take a self-evaluation instead of a selfie. Be honest with yourself and with God. Write out a confession in a prayer journal. Then do one small thing that focuses on God and/or someone else.

*If you want to brag, talk about what God has done in your life rather than what you’re doing. Skip the vacation pictures as a form of bragging. (Remember when people joked about others who dared to show endless slides of their last trip? Yawn.)

*Take a social media break. Start with whatever absence is do-able for you whether it be a day, a week or a month. Replace this time with Christian music, teachings, or an outreach you’re passionate about. You will notice what you have been neglecting because of time spent online. When you do go back online, you will realize how shallow and temporal most of it is.

*Follow Paul’s advice to Timothy and let some relationships go. If the people you associate with do not share your values, it may be time for some new friends. Spending time with lovers of self will influence you in a similar way, resulting in an unhappy and “sorrowful” future.

God has a better plan!

Finding Joy on the Journey,

Beckie

God, It’s Me Again

“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary.” And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.” ‘

Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’ ”

—Luke 18:1-8 (NKJV)

God has bigger fish to fry—I know that. I actually say that, too, when I’m praying in my sort of flimsy, apologetic manner.

“I know You have bigger fish to fry, God, but could I just ask about this…again?”

Sometimes I feel like a little kid who is  bugging God. Like I’m bothering Him. Even like I’m wasting His time with my repeated requests that seem—let’s face it—trivial in light of all the bigger fish He’s got to fry. The big fish of world-size problems, like wars and starving children, pure evil running wild, disease and devastation, Satan’s latest tactics, and about a million other urgent situations.

Then here I come…Hello, God? Umm, I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I know I’m totally unworthy, not as obedient as I should be, actually, I’m sorry for wasting Your time on this issue. I see You have a lot going on, and it’s not a huge thing, but could You just __________.

Somehow this doesn’t seem like the “powerful and effective prayer” we read about in James 5:16b. But all too often it is my prayer. And after I say it, I berate myself. I think again of James (chapter 1, verse 6) and of doubting when you pray and how he says that is not going to work. What a jumble of thoughts flood me as I pray and try to sort things out!

I wonder, Is it wrong to approach God in this manner?

Obviously I am not a theologian, just an ordinary pray-er. I’d even say I am a less polished pray-er than most, but still! I am one of His children, and I am speaking honesty and sincerely, so I know He hears me. And forgives the imperfect way in which I sometimes engage Him. Maybe He even smiles.

So, yes, I do need to work on my prayer life. But I’m a firm believer in pouring out our hearts to God in real and imperfect ways. The psalms confirm this is the way to go (although they are much more poetic than the messes I sometimes pray).

But it’s the heart cry. David knew it, and so did Job, so we’ve got good company here.

And when Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow (above), His message clearly was to have faith and continue in our asking. We are not bugging God. He desires to hear from us. He cares about big and small matters.

Back to James 5:16b and his verse on  prayer. It reads:

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV).

Are you righteous? Meaning in right standing with God through Christ? This is where the power comes from, not from our ability to find just the right words.

If you have trusted in Christ, your prayer (and mine) is powerful and effective. What a relief when our prayers don’t feel strong, orderly, or cohesive.They are still acceptable to God.

Our marching orders, then, are to pray on! Pray frequently, pray imperfectly, pray honestly, and pray so that when Jesus comes again, He will find faith on the earth.

Journeying,

Beckie

Another Season Turning

“He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them, he stirs up the breezes, and the waters flow.”
—Psalm 147:15-18 (NIV)

It wasn’t always this way. I can honestly say, there was a time when I did not appreciate all the seasons my northeast climate provides. But age and a change in attitude have contributed to my seeing things differently. Literally and figuratively.

While my mountainous area is famous for its fabulous falls, we all know what follows those beautiful colors. It is, as Psalm 147:17 records, God’s “icy blast.”

I’ve heard people say we enjoy winter up until the Christmas season, then we’re ready to fast- forward to spring.

The locals make all the usual complaints about  snow shoveling, driving hassles, falling on ice, and not seeing enough sunlight. By the time February rolls around, they’re ready to head south.

But wait! It seems a shame to wish away our God-ordained seasons, including winter. After all, isn’t the “snow spread like wool and the frost scattered like ashes” a lovely thing?

My friend, Lynda, thinks so. “Snow is my favorite color!” she told me once.

I’m beginning to see what she means.

Not Stuck

When we study Scripture, we begin to take in God’s big view of life. His plan for times and seasons. It provides a radical shift from our limited human perspective. And our tendency, like the Israelites, to grumble.

Right away in Genesis 1, we read of God creating the heavens and the earth. On the fourth day, He placed lights in the sky to separate the day from the night.  Then He said, “Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days and years” (Genesis 1:14, NLT).

God saw that it was good.

Marking the seasons was good and still is good, despite the effects of sin. We may not enjoy the pristine nature of Eden, but there is still so much of God’s stunning work to admire—even when things appear to be frozen or stuck.

Listen Carefully

One of the changes I’ve noticed since losing my central vision is more sensitivity to hearing. Nothing physically happened to my ears, though. I simply listen more closely out of necessity.

Apparently, God has turned up the volume on the birds.  I do miss seeing their faces and feathers clearly, but I hear their songs with new detail and purity. The doves cry out their mating call; the crows squawk loudly, and the owls’ hooting pierces the night.

A habit I began since vision loss is opening a window each morning and sitting near it, drinking coffee and listening for birds. The outside temperature does not deter me. In fact, sometimes the cold air on my face feels energizing. Strangely, this practice evolved without me planning it. I just realized one day I had developed a new pattern. A pattern of beginning my day by listening to God’s world.

Birds are usually one of the first harbingers of spring, but, in reality, some birds hang around all winter long. Not as many in my area, for sure, but still…life goes on despite the cold and snow.

And here’s a winter bonus:  you can see wildlife better when the foliage is gone. For example, we regularly spot whitetail deer at dusk, as they begin feeding. And a squirrel darting across a snowy branch always makes me smile for his hopping, jerking movements. It’s an unmistakeable sight, even to my low-vision eyes.

The Purpose in the Plan

Storyteller Garrison Keillor says, “Winter brings us back to basics. There’s basic in-hereness, and there’s basic out-thereness. In winter, you are just happy to be an animal who is warm.”

I like that about winter! Appreciation of the basics reminds us of God. Our need for Him. His faithful provision. And the realization that He knows better, and this is His plan.

Again, looking at God’s original design in Genesis, we see Him working six days and resting on the seventh. Winter can be a resting, rejuvenating time before the new cycle of life begins in spring.

A slowdown in the rhythm of life is essential to offset our fast-paced lifestyles.  Simply watching the outside world from a window, as I do each morning, can calm us. But better yet, a thirty-minute walk in the sharp air clears our heads, resetting our brains to take on the next challenge.

Last winter, the National Geographic published an article called, “This is Your Brain on Nature.” It cites numerous studies which show how nature is the antidote to relieve stress and improve mental function.

Cell phones, computers, and multi-tasking all contribute to brain fatigue. Experts say we need a break from the technology. A restorative trip outdoors actually lowers blood pressure and stress hormones in the blood.

It’s an old and basic concept. In fact, our national parks were founded upon the philosophy that nature has healing powers.

“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician,” said the sixteenth century Swiss German physician Paracelsus.

How did we forget this?

Because I believe children intuitively know it. The cold air, rain, and snow don’t minimize a child’s joy. A weather event can actually be exciting for them. Think snow days, ice skating, sledding, and snowball battles. Think watching a thunderstorm or splashing in puddles. Squish!

Soul-life happens as we connect with God by touching His ever-changing world.

What Jesus Did

Jesus did not stress because of modern technology, but He did carry a heavy burden. The burden of people—people with problems.  Often the crowds would press in on Him, seeking teaching or healing. He had the Jewish leaders after Him, too, but they were seeking something quite different—a reason to take His life.

I can’t think of a better reason to escape. Here’s how He did it:

“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23, NIV).

All the gospels record such actions. Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.”

The word “sacred” springs to mind when I picture Jesus being alone with His Father outside in prayer. Also “connectedness.” It’s so important for us in our human condition to reach out to the divine in this most fundamental way.

When we follow Jesus’ example, we recognize the whole of creation, not just our little sphere of problems. Things relax inside us, and we regain a right perspective. God is still on the throne, involved in our physical and spiritual world; our faith is not unfounded.

Seesawing

The seesaw between winter and spring begins around this time every year. Even though people may be counting down the days until the vernal equinox (the official start of spring), sometimes doubt sneaks in. Will we ever put away these heavy coats?

Sigh.

Then one day, as we are hunched over our bowls of chili, we notice it’s still light outside at suppertime. A glimmer of hope emerges. Could it be?

Yes, but not without a teetering back and forth. Days of ice and sub-freezing temperatures will alternate with days of sunshine and melting. Nature seems schizophrenic, unable to make up its mind.  But the days are lengthening, no one can deny that.

More signs appear. The robins return to set up their nests, and rabbits suddenly seem to be everywhere all at once. Flower clusters appear on the silver maple. Overall, the warming trend continues.

Another season turning.

Remember Wisdom

King Solomon offered the following reflection on times and seasons:

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV).

I want to remember the wisdom of the king! I want to see God’s hand in all times and seasons…understanding His good purpose for those of us living under heaven.

And being about my Father’s business all the God-ordained seasons I am given.

How about you?

 

No Small Ministry

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”
—1 Corinthians 3:6-9 (ESV)


Vacation Bible School with a friend. A grandmother carrying her Good News Bible. The piano teacher giving a book of hymns. 

On the surface, these everyday scenes may not appear to be much. The untrained eye may easily skim over them. But the untrained eye often misses the ways of God.

Because in His providence, an  invisible hand is at work, doing the awesome job of harvesting souls for eternity. This quiet ministry is called seed planting, and I am one blessed recipient. 

Seed planting happens every day. In a million little ways, all around the world, Christians are showing God’s love to non-believers through subtle actions often mistaken as mere kindness. But it is much, much more. 

Seed planting is no small ministry. While the process moves slowly, it moves surely. At first, nothing seems to be happening! Results can take years, but just as in planting a tree, with enough time and the right conditions (orchestrated by God), a fruitful harvest emerges.

A Secret Desire

As a child growing up in a home where we had religion with no relationship, I secretly longed to know God better.  But how to get there?

I got some clues when friends of mine, one whose father was a minister, invited me to Vacation Bible School. Naturally, we read the Bible there. But reading the Bible felt anything but natural to me! I handled the book with trepidation, not sure if it was “allowed.” 

The teacher showed me how to find passages. I quickly learned, then was surprised to hear that the Bible was God’s living and true Word. All of it! 

Well, this viewpoint differed wildly from my upbringing. So when I went home, I said nothing. Just tucked the new perspective in my heart to remain dormant until God’s proper timing.

Modeling

At its core, seed planting is best done by modeling. Simply living close to the Lord causes a person to stand out. For example, how a widow handles adversity; how she uses her money, time, and talent; and how she relies on God for the future all speak volumes to the watching world. Even a child can notice.

My grandmother modeled Christ for me in this way. 

She took time to write me letters, gave when she didn’t have much, and quilted pillows with my initials on them. Then delivered them with a hug.

“What’s tithing?” I asked my mom one day as I overheard her talking about grandma’s beliefs.

“It’s giving a tenth of your income to the church,” she said. Mom added that we did not tithe, but gave regularly every week. She thought tithing was taking the Bible too literally. 

The Bible. There it was again. Grandma carried one into our home. It said “Good News Bible” on the cover, and I wondered why she brought it, since she never opened it.

In retrospect, I see the book probably strengthened her. It also sent a silent testimony, a testimony about her changed life—a life being lived for God. The Good News apparently was the key. 

Here was the first born-again Christian I knew personally. She gave more clues about knowing God better. And she planted more seeds for germination.

Joyful Praise

I wanted to play the piano because my friends did. So from the ages of 12-16, I took lessons from an old woman who lived in the country  and owned a big house with a big Steinway.

For the most part, she was cranky. But when she gave me a book of hymns called Have Faith, my teacher perked up and seemed joyful.

“The love of God is greater far—
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star—
And reaches to the lowest hell.”*

Wow! All of a sudden, I was learning about more than notes and chords. I was learning about God’s love, His personal love—and how it was for me. Somehow the knowledge settled in my soul.

For years after, I spent peaceful hours at the keyboard studying those words and tunes, absorbing the Christian faith through song.

Did my piano teacher intend a spiritual lesson? I believe she did! She had a music ministry, after all. The word “ministry” simply means service, and all Christians are called into a ministry. Using our gifts and abilities for the Lord is why He gave them in the first place.

Though most of my seed planters are gone now, their work lives on. The small seeds they planted in my life as a child finally blossomed when I lost my central vision at age 33. During my time of need, I remembered the Bible and how I could read God’s Word for myself. I remembered my grandmother’s faith and future hope. And I remembered the joy my old teacher found in praising God—regardless of circumstances. 

The amazing thing about God is that He uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary plans. HIS plans. His eternal plans to draw a people to Himself (John 12:32). And though it can sometimes take a while, in God’s economy, seed planting bears eternal fruit.



*Lyrics from “The Love of God” by F. M. Lehman

She Picked Jesus Over Tradition

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.”
                              —John 14:15-19 (NLT)


A couple of weeks ago, you might have seen me hugging a stranger on Presque Isle in Erie. A little weird, I know, but that’s often how God works.

The old me would have thought I was nuts! Many people still do. But sometimes, these spiritual matters don’t make a whole lot of sense to the natural mind. They sure didn’t make sense to me before I was saved.

I heard how Christians talked, and I secretly thought these people must have received trauma earlier in life to act the way they did now. You know… a little too excited about Jesus and their relationship with Him, which I thought was extraordinary and possibly IMAGINED. I mean, I knew about Jesus, too, but I didn’t have to talk about Him all the time.

So what gives? I asked myself.

Over time, I found out. The Spirit—that’s what gives!  He is the third person of the Trinity (also called The Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost). And He is what gives understanding, discernment, comfort, and guidance about these matters.

He gives and gives and gives, but if you don’t have the Spirit, you’ll stand around looking at born-again Christians thinking they got derailed somewhere along the tracks. Trust me, I’ve been there.

“Are you a Christian?” I once was asked by a Catholic bishop, standing in front of a large confirmation ceremony.

“Yes.”

“What is a Christian?”

“Someone who believes in Christ,” I said.

It seemed simple enough. My head knowledge freed me from the bishop’s gaze, and I got to sit down. An uneasy, temporary peace followed.

But wait! There was more. By studying the Bible, I learned head knowledge alone wasn’t enough. Wasn’t that the Pharisees’ problem?

Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (see John 3). 

(Side note: My pastor said if you look up the word “must” in the Greek, it means “must.”)

Born of water and the Spirit, Jesus goes on to tell the religious leader, Nicodemus. 

So, it’s not about answering questions the right way or reciting a creed. That’s not how you become a Christian or receive the Holy Spirit.

It’s about taking out our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh, as we read in Ezekiel 36:26. 

It begins when we realize our brokenness and need. Our recognition in turn drives us to God in repentance and allows Him to work from the inside out. In short, we say “yes” to God. We TURN and change directions (the very definition of “repentance”).

The Spirit, in the case of the woman I hugged on Presque Isle, gave me an instant connection to her, because we found out we were both Christians. We were sisters in the Lord!

My husband asked her and her husband the question: “Are you, by chance, Christians?”

“Yes,” they answered excitedly, a bit surprised.

We had stopped on the bike trail to offer help for a bad tire. My husband was being led by the Spirit to ask this question.

A fantastic conversation followed. The wife told of how she was raised Amish and how she had to choose between her Amish tradition and Jesus at the age of 17, when someone shared the gospel with her. Her dad gave the ultimatum. 

She picked Jesus and moved out.

I felt an instant connection point with this woman. Not because I, too, had left the Amish. The Spirit connected us, our values connected us, and our future connected us.

The Holy Spirit is a sweet gift to all who are willing to repent, change directions, and put their faith in Jesus.

I wish it for all I know! Unfortunately, I cannot make it happen. Only God and the person He is drawing can do that. 

My small role is to tell of His greatness and the gifts He’s given me. Now I can answer with peace, “I am a Christian.”

Journey Along,

Beckie

I’m Sick of Inspiration

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ “

—1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)


Blind people can do incredible things. Climb mountains, travel internationally by themselves, write epic poems, enter triathlons, ski down mountains, make art, and the list could go on and on.

Then there’s me.  

My list of incredible accomplishments reads as follows:  

Make it through the grocery store without a meltdown (mine, not the child’s); 

Successfully give my card number to a woman on the phone taking my reservation—successful after three tries, that is. Plus magnification and an explanation of why I couldn’t easily read the numbers in the first place. 
“Let’s try this number, ”  I said, trying to focus. (She thinks I stole the card, I thought.);


Correctly identify a person talking to me in the post office after only two minutes of conversation;

and here’s a biggie:  NOT FEEL ASHAMED or APOLOGIZE when I explain to the doctor’s office I can’t read the fine print on their forms. Consequently, I cannot fill them out.

Yes, I am accomplished. For real. 

As wonderful as the stories of heroic blind people are, I kind of get sick of them. THE STORIES, not the people. Because it’s not a total picture of their lives. Those are moments of victory. Great moments to celebrate, for sure, but not the norm.

I just gave you the norm. Not that our norm sells much or endears us to the public. Not that we visually-impaired people enjoy advertising our struggles.  But in an attempt at reality, let’s just be honest.

It’s a daily battle. 

I’ve observed two ways we acceptably talk about vision loss in our culture. Witness the victorious blind person, as I just mentioned, or laugh along with the blind mistakes we make. Laugh nervously, but do join in. 

Hey, sometimes it is funny, and I’ll be the first to laugh. I have my own battery of blind humor to draw on. We surely need that relief valve!

But other times, it just isn’t funny, and it can be downright dangerous.

There is a third option, also, and that is:  IGNORING the elephant in the room. This simply makes us feel forgotten or bad because we’ve made you so uncomfortable. I’ve found some people actually avoid me after I tell them about my vision problem. They think I can’t see them turning away and moving off in the opposite direction, but I can. I don’t know…maybe they’re afraid I’ll ask them for a ride or something.

So, how best to handle the dilemma of talking about vision loss in a way that neither falsely portrays success nor makes light of the struggles?

As a woman I recently encountered did—with genuine curiosity and compassion.

“You proofread the newspaper with one eye?” she asked incredulously, shaking her head.

It made me see things from her perspective, which used to be my perspective as well. But strangely, after you’ve been blind a while, it becomes normal to you.

“Funny how your thing is writing, and you lost your vision…” she mused.

I agreed and said God often allows things like this to show His power through our weakness. We both agreed with that.

Then she grabbed my hands and prayed for my eyes to heal. How sweet! She had total belief it could be done, and I do, too, though I told her I never pray for my eyes.

“It’s the glue that keeps me close to God,” I said. 

Again, she was curious and courteous. I SO appreciated her heart!

Her kind of response makes us feel heard, understood, and accepted.

See, here’s the thing:  
We blind people are blessed with an inner vision; we see people’s hearts more clearly than most. The way others react to us gives a great indication of their character.

It’s one awesome hidden benefit of vision loss I’ve discovered, and one I just decided to put on my list of accomplishments!

Journeying Along,

Beckie