“He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” – Job 8:21

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Radical Grace

I watched from my seat near the back of the classroom as students straggled into class one by one. Some carried remainders of their lunches that they hadn’t been able to finish in the fifteen minute gap between class periods. As the students took their seats, they immediately unzipped their backpacks to find their reading notes. Everyone was getting some last-minute studying in before the big quiz.

After a little while, the professor strolled cheerfully into the classroom. “Did you all have a good weekend?” he asked sincerely while readying his PowerPoint slides. A few heads nodded politely in the midst of their cramming session. “I decided to make a change on the quiz today.” That got our attention. “We have a lot of material to cover from the lesson, so I went ahead and gave you all 100% on the quiz. That way I have more time to teach.”

It took a moment for us to believe what we were hearing. As the news sunk in, students began to cheer and clap. Relief permeated the atmosphere with new perspective.

Have you ever had something like this happen to you? Colossians 2:14 reveals another area where we have received greater mercy than just being released from a quiz. Colossians says that God freed us “…by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

This news should awake thankful joy in our hearts that far exceeds the clapping and cheers in my class! It is unimaginable mercy that God showed in punishing his own son for our sins instead of letting us bear his wrath. As if this wasn’t enough, God also credits us with Jesus’ perfect life. We were not only pardoned from taking the test, but were given a 100% that we never would have been able to earn on our own!

This is radical love. And it is something that we can imitate every day in our relationships with other people. Is there anyone who you have been reluctant to forgive because the debt that they owe you is just so huge?  Maybe it is one of your parents, or a stepparent, or someone you think should have intervened in your parents’ decision. Imitate God’s mercy by releasing them from that debt. Love them anyway.

When have you been blessed by someone’s grace in your life?

Intruder Alert!

A young family walked past our window, the parents laughing while their son rolled along the sidewalk on his tricycle.

Zoom! A streak of black fur whizzed past my feet. My dog, Cheerio, reached the wall and jumped up onto the chair beside the window. He barked furiously at the small family that had dared to walk on his sidewalk. They turned to look for the source of the noise, smiled at the puppy face in the window, and continued walking unconcerned.

Cheerio has proclaimed himself as the guardian of our house. He takes his job very seriously. Wherever I am in the house, he parks himself next to the closest window, sticks his nose against the glass, and scrutinizes the front yard for movement.

Today as I was watching Cheerio, I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 16:13 which says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” Cheerio has got the “be on your guard” part down pretty well.

One of the most damaging things to a Christian, depression, can also be most stealthy in entering our lives. That is why we need to be especially watchful in looking out for it. As soon as we catch it, we can sound the alarm in prayer to God just like Cheerio does when he barks at an unwanted visitor. When we catch unhelpful and untrue thoughts in our minds, we can combat them with the armor of God that is talked about in Ephesians 6.

Cheerio does a great job of keeping watch from far away. However, if he finds an insect in our house, he leaps a few feet back in surprise and fear before venturing forward to investigate. Even though he is thousands of times larger than the tiny insect, he treats it as though it were enormous. Problems like depression can also seem insurmountable. But with God, we have all the strength and truth to defeat the lies of depression.

Be like Cheerio in keeping watch over your life. What prayers or verses do you find helpful to combat depression?

Shifting Scenes – Key 3

I sat in the front seat of the car while my mom went into the grocery store on a quick errand. The sky was a clear shade of blue today; no clouds were handy to block out the sun that beat down on the pavement with an intensity that Marylanders were beginning to accept as the new normal. Busy shoppers walked back and forth between their cars and the store.

As I watched the scene from the windshield of our minivan, I noticed a young man walking across the parking lot to the curb. He was listening to a huge set of earphones and doing a little jig while he walked. Instead of watching where he was going, his eyes were locked on an iPad that he held in front of his face. He only looked up after accidently walking into the curb and risking dropping his iPad on the cement.

I couldn’t help chuckling as I watched this young man who was so distracted by his interaction with technology. He had no idea what was actually going on around him because he was so focused on his virtual world. Aren’t we sometimes like this too?

There are always going to be things to distract us from what really matters: living every moment for God. Thankfully, we have a loving God who knows our weaknesses and who promises to give us strength to do what He calls us to.

Focus is the opposite of distraction. In Psalm 119:15, David tells us how he combats distraction when he says, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” He keeps his focus on God by constantly thinking about his Word and by “fixing his eyes” on what God has done.

What do you spend your time thinking about? Technology? Friends? Circumstances? These things are all appropriate in their time, but they can begin to overshadow more important things in our lives if we don’t consciously take control. Ask God to help you keep your focus on him.

Key #3 is taking action. How do you consciously shift your thoughts to God?

A few weeks ago, Elaine had the great suggestion to write out your thoughts and prayers to God in order to sort them out. I’ve certainly found that this has helped me!

Your Treasure – Key 2

For a little over a week, people from around the world have been united around their respective TV sets as they watch the 2012 Summer Olympics. We’ve cheered for our favorite competitors, felt their crushing disappointments, and shared in their joy as they come out victorious at the medal ceremonies. In a small way, we feel as though we have traveled alongside these national heroes on their journey to Gold.

But in reality, we only see a miniscule part of the journey that these men and women have traveled to have the opportunity to compete in the Olympic games. We see the culmination of years of intense training in these short two weeks. The winning Olympians have invested literally thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars into training for the games, occasionally even experiencing foreclosure or bankruptcy because of their choice to compete.

So why do they do it? Why spend your life pursuing something even though it means sacrificing so much? They do it because they want a Gold medal, and they are willing to train, spend, and focus in order to get it.

We can learn a lot from these extremely dedicated men and women. Jesus says in Luke 12:34 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What do you treasure? Probably not a Gold medal, but what is it for you? Good grades? Lots of “likes” on your Facebook status? Or do you treasure your relationship with Jesus above all things?

In a world where there are so many things vying for our attention, we have to make a special effort to keep Jesus as our treasure. Olympic athletes plan everything around their training schedule so that they can devote hours every day to getting better at their sport. We can learn from this in planning our time to best pursue our Treasure too.

Key #2 for keeping your thoughts on Jesus is to make Jesus your treasure. What ideas do you have to do this practically? I’d love to hear!

The Lord Lives – Key 1

The warm, muggy air outside my window did little to ease the heat inside my car. Oh well, I could stand the heat for the twenty-five minute drive. I turned up the CD a little louder and headed out of the parking lot towards home.

Ten minutes later I mechanically got into the lane that would turn into a ramp to the next road. My eyes automatically fixed on the truck in front of me. Suddenly, the brake lights on the truck came on and the truck came to almost a dead stop just 50 feet in front of me! I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting the truck. It was as if I saw the vehicle approaching in slow motion. Fifty feet. Twenty feet. Finally my car came to a stop about 5 feet from the truck’s bumper. The cars behind me had managed to stop in time too.

As I made my way around the traffic jam and saw that the cause of the sudden stop was a vacant car sitting in the turn lane, the verse that I had been studying that morning came to mind, “The Lord lives, and blessed by my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation” (Psalm 18:46). I spoke the words aloud to express my thanks and praise to God who had just delivered me from a damaging car-crash.

This is the first post in a series about how to keep our thoughts trained on God. It’s a hard thing to do when so many other things are vying for attention in our lives! But this event taught me a valuable lesson on how to do it: memorize God’s word. The first thing that my mind jumped to in this situation was the reality of God’s deliverance because I had just been reading about that deliverance and purposefully memorizing Psalm 18:46.  Just imagine what changes could take place in our lives if we took the time to implant key verses into our hearts!

So, Key #1: Memorizing scripture. What good ways have you found to do this?

The Skink

All eyes were fixed on the man at the front of the room. Nobel Laureate John Mather, a respected scientist and NASA employee, was giving a lecture to the large crowd that had gathered to hear him speak. The room barely had enough space for the eager assemblage; several sets of people chose to sit on the floor because there was not enough space in the chairs. No one dared to make additional noise for fear that it would cause them to lose one of the precious words that came from the scientists’ mouth. Everyone knew: hearing this lecture was the most important thing they could be doing at the moment.

Enter: the skink. It started as a flicker at the corner of my eye. I turned, but didn’t notice anything strange near the group of people sitting by the glass doors. Soon I was lost in the speakers’ words.

Flash. I saw something again, and this time the girl next to me had also turned to look. A second later a little lizard had crawled into the room by coming under the threshold of the glass doors. Several people on the outer row of the audience were watching, amused, as the intruder scuttled along the base of the wall in search of a cool, damp place to settle down. The girls sitting against the wall were not quite as amused.

Then a second skink popped its head out from the doorframe to join its friend in looking for a break from the sun. People in the crowd continued to point and chuckle quietly as they noticed, one by one, the drama unfolding on the side of the room. The lizards had stolen the show.

Do you have lizards ruling in your life right now – things that seem so important that they distract you from hearing the Person whose words are the most vital part of your life? Ultimately God should be the star of the show in our lives. Psalm 104:34 says it this way, “May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.”

What do you spend your time thinking about? Maybe you are tempted to spend every waking moment analyzing and re-analyzing a problem if you have had a divorce or other tragedy happen recently. But no matter how many times you go over your problems, you won’t be able to solve them alone! Remember the One who should be on center stage.

Tell me, what do you do to keep your thoughts centered on God? I’d like to highlight some of your ideas in an upcoming blog series!

Peace in the Bizarre – Part II

Imagine my surprise when I realized that this post had never gone up when I scheduled it to! If you need to refresh your memory on what happened in the first part of this story, go read it here.

By now I couldn’t tell if my manicurist was joking or if he was just plain crazy. I thought about getting up and leaving right then, but I reasoned that he must be mostly done.

I stopped trying to make conversation. Obviously he needed all the concentration he could get. It didn’t help that the TV overhead was playing a show titled “Life in the Paranormal” and he kept turning his head to watch it instead of looking at my nails.

After a while he tired of watching stories about sightings of UFOs and vampires, and asked me some questions. “What’s your name?”

“Aimee.”

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

He started singing in a tuneless voice, “I know a girl named Aimee…She’s eighteen…she afraid to get nails done…Do you have a boyfriend Aimee?”

“No.”

“You pretty girl. Maybe you would have boyfriend if you weren’t such a scardy cat!”

Finally he was done. I stood up to gather my things and wait for my mom and sister to be finished. I examined my nails, which were bloodied at the cuticles and scratched under the surface of the nail polish, and I haven’t wanted a manicure since.

———–

Yes, this is a laughable story. At the time, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh at the absurdity of it or to be totally creeped out! You might still be reeling from events that have been going on in your life as well. In these times, it is hard to know how to react; should you hunker down and wait out the strange things going on, or should you accept this as the new normal?

Jesus gave us some direction in John 14:27. He said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” There is one option that we don’t have: giving in to fear. Jesus has promised us peace that is different from any other peace you seek. It is ‘not as the world gives.’

In what areas are you seeking God’s peace in today? How have you experienced his peace in the past? I’d love to hear about it!