Lessons from a Shattered Screen

damaged_iphone_screen

It was a beautiful sunny day. I was doing something a bit unusual for me– I was actually on a job rather than behind a desk. A customer had called asking that their summer containers be replaced with plants for autumn. My husband thought I was the best person for the job and so I found myself getting my hands dirty that day.

As I gathered the plants and tools I needed, I actually gave a brief thought to getting my Otter Box case. I keep it for days I’ll be mostly outside or traveling. But I decided not to.

A dumb decision. I can see that now.

It happened as I was walking to my car for something. I heard the text message sound. It couldn’t wait until I was at the car (I am not exactly sure why??) and so, as I usually do, I pulled my phone from my pocket as I walked. Somehow I lost my grip on it and it fell face down onto the concrete sidewalk.

Now, at this point, I wasn’t really that worried. I have dropped my phone countless times and it has always remained unscathed. I was expecting the same thing this time.

I was in for a big disappointment.

As I picked it up, my heart sank. The screen wasn’t just cracked in a corner, it was completely shattered, and yet the glass was clinging tenaciously to the screen.

I gingerly pressed on the center button. It lit up. I pressed on an app. It responded. I carefully put the phone in the car in a horizontal position and went back to work, berating myself and trying to figure out what I was going to do about this unexpected turn of events as I worked.

I went home, put on the Otter Box cover so I could still use it, and mourned (well, not really, but almost…).

This all happened last Friday. It is now Monday and my phone screen is still a shattered mess. It doesn’t respond real well and so any texting I do is almost cumbersome. It has become my “emergency use only” phone.

My very clever son has offered to replace the screen (he’s already replaced the screens on two other phones) and so my new screen has been ordered and is on its way.

Of course, I can’t have something like this happen to me without thinking through all of the lessons that can be learned from it. I thought of several and just can’t narrow it down to one–

LESSON #1

My shattered screen was really a blessing in disguise. About a month ago I had actually removed some of the apps I tend to press whenever I have a nano-second to look at my phone. I had started to habitually pull my phone out of my pocket in all situations and I knew it was a very bad habit. And so I had removed the apps in an effort to break myself of this behavior. This new turn of events really gave that effort a big boost. Because now my phone isn’t even a temptation because it doesn’t work right.

And–believer it or not– life continues on even without a phone. I know some of you might not believe that but I tell you the truth: Life is not about your phone and the world that is held within it.

We need to pull ourselves out of this tiny-screened world so many of us find ourselves in and make a conscious effort to embrace the world we live in—the living, breathing, shining world that is right in front of our faces.

And so, while it is inconvenient, I am not really unhappy that this happened to me.

LESSON #2

I find it interesting that the phone is shattered but it still works. iPhones remind me a little bit of that Timex commercial (it was Timex, wasn’t it?) from so long ago–

It takes a licking but keeps on ticking.

I was certain when I saw that shattered screen that my phone wouldn’t work. But it did.

I think it is a little representative of people. We can deal and put up with a lot. We are hindered and hampered but we keep taking the next step. Our dreams are shattered, our worlds cave in and yet we have no choice but to keep going.

But so many of us choose to keep living with that shattered screen. Instead of turning to the Lord for complete healing and a changed life, we toil through life with grief and shame. How sad, when we could turn to the Lord for a new heart and walk with Him. How tragic that so many of us live under the shadows of heartache, bitterness, and envy, never turning to the One who can help us step away from our past and provide healing.

No, life does not become perfect. Please don’t hear me saying that. But the peace and joy that comes when we surrender our lives to the Lord cannot be measured. These are not just empty words. I am living proof of this, as are many I know. Find someone who genuinely loves the Lord and is living a life in surrender to His will and just ask them. I know they will attest to this, as well.

LESSON #3

“If only” is a phrase that can haunt us, if we aren’t careful. If only I had put my Otter Box case on my phone. If only I hadn’t dropped it. If only I had just left my phone in the car to begin with.

The phone incident is so minor in life, but much more serious “if only”s haunt many of us, don’t they?

If only I wouldn’t have had that affair.

If only I would have married a believer.

If only I would have disciplined my child when they were a toddler.

If only I wouldn’t have gone there that night.

If only I wouldn’t have said that.

If only he or she wouldn’t have gotten cancer.

But the world of “if only” is a shattering, heart-breaking world where we feel hopeless and helpless. It is a world in which we can’t change a thing.

Somehow, with the grace and mercy of God, we need to pull ourselves out of it. We need to submit ourselves to the perfect will of our heavenly Father and forget the “if onlys”. They just serve as an avenue of discontentment and dissatisfaction.

 

Whew. That’s a lot for one day. Hope I didn’t overwhelm you. Perhaps I should have broken this into several posts. But I hope that some of these lessons I have learned may help you, too.

 

If you have appreciated this post, I would be very honored if you would share it with others. Thank you!

Making a Choice

sad-woman

The woman was always down. And, for sure, she had a good reason. When I met her many years ago, her husband had already been gone for five years, a victim of cancer. Our daughters were the same age and got along well together so it naturally led to some conversations. Conversations that always centered on her horrible life and how hard it was. She was forever the victim of awful circumstances and– from what I could see– was content to wallow in despair for the rest of her life. I found it terribly sad for her and for her kids. She had been given very difficult circumstances and had multiplied the pain with her “woe is me” attitude.

I just can’t help but contrast her with another woman who also lost her husband. This woman, while not denying the heart-wrenching pain and overwhelming struggles, refused to give in to self-pity. Even through her pain, she was always looking out for the needs of others and ready to offer her help and resources in any way possible, always aware that she wasn’t the only one struggling in life. Her reliance on God’s strength and her focus on Jesus has been an amazing testimony to all around her.

Two women.

Two totally different responses.

I am not judging the first one, because, honestly, I have no idea how I would react in those circumstances.

But the second one? She has taken something horrible and has shown how God walks with you baby-step by baby-step through the drudgery of long, painful days and never-ending, sleepless nights if you stay focused on Him. She has been a shining example of the strength that God’s grace provides when we turn to Him.

You know, when we sin, we will often blame our circumstances.  Difficult finances, trouble at work, or health issues give us the excuse we need to become full of self-pity, anger, or bitterness.

But, as I think of this second woman, I can’t help but realize–

It’s not the circumstances but how we react to the circumstances that really matters.

No one can force us to pity ourselves, to be filled with angst and despair, or to give way to anger and frustration. They are choices.

As I write, King David comes to mind. Many times he was crushed by despair, surrounded by enemies, and yet he often turns his anguished cry to praise. Psalm 69 is  a good example of this. The first few verses say this–

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
I am weary with my crying;
My throat is dry;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

But by the end of that very same Psalm, David is praising God–

Let heaven and earth praise Him,
The seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
And build the cities of Judah,
That they may dwell there and possess it.
36 Also, the descendants of His servants shall inherit it,
And those who love His name shall dwell in it.

He would give voice to despair, but he would always turn his eyes to God and the hope of salvation.

Voicing our despair, hopelessness, and frustration isn’t the problem–It is dwelling in that place of despair–taking up residence in that dark place– for all of our days. It’s never turning our eyes to God and letting Him meet our needs in the way He chooses. It’s growing like a petulant, spoiled child in the face of our trials, instead of submitting ourselves to God’s Sovereignty.

This is a hard conversation. I know that very well. But trials and difficulties are when the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. It’s when we really get to show the world that God is always good and provides for our every need. And it’s when, if we choose to humble ourselves and live obediently to His word, we truly understand the faithfulness of God in a much deeper and fuller way.

The two women, both professing Christians, responded to the same circumstance in totally different ways. One setting a shining example for fellow Christians to follow and the other one alienating even the most loving souls by her constant, self-centered despair.

 

 

Powerful Words

 

tween and mom

The girl stood taller than the rest of the children. She was older than they were and she felt awkward and even ugly next to all that adorableness. This was a tough time for her, as that stage between childhood and adulthood often is for many of us.

As the children played, the adults talked. And she felt like she didn’t fit anywhere. She would be glad when the evening was over. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the family that was visiting her home. She just felt like she didn’t belong.

As they gathered together to eat, the mother of the visiting family unobtrusively whispered in the girl’s ear, telling her that she would be so happy if her young daughter would grow up to be just like her.

To a struggling twelve year old, these words were some of the most encouraging she could have offered. The young girl, now in her 20s, has never forgotten that moment of encouragement during a challenging time of her life.

My daughter told me this story only yesterday. I am not sure I had ever heard it before. But as she expressed her gratefulness for the woman and her wise words, I again realized the power of words.

We forget that words have the power to break someone down or build someone up. And so many of us are in the habit of  sharing the negative and never sharing the positive. We feel very comfortable saying what we don’t like, what we think someone should be, what improvements are necessary, and how someone isn’t meeting our expectations.

But when things are going well or there is something we really appreciate, so many of us tend to keep our mouths shut.

Many years ago, during a time when I was playing piano solos in my church, I realized the encouragement that could be given with just a few words.  I would work hard at a song and would feel rather deflated if no one told me they appreciated my hard work. And yet, if even just one person took a brief moment to thank me, I would feel like the work was worthwhile.

Now, God used this to teach me a myriad of lessons, the most important being that I should not long for the praise of men (I am still learning that lesson, by the way). But another lesson I learned during that time is that if I appreciate something about someone, I need to let them know.

Whether you talk to them in passing, take them for coffee, or write a short note to express appreciation, taking the time to share your positive thoughts is always a good idea.

God has dedicated a good portion of James 3 to this topic of the tongue. James tells us that–

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (verses 6-8)

This passage shows us that our words have great power, doesn’t it? As much as we have power to use it for evil, we also have the power to use it for good.

I heard a testimony the other day of a man who had come to know the Lord as an adult. As he talked about his faith in Christ, he mentioned that before he was even beginning to think about Christianity, someone had planted seeds of life in his heart. It would be several years before those seeds came to fruition, but that wise person had planted them, just the same.

Encouraging others and planting seeds of the gospel– now that is what I want my words to do. Don’t you?

Why do we find it so much easier to use our tongues to express irritation, to gossip, to argue, and to belittle? Why do we find it so much easier to close our mouths shut tight and not say anything?

Scripture is so clear on this, speaking to this very topic directly in a multitude of verses–

Proverbs 12:18, Proverbs 18:21, Matthew 12:36, Proverbs 16:24, Proverbs 16:23-24, Proverbs 15:23, I Thessalonians 5:11

And there are many more.

Let’s use our words today to build up and encourage. Let’s use our tongues to plant seeds for the gospel. And let’s wisely consider each word before it is spoken.

 

 

Mama on a Mission

house finch

The noise in the tree next to me was getting annoying now. The bird chirped constantly as I sat there reading. It just didn’t stop. It sounded like it was really angry about something. When I went out to the porch swing the next morning, it did the same thing again–just sat in the tree and chirped madly. Actually “chirp” may be too musical of a word. This bird was yelling its little heart out about something.

When it continued to happen the following mornings, it finally dawned on me that there may be a nest in the hanging basket right beside the swing where I sat comfortably. I pulled a foot stool close by and stepped up to peek. Sure enough, there they were–an over-full nest stuffed with three or four adolescent birds, almost ready to fly.

The twittering bird beside me was not just any bird. She was a mama on a mission.

She was doing everything in her power to protect the babies for which she was responsible. She didn’t know that I wasn’t a real threat and so she chirped away.

In another–rather tragic– example of this, we heard this past weekend of an aggressive little dog that was killed by a bear near the cabin where we were staying. The dog-owners are heart-broken and think that the bear must have been protecting a cub, as they had heard some rustling beyond the bear and the bears are not normally that aggressive. It appears that this bear, too, was a mama on a mission.

We actually call women who fiercely protect their children “Mama Bears”, don’t we? And, unless you are a mama, you probably can’t really understand the urge to protect your young.

And we are called to protect our children. But what should this protection look like?

Many years ago, my daughter was in a class with a young girl whose mama would step in to protect her at any real or perceived hurt. She was there to inflict scathing words or just due on anyone who dared to hurt her baby. I would submit to you that this is not healthy protection. And we have all met these overprotective mamas. We find them in school rooms, Sunday School classes, soccer teams, and playgrounds. They are an intimidating force, these mama bears.

But is this really what we are called to do as Moms? Are we supposed to keep our children from receiving any hurt or disappointment? Are we to view them as perfect and step up to defend for any reason?

NO. Of course not.

This is not in the best interest of our children in any way.

We laugh about it now, but we were one of those families that almost handled things the opposite way. When our kids came home with a story about how a schoolmate or teacher had offended them, our first words would be, “what did you do?”  We always knew there had to be another side to the story.

Of course, there were occasions when I was tempted to step in the middle of dissension between friends or even at school and then I would remember my mom’s wise words to me — Let them work it out.

You see, part of growing up is learning how to handle disappointment. It’s learning how to work with difficult people. And how to deal with our emotions of anger and sadness. If we parents always swoop in to keep our children from learning these lessons, we will greatly hamper them (and their future families) for the future.

Now, while so many parents are busy trying to protect their children from real or perceived disappointments and hurt, I see few parents protecting their children from the real enemy--the enemy of their souls.

Satan is alive and active and roaring about like a lion (I Peter 5:8). He is also masquerades as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) and uses subtle ways to deceive us (2 Corinthians 11:3). He seeks to kill and destroy (John 10:10). And most of us allow him into the lives of our children in a myriad of ways–

We allow our children to choose the music we play in our cars. This is often pop music that is filled with explicit lyrics about sex, drug use, and bad language. We may even bop along with them to the catchy beat as the sinful music plays.

We put on the latest tv show or movie and laugh at the off-color jokes and shake our heads at the blatant wickedness — but never take a stand and just turn it off, explaining to them why.

We allow them to go to movies and dances and malls, all under the guise of “all the other kids are doing it”, never really knowing exactly what is taking place with these friends.

Our kids spend hours and hours with headphones in their ears, staring at an ipad screen, or playing video games that would make your skin crawl, and we say nothing. “Kids will be kids” is our motto.

When we do spend some time with our kids, we talk about the weather, the school assignment, or the vacation that’s coming up. We never talk about creation, or homosexuality, or what being a Christian really looks like.

All the while, the devil is making inroads into the hearts of your kids.

Oh, this is where we parents need to stand up and fight! There is an ALL-OUT Spiritual War going on and many of us are sitting casually by, thinking it doesn’t affect us. But, if you are not careful, the casualties will be your children.

This is where we need to step up and protect our young ones. We have a responsibility and we need to take it very seriously.

Let’s turn away from our own screens, clubs, and hobbies long enough to get to really know our children. To really understand what makes them tick and see their weaknesses. Let’s challenge them using the Word of God.

Let’s be like the mama bird, chirping loudly for all to hear, letting Satan know that you are, by the grace and strength of God, protecting the soul of the precious child in your care and this is one battle he won’t win!

 

 

 

I Will Be Happy Tomorrow

four_seasons_208_painting.j

Many of us live our lives perpetually dreaming about tomorrow. We know that we will be happier then and live for that vicarious, vague time that never seems to arrive–

When I am married, then I will be happy.  Until you tie the knot.

When I have children, then I will be happy.  Until you have kids.

When my children are more self-sufficient, then I will be happy.  Until they are out of diapers.

When my children are in school, then I will be happy.  Until they ride off on the bus.

When my children leave the home, then I will be happy.  Until you are an empty-nester.

When I retire, then I will be happy.  Until you don’t have to wake up to your alarm clock.

Somehow these transitions in life never bring us the perfection we anticipated. The next season is just another one filled with joys and heartaches; failures and victories — just like those before it.

The world tells us that happiness always lies just around the corner. Happiness is never where you are, but where you think you should be. Happiness is anything but this. But this is a lie straight from the Father of lies himself.

Perhaps you have purchased the lie. You may be in a funk because you are not living this God-ordained moment with joy, but instead have chosen to be discontent. Maybe you have worked yourself into a state of frustration because today is not tomorrow. We probably all need a Biblical re-orientation.

A quick study of the words rejoice and contentment will make us hang our heads in shame. Here are a few to get you started–

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

“Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6)

And once again, we realize that our worries, problems, anxieties, frustrations and confusions have a solution (notice I didn’t say easy solution) by immersing ourselves in scripture and knowing solid, biblical theology–

1.       The doctrine of sovereignty reminds us that the day we are living is exactly the day that God has ordained for us. (Psalm 37:23; Psalm 139).  We are in the season we are in by His divine design. Perhaps we are living the horrible consequences of our own sin and yet we know that He can make something beautiful from our bad choices. We have to trust in God, realizing that we will never be content with any season we are in until we submit wholly and fully to His sovereignty.

2.       If we have been saved by grace we have a real reason to rejoice right now! (Psalm 33:21; I Peter 1:8) Knowing that we have a Savior allows us to rejoice today, not tomorrow when we perceive that things will be easier or better. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

If we have grown discontent because we perpetually long for tomorrow, perhaps we need to re-orient our thinking. Let’s remember that we have many reasons to rejoice today. Let’s choose to be content right now.

Be Careful Who You Follow (a.k.a. The Lure of Charisma)

whitehouse

I will always remember the day that I saw a young African-American senator on the Oprah Winfrey show. I remember thinking just how likable and charming he seemed. I had my doubts that we agreed on much of anything, given his political leanings, but I did imagine that he would get far in his political career as he sat there conversing easily with Oprah.

And he did get far– all the way to the Whitehouse.

I am not going to go into his policies and presidential career but I do want to point out that I firmly believe that one of the reasons this president got so far in the world of politics is because of his charisma. You see, when people have this gift of attracting others, people flock to them like sheep following a shepherd. He could lead them over a cliff and they would follow.

The general public has become “non-thinking” and so we attach ourselves to anyone who looks nice, speaks well, and says what we want to hear. I can think of many preachers that have had much success in their careers because of this dynamic.

As I was thinking about this, I have to wonder: when did we stop looking at the character of a man before soaking up all he has to say? When did what he says and how he says it become our litmus test for validity? When did personality trump character?

I think charisma has always had a place in helping a man succeed.  But somewhere along the way we forgot that a man’s (or woman’s) character needs to match their words, or we are just being fed lies.

Why do we follow a man who makes promises he doesn’t keep? Why do we follow a preacher who says the Lord will bless those who give but hoards so much for himself (or herself) that they have multi-million dollar properties?

Why in the world have we totally neglected the invaluable virtue of integrity?

I do have a little theory on this. I think somewhere in the last 50 years, we have been sold the lie that our individual happiness, success, and advancement is the most important thing. Oh, we care about the community, our church family, and our country, but not if it is at the expense of our own selfish gain. And while we were being subtly trained to focus on ourselves, Christian doctrine was changed ever so slowly and surely to be more palatable. The focus on a character of integrity for figures in the public eye became a non-essential — after all, we all sin.

And so as we grew more and more self-focused, we cared less and less about anything below the surface of a person. If they speak well and say what I want to hear then that is all that matters. What they do in their own private life is their business. But I beg to differ because a lack of integrity in their personal life surely leads to a lack of integrity in their public life. 

If I told you that we regularly cheat on our taxes (We don’t! This is just an example!) would you read my blog anymore? I hope not.

So where am I going with this? I seem to be rambling a bit this morning, don’t I?

I guess I can summarize this into four points–

1. Know the character of those you admire. Ask yourself if he (or she) demonstrates the all-important fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in his life? Is he humble? Forgiving? Generous? Is his family an honor to the Lord? Does his words agree with God’s Word?

2. Never idolize any man. All men are human and susceptible of falling. Read and listen to godly men, but never base your faith on a man. Only God is deserving of such great faith. Let’s be careful where we place our trust.

3. Now is the time to train ourselves and our families to think, so that we don’t fall prey to the ever-increasing amount of traps for non-thinkers in this world. Let’s become men and women who aren’t swayed by public opinion or peer pressure, but instead lean on God and His Word for our opinions and direction. This is so critical and so lacking in many Christian families today.

4. Let’s take our focus off of ourselves. We have become a culture OBSESSED with self-glory and personal happiness. And Christians are no different. This hurts us in two ways — A) we don’t consider the ramifications of anything outside what affects us personally and immediately. B) And we tend to only want to hear words that we like and have conversations with those with which we agree.

Stay strong, my friends. This isn’t going to get easier. Keep your guard up and be ever-watchful.

 

 

Will Mark Driscoll Say Thank You Someday?

Dr

The removal of Mark Driscoll from Acts29 has been swirling about in Christian circles for a few days now. First, I have to admit that I do not have inside information regarding this celebrity pastor. I really don’t know if the accusations are true or not. I was never a big Mark Driscoll fan and my interest in his ministry disappeared completely when he started challenging long-held beliefs on some of the most basic understanding of scriptural passages –or did he just choose to ignore them? I don’t really know his motives, his thoughts, or his heart. Obviously.

But this incident has really turned my thoughts toward the modern day expectations of pastors. We–the average church goer– feed into this new church model. The model that is driven by the goal to grow bigger and better and ever more cool.

Instead of focusing on shepherding his flock (as scripture commands), the pastor becomes obsessed with making sure more and more people come to his church. If he is one of the “fortunate” ones that has the charisma to attract a crowd, he now fights a battle that is a temptation to all people, but perhaps most tempting to charismatic leaders — and that is the battle of pride.

Pride worms its way into all of our lives in one way or another (even discouraged cries of “Woe is me!” and “I deserve better than this!” stem from pride), but pastors seem to be most vulnerable of all.

This is probably for a number of different reasons –

1. People naturally follow them.

2. People naturally praise and lift them up.

3. Satan would like nothing better than to destroy a church and what better way than attacking the leader?

 

So back to Mark Driscoll. If what is swirling about is true and Mark Driscoll has fallen prey to this temptation to be arrogant and dictatorial, could it be that this may end up being a very positive event in his life?

Acts29 did him a huge favor! One that should happen much more often in the church today. They said to him, “We care more about you than we care about our reputation or even your reputation. We care more about what God’s Word says in how to handle this, than we do about what is ‘politically’ correct.”

I applaud Acts29 for taking a stand. I am sure many sleepless nights and much heartache went into their decision. If Mark Driscoll is as smart as I think he is, he will use this as a wake-up call to return to the humility and servant’s heart that is required of all of us as believers– no matter what earthly position we find ourselves in.

This could well be the best thing that has ever happened to him. Painful for him and his family and his church — by all means. Sin usually is. But if he humbles himself and turns to scripture, I imagine that one day in the future he will say a very heartfelt “Thank You” to his friends at Acts29.

And one more thing– if you are blessed with a humble pastor who loves God and His Word more than he loves himself, who cares deeply for his flock and desires to shepherd them, who turns the hearts of his people to the Word of God and expounds faithfully each week (instead of telling stories and entertaining), why don’t you take a moment to say thank you? You are so blessed.

 

A Pleasant Fragrance

pocketbacs

I had the most hilarious thing happen to me the other week. Okay– so maybe not the most hilarious. But it was certainly funny!

But, first, let me preface this story by filling you in on something about me–

I am just a tad bit OCD about keeping my hands germ-free.

With this being the case, I am rarely without a PocketBac. What are PocketBacs, you may ask? They are the little containers of hand sanitizer that Bath and Body Works sells in all kinds of delightful fragrances.

And before you comment or message me about how I am actually making myself less healthy and more susceptible to diseases by my constant usage of this modern day concoction, let me assure you that I do already know that. But old habits die really hard. (I am way more easygoing about this than I used to be, however– just ask my family!)

Okay, so back to the story–

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference. After lunch, I found myself growing a little tired, as I sat in a session with 15 or 20 other people. I tried to pay attention, but finally decided that perhaps a little candy might help me stay alert.

As is my habit, I first needed to make sure my hands were clean before touching something I was going to put in my mouth (even as I write this, I sound a little over-the-top. I think I may have a serious problem here!) and so I put a little dab of hand sanitizer on my hands and discreetly rubbed them together under my desk. I then put a couple of candies in my mouth and turned my attention back to the class.

Suddenly, the teacher stopped, sniffed the air, and then said, puzzled, “I smell something fruity…”

Uh-oh. I knew that the apricot-mango scent of my new pocketbac was rather strong, but I didn’t realize it was that strong. I am pretty sure that she was smelling my hand sanitizer.

I sat there like I knew nothing.

“I do, too!” said one classmate.

“Me, too…” said another.

And I continued to sit there like I knew nothing.

Finally, one lady said, “Oh, it’s the air-conditioner.”

What??

But everyone nodded their heads and murmured, “yes, it must be the AC”, the answer was accepted by the teacher as correct, and the class moved on.

I still have to chuckle when this incident comes to mind–the air conditioner??

It is absolutely amazing to me what “group think” can lead people to believe. But that’s a post for another day. I actually want to think about the word “fragrance” for a moment.

We are so often like I was as Christians. We are this pleasant fragrance of kindness and love that wafts through the room but when someone questions what that fragrance is, we hesitate to mention the name of Jesus. We will mention church but, for some reason, be scared to witness boldly about the change that Jesus Christ has wrought in our lives. So we, instead, hope that people will see that we are genuine believers and then just take in the gospel by osmosis.

But, more often, I fear, is our tendency, as believers, to not be the pleasant fragrance in the room.  Instead of bringing joy and kindness and love wherever we go, we bring gossip, anxiety, or frustration. Instead of serving, we are demanding. Instead of thankful, we are complaining. Instead of bringing humility to our roles of leadership, we bring self-righteous pride. And the stench is not pleasant but instead something that no one else wants.

So, this leads to two questions we have to ask ourselves–

1. Am I the pleasant fragrance of Christ to a lost and dying world?

2. If I am a pleasant fragrance, do people know that it’s because of Jesus Christ or do they just think I’m a “nice guy”?

As this world becomes more and more wicked and unstable, we will shine as lights if we are living for Christ. Our lives should be a beacon of hope in the darkness that surrounds us as we choose to live in obedience to God’s Word. We can choose to give God the glory in all of our circumstances — be they tragic or incredibly wonderful– and we will be the incredible fragrance of life to those who are searching.

Of course, we need to remember that we will not be a pleasant fragrance to those who are delighting in their sin and have hardened their hearts against God. But, that’s okay. That’s how Paul told us it would be (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Our responsibility is to live a godly life and be a bold witness for Christ. God will take care of the rest.

So let’s be a pleasant fragrance today wherever we may go and let’s be sure to tell people the reason for the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15), if given the opportunity!

 

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The Cliff Road

 

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A few weeks ago, while on vacation, my parents decided to visit Monticello, the famous home of Thomas Jefferson. I decided to join them, leaving my husband and daughter to enjoy a few hours together, kayaking on a nearby lake.

As we left the historic estate, we noticed a sign pointing to an orchard. The sign also indicated that there were “great views” to be had from the orchard. We thought that sounded interesting and so my dad turned left onto the driveway.

At first it just seemed to be the typical unpaved road that winds up a mountain. I was on the passenger side and enjoying the ride–until I happened to look directly outside my window.

That was when I noticed that there was a very steep drop to my immediate right without any guard rails whatsoever.

I realized that just a quick turn of the wheel to avoid a rabbit could cause us to tumble down the side of the mountain. It was a little frightening, quite honestly.

Soon enough, we were at the top of the mountain, enjoying that beautiful view surrounded by vineyards and fruit trees. It really was a lovely site.

But, oh, how different the outcome could have been, had my dad not driven very carefully. How tragic it could have been had an unexpected animal bounded across the road or some other unforeseen circumstance taken place. There was no margin for error.

A long time ago, my dad told me the analogy of the cliff as it compares to the Christian life. This analogy came back to me as we climbed up the side of that mountain.

Who, in their right mind, travels as close to the cliff edge as possible? Who sees just how close they can get without falling to their death? No one who has any sense at all. Instead a wise driver travels as close to the mountainside as they can, leaving as much room as possible for the inevitable unexpected surprises. This is the best way to ensure a safe trip up the side of a mountain.

And yet we Christians travel next to the cliff all the time. We take pleasure in seeing just how close we can get to the world without falling into the depths of sin, leaving no margin for error.

I understand why we do this.

Our flesh cries out to us to satisfy it. We have an insatiable desire we think we can control and so we just go as far as we think is in our control. We all do it. I know that what immediately comes to mind are the “big things” like alcoholism, pornography, and drug addictions. But there are a lot more ways that we move to the side of the cliff than these obvious sins–

Entertainment choices, what we choose to wear, our stewardship of time, and how we use our tongue all come to mind.

Are we walking as close to the cliff as we can or are we striving to stay as close to the mountain as possible?

I want to hug the mountainside as I travel this road of life. Whether it leads to criticism and ridicule (which it has) or not, I choose to please my Savior and forsake the world. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I’d rather be sure my entertainment choices, behaviors, and actions please God than to see how much I can get away with and still call myself a Christian. Oh, I still make lots of mistakes and sometimes slip and fall, but I get back up on that mountain path and trudge forth once again. For I know that when I get to the end of my life’s journey–to the top of this mountain– I will enjoy an unbelievable view. One that is unsurpassed and beyond my imagination!

How close to the cliff are you walking?

 

When Life Feels Impossible

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So the other night I was at a Tough Truck competition. This would not tend to be my usual choice for a Friday night. But this was different because my son had entered the contest sponsored by our local fair. Of course, I wanted to support him. It’s his third year participating and, honestly, it’s kind of a fun night.

But it can get a little monotonous watching these beat-up cars and trucks take the same track again and again. So when a very lifted truck–is there another term for this that I don’t know? “very lifted” just doesn’t sound like I know what I am talking about! Anyway– when this truck pulled up to the starting line, we were growing a little bored. I heard a few comments around me wondering how the truck would survive the course. It looked like it would topple over as it took the various jumps and turns. I had to agree.

But, lo and behold, it stayed upright. The driver was able to keep his truck under control as he quickly maneuvered his way through the course from his high perch. As he took the last hill and landed on the dirt in front of him, he gunned it towards the finish line. For some unknown reason, a giant hill of dirt sat at the end of the course this year. The driver was going so fast that he had to swerve to miss this pile. As he swerved, he finally did what all of us had been expecting all along. He tipped his truck over on its side. There he lay, helpless, as men started running towards him.

They gathered around him and started trying to push the truck back over. More and more men ran to the truck and added their strength. But the truck wasn’t budging. Which is actually a good thing for the fellow who was trying to pull it back down and stood on the other side of the truck (what exactly was he thinking?!?)

After a few moments of pushing, they finally got a tractor and hooked it up. With this machine, they were able to quickly pull the truck back over onto its four wheels. The truck driver was just fine and drove off the field. The competition continued.

As I watched this whole thing, I just had the thought come to me that all that manpower really did nothing. Now could they have, with enough men, rolled that truck over? Probably.

But, oh, how that tractor had made easy work of the whole thing.

Made me think…

Sometimes we have a personal problem. It’s a giant problem (or in most cases, a giant sin issue)–whether it be an addiction, a bad marriage, anger issues, needing to lose weight, or whatever. You fill in the blank.

And we start gathering our resources — books on the subject, websites, support groups, seminars, conferences, and counselors. We gather our family and friends for support and encouragement. And all of these things gather to push us back over to where we need to be. And sometimes it works.

The show Biggest Loser (is that even on anymore?) shows us that it can work. All that pushing does help the contestants get to healthy weights (although I think many of them end up where they started — but, hey, that’s another subject for another day).

I can’t help but think, though, that as believer we have a better way to go about it.

We have the Word of God to teach and to change us (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We are told in scripture that the Holy Spirit is here to strengthen us in our inner man (Colossians 3:16). And that the Holy Spirit will help us to keep the pattern of good works that was committed to us (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

All of the extra resources are okay (if they are from a biblical viewpoint) but they are just that -extra.

I know this isn’t a popular viewpoint, but the bottom line here remains that all we need for a life lived for Jesus is God’s Word. All we need to get to the bottom of any problem is God’s Word. We need to read it, study it, know it, and obey it.

Does that seem too simple for you? It may be. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

This does not mean we will have a problem-free life. However, what it does mean is that we will have the strength, courage, and guidance necessary to face our sin issues and problems. The Bible will show us the best way to get back on all four wheels and, if we obey, we will get there. It may be slow and hard, but we will get there.

I think that is really where the rubber meets the road– what the Bible tells us to do isn’t really what we want to hear.

We don’t want to hear that we need to be selfless (in a bad marriage or unpleasant work situation) or have self-control (losing weight, addictions, anger issues). We want to blame it on someone else or something else. Funny thing is, though, that God’s Word never gives blame as an option. Instead, it always hits us right where we are in our sinful hearts.

And so we wriggle uncomfortably and turn towards other options, following after the wisdom of man instead of the wisdom of God. We push and sometimes even unwisely pull without much success.

Oh, how foolish we are.

Let’s turn our hearts back to God’s Word today. I love how Psalm 119: 9-11 puts it –

How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.