Tune in 24/7

http://www.ihopkc.org/prayerroom/

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Is A Time For Receiving

I love all things that come with Christmas.  The giving of gifts, the fa-la-la-la-la's, the decking of halls.  I love any reason to hug my loved ones a little closer and give to those in need during the holiday season.  I love connecting with old friends and receiving their Christmas postcards/family portraits.  It's all-round the most wonderful time of the year. 

And as I finish up the last of my Christmas shopping and the loose ends of my wrapping, I can't help but consider once again why I'm even doing all this in the first place.  It makes me come back to the famous scripture that wraps the Message of Love up like a beautiful present:
 
"For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  
John 3:16
God's most precious Gift given in the small package of a baby boy.

I wonder....If we were to ask God what Christmas means to Him, I bet He'd probably look at us and smile -- so happy that we would even ask.  He would probably pick us up and place us on His Lap like He was ready to tell us the most amazing story we have ever heard.  I bet He'd lean in close and whisper these precious words to us:

"Christmas is a time for receiving."

"RECEIVING!?"  we might exclaim.  Oh how contrary to what we would think or say!  How selfish!  "Christmas is not about getting!  It's about giving!"

"No, Christmas is first about receiving." He would reiterate. "Don't you see?  I gave.  I gave the most excellent gift a Father could give.  I gave so that you might live.  And, your response is to simply receive.  Christmas is truly about Me giving and you receiving all that comes with the Gift I gave.  All your giving beyond that is just a response from your receiving from Me."

So, this Christmas, let us be reminded.  Let us come back to the heart of God and His original reason for Christmas.  And let us be sure that we aren't just giving, but that we are also receiving -- from Him.

 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Encounter

Have you ever formed an opinion about someone without even meeting them?  I have.  Media is always trying to persuade me in one way or the other to like or dislike a celebrity or other public figure. And, we can fight every day with the fact that man judges by appearances and evaluates someone simply by what they look like.  

What is most unfortunate, though, is the fact that many of us form an opinion about God without actually meeting Him personally.  We conjure up in our minds who we think He is based on our experiences and maybe what others have told us about Him -- which could be very far from the Truth. We have Him "all figured out " without even encountering Him.  How unfair -- in any relationship. 

As I read through Scripture, I find one common theme in those whose lives were radically changed. They had an ENCOUNTER. They had an encounter with the Living God:  Job, Moses, Saul, the man whose ear was cut off by Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, the woman at the well, the woman who bled for years and years, the mother who saw her son raised from the dead before her very eyes, the blind man, the lepers, the disciples in the boat in the middle of the storm, the thief on the cross...

All of them have the same Story: I have encountered him personally and I will never be the same.  

Have you formed an opinion about God? If so, what is it based on?  I encourage you today to go and seek Him out. Find out who He is and refuse to settle on an opinion until you know you have encountered Jesus.  



Saturday, December 7, 2013

Drive-By Christmas

It can be easy to miss as you drive by the houses covered in hundreds of white, colored and blinking LED lights.  It can be easily overlooked when a huge inflatable Santa is lit up on the grass and waving at you in the cold night air.  It can be easily out-shined by Rudolph's nose and the other mechanical reindeer that are placed front and center on the lawn.

We can miss it.  We can miss the manger.  We can miss the Story -- the Story that is not fiction like the other Christmas stories we tell.  The Story that gives us Hope beyond our 25 days of Christmas.  The Story that can truly change our Scrooge-like outlook and give Light to the darkest and most hopeless heart.   

There's a house that my family and I like to go to and see each year.  It is so lavishly decorated that it draws hundreds of people every year to come see it.  The public is allowed to walk through their huge yard displayed with every kind of structure and Christmas display you can think of.  But, if you just drive by, you miss it.  You miss the Story.  Only those that stop and walk through get to see that in the middle of it all a Manger Scene is shining bright. 

This year, I don't want to have a drive-by Christmas.  I don't want to miss the Story.  I want to slow down long enough to take in the Wonder and focus in on what's most important about this Season.  I want to stop the car, get out and see what the fuss is all about.  I want to find the manger and be reminded again.  This Christmas, I don't want to miss it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Loosening Your Grasp

I've heard celebrities say it. With so much money at their disposal, some step back and think: "There must be more that I can do with all this money than to spend it on myself."

"I have enough shoes," one celebrity said in an interview once. They had looked down at their hands and had seen their cup overflowing. They knew they needed to loosen their grasp and give.  

Many of us can't relate though because we aren't millionaires... Or can we??

I've yet to read in the Bible that God calls only the rich to give. He doesn't just look at the millionaires to be a vessel for his riches to flow through.  

I think what trips some people up is that they don't think what they are giving will make much impact.  How can their small donation even make a difference?  They reason themselves right out of the whole idea.  

If this is the case, it might be time to take another look at that little boy who gave his lunch. He didn't have much, but what he had, he offered.  His heart was in the right place and Jesus honored it and multiplied it to feed many. (John 6:5-15)

And, remember, giving goes beyond money. Maybe you have a talent, a service. Maybe you have a slew of spiritual gifts God has imparted to you.  Do you think that He has made you rich with these things just for your own delight?  God overflows cups not so that we can be satisfied and then build reservoirs to hold its overflow in for ourselves.  His eye is always on feeding His Sheep. 

You may not see yourself as a millionaire, but God does. Will you let Him feed His people through you?


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fried Rice & Friendship

It was always over Chinese that Chloe felt the safest. Was it the comforting warmth of the Wonton Soup? Was it the encouraging note she would find hidden in the fortune cookie at the end of her meal? Maybe. But she was pretty sure that it had little to do with the meal and mostly to do with her Company.

After a long day of work and trying to smile through her frustration at her demanding boss and inconsiderate co-workers, she grabbed her sweet & sour chicken to-go and headed to her apartment in solitude. She didn't bother with sitting at the kitchen table. Her coffee table did just fine for her on nights like this. She pulled out her chopsticks and placed them next to her Bible and journal. 

Bowing her head, she gave thanks and then dug into her fried rice.

"Thanks, God, for everything." she said out loud as she took her first bite. 

"So tell me, Chloe, how are you doing?" the Voice of her old Friend said deep in her heart.

"Oh fine." her heart responded as she took another bite.

"How are you feeling about your boss' reaction to your project today?" her Friend inquired.

Her heart sank at the thought of it. Mr. Miller is a hard man to please. 

"Oh fine." she said in her heart again, brushing off the sting she was feeling.

"Chloe."

"Yes?"

"How are you really feeling?"

"I'm fi- " she sighed.  "Well, actually..." 

Tears began to well up in her eyes as she began to relive the rejection she felt five hours ago.  

"God, I'm trying to enjoy my meal, here."  she said, choking a bit on her food. "Can we talk about this later?"

"Chloe, I'm bringing this up because I want you to enjoy your meal."  He said gently.

Chloe stopped and looked down at her carpet and thought for a moment.

"I forget sometimes, Lord, that you are a True Friend," she whispered, "and true friends are quick to bring you back to being honest with things."

She took a big bite of her egg roll and opened her journal. Without filtering her feelings, she began writing down adjectives of how she was really feeling about her job and boss. She wrote hard and fast. She could feel her whole body tense up as she filled the paper with emotion. Tears began to stream down her face as she felt the release of so much stress.

When she was done, she put her pencil down and stared at the paper.

"Lift up the paper, Chloe." her Friend said.

Chloe lifted it up toward heaven and lowered her head.

"Now, cast it all on Me." He whispered. "This, too, is nailed to the Cross."

"I give it to you, Lord." she whispered back.

Lowering her arms, she looked one more time at her paper and ripped it out of her journal. Then, she walked over to her fireplace, rested the paper on top of the burning wood, and watched as the flames consumed it from its corners to its core.  

"It is finished." the Lord said. 

Chloe held her hands to her chest as she felt its release and a Joy replacing the sting. A smile came to her face as she looked back at her dinner.

 "Now, how 'bout some Chinese?" her Friend said with a smile. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hold on. It's just about to get good.

I hate when it happens.  You probably do to. 

You're watching a football game (or whatever sport you're into) on TV with friends and your team is going nowhere fast.  You're trying to persevere through it to show support, but three-fourths of the way through you throw up your hands and say, "Just forget it.  This game's a wash."  You pick up your stuff and leave.  An hour later you receive a call from your friends who finished watching the game until the end.  They are screaming and cheering on the other end of the phone saying, "We did it!  We actually won!"  You listen to the chaos over the phone as they try to catch their breath to explain that there was a game-changing play. At the eleventh hour, your team pulled through and won the whole thing!  You left just before things really started getting good.  You sigh with regret.

The same thing can happen with a movie.  It's a slow start.  You try to give it the benefit of the doubt but you're losing faith in the plot with each scene that goes by.  Three-fourths of the way through you throw up your hands and say to your friends, "Just forget it.  This movie's a waste."  You pick up your stuff and leave.  The next day you run into your friends and they say, "Hey!  It's too bad you left when you did.  There was a cool twist at the end that no one saw coming.  Sorry you didn't stick around to see it.  It was well worth it to hold out to the very end."  You sigh with regret. 

And the same thing can happen to our faith and Christian walk.  We try to walk it out.  We give it a chance.  We give it years of our lives, hours of our service, sweat from our brow.  We feel like we have given it a fair shot.  But, at the three-quarter mark, we are tired.  In some ways, we're actually disgusted.  We look around and say to our friends, "Just forget it.  This Jesus thing is a joke."  Or we say, "This church thing is for the birds."  Or we say, "This life of giving and service and sacrifice is not for me.  I'm out."  We pick up our stuff and leave. 

But, just like in the scenario of the game and the movie, we need to realize that it's not over until it's over.  If we walk out now, we might be leaving just before things start getting really good.  Who's to say that God doesn't have a game-changing move up His sleeve?  Who's to say that He's done writing the script?  Maybe there's a twist He has planned that no one saw coming.  And, if you leave now you will surely miss it. 

Don't be the one that leaves the game early.  Don't be the one that regrets not finishing to see how the story ends.  Stick around.  One thing is for sure... when God is in it, no one is ever disappointed.
 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Teardrops Keep Falling On My Head

There is nothing more heartbreaking to me than to watch a parent grieve for their child.  Maybe the child is lost.  Maybe the child died.  Maybe the child was removed from under their care and they have little to no connection with them now.

I remember catching some news coverage on the 12th anniversary of 9/11 this year.  A tearful woman spoke behind the microphone to the crowds saying, "I keep waiting for the pain to go away."  Her broken heart was still so raw after 12 long years of missing her son.

There are many times when I pray and feel this kind of grief.  Not my own grief, God's grief.  The grief of a Father who longs to draw His children close -- a broken-hearted Daddy that keeps calling but His children don't hear the phone or ignore the rings. 

His teardrops keep falling on my head.  I taste the salty substance in my heart as He lets me feel His grief for the multitude that don't know Him.  All I can do is weep with Him and then say, "Lord, what can I do?"

"Pray, Valerie.  Pray.  Pray, Valerie.  Pray." He whispers.

Intercessory Prayer is just that.  You are intersecting what's going on.  You put yourself between the People, that are lost in the dark, and the God of all Light that can lead them out of it, and you pray forth the will of God.  We are like Esther in the Old Testament.  We see people that are on the brink of death and we can't keep silent.  We choose to speak up before the King and bravely say, "Be merciful!  Help us God!  Only You can make the blind man see and the lost son come home!"

 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rock Solid

When I was younger, I used to love the sensation of standing in the lake and feeling the wet sand between my toes.  Though at first it held my weight up, I would purposefully stand there knowing that it wouldn't be long before I would start to feel myself sink into the sand.  I played the game knowing that the sand was a false sense of security and I had better not linger there too long.
 
I also loved, though, swimming out into the lake and climbing up onto the big rocks that protruded out from the water like an island.  My sister and I would swim out to it, climb on and rest there in the sun.  We knew we could trust the rock to hold us.  It was a true sense of security.
 
It's an old analogy, but one that still stands firm.  Jesus is the only Rock we can trust and find True Security in.  I can't tell you how many mornings I wake up feeling insecure.  I feel shaky about my relationship with God which consequently makes everything else feel unsure as well.  I realize in those moments that I have been putting my trust in things that are built on sand. 
 
When I realize this, I say to myself, "Well, of course, you're going to feel shaky, Valerie!  Those things are built on sinking sand!  You're feeling shaky because you're feeling the sand shift under you.  Inevitably, if you stay there long enough you'll surely sink!"
 
It's then that I shift my thinking to what I know is true and begin to pray.  And just as faithful as the sun rises, I feel His Presence again and He reminds me that He is the immovable Rock.  What can shake me when I am so secure in His Love? 
 
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
 

 
 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Love With The Audience


What if God took away your audience as you served Him?

Maybe you're a writer.  What if people stopped reading your work? 
Maybe you're a musician.  What if you only played or sang to empty rooms?
Maybe you're a giver.  What if everyone ceased knowing you were?

Answer honestly.

Would you still write?  Would you still play and sing?  Would you still give?  No one is watching now.  There is neither pressure to perform nor the support of others to validate it.  It is just you and your God.  What happens next when all is stripped away?

Do you feel relieved?  Maybe you only did what you did because you felt pressured to. 

Or, do you feel worthless now?  "What's the point?" you might say, "without the nod and praise of others?"

It's a question of the heart and your motivation.  If you are looking to man to affirm you, then this scenario would wreck you.  But, if you are living to please Him, it wouldn't matter much to you at all.

When a man is in love with a woman, it doesn't matter if he loves her for all to see or if he loves her in private.  His heart is not caught up in who's watching, it's caught up in the Beloved he's looking at.  An audience doesn't change his affection.

Are you in love with HIM or in love with the audience?
 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ugh. Monday.

GRR.  It's Monday.  We hit the snooze.  We roll over.  We groan.  "Do I have to get up?" we say to ourselves.  "Only headaches await me."  It's all about survival from here to Friday.

I'd like to have some fun and think about what the beginning of the Book of Genesis would look like if God started off the First Week with our modern day attitude?

*******
 

"In the beginning, God groaned.  "Must I begin this DAY?" The Father says to the Holy Spirit. 
 
"Ugh."  Jesus chimes in. "This is going to be one heck of a Week ahead.  I already feel my stress levels rising.  Angel!  I need more coffee over here!"
 
"I'm so anxious." the Holy Spirit says in a faint voice.  "I mean, what if this whole 'making the world thing' completely flops??  I'm scared to even face what's ahead."
 
"How do you think I feel?" Jesus snaps. 
 
"Well, how do you think I feel?" the Father says grumpily.  "Ya know what, maybe this Week isn't even worth the effort.  Let's just can this idea."
 
And so no Light was created, no world was formed and you and I were never made all because God had a lousy attitude at the start of His Week.
 
*******
 
Phew.  Good thing that never happened.  Good thing God has a much better perspective on Life and the Beginning.  Good thing God sees great potential in the Beginning of Things.  Good thing God has a handle on the fact that Great things have to start somewhere -- at the beginning of a work week.  Good thing God takes on Projects with JOY and ENTHUSIASM and OPTIMISM.  Good thing God's not scared to create.  He's not intimidated by challenges.  Good thing LOVE motivates Him to do amazing things and knows that His whole Week is hanging on His very Perspective of it. 
 
And Good thing God offers us this same Joy, Enthusiasm, Optimism and Fearlessness.  If we grab a hold of it, Mondays could even start becoming our favorite day of the week!
 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Hungry Waiter

During my high school and college years, I pulled in some extra money through waitressing at various places like pizza shops and diners.  I loved the job. I loved being able to talk to so many different people, I enjoyed the laughs I had with the employees, and I especially loved the fact that I was given free food!  I was not only able to serve the delicious grub, I was also able to partake of it myself -- without charge!

I can remember a certain waitress, though, who never took advantage of the free food.  She was an excellent waitress and knew how to serve well. She just didn't stop to enjoy it for herself.  When people asked her why she didn't stop and eat a meal, she would explain that she was watching her figure and she wasn't very hungry anyway.  But the look on her face, when she saw other people eating, told a different story. She was like an onlooker staring into a wonderful world that she would not give herself permission to touch or enjoy. Though she helped to feed many, ironically, she, herself, was starving to death. 
 
******
 
We are Food-Distributors in the Kingdom -- a Waiter in God's Restaurant.  He doesn't ask us to create the Food.  He simply asks us to take it from His Hands and give it to the people.  What a fantastic job!  What a privilege to work in this kind of Restaurant and have such an amazing, kind, and generous Boss!  And the fringe benefits are great!  We not only get to distribute the Food, we get to help ourselves to as much of the savory delights as we wish!  Free food for all -- customers and employees alike -- all day, everyday!
 
But, though the Food is free for the taking, the choice remains ours if we will sit and eat.  It is our decision whether we will partake or not.  It is up to us whether we will receive and be nourished, or close our lips tight and starve. 
 
Some of us are like the young girl from the restaurant I mentioned.  We love to give, give, give.  We are the Martha's in the Restaurant.  For us, serving is not only enjoyable, it is a passion.  But, what we may fail to do is stop long enough to grab some Food for ourselves.  We work right through our 'coffee breaks', 'lunch breaks', and 'dinner breaks'.  And even if Jesus Himself comes into the Restaurant, we won't even break our stride to properly welcome Him.  We wave as we pass by His table and say, "I'll be right with you, Sir." 
 
The result is this:  We end up exhausted, hungry and malnourished.  If we stop for a moment and contemplate that, even the hardest worker would recognize that they are not doing any favors for anyone if they allow themselves to get to this point.  How can we continue to give if we are not replenishing ourselves from the Source?
 
Believe me, I totally understand this place.  I have been there and I can still find myself there sometimes.  I can feel guilty if I stop long enough to actually enjoy the Food I'm serving.  But we need to remember that just because we are serving, it doesn't mean we're not allowed to eat.  Even our earthly laws require that the employers give their employees breaks and time to refuel.  How cruel an employer would be if they didn't! 

So, if you are serving, continue to serve!  Just make sure you stop at Jesus' table and enjoy your lunch break with Him.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

If It Could Be Measured In Money

When I was younger, I went to Montreal, Canada on a school trip.  It was so neat to cross the border from the US into Canada.  One thing I thought was really cool was being able to trade in my US dollars for Canadian dollars.  They had to translate the value of my dollar for their dollar. 

Can you imagine if we were able to do that with our Kingdom Riches -- if we were able to measure with our money the wealth we have in God?  I think we'd be stunned.  I know I would be.  Those in Christ have access to a spiritual goldmine.  If we really grabbed hold of what Jesus did for us and the riches we have (not just in heaven, but NOW), we'd be floored.

Many of us, though, live in ignorance to this wealth.  We have a huge bank account with our Dad that we can withdrawal from freely, but because we don't know how rich we are, we write very small checks and make very small withdrawals.  We live as poor folk, though in reality, are very rich.

It reminds me of a story about a woman who lived at poverty level for most of her life.  By appearance, she was frail and clearly just scraping by.  When she died and her house was cleaned out, there inside her home was found a fortune of money that had never been touched.  She had been storing it up for years.  The woman had enough to live on and even share with others, but because she chose to never tap into it, she lived as a poor woman -- though in reality was very rich.

Our accounts are filled with "Kingdom Dollars" to spend.  I'll be the first to say that I want to use every cent!  I don't want to die a spiritually poor woman and find out later in eternity that I was sitting on a fortune my whole life but never thrived off of it or shared it with others.
 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

In The Suitcase

What if I said to my children, "This year, I plan to take you to Disney World!"

Then I wait and watch for their reaction and marvel in the moment.  There would be squeals and hugs everywhere.

But, then I drop it on them and say, "Oh, but did I mention that you will need to figure out how we are getting there and how we are ever going to pay for it?"

Stunned, they would go from tears of joy to tears of sorrow and I would suddenly go from Mom-Of-The-Year to Worst-Mom-Of-The-Century!  There would, of course, be no way for them to make it happen on their own.  My plan for them is only exciting when the promise of my provision goes with it.  Otherwise, I'm just being mean and playing games with their hearts.  What kind, loving parent would do that?  I'm not a perfect parent, but I'm certain I would never do that to them.

In the same way, God tells us He's got exciting things for us to do.  "...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.(Jeremiah. 29:11) He's got good, good stuff for us -- such good stuff that it's beyond our ability to even help Him.  If it's going to come to pass, it's going to be because He makes it happen.  He's the one that's going to have to purchase the 'plane tickets', 'Disney Park tickets' and 'hotel accommodations'.  Heavenly Plans require Heavenly Provision.

So, the question is not whether He has plans.  He does.  And it's not whether He will provide.  He will.  The question is: Will we rest, let go, and trust Him enough to follow through with His Word?  Are you like a skeptical child that hears his parent's promise and then doubts?  Or have you built such a trust with Him that when you hear His Plan, you rejoice because you know it's on His shoulders, not yours, to bring it to pass? 

This may sound funny, but I had a picture in my mind once of Jesus standing outside an airport, near the curb, holding a suitcase.  He was leaning over the curb and looking down the road toward me.  He was waiting for me.  In essence, what He was saying was, "I'm ready to take you places and all that you need has already been packed in the suitcase.  All you have to do is join me."

He's promising us a trip of a lifetime.  Our suitcases are already packed.  Will you take Him up on his offer and fly with Him?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Friends

Peace and Comfort hold my hands while
Hope lifts my head.
Then with moves like Travolta, Joy sweeps me onto the dance floor for another.
I forget why I was ever sad. 

Trust helps me when I don't understand. 
Faith gives me wings so I can fly. 
Both make a path for Grace to come.
All three together set me soaring to places I never knew existed. 

Forgiveness reminds me that that was once me.
She tells me again that she is to be passed along.
I don't know it, but she is really doing me a huge favor. 

Mercy hands me lotion and makes me even more tender.
Her Kindness comes through like a fragrance
and all I touch feel her Compassion

Patience teaches me to wait with a smile.  
She knows Who's really in charge here.

Perseverance gives me binoculars -- always calling to mind the Sweet Ending that awaits.  Faithfulness cheers me on, too. "Don't give up!" they sing in harmony over me. 

And Love reminds me that I am rooted.  Who can separate us?  
I am absolutely secure. 
He wraps His Arms around me and my other Friends and holds us all together. 
Love, Himself, will take me Home.
 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Easy Connection

Telephones have come a long way. 

I remember watching episodes of Little House on the Prairie on television and watching the actors pick up the telephone only to first speak to an operator who would then connect them with the person they wanted to speak with.

Even when we moved past that middle man/operator phase, it still took some effort and time to call someone.  Dialing on my rotary phone as a kid felt like it took forever.  You had to push the wheel down for each number and wait for it to recoil back.

Then it got a bit easier.  Just push the buttons down on your phone and voila!  You're connected.  
And now we have computers in our hands that we can talk to.  With a simple voice command, the phone dials and connects for you.  It has gotten easier and easier with each generation to make a phone call and talk to someone.

****

The evolution of the telephone is like my journey in connecting with God.  It used to feel so hard and take so much effort.  The way I understood it as a kid was that I had to first go to a middle man -- a religious man of God -- who would help me connect with my Creator.  I could confess my sins to the 'operator' and tell him what I wanted to say to God. 

God has a way, though, of helping us understand that He has made it much easier for us to connect with Him.  He showed me that the only Mediator that is needed is Jesus, Himself, who took all the sin on Himself so that we can have 'unlimited minutes' and full access to God personally.  It was an amazing revelation to know this Reality and that there is now a straight 'telephone line' to God!

But even since that revelation, God is still opening my eyes to just how easy He is to access and how much 'work' I don't have to do.  For example, I don't have to be in a certain body posture to authentically connect with Him.  I don't have to go through a ceremonial step by step process that will improve the communication line.  I don't have to wait for a certain time of the day.  And I don't have to wait until I feel good about myself.  And let me tell you too -- raising your voice doesn't improve your connection.  I used to think that the 'fervent prayer of a righteous man' (James 5:16) meant that if I wasn't exhausted and broken out into a sweat at the end of my prayer (I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean), my prayer was not very "fervent".  

God spoke to me recently and said, "You're trying too hard."

See, I keep thinking that I'm using an old fashioned or rotary phone that takes so much effort.  I keep forgetting that He has changed up the whole System for us.  He has made it so 'touch sensitive' and 'voice activated' that even our thoughts in prayer move Him.  My whispered, breathy prayers can move mountains.  Two words spoken as an intercession for someone can completely set them free.  See, it's not about our strength.  It's about believing in His strength and the Blood He shed.

He has given us an easy connection.  Are you trying too hard, too?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Joy comes in the morning
Peace restores my soul
The rain is over
And, I sing Your Song!

~~

And, I feel the Sun
All the clouds are gone!
No more weeping
No more crying
'cause today is a New Day

~~
 
I hear Your Voice
The sound of Hope
You have taken all my sorrow
I just thank you for this day

A New Day

 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fisher Boy

The young boy loved fishing with his Father.  It was one of their more enjoyable bonding times together. 
 
He loved to stand in front of his Dad and work the fishing Net with Him.  He loved pressing himself up against his Father's chest and hearing Him speak gently over him.  Fishing was fun but it was the time spent together that they both loved the most.
 
The boy knew his Father was a master Fisherman, so he watched everything his Father did very carefully.  He waited on His timing.  He was wise and patient.  He especially remembered what his Father told him once:
 
"Be careful not to scare the fish.  They will only swim away.  Be gentle.  Do as I do.  Move when I move.  If you do this, we will rescue many."
 
Then He pointed to the ripples in the river. 
 
"See the waters?  They are the ripples of Love and Mercy that carry the fish toward Me.  It is My Job to draw them.  When we fill the Net, the fish will be gently placed in My River where they will always be safe."
 
"Father,"  the boy said,  "can I come to this river and fish alone one day when I am older?"

The Father smiled and said, "I own all the Nets, son, and the Boat is Mine, as well.  No man can fish alone."

The boy looked at the Father and His eyes were full of Love. 

"Father," the boy said quietly, "even if I was able to fish by myself, I would not want to.  You are the reason I want to be here."
 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Story Behind the Song

When I first started dating my husband, he would take me here and there in his little red '98 Ford Escort.

Side Note: That little Escort, affectionately named "Red Rocket", took us up and down the East Coast for our honeymoon, vacations, family visits and music gigs.  12 years, 2 kids and 1 Labrador dog later, we finally had to let it retire.  We had completely outgrown our faithful car.

Anyway, I used to love listening to all his music Cd's in the car.  I had never heard most of the music he had or the artists he listened to.  The tunes were catchy, but I became especially interested in the lyrics.  They were so creatively and poetically written and many of them were telling a story or were a response to a certain story.  It made me want to pull out the CD covers and read the lyrics by themselves.  And it made me want to find out the 'whys'.  Why was the song written?  What was the story behind the song?  How much more I appreciated the song once I understood the story behind it. 

All of us sing a song. 

We might not realize it, but we do.  Our lives play a tune that others around us are hearing.  Some people's songs are so sad.  The tunes are written in minor keys.  Their lyrics are dark.  Others sing songs about searching.  To quote U2, they are among those that say "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."  They are not yet satisfied.  They might even be bored with life.  They realize something is missing, but can't put their finger on it. Then others sing songs that may sound happy, but if you look closer, the lyrics are unsettling.  All of these songs are an expression of each person's story.

Do you know which songs I like to hear the most?  The songs that are the expression of those who have found the Abundant Life.  I never get tired of them.  In fact, their songs give me Hope.  I love hearing interviews of people who tell their story...  "I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."  I love hearing about the woman who says she once sat in despair but now has Joy.  Her song is so beautiful!  I love hearing the stories behind the songs that talk about trusting God.  Those stories are usually ones that involve great obstacles and a Faithful Shepherd.  They have found it!  They have found Love!  They have finally found what they've been looking for!

And though all their stories are unique and personal and they all sing a New Song of their own, they all share the same Chorus of God's great Story:

"One Love, One Redeemer
I rest safely in my Father's Hands. 
No need to look further,  I'm never bored with my Savior.
With Joy I grab hold of His Plans!" 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Obsessed

It's a chronic issue for me. 

I can't watch a movie without my mind wondering.  I can't walk through the mall without my thoughts being redirected.  I can't even walk my dog without my mind being consumed with this one thought...

God.

Seriously.  If this was a disorder, I would constantly be admitting myself into rehabilitation. 

"Hello, my name is Valerie and I am obsessed with God."

Obsessed means "To have the mind excessively preoccupied with a single emotion or topic."  (Free Dictionary) 

Yep.  That's about right.  Thing is, I have found something (Someone!) so amazing and fascinating that really anything else in this world now --even enjoyable things -- are pretty much boring in comparison.  I'd much rather be thinking about Him and talking to Him than do anything else with my day.  

Though this may seem odd to some, that is exactly where God wants our thoughts to be:

The Bible says, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things..." 

And why?

because "...your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:2 NIV ) My life and all I need is found in Him. 

And how many benefits there are when we fix our thoughts on Jesus!  Isaiah 26:3 (NLT) says,

"You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!  Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock." 

When we fix our gaze on He who is our Life, Love, Peace, Hope, Security, Rescue... (the list goes on and on!) the more we will really see Him and experience Him throughout our day, the less cares we're likely to carry, and the more Love we will have for others. 

We go where our thoughts take us.  Obsessing over God and allowing our minds to be consumed with thoughts of Him will only lead us to one thing:  The life that is truly Life!
 

Monday, July 22, 2013

From Land to Air

Many of us grew up singing the song. "I'm in the Lord's Army...I'm in the Lord's Army..."  Great song.  I still sing it with my kids sometimes in the car.  The images I get in my mind sometimes when I sing that song, though, are pictures of people who are working/striving and trudging through the mud like dirty and exhausted soldiers.

I chuckled out loud as I typed that because I realize that many of us in the Church feel exactly like that-- a dirty and exhausted soldier.  We've been to war and back.  We've been holding our ground.  We've been fighting the good fight.  We haven't given up, but many of us are just plain tired.  We are soooo tired.  We want to keep pushing through, but our boots are getting heavier and heavier as they are being pulled down deeper into the mud. 

So, is this what a faithful follower is supposed to look like?  Is the sign of a good disciple one who is about to fall face first into the mud he's been trudging?

I'm going to say a resounding, "NO!"  And I'm sure if you can relate, you might be saying the same thing.

I'm not saying that a good disciple isn't going to experience friction, resistance, trials and tribulations in this world.  I'm not saying it isn't noble to persevere.  I'm saying maybe we've been taking things on in our own strength and have been carrying burdens we were never asked to carry.  Maybe we have felt like these battles have been ours to fight.

God is whispering a word to us today:  "Rest."

What is there left to do if we really did what God told us to do:  Lay down your burdens.  Cast your cares.  Come to me all who are weary and burdened. ?  The only thing left to do is rest.  Let your heart rest.  Let God pick up the heavy weights.  He's happy to do so.  In fact, He is more pleased when we lay them down than when we try to show Him how strong we are by continuing to trudge through. 

It's a mystery but it's beautiful.  See, it takes more belief to rest than it does to continue striving.  When we rest in God we are leaning not on ourselves and our own strength but we are putting our full weight onto Him -- like a baby in his parent's arms.  And when we rest and trust, we experience more of God and His Presence.  And when we experience more of God and His Presence, the more He is able to lead us, strengthen us, work His will through us and breathe His Life through us to others.  The more we rest like a child the more effective we are for Him!

I remember one time when I was at the end of my rope, I cried out to God from the mud.  I said, "God, how am I supposed to go forward?  I feel like I can't even move another step."

And, as clear as anything, He said to me, "It's time to fly."  It was time to take off my heavy boots and open my wings and let God carry me up and over the burdens and trials and begin to learn how to soar with Him, learn how to trust and rest in His strength and salvation -- not my own.

When I look up the word 'trudge' in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, it says "to move heavily or clumsily".  Funny enough, near antonyms for it are:

Coast
Glide
&
FLY!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Student-Teacher

I understood the concept more as I spent time in elementary music classes during my year of student teaching in college.  I didn't come in with my own agenda.  I didn't introduce myself to the teacher and let her know what I'd like to see happen.  I walked in with the mentality of "I'm here to learn and follow what you are doing."  She was the one in charge, not me.

I was learning to follow.
 
****

I honestly forget sometimes that God is a real Person with real Thoughts, real Plans, real Ideas and real Opinions.  I picture Him like this far off Spirit that is detached and removed from what is really happening here on earth and specifically in my life.  I'm like the ignorant teenager that says, "Dad, you just don't understand.  You are so out of the loop."

That perception of Him affects everything about my relationship with Him.  It greatly affects how I talk to Him.  My prayers are formed around the idea that He has no idea what is going on.  My requests are small because I question if He even sees and hears. 

But, God is doing a work in my heart.  He's helping me see that He is not only fully aware of all my comings and goings, He is actively working in them!  He is a God with His own Ideas.  I mean, He is, after all, the one that created all things (including me), and He has Ideas and Plans for the things He has breathed Life into. 

The more I grab a hold of that concept, the more I remember my time as a student teacher again.  I remember that He has been running His Classroom for well, forever now, and He is inviting me to see, learn and follow what He is doing and going to do.

When I realize, too, that all His Plans for me are Good and He is working all things for the Good, the more I want to humble myself and say, "God, thank you for actively working Your Plan and Ideas in my Life.  You do understand.  You do see what is happening here on earth.  You are fully aware of my circumstances and understand my heart.  Thank you for caring and being so close to my everyday life.  Show me your Ideas.  Show me what You are doing.  I will trust.  I will follow."
 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Meet You There!

I began writing this blog 3 days before my father was in a serious car crash that eventually took his life 2 weeks later.  God is so gentle with us.

******

I had a conversation recently with my 8 year old, Makenna, concerning our transition from life here on earth to eternity.

It began with her being very distraught over the idea that one day my husband and I will die.  It was a thought too big for her little heart and mind to try to even begin processing.  Tears filled her eyes and then she quickly buried her head in her pillow as she lay on her bed.

"Ahh, sweetie."  I said.  "I know, it's sad.  But it's important to understand that it's not the end.  We can't live forever in these human bodies.  But God has made a way for us to live forever in new bodies.  Death is not the end.  Because of Jesus and because we both believe in Him, death is a Door that we pass through to go be with Him forever.  So even when I die, I'm just going through that Door first and we'll see each other again when you come through the Door."

Her eyes began to dry as I spoke.

She said, "So, it's like when we went to Hersheypark.  (Hersheypark is an amusement park.)  The times when I went with Daddy ahead of you and Bryana (her sister) to enjoy some rides and we said, 'We'll meet you there!'  You would see us again when you caught up with us?"

Loving her little childlike analogies, I smiled and said, "Yep. Daddy and I would just be going ahead of you to enjoy ourselves with Jesus. So you don't have to be afraid because we know we'll see each other again.  We'll meet you there!"
 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Not What I Had Hoped You'd Say

My 8 year old asked for a Bowie knife.  Perfectly good request in her eyes. I mean, to her this would be both practical and fun, right?

How surprised she was to receive the answer my husband and I gave her -- Clearly, NO. (Lol)

She counteracted our answer by reassuring us that she is getting to be a big girl now. We could trust her if we just gave her a chance.  

Obviously, no amount of pleading was going to persuade us. We love our child enough to make 'No' our final answer. We only want what's best for her.  Even if she doesn't understand why, she has to trust that our decision is for her own good. 

My requests go up to God in the same child/parent way. I tell Him what I'd like and He can respond yes, no, or wait (yes, but not now.)  In the same way my child has to trust my answers, I have to trust my Daddy's Answers. Only He sees it all and will answer in a way that is best for me (and anyone else affected by the decision). 

Here's an example... My husband, Bryan, is 9 years older than me.  Can you imagine if he asked God to bring him his wife when he was 20 years old?  If God answered the way Bryan prayed it, he'd be looking down at an 11 year old!  

See, He is God, we are not. When we keep that perspective and combine it with the fact that He is head over heals for us and loves us enough to leave heaven and sacrifice His life for us, we realize that no matter how He answers --especially when the answer is confusing and not our preference -- we can trust that it is the Perfect Answer, even if it leaves us scratching our heads. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vertical & Horizontal

The Carpenter was at it again. He was creating something New. He placed the wood on the table.

Looking over at me, He said, "Watch."

He carefully sawed the wood and crafted it perfectly into two large planks.

"What can God do with just two pieces of wood?" He asked me.

I could not respond.

"Much." He said.

He placed one plank vertically in front of Him.

Looking at me again He said, "Love is vertical -- from Heaven to earth and then back to Heaven again."

He paused and looked at the wood.

Looking at me again, He said, "When the plank is raised up, it is Heaven's Love that holds it in place, not earth's effort."

Then he reached for the second plank. I was amazed at how strong His arms and hands were as He gently placed it horizontally across the first plank into the form of a cross.

"The vertical Love will naturally flow through the horizontal to others." He said. "The horizontal cannot produce Vertical Love on its own."

Then I looked around and there were no nails or glue to hold the wood together.

"What will you hold the vertical and horizontal together with, Lord?" I asked.

With a smile on His face, He looked at me once more and said, "Myself."

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Case of the Missing Child

My childhood was spent in the rural mountains of Pennsylvania.  TV was limited. (We only had Saturday morning cartoons!)  Internet had not yet been invented.  Computers were used mostly for data entry and DVDs wouldn't be in homes for almost another 20 years. 

But, none of that mattered to me.  The world was my theater, classroom, playground and wonderland.  The bushes going up my driveway became a secret spy meeting room for my sister and brother and I.  I danced and sang down the grassy hills of my grandparents' lawn pretending to be Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.  The marshy pond at my great-grandfather's property became an enchanted place where I played the leading lady, Sleeping Beauty. 

It was in those early years that I started to discover what I love.  I started to discover who I was.  Being free, unhindered and uncensored in my playtime helped me relax and be present in the moment.  There was no worry or lingering thoughts that kept me from engaging in my magical time.   There were no deadlines to meet, bills to pay, political issues to debate over, people to please, or the voice of the world telling me to conform.  It was just me, my siblings and my Creator's Creation.

Even if you didn't grow up in the mountains, you might still be able to relate.  Life is simpler when you're a kid.  The big stuff you let the adults handle.  All you focus on is embracing the day and seeing where it takes you.  Even when you have to do a chore or a task, you make it into a game so that even the boring stuff becomes fun.  Worry is foreign and imagination rules.  Our childlike approach frees us up to discover the world for what it really is, discover ourselves for who we really are, and find God woven through every piece of our day.

But, somewhere the magic gets lost...

We grow up and grow out of our childlike wonder.  We think we are progressing.  We think we are moving into something better.  We turn into adults on the outside.  But if we listen to our hearts, we can feel the struggle.  The longing to be simple again without care or worry.  The hunger to embrace life the way we used to.  The urge to laugh more and to love with abandonment.  To help without thought of our own gain. 

But something else besides the magic gets lost.

Somewhere in it, we get lost, too.  We forget who are really are -- the one we discovered when we were free, unhindered and uncensored. 

But if we listen closely, we can hear the Creator calling us back to our wonderland.  He is giving us permission to be kids again.   He is giving us the nod, yes even strongly encouraging us! to go back to our childlike view of things, our childlike view of Him.  He tells us that our greatest role models in life aren't going to be the kings and queens and celebrities of our day.  No. 

He says, "See this child?  See how free and trusting?  See how she gives?  See how he loves?  See how they laugh?  Behold, your inspiration."
 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Actively Participating



Timely story for me and my family. 
God is in control.  In charge.  The CEO of all things.
 
We trust and rest that He is actively participating in our lives, even if we do not comprehend His ways. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Breakthrough

It's what many of us are saying in the middle of February when we are sick of the cold weather and grey skies. 

"I need Summer, NOW!" 

We are waiting for a change in the season.  We are looking forward to it as we stare at our swimsuits and sandals that have been tucked away for so long. 

"How much longer must I wait?" we say.  But we trust that the shifting of things will come and soon we will be sun-kissed and warm.

Yet, many of us know that summer doesn't come in quietly.  In fact, it can be downright disturbing.  Thunderstorms fill the meteorologists' forecasts.  They say, "Well, summer is fighting its way through in a tumultuous way.  Expect the shift of season to be unsettled, but be encouraged that on the other side of the storm is the beautiful season we have been promised and have been looking forward to."

We relate to this in our lives.  The waiting out of winter.  The longing for warmer times.  The long-suffering.  We hold on even as we say, "How much longer must I wait, Lord?"  We remember that God is working things in a wonderful timing and the shift of things will come.  We hear him say, "Be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord."

But the shift can be unsettling. 

When God moves and begins to break us through into the new season, it can be in the wake of a tumultuous forecast.  Trials come in like pop-up thunderstorms and it suddenly becomes the catalyst to a Change or an Awakening.

So we do not fear the Storm.  Instead, we look to the Creator of all forecasts and are encouraged to know that on the other side of the Storm is the beautiful Season we have been promised and have been looking forward to. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Boat, The River, and The Guide

He lead me to a small quiet river.  A boat was waiting for us.

"Climb in." He said gently.  "So glad you chose to join Me.  The river will carry you Home and I promise to never leave the boat.  Choose to stay in the boat with Me.  It is your place of safety."

His eyes were sincere, blue and clear.  It could see for miles into them -- like clear, deep waters.

"Stay in the center." He warned. 

I looked over the side of the boat.  It seemed calm and harmless.

"Many things will want to rock your boat along the way." He cautioned. "But, they have no control over you.  I am the Master of this boat.  Remain in Me.  Do not fear the waters."

We travelled down a ways and I looked to my right.  I could see the animals from the forest hiding in the trees.

"Do not fear the animals,"  He said.  "But be wise.  Not all of them will be for your benefit.  Some will deliver words of encouragement in the form of delicious fruit.  The birds will bring them to you.  You will know they are from Me because the birds sing the Song of the Kingdom.  But beware of the bats.  They fly also but do not sing the Song.  You must discern and never take the fruit they offer."

Then I looked to my left.  There was a small cabin on the bank of the river.  I could see lights shining through the windows and a fire burning in the center of it.

"You will see structures like this up and down the river." He said.  "I have placed them there as watchman of the river.  Their Light will never go out." 

I looked up toward the sky.  To my amazement, I could see the Seasons changing.  It shifted from Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall right before my eyes.

"Why is the sky changing?"  I asked.

"The sky will never stop changing," He answered. "Seasons will come and go.  There will always be an ebb and flow.  Do not depend on the Seasons to give you your happiness.  Your Joy is found inside the boat with Me."

"Finally,"  He said, "remember this always.  I have chosen this specific boat for you.  I have chosen this specific river for you.  I have chosen this specific journey for you.  You must not become jealous when you hear of others' boats or others' rivers or others' journeys.  I have chosen what is best for you.  What matters most is that you remain in the boat with Me.  There is much I want to show you as we ride together.  There is much I want to tell you about Myself.  I am eager for you to get to know Me.  I have been planning our trip together before the beginning of time.  I am excited to show you who you really are and who I really Am."

And with that, the boat picked up speed and we were carried off down the river together.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Two Hole-in-Ones

This Father's Day, my girls and I took my husband, Bryan, to play a game of miniature golf at a place that offers two different putt-putt courses. The business was running a special for Father's Day where dads could play for free.  (Love free!)  So, we purchased our games for both courses and got started.  After the first course, though, everyone was getting a bit hungry.  So, I went in and asked the attendant if we could get a rain check on the games we purchased for the second course.  It was no problem and he handed me three free game vouchers to cover myself and my two girls, but not one for Bryan since his game was complimentary.

"Oh well," I said to my husband.  "When we come back, we'll just have to purchase a game for you."  We were thankful to get at least one free game for him.

Bryan agreed and then said, "Hey, don't forget, we get one last putt into the 18th hole.  If we get a hole-in-one we win something."

So, we all took turns at our final putts -- first the girls, then Bryan, then me.  No winner yet when it came to my turn.  I set up, focused, and swung -- but not hard enough and it rolled back at me.  I swung again.  And again it rolled back at me.

"Harder honey!" my husband cheered. 

"Go mom!"  my girls shouted.

I could see other people looking at me as they waited their turn.  They smiled as if to say, "You can do it."

(Insert Rocky Theme music)

So, I focused and..... swwuuunggg.

RRRRWWWWWWEEEEE  went the bell!

"I got it in!  Hole in One!" I shouted, as if someone had just called my name on The Price Is Right.  I jumped and danced and wanted to hug the onlookers. 

I looked over at the attendant who was smiling at me (probably laughing on the inside at me) and handed me a small white card.

I looked down and it read:  "One Free Game"

Then I looked at my husband and said, "Look honey!  We won!  You got your free game voucher after all!"

********


Sometimes it can be hard to watch your spouse prosper.  I think it can be a litmus test for self-focused thinking and/or our pride that wants the glory in a situation.  It can just simply be humbling for some.  Feelings of jealousy and a competitive spirit might rise up in us.  The easy, fleshly response might be to downplay their achievements, winnings, creativity, success, etc.  Or, we might become discouraged with ourselves as we compare.

But, we must remember that we are tied together in this life with our spouse.  When they fall, we fall.  When they rise, we rise.

As in the case of my hole-in-one.  I won the game by making the shot.  But, Bryan and I quickly realized that because I won -- he won, too!