Gob Smacked by God

There’s a reason that the term gob smacked and the term God smacked are one letter apart. Both have the same effect. The term gob smacked is defined as utterly astonished, astounded. That’s precisely how I feel when God speaks and I’m actually paying attention enough to receive the message.

This morning, I awoke with a scripture in my head. “Do not be wise in your own eyes...” I didn’t necessarily have the second part correct because my foggy morning brain filled in “and lean not on your own understanding.” Perhaps God meant me to know both of those things, but I knew I was merging two different passages. I got out of bed and went down the hallway to my office and grabbed my Bible.

Proverbs 3:7 “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.”

Hmmm…that’s an odd way to start the morning. Except its really not. For weeks, I have been struggling mentally and emotionally with many things, but last night the topic of returning to church had come up with a dear friend. She, too, was struggling with many things which were only compounded by the pandemic. During our talk, it occurred to us that the one thing we needed, the “fix”, was to get back to attending in person church services.

I had been having the safety debate about this in my head for quite some time. “There are too many people in one space,” I reasoned. “There are too many people without masks,” I argued. At one time this was true, but church attendance has fallen off considerably as people have taken to the safety and comfort of their living rooms for church. Physical, in-person attendance is down. Way down.

While I have appreciated the technology available to keep God’s word in my home when things were at the height of sketchy, I realize there are some drawbacks to what I lovingly referred to as my “armchair Christianity.” For many months, I was eagerly onboard, bounding out of bed and situating myself in front of my laptop to watch the live stream from our pastor. Over time, my enthusiasm waned, and I found myself tuning in a bit late as I sat in my robe, breakfast in hand, watching church like it was Saturday morning cartoons. I was getting sloppy. I didn’t stand as the pastor requested. I didn’t sing along with the hymns of praise. I was no longer a participating worshiper; I was a spectator.

At times, I wouldn’t make it to the screen at all, promising myself that I would watch it later. Sometimes later would come. Sometimes later turned into days, which then turned into weeks. The drift was no longer a drift. I had been swept away on the current of apathy.

While I still did daily devotional study and read my Bible, my worship had become nonexistent. The whisper in my head kept telling me I was doing fine, staying in the word while staying “safe” at home. For me, however, this was proposterous. I was in closer proximity to people during my workday for an hour at a time than I would be in an hour live worship service at church. Still, my mind continued to justify this behavior. I would find agreement with others as we would discuss whether we felt it was “safe” enough to return to church.

And here is where I’m either gob smacked or God smacked…or gob smacked by God. Rolling out of bed this morning, I was being warned that I was being wise in my own eyes and leaning on my own understanding. Then later, the barrage of correction came in the form of reminders from the word as God pointed out just what I had been doing. I want to say, at this point, that I take no pride in revealing this list. However, just last week our pastor spoke of being vulnerable in order to be used by God (yes, I caught that on the live stream). And so, despite the fact that I was being shown the error of my ways and that it’s humbling and embarrassing to admit, I promised God that my writing would be used to glorify Him. That means not holding back the truth and the things that glorify Him, no matter the cost to me.

This morning, He lovingly pointed out that my lack of attendance and conversations about the safety of attending church began with being wise in my own eyes (Proverbs 3:7), were the result of leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3: 5, 6), and perpetuated living in and sowing fear (the Bible has 365 references to “fearing not”, all of which I cannot list here). While discussing this with others, I was causing division (1 Corinthians 1: 10-13) and forsaking the assembling of myself with others (Hebrews 10:25).

After pondering this over my morning coffee, it occured to me that I had lost my focus. My gaze was no longer fixed on Him but on my circumstances and the people around me. Eventually, my focus was only on the screen in front of me as I gave up active worship altogether and became a spectator of my faith. Unfortunately, I had myself snowed the entire time thinking I was still a “good Christian” because I was maintaining my church attendance via the internet and reading my Bible in the mornings. Although doing both of those things is good and necessary, it wasn’t enough. I was taking in and not giving to the Lord. I was doing my duty, not paricipating in a relationship.

Online services were good in a pinch for me. But God clearly was sending me a message. It was time to return to Him. Hebrews 11:6 says that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. After receiving this message, I worshipped to The Blessing by Kari Jobe. Listening to the words, I envisioned God never leaving or forsaking Abraham, Noah, Moses, Joseph, and David. It dawned on me that He was with me too, and He was inviting me back into His arms. I have been gob smacked with His love and personally invited back into the fold.

I pray that you, like me, feel the tug of our Lord inviting you back to church as you are able. I plan to continue to wear a mask for my safety, as well as the safety of my family and my clients at work. If you are unable to return to church, physically, I invite you to pray and ask God to open your eyes to how you can participate more deeply in worshipping Him.

Malachi 3: 7 ‘”Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you said, In what way shall we return?”‘ (emphasis mine)

Be well and be blessed.

Sweet Honey Faith

As a young person, I enjoyed your typical American Christian upbringing. I attended church, Sunday school and Bible school. I participated in church choirs and church camps as a young girl. I was taught to ring bells in special programs. In the days of my youth, I had become accustomed to what I lovingly refer to as the “highlight reel” of Christianity, the big stories of the Bible: Adam and Eve, Joseph, Noah, the virgin conception and birth, and Jesus’s ministry and subsequent death on the cross, and, of course, the Resurrection. I knew the stories from repeated exposure to them but, not surprisingly, my faith was shallow. Nonetheless, my mother was faithful in her seed planting, raising five children to know who Jesus was even if they didn’t fully embrace Him. She knew what I didn’t know then: that someday her daughter would need to lean on that foundation, hard.

Eventually, I did what every person does and made a royal mess out of my life. As a young adult, I left my faith altogether and dug into more worldly things. I left behind what I thought was an archaic belief system and read psychology and New Age books. Self-sufficiency and an “anything goes” was my religion. I was busy finding my “truth”. By my mid forties, I was divorced and my life was in shambles.

I don’t look upon any of what happened to me as wasted. In hindsight I can now see how every step I took away from God, He used to bring me closer to Him. Like a magnet attracting it’s polar opposite, the invisible field of His love kept me from getting too far away. When my life hit absolute bottom, the seeds my mother had diligently planted miraculously began to sprout.

If the happenings of 2020 have given me any gift at all, it was time to read the Bible from cover to cover and deepen my understanding of more than just that highlight reel. While we learn the Bible in bite-sized chunks, it is far more jaw dropping understood broadly and as a whole.

And this is where the progression of people coming to faith is really amazing to me.

We humans tend to think in immediate terms, whereas God enjoys the long view. His Word reveals to us that He isn’t a rushed God, and He’s cool with watching a story unfold a little at a time. When the Bible tells us that He is patient, it’s telling the truth. He has patience we cannot even wrap our tiny brains around. Story after story of the Bible is evidence of that, but brought together as a whole, its proof is undeniable.

So why am I telling you all of this?

Despite being called the “Christian walk”, seasoned Christians, myself included, seem to forget what a walk implies. It means a journey, a constant moving toward. We don’t call it the Christian arrival. Or the Christian completion. It’s a walk because it’s a journey that we take our entire lives. We are forever learning and being drawn closer and closer to God. But we don’t ever fully arrive until we are called Home.

Often, seasoned Christians forget where they came from. This can be tricky, particularly if the hot mess you were delivered from through God’s grace was years ago. For me, it wasn’t too long ago. The memories are still easily accessible. Sometimes, we also tend to see our sins, past and present, as not quite as bad as the next person’s. We tend to see certain individuals as “very far off”.

In case you’re thinking you’re not this sort of Christian, consider these questions for yourself:

Do I judge people who aren’t Christian?

In my heart, do I think that being LGTBQ is terrible and wrong because of what the Bible says about homosexuality?

Do I condemn women who abort their unborn because Thou shalt not kill is one of the Ten Commandments?

Am I against aliens coming into my country despite what the Bible says about welcoming the stranger? Or maybe I’m not against them coming here, I tell myself, as long as they go through the proper channels and do things the “right” way.

Now, before you stop reading and think this is a political post, I assure you it is not. What I’m attempting to expose is our distorted thinking about what it means to be a Christian. And I’m attempting to correct our vision about just who the gospel is for.

This much I know for sure: I didn’t become a Christian because I was already “good people.”

In fact, my laundry list of sin reads like a Who’s Who of the Bible. I think aside from “Thou shalt not kill” I have covered just about every one of them. If you consider the cat I accidentally ran over when I was 17, I guess I have done them all.

Now, consider the following passages.

John 3: 16-17

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (Emphasis mine.)

John 8:10

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (Emphasis mine.)

Matthew 7: 1-3

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?

There are times when, as Christians, we are quick to judge someone for being where we once were. We forget the grace that has been afforded us. We forget that grace is for others as well. Often, we misunderstand what Jesus has called us to do. The Great Commission found in Matthew 28: 18-20 calls us to go and make disciples of all the nations. While we’re eager to spread “Christianity”, we’re not spreading the gospel. Because the gospel is one of love, not of condemnation. The gospel is one of saving grace.

Grace. Unmerited favor.

There’s an old adage that says you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. That makes complete sense. Flies, and people, are attracted to what is sweet and repelled with what is sour. So is your message to others sweet or repugnant? Are you taking what you learned in scripture and applying it to yourself so that you can walk in love and teach grace and forgiveness? Or are you using scripture to point out the faults of others?

In 2 Timothy 3: 16-17 we are told that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God (emphasis mine) may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Dont’ misinterpret and misuse this passage. This scripture is for you and me, believer. We’re to use the Word of God to check ourselves. Not to cut the unbeliever off at the knees.

And that is where I believe we have gotten it wrong.

We’re to be helping others along the path we’ve already walked. We’re not supposed to expect them to catch up by smacking them with a ruler on the knuckles or a Bible to the head. Just as my spiritual journey happened in steps, sometimes forward, sometimes a few backwards, I was constantly wooed by the sweet aroma of a loving God who wanted nothing more than to welcome me. He lured me to Him with His sweetness.

Psalm 34:18 tells us that the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Dear Christian, He is near to those whom you are condemning. He is offering the sweetness of Christ to the broken. Do not become a stumbling block to those He longs to bring closer.

Scripture says that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Here is proof that God is cool with our taking the long road rather than the shortcut in bringing His to Him. Yes, some are still wandering around in the desert rather than entering the Promised Land. I did that for most of my young adult life. But, again, God is patiently waiting.

I think schooled Christians miss the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We think we don’t, but we do. Proof of that is in our social media rants that contain judgments about how any other person or group is living. Maybe we get riled up with urgency when we read that we don’t know what hour our Lord is coming. So we take the short cut and condense the lesson and tell everyone what they’re doing wrong. It’s like handing the cliff notes of the Bible to someone and saying, “I don’t have time to teach the whole lesson, but here’s where you’re falling short. Quick! Change your ways and believe because He’s coming!”

Except that’s not at all what changes hearts and minds. Condemning people, individually or collectively, does not change them. It is the vinegar in the ointment. It stings when it’s applied and makes people shy away.

I’m sure my mother, during those middle years of my life, could have felt like her teaching was all for naught. But she never condemned me. She invested in me heavily at the beginning and then allowed me to make mistakes. If she judged me in any way, I never knew it.

Personally, I am extremely grateful to all of those Christian friends and relatives who stood by me and loved me and showed me Christ’s love through their actions during my wrecking ball years.

In closing, I would like to share this with you. When applied to burns, honey is an antibacterial. It moisturizes the wound and helps it heal faster. We would do well to consider that analogy when we consider our own Christian walk as it relates to coming alongside others. Consider offering to those you might otherwise judge a sweetness that will stick and heal: understanding, patience, kindness, love, and grace.

Christian, are you reaching out or looking down?

Social media is an opportunity to take the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all believers. Perhaps better wording would be “to all who would believe.” Because of the internet, we now have a huge influential reach, making the Great Commission even more amazing. But are we doing that?

Troubling to me of late is the teeter-totter of Christian posts on social media. As we draw near to God with our lips, or in this case our posts, and honor Him with our professions of faith, there seems to be a blind spot on our screens. It’s the smudge that keeps us from seeing and understanding the other posts we share, forward, copy and paste. Perhaps it’s not quite the “speck in our eye” so much as the log that is clouding our understanding as we emotionally share things that resonate with us at the click of a button, giving very little thought to the repercussions of it.

Allow me to explain.

Pressing hard against my heart this morning is this scripture passage from Luke 4: 18-19. Jesus has come into Nazareth. It’s the Sabbath and as was His custom, He went into the synagogue. He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah, and He stood up to read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

My question is this: who are the poor Jesus is referring to here? Are they the people for whom we put money in the collection plate each Sunday? Are they the literal poor? Or could they also be the poor in spirit, those who don’t know Him?

Who are the brokehearted He wants to heal? Are they my fellow Christian who sits in the pew beside me? Could it also be the social media friend who is struggling and doesn’t know Christ?

Who are the captives and the blind? Is He referring to the people in jail or those who are physically blind? Or are they people who are held and blinded by sin?

Who are the oppressed? Is it just those in countries that don’t enjoy a democratic society? Or could it be those groups in our neighborhoods who are hated for their sexuality, their skin color, or trapped in an economic status? (Ask yourself, “Am I doing the “oppressing” of any of these populations?”)

It’s easy to read this piece of scripture and feel removed from it. It can seem like poor populations from a dusty, desert place of long ago. But if we open our eyes of understanding, we can identify the poor, the brokenhearted, those held captive, the blind and the oppressed right in front of our very eyes, not just in our sanctuaries but on our social media pages and in the news. We can also find them on the streets of our communities and in the local grocery store.

I know it is an overwhelming time. It’s an uncomfortable time. We currently have access to all of the happenings in our country and around the world, 24/7, and it’s nearly impossible to digest it all. But rather than seeing it as opportunities for our servanthood, opportunites for grace, for kingdom work, we have come to despise it. And now we have taken to publicly criticizing it.

But our never-ceasing intercessor, Christ Jesus, never told us to hide behind our religious beliefs and cast our eyes away from the least of these. He never commissioned us to separate the sheep from the goats. That’s His job.

He told us to take the gospel to all the people.

Take the gospel. That means telling people of His offer of salvation. It does not mean weaponizing scripture to elevate yourself to a holier-than-thou status. It does not mean using scripture to prove your goodness. It does not mean using your faith to look down our noses at others. Somehow, we have gotten our roles confused. We have usurped the judgment role, leaving the servanthood role in the dust.

Have we become the Pharisees of old, blinded by our piousness which we now view as the moral high ground? Are we “standing on the corners making public supplication” in our social media posts and then condemning those who aren’t leading exemplary lives? While forming our opinions about the moral decline of our nation, please do not forget that the “other” we are pointing at is a real person with real problems entrenched in real sin…just as we are. The person we are pointing at is the person Jesus Himself came to save. TO SAVE.

Let that sink it a minute.

He did not come to save just those clean cut people that make us comfortable and agree with us politically. If you are sharing things that make you feel better because they are against something, please be mindful of the ones you are condemning.

Jesus is not done saving.

His nail scarred hands and feet are as much for them as they were for you.

But God…

A Lesson in Humility

I awoke this morning feeling refreshed, something I rarely feel, as swung my feet out over the bed. My foggy morning brain quickly did a body scan. At 52, there usually isn’t a pain free day. Today was different, and I was excited to wake up feeling this good.

Yesterday’s Nor’easter left our little town blanketed under ten inches of snow, give or take.

I feel good enough to shovel out today.

I headed for my morning cup of coffee and then out to survey the task before me. Stepping out onto the deck, I blinked into the whiteness. The sheer volume overwhelmed me.

Just start where you are, Dawn.

I dug in, breaking down through the crust as I pushed my first shovelful.

Oh man, the heavy stuff. Contract your abs, lift with your knees, I reminded myself.

I went at it for what seemed like an hour, sweating into my LL Bean jacket and wishing I had worn a simple t-shirt rather than a sweatshirt underneath. Soon, I could hear a few others in the neighborhood firing up their snow blowers. A gentlemen from the next block made his way on the street behind my house, clearing sidewalks and driveways as he went. I smiled at his good deed. Out front, two men across the street divided and conquered. They came up the same side street and went opposite directions, each laying bare the sidewalks below.

Across from them, I labored in front of my own house, manually turning the shovel over. I was growing weary and could no longer heave a loaded shovel in any direction.

Contract your abs, lift with your knees, I kept repeating.

I could feel my hernia bulge beneath my coat. When the spasms came, I leaned on my shovel and breathed slowly, scanning the neighborhood. No one stirred except the snow blowing brigade and the postal worker coming toward me with a box.

“Good morning! This is for you!”

I gazed up through my foggy, darkened lenses at her smile. Dumping my package inside the front door, I returned to the sidewalk. The men had disappeared. Engines noises had died.

Soon I had cleared all that fronted my property. I surveyed my work, pleased that I was able to see concrete and decided it was time for a warm up and something to eat. After a rest, I would attempt to free my car from the driveway between the houses. No sooner had I closed the front door behind me, a plow truck sped by throwing a wave of slush and snow onto the walkway, undoing my work.

This is the part of the story where I’d like to tell you I behaved beautifully, gracefully.

Alas, I cannot.

Long gone was the cheerful, optimistic woman who started her day grateful and pain free. Socks covered in snow balls were frozen to my toes. My nose was running, and my hair had turned into a stringy mess under my hat. My abdominal muscles were spasming and bulging. Not in a “she works out” kind of way, rather more of a “she really needs to plank more” way. Hours of labor and no gain, that’s what I was thinking. Hours of contracting my abs and guarding my hernia, only to have the sidewalk covered in the blink of an eye.

I was angry. Oddly, I was angry at the snow-blowing men more than the plow truck driver. He was just doing his job, I reasoned. I needed to point my anger somewhere. I aimed it at men with the snow blowers. They had let me struggle out there. They had let me labor in vain.

I realize at this point I was no longer making any sense. I didn’t care. In typical fashion, I picked up my phone. Despite the weakness in my forearms and fingers, and the pain I felt with each letter I pressed, I shot off a long rant to my friend.

Chivalry is dead, I typed. I went on to tell her of my morning.

And then, not feeling as though I’d complained quite enough, I sent another text to my sister and repeated the whole thing. People had to know, for crying out loud! Someone had to know how hard I had worked and how terrible I felt.

Well, didn’t they?!

So this is where I can tell you The Good Part.

No, not on my part. I was still having a small conniption in my head. I may have been done acting out with mad text messages but inside, I’m ashamed to say, I was still buzzing like an angry hornet. No, this was my But God moment.

I always love a But God moment, don’t you?

“Do you forget that Joe is over there?!?”

My sister’s 20-something son lives in an apartment one block from my house.

Why hadn’t I remembered that, I mused. I think it’s because I was pridefully determined to show my husband how well I could take care of myself in his absence during a snowstorm. Truthfully, my nephew Joe never even entered my mind.

“He’s at work now but will be done at one. He can maneuver the snowblower.”

Did I forget to mention that earlier in the story?

Yes, we own a snowblower.

In my defense, however, it’s incredibly too big and bulky for my 5’7″ frame and my weak abdominals, and my overworked arms. I never even bothered to fire it up this morning.

Don’t judge me.

“I just kept repeating ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ as I worked,” I answered.

“Sometimes Christ strengthens you with help from others!”

Oooo. Burn.

My sister was right. I knew she was. She might be my younger sister, but so often the stuff she says is spot on.

“I’ll supply him with a some Christmas mad money,” I tell her.

Turns out, my nephew could use a little Christmas blessing himself. A blessing he may not have gotten via his Aunt Dawn had those gentlemen with the snow blowers done as I had wanted them to and rescued me from my distress.

You see how God did that?

I tend to miss it when God’s trying to bless me. I tend to miss it even more when He’s trying to use me to bless someone else.

Go figure.

I miss the mark when I allow anger and frustration to take over. I miss it when I try to do things in my own power. I miss it when I don’t surrender even the most seemingly mundane things to Him. I miss it most of all when I want to blame others for something.

I long for the level of intimacy that has me seeking how He wants me to proceed with my day, that has me asking before proceeding. I long for the intimacy that considers Him first, others second, and myself last. But oh, how I just react. Forget. Charge ahead.

I can be pretty full of myself.

But God…

I’d like to think He was rather amused watching my futile attempts to work in my own strength. Lovingly, not condescendingly. Patiently waiting.

When that wave of wet heavy snow crashed down onto my newly shoveled sidewalk, when I sank into the sofa wanting to cry, when I spewed my anger and frustration in the direction of my friend and my sister…when I came to the end of all of that…God was waiting.

Sometimes when we are someone else’s blessing, it requires that we be brought low. In need. Desperate. Hurt. At the end of our strength and ability. Normally, we want to do our blessing from a point of power, as if we’re bestowing some greatness on someone less fortunate. This is the very best But God lesson of all. He is the only one who gets that position…giving from His grace, His abundance, His goodness. Sometimes, we get that opportunity. But sometimes God does both the giver and the receiver a favor by putting the one to bless in a low place. It’s called humility, and we don’t handle it well. But I’m reminded as I type this that Jesus served from this very place. And I’m learning that this is where we have the most intimacy with Him.

Who Is Held Captive?

Who is the person threatened by another?

Where is the heart of the person who thinks families forgotten in cages and black people murdered in the streets mean more for them?

What have you gained?

More jobs?

Safer streets?

What have you gained?

Or does it just feed you?

Do you fill up on meals of oppression?

Do you hunger and thirst for more because your hatred is ravenous?

Sit back in smug satisfaction.  Dine on torn flesh; drink down spilled blood.

You must expect to have more of something.  Freedom?  Money?  Jobs?  Security?

Or just hatred?

Listen to those who control your thoughts; do not question what they say ‘lest they wake you from the American Dream.

Who is the one who profits from the downfall of another?

You may support the cages and celebrate killing, waving your flags, but you are the one held captive.

Christian Friends, Please Stop Saying All Lives Matter

My white Christian friends, please stop using the phrase “All lives matter.”

man in blue crew neck shirt wearing black framed eyeglasses
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

We know that all lives matter to God.  That isn’t the issue.

Before you think I’m picking on you for being a good person, let me explain.

When we attempt to blanket the world with “All lives matter”, what we are really doing is disrespecting the black community.   By changing “Black lives matter” to  “All lives matter”, we are taking the focus off of our black brothers and sisters, trying to give that saying a different meaning than what was intended when the phrase was coined.  Whether or not you consciously intend to, changing “Black lives matter” to “All lives matter” is dissing the African American population.

When white Christians use the phrase “All lives matter” we’re attempting to make ourselves more comfortable.  It’s our feeble attempt at inclusion.  Done poorly, I might add.  We’re trying to put a thick salve over what we don’t have answers for, what we don’t want to look at.  We’re trying, foolishly, to say, “We get you.  We’re all in this together.”

Except, we’re not.

Sometimes, we use the phrase “All lives matter” to say we understand you.

Except, we don’t.

You and I do not share the black man or woman’s experience.

We aren’t looked upon in suspicion while going about our daily lives.    We are not being subdued and murdered by those sworn to protect and serve as others watch.  While we may be raising sons and daughters and have our own fears for them, we cannot share the black mother’s fear for her children simply because of the color of their skin.

The best, most honest response any of us can give is:  we don’t know what it’s like to be black.  Period.

There.  That’s our stripped down response.  We. Just. Don’t. Know.  We can’t comprehend it.

I was raised on a farm in an all white community.   Brought up in a Christian home, I learned “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in Sunday School.   I knew the words by heart:

“Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

If I sang that song once, I sang it a hundred times.  While I had very little exposure to children who didn’t look like me, I knew it meant I was supposed to love them because Jesus did.

As an adult, I moved to another all white community.  Over the years, I’ve had a few African American friends, but the truth is that my placement in this life has not exposed me to much cultural and ethnic diversity.    I never went to college, a place that would be a first melting pot to many like me.   And while my community is slowly changing and becoming more diverse, I feel woefully inadequate in weaving myself into the current conversation in any meaningful way.     What can a middle aged white woman in a small town in Pennsylvania add that could be of any value?

If nothing else, I can ask friends who share my upbringing to stop saying “All lives matter.”

While it makes white Christian people like me feel like we’re helping, we are not.   We want to be all “kumbaya” except that we don’t even understand what that means or where it originated.   Our hippie understanding is that we are all one, all in this together.  (Kumbaya means “come by here” in Gullah.   It was a spiritual sung by former slaves living off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina in the 1930s, and later made popular in the 1960s as a folk revival song.  Yes, a white woman hijacked a negro spiritual, turning it into the camp song we know today. )

When we take away “Black lives matter” and replace it with “All lives matter” we’re actually helping to make the wound just a bit deeper…and pouring salt in it to boot.  Often we want to say that we aren’t oppressing the black man or woman, that we didn’t have anything to do with slavery, that we aren’t prejudice…and maybe all of those things are “technically” true.  What is also true is that our ignorance, our arrogance and our unwillingness to understand and acknowledge their mistreatment and inequality is what keeps the divide wide and the oppression heavy.

How do we begin to bridge this chasm?

The first step is for us to admit we just don’t understand the reality of being black.  And, yes, there is a different reality to being black than to being white.  Anyone who denies that just isn’t living with their eyes open.

The second step is to not diminish people of color further by slapping on the sloppy band aid of camaraderie.   While we can empathize and sympathize, we do not share their experiences.   This is why it’s important to leave “Black lives matter” just as it is and not try to make this an all-inclusive club.

The third step is to admit we feel helpless to help.

Finally, we pray daily for black men and women. Specifically.  For in the injustices that continue to occur.   In the wake of what we’ve just experienced, we rush to pray for our law enforcement and pray for peace.  And rightly, we should.  But eerily absent are prayers for George Floyd’s family and the black community at large.

And, that, my friends, is our problem.

If we’ve somehow skipped over the original crime, the original suffering, and went to praying for “our own”, our officers and those caught in the wake of riots, that is where our focus, and our hearts, have failed us.

Mr. George Floyd’s death woke me from my white existence.   It poked holes in my Christian, country girl exterior and pierced something in me.    I have never witnessed anyone pleading for his life.   Never experienced the smugness of law enforcement.  I have never seen anyone murdered in the street.    Then it occurs to me that these are all too common experiences for much of the black community.    And I can’t begin to process that.

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The fact that it is the “norm”, a reality, for someone…a black someone…stuns me.

While I may not currently have a sphere of influence that can help the black community in any tangible way, the least I can do is appeal to my peers to stop diminishing their lives with our ignorance.   And I’m speaking from experience when I say, we really can’t comprehend our own ignorance.

It took the death of Mr. Floyd to unveil mine.  To reveal just where I was complicit in racial prejudice:  ignorance.    I always thought that to be nice to all people, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, was enough.    Perhaps it was a start, but it was not enough.

Alice Hoffman once said, “Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them.  It’s a burden that can never be given away.”

This is our starting point.  The first layer has been ripped back exposing the wound.  Let us not continue to reopen the wound time and again for the black community by touting “All lives matter.”

Black lives matter.

They matter to them.   And as Christians, they should matter to us.









Leveling Up Our Faith

I am no video game expert.  In fact, the last video game I played was Atari.  For some of you that will reveal how old I am.  For others who are still scratching your head and Googling what Atari is, never you mind.   Thanks to my teenaged son, however,  I am familiar with the term leveling up.

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In the gaming world, leveling up is a concept in which a character experiences some sort of progression that usually entails unlocking new abilities, skill, or access to new items or a new area of the game.  It can also be a benchmark of how far into the game a character has gotten.  Leveling up is a measuring stick, if you will, of a gamer’s success.

Gamers advance their skill by committing countless hours to their game, much like a musician becomes proficient learning to play an instrument or an athlete, a sport, dedicating hours to practice.

In a Christian’s faith walk, there are also levels of progression.  How or why we come to God is our own individual story.  More often than not it involves some sort of falling-down-and-getting-back-up scenario, followed by repentance, and then becoming followers of Christ.   At least that was my experience.

But then what?

Then, we begin to build a relationship with God.  And with each new discovery, we level up.

Charles R. Swindoll once said, “The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.”

I have found my faith walk and rate of progression is only as good as the attention I give to digging into the Bible to find out who God is.

Now, before you think that spending time in the Bible is obsessive or unnecessary or irrelevant even, consider that Hebrews 4: 12 tells us that “the word of God is living and powerful”.

L   I   V   I   N   G

We’re talking about a God that’s accessible.  To me.  To you.  To anyone who comes knocking.   In John 6:37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

There is no better time to level up when it comes to knowing God.  Sure, we could spend this time scrolling through Face Book reading other people’s opinions.  We could mindlessly watch television and saturate ourselves with images that add nothing to our lives.  We could play video games and hone gaming skills in a pretend world of virtual rewards.


We could spend time getting to know the great I Am, the one who said “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Will you keep climbing in your faith?  Will you give it more priority than all the other things that compete for your attention?    When it comes to having a relationship with the living God, what level do you want to be on?










Pour, Don’t Push


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While many people are struggling with the forced rest placed upon them during the COVID 19 pandemic, I have been using the time to recover from burn out.  Burn out, a condition of fatigue and being overwhelmed by the problems of others, is a serious issue for massage therapists and the number one reason many end their careers.   To be clear, burn out isn’t the fault of our clients.  It’s a phenomenon that happens in all caregiving professions when the demand for care is greater than a person’s ability to provide it.

I recently discovered Pour, Don’t Push, a wonderful course developed by David Lobenstine, which teaches massage therapists to reevaluate their habits when administering massage in order to avoid burn out.

Massage therapists, in general, tend to prioritize their clients over themselves.  When a client presents with neck, back or headache pain, the instinct is to set about alleviating the problem.  We, literally, begin pushing our clients into feeling better, compressing tissues and attacking trigger points.  While all of this sounds good in theory, the result is our propensity to work too hard with our own bodies.   We ache, wear out, and then burn out.  Our approach is often unintentionally counterproductive and, simultaneously, oddly ironic.  The stress and pain relief we want to provide for our clients is the very thing from which we suffer.

In the days since finishing the course, I began to consider how the idea of Pour, Don’t Push translates into our everyday lives.

Let’s look at the definitions of pouring and pushing.

Pouring is to send something flowing or falling, as in from one container to another.  Whereas, pushing is exerting force on someone, or compelling or urging a person to do something.

To me, pouring sounds easy and effortless.  Pushing sounds aggressive.

Looking at the larger picture, how is this a metaphor for how we live?

We can ask ourselves (and hopefully answer honestly) where we tend to push in our lives and where we pour when it comes to our interactions with others.

When we post and share aggressive agendas on social media, political or otherwise, to make sure people know how we think and feel, we are pushing.

When we walk through a dark time with someone, praying for them, holding a hand, fixing a meal, we are pouring.

When we try to dictate to our spouses the way we want things done, we push.

When we teach our children how to tend to the basic necessities of life themselves, readying them for adulthood, we pour.

Pouring adds to someone.  Pushing literally creates distance. 

The way I began to understand pouring into someone was to consider the intent behind the action.  When we pour into a cup, our intent is to fill the cup.  Likewise, when we pour into a person, we are filling that person.  Pouring considers the good of the one receiving, while pushing is all about ourselves and what we intend to gain.

In other words, pouring is full of compassion for another.

The greatest example of pouring can be found in the life of Jesus Christ.   Just some of the examples of how Jesus poured into the lives of others are:

  • Offering living water to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:  5-26)
  • Healing the nobleman’s son (John 4: 46)
  • Healing the paralytic man on the Sabbath (John 5: 1-8)
  • Feeding a crowd of 5,000 (John 6: 1-14)
  • Offering forgiveness and a second chance to the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11)
  • Giving sight to a blind man (John 9: 1-7)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 1-44)
  • Washing the feet of His disciples (John 13: 1-20)
  • Pouring out His blood as the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation (John 19: 17-30)

Of course, there were many more instances of Christ’s pouring.  He was full of compassion and mercy, giving preference to the widows, the children, the poor, and the sick.

So how did Jesus give so much of Himself without burning out?

The answer:   Jesus knew who filled His cup.

In John 5: 19-20 (NKJV), Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”

Jesus also knew how to fill up.

Luke 5:16 (NKJV) tells us that “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”  

Time alone with God was His refreshing.   God poured into His Son;  His Son poured into the people through healing and teaching.

Then came the ultimate pouring; the pouring of His blood shed for us for our salvation.

Mark 14:32-35 (NJKV) tells us “Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.  And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch.  He went a little farther and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him.”

After His night in the garden with His Father, Jesus poured out His very blood on the cross.   He did this with compassion for mankind, as a sacrifice (pouring), not seeking His own will (pushing) to have things go an easier way.

What began as learning a principle for avoiding burn out in my work morphed into a deeper exploration of what lies at the root of pouring.  Jesus took pouring to a level I’ll never be able to match.   But He left us a formula for giving that will never run dry:  seeking the will of our Father through prayer and walking it out in obedience.

It is my hope, post-pandemic, that more of us have become empty vessels eager to be used by God.   Let us use this time alone to examine ourselves, seeking His will, to release our need to push our own agendas, and commit to refreshing others through the act of pouring.

“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? ~ unless indeed you are disqualified.  But I trust that you will know that you are not disqualified.”  2 Corinthians 13: 5-6 (NKJV)

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If You Find Yourself in a Storm…

John 6: 16-21:

Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum.  And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.  Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.  So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.  But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Then, they willingly received Him into the boat and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.  

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I came across this passage as I was reading the Book of John with an entirely different purpose in mind.  As is often the case, the passage jumped out and stuck with me.   I began to see in it some metaphoric parallels and lessons to be extracted.  This is the beauty of the Living Word of God.

This remarkable story takes place as Jesus is beginning his earthly ministry.   He’s already done signs and wonders, fed 5,000 people, healed a man with an infirmity of thirty-eight years, and offered a Samaritan woman living water.  To say Jesus has created a stir is an understatement.

When the disciples set out to sea toward Capernaum, the Bible tells us it was “already dark” and Jesus “had not come to them.”  I began to reflect on this darkness as being the condition of my heart before Jesus had come to me.  Despite having grown up in the Christian faith, attending church services and Sunday school, Bible school and summer church camp, I hadn’t allowed Jesus to board my boat, i.e., my heart.  Certainly, I knew all the Biblical stories about Jesus, but there was a disconnect.  I had no relationship with Him.  I just had head knowledge.

When I was old enough to leave my familial home and make my own decisions, I decided to explore “other options”.  For a period of at least twenty years, I read everything I could in self help books.  I dabbled in New Age and Eastern religions, always looking for “enlightenment”.   Then, like the disciples in the boat on the sea, I began weathering a great storm over which I had little control.  Things fell apart in my first marriage.  Rather than bringing us together, our shared New Age religion did nothing to shore up our relationship.

At the height of the storm, when I faced the loss of my marriage, and my finances were in a shambles, when I couldn’t stand to get out of bed and look in the mirror each day, something remarkable happened.  Jesus drew near my boat.   I didn’t deserve this rescue.  But that’s the remarkable thing about this man, Jesus.  He doesn’t extend His arm and help you out of your circumstances because you deserve it.  He helps you because extending grace is what He’s all about.  It’s His nature.

When Jesus called to His disciples as they were quaking in their sandals, He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”    Scripture tells us “Then, they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.”   This isn’t a typographical error or hiccup in translation.  You see, Jesus has this power to calm fears and transport us to better places.  Immediately.

I know He did it for me.

I know He can do it for you.

The key to this amazing change is found in four little words:  “they willingly received Him”.

After my acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Savior of my life, He did exactly that.  He saved my life.  Things began to turn around.  I saw hope in my circumstances.  Unsuspecting people showed up to help me in various ways.   I dug into the scriptures with a hunger to get to know Him with my heart rather than just with my head.  The more I pursued Him, the more He revealed Himself to me, clearing paths and making a way for me.

At the risk of sounding corny, but always loving a good metaphor, the One who now captains my ship is Christ.   Meaning, I try to live my life deferring to Him.   I don’t always get it right.  After all, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).   But grace abounds in Christ.  I will willingly testify to that.   Surely, I keep receiving His goodness not because I have earned it, not because I deserve it, but because of who He is.

He extends this free gift to any and all.  You can receive it too.   Your only requirement is to willingly receive Him.

If you have not made Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior of your life but you would like to, please say this simple prayer:  “Jesus, I need you.  I willingly accept you as Lord and Savior of my life.  Please come into my heart and abide with me.  Fill me with your grace and mercy.   Amen.”

Friend, you have just been saved by grace.  Find yourself a good Bible-based church and begin getting to know your Lord and Savior.   Pick up a study Bible (I like the New King James Version Study Bible) and enjoy discovering this new relationship.  It will take you places you never expect to go.

Happy sailing.  God bless you on your journey.

man wearing backpack standing on side of boat during daytime
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Suiting Up

The COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting shelter-in-place directive, has forced many of us into isolation.  While I am not completely alone, my son and I tend to be loners within the same household and spend much of our days doing separate things.   Everything about my personality and my work dictates that I spend a large portion of my time

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in silence.  And while the old proverb “silence is golden” can be great advice to follow, prolonged periods of silence and isolation can be troublesome.

Recently, I found myself drawing deeper and deeper into my own head, replaying memories that I’d long forgotten, having imagined conversations with people to whom I’ve never gotten to speak my mind.   During the days of quiet contemplation, I hadn’t noticed that I had begun to drift away from God.

I’m a Jesus girl through and through.  I’ll talk about Jesus, write about Jesus, sing about Jesus, and quote Jesus.   So when I skipped the first live streaming of our church service, it didn’t alarm me.  But the next day, I skipped morning devotions.   My hearing impaired husband was watching the latest news on COVID-19 and had the volume up so high that I could hear the television upstairs.

“It’s not a good time to do devotions with that racket,” I said to myself.  “I’ll do them later.”

And then later that day never came.

Or the next.

Soon, this Jesus girl had missed several days of morning devotions and prayer, and my mood had turned sour.   Having everyone home meant I was out of my routine, and I began to develop an attitude.  Worse, I began to feel sorry for myself.  THAT’S when I knew something was wrong.

How in the world could I feel sorry for myself?  I wasn’t sick.  I wasn’t having to expose myself daily to the world and fret about contracting the illness.  I had food.  I had shelter.  I had no wants.  Yet, I began to get sulky and irritable, and I recognized THE DRIFT.

Immediately, I sat down to catch up on my devotions and spend some time reading the Word of God.  It was like drinking a cool glass of water and only then realizing I’d been thirsty.    What had I been thinking putting off my time with God?  If ever I needed to be close to Him, NOW was that time.

The next day, I began painting the bathroom.  For a moment, I thought about turning on some worship music but then decided I preferred silence so I just kept painting.  Half way around the tub surround, a dark memory of an incident many years ago surfaced.  Almost instantly, the peacefulness of painting in silence became a battle as I struggled with old wounds.   I was feeling shame and embarrassment and anger as if the incident was happening all over again.  I began to tell myself what a jerk I was then and attempted to stuff the pain into the back of my mind.

All of the sudden, I said aloud, “No!  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!”

At the risk of sounding unbelievable, relief from the pain of that memory was immediate.  I felt absolved of that particular incident.

I think it was Maya Angelou who once said, “When you know better, you do better” or something along those lines.  Back then, I didn’t know better.  I didn’t know Jesus.  I do now, and I know the Word of God.  When the battle began in my mind, I took it captive and cast it down by declaring the passage from Romans 8:1.    I knew that because of my relationship with Him, I was set free from all the garbage of the past, and nothing could come against me and take me captive to that again.  It was done.  Finished.  Because He had finished it long ago.

Drifting away from God happens so gradually, insidiously, that we don’t realize it’s happening.   This is why it’s so important to keep your daily connection to God, to not allow yourself to skimp on your time with Him.  You can skip breakfast or getting dressed, or any number of things, but I don’t recommend skipping time in prayer and devotions.

Ephesians 6: 11 tells us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”   I was able to recall the scripture I needed in the moment I needed it because I immerse myself in it daily.   That’s how it gets in there…in our hearts and our minds…repetition.  Reading and listening.     Time in the Word of God is literally armoring up for whatever lies ahead that day.

During a time when so many need to suit up to keep from contracting a deadly disease, let’s not forget to suit up with the Word of God so that we are “able to withstand” those battles that happen even, or should I say especially, in the silence of our minds.