Risk

           “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” ( 1 Timothy 4:16, NIV).

I thought for a moment about choosing a different title for this week’s blog. Maybe “mediocre” or “status quo” would work instead of “risk”, but what am I really trying to say here?  In the end I hope always to encourage you to move forward. So, it seems “risk” would work better.

What has set me on this path today is my daughter. She has been working on researching our family tree. Over the weeks, she has made some impressive discoveries about who we really are. I shared earlier about the puritan movers and shakers in my family tree and of those who were locked in towers and faced beheading for their beliefs. Recently I have learned of knights and of Ladies and Lords in the family tree. A big surprise this week has been finding that John Locke was a relative. John Locke has been credited with ideas that would later shape the United States. He was the great grandson of one of my great, great great (etc) grandfathers -a mover and shaker who once fled to Geneva to keep his head attached to his body in fear of Queen Mary, who was seeking to take his life.

Which made me think about where we are today as a culture.Are we a culture of movers and shakers? Of thinkers? Of philosophers who change countries? Of country builders? Are we so concerned with technology and sciences, that we have forgotten to think for ourselves? Are we leaders or followers?

Recently,  I asked some younger people just what is important to them in today’s culture. Their answer; acceptance, and of fitting in. Which decidedly is not something exclusive to generation Z or  the millennials; its all of us, every generation We all want to feel like we fit in and are accepted, its how God has wired us for relationship with others and with Him.Yet, for many keeping the status quo becomes more important than seeking change. No one likes to stand out and fear rejection by friends and colleagues. When the status quo changes or shifts, so do we and are swept along with the crowd.

I included the quote from Paul’s letter to Timothy as a reminder that status quo was a thing in the first century too. Here, Paul reminds Timothy to live out what he has come to believe for it not only affected him, but those he was teaching. Paul told him to persevere in what he taught and model it in front of those he was teaching.

It is easy to go with the flow of the crowd and to let others think for you. It is harder to think for yourself and go against the current of trends. I am proud to come from a family tree that included those who thought for themselves and refused to go along with the crowd, even risking death for upholding the truths of the Bible, in opposition to what was being taught by the state church. They sought to persevere for their faith and move across an ocean so their children could have a new life, free of religious corruption.

I thought about what this means for me. Am I willing to go against the current? Have I settled into acceptance of popular thought? Even popular christian thought? How does my own doctrine, my own teaching stand up to the criteria of Biblical truth? Do I want acceptance from the status quo, or am I willing to risk standing out from the crowd because I believe the Bible? Standing out might be uncomfortable for a moment, but I am so thankful that those in my family tree did just that. I would not be here if they hadn’t, living in a country where I am free to worship apart from a government controlled church.

So, I encourage you to step out and follow what God has been putting on your heart. If it a little different than what others do, but still compatible with what the Bible teaches, than take a chance. Have you been told you’re too young or too old by culture? Or its just not done by everyone else?  You don’t have to follow the crowd, just follow Jesus. Some day your descendants just might thank you for not accepting the status quo, but on taking a risk, their lives might be impacted just as mine has. I like to think that I have inherited some of my ancestor’s tenacity and stubbornness and maybe even their intellectual keenness as John Locke had, who knows? But I do know that I will not settled on being mediocre or status quo, but will attempt to persevere in my life and doctrine.  -God Bless -Nancy

Bloom

Bloom where you’re planted. Have you ever heard someone say that? What did you think when you heard it? Did you agree? Or did you feel a little bit anxious?  I would probably be in the latter group. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we just need to stay put and learn to adapt and grow where ever we find ourselves. We need to persevere throughout the difficult places and circumstances we find ourselves in. But, then there are other times when we need to move on. Sometimes change can be good for us, but it is the fear of the unknown that keeps us stuck where we are.

The known is comfortable and safe. We might not like our circumstances, but we are afraid to step out and try something new and different. For some of us we are afraid of getting hurt again. For others we are afraid of failure. Or we are afraid of rejection. So, we stay in our circumstances and become fruitless, rather than fruitful.

When my husband was in the military, we moved to new stations about every three to five years. Every move was a chance to start over, learning a new area, its culture, its best food places and stores, and changing churches. Some people might not understand this nomadic lifestyle, but I actually enjoyed it very much. I really like to travel and I like to discover new places. I actually get bored if I am in a place too long without finding something new to discover.

Over the years I have learned that to be fruitful I need others who will inspire me. When we moved to a new area, my husband and I would always begin with a search for a new church home. We would choose carefully, looking at doctrine and fellowship. There were times when churches shifted their focus and doctrines and we needed to find another church.

Now that we are retired, we don’t move as often and there have been times when we have grown complacent with church. It’s too easy to stay than to try somewhere new. We put up with doctrine and people who did little to encourage and spur us on to be fruitful. We needed to be challenged to move on and find others who spur us on to bloom.

Sometimes it is true that we do need to bloom where we find ourselves, but if we aren’t blooming then maybe we need to ask if God is telling us to step out of our comfortable complacency. Maybe we need a new church or new friends.

This morning I was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians and found myself reminded how much Paul encourages this church. He was an encourager, who prayed for them and wrote encouraging letters to them. He sent others to encourage them and promised to visit them. We all need Paul’s in our life and we need to be Paul’s in other’s lives. we need good friends who will build us up not drain us. We are called to be fruitful, not fruitless and we need others to bloom who encourage us to bloom. The point is to bloom. Blooms produce fruit. Are you blooming?  -God Bless Nancy

Middle

I remember those car rides of my youth very well. I always ended up stuck in the middle of the back seat between my two older brothers. I was the only girl and the youngest  and the most giggliest. Is that even a word? My brothers would tickle me from both sides and I would break out in an uncontrollable giggle. The worst part was that I got in trouble for it.  My parents would tell me to be quiet to which I would always reply “It’s not my fault, they started it!”

Being in the middle is not always our own choice. I am now in the middle of life and often wake up and wonder what happened to the last forty years. It just flew by. By even more than being in the middle age, I find myself in the middle of stages of life. I am not quite the empty-nester and not quite the retiree. I notice many of friends are grandparents already and are looking forward to retirement- even a few have retired already. But, for me, I just graduated from college last Spring and am ready to start the career portion of my life after being a stay at home mom for the first portion.

The middle- the between stage of life- can be daunting and confusing at times as I wonder what my career path will look like. I feel at times that I don’t fit in with the picture carrying, grandchild bragging set and yet maybe I don’t fit in with those with young children at home. I am stuck in the middle.

The middle is not so bad a place to be as the future is open and it is in those middle moments that we hold onto our faith a little more tightly. I am reminded this morning of the disciples  encounter with Jesus in the middle of the lake. The Gospel of Mark specifically makes a point of telling his readers that Jesus saw the disciples straining against the wind in the middle of the lake (Mk. 6:47-48). Jesus had told them to go on ahead while He stayed behind. The were stuck in the middle of the lake, and it was dark and the wind was against them. They were probably not making much progress forward if the wind was against them. It was in this middle moment that they encountered Jesus walking on the water. Mark tells us that Jesus was about to pass by the boat, but they cried out to Him. Mark also tells us they were scared, terrified in fact (vs. 50).

Isn’t this how the middle feels sometimes? Terrifying and dark. You can’t see the shore, the destination you’re heading for and everything is against you. But, thankfully, we can call out to Jesus and He is there for us too. Right there in the middle. For the disciples their terror ended when Jesus stopped and got into the boat with them. The wind stopped and they were able to make it to the other side of the lake. Today, if you’re stuck in the middle trust Jesus to direct your path. Let Him in the boat. he can get you to the other side. God Bless -Nancy

Role (ing)

I heard her before I saw her in the store. She had a distinct voice, not the usual tone for a woman, much lower and slightly booming. Apparently her child riding in the shopping cart ( a buggy for my southern friends) had done something for which she didn’t approve. Her yelling at her son caused me to look up and see who was making all the noise in the store.  She was  a youngish mom and was obviously not happy with what her son had done, but her yelling only made him continue. She continued to yell and shop, completely ignorant of the other customers around her.

As the mom of three,  I’ve been there done that- except for the yelling part. Believe me, I know how long summer vacation can be with kids, but I’ve got to confess, I actually did like having my kids home from school. I still do.

But….. I am a realist, there will be meltdowns when you have children, especially toddlers and teenagers, and it’s not the kids who are doing the melting down- it’s the parents. I have had my own share of meltdowns as a parent.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, much like marriage it takes work- a whole lot of work and patience. Kids are not mini adults; they are growing and they will act like kids. Eventually they will be adults and as the Bible says you will reap what you sow  (Galatians 6:7).  Children really do model what they see their parents doing. It’s unavoidable, despite what we try to tell them to do, they learn by what they see us doing, and often mimic us. Oh they will hear some of what we say- the gossip about others- and at the most inappropriate time will repeat what they heard. It can be a real eye opener and embarrassing to us as parents.  However, it is what they watch us doing that stick with them the most.

My husband and I survived the ordeals and meltdowns of early parenthood and we made our share of mistakes in the process. But we have seen how the good habits we demonstrated in front of our kids have stuck with them.  Praying about everything and helping others are two of the good habits I see them doing now as adults.  We are our children’s greatest role model.  As we grow ourselves in our relationship with Christ, let our children see our faith in action. Yelling at children doesn’t bring about much good- it only models how to poorly handle frustration.  How are you role(ing) this summer? If it’s more than you can handle without losing your peace, reach out and ask for some help. Take a break for yourself so you can regroup, or if you can’t then take a deep breath and count to ten before you yell at your kids. Be patient they aren’t adults yet. Happy summer- Nancy

 

Real (estate)

It was the perfect time of day. The day time sky had not quite given in to the blackness and darkness of the night sky, but was holding on for just a bit to its reflection of blue. It was a soft blue, almost purple, but you could tell it had been a brilliant blue in the brightness of daytime. The sun had set and was casting a loving glow upon the wispy clouds. The clouds were not big and puffy, but just small and wispy, like the contrails of a jet. They as well seemed to be trying to hold on to the last bit of day as they shown in a soft pink color. Some call this time the golden hour.

The sky view was blocked slightly by the house. But the house itself did not seem dwarfed by the sky as it was larger and grander than most. Someone had turned the lights on inside already anticipating the coming nightfall. In fact, each room had the glow of a soft yellow light and because the curtains had not yet been closed, you could see a hint of the room inside. Each window was symmetrical with the large door in the center. I had studied some architecture in college so I knew this would fall into the category of Georgian style. It looked so amazing at this perfect time of night. Almost magical and surreal. So perfect. Almost unbelievable.

And it was. You see it was a real estate listing I was staring at on my phone this morning. No, I’m not looking for a house, it just was one of those social media pop ups, probably because of a word suggestion made earlier by one of my sons. You see both my sons are photographers and videographers who work in real estate. So I am very familiar with how real estate photo shoots are done. When someone is ready to sell their home they typically call an agent to list their home. The agent calls my son and a time slot is given to shoot the home. My son edits the photos to some degree and then they are sent to another editor to finalize the pictures. I have heard from them just how far some home owners want them to edit the photos. Thankfully, my sons will not edit out something that would misrepresent the home- such as a door or window. But gaining in popularity with home sellers is the twilight shot. I have to give my sons quite a bit of credit here as they actually will go out at the golden hour and photograph a home. However some home sellers want an ideal picture with the purplish sky and pink clouds that are not real. The colorization is so intense that it is like a dream sequence, not reality. I’m not sure what people think who actually see the homes in person, but at least it gets them to visit the home.

We all know about air brushed photos of models on magazine covers, but have you ever thought that we too airbrush and edit our lives to look good for others? Let me be even more specific, have you ever thought about the church doing this? If you haven’t then let me assure you it does. I know because I am the church. We all are. If you call yourself a Christian than you are part of the body, the church. And I have been so guilty of this at times. But what if we could just be real with each other and stop showing up on Sunday mornings all edited and air bushed to perfection. Please I am not talking about showing up in our pajamas and without makeup. Makeup is okay as is hair coloring, and tattoos and piercings. Just be yourself and be transparent. Don’t try to hide your struggles and imperfections from each other. If you were perfect than you wouldn’t need God or a Savior.

And for all who read this who think they can’t visit church until their life is all cleaned up and edited, please come as you are. Believe me the church is full of many hurting people with problems that are willing to help you tackle yours. I know some church people are really judgemental, I get that and I have fallen for the lie that I have to act and or dress a certain way to be accepted. We all want acceptance and affirmation. But, we can’t really get that completely from people, we will only find that in God. And not in any god or religion, but THE God, who doesn’t ask us to clean up and edit ourselves first to look good on the outside, but the God who came down to earth as a lowly human, felt pain and hurt and rejection by others. He wants the real us so He can heal us. Not in a superficial way that only looks good on the outside, but in a real and personal way. he knows you and your struggles. If you do visit a church this week or seek out a pastor for help and you get the judgemental, air brushed version of church, keep looking, we are not all bad. we are just imperfect so keep looking and visiting until you find the one that welcomes you without the editing.

Nothing

The server worked efficiently and silently as she placed the large platter on the table. As I focused on the newly placed plate, other platters followed, each one more joyous and amazing than the one before. I have to be honest, it was the largest most decadent piece of chocolate cake I have seen. The chocolate cake looked like a mountain of chocolate goodness. It was extra chocolate. As I stared at the huge dessert, that was the equivalent of two normal sized full sized cakes, my mind started to panic. After several different desserts had been placed in the center of the large round table, the server announced  that they were all a gift from the chef who’s child was a student in my daughter’s class. He appreciated her as a teacher and wanted to show it through offering this generous gift.

It was very unexpected and after the server left, those of us at the table began to share our thoughts. We all had had feelings of panic and concern before the server told us it was a gift. We all had wondered who had ordered dessert and who was going to pay for it. None of us at the table were used to such extravagance. We are not fancy people who regularly dine at pricey restaurants. It was not a usual place for us to go out for dinner, but my daughter had received a gift card that she wanted to share with us. The gift card would not cover all seven of us in the party, so we had all decided before how we would split the bill when it came, and now there was going to be this add- on charge for dessert. Needless to say we were all very relieved when the server said it was a gift. We would wash dishes if we had too, but we were glad we didn’t need to.

Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment of panic, when you wondered how you would pay for something? Something you had not planned for. You are unprepared and do not have a means to pay. A similar experienced happened to my husband and I many years ago while driving through Pennsylvania. We had made a wrong turn and ended up on the ramp to a toll road and could not turn around. The toll required was change only, no cards, no bills, just coins. It did not have an attendant. It was a large basket to catch the toll coins. We did not have any. We had not planned on being on this road. We could not move forward because of the bar across the highway and we now could not back up because a car was tight behind us. Then it happened. The person behind us got out of their car and put coins in the basket. The barrier arm raised and we were free to proceed. We thanked them and were on our way. Someone paid for our travel on that road, so we would be free to travel, that is to be allowed to travel on that road.

It is nice when someone else pays. It is even nicer when we really need them to pay because we can’t pay. I have been reminded lately of just how much Christ’s payment on the cross means. It means I don’t have to keep on trying to pay for something I could never fully pay. Paid in full means just that, in full. There is nothing more I can do to pay for something (my sin) because it is already paid for. Once for all time. Hebrews 10:14 says, “ For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Yet, at times I  see so many people, myself, included, who feel bad and allow guilt to push them to keep trying to do better. Now, doing better and improving our actions and attitudes is a part of growing in our Christian walk, but trying to change in order to earn a right standing before God is fruitless, rather than fruitful. It is what religion is, trying to reach god or perfection, or nirvana or doing good karma. But, that is not Christianity. Christianity is Christ coming down to save us, not us trying to reach Him.

     There are little habits we all have that we wish we didn’t. I worry and stress too much and the more I worry and stress the more I start to feel guilty for worrying and stressing. And then it leads to a feeling of failure, like I can’t change and will never change. My mind reminds me of sermons I have heard before “that anything that isn’t by faith is sin”  and then the guilt piles higher and higher like that over sized  piece of chocolate cake at the restaurant. Now, I could try to fix myself, get busy trying to do more good and trying to make myself look good, hoping I will replace guilt with contentment with my accomplishments. But, it will be short- lived. It is only when I acknowledge Christ paid for all of it, once, for all, that I can relax and allow God to work on me in His timing and in His way. He will make the changes in my attitude and help me grow in my Christian walk. As the writer of the Book of Hebrews adds;  ” This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.I will put my laws in their hearts,  and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds: Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (v.15-17, NIV).   Writing the law in our hearts and minds refers to the Holy Spirit living within the believer. He enables us to live out this Christian walk. Allow Him to lead you and heal you of those things you are trying to deal with on your own. Christ paid the toll so to speak, we need only to receive it as the gift it is. We are free to travel on the journey before us. But first we must acknowledge that we can never earn it, trying to reach God through good works or religious duties, nor do we need to let guilt overwhelm us and force us to keep on trying to earn it even after its been paid in full. Paid in full, let that sink in for minute. Nothing else will be able to add or subtract from that. God Bless -Nancy

Freedom

Here in the United States we will be celebrating the Fourth of July in a couple of days. Two to be exact, although by the sight of firework vendors that appeared in late June and the pre fourth lighting of firecrackers- it seems the fourth expands past just one day. Celebrating freedom and independence from tyranny needs more than one day, right?

I have copy of the Declaration of Independence that I purchased some time ago, I think in Boston, at one of those museum gift shops. It is printed on yellowed, crinkly paper-  to look like the original I suppose. Although it is just a copy, the words are the same as the original. Many are probably familiar with the opening line “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary” But, probably most haven’t read all the rest, the complaints against the King of England and his failure to support and offer representation to his subjects living in America. The writers speak of his abuses and his absolute despotism. If you get a chance I suggest you read it through.  Then you will really understand why you are shooting off those fireworks. The people had legitimate complaints. But unlike our contemporary culture, they didn’t just post ugly memes on Facebook, they were actually willing to work together and to trust God for the outcome. The last line of the Declaration of Independence reads “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”. They wanted this freedom so much they were willing to risk all. And as history tells us, many did.

Have you ever wanted freedom that much? That you would do anything to have it? Or have you grown accustomed to following someone else’s rule over you? Maybe its not even a someone, but a something that feels like a tyrant that controls you. Maybe its  an addiction, or a health problem, or your anxiety or worries or fears. Maybe its a bad habit you just wish you could break, or a job you wish you could leave but can’t because you fear financial ruin if you did. But, you just stay stuck. It’s easier to stay as you are than risk what freedom might cost.

Two weeks ago, I felt this kind of freedom I’m describing, I didn’t realize how much I had been stuck. But, for the first time in a long time, I just felt this overwhelming sense of what it is like to be free. I was sitting outside on a warm summer evening to watch an outdoor movie. I looked up at the stars and felt the evening breeze across my face. I felt like a kid again. The group gathered were also enjoying the movie and the evening. Although I did not know them and spoke only to my husband, their presence felt comforting, not oppressive. For too long I had surrounded myself with people who made me anxious. I often felt like the walls of the church were closing in on me and I needed to be doing more and acting the way I was expected to act in church.

For those who know me, I’m not bashing any particular church I’ve attended, but just a compiled view of what my own experience with church has been like in the past. Rather than being a place where I could come to find rest and peace, it drove me further into perfectionism- my tyrant of choice. Perfect people do not belong in church- we won’t be perfect until we get to Heaven. What the church should be is a hospital for the wounded, and broken, seeking freedom from their addictions and hurts.

We all seek freedom from the things that hold us captive, that  rule over us like a tyrant king. Some try to find it in alcohol or drugs, others through working long hours, hoping they will be too tired to care, or in relationship after relationship seeking affection. We are all looking for the freedom to be who God created us to be. God created us to be a people loved by Him and for Him.

Jesus said it is truth that will set us free. How do we know what truth is so that we will understand what it is that will set us free? Jesus answers “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, NIV Bible). He adds a bit later in the same passage “So if the Son sets you free you are freed indeed” (v.36)

Jesus wasn’t just some good moral teacher, but the Son of God who died to set you free from your tyrants of addictions and your longing for love and acceptance. When Jesus spoke these words in John, he was speaking to a group of church people who had sought following the rules as a way to gain freedom. But, rule keeping was never intended to make anyone free, just point to our failure to keep them. Jesus was trying to tell them that when He came, He was going to set people free. There would be no more trying to keep a record book of how many rules you followed or how many sacrifices you brought to the temple to pay for your failures to follow the rules. He was going to pay once for all for all time.

This is freedom. It’s not about controlling people through man- made rules, but about faith in Christ that brings true freedom. This is worth celebrating. Luke records in his gospel that as Jesus taught the parable of the lost coin, He said “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7, NIV). In other words, when someone puts their faith in Christ, Heaven celebrates. They are free now! It doesn’t mention fireworks, but maybe they have some they like to shoot off for the occasion. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is freedom is worth celebrating.

If you do find yourself struggling to walk in freedom even after you are a Christian, you are not alone. It takes time. Maybe you will need to make some changes in your life that won’t be easy, but are necessary for you to experience freedom again. For me, it was a different place to worship and to spend more time reading God’s Word.  God Bless -Nancy