Pardon Our Dust….Work In Progress

Pardon our dust….work in progress, ……….we’re sorry the site is currently down for maintenance. Uh…… Okaaay? I mean, not really, but what am I going to do? Don’t you hate seeing this when you login to your favorite site online.. or maybe you’ve seen a similar sign on a door, indicating you will have to return later, the place in being remodeled, or something like that. Inconvenient isn’t it?

What about people? Have you ever wished that people would come with warning signs like that? Pardon my dust…..I’m currently working on myself….be patient…..the site is currently down…..so yeah, like…. “Do not be demanding of me…..I am working on it…..trying to remodel my thoughts…. adjusting my attitude…..Be patient….” Or the ever popular phrase…”Be Patient, God isn’t done with me yet….”

I really think I need a sign like that. But, not for others….for myself… See I tend to be the most critical and impatient with myself. Like earlier today…I had woke up, fed the cat, walked our old age dog, poured myself some coffee in my mug, and settled down in my favorite chair to read my Bible. and THEN…. it happened, just as I was reflecting on God’s word….I heard it….the sound of water running….only it wasn’t water….. I looked over to where the sound was coming from…and I saw the source….my old dog. Now when I say old, she is probably 16+ years old, blind, deaf and at times well….she can’t hold it. Neither could I…….my temper that is. My level of frustration with the dog began to boil over from my emotions to my thoughts and came pouring forth from my mouth. I rushed to grab her leash and pulled her outside once again. Angrily, taking out my frustration…. Even the cat picked up on my sour mood and avoided me.

After a bit, I realized I was letting my anger get the best of me…I felt bad… really bad, the poor dog is old, and losing her mind a bit…she cannot see and is diabetic. But she is still one of God’s creations.

I really wanted to have handled it better, and as I thought about it more….actually overthinking it…. I realized I felt worse towards myself…I AM my biggest critic. I do not have much patience with myself…I want to be better than I am. I want to be sanctified already…to get this Christian walk right. To act rightly, to do rightly, to live rightly….But, I am a work. But, no amount of working will change me in an instant. See, it is a process as I cooperate with the Holy Spirit. To renew my mind, to change my thinking…to show myself some grace and mercy. To allow myself to fail sometimes, just not give up. To confess my shortcomings to God and He will forgive me.

Maybe you are like me…impatient with yourself. You want to do better, and to act better, to feel better, but you aren’t allowing yourself a little grace for the process to be completed. Here’s a hint…..neither you or I, or anyone who is a Christian will be perfected, to be fully sanctified, or holy, until Heaven. Until then, God helps us to grow and stretch and move forward towards that day. Be patient. you are a work in progress. God Bless- Nancy

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

Are You A Warm Frog?

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. – Paul in his letter to the church at Thessaloniki chapter 3 verses 11-12.

Well,……… are you? ………A warm frog? Confused? Don’t be, I’m going to explain my question in a bit. Today, I’m continuing in the book of the Thessalonians. It has a lot to offer in the way of encouragement for Christians who are going through trials and obstacles. It seems very fitting at this point in our own history to consider. Paul sent words of encouragement to the church in Thessalonicae, now Thessaloniki. If you are able to, I encourage you to read this important letter.

Back to the frogs. I apologize in advance if this is too graphic of an example for some reading this, but have you ever heard the story of boiling frogs? Yeah, kind of weird, I get it. Well, the story goes that if you want to boil a frog, you just need to put them in a pot of cold water and raise the temperature of the water slowly. And eventually, the water will boil and well, you guessed it the frog will be boiled. He will not notice the temperature getting hotter and will not jump out of the pot. Or so the story goes. I’m not sure. I have never tried it and I do not intend on trying it. And I’m not suggesting you do either. But, the point is this, complacency hits us all.

Like those frogs, who do not notice the temperature raising, we can sometimes get so complacent in our faith, that we fail to notice how we are getting entangled in matters of the world. What I mean is, we start to accept what everyone else is doing, instead of following what God desires of us. Or maybe it is that we just stop caring about others around us. Or about the world around us. And we focus on gossip, or politics, or our careers, or whatever makes US happy. We become focused on ourselves, instead of God, instead of loving others as He commands us to do, we judge, and fight, and slander and cause harm to others, even by our doing nothing to help others around us.

We are just complacent, happy frogs, just waiting around for someone or something else to make us happy. Oh, we might be great at attending church, but when we are home we slip back into our complacent lives, slipping back into ourselves and our own world. We don’t want to be uncomfortable or confronted about our personal lives. We just want to check a box that we have attended church for the week and go back to our warm baths of complacency. We don’t care if others are hurting and we only want to hear happy snack sized, dessert sermons. Never challenge us from the pulpits, or make us bring Bibles to church. Just keep us happy, entertain us, and let us throw some money into the offering to help out those “OTHER” people, that are so bad off compared with us.

I, of course, realize, that this is not all of us. Some of you are facing great obstacles for your faith, risking everything just to have a Bible, much less read it, but I’m still encouraging you to keep up the faith, just as Paul was doing in the first century. Hold onto hope that is found Christ.

To the rest of us, I’m including myself too- I am a work in progress- I challenge us to stop being happy getting by in our faith, and step out and deepen our faith. Study the bible to know what it REALLY says and what those words mean, not just take someone else’s word for it. Learn about the history of the Christian faith -not from skeptics- but from real scholars. Do your homework. Look for ways you can encourage others. Not just because it’s what everyone else at church is doing, but look for the needs that are not public, the people who need an encouraging word, maybe a friend, or coworker, or stranger. Just DON’T be a complacent, warm frog. Get out of the water, before it boils you. God Bless You, – Nancy

Amazed

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.

– Paul in his letter to the Christians at Thessaloniki (Thessalonians 2:2)

What amazes you? It might seem at times that there is nothing that is amazing. Nothing that just encourages you to the point of feeling overwhelming joy and contentment. You see, I think that is a result of being amazed. We are filled with both joy and contentment. It’s difficult right now to find this joy and contentment. Or to be amazed. If you are following along with this blog, than you will recall last week’s topic of weariness. If you don’t follow, I encourage you to do so, in order for you to not miss any of the blogs. And you can join me in this journey of walking out my Christian faith through difficulties, and changes that we all face in one form or another. I try to encourage you from my own life, that while life is a challenge and is constantly moving forward, we do not have to lose heart. God is with us.

In Paul’s letter, quoted briefly above, Paul is writing to a church located in Thessolonica. He, along with Silas and Timothy, had shared the Gospel of Jesus there over the course of a three week time period, with several people responding positively to the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah, had been crucified and rose on the third day. He was their hope and salvation. However, there was a group of Jewish leaders who tried to have him thrown out of town He narrowly escaped. You can read more about this in Acts chapter 17. The message had been accepted by some, and a group of Christian believers began to meet. After a time, he sent Timothy back to encourage these new believers in their faith. He himself was not going back to avoid a riot. The believers there had also been subject to persecution for their faith and yet remained hopeful and looked forward to the return of Christ. This news brought joy to Paul and it was the reason he wrote back to them in this letter.

So, what does this have to do with being amazed? Well, like the Thessalonians, we all face struggles, difficulties and have the option to lose faith and hope. We are all the same. Human nature has not changed. But, they remained faithful.

There have been times, when I have struggled and felt like the whole world was falling apart, or at least my world. In those times, what I needed was a reminder of just how awesome God is; how amazing He is, and how this life, despite its struggles, is not falling apart, but is growing me and deepening my faith.

I can recall several times, when God has shown up in a time I was struggling. It is something small, and what others would overlook or consider a coincidence. But to me it was the greatest sign that God was with me and encouraging me to hold onto hope. To focus on His goodness, despite the bad circumstances in my life.

I remember one time, as I had left a Christian conference, not uplifted, but to be honest, I was rather discouraged. The conference had the right intentions, but the wrong motives. I had been given an insiders look into this ministry and was looking forward to someday serving in a leadership role, only to find myself very disillusioned and discouraged by what I saw behind the scenes. Though the conference was to last the entire day, I asked my husband(who was attending with me) if we could leave early, before the last session. He didn’t like the idea of leaving early, but reluctantly did for me. I recall it caused a bit of a heated discussion between us.

If you have been around churches or Christian ministries for awhile, disappointment is bound to happen. When we get more involved, we will find the flaws and truths. Sadly, this turns many away from Christianity and at least in my case, discouraged me, because I had really thought this was a legit group. Just like in Paul’s day, there are many who claim to be in ministry to serve others, but they are not, and need to be avoided. It is not just that they are people who are not perfect and sin, there are some people who are intentional defrauding others for their own benefit.

My husband and I drove away from the conference early and stopped at a nearby dollar store. If you are not familiar with these stores, in the United States we have stores that sell basic household needs for one dollar per item. The quality is not great, but if you just need something quick, it is the place to go. I cannot even remember what we were stopping to purchase, but I DO remember feeling so discouraged, hurt, angry and sad. And mostly confused. My thoughts began to rattle around in my head as my husband went off down a different aisle. I recall standing near the glasses and fighting back the tears. I did the only thing I knew to do:pray. So as I walked by those glasses, I began to pray silently, asking God to help me, to understand He was still there, to help me forgive those who had hurt me, and to ask forgiveness for myself, if I had acted wrongly towards my husband or others, by leaving the conference early. I barely notice as someone passed by me with a cart loaded with items, and handed me a piece of paper. It was a Gospel tract with the photo of a rose on the front with the words “You’re Special” printed just above the rose.

I’ll be honest I was scared to look up, or turn around. I knew it had been from God, and frankly I expected to see an angel in disguise, pushing that cart. When I did gather my wits about me and turn around, they were gone. No one in the store with a loaded down cart, ANYWHERE. Yeah, God showed up. and amazed me with His care and concern. I still can’t believe it, except for the fact that I have that little Gospel tract to this day. Oh, I’m sure there are some who would doubt the identity of my fellow shopper, but it doesn’t matter, I believe God uses whatever means to deliver messages of hope.

I think He continues to do this, but we are the ones who don’t notice. I had another amazing incident recently, but not so dramatic. It required me to do some research, but once I had, I was once again amazed by God. He answered my prayers, but not in the large demonstrations, but in small ways. I had almost overlooked it, it appeared so insignificant. I wonder how many times God has answered our prayers, but we fail to notice, because we are not seeing what He has done. We need to look for the amazing. Looking for God’s handiwork in our lives.

Paul was filled with joy as he wrote, not because he recalled his own difficulty there, but that there had been fruit form his preaching, “You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.” verse 1 chapter two. He was amazed by what God had done there through the Holy Spirit. He could have focused on his own life threatening experience, but chose instead to see God’s hand at work.

Struggles and difficult times do not last forever, but sometimes we must go through them. Yet God is with us. God bless and look for the amazing this week.- Nancy

Weary

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

I don’t know about you, but I am weary. And I suspect many of you are also. We all get weary at times, trying to keep it all going. And keep it together. To keep ourselves together. We carry these burdens for ourselves and even for others. We must maintain our work selves, our church selves, our family selves and society selves- All these roles we find ourselves in. Trying to keep all the roles connected, balanced and producing good results. And if that isn’t enough, there’s this burden we carry around with us as a constant reminder of the problems in the world. We are of course not responsible for the world or its events, yet we find ourselves burdened and troubled by the global crisis’ . Too much bad news, horrible news, incomprehensible news. Earthquakes, bombings, hurricanes, uprisings, Covid. We are all just a little weary right now. And the constant contact through our mobile devices in our pockets, keeps all these problems and global crisis’s on our minds and always within reach, inescapable, it seems.

We might tell everyone around us that we are”fine” when the reality is, we are not “fine”, but far from it. We are weary. We need rest. We need help in dealing with all of this. We need each other and we need Jesus’ peace and comfort.

I admit I am not an expert in dealing with it all, but there are a few steps we all can take to help each other. First, talk with each other openly. If you are not doing well, let someone know. Talk to a friend. Tell them what is going on and what is wearing you down. If you are having serious, suicidal thoughts, tell someone or call a professional hotline. Help is close and people who are trained to listen are waiting for you to reach out to them. You are not a bother. Your friends and family do love and care about you, they need you here. The pain you feel is temporary, it will get better and there are people who can help with your pain.Let them help you.

Second, if you are just tired and weary from too much of the world taking your joy, step away from social media, or block or snooze individuals or pages that are upsetting you and causing you undue stress. Do not keep your phone where you sleep and don’t let it be the first or last thing you check in the day. Instead read, listen to music or take a gratitude inventory.

Third, a gratitude inventory is something I have recently begun. Before your day begins or as it ends, meditate on what you have to be thankful for. At the end of the day, recount the positive events of your day and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Just breathing and living another day is reason enough to be thankful. If it is the beginning of the day, offer thanks for the opportunity for a new day, a new beginning. Even the little things matter. So be grateful for a bed and a pillow, for a meal to wake up to. For your family and friends. God has provided it all. We forget sometimes that not everyone is enjoying these at the moment. Some are homeless, others have lost a loved one or a friend. Some do not have the hope of Jesus. They are trying to do life all on their own,in their own strength.

Fourth, don’t dwell on the negative. Look for the good during your day. Focus on what has gone right, instead of what is going wrong. Focus on positive Bible verses like the one above. Write down these verses and place them on sticky notes everywhere to be reminded of them. Or subscribe to a daily word app that will send you a text or email.

Fifth, to know these verses, you must pick up your Bible and read it. Or get an app for your phone with a daily verse. Remember the Bible is not just a book written by a bunch of dudes in the past. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It has power to change minds, challenge you and give you peace and comfort. Don’t believe me? Just try it for a week. It doesn’t mean that suddenly all your problems will disappear, but it will change your perspective. It will change you. Bad circumstances, like those of the world right now, are not going to go away immediately, we cannot change these, but we can change our attitudes and perspectives. And surprisingly, by doing so we change our brains. Our thoughts affect our physical brain chemistry as well as our physical shape. Someone has said that we are what we eat, but scientifically speaking, we are what we think about.

The last step is to take time to pray. God does hear us. It might be we have been neglecting our prayer lives, because we feel like there is a wall between us and God. Or we think He is mad or unhappy with us, but here’s the thing, He knows who you are. He made you. He’s okay with your doubts. He’s okay with you for not being perfect. He loves you. He knows you have messed up, so that’s not a surprise to Him. Just talk to Him, like a friend. He promises rest for the weary and help with your burdens, you don’t have to do this alone.

The Fullness of God

For God was pleased to have all the his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.-

Paul to the Colossians 1:19-20

So, I have been feeling a bit stuck lately, despite understanding this process of life moving forward. See, even if we understand it and try to find our stride and run our race, we can get overwhelmed at times. We think there is something we should be doing and are falling short. Or it is something we should be doing better. Maybe its reading our Bibles more, or praying more, maybe being a better person, or saving our money better. There is always that “more” we could and should be doing and goals we should be meeting. We put guilt and blame on ourselves when we do not measure up to other people’s standards. So, we might feel overwhelmed and instead of pushing ourselves, we kind of allow ourselves to get into a slump. This is especially true when our goals are unrealistic, or we are trying to meet these goals because someone else is putting pressure upon us. It might be our friends, or our jobs or our family. But we find ourselves so overwhelmed by these “coulds” and “shoulds” and goals to be like others or be the best, that we choose rather to fall into a pit of self- loathing and condemnation. We feel bad for our feeling bad also, compounding our circumstances and well, we feel stuck. Notice I said we “feel” stuck, while the truth is we might say we are stuck, but what we actually should say is that we are feeling stuck. We do not desire to run our race for we believe it is impossible to complete it well. We give up. Our hope is gone. We cannot see ourselves as good, or as accomplished already, realizing all the distance we have already covered in this race. We only look at our shortcomings. We don’t see how far we have come.

It is difficult to get out of a slump like that. To find encouragement and make peace with ourselves about our shortcomings. We need a different perspective. A change of view to help us see who we are and how we are already good, and loved, and full of hope for the future. This race of life is not about how we measure up and whether or not we meet our goals. We are already loved and treasured by God. He has given us the qualities and characteristics he has by His design and purpose. And He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we will fall short. But, when we fall down in despair, feeling like there is no hope, no point in the race to be the best, he reaches down, grabs our hand, and picks us back up. We are weary of trying to be all we should be, tired of measuring up to the world, and He gets that. He knows we need Him, but He doesn’t wait for us to pick ourselves up, He offers a hand.

At least, this has been my experience. Like this morning as I picked up my Bible to read. I found this passage in Colossians. Well- I didn’t just discover it- I was reading through the letters of Paul and this was the verse that stood out to me. “The fullness of God” these words just stood out. I have studied the Bible, read the passage, wrote papers on the deity of Jesus, but in that moment, it was as if God was reaching out His hand to pick me up, the fallen runner on the ground. As I read the beginning commentary in my Bible about the letter, the commentator wrote that the letter was of concern to Paul and he wrote it because several people of the church in Colossae believed that they had secret knowledge beyond the Gospel and that somehow Jesus dying on the cross was not enough. His letter was sent them to explain that salvation was complete in Jesus’ death and resurrection and that Jesus was fully God, divine and died and rose again.

This right here is reason alone to get excited, that salvation is complete, nothing else needed- no secret works, or knowledge, but divinely orchestrated and completed. But…. after I read the passage I also picked another book I had been reading (Paul Copan’s Is God A Moral Monster?) Copan explains what happened on the cross as Christ gave up His life. See, I had been taught that when Jesus was taking on the sins of the world, God the father could not watch, that’s why Jesus cried out “My God why have you forsaken me?” But, according to Copan, God was there. In the lightening, thunder, earthquake and the tearing of the temple curtain. As Copan explains, look back at God’s meeting with Moses on the mountain. There was thunder, lightning and an earthquake. Whaaaat? Like I looked it up(Exodus 19). Yup, right there! How could I miss it? God didn’t just send Jesus, the son and leave, preferring not to watch His son suffering, He the father was right there. In that darkest hour.

For me that was so encouraging this morning. We forget sometimes how awesome Jesus really is. he is the fullness of God, not less than. I am encouraged this morning at the greater perspective I now have about the cross. it has lifted me up, just as a hand up from God, to this fallen runner. -God bless Nancy

Pressing Forward

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. – The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. 3:12

My husband built a very sturdy desk for me, which is my writing desk. The desk is in front of a window which gives me the perfect view outside to the street. We live on a corner, so actually my view is not one, but two streets. It gives me the vantage point of observing the life around me as I write. Often, it becomes the inspiration for my writing and podcasting. So, this morning, like many others I was inspired by the runners outside. Every morning and afternoon I watch as several neighbors get their daily exercise in by running the streets near my home. I admire them. They are dedicated. I am not. I’m not much of a runner anymore and I was never a long distance runner, but more of the fifty- yard dasher in my high school days. I was all about the speed and not about the marathon.

The apostle Paul spends a great deal of time talking about life as a race, like a marathon. So, even though I don’t claim to be a marathoner, it is what I am doing in this life. Life isn’t a dash, but a long distance run. My neighbors who run would understand the analogy that Paul writes about I’m sure.

What struck me this morning was that these runners, whether they realized it or not, could stop at any moment and yet they would still be moving forward. This whole planet is constantly revolving, moving, spinning, so are we. But also life is constantly moving forward. We have no control over this forward movement. I heard someone recently comment that we cannot control our circumstances and what happens but we can control our perspective. So true. There are some things we can control, of course, but we cannot stop life from moving forward. We cannot stop time.

As I also heard a comment recently about the decision to move forward. But given that we are all already moving forward in life, this too seems to be not completely accurate. It might appear at times that we are stopped, stuck, in a long queue line, or in a rut. I’ve often felt like that and I’m sure you have too. Life just isn’t changing fast enough. Our circumstances seem stuck, not getting any better, maybe even getting worse. But, truthfully, life has not stopped. So the decision to move forward isn’t actually a reality, but rather deciding how we will keep moving forward despite the circumstances we are in. Sometimes we do need to make changes and change our perspective or our attitudes, but we do not control life or time. We must choose how we can be moving forward. I like Paul’s view of pressing on. It is this constant choice to keep pressing on, to keep moving forward.

One of the runners I have been watching from my window has given me a great deal of encouragement for pressing on and moving forward. I have watched as they first started their daily routine. At first they would walk by my house; not fast, but slow and steady. Next, I notice they added more movement in their arms and hand weights. Then a few weeks later, I watched as they began to jog at a slow pace. This morning as they went past, they had a definite runner’s gate and were using their arms to move along as well. They had been finding their stride to move forward. And as I have been watching and observing them, I am encouraged that I too can begin to join in moving forward, past this moment of feeling stuck in a rut, even if it is a slow pace at first; walking before running. But pressing on, making good decisions, working on my attitudes and perspectives to try to see God’s perspective. Life is moving forward, I do not choose to move forward as though I can control it, but I can choose how I will be moving forward and pressing forward to align more with what God has designed. This is what a faith walk looks like, not a dash, but a marathon, God Bless- Nancy

Don’t Miss It

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24, NIV)

This week has been difficult. Not going to pretend that it hasn’t. But not so much for me as for others that I know either personally or through a friend of a friend. Life is difficult at times and it is only complicated with the “ever- hanging on” world- wide pandemic. It seems like it just won’t give up its grip. It is easy to get discouraged at these times in our lives. We are looking for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, only to discover it is a train coming straight towards us. It is overwhelming and if anyone considers it soberly, thoughtfully, they can find the secondary affects of this stress filled global situation. If it seems to you that people have become angrier and lashing out at others, then you have the same thoughts as I have. The world is reeling from the stress and people are just reacting to the fear they are experiencing. Anger is a a secondary emotion that is caused by hurt, fear or a perceived threat or hurt.

As a Christian, I am not immune to feelings of fear, or hurt or anger. The difference is that I can take all these fears, and hurts and bring them to the feet of Jesus. I can ask for His wisdom and ask for help in dealing with it all. I can ask Him to help me forgive others. I do not have to solve it by myself. I do not have to let it all get the best of me. Although, I admit sometimes I let it do just that; get the best of me. I get overwhelmed, stressed out, angry, hurt and discouraged. I fall short of giving it to Jesus first, preferring to struggle on my own for a bit. But just when I get comfortable trying to deal with it in my slump, God shows up with a reminder of the good that is left in a world of a global crisis.

It may be just me, but I have noticed something very remarkable in the past two weeks. While the world has been watching the Olympics and celebrating the medal winners and conversing about the athletes’ mental health issues, I have seen a beautiful picture of what it means to “Spur on one another”. I can’t help but notice that the talented athletes of the games, have been hugging, fist bumping and cheering on others, that is not only their own teammates, but their competitors. Winners do not gloat over themselves, but reach over the ropes, or walk around the ropes to hug and congratulate the other competitors. They represent different countries, different political viewpoints and ideologies, but here, at the Tokyo Olympics, they are just athletes, who act more like friends then competitors. The level of sportsmanship has been amazing. Countries who do not get along on the political stage, have athletes who walk up and hug each other. The common ground of course is their sport. They are all athletes who have trained hard and love their sport, and are not afraid to share in celebration and encouragement with others, regardless of where they live, or what country they represent. I have watched quite a few Olympics- not going to tell you how many- but for real, this is the one thing that really stood out in contrast to other Olympics. These athletes should be recognized for this sportsmanship. It is the way the world should be and needs to be now. It is what the church in particular should look like. This is what the author of the Book of Hebrews was reminding the Christians to do. Encourage others to keep on keeping on doing good deeds for others. Keep on believing. Keeping on having faith.

What I have seen from the Olympics has challenged me to find ways to encourage others. To offer hope, to praise their efforts, and let them know I am pulling for them. Is there anyone in your life you can encourage? To build up and not tear down? To spur them on in their faith walk? This is what we are called to do. -God Bless- Nancy

Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

Shifting Blame

Blame shifting holds us back. We simply cannot move forward while looking backward and assigning blame on another person.

I first learned how to drive a manual transmission while my husband and I were living in Spain. Many of you reading this blog or listening on the podcast, might be unfamiliar with manual transmissions. Here in the United States the stick shift is not that prevalent. but when we lived in Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were very few cars that were automatic. So, it was quite out of necessity that I should learn to drive a ‘stick’. It was much trial, error and practice, but I finally got the hang of when to let out the clutch, move my foot from the brake to the gas pedal and boom! off I go. Timing is everything in shifting between gears. You could not move forward without shifting the gears to the next higher gear. To slow down and eventually come to a complete stop, you must reverse the process to down shift. shifting up to move forward and shifting down to stop.

I recently watched a parody intended to put shame on the Gen Z’s. It was designed to poke fun at their blaming everyone for the problems they are facing- like increased student loan debt, poor wages, a bleak economy and social and environmental injustice that they are left responsible for. It was light- hearted, but close to the truth as well. This is how many Gen Z’s see their world.

The truth is, we all have been guilty of shifting the blame for all of our problems on others. I recently came down with a cold, for which I blamed my husband- he had it first. And I became quite miserable. So, it was all his fault. Or so I concluded. But, honestly, I can never be completely sure. I might have picked it up just about anywhere. But, he was the easiest to blame, because he was the most logical source.

It is so easy to find others to blame, and some of that blame is justified. We are human beings. We are not human doings. and most of the time we really mess things up. Oh, we get it right sometimes, but we also make mistakes. We try to do something we shouldn’t be doing, and we fall short. We try to keep up with others and be like them, instead of being ourselves. Being the people God uniquely created us to be. We make decisions that aren’t the best for us or for others who we are responsible for.

If we look for the mistakes in others we will find them. If we look for the mistakes we ourselves make we will find them- and then point to the other person as the reason why we made the mistake in the first place. We really have a problem with admitting it could be our fault. We also shift the blame to others, because we don’t know how to fix our mistakes, or the mistakes of others. We want to move forward, but we get stuck looking back and placing blame, instead of shifting the focus on the solution to fix the mistake or shortcoming.

We blame others for our financial situation, rather than looking for a solution, by creating our own businesses, going back to school, or reducing our spending. We blame our parents- I did too!- for how we turned out, but do not try to learn who we are and how to grow and change- How to overcome the past- sometimes difficult and painful pasts- by learning from others who have walked a similar path before of restoration, healing and growth.

It is easier to complain and blame than to ask God for wisdom in overcoming the past and how to move forward. Blaming can become comfortable to us. It keeps us from bearing any responsibility. We sometimes like to stay stuck in first gear, than risking letting out the clutch and pressing forward. I am not just speaking to Gen Z, as I am speaking for myself as well. I am a recent college graduate who, like Gen Z is facing mounting student loan payments and many employment application rejections. I, too, see the injustice in the world and want to do something about it, but not sure what to do. It is easy for me to blame the employers who won’t take the time to view my application because I am a woman, or I have been out of the workforce as a Stay at Home Mom, and lack experience. As my youngest says ” You can’t get experience until someone hires you and they won’t hire you without experience.” Yes, it is as much a dilemma for me as for a Gen Z. And that is my point here. We all can blame others- younger people or older people, but the truth is, if we work together, forget about differences in ages, economics, gender, stop labeling and stop blaming- we could do so much more.

Blame shifting is not new. Check out the Book of Genesis and you will find it started very early with the first married couple. And they didn’t have parents to blame. Or co-workers, or even children. They were Gen Alpha. Adam realized the mess he now found himself in- working crazy hours with hard work and thorns and thistles,a messed up, broken relationship with his wife, the realization he did not have clothes and needing to hide so God wouldn’t see him naked, and now he would die, like get old, get wrinkly and die. And he blamed his wife and then God. It was all their fault. Not his. He just stood back and was minding his own business when his wife brought the piece of fruit to him. I mean what is a husband to do? Make his wife mad and not take a bite? Or take a bite and take a chance, ’cause she wasn’t dead yet, right? So, yeah. According to Adam it was God’s and Eve’s fault. God because He gave Eve as his wife and Eve because she picked the fruit, took a bite, and talked him into following suit. But… Adam too was to blame. Where was he when Eve was confronted by the serpent? Did he really have to eat too? I mean God had told him not to eat. So. yeah the first default blame shifting happened right there in the first few pages of the Bible. It is not new. You can find other examples in the Bible, but you can also find a solution. It’s called grace. And that will be on next weeks blog- Stay tuned! God Bless- Nancy

For Him

For in him we live and move and have our being- Acts 17:28

So, Sometimes my attitude really stinks. I mean not all the time, just on occasion. Like when there is an AT&T salesperson at my door, or a phone call from a salesperson whom I did not reach out to, suddenly calls wanting to sell me something. Oh, I appreciate their tenacity. Their persistence, their drive to make the sale, close the deal, earn their commission. But, really? I mean can’t they see I’m busy? That if I really wanted to buy something, I would reach out to them? I would be visiting their store or place of business?

I like to think that I am generally optimistic, you know, the glass half- full kind of person. The one who tries to see the best in a bad situation. The one who glosses over issues and looks for a quick solution to fix it. But, the one thing that bothers me and puts me in a very judgmental state, is this. “Why are you trying to sell me on this?” “What is your real purpose?” or “What is your motivation?” I am a real skeptic when it comes to motivation. I don’t want to be told how this will benefit me, what I really want to know is how it will benefit them. Why are you doing this? Why are you convinced this is what I need? Do you really know what I need?

Of course, most of us know that the motivation for salespeople is to make money. It’s their job. It’s how they earn a living. And I give them credit for trying to do their jobs. But as I expand this idea of motivation out further, I often wonder what the motivation of Christians should be towards their lives, their faith, their witness to the world.

I recently was watching a video of a bright and cheerful Christian. They were certainly convinced what they were taking about was very important to me and anyone else who would care to watch. Their voice was raised to an excitable pitch and allowed for the occasional pause, and the lowering of tone for an emotional impact. They waived their hands- well, their whole arms- as every good communicator should do- thank you COMS 101 class notes for that insight– as I had been taught in college. Never just use your hands but make large movements with your whole forearm for affect, to seem sincere. I’ve never really remembered to do this when teaching, and I don’t really want to. Why? because I do not believe in manipulating others for my own benefit. Not when it comes to things like teaching the Bible or sharing the Gospel. Oh it works, it gets attention, but I am looking for God’s words to convince the person, not my theatrics. I’m not wanting to gain fame as a trained motivator, just an honest person, making an honest appeal.

But, please don’t misunderstand me. I am a manipulator at times too. Just ask my husband! I have learned recently that I am a shock absorber- Thanks Dr. Caroline Leaf- for helping me understand how my quick fixes and glossing over the bad to keep the peace made me a shock absorber- someone who seeks to keep the peace- not so others will be happy- but so that I will be. Yup, convicted and guilty of that. So, while my motivation might appear great, it really is for me, about me, and not about others. If you haven’t heard of Dr. Leaf, I suggest you listen to her podcasts, or read some of her books. She is not an untrained self- help guru, but a Christian neuroscientist who understands how our minds work, both physically and spiritually. Her insights have been tremendously helpful to me as a navigate my own emotional health and spiritual journey.

So, back to motivation, I have been thinking quite a bit about it lately and have been reminded that our motivation should be focused not only for others, or towards ourselves, but towards God. We might have a great plan, a great idea that we really think is best for others, but what is our real motivation? I recall a lecture from college during which the professor gave an invaluable life lesson, one from his own college days. He was about to graduate and was praying and struggling over what God was calling him to do with his life. He had been a religion major- same as I was- and wondered what God was going to do, where He would send Him, what were his next steps, when he overheard a casual conversation in the cafeteria. His friends all had plans- plans to make it big- they were all going to join together and create a mega church after graduation. One was a great worship leader, another a great expositor of Scripture, another a great business leader. But the one word that kept repeating itself during the conversation was not “we” or “God”, but “I”. To the dismay of my professor, all he kept hearing was”I” am going to do this or that,”I” am starting a mega church- The lesson the professor was sharing is to not forget who we are doing this for- our education, our training, our presentations, our jobs, our lives- It’s for Him. Not us. Not me.

It’s not that God actually needs anything from us. He doesn’t, but when we think of what he has done and continues to do, giving and keeping our very existence going- then it is For Him. This is what our motivation should be. What my motivation should be. When we begin any new project, whether it is a new job, education, ministry, or outreach let us first ask ourselves, what is my motivation? Second let us ask God to direct us in how we should be doing it for Him. Third, let us not become proud of ourselves and try to do everything on our own. Reach out to others and let them help.- If its truly for Him- we won’t be bothered by their input and help. God bless