A Thrill of Hope

Another Christmas doggie story

The first Christmas after my mother’s death felt dreamlike, specifically the kind where you’re drowning or trying to run from something awful, but your feet won’t move. We lit our Advent wreath, decorated trees, baked cookies, shopped on Black Friday and carried out our other Christmas season traditions, but it all felt empty.

I first noticed the knifing pains of her absence on Black Friday, a shopping tradition she relished every year until the last few of her life.  The only significant memory I carry from that day is the large ball of choked back tears in my throat.  At one point I almost bawled in the endless check-out line in Kohl’s Department Store, reminiscing about the times I’d stood in that line for her, (sometimes with a snarky attitude) with a heaped cart of her carefully selected gifts.  Her back, deformed from childhood polio and a car accident, couldn’t tolerate long periods of standing, so she’d move on to the next store with other family members while Ken and I waited to check out.

I remember one year she spent in the hospital over the Thanksgiving holiday.  She still poured over all our family Christmas lists and made detailed notes for Ken and me about what to purchase, from which stores and what coupons to use.  I brought all our purchases to the hospital.  We laid everything out on top of the hospital bedding, for her to examine and be certain it met her standards.

While Mom spent her first glorious Christmas in heaven, we struggled to plan our extended family Christmas at “my Dad’s house.”  I felt sick simply saying that phrase, instead of, “Mom and Dad’s house.”  My sweet brother and sister-in-law, and their children, put up a tree and some of the decorations my mother collected and loved so dearly, around the too- quiet house, for my Dad. I believe that they chose wisely when they did this, but for me, seeing all her decorations without her, felt ghastly.  Some that she’d owned since my childhood sent me to the back bedroom to compose myself and not add to my Dad’s grief.

That whole year turned out to be a season of loss for me.  In April, my principal informed me that due to a very low student enrollment, my teaching job needed to be eliminated.  Two weeks after that blow, in May, my mother entered the arms of Jesus, somewhat unexpectedly.  The staff at her rehab center had scheduled her to return home within a few days but pneumonia struck suddenly, swiftly, lifting her to glory within 48 hours.

In the beginning of December, our dog, Kobi, left our lives, after fourteen years.  The accumulated sorrows of the year made this third good-bye so poignant.  I contracted bronchitis shortly afterwards and deeply missed the sweet presence of furry friendship during those long, quiet hours of recovery.  The pain of our parting set me in the same frame of mind I’d been in many years prior, when our last Labrador, Edwards, entered his well-deserved rest.  “No more dogs,” I declared again.  It’s ridiculous that I still didn’t understand my own nature.

At least this time, I caved, with no outside pressure. Now that I no longer worked outside the home, the quiet there felt unnatural, lacking.  Ken and I began a new search, wishing someone figured out how to breed a miniature Labrador.  We found the next- best thing in a little rescue dog named Bella.  Part beagle, part yellow lab, she fit the bill perfectly, weighing in at only 32 pounds with a lab shaped body topped by expressive beagle-eyes.

Two weeks before Christmas, we brought her home and began the painstaking process of re-training and re-orienting her.  Removed from animal hoarders, she was at first, high strung, suspicious of everyone, particularly men, and not at all housebroken, even though she was a year and a half old.  We couldn’t attempt to leave her home alone or at a boarding facility so soon after coming to our home and determined that she’d make the two-hour drive with us to “Dad’s house,” for our Christmas celebration.

Everyone did their best to share love and laughter that day. We tried to make it a good day for my Dad, but understandably, he remained quiet and withdrawn.  Inwardly, I decided we simply needed to get through this Christmas as best we could and hope next year dawned more brightly for my Dad.

We alternated between putting Bella in her crate and taking her for walks, concerned that she not cause any “accidents,” or stress for Dad.  Late in the afternoon we decided to tote her into the living room with us for a while, making her always sit next to one of us. Everyone fussed over her, except for my Dad who simply said, “Cute pup.”  Then, a remarkable thing happened.

Seated near my Dad, she walked away from me, to him, and rested her chin on his lap, gazing up at him with those soulful eyes. Before he could say anything, in one nimble leap, she jumped up and coiled herself up on his legs, heaved a sigh and laid her head down as if he was a comfy dog bed. Shocked, I started to get up to lift her off him, but he waved me away and bent his head towards her while he stroked her ears, saying things like, “Well, aren’t you just something.”  A genuine smile creased his face and he looked like himself again.  Everyone’s eyes looked a bit soupy in that moment.

Bella’s never done anything like that with him, or anyone else, since that day. Why did she approach this unknown man so peaceably? I believe it’s because God knew that he could restore some joy back to my Dad by nudging a little dog onto his lap.  He directed her to do that and assured her my Dad meant her no harm. (Six years later, she still cowers a bit around any strange man.)

Maybe you’ve got some empty spaces in your Christmas get togethers this year.  Death, broken relationships, geography and such can separate us from those we long for the most.  Some of you probably struggled to put up decorations or make holiday plans at all.   Expect God to do some “dog-in-the-lap moments for you too.  He is a master of creating unexpected joys in the least likely circumstances, if we keep our hope fixed on him.  He is the answer to every cry of the heart, our Emmanuel, our God with us.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new a glorious day…” (excerpt from “O Holy Night”)

 

 

 

Comfort and Joy

The first of four true Christmas stories from our family

One dark, Thanksgiving Eve, we lost my daughter’s year-old puppy, on 40 acres of woods and fields behind my parent’s home. For one full year, Jennifer saved her money and dreamed of this dog.  In one unguarded moment, the pup disappeared.

Prior to owning this puppy, which Jennifer named Kobi, ( a Japanese word that means “joy,”) our family lived with Labradors and a German Shepherd/Collie mix.  The pain of eventually saying a permanent good-bye to our final lab, Johnathan Edwards, occurred about nine months after we changed jobs and homes, during Jennifer’s thirteenth year.

We adored Edwards, who prevailed with us through some difficult life transitions, steady, constant. When life is hard, there’s nothing quite like a peaceful, sizable dog, who isn’t frightened when you sling your arm around his neck and sob into his fur. When we discovered that our beloved boy suffered from congestive heart failure, and felt a great deal of pain, we needed to let him go.

His loss came on the heels of several other significant ones, and I decided, after three doggie good-byes, I couldn’t face it again.  At the time, Ken’s 70-hour work weeks left him little time to be with Jennifer and I, let alone a dog and he deferred to my wishes to end our season of dogs.

Jennifer disagreed passionately. As an only child, she missed Edwards dearly.  This became a source of contention between us until one day I said, “If owning a dog means this much to you, then pray and ask God to change my heart, and while you’re at it, save your money to buy one with a strong blood line.” (We lost a lab, young, due to a poor bloodline.)

God changed my heart. Jennifer saved her money, and we bought a new dog. Since we now lived in a much smaller home and yard, I insisted we downsize by at least 70 pounds yet find a breed not afraid of its own shadow and every fluttering leaf.  This describes the breed of Shiba Inu to a tee. Diminutive in size they are still fiercely independent and courageous.  Bred as small hunting dogs for the mountains of Japan, they are highly intelligent and frighteningly cunning.

Kobi entered our lives, and we realized that not only was her appearance nothing like our previous dogs, neither was her temperament.  In the United States, you must possess a fenced in yard for this breed and NEVER let them off-leash outside a fence as they will chase down a scent or a sight of a woodland creature until they are so far gone as to not be able to ever return home.  (Honestly, I don’t know how that all works in Japan, but this is what every Shiba breeder in the states will tell you. Hundreds of them wind up missing every year.)

Her quirky personality endeared her to us and we loved her whimsical ways once we learned how to reshape and manage her natural inclinations.  Shibas believe that anything within their reach belongs to them and act accordingly.  Therefore, Kobi snatched homework from the printer as soon as it came out the feed.  If guests left their purses or briefcases on the floor, she pilfered the contents and carried items around the house like prized chew toys. Her first year with wrapped Christmas gifts didn’t entirely work out well.  Even her bark didn’t fit with anything we ever knew about dogs, sounding more like a strangled yodel. Kobi made us laugh everyday and although her independent nature made obedience training more difficult, (some obedience schools will not even accept Shibas) she became a lovely little dog and fun companion for all of us.

Now, we come to the night we lost her on my parents’ property, which is bordered by miles of fields, woods and a busy country road.  She slipped away as we entered the house, halfway in the back door, when we removed her leash.  In that split second, she spied a rabbit in the cornfield and leaped away into the darkness.

Jennifer’s look of shock and fear expressed what we all knew.  The chances of ever seeing Kobi again registered somewhere between slim and none.  Ken and I sprinted into the field, hatless, gloveless, with no flashlights, for fear we would lose track of the sound of her jingling dog tags, which grew farther away by the second.   The thick clouds that night, made it impossible to see anything beyond the circle of light emanating from the backdoor, including all the dips and rolls of the recently farrowed cornfield. Our pursuit became a series of stumbles and tumbles while we desperately tried to stay within hearing range of her telltale jingle.

Another significant trait of Shibas is that they are virtually uncatchable.  They are one of the fastest dog breeds on earth. When speed is combined with an impish nature, these dogs interpret your retrieval attempts as a wonderful game of keep away. Obedience training is vital.  Your only hope with a loose Shiba is that they will choose to come to you.  Only a year old, the command, “Come,” still meant zippo to Kobi.

I don’t know how long Ken and I ran around that field but at some point, Ken, ahead of me by now, could see the outline of the woods, along the river, coming at us as we ran.  Sheer panic filled him as he contemplated all the woodland creatures within, just waiting for a lively game of tag with a little dog.  Finding her in deep woods that ran for many miles would be nearly impossible.

Ken plunged into the dense trees, still following Kobi’s sound. Throughout the time Ken and I ran around the field, we both kept crying for God to help us, protect us and stop Kobi which helped us keep track of one another.  As I came to the end of my strength, my frozen hands and ears started to voice opinions and despair overtook me. I stopped to breathe, pull up my hood, and warm my hands in my pockets. I listened for Ken but heard nothing at all, no sound of Ken or Kobi nor even the sounds of cornstalks blowing in the cold, North wind. All previous noises simply ceased.

I fell to my knees, part exhaustion, part prayer, and cried out to God one more time. Just as I heard a crashing sound in the woods ahead of me Ken’s voice rang out in the silent night.   “I’ve got her! I’ve got her!” “Head back to the house and let Jennifer know I’ve got her, okay?” He shouted, breathlessly, joyfully.

Only when we re-united at my parents’ home did we hear Ken’s miraculous story of how he came to catch Kobi.  When he plunged into the woods, he could hear her tags jangling, changing directions at a high speed.  He presumed she’d found a nest of some hapless rabbits or woodchucks to chase around the woods. Then, abruptly, the same silence I experienced, fell on the woods also.  The lack of Kobi’s jingle convinced him that she’d run out of his hearing and we’d most likely never see her again.

In that desperate moment, the moon broke through the tree canopy like a searchlight, illuminating a small clearing.  Kobi sat motionless, in the center of the moonlight. Disbelieving, Ken inched towards her.  She sat peacefully, staring at him with a quizzical expression, until he reached her and picked her up, tucking her under his arm.  As soon as he did, the moonlight disappeared.

In the ensuing 14 years of Kobi’s life, never again did she sit so still off leash and allow someone to pick her up as Ken did that night, not even when she became blind in one eye. He is certain that God sent an angel to detach her from whatever she’d been chasing and hold her tightly until Ken arrived.  Instead of a holiday season tainted by a loss, it became enriched by a miracle.

I don’t know what or whom you’ve lost that you are grieving this Christmas season.  God doesn’t always perform miracles the way we’d like, judging by the empty seats around many holiday tables this year.  The sorrows of this world sometimes threaten to eclipse one of the primary truths of Christmas; Jesus came as a babe to be our Emmanuel, God with us. He cares passionately, about everything that matters to us, even little lost dogs.  Just as he stayed by my side and Ken’s in the field, helping us to get back up, fall after fall, he will do the same for you. He may send a miracle your way, to restore a prodigal child, lost job, broken relationship, etc.  as he did for us, but even if he doesn’t, his love and compassion for you remain constant and sustaining.

You might feel like life has become a farrowed field of upheaval, strife, disappointment, heartbreak and unwanted changes.  He is with you. He is with you. He is with you, always.  He will take you through your challenges, sending goodness and mercy to dog your footsteps. God is always about redeeming what’s been lost.  That’s why he sent Jesus, our Emmanuel.

 

 

 

 

Words of Construction or Destruction

Is my tongue a Bob the Builder or a Wreck-It Ralph?

I’m in an ongoing battle with Eeyore, glass half-full, Puddleglum tendencies, inherent in my nature.  We creatives feel all the “feels,” too much of the time.   I can be Bob the Builder when I don’t feel like life is smacking me around.  When I feel kicked to the curb, my Wreck-It Ralph side emerges. My stomach hurts as if I’ve been punched, and my shoulders want to invade my ear space.  In these moments, I discover how much sanctification I’ve allowed God to work in me by what loops through my mind and comes out my mouth.

When the normal junk of life happens my inner Bob and Ralph are at war.  Paul, the Apostle, calls it the old nature and the new nature. For me, it’s a day by day, sometimes minute by minute choice, which voice I’ll listen to and which one I ignore.

If someone sins against me Ralph says,

“Well, that was rotten.  What a crummy thing to do (say) I’m so sick of…….   They always…  etc. etc.”

Meanwhile, my Bob, trying to be heard over the din, says,

“God, I’m hurting, and I don’t want to sin.  I need your help to heal, forgive, release and make peace. Help me, please help me. “

The sorrows of this earth roll through every life in some fashion and that also creates an argument between my inner Ralph and Bob. Ralph says,

“Why is this happening to me?  I’ve been so faithful to God, and this is what I get in return?  What’s the point of it all? Does God even hear my prayers?  I don’t  feel like reading the Bible right now.” 

Bob, on the other hand, remembers all the Truth deposits God’s placed inside and tries to bring those to my conscious mind.

“Remember, Jesus said we experience lots of trouble in this world, but that he overcame the world? And read Job again and remember that during troubles, God is still God and his hand is good towards you.  Isaiah said Jesus carries us like sheep and when we go through fires, they won’t burn us and when we go through deep waters, they won’t drown us.”

Today, in my series of “Hidden Heroes,” let’s talk about Nehemiah, the original Bob the Builder.  As a captive Israelite, living in Persia, Nehemiah wasn’t “livin’ the dream.”  He served as a cup bearer, which meant any poison intended for the king ended up in his body first.  That pretty much eclipses any workplace issues with which I’ve ever contended.  As a layperson, not a prophet or priest, he seems like an interesting choice to lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  In fact, nothing suggests Nehemiah possessed any construction skills at all.  Why did God choose him?

Take half an hour to read through this fascinating story.  You will see a consistent speech pattern that emerges from Nehemiah and a constancy in the blather and schemes that came from his opponents.   Here’s a few samples:

Nehemiah:

“Remember the Lord, great and awesome.”  Neh. 4:14

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Neh:10

“The God of heaven will give us success.” Neh. 2:2

“Our God will fight for us.”  Neh. 4:20

Sanballat and Tobiah:

What are those feeble Jews doing?” Neh. 4:2

“What they are building, if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Neh. 4:3

(Nehemiah speaking) “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work and it will not be completed.” Neh. 6:7

The job of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall involved grueling labor under harsh conditions with the original Wreck-It Ralphs, Sanballat and Tobiah, opposing the workers and Nehemiah at every turn.  Nehemiah stayed positive and kept on doing what God led him to do, confident in God’s provision and strength.

Every moment of every day, we are presented with numerous choices to build up situations and people with our words or tear them down.  What we say can either be the seeds for miracles and breakthroughs, like Nehemiah and his workers experienced, or simply another voice in the cacophony of negativity that resonates in our culture and even in the church, to a degree.  Cynical, gloomy words do not line up with God’s values and missions.

We are children of THE LIGHT, and our words should reflect that truth. Our speech can bring brightness into dark situations, peace where there is strife, hope where there is despair. Even correction and truth can be spoken, like Nehemiah did, without sacrificing grace and truth.

I challenge us to listen to what’s parading through our brains and rolling off our tongues to see if we sound more like Bob, or Ralph.  Let’s not squirrel up the great plans God’s designed for us with unharnessed tongues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Heroes

Humility always beats achievement

Sometimes leaders get too big for their britches. The consequences for their followers are painful when God eventually pulls the rug out.  Headlines like, “Church Disbands After Lead Pastor……” represent damaged hearts on a grand scale.  The problem is, it’s a subtle and easy thing to allow myself, as a leader, to try and occupy a higher position than the role God’s given to me.

In the next few posts, I’m examining some leaders from the Bible that don’t receive quite as much attention as guys like Moses, Joshua, Joseph, David and Paul.  The people I’ve selected are great leaders also, even though their spheres of influence were smaller or their season of leadership shorter.   What attracts me to them is that each one possessed a quality of spiritual greatness that I believe every leader should seek to emulate.  Today, I am dazzled by John the Baptist and his humility.

I remember when I led a thriving Bible study that dwindled because a chunk of my participants chose, one year, to attend a large, nondenominational, intensive Bible study at a nearby church. Instead of being glad that these women grew to the point that they wanted some serious Bible meat, I felt rejected. (My study was geared for young believers) Thankfully, God interrupted my pity party and pointed out my skewed perspective.  I didn’t celebrate the fact that they wanted to follow Jesus more deeply, I felt jealousy that they weren’t with me anymore.  I allowed God to change my attitude and continued to lead the beginning group for several more years.  I’m grateful he didn’t take it from me entirely and give it to someone else.

First, a few facts about John the Baptist, taken from Baker’s Bible dictionary.  When you realize the significance and honor God bestowed on him, it’s even more amazing that he didn’t think he was all that plus a bag of chips.

  • His birth is recorded in detail. (Luke 1)
  • His birth is also framed by angels and divine intervention, like Jesus. (Luke 1)
  • God chose him to be the first prophetic voice after 400 years of silence. (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • God chose him to announce the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the plan of salvation. (Matt. 3:2)
  • People from Jerusalem, Judea and that entire region journeyed out into the wilderness to hear him preach. (Matthew 3:1-17)
  • He baptized Jesus, the Son of God. (Matt. 3:13-17)
  • His preaching and teaching were carried all the way to the ears of King Herod. (Matthew 14:1-12)
  • His disciple’s prayer lives were so significant that one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to, “teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
  • The Apostle John dubbed him “the witness of the light.” (John 1:6-8)

So, how hard might it be to remain humble if you were the pastor of the first A.D. mega church that baptized Jesus Christ, along with being the ­first prophet to speak after 400 years of prophetic silence?   I’ve observed leaders with much less on their resume act like they are God’s special bonus to the church.  The truth is, God designs his leaders to be gifts to the body of Christ.  The problem with too many of us, is that we get to thinking that our piece is a little more important than some other pieces on God’s chessboard.  When a leader becomes careless with their cloak of humility, they leave a wake of damaged hearts and tarnished credibility not just in the kingdom of God, but in the lost world around them.   

I want to be like John the Baptist.  Check out his responses in the first few chapters of the Apostle John’s book, to Jesus’ fast-growing ministry on a hillside near John’s own.

“I am not the Messiah.”

                “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

                “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

When John the Baptist’s disciples became very concerned that they were losing members to Jesus, they spoke to him about it.  He replied,

I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”

John expressed true joy at Jesus’s ministry success.  He didn’t view him as a competitor but instead recognized that although God chose him to occupy a very key position in kingdom events, it was time for him to recede into the background as Jesus’ ministry rose in prominence.  Oh, that every leader could possess that kind of humility.

It’s almost impossible not to run into a competitive vibe amongst spiritual leaders when you put a herd of them together.  I’ve wrangled with it every time I’ve been involved in a combined church, community event, even struggling with it sometimes in my own heart.

How differently might we come across to the unchurched and each other, as individual believers and local bodies of Christ, if our spiritual gifts and achievements could only be seen under our cloaks of humility?

 

Righteous Uprising Part Three

Who or what is running your life?

I used to live on a gerbil wheel.   Packing my days from early mornings, (I naturally wake up somewhere around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.)  until late bedtimes, I left little time for rest and quiet.  Instead, I felt proud of how much I could accomplish in a day, a week, a month.  Unfortunately, I’d get commitments and tasks spinning so fast, I couldn’t keep up with the pace of my own life, at which point I’d tumble off the wheel entirely.

Usually, my off times included colds, flues and other sicknesses that come when we run down our immune systems due to stress, lack of sleep, poor food choices and the like.  I left people in the lurch consistently, scrambling to fill all the holes I left because of my sudden absence from everything.

I didn’t recognize this pattern in my life until God started confronting me about it one day during a long recovery from a surgery.  Finally, I used this time to reflect on my life, my choices and the speed I insisted on maintaining.  I noticed a repeating phrase in the gospels along the lines of “and he retreated to a quiet place alone,” referring to Jesus.

Hebrews 4, and its theme of “enter his rest,” became a plumb line.  My life then, fell very short.  I needed to learn how to live in a place of peace and rest while still doing the kingdom work God gave me to do, like Jesus.  We know that Jesus stewarded all his resources perfectly, but how?  How did Jesus balance rest and work?

In his book, “Sparkling Gems II,” Pastor Rick Renner states that if we add up all the events and passages of time mentioned in the gospels, we are only told what Jesus did for about 27 days of his three-year ministry.  This is why the apostle John said, “Jesus also did many other things.  If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”  John 21:25 NLT.

Jesus packed his days with ministry to people, yet he still found the time to be alone, rest and receive fresh anointing for the next thing.   He shares his secret with us in John 5:19. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself.  He does only what he sees the Father doing.”  In other words, Jesus worked where God made provision and prepared the way.

When we consider our energy use and what kind of accounting we want to give to the Lord, it’s easy to put ourselves on gerbil wheels.  That’s not God’s way.  A great perspective on how to find balance in energy stewardship is the business phrase, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.” For believers, “smarter,” means, do only what God gives you to do in the way He wants you to do it.

A story from Luke 5 shows us what that looks like in real time.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.’  ‘Master, ‘Simon replied, we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.’  And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.”

Did Simon and his crew work hard the night before? Yes.  Did it produce anything valuable?  No.   Did they work hard again when they followed Jesus’ instructions?  Yes.  Did it produce anything valuable?   Yes, and there’s the difference.  We can always find things to do that need do be done and make us feel important and productive. The secret is discerning the difference between good things and God things. I can, potentially, burn up all my energy doing a lot of stuff that makes me and others happy, happy, happy and entirely miss my God-given destiny.

If I want to see a righteous harvest and please God with my energy, I must choose to spend it only on those things God leads me to do.  There will still be lots of hard work, but instead of falling away in exhaustion with alarming regularity, I will work steadily.  God knows my limits and resources, and although he may push me out of comfort zones, he will never call me to do unfruitful work.  He will call me into rest throughout each day, if I listen.  He will do this for any believer.

Some of us head into Sundays, vacations and sabbaticals in such a state of weariness, we collapse once we get there.  That’s not God’s design.  We need to stop making busyness a badge of honor, as if constant movement and overly full schedules make us more acceptable to God.  Unfortunately, I think the reverse might be true.

I think it hurts God’s heart when I don’t take time to listen and discern his plans. He’s probably sad when I keep fishing on the wrong side of the boat and then sob because I can’t catch any fish. Additionally, I no longer possess the energy to do the stuff that matters to God.  Peter and his crew could have probably hauled in that big load of fish if they hadn’t exhausted themselves the night before. It might have been somewhat humiliating for these tough, seasoned fishermen to call in extra help.

Thank God for grace and many second chances. If, if only we could keep a firm grasp on the truth that God is always running team meetings with the latest info about where to fish, what lures to use, what time to go and everything else we need to know.  When we skip meetings and don’t take the time to listen quietly, we miss a lot of memos and changes.

How are you doing achieving the balance between God’s sabbath rest (which is not just for Sundays) and accomplishing the work he’s assigned to you?  Maybe you need to shut down a gerbil wheel in your life and become an active listener to be able to better manage your energy resources.  As Henry Blackaby says in his book Experiencing God, “Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t skip over the relationship to get to the activity.”

 

 

 

Righteous Uprising Part Two

Time is slipping away.....

“Nope. Can’t help. I’ve done my time at church.”  This rebuttal to my request for volunteer help, left me fumbling for words. I stumbled out something like, “Okay, well, I’ll be sure to take you off my call list for the future.”

For the next few minutes, I engaged in a conversation with the air spouting things like, “Done my time?  DONE MY TIME?  So, being involved in ministries is a prison sentence?” Worse yet, this wasn’t my first time to hear this reason for not serving.

Several folks patiently explained to me that people under age 50 should carry the load of volunteer church ministry.  Funny thing is, I received better responses from folks 65-70 and older who couldn’t necessarily get down on a floor with kids but eagerly served at funeral lunches, contributed baked goods, set up classrooms, washed nursery toys, folded bulletins, tended grounds, and performed many other necessary tasks, faithfully.  Their kids?  Not so much.

In America, we are witnessing the daily passing of the folks labeled “The Greatest Generation.”  These are fighters that survived the Great Depression and World War II and then created an epic boom in our nation’s economy and population.  The youngest age of this generation is currently 94 years old.  Back in my volunteer recruitment days, they were in their sixties and seventies.

This age group’s values merit a closer look from younger generations, specifically in the ways they contributed the valuable resource of time.  Hardships during their formative years, formed steadfast, self-sacrificing characters. It’s impossible to calculate the world-wide impact of those who left families, careers and homeland to serve and die in places as far-flung as the beaches of Normandy and the Japanese prison camps of the Philippines. Men and women on the Homefront, endured family separations, rationings and shortages. Many women left their homes and young children to take grueling jobs in factories producing military supplies, all for the greater cause. Ultimately, many families made the supreme sacrifice of losing their loved ones in battlefields abroad.

When World War II ended, these courageous people continued the same sacrificial mindset into their homes, workplaces, communities and their churches. Sometimes, I’ve shared volunteerism refusals that I’ve heard, with friends from my grandparent’s generation.  Their reactions are typically a head-shaking, incredulous disbelief.  You see, for them, serving was never about what was comfortable or fit into their schedule. For the “Greatest Generation,” it’s always been about finding significance through meeting other’s needs.  That sounds a lot like the kingdom of God to me.

Meanwhile, many people in my age range, the “Baby Boomers,” are still searching for significance in their lives. Sadder yet, many of us, in our attempts to provide better lives for our children, dubbed “The Millenials,” unintentionally communicated to them, that the world spins for their sole pleasure.  The result is that most church’s volunteer ministries are grossly understaffed.  Ask any pastor.  Here’s a few “reasons” for not serving, that came to me over the years, and not just by one or two folks, either.  You can’t make this stuff up.

“I’ve got (aerobics, pottery, knitting, photography) class on Wednesday nights.” 

“Our family spends the weekends traveling for (fill in band, soccer, etc.) and we just need to come to church and rest on Sundays. Well, Wednesday doesn’t work either cause the kids all have practices.” (or rehearsals or clubs, etc. etc.)

“Well, we like to go up to our cottage most weekends, May through October. When we do come to church, we just want to sit in the service and enjoy our church family.”

Now, hear my heart, none of these mentioned activities are evil, of themselves.  The activities are not to blame. We are the ones who rank them more highly than we ought. I am so proud of my parents putting up a boundary during my high school years that inspired other parents to follow suit. My brothers and I could be part of teams, clubs, plays, etc. if it didn’t interfere with our Wednesday and Sunday service attendance. The director of our high school plays changed rehearsal schedules when I, and other Christ-following friends, shared our parents’ boundaries with him.  We took a risk that could have knocked us out of something we really loved for something greater. It felt awkward and embarrassing at the time, but thank God, my parents placed high value on stewarding our time.  My brothers engaged in exhausting football and marching band practices and rehearsals but didn’t skip youth group or sleep in late on Sundays and miss Sunday school.

When did faithful ministry and church attendance fall so low on our priority lists, that we only serve when it fits around all our other pursuits?

If you’re squirming as you read, understand there’s no judgement coming from me.  I’m a strong believer in God’s sowing and reaping principles.  What you might be feeling, if this post is troubling you, is the Holy Spirit encouraging you to take a fresh look at your schedule and priorities.

The battle lines between good and evil are becoming starker as the day of Christ’s return approaches.  We are called to advance the kingdom, which takes time, quality time. To close, here’s another parable I’d like to share to help you understand Jesus’ perspective on our use of time.  It’s similar to the Parable of The Talents from last week, but in the Parable of The Minas, Jesus is speaking of time, not money.  Please notice that in the talent’s parable, the servants are given different amounts of money, representing the different skills, gifts and such God gives to each believer.

In the mina’s parable, each servant is given the same number of minas, to symbolize that we are all given the same number of hours in a day.  Note also how differently the servants are treated in the two parables.  With that in mind, I encourage you to read Luke 19: 12-26 with fresh eyes. Let the story marinate in your heart to give the Spirit an opportunity to speak to you through it.

For “The Greatest Generation,” their service to the kingdom wasn’t a convenient pleasure cruise. They weren’t afraid of weekly, nitty gritty work like changing diapers, pouring out hundreds of little communion cups, washing pots and pans after a church supper,  scrubbing windows and floors on congregational clean-up days and the like.  The difference is, between them and too many in younger generations,  their expectations were completely different. How about we stop trying to find ourselves and instead lose ourselves in service to others?  Luke 17:33

 

 

Righteous Uprising

A reality check for the body of Christ

I used to welcome destructive relationships into my life.  They ran perpendicular to God’s word and nature and deep down, I knew it.  Nevertheless, I invested myself in them heavily for years.  How is it that I could love God deeply, serve him wholeheartedly and still commit myself to things that served as opposition forces?

I’m not speaking about human friendships. The associations I refer to, turned out to be more destructive in my life than any person could be, even though, in and of themselves, they weren’t evil. (Well, a couple were!)  I squandered time, money and emotional energy on them consistently, resources God expected me to use for his kingdom. The King James Bible uses a strong term for them and calls these things “unfruitful works of darkness,” in Ephesians 5:11.  That sounds harsh, but I want you to consider this truth. Anything that nudges Christ out of the center of your life’s throne, by default becomes an opposing force towards God.  

“Whoa,” you say.  “Sorry, you got messed up in bad stuff, Sharon, but that doesn’t describe me.”  Oh? Are you sure? Developing affection for worldly pursuits can be a very subtle, gradual slide, especially if other believers are sliding with you.  Allow me to pose some questions, not to attack you but perhaps to awaken you.

For decades, I’ve listened to church folk (and myself) criticize and complain about the immoral behaviors of their societies.  Brothers and sisters, the decline of morality in any culture cannot be blamed on the unsaved.  Lost people will behave like their master.  The fault for moral decline lies entirely with the body of Christ inside any society.  We are called the salt and light.  So, let’s stop railing at the darkness for a moment and contemplate our own realities.  Please, read on and be open to the possibility that like me, your lifestyle and habits might need a good dose of righteous cleansing.

  1. Would you watch your current favorite shows with your Nana or your pastor on the couch? Would you be comfortable reading aloud to them from your current recreational reading books?   I used to read tons of horror books that would have scared the soup out of my grandma, and don’t get me started on the list of dark movies and shows I used to watch regularly.

 

  1. Does your checking account demonstrate faithful tithing to your local church? What about offerings for missionaries and folks in need? Here’s a nice piece of irony.  For a few months in seminary preparing for ministry, Ken and I decided we didn’t have enough income to tithe. We did, however, find money to eat out and go shopping.  Hmmmmm………

 

  1. How much time do you spend on your appearance each morning compared to the time you spend in Bible study and prayer? I shudder to think of how long it took me to structure my large 80’s hairdo’s back in the day. 

 

  1. How much time do you commit to your church home or a parachurch organization in volunteer ministry compared to the time you invest in social media, video games, vacations, concerts or other entertainment? I’ve met so many people that tell me they don’t have the time to commit to a volunteer ministry, yet they still find space in their schedule for hours of entertainment pursuits, pictures of which they proudly post on social media.

 

  1. Are the schedules in your home so full, that skipping church and sleeping in on Sunday mornings seems reasonable? This is a growing and disturbing phenomenon in the American church. When you’re on vacation on a Sunday, how do you honor God on his day? Whereas a generation ago there might have been too much legalism surrounding Sunday activities, I’m not so sure that we haven’t now overreacted and adopted the world’s mantra that “Sunday is Funday.”

 

  1. Do family events, athletic practices, business meetings and such, take a higher priority in your schedule then participation in a small group Bible study, youth group, or attendance at a midweek service or children’s program? Another disturbing trend in the American church is the notion that Sunday morning worship attendance alone, checks all the boxes for being an engaged member of a local body of Christ.

 

  1. Are your conversations with others wholesome and fruitful or are crude language, off-color stories, useless chatter, gossip or negativity a regular part of some of your relationships? How much would our words change if we understood the truth that God listens to his children intently, like every minute of every day? 

 

In the next few posts, I want to challenge you to examine how you are using every resource God’s entrusted to you. How much resource might we be unintentionally committing to “unfruitful deeds?”  Let me end this post with a familiar parable.  It’s long, but please read it with an open mind.  It puts a holy fear in me and I hope it does in you too.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip.  He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.  He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last- dividing it in proportion to their abilities.  He then left on his trip.

The servant who received the five bags began to invest the money and earned five more.  The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more.  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

After a long time, their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money.  The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful in handling this small amount so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’  The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate.  I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth.  Look, here is your money back.’  But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank?  At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’  Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.  To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.  But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.  Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   Matthew 25 NLT

 

 

 

Appearances Matter- Part Three

Leave a trail of order and beauty behind you.

The chaos I encountered on my first day, in one school, remains a vivid memory.  The previous teacher resigned in the middle of the semester for mysterious reasons. When I entered my new classroom, hours before my first class, I gasped..  Apparently, the two weeks between my initial interview and subsequent acceptance of the position, turned into anarchy for the school choirs, under various substitute teachers.

The spacious vocal music room, filled with possibilities two weeks prior, now looked like a set from “Girls Gone Wild.”  Empty fast food bags and wrappers, (some with food still in them) Slurpee cups, sheet music, candy wrappers, and crumpled schoolwork, decorated much of the floor.  Trash cans overflowed so someone made attempts to heap much of the garbage in several corners. It appeared even the custodians feared to enter the room.  Chairs were no longer in the neat rows they had been in when I’d toured the room with the principal.  There were a few in conversational groups, but many were turned upside down and some even stacked up by the windows in a manner that looked like students had been traversing in and out of the windows of the basement classroom.

The mess reached epic proportions in every part of the room, like the walk-in closet, I couldn’t step into, and the pillaging of the teacher’s desk, but I think you get the idea. The chaos, trash and signs of neglect everywhere ignited a righteous fire in me.  I strode to the custodial office and requested trash bags, a vacuum and various cleaning supplies from the supervisor.  He seemed surprised but complied.  I then made it clear, kindly, that I expected our trash cans emptied each night, and our room be given the same general cleaning as any other classroom in the building.

“Sure,” he said, overly casual. “As long as my crew doesn’t have to walk through those kids cast off cheeseburgers and burritos to do it. “

“Deal,” I said just as casually.

For the next two hours, I worked like a house afire to restore a semblance of order before my first class arrived.  I struggled not to laugh as each group of students entered and loud, hallway conversations dropped in mid-sentence as soon as they saw the room’s appearance.  Muttered cracks like “Dude, this one’s serious,” and general “Whoa’s” mixed with delighted smiles from students who probably didn’t enjoy watching their choir room turn into a landfill.

In time, I restored order to the room. I filled all the bulletin boards with posters and interesting musical stuff, (this hadn’t been done in many years), created spaces for small- group work, and did everything else within my power and budget to turn the choir room into an eye-pleasing place to come and make music.  I kept flowers or plants on my desk and always recognized every holiday with appropriate décor. Chore posters for each class rotated classroom maintenance, and I recruited several student librarians to corral all our music.

Of course, I climbed mountains discipline-wise also, for the first couple months or so, as law and order had long been absent from the choirs. Eventually, students started to make connections to order and beauty, in their music and their surroundings. This theme applied to everything that happened in my classroom.  Sometimes I’d catch glimpses of other teachers peeking on my classes, skeptical that the formerly wild mustangs now quietly worked on theory, sang their hearts out and ran their own sectionals effectively.

Chaos is not part of God’s original design for earth.  As soon as mankind sinned, Satan launched his assault of anarchy against all of God’s design.  We continue to live in a world that is on a course of steady disorder until Christ returns, and the new heavens and earth come to be.  As children of God, he commands us to imitate Christ, who brought peace into situations of pure bedlam.

For example, consider the demon-possessed folks mentioned in the gospels, who terrorized entire regions.  Can you imagine how life changed, not only for the demoniac, but for those who lived nearby? No longer did they fear their children might accidentally wander into a terrifying situation.   Their sleep was no longer disrupted by the howls and screams of the tormented.  With one act of power and compassion, Jesus changed the lives of many.  He brought peace into chaos.

Cleaning up my disastrous classroom seems small compared to setting someone free of demons, however, it is the important task God issued to me at that time.  By restoring order in my classroom, a chain of events occurred.  Students behaved better.  Focused students conquered their vocal music.  Choir concerts became a joy not just for the them but their family and friends also. Choir class became a bright spot in many student’s school days, especially for those who struggled academically.  Several students chose to attend college and obtain music degrees themselves.  I suspect they are out there somewhere, making music in orderly classrooms and changing lives.

Are you currently planted in a chaotic environment at work, school, home or elsewhere?  If not, God may present you with a situation that needs beauty and order restored to it.  I remember a mission trip where our team spent ten hours a day sorting through a warehouse of clothes donated to an inner-city ministry. They were simply chucked in giant piles in order of how they’d been donated.  That many hours in a metal pole barn in Mississippi, in August, without air conditioning, challenged us on many levels.  Still, we took great pride in sorting and organizing to such a degree that the ministry could distribute much-needed clothing to people living below the poverty line.

It’s so tempting to turn our backs on messes we didn’t create.  That’s not what Jesus did, though.  Look around your world a bit, in places where you possess influence or favor.  You could easily earn the right to share Christ with someone simply by cleaning something up.

 

Appearances Do Matter- Part Two

Reflecting God's Beauty Where We Live

 

I chuckle still when I remember the day our next-door neighbor rapped on our fence and shouted, “Are you people ever going to pick up your leaves?”  Five maple trees in our yard dropped thousands of their colorful cast-offs until they were ankle deep on our front and back lawns.  Prevailing winds chronically blew the offenders into our neighbors’ yard, unheeded in the front, and right up over the fence in the back.

As new home-owners, Ken and I struggled to master the art of juggling ministry and friendships with household responsibilities.  Still in our twenties, we spent much of our free time hanging out with friends, playing touch football and softball, riding bikes, skiing, hitting the beach and such.  Yard work didn’t even rank in the top ten list of how we liked to spend our off time.

I cringe now, when I think of how infrequently we mowed that lawn, how deep the leaves became before we bothered to rake.  In general, we were “that” house in the neighborhood.  You know the one I mean.  The lawn is long, gone to seed and grows way out into the sidewalk.   The gardens might be a mixture of plants and weeds or only weeds.  Leaves are rarely raked, and snow is not cleared from the sidewalk.  There is a general look of neglect and untidiness around the house and yard.  If it’s located out in the country, there might be a rusting Chevy or a discarded Maytag in the yard.

Our relationship with the fence-rapping neighbor remained contentious the entire time we lived in that house.  Worse yet, Ken and I privately dubbed him a “fusspot,” dismissing his concerns as silly.  Isn’t that a lovely attitude for a child of God?  God placed us in that neighborhood for his purposes. We missed some of them. Many times, we entertained church folks in that house, but never built authentic relationships with a single neighbor, especially that man.  If we’d bothered to engage him in conversation, we could have gained knowledge and skills about caring for a home and yard and earned the opportunity to share Christ.  We were too busy being smart aleck 20- something’s.

I know many of you reading this live in condos and other situations where lawn care is irrelevant.  I’m asking you to reflect on your home in terms of the larger picture. Ask yourself these questions.  How does my dwelling place reflect the beauty of God?  Am I making the most of what God’s given me to steward in my home?  When people set foot on my property do they sense peace? Are their souls inspired by what they see?  Whether you live in a tiny dorm room or a five thousand square foot house, you are given the opportunity to display parts of God’s character in your surroundings.

People are attracted to beauty, whether they are believers or not. That’s the way God created us.  Countless times I’ve struck up conversations with a stranger on a beach because we are experiencing a sunset together both trying to get that perfect camera angle.  Shared wonder creates a bridge where conversations can start, and the seeds of friendship can be planted.  I remember when we lived in an apartment, and people initiated conversations about flowers with me simply because I set a pot of impatiens outside my door.

One of the most inspirational books, on the topic of creating beauty around you is “Hidden Art,” by Edith Schaeffer. The premise of her book is that our Creator designed us to create also.  Recognizing and highlighting the beauty within us and around us is part of our God-given nature and it will attract unbelievers to us just as it did to Jesus.

One of my favorite stories in her book tells of the days when she and her family lived in severely humble circumstances near railroad yards, in a small dwelling where most of their furniture consisted of cast-offs or homemade creations.  Despite meager circumstances, God put her eyes on homeless men who walked past regularly.  She and her two young children prepared simple trays of sandwiches, dressed up to look special with napkins and a few flowers, to leave outside for the passing men. They’d also slip in a little New Testament to feed souls along with stomachs.  Creating and sharing beauty does not require wads of money but simply a willingness of heart.

I heartily encourage you to buy the book yourself (very cheap at Amazon) and gain inspiration for your home or office or whatever real estate God’s entrusted to you. In the same way that our personal appearance should not be off-putting, (check out part one of this series) neither should the places we live, and work repel or frustrate people.  A chronically cluttered, dirty house and tattered yard do not tell the truth about who we are in Christ.  We are sons and daughters of THE King and therefore, we should leave a swathe of goodness and beauty behind us wherever we go.

Please, please, please, don’t take on condemnation if your home or yard or office are currently in rough shape, temporarily.  Many years ago, chronically ill with internal issues, dust bunnies and toddler crud took over my home.  When I finally went through surgery to correct the problem, a team of eight ladies from my church came to clean my house, for four hours.  Oh my.  The deep-down dirt probably shocked some of them, but they never said a word to me.  Sweet sisters. I felt such gratitude that they restored order and beauty to my home during a time when I could not do it myself.

You might be in a season right now that doesn’t provide time or energy to keep chaos at bay.  If this is but a season and not a lifestyle, I believe God pours grace on it.  However, if chaos is your norm, understand that those sorts of patterns do not flow from our Father.  He spoke order and beauty into chaos at the beginning of creation, and his nature remains unchanged. Since God the Spirit lives in us, shouldn’t our lives reflect our true identities?

 

 

 

 

Appearances DO Matter

Are we attracting or repelling?

I wish I didn’t possess a bionic nose.  Certain strong odors make my stomach flippy. In college, I belonged to a Bible study led by an all-out-for-Christ guy who was also handsome.  His passion for God inspired me, but his showers- optional approach to hygiene nearly laid me out, and not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  It became awkward each week as people maneuvered themselves around the room so as not to sit right next to Lloyd. (Not his real name.)  Latecomers wound up on either side of him and you could see the suffering and resolution on their faces.  People rarely came late more than a couple times.

Lloyd could pray down heaven and dig into scripture in powerful ways, but here’s the thing.  I wonder how the unbelievers all around him responded to his hygiene habits?  Probably some took offense when they encountered him. Whereas all us sweet Christians lacked the spiritual guts to speak the truth in love to Lloyd, I doubt the unsaved held back their opinions.   I never did crack the code of why he didn’t just shower more often but I vividly remember people’s reaction to this godly brother.

For a few weeks I’d like to disrupt a common idea expressed in the body of Christ that comes out in phrases like this: “I don’t care what other people think of me, it only matters what God thinks.” Instead I want you to consider that, like all of God’s creation, we are living illustrations of his beauty and wonder.   My inspiration comes from a devotional by Pastor Rick Renner, in his book, “Sparkling Gems II.”  His verse is I Timothy 3:7. “Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.” (NLT) This is on Paul’s list of qualifications for church leaders, but Pastor Rick applies it to all believers.  I agree. Christians should be the most lovely, delightful people on earth, well-spoken of by those outside the family of God.

Hold on, you say, doesn’t Paul also warn us not to be people pleasers in Galatians 1:10? “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Did Jesus live to please others?  No, yet people mobbed him wherever he traveled.  How did he manage to obey and please his father perfectly yet still command such a following?

I think many of Jesus’ qualities made people feel better, more hopeful and peaceful when they entered his orbit.  He listened to broken people, touched them and valued them.  I believe he spoke and behaved in such winsome, captivating ways, people gravitated towards him.

My old Bible study leader knew how to handle the Word well and enjoyed a powerful prayer life, yet he repelled people.  My point?  Appearances DO matter, whether it’s your personal appearance, your home and yard, office, work station, ministry area or any other arena where you are responsible for the way something comes across to other folk’s five senses, particularly unbelievers.

In this post I’d like to pitch a few ideas about our personal appearance.  If you love what God loves, you will care profoundly about lost people.  If so, according to Paul, in I Timothy, how unbelievers view us is so important, that he included it in the list of requirements for overseers and deacons.  The process of initiating conversations and building relationships with the unchurched is hamstrung if there is something about our appearance or hygiene that makes folks uncomfortable.  In simple terms, if you look, talk or act weird, it’s gonna be a lot harder to connect with the unchurched.

As children of The Original Designer, we reflect the beauty and order God established in original creation. I’m not advocating imbalance with too much time spent on clothes, hair, makeup, etc.  However, it’s clear by the crowds that pressed in on him every day, people wanted to hear, see and touch Jesus, much like we react today to movie stars, athletes or other famous people.

The funny thing is that Isaiah 53:2 tells us that Jesus didn’t look like a movie star.  “He has no stately form or majestic splendor that we would look at Him, nor handsome appearance that we would be attracted to Him.”  Jesus looked ordinary, but I believe his inside nature reflected on his exterior.  He looked approachable, welcoming. His physical presence invited people to come closer.

Here’s some ideas for your reflection.  Ask the Holy Spirit if there’s anything he’s putting his finger on, where you might need some improvement.

  • How do I sound?  Is your voice pleasant, with no gossip, whining or shrillness?  Are people hearing your voice too much because you dominate conversations?   Do you talk or laugh so loudly it makes others uncomfortable?  Don’t sound like Lucy begging Ricky to let her be in the show or that teacher you had who screeched at students to control her classroom.
  • How do I look? Are the clothes I wear neat and clean?  Do they fit me correctly?  Just a tip here, if you are struggling with your weight, wearing clothes that are too tight draws attention to that, not away from it. I’m going to meddle a little bit here and ask women to assess their clothing honestly for modesty purposes.  There are times when Christian men are forced to look away from a sister in Christ because necklines are too low, hems too high and clothes too tight. One can’t help but wonder what males without Christ are thinking in those circumstances. Finally, men and women, being grungy looking might be a tiny bit cool if you’re a college student pulling an all-nighter.  For the rest of us, it’s just tacky.
  • How do I smell? Please don’t be offended that I’ve included this in my list and consider these two points.  Some people are off-putting because they douse themselves in perfume or after-shave. Your nose will adapt to a scent you wear every day so be cautious not to keep increasing the amount you use.  Secondly, remember Lloyd.  I still run into church folk who need to become better friends with deodorants and showers.

Let’s be sure lost folk feel at ease around the way we present ourselves, physically. Consider the fact that it’s often the first thing they will know about us.  We want to earn the right to speak to them about the eternal stuff that matters the most.