Sunday

"When we see you, we see lunch."

 “When we see you,” the dark-skinned man with the wide smile said, “we see lunch.”

My friends and I laughed, and the man joined in, but later, as I pondered his statement, I realized the truth of his confession.


David and I and two other couples were visiting Nassau, Bahamas, the second stop on a five-day cruise. David and I will be married 35 years this December, and we’d chosen to take an inexpensive cruise out of Charleston, SC, to celebrate. We worked extra days, saved for months, and chose an interior cabin with no window to afford the splurge.

Thinking we knew what frugal living looked like, our tour guide’s comment caught us by surprise. It was sobering and convicting.

Our ship was one of five docked in the port of Nassau that day. As we entered the sea of people exiting the port and making their way onto the island, sights and sounds overwhelmed us.

“Taxi, mon? Come see the famous hotel, Atlantis! I’ll take you there.”

“Hair braiding, beautiful lady? Let me fix your hair!”

“Tours of the city! Cabbage beach! Straw Market! SeƱor Frogs!”

Everywhere we turned someone was hawking their wares, offering a service, or trying to outshout the vendor beside him.

In typical American fashion, my friends and I ducked our heads, avoided eye-contract, and plowed through the clamor.

Until we realized we had no hope of seeing the sites on our own. The streets were too congested, and the map we had downloaded too obscure.

“Would you like a tour of the city?” a soft-spoken woman in a bright-colored top asked us. “I can get you a taxi to fit your group. It will be private – just you six.”

At our relieved nods, she gestured to her partner, the man with the wide smile. Within minutes we were tucked safely into an air-conditioned van weaving through traffic on our way to our first stop.

“I appreciated the way your partner approached us,” I told the driver. “Americans don’t like to be pressured. It makes us want to run the other way.”

“It can be crazy,” he acknowledged. “Today there are five cruise ships in port. Sometimes there are two. Sometimes none. On those days we don’t work.” He paused. “You have to realize, when we see you, we see lunch.”

We laughed, and soon he was regaling us with tales of the island. But back on the ship, deciding between six dining options for our evening meal, his words returned to me.

What would it be like to wonder if I’d eat today? Or to gather around the dinner table and leave hungry? To begin each day hoping I’d earn enough money to meet my most basic needs and, some days, to fail?

My husband and I encountered similar circumstances on a mission trip to Mexico. Wanting to use our money to help ease the poverty we saw, we patronized the shops and restaurants owned by families who attended our missionary friends’ church plant. At one kiosk, our group ordered smoothies. Within minutes the proprietor handed us seven frosty drinks. The rest of the group waited, and waited, and waited for their beverages.

“What’s the hold up?” I asked the missionary who had helped us order.

“They’ve taken the money you paid them and gone to buy more cups and fruit,” she said. At my puzzled look, she explained. “At the end of each day, if they’ve made a profit, their family eats that night. They keep only enough money back to fill the first few orders the next day.”

Stories like these make me realize how little I know about real need. Our family has had its share of lean times. Unemployment, sickness, and unexpected expenses have caused us to go without and do with less, but we’ve never wondered where our next meal was coming from.

In prosperous countries, many of us forget the poor exist. Jesus reminds us to remember them. To give to those less fortunate. To look for ways to serve "the least of these."

To us, being poor may mean choosing red-rind bologna instead of nitrate-free turkey on our sandwiches. Unless a homeless person stumbles across our path, most of us move through our comfortable, middle-class days and forget half the people in the world subsist on less than three dollars a day. But living in a prosperous country doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to the poor, it reinforces it.

If you, like I, want to be more intentional about ministering to the poor, here are a few suggestions:

    Begin with your local church. Is there someone who’s working hard but struggling to make ends meet? How can you come alongside them? Give an anonymous gift to help with a specific need? Send a single mother’s child to church camp? Buy someone a set of tires or mail a grocery store gift card? If you’re not sure who might have a need, ask your church leadership. 
      
  Donate to a reputable ministry that ministers to the poor in your community. Consider the Salvation Army, a homeless women’s shelter, or a local food pantry.

  Donate to a ministry that provides international aid to families in crisis. Samaritan’s Purse is often the first on the ground following a disaster or international incident. Sister Freda Robinson in Kitale, Kenya inspires me and makes me cry every time I receive an update on what she’s doing to help the poor. Watch this short video if you dare. If you're reading by email, click HERE to learn more about Sister Freda's ministryI give to her ministry through Guidelines International. Perhaps you might, too.





“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said, and with this truth comes an obligation.
And a privilege.

Our taxi ride through the streets of Nassau showed me sparkling water, sandy beaches, and historic places. It also reminded me that many of the people in our world awaken to an empty stomach and no sure way to fill it.

In God’s grand plan, he chose us to be the ones with clothes on our backs, food in our pantries, and discretionary income to use for his glory. How will we spend it? And will He be pleased?





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Wednesday

Mouse-colored Mornings – A New Perspective on the Wintry Seasons of Our Lives



 Because my body is a solar-powered, energy-guzzling consumer, I hate winter. Like a cell phone with a battery that reads 23%, I start shutting down all but the most necessary functions when the sun doesn’t shine. Languishing in Energy Saver mode from November to March, I hunker down until that magic yellow orb reappears, and I can recharge.

Until then, my output is negligible and my productivity tanks.

I always bemoan what winter does to the landscape. Leaf-laden trees become anorexic skeletons. Indigo sky bleaches to institutional grey. The fiery sun dims and cools.

Three seasons of the year, in the pond behind my house, geese squabble, frogs sing their off-key chorus, and a choir of song birds practice their Sunday specials. In winter, however, the pond is silent.

The foliage, normally lush with a thousand shades of green, is barren and uninspiring. The yellow jasmine parading across my back fence languishes, a debutante minus her necklace of butter-colored blossoms. Stocky azaleas hunker down, buds closed tightly against the cold, dreaming of the day their cotton candy flowers will swell and bloom. Only the flame-shaped Bradford pear dares to show off, but its snowflake petals do nothing to color the landscape.

Today, sighing at yet another mouse-colored morning, God gave me a different perspective. Like when my optometrist clicks a lens in place and my near-sighted vision clears, I saw what I’d been missing all along.

When winter alters the landscape:

I see what has been hidden. Without the blanket of leaves covering the branches of the oak tree in my backyard, I can see the circumference of the pond. Last year’s birds’ nests. The dog that barks for his breakfast in my neighbor’s yard each morning.

I see people I’ve never seen before. Somehow, between last winter and this, a house has sprung up beside the pond. Maybe the neighbors who lived in the little home have upgraded. Or a new neighbor has settled in.

I see new tasks and assignments. Without their leaves, I can see the skeleton shapes of the trees that border my property and the bushes that line my flower beds. Some branches are dead. Others are weak. Some are unruly. I realize they need the attention of my pruning shears to be healthy.

I see a different beauty. The beauty of the oak tree’s frame. The also-beautiful shades of grey, brown, and white that sunshine blinded my eyes to. The blossoms of cold-loving plants that wither in the warmth of summer.

Winter seasons of life (illness, grief, sorrow, loneliness, need) can similarly reveal things we’ve never seen before:

What has been hidden from us. When grief or loss, fear or failure strip our days, looking outward as we look inward allows us to see the framework of faith that supports our lives. We see glimpses of God’s grand plan and remember this world is not all there is. We see the evidences of God’s love and care we missed in the days of prosperity.

People we’ve never seen before. The winter of grief introduces us to others who are mourning. Some we can learn from, others we can minster to, still others will walk the path with us. The icy clutch of illness drives us to places where sick people gather. There we can find help, friendship, and an opportunity to share the reason for the hope that lies within us. The dark days of need, or loneliness, or fear invite us to embrace life-sustaining truths, not only for ourselves, but for those who share our struggles.

New tasks and assignments. God has birthed many a ministry in the frozen wasteland of trial. Second Corinthians 1:3-5 reminds us God wastes no suffering. If we learn the lessons well, often (always) he’ll allow us to redeem our pain by easing someone else’s. Looking at our new normal through faith eyes reveals opportunities to serve God and others. Can we sprinkle faith seeds on barren ground? Gently snip a false or damaging belief from someone’s faith tree? Fertilize fledgling spiritual growth? Realizing this trial is not all about me frees me to accept and steward the new assignments a winter season brings my way.

A different beauty. In a winter season of life, God will often give us altered perception. The ability to see that even ugly things can be beautiful if we look closely. In God’s upside down economy, he brings “beauty from ashes” and “puts a new song in our heart." The dark days of parenting a prodigal helped me see the illuminating beauty of prayer. The icy winds of illness revealed to me the warm beauty of caring loved ones. The leanness of need showed me the ample beauty of daily provision.

Today the winter winds blow cold, and rain blankets the landscape. Tomorrow the sun may shine. Regardless, I will embrace the day, the one the Lord has made. Winter or summer, with God’s help, I will discover formerly hidden things, see people I’ve never seen before, find new tasks and assignments, and marvel at a different kind of beauty. Winter lasts for a season. Spring always comes. God never stops working.

If you’re in a winter season today, squeeze every bit of God’s goodness out of it. Don’t waste your pain. God is not only in it, he is orchestrating the details for your good and his glory.





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Sunday

When Faith Becomes Complicated

Would you say your life has gotten more or less complicated as time goes on? 

I suspect most of us would say, “More.” 

Take child rearing, for example. We didn’t realize when we brought our three-day-old baby home from the hospital that caring for the needs of a newborn is rather simple. Keep them warm, dry, and fed. That’s pretty much it. 

Now consider the needs of a teenager. Without even listing their needs (which I considered doing, but it made my head hurt), you’ll agree they’re far more complex than the needs of a newborn. 

What about our professions? 

When I was 12 years old, I delivered newspapers. Now I write for them. Waaaaay more complicated than picking up a paper, stuffing in an ad circular, and flinging it in a customer’s door. 

For years, I thought the faith life also grew more complicated as time passed. 

When I was a new believer, the faith life was quite simple. Trust and obey. Trust God with every area of my life – my decisions, my direction, my destiny. Obey his word. As best I can, with the Holy Spirit’s help, obey what he tells me to do through the Bible, sermons, and the input of godly men and women. 

But then it got complicated. 

I learned big words like election and predestination. Propitiation, regeneration, and sanctification. Legalism, hedonism, and sectarianism. I grew bogged down with head knowledge but didn’t experience much practical growth. I learned a lot, and thought a lot, but not much of what I discovered translated into practical Christian living. 

Then the tide turned. 

I committed to read my Bible through in a year. (It took me 15 months.) The more I read, the more I learned. Theology, yes, and a greater understanding of how God’s plan of salvation worked itself out through the ages. How grace and law danced in perfect partnership. 

But more than that, I learned about the heart and nature of God. 

I heard him express his pleasure in us, his creation, when he declared, “It is very good.” 

I heard him weep as he slaughtered the first innocent lamb to cover Adam and Eve’s sin. 

I heard his heart crack open as he banished the man and woman from the Garden and sentenced them to work “by the sweat of their face.” 

My journey through the Bible showed me how God set before his people every blessing and promise imaginable – theirs for the taking – if they would simply walk with him all the day of their lives. 

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live,” God pleaded with his people (Deuteronomy 3:19). 

And I read the unimaginable horrors of what life in rebellion to God looks like. Because God is a righteous and just God, he had to punish sin. And he did, when his people rejected the thousand second chances he mercifully extended and flaunted their sin in his tear-stained face. 

As I’ve journeyed through the Bible year after year, I’ve learned that the Christian life isn’t complicated after all. It’s really quite simple. 

I’ve come full circle to the mantra of my early days: Trust and obey. 

Trust God with every area of my life – my decisions, my direction, my destiny. Obey his word. As best I can, with the Holy Spirit’s help, obey what he tells me to do through the Bible, sermons, and the input of godly men and women. 

A scene unfolded outside my window recently that summed up what I’ve learned. 

An elderly grandfather and his tiny granddaughter walked down the road. They held hands, which wasn’t hard, because the grandfather’s stooped back brought his hand to the perfect height for his granddaughter to grasp without stretching. 

Their pace was matched, toddling and shuffling in awkward tandem. As they walked, they stopped to marvel at a dandelion, a butterfly, a neighbor’s friendly cat. Delighting in the simple wonders, they were more similar than their eighty-year age gap might allow. 

This grandfather, the CEO of a successful company in his prime, had come full circle. 

Following the footsteps of a tiny girl, wide-eyed with toddler wonder, he was relearning the joy of simple truths. 

The same is true of the faith life. When you strip away dialogue and the diatribes, the theology and the theoretical, what’s left are these simple truths: Trust and obey. 

Perhaps this is why Jesus asserted, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). 

If you’ve wandered from the simple path and find yourself snarled in a tangle of complexity, open your Bibles and your heart. 

Become like a little child. 

Trust and obey. 




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Wednesday

All God's Creatures and What They Teach Us

When my husband and I were newly married, I tried to convince him I could live a long and happy life without a dog. He knew better, and soon we were doggie parents. Our first amazing dog, Polly, was a buff-colored Cocker spaniel. 

Once Polly showed us that no human should walk through life without a furry companion, we adopted Winston, a red-haired, freckled-faced puppy boy.

Through our precious pets, like JuJu the peach-faced Lovebird and my boss's Boykin spaniel puppy, Grover; neighborhood squirrels, geese, and frogs; domestic animals like sheep, and wild animals like swallows and meerkats, I've learned that God often reveals himself through his furred and feathered creation. 

Guideposts agrees and has included fifteen of my most profound God/animal moments in their brand new devotional, All God's Creatures. You can read about it below. If you love animals and God like I do, you'll want to own this volume and share a copy with your critter-loving friends. Click HERE to order and share All God's Creatures.



DEEPEN YOUR FAITH THROUGH ALL GOD'S CREATURES


Animals are God's gift to humans. They are instruments of his grace blessed with a special gift for comforting us when we are down, filling us with joy at just the right moment, and encouraging us on our walk of faith. That's why Guideposts created All God's Creatures.

As Edward Grinnan, Guideposts Editor in Chief said, "All God's Creatures will touch your soul and draw you closer to God Who created us all."


This beautiful new devotional begins in May to capture that joyous feeling that fills each one of us when spring arrives and warmer weather pushes out the dreary days of winter. Spring officially arrives in March, but May is when all of God's Creatures burst into life with the sweet vibrations of spring. It's the perfect time for a new devotional that brings you a refreshing new way to spend time in His Word.  PLUS you'll receive four beautiful, custom-designed Note Cards with envelopes FREE - Guidepost's gift to you.









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Sunday

What I'm Really Good At -- A Confession

 If you asked me to name something I’m really good at, you know what I’d say? 


Worrying. 

I’m really good at worrying. I mean, really, really good. I can worry while I work, cook, clean, shop, bathe, even sleep. One morning this week I woke up from a very scary dream – about something I’d been worrying about. 

You have to be very, very good at something to be able to do it in your sleep. So it’s official. I’m very good at worrying. 

Sad thing is, I thought I’d conquered worrying. I came to Christ many years ago in large part because of my propensity to worry. As an 18-year-old high school senior, I worried about everything. The past, the present, the future. I’d worry about what hadn’t happened, what could happen, and what had happened. 

My inability to control the circumstances of my life humbled me and made me realize how much I needed a great, big, powerful, loving God to control my life. 

Shortly after I surrendered control of my life to God (he already had it anyway, but it was important for me to acknowledge this), I learned that worrying is a sin. Philippians 4:6 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 

So if God says, “Do not be anxious (i.e. worry),” and I worry, I’m sinning. And I really don’t want to sin. It hurts me. It hurts others. And it hurts God’s heart. 

So, little by little, I learned to surrender to God the things that frightened me. And I found him faithful. 

Most of the things I worried about never happened. Those that did taught me valuable lessons about God’s ability to care for and provide for me. Every time I trusted God with something instead of worrying, several things happened. 

First, I didn’t feel as anxious. This is huge. Did you know anxiety can cause a multitude of physical ailments including (but not limited to) headaches, dizziness, depression, stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, a weakened immune system, muscle tension, and insomnia? 

In contrast, Philippians 4:7 promises when I pray instead of fret, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Second, I felt happier. Let’s be honest. It’s hard to be happy when you’re fretting over something like a dog gnawing a bone. Worrying people are grumpy people. Ask my husband. Or my kids.

Third, I became a better witness for Christ. Truth be told, it’s hard to convince someone else to trust God with their life, their soul, and their eternal destiny if I can’t even trust him with that unexpected bill or sticky situation at work. 

Finally, I experienced more of God’s power. When I prayed about situations beyond my control instead of fretting about them, I invited God to work in and through the situation. Worry is like a car whose tires are stuck in the mud – the tires spin and spin and spin, expending a whole lot of energy and going absolutely nowhere. In contrast, prayer is the tow truck that hooks its mighty winch to the front bumper and pulls that hopelessly-mired car free. 

Oftentimes the very act of praying, even before God answers, lifts the heavy cloud of fear and discouragement. This allows hope and joy to break through like sunshine after a cloud burst. 

I know these truths. I’ve experienced their power. I’ve walked in the victory that comes from applying them to my life. So why do I still struggle? 

Because I am flawed and frail. 

Unfortunately, we don’t conquer sin once. We battle it. Every. Single. Day. 

As long as we wear the robe of flesh that tethers us to our earthly existence, we’ll battle the sins that so easily beset us. Worry is one of them. But be of good cheer. We have hope. 

“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). 

In Christ, we have what it takes to triumph over worry, fear, and a multitude of other sins. Every time we catch ourselves worrying and choose to pray instead, we win. And every victory makes the next victory easier. 

Like a smoke detector that senses a fire, sounds the alarm, and triggers the sprinkler system, our spirit will learn to sense fear, sound the alarm, and douse the flames of worry with a deluge of prayer. Little by little, we can conquer worry and replace it with prayer. 

Instead of being known as someone who’s really good at worrying, I want to be known as someone who’s really good at praying. I suspect you do, too. Let’s grow in this discipline together. 

Father, you are so faithful. You’ve answered thousands of prayers and never given me a reason to doubt your love and care. Help me trust you more every day. Teach me to recognize worry as soon as the first wriggle of fear manifests itself in my spirit. Help me to use the power you've given me to capture it and wrestle it to the ground in prayer. Show yourself mighty on my behalf and use me as a witness to others of your amazing love and power. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.



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