Saturday, October 27, 2012

What you wear makes a difference!

This past week, our school celebrated the hard work of our students with a special field day. Part of the day included a costume contest among the teachers...which explains the picture of me dressed as Batman. (Not the Dark Night version, but the classic "To the Batcave" Batman.) 

Of course, I had to make sure it fit, so the night before, I came into my living room dressed as Batman. My husband promptly started laughing! He said something along the lines of, "I'm sorry, but I just can't take you seriously dressed like that. You're not going to try and TEACH anything that day, are you?"

Well, of course not. I know better than to try something like that! This was a day just for fun, and right after the contest I had plans to change back into my jeans and field day t-shirt. I knew that even while we were "just having fun" the way I dressed was important if I wanted my students to listen to me when it was really important. 

Of course, all this started one of those Random Thoughts that finds its way into a blog. It started me thinking about the way I am supposed to dress as a Christian.

This isn't a blog about wearing modest clothing, although I believe in that. It isn't a blog about style or fashion either. Those who know me would probably laugh as hard as my husband did at the thought of me writing a blog about that. No, this is about something I believe every Christian should wear if they want to be taken seriously and have people listen to us when it really counts.

This wardrobe advice is  found in Colossians and even though it is hundreds of years old, it still is good fashion advice for today. 

Colossians 3:12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

There it is, my wardrobe for the day, every day. These are the things I should put on no matter what the activities if I want to be taken seriously.

Even I knew that as long as I was in costume when I stood before my students, they might watch me with interest and laughter and all sorts of other thoughts that might make them watch, but they wouldn't really listen or take me seriously. If I wanted them to listen to me and really pay attention, I was going to have choose a different wardrobe.

Have you ever seen non-Christians who "watch" and "listen" but can't really hear us because of what we are wearing? I know I am guilty of not walking around in compassion, kindness, humility, quiet (who me????) strength, and discipline. Maybe the reason the world can't take me seriously is because I'm "wearing" all the wrong things.

I could have said to me students, "I am the teacher and you must listen", but trust me it would not have worked! The only reason I was able to keep order at all is because they had seen the "real" me for over 9 weeks and they knew who I really was. They could deal momentarily with the crazy costume...but even I wasn't willing to try it for long. They needed to see my "regular" clothes to pay attention to me.

If I want those who do not know Christ to listen to me, it really does matter what I wear! I want to walk around in the clothing that God has provided so that those around me aren't distracted by some silly costume of my own creation, whether it be anger, impatience, pride, or un-forgiveness. 

Today as I reach into my closet, I can promise I WON'T be choosing that Batman costume (for one thing, it was really uncomfortable!) I realize that I must dress for my day ahead and what I choose really will affect my attitude and that of those around me. I must choose to put on the clothes God provided instead of my a costume that keeps the world from hearing what I truly have to say. I choose to dress for success - no matter what the day might hold. I know that the all purpose garment of love will be just the right for the occasion.

Romans 13:14

The Message (MSG)
11-14 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The day after the election - part 2

Since I got such an overwhelming response to my last post (NOT), I thought I'd do a follow-up. Actually, it's just still on my mind.

This time, instead of imagining that it is the day after the election and your candidate of choice lost, imagine that your candidate won. Now how do you respond?

Most of us have been to a football game and come out on the winning side. When we lose, we often complain about the calls, the bad plays, the opposing fans...and when we win - then what? Maybe we an learn a thing or two from the players on the field.

While there are the cheers of victory, the high-fives among the players and the dumping of ice over the coach's head, it's that time honored tradition of shaking the other team's hand that I love. Nothing makes a mom's heart swell with pride quite so much as seeing her son reach out to someone that only moments before he was going head to head with in battle. These young men know that despite being on "separate teams", they are all still football players with a love of the game. They come together on common ground.

Can we do something like this the day after the election? Can we reach out to those on the "opposing team" and find common ground - love of our country? Can we learn from our children what we try to instill in them every to be a good sport?

Maybe this analogy is a stretch, but there is much at stake here. While we may not be in agreement over the issues, I hope and pray we can come together in our love for this country we call home. 

Ephesians 4:31-32

31-32 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 3:12-14

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The day after the election...

This was on my mind last now it's found its way into a blog.

Now, I usually don't get too "political", but bear with me...I think it will all make sense by the end.

Imagine it is the day after the election. Imagine your candidate - no matter which one that might be - was not elected. Now what? What will your response be? If you think it's yelling and complaining, then you're probably pitching a toddler tantrum. If it's to take a deep breath, trust God, and move forward by praying - honestly praying and not complaining - for your leader...then you're probably being a mature member of our country.

It might take making the decision now - that no matter who wins, we make the decision to pray, trust God, and come back together as a nation. You can still disagree, but even in disagreement we have got to work together. 

All this brings to mind all the yard signs I have seen lately. On my street, there are signs for both candidates - one candidate is on one corner and across the street, the other candidate's sign holds a prominent position. Now, I have nothing against people showing their support, but let's be honest - if I am still undecided at this point then a yard sign probably isn't going to make me choose one candidate over another...and I have to wonder again - what about the day after the election? Will those two neighbors be able to go back to talking about the weather and lawn maintenance after seeing that sign in their neighbor's yard each day? I hope so, but this campaign has gotten so heated, I have my doubts. I have been around long enough to have seen the United States have a number of different presidents - some I agreed with and some I did not. With that in mind, I'd like to make my own "yard sign". It would say something like, "One nation under God - no matter which candidate wins."

Then there are those who make rash statements about how awful life in this country will be if the "other" candidate wins. Seeing the rants and raves reminded me of something that happened with my son when he was about 3 years old. He had one of his toddler meltdowns and decided he didn't like our rules. He was going to run away. In my "parenting wisdom" I tried to use psychology. I told him it would make me sad if he decided he didn't want to be a part of our family, but if he did leave, he'd have to realize that all the cool toys and clothes in that room belonged to the little boy that wanted to be a part of our family. I was feeling pretty proud of my ability to outsmart a 3 year old....until I turned my back and he stripped down naked and headed out the door! I caught him before he made it past the driveway, but that "meltdown" made a memory like none other...and it makes me wonder again about our reaction once this election is over.

Will we be like my toddler and pitch a fit, tossing aside all that is good because we don't like the way things are going? Or will we look around and realize just how blessed we are and find a way to work things out? I hope we'll decide to grow up a bit and remember that through good and bad, through celebrations and disagreements, through elections and inaugurations, we are still family. 

I think it's very significant that not long after the election, we have a chance to sit down together and give thanks for this country. No matter who wins the election - your candidate or the one you desperately don't want - God is still in control.

I'm thinking we'd do a lot less "yelling" during the process if we could remember that.

Daniel 4:35

The Message (MSG)
34-35 “At the end of the seven years, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked to heaven. I was given my mind back and I blessed the High God, thanking and glorifying God, who lives forever:
“His sovereign rule lasts and lasts, his kingdom never declines and falls. Life on this earth doesn’t add up to much, but God’s heavenly army keeps everything going. No one can interrupt his work, no one can call his rule into question.
Proverbs 16:9
We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it.
Proverbs 21: 30-31
Nothing clever, nothing conceived, nothing contrived, can get the better of GodDo your best, prepare for the worst - then trust God to bring victory.
1 Peter 1:3-5
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

Psalms 33:12-22
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,  the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down  and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches  all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all,  who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;  despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,  on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death  and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord;  he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice,  for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,   even as we put our hope in you.

Monday, October 15, 2012

T.M.I. - Too Much Information

Ever have one of those weeks where you know something is wrong, but you just can't put your finger on it? Last week was definitely one of those weeks and it culminated in a frustrating weekend. 

You see, there was a special event for young women at our church and I was anticipating helping with it - only I had to go to class. No problem, I'd just help out when my class was over. Only it didn't work out that way. I blame no one but myself. One thing led to another and in all my confusion, I just missed out. To make matters worse, my daughter had wanted to help but my confusion messed things up for both of us.

I was so frustrated with myself. This was just one more of what seemed like a million events that I missed because of not understanding or missing a deadline or some other ridiculous reason. Too many things were demanding my attention. I was feeling like life was zipping past me and I was always about two beats behind. (If I could just have a full time assistant to tell me where to go and when to be there, I'd be fine!)

By the time I got to church, I was already frustrated. I found a seat in the overflow the back...because my "two beats behind week" had caused us to get to church a bit late. Not good. I usually sit up front - but there was no room. Well, I was willing to go and try to  a couple of seats, but my husband likes sitting in the I remained. 

It didn't take long for my frustration to build. Only those who are ADD understand what this is like. The woman two rows ahead swayed in time to the music so that caught my attention, the young man in front of me had a wrinkle in his shirt - that caught my attention, the ceiling of the overflow cut off the top two lines of the worship chorus so I had to turn and look at the tv monitors on the side which meant I noticed either the swaying lady or the teenager whose friend had just joined her (which of course meant hugs and greetings.) I tried to concentrate - really I did.

Finally we sat down - maybe now I could focus. No such luck. To begin with, I am extremely short which means I cannot see past the people in front of me. I could hear the pastor, but never really could see without twisting and stretching. Then the ushers walked by - distracted again. Some more people came in and tried to find seats - yep....distracted.

I mentioned this to my husband later and he said something along the lines of "Yes, it can be a bit distracting." A BIT distracting???? Seriously? He obviously has no idea what this is like!

Instead of leaving the service refreshed, I left angry at myself, frustrated at not being able to concentrate, and irritated at my husband. Not exactly what I'd hoped for. It had been just another example of the frustration I had been feeling in life.

That afternoon after lunch, I left the house and went to my classroom to organize and prepare for the coming week. I tossed a few papers, rearranged a few things, made needed copies - all in the absolute quiet of an empty building. (Well, almost empty - there were a few fellow teachers working away in their classrooms.) By the time I got home, I felt at least a LITTLE more peaceful.

But it was this morning when I finally got a clue. I was reading a blog by Glynnis Whitwer ( Getting My Focus Back With a Monday Menu) and suddenly it all made sense. While this blog was mostly about a menu, which is pretty yummy sounding I must say, it wasn't the menu that caught my attention. (Yes, something FINALLY caught my attention long enough to break through the fog.) I had simply lost direction. I lost my focus. 

Simple, but not so simple if you are in the midst of it all. I was letting life "happen" to me instead of stopping for a few moments and getting a handle on the week...on the day...sometimes on the hour! Instead I ran from event to event, the house was falling apart, meals were sporadic at best - not good for a diabetic by the way, and my peace was feeling farther and farther away. 

As I thought about it, I was reminded of the plague of gnats that the Egyptians and the Pharaoh had to endure. Have you ever dealt with a bunch of gnats? They may be tiny but they'll make you NUTS! Huge things don't get your attention because all you can concentrate on are those stupid gnats! My life was feeling like a bunch of gnats - and the important parts were slipping away. 

So what to do? Well, first of all I repented for allowing things to get so bad. While I may have missed some opportunities and been cross with my family, it was against GOD that I had sinned. 

Psalm 51:4

The Message (MSG)
4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
    it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
    whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
    in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
    Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. 

I asked God to please help me focus again. I was reminded of another verse - Proverbs 29:18. The Message version says it this way: "If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed." 

That pretty much sums things up. I hadn't been taking time time to see what God was doing and as a result, I was stumbling all over myself. Instead of seeing what God was up to, I was busy fighting gnats. I had too much information - just none of it was from God.

So there you have it. T.M.I. and how it stole my peace like a bunch of pesky gnats. Praying that your week is not filled with too much UNIMPORTANT information - but instead that you are able to focus on what is truly important.  

Micah 6:8

The Message (MSG)
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nobody Listens To Me

Ever have the feeling nobody really listens to you...nobody really cares what you think about things? I think we've ALL had those days. A couple of years ago, I even made my husband a shirt that said, "But they didn't ask me..." (It had become one of those phrases he said right after lamenting about some "stupid" decision that he was having to deal with at work, with a machine, or that he said in response to the "talking heads" on tv.)

I've spent most of my life dealing with the feeling that no one really listened to me or wanted to hear what I had to say. For a talker, that's tough! Mind you, I have a BIG voice that can be heard across the campus, but I've always had the feeling that I am just loud. My volume and talkativeness isn't something I embraced - I cringed at this "gift" because it always seemed to be much more of a curse than a blessing.  People tend to think that talkative people like to talk....sometimes it's not that they LIKE to talk, they just can't seem to help themselves! Even in writing this blog, I often chastise myself with, "what makes you think you have anything worth writing about? No one really cares what you think."

The other day, however, it occurred to me that someone DOES care. God cares. He actually stops and listens to me. The New Living Translation of Psalm 116:2 says it this way: "Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!" Wow! You mean, God actually WANTS to hear what I have to say?

As I thought about this, I remembered a time many years ago when we had guest pastor Tommy Barnett visit our church. There were literally hundreds of people at that service, and at one point I was thrilled to find myself standing in front of this man of God with a moment to talk to him. What happened next totally floored me. He stopped and listened. No, I mean REALLY stopped and listened. He focused on my eyes and I could sense that I had his undivided attention at that moment. It didn't matter that hundreds of people swirled around us or that probably every one of those people wanted a moment of this man's time. For that moment in time, he was listening to ME. 

I remember walking away from that encounter thinking, "This must be what it was like to talk to Jesus...He really listens."

My mind is on prayer this month...not that I don't pray every day, but for some reason the topic of prayer has really captured me right now. I am praying for our nation, for my students, for my family, even for my own health. I spend my "spare" time listening or reading more about prayer. It was in the midst of all of this that I ran across something that made me realize - God actually hears...make that LISTENS to my prayers. He isn't guilty of doing what I sometimes do with my own children - looking like I'm listening but my mind is actually tangled with all that I have to get done that day. He isn't doing like my students do when they "look" like they are paying attention but their minds are a million miles away. He is doing more like what Tommy Barnett did that night after a service - He is FOCUSED on me. 

I think of the way my husband demonstrates love to me by the way he listens.  He actually turns off the tv and faces me when I tell him about my day. What a beautiful picture of Christ and His bride. He seems to understand that, often, all I really want is to be heard.

I don't pretend to understand how God can focus on my prayers and those of millions of others at the same time...but He does. I'm also not saying He necessarily does what I ask. It's not like the child in the mall who screams and pitches a fit and the parent bends to conform to the will of the spoiled, it's not that He changes to suit me - but He listens. He hears. He cares. 

And often, when I finally stop talking, God speaks. Do I listen in return? Do I have a conversation, or do I just talk? Do I forget that what I have to say isn't nearly as important as what He has to say? Am I focusing in on His voice, or do I say my words and then become spiritually ADD and start chasing every squirrel that comes into view? (This so reminds me of my own son who talks constantly but never waits for a response. He can change subjects almost mid-sentence.)

In the world today, we may feel like we don't have "a voice", but we do. God not only hears - He LISTENS. He LEANS in. He LOVES. The one thing He never does, is leave. I guess the question is, will I focus in on HIM and what He says in return?

Psalm 66:19 (NIV)
but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.

Philippians 4:6-7

The Message (MSG)
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.