Thursday, December 04, 2014

Them Bones

How many of you have had a broken bone? Was it an arm or leg? What was the purpose of the cast? What would have happened if the bone started to grow back wrong? Resetting a bone can be a painful experience. There can be pins, plates and rods that are involved.  If it’s not done, the patient can be crippled for life. Doesn’t it help to know someone else who had that procedure and can walk you through what to expect?
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. Ezekiel 37:1-2 (ESV)

I told someone the other day that a Celebrate Recovery Step Study we have at Central Life is a lot like resetting a broken bone that healed wrong.
Now stick with me—don’t get freaked out! If you are committed to this, a step study walks you through a process of healing that is necessary and sometimes painful. The key is to keep moving forward with the next step—and never go farther than the chapter you are studying for the week!

We come to CR because there is something not quite right in our life—something that has hobbled us. The first study book shows you how much damage there is. There might be more than you thought. You should be prepared to work on the most crucial area first. There will be tears and bravery is necessary. You step out of denial and with the help of the Step Study leader, your accountability partners and eventually a sponsor…plans are made for emotional and spiritual surgery.

In book 2 and 3, the most painful part is accomplished and the pins, rods, plates and cast are in place. The healing begins. The structure seems rigid, however it is there for a reason: to keep you aligned with God’s word. There will still be some pain involved, but the laughter will come more often. You will become close friends with people that are braver than you are. It is a safe place as long as the procedures are followed.

Beware: quitting a Step Study or not doing the homework is like not using the cast and crutches the doctor provided. Pretty soon you will be back to the broken life that isn’t properly healed. The habits and hurts flood back in and you can acquire even more brokenness and pain.
It is possible, if I hadn’t been through it myself, I wouldn’t ask you to try.

The last book shows you how to grow and move in this healing. It’s a lot like physical therapy after the cast is off. The recovery is not complete without these final chapters. When you learn new habits, you replace the old ways of doing things so you will avoid further injury.

Once you complete the Step Study, you are not done with CR. In fact, the recovery in one area may reveal deeper hurts that need healing that would have never surfaced before. Going through multiple Step Studies is not a sign of failure. It is a sign of surrender to God’s healing.

When you have completed your first Step Study, why not consider becoming a sponsor or Step Study leader? There are many broken lives out there that need resetting. They need to see someone with similar hurts and habits that survived the process.

I used to invite others to CR before even attending meetings consistently. I look back and wonder how I could ever ask someone to take such a painful step if I had never attempted it myself. I am evidence that the process works.

My prayer for the future step studies comes from a passage in Ezekiel 37.

Heavenly Father, may you look upon these broken bones and breathe new life into them. Raise up leaders, sponsors and accountability partners. We need an army Father! Pour out your healing upon us. Make us ready to serve, ready to speak and ready to love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hammer Time

My friend loves to go to the beach at sunrise. These days it’s a bit too cold, so I thought I’d share a summer sunrise with you.

This interesting cloud is called an anvil cloud. It’s in the shape of a blacksmith’s anvil. She told me when she took the picture; there was actually lightning flickering within the cloud. It must’ve been quite a sight.

I remembered when I was little and a storm was going on, my parents would say God was bowling. The lightning would still startle me and the anticipation would build as I waited for the thunder clap.
When I saw the anvil cloud I got to thinking and started to read about blacksmiths.

A blacksmith uses fire and hammers to make the cold steel or iron to conform into tools or decorative pieces. He works in a dim shop so he can see the color the metal is changing in the furnace. Forging heat for metal is an orange-yellow. If it got too hot and turned white or yellow, some metals would lose their strength and they could crack or break. So the blacksmith is constantly monitoring the furnace.

Once it’s the right color, the item is pulled from the coals and placed on the anvil to be forged. Large pieces require the help of a striker: an apprentice that wields a large sledgehammer.

Depending on what he is creating, he could be hammering, drawing it out to lengthen or forming it over the anvil. All this time he checks the color, placing it back in the coals and keeping it hot.

There is a term called “upsetting”, this is where the blacksmith will make the metal thicker on one end by shortening the other. There is also punching for either decoration or a hole is needed to attach something. He can also weld two pieces together.

Finally the finishing comes where he will break off scale with a wire brush, file to remove burs and edges. Then he heats it one more time to a desired hardness so the item will hold up to use. He gives it a final polish using a grinding stone.

Sometimes the hard times can be the enemy trying to trip us up. But you know what; I think sometimes people give the devil too much credit.   

What if that difficult time you are going through is actually time on God’s anvil? What if he is turning up the heat in a situation to make you stronger for the next? And some of the stuff that’s being taken away, what if God is removing the burs and scales of your life to reveal the beauty underneath?

…a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. Isaiah 42:3

Know this; He knows exactly how much you can handle. It may be dark now, but God is in His shop. He is turning up the heat and He has you in His hands. Though the sparks fly and the hammer falls, know He is doing something new in your life and you will come out of this even stronger than you were before.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Friday, August 22, 2014

Heaven's Pennies

I’ve got a coin purse on my wallet that doesn’t like to stay closed these days. Loose change slips out thru the zipper closure and rides the bottom of my purse. It becomes buried treasure on Friday afternoons at work when the vending machine calls.
Some days that’s the only quarter I can find for a shopping cart at the local grocery. Sundays I dump it into a coin cup at home. (I bet you thought I was going to say church offering plate.) It makes a good emergency fund for grocery items. Monday starts the coin gathering all over again.
I have been reading through Job with a friend of mine and we have met the youngest of Job’s friends, Elihu.  After we waded through his grand introduction of himself, the advice he gives Job seems to cut through the mire of all the suffering Job has been experiencing.
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
    twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
    that he may be lighted with the light of life.  
 Job 33:29-30 (ESV)
Could it be that suffering can be a good thing? Like scratched pennies from heaven, can misery have some value?
When I look back through difficult times in my life and tally the columns of sickness, grief, depression, loss…I have to ask, was it all for nothing? Or was there value even there?
You see, the World hands us coins of sorrow now and then. Some days we just feel like tossing it back on the ground for someone else to pick up. We see no value in it. We reject it and wonder why it weighs heavy on our spirit.
What I want you to see is, that coin has two sides to it. And one actually says, “In God we trust”. When we receive that pain and acknowledge our trust in Him in all circumstances, He takes that thing the enemy meant to harm and disarm us with and refines us.
These days my coins are heavy on my shoulder and it’s time to turn them in to something lighter. And I know just how to do that. In God’s economy I have riches beyond what I can imagine stored up. I just have to thank Him for it.
So what will it be for you? Why not flip a coin? Heads you win.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brokering Peace

When there is a battle going on, one of the alternatives is to broker a peace deal. Sadly, many times those deals don't last because one side isn't happy with the concessions it made. The last deal that Egypt tried to work out between Israel and Hamas didn't last a day. Hamas called it “surrender" for them and they continue to fight.

In Job 22:21, a friend of Job named Eliphaz advised him, "Agree with God and be at peace". (ESV)

Many people I know seem to be trying to make peace with God on their own terms. They like to try to get God to agree with them. "If you will just save my neck, then I promise to..." "If you let me win the lotto, then I will give..." "If you will change my family member, then I will..."

We make deals all day with God, all the while feeling like we need to do a little more to “get right” with Him. There is no peace in that!

There was a young man who came to Jesus and thought he had his deal all sewn up. He was ready to do any good deed to get eternal life.

“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16b. (Well at least he left half of the deal open for Jesus to add the prerequisite.)

Jesus pointed him to the last five commandments…the ones dealing with how you treat others. The young man knew he could close the deal because he was sure he kept them all. But, for some reason he thought there must be one more thing he had to do to be faultless.

So Jesus gave him that one more thing and the deal for eternal life was hanging, waiting for that handshake to seal the deal. You see, Jesus saw straight into his heart and asked that young man to give up his worship of wealth…

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Matthew 19:21 (ESV)

The young man went away sad, because he was very rich.

When we look at the list of demands—the whole Ten Commandments, not just the last five—we become like the young man, sorrowful, because we can’t seem to reach that requirement of perfection.

The thing with God is that there are no treaties or peace deals to be made with Him. He requires total surrender. And for many, that price is too high to pay.

What if I told you someone had already lived that perfect life? What if I told you that he is willing to trade your life for his? Does that deal seem too good to be true? It really is a free gift; you just have to accept it. There is nothing you have to do, no contract to sign, no extra points you have to earn…there is no “then I will” clause for you to fulfill. It’s all Jesus Christ and what He did. He lived that perfect life and exchanged it for yours on the cross.

Is today the day you make peace with God? I would hope so.

I like to think that later on, that young man “got it”, because there is mention of a “young man” following Jesus in Mark 14:51-52. In the end, he had nothing but a linen covering…and even that was snatched from him. I like to think that young man sold everything and followed Jesus to the end because that was just too sweet a deal to turn down.

“Give in to God, come to terms with him and everything will turn out just fine. Let him tell you what to do; take his words to heart. Come back to God Almighty and he’ll rebuild your life. Clean house of everything evil. Relax your grip on your money and abandon your gold-plated luxury. God Almighty will be your treasure, more wealth than you can imagine."
Job 22:21-25 (MSG)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Masterpiece 2

We had the grandkids over for the weekend and they asked to paint. I pulled out the watercolors and some brushes. I also laid out some newspaper in anticipation of spills. I was amazed it went quiet for at least a solid 10 minutes.

My youngest one came to me with her picture. She explained to me that while she was working on it, some paint splattered from another person's art flailing (that brother will remain unnamed). It was then that she decided to make the picture into something else, something that incorporated the splatters. She showed me a brilliant happy sun with the rays dancing everywhere. The splatters then made sense.
I told her that's how God works. When we have messes in our lives, God takes those splatters and makes the picture even better...He uses the mistakes and makes a brilliant life.

So dear Christ follower...when someone spills over into your life. Are you going to point fingers and yell at them for ruining what could've been? Or will you take that little spill and let God do what He does best--make a masterpiece out of a mess?

We just have to be willing to let Him pick up the brush. I promise...the splatters will make sense.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5a (ESV)

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Have you ever seen a work of art in mid-creation?

A painting with perspective markings and background shadings does not look like much--until the artist places the final stroke of color.

A sculptor's maquette is a smaller version of a monument in the works. It shows the client an approximation of how it will display--at a fraction of the size. Even as the artist begins to chisel at the large stone, there is not much of a whisper of genius as chips and chunks of marble fly.

Even a writer's Pulitzer winning piece can start out as a scribbled phrase on a scrap of paper thumb tacked to an inspiration board. It is easily lost in a sea of quotes, story ideas and scenes...until one day the writer reads it once more and inspiration strikes the wordsmith's anvil.

The Bible says we are God's masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10) In the English Standard version it is "workmanship". He is the Master sculptor freeing us from our block. We are like the unfinished works of Michelangelo...we writhe and twist as He frees us to life in Christ.

Problem is, a lot of Christ followers still believe they are a work in progress, imperfect, still striving, still working for that salvation. Like a drawing of a hand drawing itself...

There is Good News...Christ came to finish the good work that God began in you.

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

And that is why I believe Jesus' final words on earth are the declaration of an artist..."It is finished."

Dear Christian, put down the brush, the pen and the chisel. You are already His work of art, a masterpiece. And you are priceless to Him.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Failing Feet

One summer we visited the Carolina coastline. My son was around 7 and all boy: impulsive, energetic and ready to charge the surf. We got out of the car and the salt air was enticing. In flip flops we started to make our way to the water's edge but first had some low dunes to go through. My son raced ahead, I followed close behind with my husband securing the car.

The surf was loud and the shouts of excitement from my son seemed to be a little louder and he was stopped. When he turned his head I could hear what he was saying, the surf noise carried his "Mom! Help!" from the sandy area. I raced closer, thinking he was bit by some dune snake and suddenly felt pain in my feet.

As I looked down, I discovered we had raced deep into a cactus patch and it was painful. Hidden amongst the sea grasses and flowering vines were very small prickly pear cactus with long sharp tines. They went through flip flops. We were so focused on the water's horizon and call of the waves that we hadn't looked down at our path to the water.

I called for my husband, who had on sneakers on and he picked his way through, scooped up our son and carried him to the soft stretch of sand on the other side. I made my way, dodging sneaky spikes in the sand. We checked our pincushion feet and removed residual tines. There was a lingering pain from the cactus, but cold salt water seemed to help and my son was drenched before we knew it.

When we were ready to leave, we pulled up short and saw a distant boardwalk. We were tempted to take the shortcut back through the cactus, but our feet were reluctant. We took the longer way and got back on the road a little more salty, a little more wise.

Isn't it the same with sin? Sometimes it's pretty obvious and you can avoid it. But sometimes there is a temptation that seems so innocent. It beckons you to come closer. It's the path that leads you to pain.

Have you been taking a shortcut and found yourself in a spiritual cactus patch? Sin can be very painful. The best thing to do is stop, call out to Jesus and let Him scoop you up and carry you to the safe shoreline. He then tells us to "Go and sin no more." (John 5:13-15) Don't go back on that path, time to take a better route in life. One that may take a little longer, but if you ask, He will give you just enough light to help you focus on the next step.

So forget that horizon of tomorrow. Focus on the next step, because temptation is where you least expect it. And it can lead to sin so painful you won't be able to move forward.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

Friday, March 21, 2014

Forever Stamp

Does anyone write letters anymore? I was putting postage on an envelope addressed to my son. He is incarcerated and can't be reached by me picking up the pone or texting. Technology changes some things, not everything.

I looked a the Christmas picture on the stamp I was putting on my Spring letter and thought it was like a gift for him--words and sentences crafted together in hopes of propping up his spirits while inside.

Then I wondered how long Forever stamps had been around. Checking the internet, it said 2007 and they cost .41. Theoretically, if you had a roll of Forever stamps from the start, you'd be saving .08 a letter today.

I wondered how many people added a .01 stamp when the price went up in 2008? Because there are those who didn't realize that's what the new stamp price when you purchased it...for as long as you had it. Now, I don't think there were any entrepreneurs who bought truckloads of forever stamps in 2007. But if they had, and could find a market for them...but I digress.

I see similar confusion in people learning about Christianity. They don't realize that the sacrifice Christ made was a one time deal. There is no additional actions needed--no tacking on of charitable giving, servitude and brownie points. Nothing more is needed, He already paid the price.

As a Christian, I wear the Forever stamp of Christ and become the message of the Gospel to others--because He already purchased our souls centuries ago. And my response to that gift is gratitude to Him by worship, prayer, obedience and loving the next person on my "delivery route".

Our life doesn't need extra postage...We need to stop trying to nickel and dime the free gift He holds out to everyone.

so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:12-14 (ESV)

Monday, January 20, 2014


I received a wonderful gift from a land far away this week. It was a piece of art intricately crafted with what looks like a single piece of string. I can almost envision the hands working together with a metal hook, poking and bending the string into place. It looks like a simple doily, one that your grandmother might've had on a special table. But if you take the time to really look at all the pattern and the thread itself, you will see what I see.

First of all the string. If you look at it closely, maybe with a magnifying glass, you will see that it has several threads twisted together to make the string itself. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes says, "a threefold cord is not quickly broken." Rope makers and yarn spinners know this truth.

The same goes for people. It's always good to have one or two really close friends. There is strength in number. I wonder if there is someone out there at a breaking point...have you sought out a good friend, someone you can trust? Someone who will come along side you and prop you up if you slip?

The pattern is a lovely flower pattern. Lots of counting probably went into this design. The artist knew that having an odd number of flowers would make a more balanced looking piece. And as they stitched it together, that thread was reinforced over and over, one piece supporting the next.

I have to admit. Sometimes I feel like that string, getting stretched, wound and pulled taught until I thought I would snap. But God and His tender workmanship kept at it. And if something wasn't quite right, He would unravel that part of my life and we'd try again together.

As it is with community. Sometimes families move away, but someone new comes along and they seem to fit right in. You see, when God stitches us all together, we become a lovely piece of art. It is like this lace doily, lovely cogs in a wheel that spin together and move His Kingdom forward here on earth.

And I have to admit, that is the most beautiful gift someone can give you: the gift of community. Time to pick up the threads of your life and find a local church family. Let God knit you together and watch community bloom.

“Now I’m turning you over to God, our marvelous God whose gracious Word can make you into what he wants you to be and give you everything you could possibly need in this community of holy friends." Acts 20:32 (MSG)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Learn Me

Ever had an experience that reminded you of another experience? Not quite déjà vu, just similar enough to dislodge a memory? I had one of those this week while dropping a friend off at work. It seemed so similar to when I used to drop my son off at school. So much so, that I actually said out loud to her as she gathered her lunch box, book and sweater, "Be nice to your teachers today!".

I have to say it was a great puzzled look, still bent over with her belongings in her arms. "Teachers?"

Now, I have not yet reached the age of memory issues so she asked again with that 'didyoureallysaythat' look. "Teachers," she waited to see if she didn't hear me.

I grinned and said, "Yes, teachers. Those people in there have a lot to teach you today."

She smiled and waved for me to get to work and find some coffee..."cause you must be dreamin'."

As I drove to work, I wanted to edit my comment (like a Facebook update) to: "Yes teachers. Those people in there will teach you a lot about yourself today."

Every person you meet can teach you something about yourself. Whether it's an irate customer--need some patience lessons? Or a sick child--how's that mercy class going? Maybe you need to learn how to have fun--spend time with several teenagers.

It also makes you stop and realize that the person you hang with could also be teaching you the wrong things.

Put on a few pounds since you started that new job? Stay away from the Friday donut guy. Did you get nailed for spilling the beans? Time for boundaries with the gossip girl. Having problems with your racy thought life? Time to block those Facebook shares from someone who has raunchy humor.

So that brings me to the inevitable question, how's your spiritual side?

Have you considered asking someone to mentor you? Don't have anyone in your life you can go to? Start with God.

When you became a Christian, God gave you direct access to Himself through Christ. And Christ, He left you a Counselor--the Holy Spirit within you.

Sadly, I have found I have treated Him like the wall flower of the Trinity several times.

He is the One we ask during prayer to clarify scripture, show us a path through our problems and comfort us when we make a hard decision.

People will eventually let you down. But the Holy Spirit never will.

People give bad advice, but the Counselor reveals things in Scripture that you've read hundreds of times. (2 Timothy 3:16) (James 1:5-8)

Don't know what to say? Ask Him for the words. And if He's silent, then it's a good idea to keep your words to yourself. (Mark 13:11)

Choose your teachers wisely, and don't forget that you are also someone else's teacher. What are you proficient in teaching to others?

So what is the lesson plan for today? Might I suggest you stop and pray...ask the Counselor if you've been a serious student of His or just a lesson for others in futility.

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.
Acts 19:1-7 (ESV)