A Special Gift

As pastors we are handing down our first grandson a treasure of tradition. When he comes to church with us he learns to praise and lift up hands to his Heavenly Father. Papa and Nana in their cowboy boots at the altar and Cameron nearby.

While at Christine Caine’s Propel Conference I heard Lisa Harper explain that the greatest inheritance she received was her father’s bible. In it were notes, highlights and underscores, and old bulletins.

I was reminded of that story at the birth of my first grandson, Cameron. So last year, I purchased a journaling coloring bible.

I began to write sermon notes and special things I want him to read one day. Titles of his Papa’s sermons and little funny things that happen. I was careful not to color on any of the pages but instead leave those pages for him to color as he visits and goes to church with Nana and Papa. At 19 months old he is so attached to his Papa that when he sees him walk to the pulpit to deliver his message Cameron wants to follow him. Will he remember the words spoken? Will he remember the heart in which we serve the Lord?

We are in a post church age and a digital age at that. I admittedly use my bible app more than I do my actual bible, but as Lisa Harper pointed out, there is a great gift in reading what was important in a moment to a previous generation. Maybe it will spark an interest in a renewed look at faith to one who considered Christianity to be a thing of past. As an old pastor told me once, “I don’t know what the future holds but I know it is marvelous.”

As we watch Cameron intensely watch his Papa preach his sermon on Sunday we don’t know the impact. We bought him a toddler microphone and thought we would have to explain what to do with it. Not at all! Instead he began to make noises as he reached for the microphone stand.

Consider getting an old fashioned hands on bible and begin to write out notes and meaningful scriptures to leave for the next generation. You don’t know the lives that will be touched and the hearts that will remember what you loved about your walk with Jesus.

It’s About Praise

I love to write. Several years ago I began writing my prayers down. I found that when I sat with pen and paper that I lingered in prayer. I discovered that I only need a quiet moment and it would turn into an hour. I began to then praise him in words not as in writing a song or rhyming words but just praise from my heart. Often we think of praise as the singing part of a church service but praise is merely the expression of our life with Jesus. It’s a letter of love. It’s life itself and the recognition of what that life means and how it is expressed.

I encourage you to buy a notebook and begin to put your words of praise down for the One who is your sustaining love. Here is my entry for November 5, 2018. May it be a example to you that you don’t need to be a wordsmith. You only need to be real and honest.

My Lord,

As I grab my cup of warm delicious coffee and sit in my family room I thank you. Though it may seem frivolous to thank you for basics of American life it doesn’t fall short to me. I have my old dog lying at my feet. Lulu the Wonder Dog has been so faithful and came into my life in a time of desperation. She is the tangible expression of your love for me in that season. As Baron bounds into the room through the doggie door, I am reminded that new life and love come into our hearts and homes. His beauty is something to behold and makes me smile. A beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky and just enough mosquitoes to keep me humble and praying.

My sleeping husband is a gift that I can’t fathom deserving and yet you made it so. Through a past of broken ruin you thought to bring me true love and care. You thought to show me marriage and what it should look like and you showed me an example of how you designed it to be. Thank you for Doug Young.

Today Cameron turns 18 months. What fun he is! How you blessed my life. He truly shows us to look at life through the wonder of seeing it as if for the first time. He is truly a joy. His little self has only been on the planet for a year and a half and yet, he has turned our world upside down.

I praise you for wisdom today. I praise you for the opportunity to love you with my actions and my eyes to to see what you would have me see.

I praise you for the work of my hands, that it accomplish your will. You will guide me through today of this I am certain. As I make decisions that may have eternal consequences as I do my best to guide my team in the service of your church. Help me to lead them well.

I praise you for a home that needs cleaning. Dusty floors that need to be swept and mopped means that there is life here and movement and I am not alone neither physically or spiritually.

I praise you for a godly husband who leads our home. I ask that you bless him abundantly with wisdom and guide him with clear direction. Help me to be the help meet he truly needs me to be.

I praise you for YOU! As I look out of my window this morning I see the trees swaying in the light breeze of an early morning. Oranges maturing on the trees, so plentiful that you almost don’t see the leaves, as the sun shines brightly and the birds chirp. You created this wonderful setting long before I moved here and even long before I was on the scene of planet earth. All of this scene had to be put in place for THIS moment when I would not only recognize the work of your hand but also the blessing of your Holiness. You alone know that I can’t pretend to you that I often take a deep breath and notice my surroundings, yet nevertheless you knew today that I would and you organized every detail.

Even the sudden disruption of a puppy!

All of this to say I love you! I put my hand in yours today. I set my feet on the solid rock of my salvation. I turn my eyes toward your goals and listen for the call that draws me close and gives me the confidence and courage to have this day’s blessings. Let heaven reign. Let freedom reign and above all be the anchor that keeps me close to you.

I praise your voice for it speaks truth.

I praise your heart for it flows mercy.

I praise your love because it is all in all.

I praise your care over each of my children.

I praise your song for it develops my very soul.

Dolores Caraveo Villegas

My mom called to say you fell twice and that you were getting confused. I knew she was worried so I took my next day off to drive to see you. I walked  into your familiar home. You have always been one of my steady people. You have always been one I can count on.

I sat by your bed while you slept. You didn’t even hear me come in. That should have been my clue that things were changing but all I’d ever seen was a woman in control. I had been there just two weeks before and we had eaten together while I showed you pictures of my grandson. You smiled and said, “He’s so cute Mija (my daughter), it’s so nice to have them little. Enjoy him. Pretty soon they get busy.” I pushed off the warning because well, it’s hard to face. The pages of my life are filled with all of the advice you have given me over the years. 

I watched you, the strong figure that you have always been in my life, sleeping peacefully as I sat and prayed for you. When did you get so small? Sure, I had noticed the last few years but you were always alert. You were always in command. Your voice was strong and authoritative as it had always been. You thought you would pass at the age of 91 as your mom had passed at 91. You turned 91 in June. The mind is powerful.

You woke up and asked me if I heard children laughing as you tried to focus. I let you know that your caretaker, Maria, has her daughters home from school.  They had been in the kitchen getting snacks so I thought it was what you’d heard. You told me they were off this week from school. 

We talked about your confusion, we talked about your health and your weariness, about being in a body that would not obey a mind. You’d nod off during our conversation. You’d wake up and apologize for falling asleep. I asked you how many times I’d fallen asleep on you? After all, you have been with me my whole life. You laughed and said, “A lot.” I’m sure it’s true. I have pictures of us since I was a newborn. 53 years of memories. 

When it was time for your lunch you demanded ice cream. I figured hey you’re 91 and honestly has anyone ever told you no? The negotiating started and you had ice cream and Ensure. We then had some private conversation because well, the two of us talked about a lot of things over the years. 

After I told you how much I loved you and how much you meant to me, I hugged you gently and kissed your cheek and told you I would pray. You thanked me and told me you loved me. I didn’t want to think it was the last time I would see you but my heart felt the nudge. In fact, for a brief moment I thought you’d pass while I was flying out to Illinois. I quickly cast that thought out. Only you did pass hours after I landed. 

Nina. It’s the Spanish title of your Godmother. You and Nino truly were Godparents to me. Lots of people are flattered to baptize a child but don’t understand the responsibility of the vow. You two certainly did. You took me to church, you made sure I had my catechism book and clothes for church. You bought me my first fake fur coat and pantyhose. You loved me deeply. When I got In trouble with you I knew it because you never hesitated to let me know, plainly and simply you weren’t above yelling and letting me have it. That is what love does. Love keeps you straight when you’re running crooked. When I needed a secret keeper there you were. I trusted you, I believed in you, and you showed me loyalty, love, and perseverance. How many quiet conversations did we have at your kitchen table over the years? 

You taught me about Nana Camp as you took your five grandchildren for the entire summer and had fun. Sure, I’d stop by and you looked exhausted but you were happy and they were happy and I learned. 

I awoke Thursday morning in a hotel room at 2 am from a nightmare. I tossed and turned for over two hours unable to fall back to sleep. I received a call at 8 am telling me you had passed. They checked in on you at 1 am and you were sleeping, again at 4 am and you had passed. To say that souls are not knit together is a fallacy. 

Tomorrow I will attend your services. I have cried my private tears and while I am still quietly processing the loss, I am at peace that you are no longer left with any questions or doubts. Everything has been answered by Jesus himself. My sarcastic sense of humor can’t help think that Jesus chuckled upon seeing you remembering that you were the lady that on Palm Sunday took one palm leaf off the altar for each of us. Yes, I don’t know what that was about, but I remember you calling me to say you’d picked up a palm leaf for me at church. Then asked if I went to church.

You are now surrounded by loved ones and you can be proud that you left a legacy of love and strength here on earth. I will miss you greatly but your love will live on through those of us who were blessed to be loved by you. Thank you Nina for showing me Jesus and for the honor of letting me be a part of your life. I will see you later!

Seared To Truth

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There was a very specific reason I asked this question on my social media page today: 

Catching up on Dr. Laura Podcast and a call came through that made me wonder what your thoughts were?

The caller said she had met the perfect man for her. They talked for hours about everything. Enjoyed each other’s company and had so many things in common. There was only one problem, he was married.

Dr. Laura asked her why a decent woman of character and integrity would want to blow up another woman’s marriage and destroy the woman’s children’s lives?

The woman went on to say this was why she was calling. Should she care? The man of her dreams was unhappily married and had been for a long time.

Dr. Laura responded again with the same question.

So here are four questions:

What would have been your response?
When is adultery ok?
Does the answer change if you’re a follower of Christ?
Don’t people have the right to be happy?

I tried to be neutral in my question not because I had any doubts to my own answer but because I work with women and I know if the question is being asked by one woman it is in the hearts of many. I am asked on fairly regular basis if we have a right to be happy? My answer always depends on the cost to the well being of others. My rights do not supersede the breaking of another person. For example, changing careers when doing so would put a financial hit on the family bears consideration. Moving away from a support system bears consideration when the outcome is uncertain and others are involved. 

Lisa Bevere in her book Adamant says God is love but love is not God. In other words we miss the point when we idolize love. To idolize love over people is to trample over the lives of others thereby missing God completely. 

At what point do we stop and listen and ask and respond? When someone takes the time to call a radio program, go through a screener, and then ask a question where people will recognize their voice and their question, it means the question is important enough to them to risk. If it important enough to  ask and risk being found out, then we need to think through the question because a bigger question is being asked. 

When the question was,  should I care, it brought to mind two things. One being that in that caller somewhere was an ability to discern right from wrong. The caller was looking for validation to not care. People who don’t care and don’t count the cost of who it hurts wouldn’t have the discernment to look for counsel. Second, it brought on an even more serious question and that is, when did we decide that what was important to us superseded the reality of the pain caused to others?

In this reformation back to holiness lots of seemingly foolish questions are going to be asked. Will we respond with non-response? Will we be intolerant and say we don’t have time for nonsense? Will we beat them with scripture as a Pharisee would? Or will we roll up our sleeves in love and answer from experience of what we have seen, know, or maybe experienced for ourselves regardless of outcome? 

How many of us know women who have cheated on their husbands and blown families apart? How many of us have known the “other” woman who is justifying their behavior and covering their selfishness with cries of rights to be happy?  

You see, this question was not born out of a, I should know better therefore you should know better, place. It was born out of an attempt to understand how we find ourselves in situations where we are seared to truth? Because as I see it, talking to married person is wrong whether you follow Jesus or not. Caring about others is not a Christian vs non-Christian question it’s a humanity issue. These are character and integrity questions. Only when we see that ideals have been skewed for a prevailing thought of what is right for me, then love calls us to answer the question, first to ourselves, and then to others. 

We cannot control outcomes but we do have a voice to speak up and tell the truth. Which approach will you take? Will you take these questions to heart or will you walk away thinking it will never happen to you or your loved ones? 

 

The Strong Women Beside Me

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Today we lay to rest a mighty woman of God. Terri Rivas, on the left in this picture, came to our TLC4Women bible study years ago. A quiet woman with a bible and pen in her hand, she had been invited by a pillar in our group her best friend Bernie, on the right above. Both women had been friends with each other for over 50 years. They each attended different churches but they each loved to study the word. Bernie is a solid, grounded, woman of the word and so I knew her friend would be as well. What does it say that two women are friends for 50 years? In a time when we are offended so easily and friendships tend to come and go, this was something to be admired.

It didn’t take long for me to find out that Terri was not quiet at all. She had a quick wit and would make all of us laugh with that smirk-y smile she would get right before she made a comment.  She celebrated all of our successes and she told about her escapades with Bernie. Bernie and Terri wouldn’t sit together in study because Terri would say she was afraid Bernie would get her into trouble.

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I discovered that I could go to Terri for anything and she would pray. She wasn’t about gossip and she wasn’t about drama but she could pray. I saw why she and Bernie were such great friends. Two women who stood strong on the word of God and were mentors to each of us in the group. When Terri decided to move her membership to our church, she came with a notepad, scriptures, and a word from the Lord, BUT she wanted to talk to us first to make sure that we knew she would not to be any trouble. She taught me about honor and hearing from the Lord.  She wasn’t going to walk on what she thought was the right thing to do she weighed it out, got counsel, and waited on God.

When she decided to retire from the hospital we talked about it and it turned out she didn’t have to retire she could work from home. She was thrilled to do that but again, wanted us to pray to make sure it was the right thing to do.

When Terri developed Parkinson’s she came to me with a quake in her voice and announced the news. I could tell it had shaken her and I had never seen her scared before, she had faith for so many others, in that moment I needed her to have that same faith for herself. I reminded her that the Great Physician had the final say and we prayed together. I honestly didn’t think I would lose her. I thought she would battle on. She had been through a lot in her life and I thought this would be another victory story. When she determined that she could no longer trust her driving at night she told me bible study would be out. I told her to let Bernie bring her. She instantly replied, “Have you ever been in a car with Bernie? Pastor Susan I want to live.” I answered, “Well, at least you’d go together right?” She laughed and said, “Bernie would probably survive.” But laughter or not, scared or not, there would Terri be, walking in the door of bible study with Bernie.

Terri, I love you, I will miss you. The impact you have made on my life cannot be measured. I was graced by your friendship. I was graced by your love of my children and my grandson. And even though I mourn the loss of you here on earth, you won the victory. I know that you made it home safely. That all of the promises of God are true and that we will one day be together again. I’m sure you are talking to loved ones and strangers and everyone you meet. You’re making people laugh, and you’re awaiting the time when we’re all joined together again.

Proverbs 31:29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

terririvas

 

What’s Coming Out?

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That’s the problem with the Pounce and Flounce isn’t it? We make definitive statements for drama’s effect only to have it boomerang.

To the significant other: “I’m leaving!”, when we know we aren’t going anywhere for long.

To the family or friend: “You hurt me and I’m not coming back until you say sorry.” Then we take every opportunity to let everyone know why we are feuding, or worse we pretend innocence and point to how people hurt us.

To anyone that will listen: “I don’t know why I stayed this long.”

Or in other words,

“You can’t tell me what to do.” 

To the Authority Figure: “Well if you’re going to do that then I’m not participating.”

Then we walk out as if we’re a commanding general who just won a war. We Pounce on the person and Flounce away to show them. Show them what though? Show them that we are masters at manipulation. This is the adult version of the two year-old trantrum being played out. 

When the trantrum is over and we calm down, and want/need, to come back, now we either have to apologize or have that awkward thing of the pounce and flounce between us that needs to be addressed.

Sometimes we pretend nothing happened. Sometimes we are violent slanderers, sometimes we are silent stew-ers, sometimes we play injured party accepting no responsibility and pointing fingers or worse we act as if all of this is so beneath us and we don’t care a bit about it in retaliation.

If we do it often enough, and with Social Media, we certainly have an easy platform, we develop a reputation of histrionics where people ignore our high drama. We become unsafe because others never know when it will turn on them and they will be the object of the next post.

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You see whatever is in our hearts comes spilling out. Now that we have a world wide platform people get to see who we really are. Hey, I’m not immune to cringe-worthy posts either. I’m not ashamed to take down posts that  I have posted which turn negative. It is not beneath me to just say no and sorry to something which may inflame people I care about.

Recently our church had 21 Days Of Prayer where prayers were written on cards and then each night we gathered together to pray for each card. There were incredible testimonies of breakthrough, miracles of healing, and in the midst of the profound and sacred some took the opportunity of prayer to chastise another. I called it the pounce and flounce of prayer. The violence of this action shows the power of our world today in which we can hide behind words not spoken face to face. Cowardly at best, the pounce and flounce has taken on new levels. The cards were quickly plucked from the pile and shredded. The Bible says that what is in the heart comes out and I wonder as believers how we think this honors God? I wonder how I honor God?

Proverbs 21:2 All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart.

Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

So while I examine my heart for impure motive, I urge you to take a walk through your heart and settle the issues that so quickly ensnare us into behavior that will never lead us to victory.

 

If Only I Didn’t Know

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You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. ~ Matthew 5:4 The Message

Don’t you hate it when your life is cruising along in auto-pilot and you get hit with a revelation you wished you had never known? The awareness it brings is such a shock to the system. Immediately you have to think about what to do with the information. Where is the line or boundary for you? What is the right thing to do?

A friend lets you know that a person with whom you didn’t really have a problem doesn’t like you. I mean, it wasn’t like you were best friends or anything but you thought you two were fine with each other.

You’re doing your monthly breast examine and feel that lump that you thought happened to other people.

You find text messages from a co-worker on your spouse’s phone and discover something you never wanted to know.

You become a Christ follower and discover that there is that little area over in the corner of your life that isn’t consistent with this new life.

Now What?

In each of these cases you can’t ignore the next step for very long. As hard as it is to face facts, you must. They simply don’t disappear without action. Begin with a good assessment of where you are, then begin to pray for what you want the outcome to be.

Do you want to restore the possibility of friendship? Then humility and a conversation will need to take place. Often we excuse our behavior and pin it all on the other person but what is our role in this?

You’ll need a healing miracle as you make a doctor’s appointment and get that mammogram. Don’t panic, don’t delay, and don’t ask God to bless you based on your resume. Instead pray for healing and ask for mercy.

Do you want to see your marriage restored? Then you’ll need to have some tough conversations, some realizations of who the two of you really are, and if this marriage is worth saving. You’ll have to decide to never bring it up again and to begin the process of restoration. Don’t make your case before God for blessings, instead ask God to give you clarity of vision, strategy, and ask him to show himself mighty in this situation.

Do you really want this walk with Jesus to work to its full potential? Don’t make excuses, voluntarily come clean with the Lord and ask Him for His help and guidance.

You can’t ignore what you learn and have a healthy life. You can’t accept what you’re unwilling to accept. You can move forward with knowledge when you examine that area of your life with true acknowledgment of what the reality of the situation is.

Unfortunately, we can’t un-know what we know but we can move forward into an excellent future if we stop making excuses, stop listening to other voices, get clear about what it is we want, and humble ourselves before our Lord.