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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

Month

November 2013

The Power of a Grateful Heart–Mindful

I hope my words and thoughts please you. Lord, you are my Rock, the one who saves me. (Psalms 19:14 NCV)

“A Mind is a terrible thing to waste” Motto of the United Negro College Fund since 1972.

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Here I am propped on three pillows, considering the capacity of the mind, my mind, anyone’s mind. Certainly one quality of being created in the image of God, the ability to think, reason, choose, plan, the mind of human beings most closely mirrors our creator.

And yet, we all know that not all human minds, no make that not one human mind, comes close to the creator’s. We have seen the effects of genetic mutation, injury, disease and neglect on human minds. We have encountered those with genius either personally or through their works. We have been graphically led by the media through the aftermath of acts committed by those with twisted minds. We know that what we fill our minds with matters.

A Mind is a terrible thing to waste” And yet, sometimes I treat my mind less like a gift from the Creator and more like a garbage dump. I found myself stewing over a Facebook post, that did not concern me and certainly did nothing to make me a better person yesterday. I worried about today when it was still tomorrow. I allowed myself to sink into a brief depression. I read scripture, but did not meditate over it. And when I tried to fall asleep last night, it all came crashing so that I had to wade through it, bag the trash and pray before I could get my mind to rest so I could sleep.

A Mind is a terrible thing to waste.” I watched the ravages of Alzheimer’s steal my mother-in-law from us over the course of many years. I know that no matter what the disease did to her mind that God still held her in his grasp, but to witness the decline of Dorothy devastated us all. It seemed such a waste of human spirit and I had to keep reminding myself that her spirit and the Holy Spirit still resided within her frail body with or without her mind. It was hard to say good-bye when she died, but I sense as she ascended to heaven her mind, body and spirit were whole and clothed in Christ. For us it had been a LONG good-bye.

“A Mind is a terrible thing to waste” So on this final day of November 2013 I am thankful for my mind and seek to use it to explore all God has for me in each day I have left here on earth. I want to fill it first with Love for God and then Love for others. I want to consider things that matter, not things that shatter. I want a mind with thoughts like God recommended through Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected. Do what you learned and received from me, what I told you, and what you saw me do. And the God who gives peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8, 9 NCV)

I want to be someone whose mind daily gains ground, clears the mine fields of toxic thoughts and memories, a mind more like Christ’s everyday. To have a mind of joy and peace requires a mind active in the things of God. So for as long as God chooses to let my mind work in this world I want to fill it to overflowing with good so that what tumbles out of my mouth, off the tips of my fingers, in my expressions and actions helps others see God.

So if my earthly mind begins to be pockmarked with dementia, my life will have had purpose in the building of the Kingdom of God. Because the motto of the American Negro College Fund stands true for ALL :

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Jesus answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39 NCV)

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The Power of a Grateful Heart–The Word, words, reading

Tip and Mitten Primers
Tip and Mitten Primers

Probably because my mother and grandmother read to me, I have always loved the written word. From my first primer when I read Tip and Mitten with exciting words like “Look”, “See”, and “Come” I was a goner. The world of books fascinated me because I soon discovered that I could go anywhere, do anything, be anybody until I reached “The End.”

Carnegie Public Library, Frederick, OK
Carnegie Public Library, Frederick, OK
I got my first library card at the Public Library in Frederick, OK and I still have a library card today. My Grandmother Bryant read Bible Stories to me from her illustrated Bible with a lot of gory pictures in the Old Testament especially…nobody really cared if young children were exposed to horrifying graphics like Abraham, knife poised over a bound Isaac.
Abraham sacrificing Isaac
Abraham sacrificing Isaac
Somehow I survived and I loved the stories…ok, I loved the pictures, too.

Reading came easy to me and I know now it does not come easy to everyone, so that makes me extremely grateful. I have also learned partially because for over 10 years I had a job that kept me on the road that books can be enjoyed without reading. I have listened to thousands of books on tape, CD, and MP3. Libraries loan them free. Great way to pass the miles away when you are traveling Kentucky alone in a car. We have also enjoyed them as a family when traveling.

When I retired my friends at work gave me a Kindle and the world of e-Reading made carrying a library possible, but I still check out library books with paper pages. Being bored becomes difficult when immersed in a book.

Reading also led me to a fascination with the craft of writing and the people who engage in that craft. When I listen to books, I try finishing the author’s thoughts before I hear them. When I read, I pay close attention to transitions, character development, turns of phrase that paint vivid pictures. I do this when I read the Bible also, which is one reason I read one passage of scripture (God’s Word) in multiple translations and paraphrases (Human scholarship). To read Truth through the literary eyes of many helps me understand God’s message to me, which is a living work in me. I am a different person every time I read scripture and so God meets me right where I am.So today my heart is grateful for books, THE BOOK, magazines, newspapers, etc. Books have always been friends, allowing me to experience life through the eyes and words strung together by others have fascinated me. I am thankful and hope to keep on reading and writing for as long as I am able.

My Current Library Book
My Current Library Book

The Power of a Grateful Heart–Uncomfortable Christianity

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Terry wears the cap pictured almost everywhere he goes. Some people are obviously delighted to see it, others view it with skepticism, and others frankly are offended. Does not seem to bother Terry in the least and he is delighted when folks comment on it. Gives him just the opening he needs to witness. imageIt is somewhat like the clerical collar other Christian pastors wear. It is a physical reminder of an invisible faith. It does not always make for comfortable situations.

But as C.S. Lewis said:

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Pastoral ministry has provided Terry and I with much comfort, comfortable times, and comforting people, but not always. In fact, being a Christian pastoral family drives many children of pastors from the institutional church and many from the faith all together. Terry shared some recent statistics on children of Christian pastors that showed 33% of those preacher’s kids (PK’s) from from across the board of Protestant denominations abandoned the church as adults. The number leaving Evangelical Christian Churches was near 90%. Living under the scrutiny of Christian people can be uncomfortable and even painful at times. We are living in a world where being comfortable trumps being Christian a lot of the time.

Several years ago, not so long ago as to take the pain away, Terry and I were called into the pastor’s office by an Elder and dressed down for our insensitivity to a man whose family were members of the church, but he was not. The elder not known for his gentle touch loomed over us, pointing his finger in our faces and told us we made the man uncomfortable…we made him feel guilty…when we went to visit him, he felt we were judging him. We were to back off. Leave him alone. There were lots of words uttered and not one of them held even a touch of kindness. He was angry. We were wrong. We needed to be less holier than thou. We certainly did not live up to his expectations and by implication no one else’s either.

We searched our hearts and our actions for where we had acted judgmental or less than kindly when encountering the man mentioned. After exhausting his complaint, he suggested we not speak to people about Jesus unless we could do it without offending them. We accepted the rebuke, said good-bye, closed up the church and headed to the parsonage, hearts heavy, heads still reeling from his rage. Once there we prayed together and then we talked. Yes we were uncomfortable and frankly I was angry. Terry took my hands in his and he prayed first for the person who had laid into us, asking God to bless him and his family, to heal him of his considerable physical ailments and so on…while Terry prayed I found myself convicted yet again by the Holy Spirit, who suggested my thoughts of raining fire and brimstone down on this Elder of the Church did not fulfill my calling as a Child of God. Alas, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I am not nearly as kind and forgiving as The Lord wants me to be. I took a breath and prayed with Terry accepting God’s forgiveness as I forgave.

Right or Wrong, openly declaring one’s self to be a Christian, openly sharing Jesus, openly speaking against things that break the heart of God will lead to discomfort.

Answering the Non-Christian’s questions about the goodness of an all powerful God in the presence of illness, natural disasters and evil in the world or not feeling adequate to answer them can lead to discomfort.

Facing one’s own pain, frustration, sin, and failures while trying to be Christians–especially when you think you are doing the right thing for the right reasons certainly is not comfortable.

Jesus did not make people comfortable. He often offended people to the point that he died on a Cross. So I have learned that being a Christian does not make me comfortable at least not all the time. Nor does my being a Christian make everyone else comfortable. A little discomfort in an oyster shell eventually produces a pearl. So I am thankful for Christian folks who make me a little uncomfortable so I can improve and for a God that sustains me through whatever happens. I am thankful that the gospel causes some folks discomfort because that may be God working on their hearts. Does not mean Bible bashing or tongue lashing, it just means being faithful to loving and bearing the image of Christ in a hurting world.

I am going to end with a passage of scripture that I love. I understand the crowd’s confusion but I have to go with Peter and the other disciples…uncomfortable or not, Jesus has the Words of Life.

I am not like the bread your ancestors ate. They ate that bread and still died. I am the bread that came down from heaven, and whoever eats this bread will live forever.” When the followers of Jesus heard this, many of them said, “This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?” Knowing that his followers were complaining about this, Jesus said, “Does this teaching bother you? Then will it also bother you to see the Son of Man going back to the place where he came from? It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life. But some of you don’t believe.” (Jesus knew from the beginning who did not believe and who would turn against him.) Jesus said, “That is the reason I said, ‘If the Father does not bring a person to me, that one cannot come.’ ” After Jesus said this, many of his followers left him and stopped following him. Jesus asked the twelve followers, “Do you want to leave, too?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, who would we go to? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One from God.” (John 6:58, 60-69 NCV)

The Power of a Grateful Heart–The Witness Factor

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We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – CS Lewis (from ‘The Weight of Glory’)

The depiction of people of faith in television programming usually goes one or two ways. Either they are simple minded and bigoted or they are on fire for The Lord only to turn out to be phonies or crooks. Neither depiction leaves anything to be admired. People out in the world view Christians with suspicion, believing all that talk about forgiveness, giving your heart to Jesus, and living a joyful life to be malarky. By adulthood non-Christians have sought out for ridicule or condemnation enough examples of “Christianity” that the genuine offer of everlasting life, forgiveness, love, and grace cannot even be fathomed. Having a personal relationship with a loving all powerful God sounds like a fantasy and believe me non-Christians are quick to question WHY does God allow this or that, if He is all powerful and if He loves us.

One thing Christians err about when it comes to non-Christians happens when they assume they all must be miserable. We have been conditioned to think that way, but often they are pretty ordinary people, many are really good moral people. They may not be content with their lives as they are, but they are chasing their dreams and they don’t want some holier than thou Christian implying there is something better, something infinitely more satisfying. They are as C.S. Lewis said content with making mud pies rather than enjoying a holiday at the beach.

Jesus said we who are Christians should be salt and light in the world. We are to be genuine especially with non-Christians because they hone in on any phoniness. Know what happens when the lid comes off the salt shaker and it dumps into the stew…it becomes inedible. Same is true for shining a bright light directly in someone’s eyes…Ouch! Jesus dined with sinners, he sprinkled his speech with stories, he treated prostitutes and tax collectors and women with respect, and yet, he did not back down when religious folks lorded it over “sinners”.

I have really stewed over witnessing and how to be salt and light. I still struggle but I am thankful that God put people in my life when I was skeptical of “the established church”, who modeled love and grace to me without badgering. What they did was make me hungry to know more. So that when a crisis came in my life, I was willing to turn to God.

And yet still I wonder, how often have I, do I, settle for the way things are, skeptical of anything that looks too good to be true. I think my prayer for others and for myself is that Matthew 5:3 would be a reality every day.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

I am thankful for a God who picked me out of the mud hole and took me to the seashore even when I kept looking back at the mud hole with longing. Help me help others see all God has planned for those who love him.image

The Power of a Grateful Heart–Living Hope

Credit: Alexandrahunter.ca
Credit: Alexandrahunter.ca

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, because you are attaining the goal of your faith – the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 NET)

Hope is essential to life and to life everlasting. Sometimes I don’t live that way…I don’t live out the hope I have by faith in Jesus Christ. But reading these verses I became aware that having hope is good, but living hope has the power to sustain the Christian through all the battles and minefields of life. Living out our hope draws others to Jesus.

I don’t know why, but sometimes verse works better for me and this came to me today as I considered how grateful I am for the power of the resurrection that allows me to rejoice and to know He is waiting for me with open arms. I want to be the embodiment of Hope…Hope Walking, Talking, Serving, Writing and Worshipping.

Am I living hope?
Know what I mean, do I gleam like gold that has passed through fire,
Or, do I stumble and fall, with downcast eyes, hugging the wall
And dragging one foot?

Am I living hope?
Can you see Jesus in me? Do I live as an heir to the Kingdom of God?
Or do I bleed despair, with questioning eyes, gasping for air,
Cursing the blackness?

Am I living hope?
Though I can’t see, do I still believe that over yonder He is waiting for me?
Does my character shine? Is there light in my eyes? Joy in my heart?
Or, do I hide in the dark?

Am I living hope?
When I have passed, what I’ve done, said or written, will anything last?
Will people know Jesus any better through me? If I am living hope they should see
The footsteps of faith that I leave.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39 NET)

The Power of a Grateful Heart–God’s Imagination

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But as it is written in the Scriptures: “No one has ever seen this, and no one has ever heard about it. No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NCV)

Just reading this verse gives me chill bumps…

No eye has seen
No ear has heard
We cannot with our finite minds even begin to imagine
What God has in store for those who love Him…

Take your biggest dream,
Take your greatest longing,
Take your impossible situation or worse yet that impossible woman or man
Take your most hideous sins and the forgiveness needed
Take the greatest outcomes you can imagine for anything that tickles your brain.
Expand those as far as you can see…

And then step out on a cloudless night and consider the heavens
Stand on a mountain top and breathe in the glory that stretches out on all sides
Wiggle your toes in the sand as you gaze on the ocean with its waxing and waning tides
Look in a mirror, the reflection of you, the image of God in every human face, God’s DNA in every human race.

With those images fresh in your brain,
shut off the lights,
cover your ears.
Imagine God in three persons, a major task in itself
Imagine before He began, before the beginning, before the Word
Crashed through and then there was light.

Before it all God in three persons
Imagined it all
The vast universe with stars, planets, and black holes
The land and the sea
The forests, mountains, trees,
Animals, rivers, white sand beaches,
mosquitos and fleas
You and me.

That God has prepared for those who love him
More than our eyes can see
More than our ears can hear
More than our minds can conceive
More than we can imagine
But not more than He can!

I am grateful for the Imagination, Creativity, and Love of God!

The Power of a Grateful–The Blessing of Children

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I am far from the perfect parent. Still God blessed me with three wonderful children, who I appreciate and love more with each passing year. Somehow with no experience, Terry and I managed to raise them. And, They have grown into fine adults in spite of me by the grace of God.

I sometimes have a hard time realizing that I have a son who will be 48 years old in January…I still remember holding him in my arms…and the time he went on a trip with a friend of his and told his friend’s mother he couldn’t buy a T-shirt with his spending money, because I might need it for groceries. Or, a son who will be 47 in April…I can still see the beautiful smile on his infant face…and the time after he had his bicycle stolen that he taught himself to ride a unicycle. Or, a daughter who will be 45 in May…I still remember frantically looking for her when we she was 3 and finding her three blocks away riding another child’s tricycle in their driveway…she could slip away in a nano second. They have blessed me with the gift of grandchildren, with their friendship, and with their spouses…and have stood with Terry and I through some pretty harrowing experiences.

If you are a parent, you may understand that there are things I did, things I said, things I didn’t say or do that I would like to go back and snatch from the record or yell, “Do Over.” There are also memories of moments that somehow with all my imperfections were just right. There are no “do overs” in life, but that is where grace and forgiveness transform even the bad patches. There is no going back to those great moments, except in pictures and the mind. BUT, there is going forward. There are while I have breath still memories to make, love to give, grace to share, and forgiveness to request.

So my children, Mike, Scott and Brandee…I am so grateful for the fullness you have brought to my life and I ask your forgiveness for those times I didn’t measure up as a parent. I pray that you know you have a Father in Heaven who loves you more than your Dad and I do….SO it has to be a lot…cause we love you a lot.

Thank you Lord for entrusting me with these precious lives. I pray you keep them safely in your hand for eternity. Oh, Lord for these lives I am grateful beyond anything I can put into words…although here I am trying anyway.

The Power of a Grateful Heart–The Marriage Factor

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Today I am thankful for my husband Terry. As the old country song goes, “you never gave up on me, when I was giving love up on you.” We could sing that song to each other, if I could carry a tune in a bucket, but the words ring true. There were times when giving up would have been simpler that hanging together, but then we would become just another statistic, planning separate Christmases, and such with our children.

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Today I am thankful for marriage and believe it to be a sacrament, a covenant, a union created by God for man and woman to enjoy each other, to share in the joys and sorrows of life. It is the basis of the family unit. It is an earthly manifestation of a heavenly union between Christ and His Church.

At least that is how it is supposed to be. Is that even possible? Yes and No…don’t you love ambiguity. I have been married once and there have been good times and bad. In traditional wedding vows, you have that better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health exchange. Know what I think?? Most people saying those words are thinking, better, richer and healthy, when they should be preparing to love the other the most when, worse, poorer, and sickly.

Over the years I have attended hundreds of weddings, including my own elopement and vows with my husband of 49 years, Terry. In fact over the past 22 years I have sat and listened to the vows of couples, who looked into each other’s eyes and pledged to love each other forever, while my husband officiated. At none of these weddings did I think “this couple isn’t going to make it.” In fact, like most in attendance I was swept up in the moment, believing nothing could separate them and in the moment renewing my own vows, re-pledging my allegiance, love, and support to my man.

Alas, many have separated and divorced, including our oldest child and his first wife a woman he had known since childhood. No matter what people say about amicable divorces, the process and the outcome are wrenching, even more so when young children are involved. And lest anyone get the idea that only the immediate family, husband, wife, children suffer the agony, as a parent whose child has divorced, no children involved, I beg to differ. The picture offered in Yourdictionary.com of the word “asunder” is of a sledge hammer hitting a watermelon scattering bits and pieces that destroy the whole completely. Even divorces with clear Biblical backing, where non-believer and believer part, or unfaithfulness enters the picture, or one or the other partner is an abuser, even when no one doubts it is unavoidable, even then the shattered union splashes on family, friends, and co-workers.

In the wedding service Terry most often uses couples use vows that come from the book of Ruth. Words Ruth spoke to her mother-in-law, Naomi and not to her husband, but I personally think that sets the perfect tone for marriage vows. A couple unites to become one flesh, but they bring two families together also.

“I will never urge you to leave me or to turn away from following after me. Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.”

imageThese vows are my pledge to my husband. A few years back we purchased each other wedding rings with a portion of that scripture engraved in Hebrew, a visible reminder of the wonder of being One Flesh and a constant renewal of our commitment to each other and to The Lord.

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For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NASB)

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:4-9 NASB)

The Power of a Grateful Heart–Pause and Consider

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I am pausing here near the middle of the month to say a few words about the title of these Thanksgiving posts.

Writing using a title that begins each day as “The Power of a Grateful Heart…” may not make sense to some people or may indeed sound like I am pretty full of myself, as if a few reflections on God’s working in my life and the lives of others makes me powerful. In truth I have little power, if any power, but When I Praise God, When I am Thankful, and When I acknowledge that His ways are greater than my ways….whether I get it or not. God’s power and presence are released as it is written, He inhabits our praise.

But you are holy, you who inhabit the praises of Israel. (Psalms 22:3 WEB)

In the beginning, God created and it was good–it still is.
God does nothing wrong–despite the enemy’s work to malign his name.
God loves justice and mercy–he continues to seek it on the earth.
God’s love never stops, never fails, never ever gives up–even when I turn on the news to disaster after disaster, even when I get that horrible phone call, even when I lose my income, my health, my spouse, my mom, my child, even when madness seems the norm–God never stops loving.

God’s word is true, and everything he does is right. He loves what is right and fair; the Lord’ s love fills the earth. (Psalms 33:4, 5 NCV)

I cannot always praise and thank God based on the events or circumstances of my life or the world. Still I have come to understand that Praising Him when the Red Sea is before me and the Egyptian soldiers behind me, when nothing seems worthy of even a meager thank you, when there is so much darkness, dawn seems impossible, in those times, Praising Him releases his love for me and in me in ways that thrust me forward. When God inhabits the praise of his people, the devil runs for cover. The circumstances of this fallen world may not change, but the people of God do and they carry his love to hurting, angry, frightened souls who need it most. So that is why I have chosen during this Thanksgiving Season to focus on how he has shown me The Power of a Grateful Heart.