Sunday, January 24, 2010

You just have to love me

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:7 (NIV)

I walked from room to room taking in an out-and-out mess!

A child's bedroom provided the setting for what seemed to have been a well-attended pretend tea party. The multicolored pastel comforter hung from the twin-sized bed posts, pillows scattered here and there. An assortment of turned-over pink tea cups, half-eaten biscuits, and lingering stuffed-animal guests provided evidence that the party had certainly been a success.

In the formal living room, miniature dinosaurs dotted the landscape of an imaginary pre-historic world. A clash between a mighty tyrannosaurs rex and a seemingly defenseless triceratops appeared to be suspended in time, midway in battle. Peering from behind table legs and under sofa cushions, a collection of plesiosaurus, stegosaurus, and brachiosaurus watched at a safe distance for the struggle's inevitable outcome.

Crayons, markers, and colored pencils that covered the kitchen table created a rainbow of color. An aspiring young artist's masterpieces decorated the kitchen counter and floor.

Finally as I entered the fourth room, I came upon the four-year-old instigator of the chaos. Surrounded by an array of Littlest Pet Shop paraphernalia, the young mastermind was oblivious to everything but the tiny monkeys, turtles, cats, and dogs she so carefully attended.

Four rooms. That was enough.

Exasperated, I declared, "Child, what am I to do with you!"

Looking up to me from her position on the floor, my daughter's deep brown, saucer-sized eyes heightened the innocence of her response. "I guess you just have to love me," she said.

Now I ask you, friend. What does a mother do with a statement like that?

When a child is born, we don't know how that life will turn out. But God does. As King David acknowledges in Psalm 139, God knows us in a very personal way. In His attributes of knowing all things and "everywhere-presentness," God sees both the accomplishments and the blunders we'll make during our life. Yet for those who trust Him, all our stops and starts will be seen through His eyes of divine love.

Likewise, in his circular letter of 1 John, the apostle explores the relationship between God's love for us and our love for each other. He makes three important points: God is the source of all love, He models what genuine love is, and He commands us to love each other. Like the electricity running through electrical wires, love comes from God to us. It then flows through us to others.

My young daughter's childish insight, expressed through a melodic, matter-of-fact tone, penetrated my heart. She was, indeed, correct. I just have to love her. Placing her petite hand in mine, together we headed in the direction of her bedroom to clean up the messes she made.

Dear friend, all your achievements and mistakes will be seen through God's eyes of divine love. By the power of Jesus Christ, will you extend that same life-giving love to others?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, January 17, 2010

You belong

"So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."
Romans 12:5 (NIV)

"It's okay, mom," my twenty-something son said with a playful grin as we discussed the recent package he received from his aunt. "I know I'm the favorite. It's okay that the others know."

When you move to a new location, it's quite natural for someone to ask where you are from. Such information provides a point of reference. When you move often, however, it's a challenge responding to that question. In fact, if you're not attentive to your listener, a thick fog can begin to form over their eyes as they attempt to follow you on a road trip of your life.

"Well, I'm from all over. When I was little, I lived in... Then my family moved to ...and after that to... I started high school in..., but finished in... I graduated from college in...and moved to...for a full-time job."

With each of our seven moves, I made an intentional effort to help our children understand where they are from. In a combination of summer vacations, Thanksgiving holidays, Christmas breaks, birthday celebrations, and family events, we've logged thousands of miles on our automobiles traveling to our native southeast Missouri. My desire has been to give my son and daughter a sense of their roots, an awareness that they belong.

My sister, Glenda, has been especially instrumental in helping my kids develop this feeling of belonging. When my son went off to college, she began sending him a specially prepared "care package" each semester. Tucked inside were all his favorites--Pop-tarts, peanuts, chips, Orbit chewing gum, and homemade cookies and banana bread.

Engaging our mother's baking talents, the package soon included her popular Date Nut Bars; one of my son's favorite cookies typically made only at Christmas time. It didn't take long before other family members got involved in the project. My twin sister contributed monetary gift cards. A brother, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law created a dispatch system to help deliver "grandma's treats" to my sister for timely mailing.

A side note is required at this point. It's been noticed that some of grandma's cookies disappear as her contribution is handed off from one person to another. Note to self: Seal grandma's container before it leaves her house.

Six years since her first mailing, my sister still sends an occasional package to my son, who has graduated and works full-time. The tradition now extends to my daughter, two other nieces, and another nephew who all attend college. Glenda maintains a detailed inventory of each child's favorite items, strategically plans the time it takes for individual parcel delivery, coordinates her baking schedule, and carefully packs items to prevent crushing. With purposeful intent, she mails each package on a specified date and electronically tracks each one to confirm delivery.

As a young man of few words, my son spoke volumes when he good-naturedly said, "I know I'm the favorite." He may not understand the time and care his aunt dedicates to this seemingly simple box of goodies. In the middle of poking some fun, however, he realizes his position. He belongs to our family.

As a Christian, each of us is in Christ Jesus. This phrase implies a shared solidarity; and like a body that has many members, we each belong to the body of Christ. (Romans 12:5) No believer is left out. Consequently, we stand in relation to one another and are engaged to do all the good we can to one another. (1 Corinthians 12:14)

No matter where you are from, my friend, as a believer you belong!

Blessings, my friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, January 10, 2010

On my knees, looking up!

"...Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:8b-9 (NIV)

I get to start a new job!

Each of our moves presents me with the opportunity of a new job. I've had the absolute delight to work for some of the most amazing health care, publishing, post-secondary education, and non-profit ministry organizations.

I now find myself working in the world of the arts; non-profit classical ballet to be exact. Once more, my stomach is in knots and my eyes divulge a rather stunned, deer-in-headlights demeanor. I know absolutely nothing about the art form of dance!

Now that I think about it, at the time I also knew nothing about hospitals, publishing, or Christian ministry. Looking back, I can trace how each position served like a rung on a ladder. With each job, I learned something new that helped prepare me to take the next step in my business career.

The Old Testament book of Joshua takes the story of Israel's history forward from the death of Moses, through the conquest of Canaan, to the death of Joshua. Joshua himself was born in Egypt. He became Moses' right-hand man during the exodus and desert wanderings.

An excellent military commander, he was one of the 12 spies sent to investigate the land. He and Caleb alone had the faith and courage to recommend advance and in consequence were the only ones to survive the 40 years of wandering. Long marked as Moses' successor, Joshua was given the formal commission to lead the nation of Israel into Canaan directly from God as Moses' life drew to a close.

Imagine how Joshua felt when God tells him Moses is dead and he is to get the people of Israel ready to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the land promised to them. What an awesome undertaking as the responsibility of Moses falls to Joshua! Three times the LORD commands Joshua to be strong and courageous.

Accompanied by failure, the book of Joshua is an account of conquest and fulfillment for the people of God. We know Joshua meets with success as the leader of God's people. Approaching the age of 110 (Joshua 24:29), he delivers a farewell address recalling the victories the Lord has given and reminding the people of the instructions he was given years earlier. "Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left." (Joshua 23:6)

Joshua's faithful leadership demonstrates two kinds of promises in the Bible--conditional and unconditional. The fulfillment of unconditional promises is based on God's trustworthy character alone. When God promises that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), His commitment to that promise is not dependent upon our actions, but on His character.

God's promise of success to Joshua, however, was conditional upon his following the laws of Moses. Obeying God is the key to the people's success under his leadership. Humanly speaking, had he not obeyed, we may have never heard of him.

Taking on a new job is like entering unchartered territory. Full of "what ifs," I don't know how this new chapter of my life will play out. I'm certain that if I go it alone, I will at best, mucky up my opportunities for success. At worse? Well, let's just not go there.

By the grace of God, like Joshua I'm adhering to the Lord's commands with courage and faith. Entrusting the unknown to the all-knowing God, I'm assuming a posture that has served me well over the years--overwhelmed and pushed to my limits, I'm on my knees looking up!

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

PS Dear friend, if you're experiencing a job search, I hope the 10 Tips for a Successful Job Search below will be of help to you.

Assessment - Before applying for a specific job, give serious thought to what you like and don't like, what you do well, and what you enjoy doing. This includes on the job and in your personal life.

Job search plan - The more thoughtful and systematic you are developing a plan, the more options you're likely to have. Learn about the job market in your area. Create a daily schedule to keep your search going. Establish professional sounding voice mail and e-mail address systems. Upgrade your skills, if necessary; work as a volunteer to enhance your qualifications.

Get connected - Talk to anyone and everyone you can about your plans, goals, and ideas; attend networking events, seminars, job fairs; join user groups, online job boards. Stay informed of the latest business news in your community or the city where you want to work.

Resume - Regardless of your occupation, work history, or objective, you need a well-written resume. Write your resume to reflect a strongly positive and proud portrayal of your depth of capabilities and talents.

Cover letter - When selecting job applicants, most employers read the cover letter first. A well-crafted letter shows what you bring to the company and why you are a good match for the job.

Interview - The secret of having a good interview is selling your strengths. Be positive and leave your baggage at the door. Take time to research the employer, anticipate questions, and prepare your talking points. Always overdress and arrive 10 minutes early.

Follow up - A short thank you note reminds the employer of you. Mention the position, reiterate your interest, reinforce the connection between your experience/skills and the job qualifications.

Learn from experience - Take time after the interview to replay the experience in your mind. What did you do well, what should have have done differently, what did you learn that suggests you should change your approach?

Keep track - Track everything you are doing. Include name and contact information of people you meet, job sites joined, username/passwords established, meetings/networking events attended.

Don't give up - Looking for employment is never an easy process. If you select and prepare yourself for new opportunities that fit your personal values, skills, and work environment, you will eventually be rewarded with lasting satisfaction and a sense of self-worth through your work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Stand up for your rights

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)

The young girl clutched a yellow #2 pencil in her petite right hand with a firm grip. Each of her small, rapid strokes reverberated as she drove the writing utensil across the coarse paper, solving a seemingly endless list of math problems. The harsh, scratching sound of her laborious task, in the otherwise quiet kitchen setting, served only to increase the child's irritation.

My daughter has a beautiful passion for life. She expresses joy with fervent delight; frustration with equaled intensity. She loves school in general, and she adored her third grade elementary teacher in specific. This particular afternoon, however, she sat at the kitchen table muttering continuously under her breath. An inexplicable agitation mounted as she completed each calculation of the mathematics homework that Mrs. Rathbun assigned.

Finally, with a grit resembling the likes of cartoon character Popeye the Sailor, she had all she could stands, she could stands no more! She stood up in protest and placed the worn-tipped pencil on the table's hardwood surface with a definitive "slam." Her white-knuckled fingers grasped her tiny hips as she declared with an attitude of entitlement, "Kids have rights, too, you know! And, I'm standing up for kids' rights!"

The birth of Christ was one of the most significant events in history. At just the right time, God the Father sent His Son to purchase our freedom. The apostle Paul says that through God's divine love and mercy toward us, God takes into His family all who believe in Christ Jesus. He recognizes each one as His adopted child, an heir with full rights.

What great and invaluable rights do we enjoy through Christ?

As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, we have the remarkable privilege of demonstrating compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Through the Holy Spirit, we have the amazing power to bear with each other, forgiving whatever grievances we have against one another. We can forgive as the Lord forgave us.

We can cover all these virtues with a distinctive love that binds them all together in perfect unity. In all our relationships, Christ can rule in our hearts; and we can live with an attitude of peace only He can give.

We have the unending right to give thanks.

We experience the marvelous advantage of Christ's Word dwelling richly within us. With wisdom, as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God, we can teach and admonish one another.

Whatever we do in obedience to God, whether in our words or in our actions, we have the incredible privilege to do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus. (Colossians 3:12-17)

In A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories that Celebrate the True Holiday Spirit, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee describes Christmas as "God doing the unexpected for the undeserving." We are undeserving. Yet, the God of the universe came to earth as a baby and was later put to death in order to redeem the lives of broken, sinful people like me and like you. Through Christ Jesus, we receive full rights as heirs of our Heavenly Father.

I never uncovered the source of my daughter's frustration that surrounded her third grade math assignment. I'll admit I got a chuckle out of her fiery display (well, it was really a good belly laugh). I also came to wholeheartedly embrace her passion.

Kids have rights! As God's child, I'm standing up for them. How about you, friend? Will you stand up and exercise your rights?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following