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Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  ~ Psalm 51:10

Lately I’ve been on a personal mission to go through our closets, drawers, and the kitchen pantry to clean things out.  We’ve lived in this house for eight years, and in that time have accumulated too much stuff!  My progress has been slow, but I’m getting there, and in this time of economic down-turn, it feels good to sort through our unused items and put things aside that others could use.  However, much of what I discard is just junk and needs to be thrown away. 

Our souls need spring cleaning, too.  Over time we accumulate too much stuff.  We take in too much information and junk-food-for-the-brain.  We hold onto negative thoughts like guilt, doubt, resentment, frustration, anger, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, feelings of unworthiness…and the list goes on.  Eventually all that junk starts piling up.  Just as I restored order to our kitchen pantry, we can renew our spirits by doing a little spring cleaning for our souls.

Not only has it  felt good to clean up and reorganize closets and drawers, it’s also been fun to rediscover useful things that I forgot we had! Many of these things had gotten pushed to the back and hidden behind the junk that started to accumulate. 

The same thing happens inside us.  We have good and wonderful qualities, traits and characteristics that get pushed back into the recessions of our souls by the intruding negative junk mentioned above.  

So how about a little spring cleaning for your soul?  What junk is piling up?  What negative and useless thoughts need to be cleaned out and thrown away?  More importantly, what good things need to be rediscovered? 

Just like the items I set aside to give or donate to others, we each have God-given gifts and talents that need to be shared with others, too.  Often they get taken over by the ‘junk’ that settles in our heads and hearts. 

I hope you’ll take some time to sort through the storage places of your soul to throw out all the junk and make the most of the good things inside you.   Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.  ~Romans 12:2

Here’s a few thought-prompters to help you get started:

What negative thoughts and feelings are piling up inside me?  Do they hold me back?  Why do I hold onto them?  How could I benefit from throwing them out?  How might my loved ones benefit if I throw away these negative things?  

What good things are hiding inside me?  What interests, gifts, and talents are sitting unused?  How might I use those things to do good for others?  Or to serve the Lord?   Do not neglect the spiritual gift that is within you…   ~ 1 Timothy 4:14

What blessings have become forgotten or unnoticed?  How can I use those blessings to bless others? 

Dear God, So often we fail to see all the ‘junk’ piling up inside of us, let alone realize how those things are affecting our lives or keeping us from making the most of the good things You bless us with.  Please help me do some spring cleaning for my soul so my spirit can be renewed (Psalm 51:10).  Help me throw out the junk so I can rediscover the good things inside me.  More importantly, show me how to best use my God-given gifts, talents, qualities, and abilities to please You and bless others.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen. 

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“Be on guard.  Stand true to what you believe.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  And everything you do must be done with love.”     – 1 Corinthians 16:13

You’ve probably heard in the news this week about the mom who got so frustrated with her kids that she stopped the car, made her two girsl get out, and then drove off.  The 12-year old was able to catch up to the car and the mom let that child back in, but left her 10-year old girl behind!  Fortunately the young girl was helped by kind strangers (praise) until authorities took her into their care.  Ten hours later the mother finally reported her child missing.  She was arrested when she went to retrieve her child and spent the night in jail. 

I’m not going to get into a debate about this mom’s actions.  There are enough other people doing that!  What I will say is that I wonder if she’s an over-stressed mom.  I’ve been an over-stressed mom.  I’m guilty of having angry outbursts and saying words I regret to my children. 

The TODAY Show asked for people to respond to the story about the angry mom.  I responded from my experience to say that the best intervention is prevention.   

My experience taught me that I had to 1) acknowledge and take ownership of my thoughts, actions, and behaviors; 2) ask God to forgive me for losing my temper with my children and for the things I said (not always what I said, but the angry way I yelled at them); 3) admit to my children that how I’d acted was wrong.  They might have deserved the admonishments, but not the harsh way I’d handled things; 4) tell them I was sorry for how I’d acted; 5) confront myself with my inability to handle these moments; 6) ask myself why I was losing my temper.  7) Eventually, as a woman of faith, I learned to take these matters to God and seek His help in dealing with these things.  8) Identify what triggered my frustrtations; and 9) think of a plan ahead of time for how I’d handle things better in the future.

Steps 1-4 are necessary for making amends to the situation.  Steps 5, 6, 7 , 8 & 9  are the steps that allowed me to do “intervention by means of  prevention” approach.

When I examined my reactive behavior, I realized that it wasn’t my kids who were causing my anger and frustration.  It was other circumstances in my life.  I was letting things build up until I blew up with my kids!  The things they were doing weren’t that bad!  (My poor kids!!)  Identifying what was really bothering me led me to address those problems in a better way and not take them out on my kids. 

I identified my ‘trigger times’ as times when I hadn’t gotten enough sleep (sleep is SO under-rated!) and times when I was hungry.  Those are times I can prevent by getting proper rest and keeping my blood sugar up. 

I came up with a plan of how I would respond when I felt myself starting to lose my temper. 

The greatest ‘ounce of prevention’ that’s led to the most effective ‘pound of cure’ was learning to take my problems, concerns, and frustrations to God.  Being a more godly mom has helped me be a better mom.  I’m not a perfect mom!  I still have my ‘moments’.  I still get mad, still find myself yelling, and still have times when I have to apologize to my kids for not handling something as well as I should have…BUT I’M DOING A HECK OF A LOT BETTER!    We have much more calm and a lot less chaos in our home.  Thank You, Lord!!! 

The verse above is a great help for any parent seeking intervention by means of prevention.  Be on guard at all times for situations that might test your patience so that you can be prepared to handle them in a good, positive, and effective way.  Stay true to what you believe by handling stressful situations with your children and times of discipline in proper, non-compromising ways.  Be courageous as you seek to make the changes necessary in your life or your children’s lives to make things better.  Be strong.  Sometimes it’s hard to enforce new rules or try new things.  It can seem easier to do things the ‘old way’ because it’s what we’re used to, but if the old way wasn’t working, be strong when implementing new, better ways.  Remember that everything you do must be done with love.   That’s the Bible’s instructions, not mine, and I admit it can be hard sometimes!  However, if everything you do is done with love— including discipline, correction, seeking forgiveness — you’ll have fewer regrets and many more positive outcomes when you face stressful and challenging moments with your kids.  (These things work with grown-ups, too!)   

Something else that helps me keep matters in proper perspective with my children is realizing that they’re God’s children more so than they’re mine.  He has entrusted their care and well-being to me.   When I lose my temper with ‘my’ kids, I’m losing my temper with God’s kids!  My job is to love them and raise them up in ways pleasing to Him.   

Are you ‘losing it’ with your kids?  To find out, ask yourself these questions:

1) Are there times when I regret my actions/words with my kids?  If so, how often?

2) Do the kids deserve this behavior/treatment?

3) Are my kids the real cause of my stress and frustrations?  If not, what is?  How can I deal with those things better?

4) If it really is my kids behavior causing my anger, what do I/we need to do to start correcting their behavior?   If they’re acting out in ways that cause me to act improperly, what is the source of THEIR anger and frustration?  How can I/we best deal with that?

5) What triggers my outbursts and tempers?  How can I avoid those triggers?

6) What does God have to say about all this?  Have I prayed about these things? 

7) Ultimately, how do I want things to be with my children?  How can I best achieve this ultimate outcome?  Have I asked God to help me?

My friend, if you feel like an over-stressed parent, then I hope this message helps you in some way.  Please know that you’re not a ‘bad parent” – just maybe a stressed one.  God still loves you and wants to be there as YOUR parent to help you make things better.   I have prayed for each stressed parent who reads this, that God will help you as He helped me. 

Do you have tips or helps to share?  If so, please do! We’d love to hear your thoughts!  You can respond to the word ‘comments’ under the title line. 

God bless you all!

I recently attended my second grader’s school recognition assembly.  The message on one of the banners has stuck in my head.  It said, “The secrets of success do not work unless you do.”   What a great quote!  This isn’t just true when it comes to personal achievements, but is also true for our spiritual success!

The Bible says it another way.  Quite simply, it says, “Faith without works is dead…”  (James 2:20)  Wow.  That’s blunt and to the point!

This verse tells us that we can read all the books in the world about how to pray and study the Bible.  We can attend marriage enrichment seminars and conferences on church leadership or evangelism.  We can fill our heads with all the ‘how-to’ information possible, but if we don’t apply what we learn – if we don’t work at it – then it’s all for not.  Remember the words of the school banner:   “Secrets of success do not work unless you do.”  Remember the words of James:  “Faith without works is dead.”

To find “success” as a Christian, I have to put my faith into action!  I can’t just learn all about praying.  I must spend my own time with the Lord in prayer.  It’s not enough to read Christianity for Dummies.  I’ve got to be in the Word every day – even if it’s just pondering a single verse.   From there, I need to respond to the ways God speaks to my heart and puts thoughts in my head.  If I don’t work at my faith and put my faith into action, then my faith is as good as dead.  OUCH! 

I’ve been in a few conversations lately about how sometimes as Christians we try to do what we’re ‘supposed to do to be “successful”, but sometimes we feel like we fail, and then we feel like we must be bad Christians.  Some people get discouraged trying to follow ‘rules’ and eventually want to give up, wondering what’s the point? 

Please hear me when I tell you it’s not about that!  Finding “success” as a Christian isn’t about adhering to legalistic rules.  It’s about living in faith and acting out our love for the Lord in ways that bless others; and doing so because we love the Lord in a way that makes us want to please Him by doing these things.  When we live this way, living out our faith from what’s in our hearts, THEN we can feel good about ourselves as Christians and know we’re doing our best to bless the Lord by blessing others.

“But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into  the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”   She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to Him “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). 

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethern and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had spoken these things to her.      – John 20:11-18  (NKJV)

I still remember, from back in my high school days, watching Jesus Christ Superstar, the musical.  Movies didn’t come out on dvd’s back then, so I went to the theaters more than once to see it.  Then I bought the album (yes, the album – not a cd!) and played it over, and over, and over.  I wanted to be Mary Magdalene.  I memorized all her songs and sang along with her.  I wanted to be Mary Magdalene because she loved Jesus so much and seemed to have a special connection or understanding with Jesus that the others didn’t have.  And Jesus seemed to have a special fondness for her, too. 

It’s because of her love for him and the ‘something special’ they seemed to share, that I’m surprised when reading the verses above that Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus when he appears to her at the tomb, especially when her purpose for being there was to see Him!

When Jesus first speaks to her, she thinks He is the gardener!  It isn’t until He speaks her name that she recognizes Him. 

Hmmm…how often does this happen in our lives today?  No matter how much we love Jesus, and might even have a special connection with him, are there times when He’s right there and we look right at Him,  but don’t recognize Him?  Are there times when He speaks to us, but we don’t recognize His voice? 

The Bible doesn’t say why Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus.  I can only assume it’s because Jesus has changed, been transformed.  The disciples might not have recognized Him either, because the scriptures go on to say that Jesus showed them His hands and His side to show the marks of His crucifixion. 

What can we learn from this? 

Jesus might not always ‘look’ the way we think He will.  He might not always appear at the time or place we expect.  Even though we’re looking for Him, we might overlook Him, even though He’s right there with us.  We might not recognize the sound of His voice, but He is there. 

Have you been looking for Jesus?  Are you listening for the sound of His voice?  Take a second look.  Listen for Him calling your name.  Be ready to see Him and hear Him in new ways!  Look beyond your expectations, for expectations can be limitations. 

After Mary recognized Jesus, He asked her not to cling to Him.  He instructed her not to hold onto Him in that moment, but to go forth and tell the disciples that He would be ascending to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God. 

We’re to do the same.  When Jesus appears to us or works in our lives, we’re not to cling to Him and stay in the moment.  We’re called to share His Good News and the blessings of His presence with others!   

Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Terry Moore, reminds us that, as Christians, we’re Easter People.  Easter isn’t just a holiday or season, it’s who we are!   Look for Your Lord and Savior.  Be willing to see Him in new ways – in ways other than you ask or seek.  He is there with you!  Then go forth and share the Good News of the Risen Lord with others, that they, too, will become Easter People.

This post originally published March, 2008.

So much has happened since I reported of the night’s activities.  (See post below.  Holy Week – While You Were Sleeping)  This is a very sad, dark time. 

After a long night of being harassed and physically beaten and abused, Jesus was condemned to death by the crowd that gathered outside of Pilate’s quarters.  Not wanting to feel responsible for Jesus’ death, Pilate gave in to the crowd’s demands and handed Jesus over to them.  Jesus was then mocked, beaten and bloodied more severely, almost to the point of disfigurement.  My heart broke to see someone I loved and admired so much treated so cruelly.  Despite the deep wounds that covered his body, Christ was forced to proceed through the streets of Jerusalem as a criminal to the hill where he would be crucified.  Although soldiers tried to make him carry his own cross, he was physically unable to do so.  Someone named Simon was pulled from the crowd to carry the cross for him. Eventually they arrived at Skull Hill where Jesus was nailed to the cross and hung to die.

We were terrified when, at noon, a great darkness coverd the earth.  Two criminals were also being crucified.  They also hung from crosses on each side of him.  One was taunting Jesus.  The other recognized Jesus as his Savior and asked for Jesus to take him where Jesus was going.  Jesus promised that he would, granting salvation in the criminal’s dying moments.  Some of guards and people in the crowd also taunted and mocked Jesus.  In his graciousness, he cried out to his Father seeking forgiveness for all who had wronged him, and for those who were sinning against him in his final moments. 

I could hardly bear to watch what was happening to our Savior, yet I couldn’t leave.  I stayed until he took his last breath.  He shouted out, then gave up his spirit.  As this happened, the earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.  It is said that at the moment Jesus gave up his spirit, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Matthew 27:50-52)  Our Savior, Messiah, had died.   

Although the darkness of the land was lifted at 3:00, my heart feels the darkness of the blackest night.  How could they have treated him that way?  How could they kill the one who came to save the very people who led him to his grave?  How could they not have recognized him?  What do we do now?  He said he would be raised and come back again, but what did that mean?  How could that be possible?  It is Passover, a time that usually calls for celebration, but I have never felt such sickness and pain in my heart.  This is a time of great mourning for me.  Oh, for our Savior to live again.

This Post was originally published in March, 2008.

It’s been a long night.  In some ways this day is just beginning.  Yet, looking back at last night’s events, it’s hard to tell where yesterday stopped and today began. 

The long night began when Jesus gathered with his disciples for the Passover meal.  John tells us that, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his father.” (John 13:1)  They met in an upper room as instructed by Jesus.  It had been an interesting week with Jesus – some wild events had occured and he’d been saying things the disciples didn’t quite get.  He’d talked of dying, going where they couldn’t go, then coming back again, and later they would follow him.  They didn’t question him much.  He often spoke in ways they didn’t understand.  Other times, they thought they understood, but really didn’t.  Although Jesus seems to be at peace, John states he is also in a state of  great anguish. (John 13:21)  Jesus knew that Judas would later betray him, thus putting into motion the events that would lead to the long, painful night ahead and his eventual death on the cross. 

So they gathered for the traditional Passover meal, but theirs was not to be completely traditional.  Jesus, their beloved leader, upon which they hung their hopes of saving the people of Jerusalem, the one who would lead them to a new kingdom, began the evening by lowering himself to a servant’s status and washing their feet.  He did this to set an example for them.  Then said that the servant is not greater than the master and commanded them to serve each other.  (John 13:12-17)

After observing the usual symbolic procedures of the Passover meal, Jesus went on to break the bread, telling the disciples the bread was his body, and that they were to partake of the bread in remembrance of him.  Surely the disciples were wondering what he meant!  Then Jesus went on to lift his cup of wine, not to make a toast, but to tell the disciples that the wine was his blood, poured out for each of them.  That, too, was to be taken in remembrance of him.  Did the disciples understand the importance and meaning of what Jesus was teaching them? Did they wonder what it meant that Jesus had poured out his blood for them?

Jesus used the time during the meal to continue teaching and encouraging the disciples.  He also shared what he could about things to come so later they would know he truly was the Messiah – even foretelling that one of them would betray him.  He also gave them a new commandment: “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  (John 13:34-35)  Jesus ended their evening by praying for himself, the disciples, and future believers.  Then it was time to go.

Jesus led them across the Kidron Valley to an olive grove known as the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was there he met Judas, his betrayor, who came with Roman soldiers and Temple guards.  It was here, in the dark of night,  that Jesus was arrested, tied up and led away – secretly so as not to begin a riot with those who supported him – to a preliminary hearing.  From there Jesus was secretly led to another hearing before Caiaphas, the high priest.  At this ‘hearing’, those who opposed Jesus looked for men willing to bear false witness against Jesus.  When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the rulers declared his words to be blasphemy, declared him guilty, and said that he must die!  Then they spit in Jesus’ face, slapped him and mocked him. (Matthew 26:63-68) By this time it was late at night.  Notes in my Bible (NLT) say that this ‘trial’ made a mockery of justice. 

Early in the morning, Jesus was bound and taken before Pilate, the Roman governor.  Only the Roman governor could impose the death penalty.  Pilate saw Jesus was innocent, but was afraid of political upset and riots, so he sent Jesus to Herod for judgement.  However, when Jesus refused to perform a miracle for Herod, Herod lost interest in him and sent him back to Pilate.  It was at this last meeting with Pilate that Jesus’ fate was handed over to the public, and they cried out for him to be crucified. 

While you were sleeping, Jesus spent the last evening before his crucifixion sharing a Passover meal with his disciples, using his last moments with them as effectively as he could to teach them, prepare them for times to come, and prophesying to establish that he was the Messiah.  His emotional agony was so great over what was to happen that he suffered physical agony, too.  Then, the events of the night led to him being arrested, mocked, spat upon, physically abused, and abandoned by those closest to him.  In addition to his physical and emotional suffering, Jesus traversed 21 miles from where he was arrested in the Garden to his final meeting with Pilate.  Now that morning has come, in addition to all he endured through the night, his final journey to the cross will begin.

For info about Maundy Thursday, go to www.gotquestions.org  It’s an excellent Christian reference site.  Just enter Maundy Thursday in the ‘search box’.  It will give you great info and links to related topics. 

Easter blessings to all,

Renee

This post was originally published in March, 2008.

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.   – Matthew 18:11

For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”  I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.    – 2 Corinthians 6:2

I wear a pink band on my wrist.  It reminds me of a friend and sister in Christ who recently lost her battle with breast cancer.  Tara was only 35 years old and left behind her parents, many friends and loved ones, her devoted husband, and two children ages 6 and 2.  She was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in August of 2007.  Immediately God began working through her to inspire faith in others.  Regardless of her situation or symptoms, God worked through Tara and her disease to reach out and minister to others.  Tara began responding favorably to aggressive treatments (cancer was detected throughout her body), and seemed to use every opportunity available to her to live as a witness for Jesus Christ.  Then, just 6 months after treatments began, doctors ceased all treatments.  Despite many prayers and great hopes for healing, God’s response was that hers was to be an eternal healing in heaven, not a physical healing here on earth.  Her days were numbered.  As the Bible says, only God knew the number of her days. 

Surely Tara felt an urgency to do all the things she wanted and needed to do for her children and husband, to say the things she needed to say, to prepare them for life without her, to encourage and inspire everyone who knew her in their faith.  She had so little time…

Jesus, too, had very little time and so much to do.  His ministry lasted only 3 years.  In His final days especially, He surely felt an urgency to accomplish that which He came to do.  On the day we recognize as Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem, strong in will to carry out His Father’s plan.  His countdown was on.  His clock was ticking.  He had but a few days left to teach, heal, and counsel His followers; and just days to prepare His disciples for the times to come. 

It’s Wednesday as I write this, the day before Maundy Thursday/Holy Thursday – which is the day when Jesus would have His last supper with the disciples.  He would begin the evening of Maundy Thursday by washing the disciples feet to teach them to be servants to the world, not slaves to the world.  Jesus surely felt great urgency to finish teaching his disciples what they needed to know.  He knew His time was almost up. 

What about us?  As stated above, only God knows the number of our days.  Do you feel urgency to do what you need to do?  To teach your kids about God, Jesus and the Bible; to prepare your spouse for life without you.  If you don’t feel an urgency, maybe you should.  Our final day is coming but we don’t know when it will be.  Let’s learn a lesson from Jesus and make every moment count. 

Easter blessings,

Renee

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