Safe Harbor

I was visiting a friend in Sarasota, FL a number of years ago. She and her family owned a beautiful boat that was docked in a marina filled with beautiful boats. It was interesting to me to see people spend a LOT of time on their boats. Soaking up the sun. Eating meals on them. Some people were having dinner parties on their boat as the sun was setting. But I was surprised to see how few of the boats actually left the marina and made their way for the open water.

One of my favorite things to see is a sailboat with its sails up, being carried by the wind, and its passengers enjoying the journey. There is something so majestic to watch it glide along the water being carried along by the wind or resting for a while enjoying the sun, the sea gulls and the sounds of the white caps. Peaceful.

We know it is not without danger. I learned firsthand how a storm can sneak up on you when you are out at sea. And it is important to have a captain who knows exactly how to handle the boat, to weather the storm and get you safely back to the harbor. It is then that we most appreciate a safe harbor. But here’s the thing: boats weren’t made to stay in the harbor. They were made to sail the wide open waters. With proper safety equipment and an experienced captain at the helm a boat can do what it was created to do for an audience to enjoy the journey.

We may feel safe tied to a dock in a harbor but we weren’t made to live there either. Living our life to the full means getting out into some uncharted areas sometimes. Jesus – the Life Giver – is the best life jacket we can wear in life. The Holy Spirit gives us discernment to navigate the path. Trust that God is at the helm of our boat and that gives us a full crew for this journey. When was the last time you put your sails up and trusted that God was in the wind?!

Guilt-Free Timekeeping

I just saw a brilliant billboard. The gigantic sign on the highway was completely white with a picture of a single Timex watch in the center…and one sentence. “Know the time without seeing you have 1,249 unanswered emails.” It’s come to that, hasn’t it?! I haven’t worn a watch on my arm for a number of years. I always have my cell phone in my hand or within reach and use it, like…clockwork, to keep track of the time. The problem is – it’s always reminding me of all the other things that I need to do.

Maybe going ‘old school’ and wearing a watch again could help me manage my time better?!! Maybe there IS a downside to having everything in one place! Like when was the last time you used your Bible app in church, to look at the scripture your Pastor was preaching on, only to be distracted by pop up notifications of texts, direct messages or news headlines?!! I noticed this Sunday when I used my actual study Bible in church rather than my Bible app. Less distraction. More note taking!

There is something to be said about keeping the main thing – the main thing. If we want to be more efficient, keeping distractions to a minimum, we may have to make a change or two in the applications we use and when we use them. Trust me. I enjoy the convenience of having things all in one place. In Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” For me, it is an exercise in discipline. And if I really want to be able to go for awhile without the guilt of having 1,249 unanswered emails….I’ll wear a watch!

What Kind of Morning Is It?

Some days we feel like we are on top of the world! Everyone is on mission first thing in the morning. We get the kids to school on time. We actually get to work with a few minutes to spare. Everything seems to be in forward motion.

Some days it feels like the whole world is sitting on our shoulders. The alarm didn’t go off…or we slept through it! We find out a school project is due today and our child is having a meltdown…or we are!! Everything that can go wrong, seems to do just that! What do you do? What CAN you do? Ever say…I just want to go back to bed. Hide under the covers!

Whether you are hanging tough….or barely hanging on…the ONE thing that can change our outlook on the day is turning our mind and our heart toward God. Regardless of the amount of time you have to actually sit in His presence at the start of your day…even if you have to multi-task because you overslept…pause and breathe in deep. Thank God for helping you to even function. Ask Him to help you focus and take today one step at a time. Even when things are hurried, flurried and scurried…and especially when nothing before you seems to make sense, God is in control and He won’t leave you to figure it all out by yourself.

Romans 8:28 (CEV) tells us, “We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves Him. They are the ones God has chosen for His purpose.” Don’t miss this thought…that God is at work. You set out to do what you can and watch for God to do what only He can do.

Judging Covers

Never judge a book by its cover. It’s one of those sayings that you probably heard growing up just like I did. Despite being told that over and over we still do it, don’t we?! Not long ago I was in a drive thru lane and I found myself thinking about the person in the vehicle ahead of me based on the stickers on the back of their bumper.

I think it’s interesting that we can feel an emotion, both good or bad, toward a complete stranger just by seeing a bumpersticker on their car. Sports team we love or dislike. Political candidates we support or oppose. School names and favorite vacation spots. Even the little stick figures that represent our family members & pets say something about us!

Likewise, people can judge us, and often do, by only what they can see. What clothes we wear. The car we drive. We all do it. Snap decisions based on very little information. 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV) sums it up, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

My prayer is that God would help me to see others through His eyes. That I would reject the quick temptation to judge by what I see. I pray that God would help us to choose to love like Jesus and leave the judging to God. One of the many things I love about what happens the more that we love like Jesus….the more others want to know the One who IS love.

My Favorite Place

The first time I had the privilege of being in a worship service with singer/songwriter Kari Jobe I was so excited. Anticipating the sound of her beautiful voice and lyrics that my heart had deeply connected with over the years I was trying to wait patiently for her to come out on the stage.

The band started to play as she made her way across the platform and just as she began to sing there was a power failure. Emergency lighting came up. Everyone froze waiting to see what would happen next. And what happened next was something I will never forget. There was no panic. No one running around on stage trying to figure things out. A quiet stillness settled over the room and Kari began to pray.

Her prayer began with thankfulness for who God is and all that He has done. A sweetness hung in the air as she prayed. And then she prayed something I will never forget. She said, “God, Your presence is my favorite place.” That prayer touched my heart profoundly.

Soon after, the power came back on. The musical worship began and it was a beautiful time. I can’t remember a single song that was sung, but I’ve never forgotten that powerful prayer. What I left with that night was a different perspective of God’s presence.

I could pick any number of places that I would say were favorites to me. But none so precious as the privilege of being in the presence of the King. And our welcome invitation to lay our praise at His feet and tell Him…God, Your presence is my favorite place!!

To Be Continued

To be continued….whether those words follow a tv show or a heavy conversation…we know we have to wait. And the wait can seem to take forever!

I was at a celebration of life recently for a family member of a dear friend. The story was told that every time this family member would say goodbye to someone she would say, “this is not goodbye. This is ‘I’ll see you later’.” As the pastor was retelling that story he repeated that…and then he said, “this is not goodbye….it’s…to be continued”! I’ve never considered that translation for ‘I’ll see you later’ or ’til we meet again’ but when you know Jesus as your Savior…it really is – to be continued!

Saying goodbye is a very hard thing to do. We don’t want to be separated from the ones we love. It’s one of the hardest parts of this life. But, what a great celebration when we are reunited in heaven! Instead of thinking of it as goodbye…we can say…to be continued. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 gives us this hope: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.”

Because of Jesus we have all of eternity to anticipate with the ones we love. Let that thought encourage you today and bring you hope.

Did You Look Underneath…?

Have you ever been part of a conversation that goes something like this? ‘Honey, don’t we have any more butter?’ Now the word ‘butter’ could be anything that notoriously goes missing. Shoes. Keys. Remote control. Jacket. The response usually includes a general location of where the missing item should be. When the person who is searching says “I didn’t see it anywhere”….you know what is coming next….especially if you’re a mom! ‘Did you look underneath, around, behind…?’ Searching for something lost sometimes requires more than our eyes! We may have to do some actual LIFTING!

It’s often the same with spiritual things. Have you lost faith? Maybe hope feels like it has been hiding lately. Perhaps your JOY has been buried underneath so much heartache it seems impossible to find. Sometimes our greatest faith is right underneath that biggest doubt. We haven’t really lost it. We just need to LOOK and do some LIFTING. Maybe you are so worn out you don’t have the energy to lift. Here’s some good news. You never have to do it by yourself. Jesus is the light to help us find it…and can do the heavy lifting! All we have to do to get started is ask!

Matthew 7:7 tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Just A Little T-L-C

I haven’t had much success with plants over the years. Usually within a few months it becomes obvious that my thumb is not green! Different plants need varying amounts of sunlight and water. And I just have never taken the time to learn that detail. Until I inherited a small tree planter when I moved into my office. Hidden between the desk and wall was a two foot tree stalk that had two branches with a few leaves and what I call a dead end. It looked like a branch had been growing there but was completely cut off and nothing ever grew back.

My first thought was that I was pretty sure it was doomed given my past experience with live plants. But a funny thing happened. I sat it up on my desk for a couple of days while my office was being painted and I noticed that in just that short amount of time the plant actually looked a little greener.

So I named it “Hank” and I moved it over by my office window. I made Mondays my ‘water Hank’ day. One of my co-workers came in every morning and started telling Hank how much better he looked. So I started talking to Hank. And Hank started growing like crazy. More and more growth on those original branches were happening. And then, that dead end that I mentioned, began to sprout a new shoot!

Attention and care was all Hank needed to come to life. Today, Hank is thriving and probably needs repotting although that may be beyond my capabilities! Attention and care. Isn’t that what we all need?! Is there someone in your purview that God is tugging at your heart to speak to? to encourage? to nudge into the light? to water a bit with the living Word?

1 Thessalonians 5:11 from The Message gives us the life giving care instructions: “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.”

The One Whom Jesus Loved

The song “Jesus Loves Me” is still one of my favorite songs. It was a regular nightly bedtime song with my kids and now my granddaughter as well. I listen to Christian music every day that is filled with the message that Jesus loves us. And I’m so thankful as I know there are many in this world who haven’t heard that message that they are loved by God.

You don’t read very far into the gospels in the Bible to see clearly that Jesus loved His disciples and those who followed Him. In fact, Jesus’ love for the world was so incredibly powerful that He was committed to love each one regardless of their love or hatred of Him.

I was thinking of the term of endearment “the disciple whom Jesus loved” the other day. I’ve read those verses in John’s gospel so often and thought at times that John & Jesus must have had an extraordinarily close relationship for that to have been said about John. I’ve wondered if the other disciples were ever jealous to think that Jesus loved John more. So as I looked up all the references to ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:2319:2620:221:720) I realized they were ALL written by John.

All of those Bible verses that called John ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ were in the book of John…written BY John. Boastful? I don’t think so. Teacher & Author, John Piper wrote, “perhaps this is John’s way of saying, “My most important identity is not my name but my being loved by Jesus the Son of God.” He’s not trying to rob anybody else of this privilege; he is simply exulting in it: “I’m loved, I’m loved, I’m loved — that’s who I am. I’m loved by Jesus.”*

What if we began to write that phrase about ourselves on the pages of our journal, our calendars, how about the home screen of our phone and computer? Your name…and these five words: The one whom Jesus loves. Would that begin to change how we love ourselves? how we love each other? Do we truly walk in the understanding that we are loved by Jesus?

Where can you write those words today about yourself? Your name…followed by these words,…the one whom Jesus loves. Because it is true. You are loved!

* John Piper (John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

Lessons From The Fishbowl

It all began when I agreed to fish sit for a co-worker while he was away on vacation. His little aquarium and goldfish came to my office and after a week – I was hooked! Pun intended:) When my co-worker came back to work two weeks later he retrieved ‘goldie’ and I drove right to the pet store to buy my own tank…and fish….and all that goes with it. It wasn’t long after that that we had a fish tank at home in our kitchen as well.

I learned some things through that experience. Some fish love company. They actually thrive when they can swim in “schools” of similar fish. And some fish, like beta fish, don’t play well with others. In fact, they mostly have to spend time in their own little boring fishbowl because they puff up to scare off the others if they’re in the same tank with other fish. I also learned that some fish will stay just about the same size as they get older and other fish will keep growing to the size of their environment.

Sound familiar? Come to think of it…we are a LOT like those fish. Some of us love to hang out with people just like us. We love the company. While some of us are just as happy to keep to ourselves and stick to the fringe. Sometimes we just don’t play well with others and we find ourselves in our own little bubble either of our own doing or because everyone else just doesn’t quite know what to do with us.

I think ALL of us will grow to the size of our environment. We were made to fill the earth! God created the whole earth and all that is in it and then He made us. This is what happened next between God and Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: “God gave them His blessing and said: Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth.” (CEV)

I believe the fruitful part of that command wasn’t just about having children. I believe that as God made us in His image…the Great Creator gave us creative gifts to do amazing things. Live well. Honor God and fill as much space as we can for His Kingdom and His Glory. Keep growing to the size of your current environment and watch for God to enlarge your territory.