Monday, April 05, 2010

What are we worshipping?

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Judges 6:25-26 (NIV): That same night the Lord said to (Gideon), “…Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on top of this height.”

Gideon was a tentative prophet for the Israelites. He hides out in a winepress, complaining to God that he can’t understand why the Israelites remain under the oppression of the Midianites. God reminds him that he brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the land of milk and honey. Then he gets to the point: “ ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you life.’ But you have not listened to me.”

Later, Gideon is preparing a sacrifice to put before the Lord. Gideon is complaining about all the bad things that keep happening to the Israelites while he prepares his sacrifice of a young goat and unleavened bread. Behind him lie an altar to Baal and an Asherah pole his father had built. Ouch! God tells him to first tear down the idols before coming before him for requests. So Gideon rounds up a few friends and tears down the altar of Baal and the Asherah pole, much to the consternation of the locals, who want to string up Gideon.

God’s message to Gideon was this: “Don’t complain of oppression at the hands of enemies while worshipping their gods, which I forbade.” The rest of the story you know: God, indeed, gives power to Gideon and the Israelites to defeat the Midianites. God pares down the Israelite army from 22,000 to a select few hundred fighting men, who, with God’s strength, go out and whip their powerful enemy under the guise of mass confusion. Point made.

What’s in our wallets, our garages, our living rooms, our kitchens, our bedroom, our back yards, or our office places that have become false idols and replaced God as the thing we worship? Idols aren’t just altars we see in a church, it’s whatever we dedicate our time and talents to. Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s a car, maybe it’s what we watch on TV, maybe it’s pornography, maybe it’s alcohol, or maybe it’s your kids. Whatever it is, those around us – our neighbors, our friends, our family – see it and they are confused as to what they should be worshipping. Before we go complaining to God about the difficulty of our lives, look around for the false idols we’ve put up and tear them down first. Then go to God for help.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help me to see the idols in my life, and give me strength to tear them down. Help me to worship you only. Amen.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dealing with life's interludes

Good morning. This is a devotional for single adults from Parenting Solo, but the message also applies to single adults without children who may one day marry a single parent and be a step-parent. Feel Free to forward it to a friend. If you wish to be removed from this e-mail list, simply hit reply and write REMOVE in the subject line.

Scripture: Psalm 62:8 (NLT) (Written by David) O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. Interlude.

Sometimes, I wonder, “How long is God's interlude for my life? An interlude is a musical direction for a song. It's a pause, or respite. Maybe a harp or lyre was played during worship in this time of the song played during worship during the time of King David. When God answers prayers with a “Not now,” it means an interlude is coming in our lives. I am in an interlude right now, waiting to see where God takes me professionally and in ministry.

This message rang true for me during the past four days when I attended a Christian Writers' Conference at Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz Mountains 90 minutes from my home. It was my third writers' conference, which is where published authors and would-be writers such as myself pitch their wares in hopes of getting published. My first attempt was in 2005 when I was selling a Bible study for single parents. Out of that conference, I heard God's calling to write a daily devotional for single parents, which I tried selling in 2007. Those projects brought interest from editors but no contracts to publish.

So I kept writing, trusting that I was doing God's will and ministering to a few hundred single parents in varying stages of life in the process. Now, I have more than 800 devotionals written, and in the past few years, they have become more about general Christian living, instead of just focusing on the single-parent life. This weekend, I was also trying to sell the book project I'm working on entitled Feast With the King, whose premise is using good food to build relationships and witness to friends and neighbors.

While I was waiting to meet with an editor, I was thinking of a hook for the single-parent devotionals, because publishers felt was lacking with A Single Cup, the name I've given the book. Then it hit me: add 100 easy cooking recipes that are helpful to busy single parents. Viola! The next three editors and two agents I met with loved the idea and wanted proposals from me after the conference. All three told me to ditch the single-parent angle and focus on all adults to increase my number from 100 to 365 plus the 100 recipes. A little rewriting would be in order, though.

The whole conference was a wild success for me, as I have an estimated 20 proposals to write and send off from the 27 meetings I had. Each proposal takes about 10 hours of writing, so you can see the work ahead for me. Plus, I spent the first two days of the conference meeting with magazine editors looking for interesting stories from freelance writers such as me. They, too, loved my food ideas. Food is one of the big Internet hits around the world, but the Christian publishing world is practically devoid of anything. I spent 10 hours in a class learning how to market my writing online, which is even more work ahead for me.

Is my interlude over? I don't know. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. I need to prioritize the hundreds of hours of work ahead of me, and I'm not sure where to start. Maybe my answers can be found in the beginning of this Psalm, which starts, “I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him.” Life's interludes are usually for a reason. Maybe the time wasn't right in 2005 or 2007 to publish my books. I don't even know if 2010 is the right time. That's where the trust comes in. God alone is “my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me” (vs. 7). I have to trust him.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, thank you for your blessing on my work this weekend. I pray that my writing be used for your goodwill. Lord, be with me in the coming months as I follow up on my projects. Amen

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Understanding the grief cycle

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Psalm 10:14(New International Version): “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”

Author's note: If you know someone going through a divorce or loss of a loved one, please pass along this blog post. Thanks.

According to the Psalmist, God is the author of grieving, so who better to turn to in understanding how we should grieve. Here's what the Psalmist says God's role is in our grief: He sees our trouble, takes note of it, encourages us while he listens to our prayers and is with us whenever we face our enemies. In other words, we are not alone in our grief: God is always with us.

That was the key message I gave to a hand full of single parents two weeks ago at the Bay Area Sunday School Workers Convention in Castro Valley, California. I learned about the grief cycle after my divorce in 1994. I learned about it through counseling and taking divorce recovery classes, including Just Me and the Kids, which I did with my son because I wanted him to better understand what he was going through, too. In Just Me and the Kids, written by Barbara Schiller, we learned how to remember the grief cycle by the acronym DABDAH: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, anger and hope. The Christian version adds the H at the end for our hope in God and our hope for a better life ahead, a promise God makes to us.

Here's a quick recap of the grief cycle:

Denial: “This isn’t happening to me.” Shock, numb feelings, alarm.

Anger: “It’s the other parent’s fault!” Anger at the other parent, at yourself for letting this happen, at the situation you’re in, and even at the world in general.

Bargaining: “If you come back, I promise I'll change. It’s my fault.” A person takes on unnecessary blame and make promises of change for the return of the relationship.

Depression: “My life couldn't be worse.” Extreme sadness, lackadaisical, lack of motivation, lack of caring, no concern for others. This tends to be the longest stage.

Acceptance: “This is my life right now, good or bad.” Acceptance that the divorce is, indeed, happening to you, and there is little, if anything, you can do to change your circumstances. Forgiveness must take place before acceptance can be reached.

Hope: “I'm going to be OK.” That life is getting better, that they will be OK, hope that God has a plan for your life, even as a divorced, single parent.

Here's a few things single parents have to grieve: Loss of the relationship from the person who promised to “love you, till death do us part;” loss of your confidante, friend, partner in life, etc.; loss of the life you had; loss of sex life; loss of seeing your kids every day; loss of relationship with your in-laws, extended family and friends; loss of physical home; loss of staying at home in order to work if you were a stay-at-home mom; loss of place in various communities (work, church, school, neighborhood, etc.); loss of security (financial, emotional and physical). Plus, children going through many of the same things, but at different times.

By understanding the grief cycle, we are better prepared to grieve the various cycles of life. When my engagement broke off eight years ago to a woman I deeply loved, I allowed myself to grieve and feel my pain. When my dad died four years ago, I cried tears of joy at knowing God has blessed me with a wonderful father and Christian role model. When my son moved out of the house and went to college in Arizona, I felt sad and glad at the same time, and I knew those feelings were normal. By understanding the grief cycle 15 years ago, I could see my son at each stage and not panic or worry. I didn't try to push him into acceptance too son; he had to proceed at his own pace, not mine.

Grieving is a part of life, and God wants us us to grieve, because in our hour of pain, we turn to him. God wants us to lean on him and rest in his loving, comforting arms. But frankly, in my 14 years of working with single adults, I see far too many people who don't know how to grieve and don't want to grieve because its just too difficult. Grieving means peeling away the ugly layers of our life and exposing them to a loving God who wants to transform us into new creations. Grieving means learning from your mistakes, so that you don't repeat them.

My learning about the grief cycle helped me to make better decisions for me and my son while I was a single dad for 13 years. Our lives are infinitely richer because we learned how to grieve.

How does this apply to my life?

Today's prayer: Lord, thank you for teaching me and my son how to grieve 15 years ago. In that process, I found you. For that, I am forever grateful. Amen

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are you wandering in the desert?

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Numbers 14:17-19 (New Living Translation): (Moses speaking to God) “Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generations.’ In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of the people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”

Since my divorce in 1994, I have studied the Bible fairly consistently. As I read through the plight of the Israelites in the Pentatauch (the books of Moses: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), I can’t help but compare and contrast the Israelites’ struggles with the life of a single parent. I think this passage, as much as any other in the Bible, tells about the choices single parents must make for them and their children, as well as their consequences.

Single parents can either choose to trust the Lord and enter the promised land of milk and honey, or they can continue to complain and grumble about missing their old life and rebel against God’s laws. One can either look behind them and remain lost or look ahead and find the life that God has planned for them. It’s that simple. We can’t change our past, but we can change our present and future circumstances by choosing wisely.

Look at what this brief passage tells us about our struggles and rebellion against God. 1) God loves us – even when we sin against him and rebel; 2) he does not excuse the guilty; 3) in fact, our sins will affect our children and our grandchildren; 4) and yet, God still forgives our sins. No matter how many times we crave our old lifestyle and choose to sin against God, he still loves us and forgives us. He understands our nature, but he still wants us to look within and see our own faults so we can correct them.

And, yet, we must look at the entire passage to understand God’s love for us. Even though he forgives us, he does not take away the consequences of our sinful choices. Divorce and out-of-wedlock relationships bear painful consequences that affect the rest of our children’s lives. Part of those consequences is that we must learn to grieve our losses to fully understand God’s nature. He teaches us the importance of grieving our past, but if we skip that part of being a single parent, the consequences may mean wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Wednesday, I will file my notes from a recent workshop I did on grieving for single parents so that we can understand the process. That also means understanding where your children are in the grief process. You may have been divorced for 20 years, but if you’ve never grieved, it’s as though it happened yesterday. You’re stuck and can’t move forward.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, thank you for showing us stories in the Bible about consequences to poor choices. Most of all, thank you for your never-ending grace. Amen

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hearing God’s voice

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Numbers 7:89 (New Living Translation): Whenever Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the ark’s cover – the place of atonement – that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. The Lord spoke to him from there.

Wow! Every time Moses went into the Tabernacle, he talked to God and heard his voice. It was clear; it was audible. What kind of conversations do you think the two of them had? Do you suppose God was giving Moses cooking tips on the newest foodie trend, manna?

Maybe, but I’m guessing Moses had the same kind of conversations David had with God. They were honest, and they were real. When Moses was frustrated, he shared his feelings with God. When God was frustrated with the Israelites, he shared his feelings with Moses. In Numbers 11 (21-23) Moses and God have a heart-to-heart talk about God’s command for the Israelites to purify themselves from their sins (and their whining). First, Moses responds: “There are 600,000 foot soldiers here with me, and yet you say, ‘I will give them meat for a whole month! Even if we butchered all our flocks and herds, would that satisfy them? Even if we caught all the fish in the sea, would that be enough?” Note the hyperbole. Then God responds: “Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!” Was that God being sarcastic?

It sounds like a typical conversation between a teenager and a parent. What passages like this – and the Psalms – show us is that God doesn’t have a problem with us venting – and even being angry with him. Moses had a real relationship with God, one in which two-way conversations occurred. It wasn’t just God giving commandments to be shared with the Israelites. Moses went to the Tabernacle to hang out with God, talking to him like two best buddies.

We can have that same kind of conversations with God. Our Tabernacle is wherever we want to stop and talk to God, one on one. I think everyone has a special place in which our connection with God is at its strongest. For me, it’s always been on walks by myself. I can remember having conversations with God on cold, dark mornings, before my neighbors had even awakened. Sometimes, it’s late at night, when no one else is around. It’s always a quiet, peaceful place. It isn’t an audible voice, and there isn’t a burning bush in front of me, but I hear God’s voice nonetheless. Often, he just reminds me that he loves me and cares for me. That’s what I need to hear most.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, thank you for letting me hear your still, quiet voice. Help me to take the time to find that place in which I hear you best. Amen

Monday, March 08, 2010

Praying a blessing on God’s people

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Numbers 6:22-27 (New Living Translation): Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’ Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.”

The Mosaic books of Leviticus and Numbers are filled with laws and rules and regulations for the Israelites. They come rapid fire, one after the other – more than 500 laws total. Some of the laws are for the general populous, some are for the priests or Levites. Some are on food restrictions, some are temple rituals that were to be followed. Most were on general living.

Then God sneaks in this nifty blessing for the people. He calls it a “special” blessing. It’s sort of a little reminder to the people that God wants to bless them. God gave them all these laws to live by, and he knew they would try and fail. Still, he took the time to let the people know that they, his chosen people, were blessed among the nations. God wasn’t giving this blessing to the pagan nations surrounding Israel.

I grew up with this blessing in the church my family attended (and my mom still does; 42 years total). Most Sundays, at the end of the sermon, before sending the people home, the pastor shared this simple blessing. I didn’t think much about it as a kid, but as an adult, these words mean a lot to me. Every once in a while, I hear a pastor or speaker pray this blessing on people, and it makes me smile.

Saturday, I spoke to single-parent family leaders at the Bay Area Sunday School workers’ convention in Castro Valley. At the end of my workshops, I prayed a blessing on those leaders, because they have an almost-impossible task. Sometimes, I pray blessings on people, because I know they’re working hard to serve God and to remain faithful. God still wants to bless his people. Next time you pray with someone who is going through tough times, take the time and pray a blessing on their life. Use this passage if you don’t know what to say. Then watch God’s blessing come upon that person’s life.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, I pray a blessing on the many people who serve single-parent families. I pray that you give them strength and conviction to continue helping single-parent families. Amen

Friday, February 26, 2010

What makes us dirty?

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Mark 7:20-23 (New Living Translation): And then (Jesus) added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

The Hebrews had hundreds of Mosaic Laws to follow, but over time, the Jews added many just as many traditions to be kept, too, thus making it extremely difficult to live a righteous life. The Pharisees, in Mark 7, again were trying to trap Jesus into preaching blasphemy, but he outsmarted them – again. They were questioning why his disciples ate with “unclean hands,” meaning they didn’t rinse their hands before eating, as prescribed by the Law.

Jesus went off on them, telling them that what they ate wasn’t what defiles a person; it’s what comes from the heart. Some of the terms used for defiled are “unclean” or to make “dirty” in the Greek. defines defiled as tainted or polluted. In terms of sexuality, it means to “violate the chastity,” which could be anything from sex outside marriage to rape. Anything from the Sports Illustrated swim suit issue to the Victoria’s Secrets lingerie catalogs are off-limits to us, because they set our minds racing toward lustful thoughts.

Jesus was after more than just the appearance of godliness, as the Pharisees were prone to; he wanted right hearts. Every evil action begins with a single thought. Lust, envy, hatred or revenge all begin in our hearts. Paul advised the Philippians to, instead, focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Phil. 4:8). Paul, too, knew the battle was in our minds and our hearts. Right thoughts lead to right actions.

Satan knows the battle is for our minds, so he tries to fill them with garbage. Think about what’s out there these days in magazines, books, the Internet, movies and TV. Not much of it is pure and lovely; it’s all about greed and sex. It’s even harder to live a righteous life today because of the many obstacles we face. In my house, we don’t watch R movies that have sexual content. When we go through the video store looking for something to view, the first thing we check is to see what it’s rated and why. It’s really hard to find a good movie that isn’t rated R any more. People must think we’re crazy looking at a DVD, then quickly turning them back over and move on, but it’s worth it to keep the trash out of our home. As single parents, we need a clean house for our kids' sake.

How does this apply to my life?

Today’s prayer: Lord, help me to keep my mind on you and not on those things that defile my heart. Help me to think of the lovely things you’ve given me in my life and to focus on them. Amen