Expectations or expectant?

Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectations. ~Ryunosuke Satoro

“Was there a woman with a white hat?”

Matt and I had just moved from Texas to Pennsylvania. I had been told by an angel that our new family would be in Philadelphia. I was also given a vision of a woman in a white dress and white hat.

“Yes, there was.” Matt replied, and the decision was sealed.

I don’t always get voices or visions. Sometimes dreams are just dreams.

But I’ve learned to listen expectantly, not with expectations.

You see, sometimes the woman with a white dress and hat is actually something else. This past year my dreams have been about babies, and I know it isn’t a physical baby that God is growing inside of me.

Paul wanted terribly to go to Asia to tell the good news of Jesus, but for some reason the Holy Spirit didn’t think it was the right time. He kept deterring Paul. Then one night, Paul had a vision of a man calling him to Macedonia.

Paul obeyed the vision and headed straight away to Macedonia where he met . . . women.

But Paul wasn’t alarmed. He didn’t need to find the man that had called in his vision. He was called to Macedonia and he went.

Maybe God has given you a vision of missionary work. It might not be in Europe to teach at a school but the other side of town to help someone very different from yourself.

Or perhaps God has sent you a message to preach the Word. Your pulpit might be a couch in your neighbor’s living room or a short chair in the church preschool.

Has God given you a desire to open a medical clinic for the destitute? It might not be in a third-world country. It could be in the economically-deprived areas of Appalachia.

Whatever God is calling you to, don’t limit him to the vision.

Expect to be amazed.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Acts 2:17 NIV

I Disagree

Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles. ~Korean Proverb

I was asked to give a devotional thought at a meeting.

There was disharmony in the group, and my devotional addressed that. I wasn’t asked to speak again for ten years.

It hurts to have your toes stepped on. You know deep down you are wrong, or maybe pieces of what you are doing is wrong, but you just can’t admit that your dance is out of step with the Lord.

I believe the reason I was asked to speak later was that I never- never– said anything bad about the leadership or the organization. They were my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we had different opinions. I still loved them and they still loved me.

Paul and Barnabas were good friends. They liked each other, traveled together, shared bread and drink, and called Jesus Lord.

In Acts 15, they had a disagreement that caused them to part company. I don’t know who was right. Maybe both were right.

But I suspect both of them were also wrong.

Their disagreement isn’t what I want you to notice. What I want you to notice isn’t there.

Not once- not one single time– does Paul condemn or slander Barnabas. We have many of Paul’s writings. We have historical records of the early church. If something was said, you can bet we’d know it.

You know what I mean.

You’re new to town, trying out a church, and within weeks you’re told the dirt on all the screw-ups. It doesn’t matter that the arguments started in 1986 when someone thought a new song book was a good idea. There are people you should just stay away from.

Your kids’ new friends from the Northeast don’t address their elders with “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir,” and they borrowed their neighbor’s garden hose without asking when the grill caught fire. The scuttlebutt is that the teen is a druggie and they’re all headed to jail. Better steer clear.

Maybe some of what others are saying is true. Maybe the family with the bright purple house is an eyesore and they don’t use their money wisely. But is it helping anyone to say it?

Sometimes the Bible tells us a lot by not telling us anything.

And sometimes we shouldn’t say anything either.

Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9 NIV

Riding the Roller coaster

I’m not sure I always feel like I’m in the seat. Sometimes I’m only holding on by one hand and flying out behind the roller coaster. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t feel that way. ~David Morse

My aunt and uncle took me to an amusement park when I was about ten years old. I had been to a few parks in my short life, but this was the big league. They had huge roller coasters.

My aunt wasn’t up for the thrill, but my uncle was Full-steam Ahead Charlie. Until we made it to the stand-on-your-feet-while-turning-every-direction-but-right-side-up coaster.

I was glad he didn’t take that one on. I didn’t want to have to be the party-pooper, but no way was I riding that.

Paul and Barnabas knew all about roller coasters, even though they weren’t invented yet.

The first century apostles traveled through what is now south-central Turkey teaching Gentiles about Jesus. They also taught some of the Jews who were living in that area. Sometimes it went well, and other times it didn’t.

In Acts 14 alone they barely escaped stoning, were believed to be gods and had sacrifices brought to them, and then they were back to being stoned- this time successfully. And that’s only one chapter.

But through it all, Paul and Barnabas continued to preach Jesus Christ . . . Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Friend, and Roller Coaster Companion.

Sometimes life feels like a roller coaster. Days slowly drift one after another and then suddenly you’re tossed downhill at the speed of light.

The kitchen ceiling falls in, the dog dies, and the kids get the flu, complaining loudly that they will never take the vaccine again. Or your husband loses his job, your insurance is cut, and now there’s a pink stripe on the pregnancy test. Or how about your son is caught drinking and driving, your father with dementia gets lost while driving, and your teen-aged daughter is just plain driving you crazy?


You aren’t sure when it’s going to be over, but you really want to yell for your mommy. You wonder what your parents were thinking letting you out with these crazy relatives. And then it all straightens out and you realize you’re loved and protected with nothing to worry about. You were safe all along.

Then Jesus grins and raises his arms for the next loop-the-loop.

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me. Psalm 139:7-10 NET

Christmas Presents

Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful. ~Victor Hugo

Our family has Christmas traditions you won’t find in The Saturday Evening Post. A White Rabbit candy box has been used for nearly thirty years to hide surprise packages. Whoever receives it has to pass it along the next year. The ladies of the house make peanut butter crackers to dip in melted chocolate on Christmas Eve. And all of the men receive duct tape.

The tape was a big joke until the year Cousin Jerry’s car broke down. Jerry is a mechanical genius and he whipped out the duct tape in the back seat to make a fix until he could get back to town. Then he knew the great worth of the present.

Jesus was born in a hole-in-the-wall village. His parents were poor, his birth questionable, and his circumstances unsavory.  He looked like the kind of present you chuck in the back seat and forget about.

But then, your life breaks down; you look behind the seat, in the trunk, down in the cracks with the jack. . . and you find HIM. Just the present you need to fix the mess you’re in. You pull off a small piece at first and wrap it around your broken heart. Then yank off a longer piece, tear it off with your teeth in your hurry to stop the pain, and affix the tape to the breaking heart of your life.

The duct tape holds. It’s just what you need. The perfect gift that you’ve had all along and never even knew you needed.

Won’t you let Jesus be your duct tape this Christmas?


Who can believe what we have heard,
    and for whose sake has the Lord’s arm been revealed?
He grew up like a young plant before us,
    like a root from dry ground.
He possessed no splendid form for us to see,
    no desirable appearance.
He was despised and avoided by others;
    a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
    he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented. Isaiah 53:1-4 CEB

Jealousy

The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves. ~William Penn

One of my middle school students belongs to a radio-reading club. She and a boy write a script together and then read it to the school over the PA system.

Another girl in the school likes this boy and gives my student “the evil eye” at lunch time.  There is nothing for the other girl to be jealous of; my student is in love with her cat and doesn’t seem to have noticed boys yet.

Jealousy is funny like that. It shows up to the party whether or not it was invited.

Paul and Barnabas were passing through Pisidian Antioch and went into the synagogue. During the meeting, the leaders of the synagogue invited them to speak.

Paul and Barnabas told the gathered Jews and Gentiles about Jesus and the free gift of salvation. The people invited the two men to come back and teach the following week.

When the next Sabbath came, nearly the entire city showed up to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say.

You see it coming, don’t you?

A big green cowboy riding into town on an even greener horse.

The very people who had invited Paul and Barnabas to speak were now filled with jealousy. They began to spread lies about the men. They incited the “popular people” against them and had them run out of town.

They lost the gift and gained the grave.

We can see the error of their ways, but can we see our own?

Do you invite a friend to join your book club but regret it when she becomes the life of the party?

Do you audition with a friend for the local theater and then smirk at every mistake she makes after she gets the lead role?

Or is it more serious than that? Have you hoped your Christian brother or sister would fail? That bad things would happen to them instead of to you for a change? That their children would screw up like yours?

Notice in Acts 13, that it isn’t the jealous synagogue rulers who have a happy ending. It’s the ones who followed Jesus and let others live in the limelight.

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:14-16 NIV

Where to?

Christians are not limited to any church. ~Billy Graham



I was just nineteen and out of my element. The woman I worked for as a nanny needed someone to take over a business trip for her private company. She asked me, and in my youthful naivete, I thought of it as an adventure.

It was my first plane ride, and my first experience with a taxi. The doorman at the airport, seeing my dazed look, helped me hail a cab. He loaded my things in the trunk and gave me some directions and advice.

I thanked him and climbed in the cab. It was too late when I realized that his frown was because I didn’t tip him.

The three-day conference didn’t get any better. Money was stolen from my wallet. The speaker- whom I was representing- was a drunk. And I didn’t get to eat often.

My problem was that I didn’t know where to go for help.

Herod was trying to make some friends and discovered that killing Christians was a popularity booster. He threw Peter in jail intending to have him executed.

God had other plans and sent an angel to rescue Peter from prison. The angel lead Peter out of the city, but instead of running for his life, Peter headed to Mary’s house, the mother of a disciple named John Mark.

Everyone was there praying for Peter.

Peter knew where to go.

He knew who would pray. He knew where friends would gather. He knew where safety, encouragement, and food would be found.

That’s what the church does for its members.

It cries out to God. It gathers and encourages. It rejoices and supports.

Whom do you call when your child is injured 1500 miles from home and family? Whom do you depend on to watch over your aging mother? Who brings you food when you’re too weak from the flu to cook?

And where do you go to sing and rejoice and dance when you discover you’re pregnant after seven years? Who hugs you and laughs and cries when you finally finish your degree? Who meets you with cupcakes and balloons to help you celebrate that thing you’ve been waiting for?

Do you know where to go?

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:10-16 NIV

Visions of Sugarplums

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand. ~Woodrow Wilson

Sugarplums were deceitful. They were candy-coated seeds and nuts, most likely intended as indigestion remedies.

But in their heyday, children probably considered them like today’s kids do M&M’s. They were candy.  So when Clement Moore tells us that the children have visions of sugarplums, they were dreaming sweet dreams.

We tell sweet dreams to others. Sometimes we also tell our nightmares to our bunk mate or roomy.

Seldom do we tell our visions, though.

Because you just never know how people will take them. Will they believe you? Do you believe yourself?

Peter was having visions while he was praying. He followed through on the visions’ directives and traveled to Caesarea to welcome Gentiles into the kingdom.

When the Jewish apostles and believers heard about it, they believed the vision because it matched what Jesus had told them while he was still on Earth.

I have had visions as well. I don’t often throw my visions out to the public because, like Peter, I’m just a bit unsure how it will be accepted. You may ask how I know if a vision is true or from God?

I think Peter gives us some guidelines.

If the vision sounds outlandish or perhaps even against the normal “rules” of the church, does the vision occur more than one time?

If it does occur more than once, go to the second criteria: does it follow God’s word? If so, you can be reasonably sure you have a vision from God.

The last criteria is where you have to step out in faith.

When you follow the vision, does it lead you to success? Do others believe you?

God gives visions to his followers so that great things can be accomplished for the kingdom. Visions freed the Israelites from slavery. Visions kept them from entering losing battles. And visions declared that Gentiles were part of the kingdom as well.

What if Peter hadn’t obeyed the vision?

How will the kingdom be affected if you don’t obey?

You will never know what might have been, but you will always know what isn’t.


‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Acts 2:17 NIV

Now That’s a True Story

I love meeting new people; I think everyone has a story to tell. We should all listen sometimes. ~Kim Smith

I come from a large extended family of liars. No one is to be trusted.

You might get a phone call from “the sheriff” telling you your husband is in jail. Or, perhaps, a letter in the mail from some lost relative wanting to give you money.

Mostly the lying is good-natured; playing cards with us can be tricky, but we have fun and enjoy each other’s company. Here’s a heads up: if someone says, “That’s a true story right there,” don’t believe them.

Jesus told a lot of stories. The most well-known, culturally, is The Good Samaritan.

A man was hurt and beaten along the road, left to die. People who should have stopped to help him, walked by on the other side. Then an enemy came by. He stopped to help the man- going above and beyond the call of duty. He was the good Samaritan.

The early church was confronted with a real-life good Samaritan, and they didn’t know what to do about it.

Cornelius was a centurion in the Italian Regiment. He was trouble with a capital T. That rhymes with G and that stands for Gentile.

But Cornelius was a good man. He was generous, caring for the poor and needy. He was devout, praying to God. He was loved by God, and an angel visited him.

Cornelius and all of his family turned to Jesus. They became Christians and were given the Holy Spirit.

Some people weren’t too sure about it.  But Peter answered, ” . . . God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation . . .”

Did you know there are Christians in Congo, India, Ethiopia, China, Kenya, and Tanzania? Did you also know there are Christians with tattoos, piercings, and purple hair? There are Christians who are older than dirt and others who like to eat dirt.  There are Christians who sing and shout and some who quietly kneel.

We all have ideas of what Christians look like and how they behave. Creating book covers in our minds is what we do.

Telling stories so astounding they have to be true is what God does.


If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:8-9 NIV

What’d You Say?

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. ~C.S. Lewis

I teach English to ESL students. We start with body parts: eyes, ears, mouth, face. After a while the students know so many words that I forget how strange our language must seem to them.

“You have to face the music.” “I couldn’t face my friend.” “Face it. You’re never going to see her again.”

One student’s mouth dropped open, and he slowly drew a circle in the air around his face. “Face the music?” he asked.

I tried not to laugh as I explained the abstract imagery.

God must suppress a lot of giggles as well.

He sent Ananias to heal Saul from his blindness, and Ananias explained why that didn’t make sense.

“Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

Have you ever explained something to God?

I can’t take that job right now. It would mean a pay cut and we’re barely making it on my salary as it is.

I can’t be a missionary; I only speak English.

I can’t share my testimony; they’ll kick me out of the church if they find out everything I’ve done.

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”

This is where I would be tempted to try explaining again why the Lord’s instruction is flawed.

This guy thinks he is so much your man that he imprisons and kills Israelites. There’s no way he’s going to tell Gentiles- people who don’t follow you to start with- that Jesus is the Messiah.

But instead, Ananias heads off to Straight Street to lay his hands on Saul.

Have you walked down Straight Street lately? It’s been updated and renovated.

It’s where you do just fine with the salary you receive. It’s where you speak in love and everyone understands. It’s where your background fades away as you move forward into the kingdom.

What crazy thing is God asking you to do?

Will you trust him?


Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open. James 1:2-8 MSG

Gifts

Love the giver more than the gift. ~Brigham Young

During Christmas one year the adults sat in a circle opening family gifts. As I flipped the lid off of a box, I started to cry. Inside was an oddly shaped piece of wood.

“What is it?” my brother-in-law asked, looking around the room for an explanation.

Tears streamed down my face as I crossed the room to kiss my father-in-law. “It’s the ears to the donkey Pap made for me years ago. The original ears broke last summer.”

My husband’s parents had been down to visit and noticed the broken wooden planter on our porch. My father-in-law remembered when he got back home and made the ears to set atop the old donkey. I was touched.

Gifts are not my ‘love language.’ I enjoy a nice gift, but a gift that takes time and effort, that gift I will cherish.

Philip entered a foreign land to tell people about a gift that was given to each of them. All they had to do was accept it.

But Simon wanted to purchase the gift. He wanted to have control of the gift: pick it out, wrap it the way he liked, and give it to whom he chose.

Philip refused to give the gift to Simon because of his ulterior motives.

The gift Philip and God offered was the gift of the Holy Spirit. But don’t we sometimes act like Simon with our gifts as well?

We want to be able to understand scripture so we can crack someone over the skull with it. Or we want to pray like the apostles so we can have whatever we ask for- health, wealth, and fame. Maybe we want the gift of patience so we can avoid confronting people, or the gift of spiritual sight so we don’t need faith, or the gift of joy so we don’t have to deal with that grumpy neighbor.

The best gift-givers know what a person needs and in the end what he will desire. Like a cut-out of donkey ears that brought me to tears, so just the right gift can move you toward true gratitude and appreciation of not just the gift, but also the Giver.

What gift do you need to kiss the Father for today?


“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
    and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
    you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
    you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
    lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm 50:19-23 ESV

%d bloggers like this: