Monthly Archives: June 2016

Fighting Bad Attitudes

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?  But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’ ”  Malachi 3:13-15

It is so easy to grumble.  As we’ve seen before in Malachi, the Israelites keep complaining because God seems to be blessing the ones who don’t even follow him, and not blessing them, the ones who do serve him.

Of course, the Jews weren’t serving him very well.  But still, it’s clear that they think a lot of the “sacrifices” they make for God, and they think God should bless them because they take the trouble to do some good things for him.

We can get so puffed up about ourselves.  We forget that God doesn’t owe any of us anything for serving him.  As Jesus pointed out in Luke 17:10:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’

So we shouldn’t get bad attitudes.  But we do.  All of us get that twist in our gut, the envy, the anger, the discouragement, the frustration.

But the question really is, do we keep going with the bad feeling?

I was having a discipleship time with my friend Lauren yesterday.  We read James 1:12, and it really convicted me: “…Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”  James 1:12

That is so what happens!  We let our bad feelings drag us into sin!  I guarantee, that bad feeling is a strong motivator. It’s a siren call. We want to give into it.  We want to go with it.

We have to hold on against the current, instead of letting go!

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We have to hold onto our convictions that God is good!  Hold onto positive scriptures.

It is so hard!!  I confess that I’ve let myself get carried away way too much in the past week.  Ugh.  It feels like being in a dark place, menaced on every side by my own unsavory thoughts.

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It’s a good thing that Malachi offers a view of those who do hold on:

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (Mal 3:16-18)

These verses give me inspiration on what to do instead of giving into the grumpiness and discouragement. Here are some takeaways from them:

Fear the Lord.  I’m concerned about the consequences of my negativity.  God doesn’t like it. It works in opposition to him.  It does scare me to live like that.

One verse I had an insight about lately is Luke 8 when Jesus is sleeping during a big storm, and the disciples are terrified and wake him up.  Luke says this is what Jesus did:  “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples.”   When I read that, I realized that it wasn’t just faith that Jesus wanted his disciples to have.  He wanted them to realize that they had power.  They could call on God.  I think they should have been rebuking the storm!

Are we rebuking our temptations?  Do we realize that they are not pleasing to God?  “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back”  Hebrews 10:38

Talk with one another.  Confess the bad attitudes.  I’ve done this several times this week, and it was so helpful.  We need to help one another find the faith that is lacking.  We do need to sympathize with the tough situations our friends are in.  But they are lost in dark distress.  Give them verses that will be a light for them.  Tell them stories of overcoming!

Write a scroll of remembrance!  Okay, it may be that God is writing a scroll of remembrance here, not his people.  But it’s still very helpful in fighting negativity.

Do you remember all the things God has done for you?  I keep a gratitude journal.  It has 1800 entries right now.  It has been one of the most helpful things to me that I have.  Just writing in it every day is helpful.  Looking back over it calms all my little steaming vents of discontent.

There are other things we can do to help us remember.  We can take pictures.  We can put reminders up around us.

Here is a picture I took of the last of our peaches.

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And here are reminders I’ve put on the refrigerator of how God blessed us with our trip to Tokyo.

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In conclusion, it does my heart so much good that God ends this passage with the declaration that he will have compassion.  Whew!  We get dragged away by our bad attitudes sometimes, but God is ready to welcome us back into his arms.

The Jews said, “It is futile to serve God.”  We also feel futility God gave the Jews ways to combat this.

But we have an even better way than they of fighting off the temptation to give into the feelings of futility.  We know that Christ died for us, personally

Ken and I watched the movie “Risen” this past weekend.  It reminded me once again what Jesus went through, what the early disciples went through.  It reminded me of how valuable I am to Christ.

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Remembering this daily helps me so much. (The picture is from the movie.)

So let’s fight!  Let’s hold on to the good.  Let’s rebuke the temptations. Let’s confess and encourage one another. Let’s be intentional to remember the good.

I leave you with the words of Shane and Shane’s song, “Though You Slay Me:”

My heart and flesh may fail.

The earth below give way

But with my eyes, with my eyes

I’ll see the Lord

Lifted high upon that day

Behold the Lamb who was slain

And I’ll know that every tear was worth it all.

And though you slay me

Yet I will praise you

Though you take from me

I will bless your name

Though you ruin me

Still I will worship

Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.

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American Ninja, Part II

“Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.   But (Jesus) would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”  Luke 5:16

It’s amazing to me that Jesus would put prayer above the preaching of the word and the pressing needs of others.  I would have thought these things were more important.  But Jesus knew that, as much as these things were beneficial, he could help people the most by staying close to God and enlisting the Lord’s assistance.

Seeing the way the church in Tokyo prayed impacted me.  I was so impressed with how the members of the congregation gathered at the church building early every morning, from Wednesday to Saturday, to worship and to pray for their upcoming service.  There was very much a feeling that prayer was absolutely vital to the success of every element involved in the event.

prayer meeting

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We, the America Ninjas, joined the church members in their morning prayers.  Here are two women I prayed with.  They prayed in Japanese.  I just kept saying, “Amen.”

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So in order to do this, each day, Ken and I would get up at 5:30 AM.  We would leave by 6:15 to walk to the train station with our hosts, Shinchi and Ryoko Kajima.

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Okay, I have to talk about Ryoko for a minute.  It’s wonderful how God gives us exactly what we need.  Ryoko was the perfect friend for me to stay with.  She’s open and authentic, and it was easy for me to relax around her.  She’s humble, enthusiastic, eager to learn and passionate to serve God. I was so encouraged by the talks we had on the 45 minute subway ride to and from church.

Shinchi and Ryoko

It reminds me of how God gave Mary someone to be a support during those first months of being pregnant.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  Luke 1:39-42

Mary didn’t have to go through that crazy time of complete life change alone. Elizabeth was the one person who would understand what Mary was going through.

And God gave me Ryoko to be a friend and support during my crazy time of being in a completely different country.

But having Ryoko as a friend was just one of the many ways God blessed me while I was in Tokyo.  Each person I met was a treasure.  They were so happy to serve God. They were so happy to get to know me.  I was amazed and encouraged.

And that brings me to the last verse I want to share.  In my study of Luke, I read the story of how Jesus called Peter, the very story that the Tokyo church is using for their theme this year.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”  And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”. . .  And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.  Luke 5:4-11

Just as Peter received a net full of fish, there are times in our lives when God gives us an abundance.

As my stay in Tokyo continued, I began to realize that even though the Japanese campaign was meant to benefit others, on another level, there were so many ways that God meant it to benefit me.  I made friends who uniquely touched my heart.  At a time when my faith was slumping, I was energized.  I was inspired by the church, the people, the campaign.

There was even a musical!

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I hadn’t known there would be one.  I LOVE musicals.  When I watched the show, I felt like God brought me all the way across the world so I could see this tremendously moving performance!

Now as I am back at home reflecting on all this, the questions for me are the same as they are for all of us who have gone through times of great blessings:

Will I be humbled by the abundance God gave me in the same way Peter was humbled?  Will it change me? Will it motivate me to follow Jesus, as Peter was motivated?

I’ve come down from the mountaintop.  It was so awesome, but now, back home, I feel a bit directionless.  I see needs all around me.  How should I address these?  I want to come up with plans of action and run around doing things.

But first, I think I’ll pray.

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American Ninja Trip to Tokyo

How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.  Ps 31:9

This verse so wonderfully describes our time in Tokyo.  It was as if the storehouses of God’s goodness were opened up and poured down upon us the whole time we were there.

But I have to admit, we were nervous about going.  We’re getting old.  We don’t have the energy we once had.  We have intermittent health problems.  Sometimes we would look at each other and say, “What are we doing?  This is the craziest thing we’ve ever done!”

But then I thought of Isaiah 6:8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!'”   And I felt a great peace.  In spite of our concerns, I knew that we totally wanted to go and serve God however he could use us. 

So we boarded the airplane and flew 13 hours to Japan.

on our way

On the airplane I started reading Luke again, getting back to the basics.  I continued reading Luke throughout our trip and I’ll share some of the verses that resonated with me in my days there in Japan.

We landed in Tokyo at around 3:00 PM.  Bleary, with butterflies in our stomachs, we made it through a daze of red tape.  Everything was completely unfamiliar.  Even when people spoke English to us, we couldn’t understand them.  But then we exited customs and there, waving at us with big smiles, were new friends, Shohei and Minori Miyoshi.  We felt warm and welcomed.

That was the way we would feel all week.

Shohei and Minori drove us to the Tokyo Church of Christ building.

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What an awesome building they have!  Inside, the sanctuary was decorated with beautiful banners.

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The one on the left was created for the campaign we traveled to be participants in.  It was called “Miraculous Journey.”  The one on the right communicates the church’s theme for this year:  “Let down your nets to catch fish.”  (Luke 5:4 — I hope I got that right!)

Shohei walked us to a Japanese fast food place so we could get some dinner.  We wound our way through residential areas and businesses on clean narrow streets that were more designed for pedestrians and bicyclists than cars.

Soon after our return, it was time for a Tuesday night devotional service. People started arriving and we met an endless blur of wonderful people with bright loving faces.  We wished we could remember their strange sounding names.

I was so impressed with the level of enthusiasm in the worship.

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We sang.  Rob Skinner preached and gave us our commission for the week — to be revived personally and corporately.  To be unified, and respect our diversity.  At some point we had received gift bags and information packets.  Now we learned that we would arrive at the church building at the very early hour of 7 AM to pray with church members each day.  Then we would share for hours every day.  Yikes!  The schedule would be intense.

After the service we broke up and prayed in groups of 2 to 3 people.  I prayed with the Women’s Ministry Leader, Monami, and with another amazing woman, Momi.  There were tears as we prayed for revival.  What an amazing point of time, that God brought together completely different people to be united in love and a deep sense of purpose.

And what was the purpose?  One passage stood out to me in my study of Luke:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Isaiah 6:8

I kept wondering.  Why, out of all the Messianic prophesies, would Jesus choose Isaiah 6:8 to read and proclaim as fulfilled?

There are probably several reasons, but it came to me that it was because Jesus wanted to make it plain that he came to heal.

He came to heal physical ailments and constraints. He came to heal emotional damage.  And he came to heal the broken relationship between man and God.

That is why Ken and I traveled across the world, woke up early and went around talking to strangers.  We wanted to help people heal.  It might not be physical healing, although we could pray for that, and prayer is powerful.  But we could bring them to a nurturing relationship with God that would eclipse the pain of the past. We could give them hope and joy.  We could show them a love that is bigger than their heartache.  We could demonstrate that they have infinite value.

And as we were there,  I felt more and more that healing was God’s theme for this time.  I heard stories of individuals who had been healed.  I saw ways the church is healing.  Even the musical that would be presented on Sunday would be about healing.  It was a modern day prodigal son story.

Before we left, Ken and I asked ourselves, “Are we adequate for the work?  Do we have what it takes?”

But as I read Luke 9 at dawn in the little bedroom where we were staying, I saw the truth.  Jesus used five loaves and two fishes to feed a crowd.  We just needed to bring whatever we had to Jesus and he would increase it.

We said, “We don’t have enough!  What we have isn’t good enough.”

Jesus said, “Give what you have.” So that is what we did.  And I truly believe God did multiply it into immense blessings.

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Becoming a Land of Delight

Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.  Mal 3:12

God declares here his desire to bless the Hebrew nation and make it abundantly fruitful.  This encourages me so much, because I believe he has the same dreams for us.  He wants to rain down goodness upon us so we will flourish.

But there’s a caveat.  We have to give him the fullness of our lives in order for us to experience the fullness of his goodness.  The Jews in this passage were urged to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.

I wish so deeply for people to commit more to God.  But many don’t.   They come to church services here and there.  They follow Jesus some.  And then they complain because life somehow isn’t working.  They long for a life that is really a life, but they can’t be convinced that they need to completely let go to get there.  And I want to plead with them, “Give it all to God.  Believe!  When you lose your life, you really do save your life.  You get so much more!”

Of course, this is true for disciples too.  We need to keep letting go.  We tend to start getting comfortable.  We hoard our efforts and energies.  Then we begin to feel that malaise again, not realizing that we’ve got to go back out on that limb for God.

It’s a consistent message throughout the Bible:  “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and olive oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.” (Deut 7:12-13)

But people think it sounds hard and unpleasant.

I so much want to stress that pouring yourself out to God is a joyful thing, not a painful one!!  Once you make that decision to take the plunge, it feels GREAT to give your all to the Almighty, merciful God who IS love and light and all goodness.

One thing I love about Malachi 3:12 is that God says that his people, themselves, will  be a “land of delight,” not just that their land will be fruitful, although that would certainly be true.  As I wrote at the beginning of the blog, God planned for his people to be bounteously fruitful.

It reminds me of John 15, where Jesus promised his followers, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”

And that brings me to the second thing that’s necessary to experience the fullness of God’s blessings.  Once we give our all to him, we need to remain close to him.

I love how Leviticus 26 expresses that fruitfulness is associated with obedience and God’s nearness: “Do not make idols. . . If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands. . . I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.  I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  Lev. 26

The Hebrews had a time when God’s presence was with them in a tabernacle or temple.  Today, it is so amazing that we as disciples can come into the very presence of God, the presence that in times past only the high priest could enter once a year. As the writer of Hebrews declares, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19)

But are we utilizing this great resource?  Are we appreciating the closeness of God?  Do we drink it in?  “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.”  (Heb 6:7)

I listened to a great lesson this week by Robert Carillo.  He talked about the importance of connecting with God, not just learning about him.  The Hebrew word for knowing, “yada,” doesn’t mean intellectual knowledge.  It means knowing through experience, like you do when you have a relationship with someone.

That’s how we need to know God.

Do we reach out and connect with him throughout our day?  Because the more we do, the more we will naturally grow into the glorious creation God made us to be.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Cor 3:18

Our souls are hardwired to be fertile soil, and God can supply all we need to produce a wonderful crop.

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This is my peach tree.  It is FULL of peaches this year!  And this picture was taken after we picked a bunch!

But my tree didn’t just automatically get full of fat sweet peaches.  There are some things that helped it to happen.  We pruned it back last year.  Our neighbor cut down their huge Bradford Pear tree that stole our tree’s sunshine.  We didn’t have a late frost this year.  I thinned the peaches while they were small, so the ones that remain will grow larger and sweeter.

It’s the same for us.  God has designed us to be fruitful.  But there are some things that need to happen.  We need to do our part.

We need to get rid of the things that keep us from giving our all and being close to God.  I think of my daughter, Celeste, who rearranged her life so she would have more time for church and personal devotionals.  I think of my friends, Markeya and Antoinette, who shared at midweek service about how they are using the scripture to battle negative thoughts and attitudes.  I think of my friend Paulette, who was so joyful and radiant this week.  She’s been off of work and spending a lot of time in the Bible, and you can SEE the difference it makes.  (I’m not advocating for people to quit their jobs.  I’m just pointing out that making time for God pays off!)

We need to die to self more completely, and in doing so, plant seeds that will receive his spark of life.  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25)

We need to stay connected with him.

And one more thing, which has helped me a lot this week.  We need to TRUST in his goodness. 

I have felt discouraged sometimes this week.   I’ve also been in a situation that is like a rock in my shoe.  It constantly chaffs me.

And the source of strength and encouragement for me through this has been my belief that God is good.  When I remember that, it is like water that invigorates a wilting plant.

My empowering verse for this week has been: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  I Peter 2:23

It is so amazing that Jesus could be in a situation where it seems like everything is going wrong, yet he completely gives himself into God’s hands.  He trusts entirely that God will take care of it.  In the moment it doesn’t LOOK at all like God is good, but Jesus still KNOWS it is true.

That is what we do when things don’t seen to go as they should.  We put our faith in God’s goodness, even though we don’t see it.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD will be renewed. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and won’t become weary. They will walk and won’t grow tired.  Isa 40:31
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Heb 11:1

These verses don’t speak of God’s tangible blessings.  No, it is in the midst of our scarcity that we are to hope with confidence.  And that energizes us.

We believe in the promise of Malachi 3:12, which is also expressed in so many other verses.  We believe that he wants us to thrive and be radiant.  And thus we give our little spindly sprout of a life to him, and in his time, he fulfills his promise of bloom and bounty.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.” Isa 62:4

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