Will You Blossom?

We all have seeds planted in us.  There may be dreams, gifts, even sorrows and hurts that are sowed in our souls that hold the potential for growth.  Many of the seeds may lie dormant.  Most seeds have a hard time growing unless they receive the attention, water, sunshine and nourishment they need to germinate.  The seed may be trapped in a hard shell which resists the initial steps in a long process.  Is it worth it even to try?  Getting to the point of blossoming will take a lot of time, often years pass where nothing beautiful is showing.  At times, the growth that has started may look barren and dead like a dried branch.  Yet, sticking with it, the next season may bring an improvement.  The roots may need time to develop.  Are you growing on the inside, establishing a strong foundation for how you will reach the heights that are in your future? 

There will always be obstacles in the way.  Years of progress and expansion may be followed by pruning and being cut short.  Don’t give up.  The end result is something spectacular.  God has place these special seeds in you.  He will give all the nourishment needed to get to your time of blossoming.  There will be challenges which have a purpose to make you strong.  Your blossoming will not be “one and done”.  Your growth and blooming will be a repeat performance.  The difference and meaning God puts into you to let you bloom can propagate as you plant seeds into others.  The world may be fighting you and doesn’t mind seeing you whither.  That cannot be an excuse.  God will be there to provide what you need in all seasons.  He can remove the weeds that may try to choke you out.  God and all the Heavens are rooting for you and are thrilled to see you blossom abundantly.  Give them an awesome show!!!  

New Neural Networks to Fix Our Brains

Think about it!  Think about anything.  We’ll need our brains to do it—our incredible mobile supercomputers that never sleep and control all the physical and mental processes of our bodies.  Scientists say that our brains, like our muscles, need to be used often to stay strong and function well.   Some talk about neural plasticity.  This is the property of our brain that allows it to create new neural networks which help us to process our emotions, to think in certain ways, and to understand and learn new things; it is how our brains work.  Children have the most brain flexibility.  Isn’t it amazing how little kids soak up information to learn about their world and build their language and communication capabilities?  It’s a good thing that most people go to school when they are young, our older brains may struggle to take in all the new ideas at a rapid-fire pace.  As our brains age, it becomes more and more important to keep exercising our neurons.  For example, doing math problems and mental calculations, make us better at doing math problems and mental calculations.  Practice makes perfect!  At any age, what we focus our thoughts on has a big impact on the quality and direction of our lives. 

What are you fixing your brain on?  Do you have a goal that you are working to achieve?  Is your mind doing its part to give you the discipline to make the daily choices and take the actions to reach that milestone?  If you are working on a change, like losing weight or breaking an addiction, is your brain helping or hindering your progress?  Does your brain focus on your physical desires and temptations?  Or are you able to create new patterns of thinking which bring new and improved behaviors?  You have to get your “head in the game” if you want the best chance of winning.  Sports professionals are told to envision themselves performing at top form.  This helps prepare them for success during the actual competition. 

Reading, listening, repeating words, songs and facts allows the brain to memorize and be able to recall them later.  Our brains love to dwell and to get stuck on a circular loop.  Repetition is essential for strengthening neural connections.  These may be good brain networks to build.  Sometimes your mind might get in a rut thinking about all the things you must do or latching on to worry or anxiety.  What can you do to stop the cycle of negative thoughts?  Many can find help and hope in mindfulness and meditation.  That’s wonderful when relief can be found to your mental anguish by achieving control over the thoughts entering your brain.  But it can be very difficult to clear thoughts from your mind and quiet your brain.  Feelings of guilt, anger, loneliness, sadness, distress and other ideas fight hard for your attention.  So rather than empty your brain, why not fill it?  Fix your thoughts on God instead.  Ask Him to replace old patterns of thinking with something new.  What consumes your mind, will control your life.  Fix your brain on praise, gratefulness, joy and love. 

Let’s pray for one another that we can fix our brains on God and be filled with His perfect peace.

Four Moms & Their God Stories

God is co-writing the stories of our lives.  We’ll each have chapters with highs and some with lows.  Through it all, God is with us.  Realizing this has made me all the more interested in hearing people tell about what God has done for them.  I have read many books based on real life experiences where God’s direct presence was critical in how the story unfolded and how it was experienced.  With Mother’s Day near, the stories of four different moms have come to mind.  Each of the moms published books in 2017.  The moms’ passion for their children and for their God shouts from the pages as they retell their personal ups and downs, giving inspiring testimonies to lift others.

Two moms have stories where God brought their sons back from the very edge of death. The power of prayer is illustrated.  Plus, it is amazing how God puts people in just the right places, at just the proper time, to act out His miraculous plans. 

Finding Hope on Vegas: a memoir by Michelle Davis (BookBound Media, LLC, 2017)

Vegas is a bull.  Michelle’s son is involved in a horrible accident on Vegas.  The family finds themselves completely dependent on Divine Providence.  They prayed for God to intervene to keep Nathan alive.  Along the way, they found strength to handle more than they could have imagined.

The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection by Joyce Smith with Ginger Kolbaba (New York:  Faith Words Hachette Book Group, 2017)

Joyce’s son John fell through the ice into a Missouri lake. John was under water for more than 20 minutes.  He died.  But prayer really does work.  God heard the prayers and the unshakeable hope, and John’s health was restored.  Nothing is impossible with God.  Joyce’s story is in movie theaters now, titled Breakthrough.

Two moms tell their stories about giving birth to a child with special needs.  Their precious babies were born with very serious medical conditions.  Both women grow in the midst of the tragic circumstances.  They learn to fully trust God and hold on to His promises, finding great love and joy thanks to having a very special child in their family.

Through the Eyes of Hope:  Love More, Worry Less, and See God in the Midst of Your Adversity by Lacey Buchanan with Bethany Jett (Lake Mary, Florida:  Charisma House, 2017)

Lacey’s son Christian was born with a rare case of Tessier cleft palate which caused facial deformities.  Christian was blind because his eyes were not developed.  Lacey is real with her emotions.  She is hurt by the callous things some people say about her little boy, but she channels that energy into being a powerful advocate for her son and her family.  She lets us see the amazing way God has made their situation beautiful and inspirational.

For the Love of Benny:  A Family Journey Wrapped Around the Delicate Fingers of Their Special Needs Child by Marietta Troyer (Lisbon, Ohio:  The Herald, Inc. 2017)

Marietta and her husband Maynard’s special Benny Boy joined the family with his four sisters growing up in the Amish countryside.  The baby had heart problems, breathing problems, feeding problems and more.  There was the need for many hospital visits and plenty of medical equipment and procedures to get used to.  The family goes from broken hearts to being overwhelmed by Benny’s powerful, unconditional love and his contagious laughter. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to hear the heartfelt, soul stories from these moms.  I am also grateful for all the wonderful moms in my life.  My own mother’s generous heart and love shows through and through.  I am blessed to have known many loving grandmothers, aunts, in-laws, and friends.

Thank God for moms!

God is Real, Can You Believe It?

If a person is on the fence about whether or not they have full faith in the existence of God, what does it take to jump off and take a side? I say it requires something very personal, a dream, an experience or event that hits home, transforming what you know to be true.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Maybe the jump is to the side of unbelief in God. Perhaps there was a critical time in a person’s life when they needed help or an answer. If they put the problem out there for God to solve or come to their rescue and they felt nothing happened, God must not exist. They gave God a chance to prove Himself, and they feel He failed them. If their parents or friends believe or don’t believe, can that determine which side to fall on? Does it mean they follow others or does it push them in the opposite way? Some people want to exercise control over their lives and believe that it is solely up to the individual to direct their path and make things happen. Having a God who wants them to relinquish control and has rules to be followed isn’t what they want.

Others see the suffering, evil and destructive forces in the world and conclude there is no God or if there is, He is not completely good and loving. For some, the decision to believe or not believe is determined by the actions of ‘so called’ godly people. There are church leaders caught in scandals or religious teachings that fuel conflict and hate. If God’s people don’t live as an example of God’s way of being good, why believe or follow it? Many religious organizations teach “what” we should believe but they don’t tell the reasons “why” we should believe.  Even if taught the reasons “why”, would it change anyone’s faith or lack of faith?

Some people are ruled by logic and objective reasoning; on the surface, the belief of God isn’t logical. There are skeptics that need hard evidence to convince them of the truth. Or could it be that whether to believe or not believe is based on genetics and how are brains are wired? Or is it more influenced by our environment? Nature or Nurture?  Maybe a little of both?

A huge factor that really drives us to choose a side with the divine comes out of our life experiences. Something awakens the spirit inside that says you are not alone and that there is meaning in this great big physical world. You find that you matter to The One most powerful, or your self-centered nature dies to something that matters most. It is a unique path for every person, but when it happens it changes everything.  You are different.

The pages of history are full of radical, personal divine transformations that have changed the world. Full religions have grown from visions, dreams and inspirations known by the person to be the result of supernatural direction over their lives. If it isn’t a personal god that is revealed, it may be a spiritual rebirth where the person’s understanding of the meaning of life and an individual’s role in it is fired up. There is a quest to put the experience in a greater context. If the experience is real for one person, what does it tell us about the rest of the society in which we live? What does one person’s transformation mean for the world? Once a fire is lit, the intensity and passion people have propels them forward. They do things and have impacts in unexpected, often amazing, ways. The commitment to their beliefs can be so strong they may be willing to die rather than deny it.

When I think of the transformations that have changed the world and have led millions of people to follow God’s way, it fills me with awe. There is no question for many, they believe God is real. They feel it, they know it! It is especially inspiring and incredible when I don’t put a fence around how God or the divine is defined by religion, culture and history. How different the world is because God revealed The Way and guided human leaders to spread the word.  God is still real!  Look at all that is happening around you! Think of your experiences in the context of being led by a super-powerful force directing you to your unique path forward.  Have you gotten off the fence and taken a side?  Have your experiences established your belief that God is there?  Wishing that you are filled with a holy fire and that you hear God’s voice providing the inspiration to live a life that fulfills your greater purpose.  You’ll be able to say with confidence that God is real.  Yes, I believe it! ‘

Photo by Tim Savage on Pexels.com

The Act of Forgiveness

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

What does it take to find forgiveness?  We may need forgiveness for ourselves or struggle with whether to forgive when people have wronged us in a way that has put a great strain on our hearts and our lives. The situations are unique to each individual’s journey, with God as our guide for the actions we should take.  Our behaviors when facing a decision and the practice of forgiveness have a critical role in our relationships in both the divine and human realms.

Forgiveness is important in many religious traditions and it is critical for our spiritual health and peace of mind.  There is a Tibetan Buddist story about two monks (some updated versions change it to two prisoners of war).  They had been in prison together where they were tortured by their captors.  Years later, they meet again and the first one asks, “Have you forgiven them?” The other replies, “I will never forgive them!  Never!”  Then the first says, “Well, I guess they still have you in prison, don’t they?”  Forgiveness is a way to liberate your feelings about the worst of life’s events.[1]   

Two songs, released in 2012, speak about forgiveness and the feelings that even though it isn’t fair, it is important to move forward from the hurts…

Matthew West, Forgiveness:  Even when the jury and the judge, say you have a right to hold a grudge, It’s the whisper in your ear saying set it free[2]

7th Avenue North, Losing:  Oh Lord, give me grace to forgive them, Cause I feel like the one losin’[3]

In the Jewish culture, before Jesus, the steps to repentance and to earn forgiveness were often of a physical nature:  an animal sacrificed as a sin offering, fasting, ripping of clothes, wearing sack cloth, an action by the High Priest.  The act of killing an animal could symbolize the punishment and that justice was being extracted through the blood of the animal that takes the place of the one who sinned.  Forgiveness was transactional.  A sin against God required a debt to be paid back to God.  After a sin against another person, the transgressor became obligated to the person they offended. 

When Christians confess and ask God, with a repentant heart, sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9).  Biblical lessons have taught that this became possible through the life and death of Jesus.  The ultimate sacrificial act of love for humankind was God’s gift to his creation when we were overwhelmed by sin. 

God’s plan through Jesus made it possible to be forgiven for the wrongs we have committed and the shame we feel.  It isn’t a physical transaction.  It is a process that takes place in the heart, a re-connection to God.  There is a joining to correct the break in our relationship that was caused by our sin.  The teaching of Jesus before his crucifixion spoke of our responsibility to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15).  Seventy times seven times if that’s what it takes (Matthew 18:22).  We are not stuck waiting on the actions of others.  Forgive as you have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).  

When forgiveness is an exchange, an apology and justice is needed for the offense.  But does an “I’m sorry” or a verdict of consequences really result in healing for the one who has been hurt?  Evil people can act with disregard or hatred toward others, creating situations where repentance and restitution may be an impossibility.  In the Hindu Dharma, the feminine forgiveness is granted when there has not been repentance, “which is higher and more noble than the masculine forgiveness granted only after there is repentance.”[4]  Does it really take two willing parties for acts of forgiveness to be effective?  I hope not!

Between individuals, whichever side that you find yourself on, the actions leading to forgiveness are hard, but not impossible.  Forgiveness is a choice.  Human disagreements can stem from both parties viewing themselves as right, with neither side giving in and taking fault for an offense.  Resentment hardens our emotions and “shifts our attention from those who matter to us to those whom we disdain, deadening our spirit.  Why would we choose to live this way? It gives those who wronged you an even greater victory than their original act.”

Granting forgiveness when our pain and loss has been great, doesn’t mean you forget.  Forgiving doesn’t mean we accept the wrongdoing as okay and it doesn’t absolve the perpetrator of blame.  We do not have to lose our story.  There are lessons in it.  Our experiences add to our wisdom.  Learning to let go of the bitterness and anger, we can embrace the fullness of life and what awaits in our future.  We let go so that we are not drawn into continual plans for seeking revenge or the feeling of being stuck as a victim without hope for the days ahead.  When we forgive, we heal.  Withholding forgiveness is like putting our peace of mind directly into the hands of someone who has already been shown to be untrustworthy.  Isn’t our peace more precious to us that we should take the actions necessary to remain in control of it? 

In the Taoist tradition, there is a lesson about forgiveness taught to a student.  The Master teacher tell the student to “Put a potato into a sack for each person who has offended you.”  The student collects a fair number of potatoes.  The Master asks him to carry the sack of potatoes around for the week.  At first, the student doesn’t find the potatoes to be much of a burden, they are not that heavy.  But as the week goes on, he starts to tire of having to drag the sack everywhere he goes.  On top of that, the potatoes start to smell as they rot and spoil.  The next week, the Master says that the student can dump all the potatoes, but needs to then collect more, one for each new and remaining negative feeling about an offense.  The student realizes that to refill his sack, he will be constantly striving against the offenses.  But The Way of Tao does not involve striving.  “So what is the Tao, Master?”  The Master says, “If the potatoes are negative feelings, what is the sack?”  Having learned the lesson, the student replies, “The sack is that which allows me to hold on to the negativity.  It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended…Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance.”  “What happens if you let go of the sack?”  The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to relinquish the entire sack.”[5]

For Muslims, forgiving means not carrying a grudge in your heart against that person.  If you were given a chance to retaliate, you would choose not to and that you do not wish the other person evil, even secretly.  If there is an inability to forgive, it may cause the person to repeatedly bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.  If you cannot move on from the hurt, it is projected onto others.[6]   When praying for your own forgiveness to Allah, it is recommended that you use His names including “He who pardons,” “He who forgives,” and “The oft-forgiving” to reflect the attributes of God that apply.[7]

Photo by Trina Snow on Pexels.com

To find forgiveness, pray about the situation.  If you have offended someone, ask God to give you courage and humility to do what it takes to mend the relationship.  If you’ve been wronged, don’t sit and focus on your wounds and nurse hate for the person who hurt you.  Pray for the persistence to get past the obstacles blocking your way forward.  Pray for the person who offended you.  This can be a very hard thing to do, but the deeper the pain they have caused is a sign of how far they have strayed from the path God had in mind for them.  Pray that God’s power will influence their future actions.  Pray for God to give the grace to forgive them, “they don’t know what they they’ve been doing” (Luke 23:34).  

The acts of forgiveness takes a lot of work.  Let us be able to show God that we are able to take the high road and that we trust God to know how justice is best served.  In doing so, with help from God, we will be set free to experience peace and spiritual restoration that is beyond understanding.  For that, we can give praise and thankfulness back to our big God.   


[1] Dharmawisdom.org, Phillip Moffitt (referenced on February 23, 2019)

[2] Matthew West, Forgiveness, From the Album “Into the Light” (Sparrow) 2012

[3] 7th Avenue North, Losing, From the Album “The Struggle” (Reunion) 2012

[4] Wikipedia, (referenced on March 24, 2019)

[5] Taoism.net, (referenced on February 23, 2019)

[6] Productivemuslim.com, Jinan Bastaki (referenced on March 24, 2019)

[7] Thoughtco.com, (referenced on February 23, 2019)

Why Did God Destroy Sodom?

In the last few decades, it seems a lot of people have come ‘out of the closet’. Maybe it would be better to say the closet was replaced by a community.  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals now come together to support one another and seek acceptance.  Celebrities, siblings and children are being open about who they are choosing to love as their significant other and what gender they identify themselves with. 

       In the past, people struggled more with determining whether “coming out” was the right action for them.  Some lived a hidden life to avoid the judgments from others. Will the reaction be one of rejection or acceptance?  They have already felt isolation and have been affected by harsh opinions from society.  Homosexuals have been called abnormal, disgusting, sexually deviant, and immoral.  They may be considered sinful by religious organizations, criminals by intolerant governments, disliked by those who do not even know them, and sadly even becoming the target of deadly hate crimes.   They wonder how their parents, brothers, sisters, friends, classmates and co-workers will act when their true, self-identity is revealed.   Some loving family members may even consider it a “phase”; the person is just confused and will come around eventually.  A mother may believe that once her son finds the right girl, he’ll become “straight”, as if it were a decision he made and that he could make another choice any time he felt like it.  Overall, with all the trouble and risk associated being non-heterosexual, why would someone voluntarily elect to be so ostracized?  Is this simply attention seeking behavior?  Perhaps for some.  If the person cannot bear the thought of letting their parents or community know their real selves, life can become a game of ‘cover-ups’, with fear that the truth will be disclosed.  One thing is certain, everyone has an opinion on homosexuality and more often than not, the emotional response is strong, even extreme.  How many families have been broken apart by it?  How many children have been disowned?

      Many years ago I met a man that was gay, a friend of a friend.  I had heard him talking before seeing his appearance.  His voice was that of an older woman.  With that quick introduction, I believed that homosexuality must be based on biology and hormones.  The balance of biochemistry had shifted him from having the masculine characteristics that would be expected, and, instead, clearly feminine elements were being expressed.  He didn’t make a choice about this; he was made that way.  Just as every one of us is a unique combination of chemistry and biology beautifully brought to life, this was just one more element of the diversity of natural human development.  God made each of us special, without mistakes.

      Christian and Muslim believers may contend that “homosexual behavior is sinful”.  These people may not intend to disrespect anyone, but they firmly hold on to what they feel the Bible or the Qu ‘ran teaches on the subject.  Their level of acceptance may go so far as saying that judgment for how we each of us acts is to be left in the hands of God or Allah, but they may continue to think of gays and lesbians as sinners.  Christians may cite sections in the Bible as the basis for the conclusions they draw.  On that, my thought is, “No, I don’t think that is what the Bible says.” 

      One section of the Bible often quoted relative to homosexuality is I Corinthians, Chapter 6 verse 9&10, New Living Translation). 

9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God?  Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality.

10 Or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

The judgement on homosexuality is equal to the judgement on greedy people and drunks or those that cheat people.  There were people acting terribly in the Church of Corinth; there was fighting, arguments and jealousies.  Some of the people were saying that they can do anything they want and still be considered followers of Christ (I Corinthians 6:12, New Living Translation).  But this section talks about how not everything is good for you and gives a warning about not becoming a slave to your behaviors.  Taking parts of the Bible and magnifying them without giving consideration to the context in which they were written can lead to misinterpretation. If I look only at the first verse of I Corinthians Chapter 7, it says “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” or “It is good to abstain from sexual relations” depending on the translation (King James Version & New Living Translation).  In verse 7 of the same chapter of the letter Paul is sending to the new Christians in Corinth, he wishes that all men were like himself, able to resist sexual desires.  But he knows most cannot have that much control over their passions, so he basically tells people to get married so you are not tempted into immoral actions.  In the verse right after the one condemning certain types of people to be excluded from God’s Kingdom, it talks about how Jesus died for sinners (I Corinthians 6:11) and then in the last verse of the chapter, a summary is provided.

 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God

20 For ye are bought with a price:  therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

       I had always heard that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because homosexuality was rampant in those cities.  But reading Genesis 18:20 (King James Version), the Lord said “their sin is very grievous.”  He didn’t specify, but God and the angels looked long and hard to find at least ten righteous people so that the City of Sodom could be spared.  In Genesis 19:5, men come looking for the angels that had arrived to save Lot’s family and the men at the door want to rape the visitors.  Lot was even willing to turn over his two virgin daughters to the evil men outside his door in exchange for the protection of the angelic men within his home.  How horrible? 

      The real answer about the sin of Sodom popped out at me when reading Ezekiel Chapter 16, 49-52 (NLT), spoken to Jerusalem.   

49 Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.

50 She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.

51 Even Samaria did not commit half your sins.  You have done far more detestable things than your sisters ever did.  They seem righteous compared to you.

 52 Shame on you! Your sins are so terrible that you make your sisters seem righteous, even virtuous.

So, some of the biggest things that the Sodomites did wrong was not caring for the poor and being lazy.  In the KJV it said the people of Sodom were “haughty”.  I had to look that one up.  Haughty means arrogant and disdainful and treating people with scorn.  This doesn’t say anything about sexual orientation.  Societies who judge others as unworthy of God’s love instead of extending it, are falling into the trap that the people of Sodom were in.  In Ezekiel Chapter 18, there are many encouraging words from the Lord regarding sins of the soul, contrasted with doing what is right and lawful, and the life and death consequences of each of our actions.  It talks about how we are each responsible for our own thoughts and whether we choose to be righteous or wicked.  This section lifts up God’s way of dealing with us as just.  We will each be judged according to our ways.

      There is sure a whole lot said on the internet on the subject of homosexuality.  I am sure you could find opinions and convictions that line up with a full spectrum of feelings on the topic.  What I’m sharing here are my own individual thoughts.  I can find many speaking out in a similar fashion and many others who would contradict me.  I found thoughtful words from Janet Edmonds in “The Bible Doesn’t Say That Homosexuality is a Sin”.  I found heartfelt words from Matthew Vines.  There are people that say you cannot change the interpretation of the word of God just to fit the current changes in culture.  But you have to admit that the hateful and abusive culture of the world needs changing, thousands of years ago and today.  Things are pretty messed up.  Knowing that God gets personal with us as individuals, He wants to work on the hearts of each of us, in whatever unique situation we find ourselves in. He wants us to be humble and have a teachable spirit.  He wants us not to judge others “lest we be judged.”  He wants each of us to know that we are loved by Him.  God knows what is best for us and wants us to figure that out through a relationship with Him.   

      I feel for young people still in school and trying to figure out who they will be when they grow up.  If feeling attracted to the same sex is part of their emotional tapestry, or if they feel a conflict in the body they were born with, how much more difficult those years must be for them?  Kids can be so mean to each other.  Adults can be just as mean.  Churches and other religious organizations are making policies regarding human sexuality and it is disappointing when it seems the decisions are based on creating laws that exclude people and don’t make allowance for acceptance and love for one another.  Sometimes the rules become impersonal and take away the rights of individual communities to listen for God’s guidance for themselves. Should people attracted to same-sex partners really be lumped together with ‘abusers’ and ‘thieves’, and other evil people who won’t have a share in the blessings of God’s kingdom?  Is being a member of the LGBT community really a sin?

      What is sin?  God has tried over and over again to help us easily recognize it.  He gave Moses the Ten Commandments to share with his people.   Ten rules to live by.  That doesn’t seem so hard but for hundreds of years, people struggled with that covenant.  So Jesus comes.  He distills the commandments down to the essentials:  love God with all your heart and treat others the way you want to be treated.  Wow, it sounds so easy!  Are we able to do it?  When a man loves God and loves another man in a committed relationship, is he disobeying what Jesus said?  If he lies and tells people he is not a homosexual when in his heart he knows the truth, wouldn’t he then be breaking one of God’s Commandments? Let’s say he never held an evil thought toward others and trusted and listened to God throughout his life.  Is this man going to Hell?  When God looks into a woman’s heart and sees that she holds great love for Him and also observes the love she has for another woman, does God condemn her?  I say, “No, if the love in her heart is what is guiding her actions, then God is pleased with her.” 

      What if we looked at this from the perspective that individuals are placed specifically into our lives as part of a test of our ability to follow God’s desires?  Are we all able to love God and each other unconditionally?  Or is our ability to follow the example of Jesus’ love only in full force when our circumstances make it easy?   Are we only able to fully love those who we feel live the right way?  Life on Earth is filled with challenges, individual situations that drive our actions and beliefs.  The difficulties each of us face are as diverse as the people in the world itself.  If you or part of your family is impacted by homosexuality, don’t let the feelings it causes turn you away from God or let it interfere with relationships grounded in love.  Ask God how to respond and follow through on the messages He writes in your heart.  Through all things, let your thoughts and actions please God.  In God and by God, every single one of us is wonderfully made, equally lovable, equally special.  We all have a job to do in God’s Kingdom; we need to love and respect one another.  It is also important that we hold love and respect for ourselves, to develop the uniqueness that makes us into the person God intended us to be. 

      We’ll have many people cross our paths in our life’s journey.  There are people that sin by committing harmful, evil acts which cause emotional hurts, pain and suffering or physical death.  The Bible teaches that God will deal with the wicked.  If good people start doing evil, they must be put to death, while wicked people who start to do right can save themselves from punishment.  God says we are to give up our evil ways and think pure thoughts (Ezekiel 18:26-28).  We are able to find peace when we surrender ourselves into God’s hands and when we produce the fruits of the spirit, against which there is no law (Galatians 5:23).  For each person that is in our lives, we get to decide how we will treat them.  We may be asked to support them, pray for them, help them, care for them, no matter our differences.  We are not the ones to judge, we cannot see the state of someone’s heart.  God expects nothing less from us than for us to love one another just as Jesus has taught, the way He loves us.

Broken Hearts Find Healing in Songs

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In life, hearts get broken.  It is inevitable that something goes wrong.  Not everyone is living in the “Happily Ever After” part of their stories.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.”  It isn’t the trouble that meets us, that makes us who we are.  What we do in response to our challenges creates a bigger impact on who we become.  Jesus encouraged his followers, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).  There is a saying that we cannot avoid the storms, but we can learn to dance in the rain…or sing.   Stories about songs born out of heartache strike a chord.  The song can touch others and be an inspiration.  There are so many songs out there with amazing stories about how the songwriter and artists were moved in the creation process.  Plus so many more stories tell of a listener hearing the song at just the right time to make a difference in their day or their lives.  The songs’ messages can speak to our souls.  Noted here are just a few stories about songs—some old, some new.

In ~1779, Amazing Grace by John Newton:  Newton said only God’s amazing grace could take a rude, rough, slave trading sailor and transform him into a child of God.  He was talking about how God changed him. “…that saved a wretch like me…”

In 1855, What a Friend We Have in Jesus by Joseph Scriven:    Joseph experienced the loss of his first fiancé the day before their wedding due to an accident.  The next person he loves also died before they could marry due to pneumonia.  He wrote the hymn to comfort his mother.  “We should never be discouraged—Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

In ~1862, Jesus Loves Me poem by Anna B. Warner was put to music by William Bradbury.  Based on her sister’s request, Anna had written the poem to bring comfort and peace to a dying child. “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.”

In ~1876, It Is Well with My Soul by Horatio Spafford:  The hymn was written after a tragedy in which his four daughters drowned when the boat sank on a transatlantic voyage.  “When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

In ~1886, Standing on the Promises by Russell Kelso Carter:  Athletic in his youth, Carter was diagnosed with a critical heart condition at 30 years of age.  Felt God healed him and Carter lived for 49 more years but did suffer with many health issues.  “When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail.”

Recorded in 2002, I Still Believe by Jeremy Camp:  This was the first song that God gave to Jeremy Camp after his first wife passed away.  “I still believe in your faithfulness, I still believe in your truth, I still believe in your Holy Word, Even when I don’t see, I still believe.”

In ~2014, There’s Hope in Front of Me by Danny Gokey:  The song is about journeys people go through when it feels like the rain storms will not end, but God puts little pieces of hope in front of you leading you to the light at the end of the tunnel.  “…up ahead there’s a big sun shining, right then and there you realize, You’ll be alright.”

In 2016, Thy Will by Hillary Scott & The Scott Family:  The song was written by Hillary and friends after a much wanted pregnancy ends in miscarriage.  “I don’t wanna think, I may never understand, that my broken heart is a part of your plan.”

In 2017, Broken Prayer by Riley Clemmons:  Written from a feeling that you have to have yourself together to go to God, like your broken pieces are not good enough.  “Every scar and every fear, You want all I have, with no holding back.”

Prayers that you will always have a song in your heart that lifts you up when you are down.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect. Aretha Franklin sang about it, but has our modern culture forgotten how to show it? “Just a little bit?” Frequently we see it played out that when two people have differences, each is quick to demonize the other side. Insults, accusations, arguments and hatred are thrown back and forth in a game where there will be no winners. In today’s society, demonstration of mutual respect is sadly found to be lacking in politics, in neighborhoods, even in families. There’s certainly a better way for us to exist as members of civilized society.

Too bad we all couldn’t get down to the basics and follow the Golden Rule. Many religions teach a version of this common-sense virtue.

For example, in Hindu, the guidance goes back to ~3000 years B.C. from the Vedic tradition of India….

“This is the sum of duty. Do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517

Or as Confucius said in ~500 B.C….

“Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15:23

This has got to be Our Big God’s all time favorite way for each of us to behave.

From the video clips we see on the news, we are not doing so well at treating others as we’d want to be treated. Maybe we can blame the media because conflict gets attention and sells more than comradery. Yet, all we appear to be doing is stirring up intolerance. Two groups, standing at odds without anyone willing to be a bridge to find commonalities and ways to work together, doesn’t tend to lead to progress.

Several years ago, I attended a meeting where John Dingell Jr. was speaking. He served in the US Congress from 1955 to 2015. Someone asked him what was the biggest change he had observed from when he first started in Congress. I recall him describing the tight knit family feel in his early years. Party affiliation was less of a factor when it came to who socialized with whom. Dingell said people would get to know one another, their spouses, their children. They would visit each other’s homes and have meals together. This spirit of caring for one another could carry over into debates held on the House Floor regarding the best decisions to make for the country. Now, instead, there is marked party division. There is less effort taken to seek out common ground.

People want “their way”, which they think to be the “right way”, or it’s “no way”. The trouble is that in today’s complex world, as was the case years ago, there are big problems to solve. We need smart people with influence to come together to determine the proper path forward. On a global level, we need to find solutions for the betterment of mankind. The world is not as big as it used to be. We are all interconnected and what each part does has ramifications that are felt more immediately across country lines and oceans wide. We don’t need immature power plays, threats and intimidation. We need to listen. Hearing different points of view and being able to debate and discuss the best course of action can lead to transformation.

Recently, I read an article called “The Art of Arguing” by Caleb Jenkins (Fowlerville News and Views, January 20, 2019). The author talked about the difference between arguing and debating. He said, in a debate, “two or more differing viewpoints are discussed respectfully and factually.” He shared good advice on the subject(s). It seems clear that we would be moving in the right direction if we brought respect and honesty into our conversations.

Differences between individuals that are handled disrespectfully can harm relationships. Clashes between groups can ignite violent emotions, with people getting hurt. Showing respect for one another demonstrates strength in character and morals. Putting R-E-S-P-E-C-T into practice would be an excellent start to following the Golden Rule. Set a high standard of behavior. Let’s not step down to a lower level.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Respectfully show God you can be the bigger and the better person. Pray over the situations. Ask God to grant restraint, patience to listen, grace, wisdom and discernment. Ask God for answers. Ask that you are given the strength of character needed to show respect generously and indiscriminately. “Sock it to me” (Aretha Franklin, Respect, Album: I Never Loved a Man The Way I Loved You, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Universal Music Publishing Group, 1967).

Next Step: Right Direction?

Where do you want to go? Do you want to change something? What do you want to be, know or do?

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Wherever it is that you want to move, it must start with the next step in the right direction.  You may choose to stand still or even take steps in retreat if you don’t feel ready.  Those moves won’t get you where you want to be but they may be necessary in the process.  Reaching your destination begins with desire, you have to want it.  Then next it requires a plan, to chart a path forward.  Once the plan is there, it just takes that next step.  Will it be in the right direction?

What if you are being pressed to do something hard?  Let’s say you need to make lifestyle changes for your health or you need to break bad habits preventing you from being your best.  Start by asking God for help.  Don’t worry, God wants you to ask.  When we admit we cannot do it alone, we are humble and through our weakness, we can be given strength.  Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, taking care of it is important.  It may be tough looking at a long road ahead but is it too tough to just take the next step, make the next choice, your next movement?  If you have habits hurting you or others in your life, try to change them one moment and one thought at a time.  You are the child of God, He will recognize and support your efforts to become the best version of yourself.  We all slip and stumble, but focus on that one more step leading you in the right way.  After one step, the next may be a bit easier.

What if you have a big dream?  It is exciting and fun to think about.  That is not to say taking steps toward your dreams is easy.  Turning grand ideas into reality requires choices and it may involve risk as you step out of your comfort zone and into a place of uncertainty and unknowns.  It often takes hard work to make dreams come true.  First and foremost, place the desire in front of God.  Open your heart to hear whether He is giving you peace and energy to make this happen.  Listen for guidance on timing.  Sometimes we have the right vision but it may not be for right now, perhaps God is saying “yes, but later”.  It can get frustrating to work toward a dream that God doesn’t feel you are ready for.  Maybe there are other goals to reach before pursuing the big one.  What will be your next step?  It could be a small one, that’s okay.  Keep your eyes and spirit tuned to the doors that God might be opening for you and the people God may be lining up to help you.  With each step forward, you can build confidence that you are on the right path or you might find you need to revise your route.  Keep stepping out, building momentum so that your dream will get ever closer.  One day you’ll step into that dream and be amazed and thankful for how God led you into it.

Now I need to take my own advice.  There are things I want to change, be, know and do.  I’ll present them to God for His help, blessing and guidance.  I’ll create a plan.  Then I need to take that next step in the right direction.  Here we go, not looking at the mountain, but just putting one foot in front of the other.

God Bless,

Kerri LeVanseler

When Souls Ache, There is Action to Take

It seems everywhere we turn there are people struggling. Perhaps a family member or friend is facing a health challenge. Or you hear about an accident or a natural disaster impacting strangers or those you know. Addiction, depression, grief, troubled relationships and hurts cause our souls to ache. Maybe it is you who is going through a tough time. Our hearts get heavy and you want to help or make the difficulty go away. The situation may not be fixable; it may be outside of anyone’s control. But there is always an action to take that is powerful and purposeful: PRAY!

Your prayer may be for a healing miracle or for peace and knowledge that God is holding the hand of each person involved. The prayer could be one of thankfulness for God granting strength and understanding to you. God’s Word has guided us that there are many ways to pray, there is no wrong way, and we can pray without ceasing. We can do it wherever and whenever we want. I’ve heard some people say that their problems are theirs to deal with, that God has more important things to do than to listen to their complaints and concerns. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The wonderful truth is that our God is infinite, omnipotent and omnipresent—His ability to pay attention to each and every one of us is never depleted.

God is asking for our action and thoughts and often we find what He wants us to do is in opposition to our instincts. Prayers for ourselves yield more power if they come from an attitude of humble submission, releasing control and surrendering it all to God. When praying for others, God wants us to be warriors. We need to have confidence to ask God to do big things for the benefit of aching souls. We can pray with thankfulness and tell God we trust Him. When we don’t know what to say, there is a song that says “Just say Jesus”. That is the amazing power of prayer and God, we don’t really have to say anything, just fix our thoughts on Him and He knows the reasons our souls ache. He knows the outcomes. He has invited us to enter His peace and put our souls into His care. We can know that no matter what happens, we can have hope, confidence and anticipation that when our earthly journeys end, we will make it to Heaven. We can pray with thankfulness for that.

Get your ‘to do’ list ready—PRAY TODAY! Aching souls are in need of your action. God Bless!