Friday, December 6, 2013

The Cereal Brigade

Bus routes are soul winning gold mines. 

All you need are names, addresses and some bags of cereal. A gallon of milk helps, too. 

I call this ministry "The Cereal Brigade," which basically means that a team goes out with cereal, milk and the Gospel. If you're like me, you may not be comfortable knocking on the door of a stranger's home, but we're not exactly strangers when that door is on the bus route from our church. Someone from our bus ministry picks up the children from this home every week. That makes us welcomed neighbors!

After getting our assigned names from Bus Captain Austen, soul winning partner Micki and I stopped by the grocery store on our way to visit two families. Coupon in hand, we purchased six bags of cereal and two gallons of milk (It's an even better idea to backstock cereals when they're on sale, if you can). Armed with prayer, Bibles and food, we headed out to visit two Moms from Bus Route Seven, knowing that at the very least, our gifts of cereal and milk would be accepted. I have never had anyone turn down food gifts yet.

Having a GPS makes finding addresses so much easier, and makes it less likely that we'll be driving in circles! We plugged in the address and drove across town to meet two ladies whose hearts had been obviously prepared by the Lord. Since I didn't ask permission to share their names, we'll just call them Mom-One and Mom-Two. These dear Moms were like ripe fruit, ready to harvest. 

We started at Mom-One's house, and she had a lot to talk about. She struck me as a person who hasn't had a good conversation in ages. It's good to listen to people. We learn when we listen, and once we've listened, people are more willing to allow us to have a turn at sharing the Gospel with them. 

Try something simple like this: "Tell me about your spiritual life." An open-ended sentence such as this often brings out valuable information that will help you to understand the person's background and perspective. 

Mom-One described a hard life, filled with financial problems, illness, struggling adult children and more; but instead of hardening her, these things actually made her very open to the Word of God. After having an opportunity to tell us about her life and her family, this Mom was more than willing to have a brief "Bible study." Mom-One knew about God, but had never trusted Christ as her Saviour. Church was something on her "to do" list, but no one had ever opened a Bible and showed her how we are all "whosoevers" that simply need to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.

It's amazing how many people have never heard that they are a "whosoever." 

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13)

Isn't it grand that there is no difference between one person or another in God's sight? "For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him." (Romans 10:12) There is something very encouraging about erasing the imaginary lines that people draw between themselves. No one can claim to be worthy of salvation, so we all have the same neediness when it comes to Christ.

By the end of our Bible study covering several verses of Scripture, Mom-One bowed her head, prayed and asked Christ to be her Saviour. It was a transforming moment in time. We invited her to be our guest at church on Sunday, and left her home rejoicing and praising the Lord for saving the soul of that Mom.

Next stop: The home of Mom-Two.

We crossed the parking lot and knocked on the door. And then we waited. No answer. We knocked again and waited. Just as I was about to give up, a voice behind the door asked, "Who is it?" Bus Captain Austen had told us that Mom-One would be very talkative, but warned that Mom-Two may not want to talk with us on the first visit. I was prepared to be turned away, but when this young Mom opened the door, she looked like a child herself. That brought out "the Mom voice" (you know, the authoritative voice that Moms have when we need to sound like we're in charge).

"Hi! I'm Brother Austen's Mom from First Baptist Church, and he gave us your name to stop by with some cereal and milk for your family."

Her eyes lit up with recognition (she later told me that she could tell that I was Brother Austen's Mom) and she invited us in. As we handed over the grocery bags, I asked her if she had time for a little "Bible Study." It's hard to tell people "No" when they're handing you gifts.

My teammate Micki got busy distracting three bouncing little girls, while Mom-Two and I sat down at the kitchen table and visited a bit before starting our Bible study. This Mom also described a hard life, but her life was harder a lot faster. At the mere age of 26, she already had three children by three different fathers. "I was looking for someone to love me," she said with a tone that was mingled with pain and confusion.

Can you understand that? It is possible to comprehend, with God's help. Like the woman at the well (John 4:16-18), this young lady had no husband, but plenty of men in her life. "I'm looking for God now," she told me with sincerity. Mom-Two started her search for God one week before we arrived, calling a phone line that provided Bible verses. As far as this Mom was concerned, God had sent us to her.

I'm convinced that she was right. 

After spending time in the Word, taking our time with her questions, there was a knock at the door. It was Bus Captain Austen, stopping by with the flier for Bus Seven. He arrived just in time to join us as Mom-Two bowed her head at the dining room table, asking Christ not only to save her, but to help her to learn how to live. There is something extra-special about listening to someone speak to Christ in their own words, pouring out their own heart before Him. And it's equally special knowing that God is willing to hear and answer such a prayer.

Guess who was sitting with me in Sunday school that next morning? Mom-Two. 

Would you like to start your own brigade? It's easy: Ask your bus captains for the names and addresses of the single Moms on their bus routes. If your church doesn't have bus routes, pick any family in need. Purchase some simple food items, prepare with prayer, and then head out with a partner to make the visits. You will be welcomed more often than not, and with your Bible in hand, you'll be ready to deliver spiritual food with physical food.

You can do the same thing with any kind of gifts: 
--Gas cards (if the family has a car)
--Peanut butter, jelly and a couple of loaves of bread
--Cake and ice cream (for a birthday of a child in the bus ministry)
--Grocery store gift cards
--Homemade baked goods

We can easily spend $10 per week on items that aren't necessities. How about designating those dollars for souls instead? It takes less than ten dollars to start your own Cereal Brigade. Not every visit turns out like these, but our job is just to go and tell, as often as possible. "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." (I Corinthians 3:7) We're just the "delivery people." The outcome is entirely up to God.

Set aside any discomfort about knocking on doors, remembering that the eternal destination of a soul may be changed by your special delivery.

"For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Luke 19:10)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

 Do you know what it means to give the benefit of the doubt? A dictionary definition puts it like this: "Regard someone as innocent until proven otherwise; to lean toward a favorable view of someone." ( In other words, it means that we won't jump to conclusions. We'll wait to consider the whole matter before making hasty judgments. "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." (Proverbs 18:13)

Having a reputation for being a type of "Quick Draw McGraw" in handling matters is not a badge of honor; it's a mark of a lack temperance.

My Mom and I were almost the victims of road rage earlier this year, and it was all because a man jumped to conclusions rather than giving us the benefit of the doubt.

We were headed home from our Tuesday outing when I merged into the right lane not far from Mom's townhome complex. A man in a pickup truck was behind us, merging at the same time. He honked his horn, changed lanes, tore around us and merged in front of us."What's his deal?" I said to Mom as we watched this with wonder. I was ready to give this guy a ticket, but I'm not the State Patrol. Bummer.

This caused my Mom to repeat her conviction that too many drivers today are extremely impatient, making driving much more hazardous. We continued on our short drive, noticing that Mr. Truck was still in front of us, and driving more slowly now. He took a right turn at the stop sign.

So did we.

By this point, I could see that Mr. Truck was watching us in his rearview mirror, so I said to Mom, "I'll bet he thinks we're tailing him." We both chuckled in that sort of "serves him right" tone, but then he took another right turn, into the same townhome complex where my Mom lives.

Oh oh. Now what?

We took a right turn. After all, it was the main entryway leading to Mom's townhome. Now Mr. Truck slammed on his brakes, put the truck in park, jumped out and marched straight towards our car with a really unfriendly (meaner than a junkyard dog) look on his great big face. Did I mention that he was built like a truck?

At this point I figured that we could get hurt, but putting the car into reverse and screeching backwards out of the driveway didn't seem wise, either. These kinds of events require split-second processing, but I'm not that fast. So, my knee-jerk reaction was to call God. Yes. He was with us anyway, so I thought I may as well turn the matter over to Him.

I had a simple three-word urgent prayer: "Lord, help us." My God is bigger than Mr. Truck, and He could see the whole event like a movie, so while I was uncomfortable, I wasn't afraid. My Mom, on the other hand, well, she looked like she wanted me to run him over with the car. That was okay for the moment, because it was a rather intimidating glare that she was wearing on that normally tranquil face. As Mr. Truck approached (and I didn't see a gun), I rolled down my window and said with my biggest, baddest "I'm the Momma" voice:

"Sir, my Mom lives here. Is there a reason why you're blocking the driveway?"

This caused him to sputter and hesitate a moment. Obviously, it had never occurred to him that we weren't following him! He assumed that two women, one in her fifties and one in her seventies, were tailing him to do who knows what! Amazing how minds work...or don't work.

"Well, I thought you were following me, and so I was just coming back here to see what your problem was. You cut me off way back there, and I thought you were going to make trouble."

We "cut him off," so now what we were going to do? Tail him, rear-end his truck, jump out like Bonnie and Clementine (didn't have a Clyde in the car), and make a YouTube video of two women pounding on a great big gorilla of a man with our purses as weapons?

I know that some people are out of control these days, and I'm fully aware that taking two right turns behind the same person may have looked too coincidental (even if we were only two blocks from home), but maybe if this man had given us the benefit of the doubt in the first place, way back at the point where the lanes merged, he wouldn't be standing beside my car door now, looking for a fight. Mr. Truck jumped to two conclusions: That we meant to cut him off in the merge lane, and that we were following him now with bad intentions.

Do you jump to conclusions? It's a bad exercise.

A better habit is to give people the benefit of the doubt. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a wise policy. When we slow down in our interactions with others, we'll often find that what we thought was intentionally harmful was actually just accidental. This is true of most things that turn us inside out. Not everyone is "out to get us," but we can imagine that they are, which then boxes us into some really negative thinking.

The next time someone crosses you, instead of immediately assuming that they meant it for evil, pause and ask yourself this question: Is it possible that they did that or said that without thinking of how it would look or sound?

Handle matters wisely: Give people the benefit of the doubt. "He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he." (Proverbs 16:20) By giving the benefit of the doubt, we're allowing room for the truth to reveal itself over time. If the offense was intentional, God knows and can handle it. Vengeance is God's territory: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." If the offense was an innocent mistake, God also knows, and will use the benefit of the doubt to help preserve our relationships.

Did someone merge into your life's lane a little too close for comfort? The next time this happens, give them the benefit of the doubt. It's a much more peaceable way to live.

"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression." 
(Proverbs 19:11)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't Say It

We were on our way home from Mom's annual vacation. Mom was in a wheelchair being pushed by a Sky Cap, Norman was hauling the luggage cart, and I was wheeling my tote. Our flight got in later than scheduled, and the airlines lost a piece of luggage as a bonus. Walking the long corridors felt like we were slogging through mud, and as they say down south, we were "TARRED" (tired). The parking ramp signs overhead gave us two options: Green Ramp or Gold Ramp. 

"Which ramp are you in?" asked the Sky Cap.

Huge pause. Huge scary pause.

Norman looked at the signs and said, "Ah, I think it's green. I'm not sure..." 

My travel-worn mind screamed: "Noooooo! Not a lost car in the ramp! Noooooo!" At least these words were still locked inside my head and hadn't yet escaped the lipgates! I was ready to pounce on his statement with a blazing question: "You don't know where you parked the car?" I opened my mouth, but before I could begin the interrogation, my mind barked an order:

"Don't say it," the prudent side of my head said sharply. And then I closed my mouth.

Have you ever told yourself that? There are dozens of times when we say things too quickly, and then we get into trouble and have a massive clean-up all because we wouldn't bridle our tongues.

Learning how to tell ourselves, "Don't say it!" is like learning how ice skate: You'll fall now and then, but after some practice, you'll get really good at it. I should know. I tell myself to zip the lips all the time. We may feel the sting of conviction in our souls for having harsh thoughts, but at least we won't suffer the wrath of an angry person if we don't allow those thoughts to escape our lips.

I'm not suggesting that we can't ever voice a thought, but we need to be careful that we aren't speaking out of frustration. We need to be especially on guard when we're tired, as we can become easily irritated by the smallest infraction, causing an unnecessary breach in a relationship. Let's face it: Words can hurt! "There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." (Proverbs 12:18) Our words could poke a hole in someone's heart, and while they may heal, the wound leaves a scar in the heart and mind.

Think about it: What has someone ever said to you that left a scar? Can you think of anything, or maybe even several things? I can, too.

So then, let's not do to others that which we hate to have done to us! "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12) If we don't want to be constantly reminded of our goofs and gaffes, let's not appoint ourselves the Inspector General with a tongue ready to deliver our sharp and painful observations. Humans make mistakes. That includes us, and last time I checked, most of us don't need someone else to point out obvious blunders.

Tempted to burn someone with your fiery tongue? Deny yourself.

Don't say it.

"For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." (James 3:2)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Where's the Blogger?

"Francie, you need to blog more often," a woman said to me at a recent ladies' conference.
Takeoffs at NYC La Guardia airport

"I can't."

"Why not?" she asked.

"Because I'm here..."

...And there, and everywhere lately! My conference calendar was overweight this year, and while we've tried to slim it down for 2014, it hasn't been an entirely successful attempt. The 2014 calendar is trimmer, but still a bit over the ideal range.

So, blogging has become a luxury, but the blog will continue with monthly posts. The EMagazine has gobbled up the blogging time, coupled with flying from coast to coast. Here's the scary-busy itinerary for 2013 so far:

February: Connecticut and California
March: Michigan ("Only one?" Ha. Don't get me started...)
April: California, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee (and by now, airport security was complimenting my outfits as I went through the check point each week)
May: California and Mexico
June: Michigan ("Only one again?" Tried for zero, but failed...)
July: North Carolina (National Sword Conference = five days = like two conferences in one)
August: Virginia (This wasn't a conference. We helped our daughter Hillary move to U-VA for law school, and you know that moving out of state is not for whiners or wimps...)

And here's what's scheduled, Lord allowing, for the rest of the year:

September: South Carolina and Oregon (Harry & David Outlet Store, here I come!)
October: Ladies' Extravaganza-Minnesota (no flight required!), Maryland, Florida
November: New York and North Carolina

I think I need an apartment in California and North Carolina.

And while doing all this flying around, I was opening and closing my Netbook in the airplane, writing as fast as my trained fingers would type. It got to the point where I could tell when the familiar "ding ding" was going to sound at 10,000 feet, where it is "now safe to use approved portable electronic devices." I would be poised with my computer in lap, ready to peel out as soon as I heard the dings.
The view from seat 5F

On the flip side, I could also tell when we would be running out of time (or airspace), as I could feel the beginning descent of the airplane and would think, "Write faster, Francie! Hurry!"

Ding ding: "Ladies' and gentleman, we have now reached an altitude where all portable electronics must be turned off and stowed until landing."

"Nooooooo!" my mind would howl as I tried to put the punctuation in before shutting down. Writing in an airplane seat is as common and normal to me as writing at my desk in the home office. The only difference is there is no "ding ding" in the office to make me stop, unless I set a timer for a stretch break. And it's not disobeying federal regulations if I keep typing right past the timer at home!

Pray for us at Keep the Heart as we labor to produce beneficial materials for Christian women. I'm sure that we would all agree: we all need more prayer.

On the ground (today), from my heart to yours.

"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

There Is a Lot of Pain Out There


Can't live with it, can't live without it.

We have heard from a lot of people in pain since we've launched Keep the Heart, and while we wish that we could help, it is virtually impossible for our tiny staff to respond to every note or phone message that we receive. What can you do when the pain is so great that it feels like you're being crushed under the weight of it?

1. Pray for specific direction. "Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee." (Psa. 143:8) There is no human who can match the guidance of the Lord. The Lord knows what you need, but still expects you to pray. When the blind man was following Jesus and crying, "Have mercy on me," Jesus asked him, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" It was then that the blind man responded, "Lord, that I may receive my sight." (Luke 18:38-43) Don't just cry out. Cry specifically.

2. Seek local, godly counsel. "Counsel in the heart of
man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out." (Prov. 20:5) There is something about being able to read a person's face while listening to their story, and there is an ability to "draw out" key issues when counseling in person.

3. Walk in the law of the Lord. "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord." (Psa. 119:1) Bible commentator Matthew Henry made this observation: "All men would be happy, but few take the right way..." The word "undefiled" refers to one who is wholesome, innocent, and having integrity. We all need to examine our lives regularly for any signs of having drifted off course. The "blessed" are the obedient.

4. Remember that help comes from the Lord. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth." (Psa. 121:1-2) It is tempting to imagine that if we could just talk to the right person, they could solve our problems. God uses man as a "delivery person" of sorts, but the help is coming from the Lord; not man. The Lord is able to deliver us from any situation, with or without the aid of any man.

If you have ever left us a voicemail message or if you have written to us requesting counsel, please pardon the lack of response. This website was designed to provide written challenges and encouragement for women from a biblical perspective, but it was never intended to be a worldwide counseling service. We trust that you'll understand.

Pray. Seek godly counsel in your area. And remember: God is able to deliver  you.

"And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."
(Psalm 50:15)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Manicure

I was on my way home from teaching at the Conferencia de Damas (Spanish ladies' conference in Mexico), and it didn’t bother me a bit to be extremely early to the airport. I have only missed one international flight in all my years of flying, and once was enough to convince me that “too early” is always better than too close!

Since I had some extra time, I went searching for a place to get a manicure. I don't get manicures often, but I was in the mood to have my ragged-looking hands repaired. After asking around, I was pointed in the direction of a place that said “massage” in Spanish. All the technicians were busy giving massages, and I was told that they could get to me in about 30-40 minutes. I had plenty of time, but I didn’t want to spend it waiting for one of their massage therapists doubling as manicurists. I thanked the receptionist and headed for the Sky Club, planning to spend the rest of my time writing.

It was a divine detour.

Scanning the room, I saw a salon. "Maybe I'll get to have a manicure after all," I thought as I walked towards the room marked "spa." Sure enough, they had someone available to do my nails. Her name was Magali, and she was very quiet and polite. I knew right away that this was going to be more than a manicure.

 "How old are you?" I asked, guessing she was a teen.

"Veinte (twenty)," she told me in Spanish. My next question was a hopeful one: "Hablas Ingles?" (Do you speak English?)

"No," she said with an apologetic smile.


My head was tired from teaching five times in Spanish at the ladies' conference. Unless you speak more than one language, it's difficult to comprehend how much it takes to teach in a language that is not your own. I wanted to remain silent for the rest of the manicure, but when this young lady asked me where I was from, I knew that her question would most likely lead to her asking me why I was in Mexico. From there, it would be a short walk to the Gospel, so it was time to get over being tired and get back to serving.

Magali listened with deep interest, looking up from the manicure with intensity in her eyes as I shared the truth of Scripture with her to the best of my limited ability in Spanish. I was using my English Bible (my Spanish Bible was in my checked luggage), translating the verses for her as we walked down the "Romans Road." By the time my nails were in the drying process, she was ready to pray and trust Christ as her Savior. She bowed her head at the manicure table, and we prayed together as I stumbled over the words in Spanish (she was even correcting my grammar as we prayed)!

Porque todo aquel que invocare el nombre del Señor será salvo. (Romanos 10:13)
"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13)

Did she really get saved? God knows, but I do know that there are godly, caring Christians in Mexico who will help this young lady either way. Everybody loves a happy ending to a soul winning story, but the truth is that only God knows when a soul trusts Christ. Over time we can often tell as we see marks of spiritual growth, but initially, we only know that we have completed our side of the transaction: to tell others that Jesus has a free gift waiting for anyone who will receive it.

I recommended that Magali get the support of a good church, and she gladly gave me her phone numbers to pass along to the Pastor's wife, Rosie Ramirez at Monte Abarim Baptist Church in Cuernavaca, Mexico. If this young lady truly is a baby Christian, she will be in good hands. If she didn't quite understand, she will be given an opportunity to hear the Gospel again. God knows what He is doing.

I miss out on more soul winning opportunities than I even realize. There are times when I won't talk to the seat mate on a flight, or I suddenly become shy (yes, on rare occasion), or I struggle with doubts about whether or not the person wants me to bother them.

In other words, I'm a big chief human selfish sinner.

But thank the Lord for those times when humility wins over pride, and I set aside how I feel or what I think and just give out the Gospel. Do you need to witness to someone? Die to self. Live for Christ. Share the Good News with abandon. Somebody did it for us.

"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise."
 (Proverbs 11:30)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Language of Husband

I like feedback on new outfits, so whenever I buy one, I put it on and model it for my Norman H. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: "Honey, what do you think of my new outfit?"

Norman H: "Well, it looks comfortable."

And then I return it.

I have learned over the years that "comfortable" is code for "that looks like pajamas." So I'll either go and change, or if the tags are still on the garment, I'll march it back to the store and try again.

Do you understand "husbandese"? It's a language, you know. Men often think and speak differently than women do, and we are wise if we'll learn how to speak their language, as well as being able to read the unspoken signals that are often sent. Here are a few examples:

1. "I'm not sure about that..." 
Translation: "Let me think without pressure."
If your husband utters those words, don't press. How can we follow the leader if we're running ahead of him and telling him what to do? "The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want." (Prov. 21:5)

2. "I can never please you..."
Translation: "You are criticizing me again."
This is a dangerous phrase, because it indicates a pattern of miscommunication. Did you know that repeated suggestions could be perceived as criticism? Have you been bringing up a topic over and over again, in the hopes of solving something? It may be time for counsel if you've been stuck in this rut for a while. Counsel is not a sign of weakness; it's the evidence of a desire for wisdom and understanding. "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise." (Prov. 10:19)

3. "Would you let me think?"
Translation: "Be quiet and let my processor run."
When we're talking and yapping and pushing and demanding, it drives a man loopy cuckoo. Learn how to make a statement, and then follow it with silence. Men generally like to handle things one item at a time; not in multiples of ten! "He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." (Prov. 17:27-28)

4. "Now is not the time."
Translation: "Let's talk about this later."
People who know how to wait are peaceful in their souls and pleasant companions. Do you have to be answered right away about each and every little thing that you bring up? If so, you're a toddler in a grown up body. Nobody likes living under constant stress. If home is not a refuge, where can a man go for peace? Practice waiting. "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." (Eccl. 7:8)

5. "You are always buying things."
Translation: "Would you please follow a budget?"
Men generally want to provide for their families, but may feel like they can't keep up with a wife who is the fastest draw in the west when it comes to swiping a credit card! Discuss your financial goals and make plans together. This way, neither of you feels like the other one is being unfair. If we're spending up the money as fast as it comes in, we can't complain when our husbands have to work longer hours to keep up with our lifestyles! "There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up." (Prov. 21:20)

Listen to your husband. Really listen. Sit down and look him in the eye when he's talking. Put your arm around his shoulder when he's had a bad day and let him recount all the gory details. Listen with compassion, but don't try to fix anything. Most of all, learn how to understand what he is saying. With practice, you can become fluent in your husband's language.

"She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life." (Prov. 31:12)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Life is Supposed to be Fruity

A fruity gift from a sister friend in Ohio

I love fruit, and I especially love apple orchards! We have a really good one about 20 minutes from home, and I look forward to our annual trip to harvest our own apples. My favorites are the tart, crisp Haralson apples. Well, maybe that's my second-favorite. I flip for Opal apples, but we don't have those in Minnesota orchards, so Haralsons have to stand in.

Sometimes there are trees that look like they're not doing too well. The fruit is deformed, and there are bugs covering these infected-looking trees. In fact, I thought I had found one good piece of fruit on one of these bad trees, only to turn it around and find a dark, black crater with a great big spider living in it! He looked chubby. Too many fruit-covered bugs in his diet. 

We are here to glorify God with fruitful lives, but sometimes we get bugs, infections, and other assorted things to keep us from being as bountiful as we could be. Just like we're not happy with an orchard full of barren trees during harvest, God is not magnified when we're fruitless. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John 15:8)

Notice that the verse doesn't just say "that ye bear fruit." It says "that ye bear much fruit." We're supposed to be like those trees that are so heavy with fruit that the branches hang down to the ground, which makes the picking easy! 

Are you mistaking hyper-busyness for bearing much fruit? Would God need a magnifying glass to even find the fruit in your life? Let's look at the bare minimum of what should be growing: 
  • Love: God started here for a reason. I think it's partly because He knew that we would try to substitute hard work for loving people. Working hard is one thing; loving people is another. Mixing up the two is like mistaking artificial sweetener for sugar. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
  • Joy: Not to be confused with happiness, as happiness is circumstantial, while joy abides. There is no true joy apart from the God, so if you're missing this fruit, ask God to show you where you got off course. "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (Psa. 16:11)
  • Peace: Never settle for a lack of peace. If your peace is absent, check your lifestyle for peace-robbing habits like worry, unconfessed sin, bitterness, etc. "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace." (Psa. 37:37)
  • Longsuffering: Impatient people know very little about being longsuffering. Do you lack patience? Learn how to wait for people, for things, and for situations to change. "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering..." (Col. 3:12)
  • Gentleness: You can't be harsh and gentle at the same time. While it is widely accepted to be sarcastic and snappy, these tendencies are like buggy fruit. Every Christian should work at cultivating an agreeable manner. If people are sorry that they have to live with you, something is wrong."Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous..." (I Pet. 3:8)
  • Goodness: Many people think that they are putting others ahead of themselves, but there is often a great lack here. When there is nothing in it for us but the joy of being a blessing, we are beneficially good. None of us are as good as we could be, so cultivating this fruit requires effort. "Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?" (Prov. 20:6)
  • Faith: When we believe God, obeying Him is a spiritual byproduct of this faith and trust. We're not just singing "Where He Leads I'll Follow," but actually living it. No sight is required to walk by faith. "For we walk by faith, not by sight..." (II Cor. 5:7)
  • Meekness: If you've ever had the temptation to blow up but chose not to, you have experienced strength under control. Meekness is not weakness; it's the opposite of prideful arrogance. "To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men." (Titus 3:2)
  • Temperance: Ruling over our own spirits even when we don't feel like it is a sign that we are developing the fruit of temperance. Moderation brings a calmness to life, while a lack of this fruit leaves us exposed and vulnerable. "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." (Prov. 25:28)
Thanks for the fruity shirt, Kim Kline!

One day, we're going to stand before God and give an account for how we've tended our fruit trees. The choice is yours: an orchard full of buggy, deformed trees, or bountiful, fruit-covered trees.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Gal. 5:22-23)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Just Pick Up the Socks

I have a continuous goal in life among many: The goal of being easy to live with. It's not as uncomplicated as it sounds, because being irritating comes naturally to most of us.

In fact, both people in a marriage relationship have irritating habits. Does your husband pitch his socks at the hamper, leaving them on the floor overnight? Don't even tell me. But do you routinely repeat yourself, as if your husband needs a refresher course in English?

Everybody has something that makes them, well, annoying in some small way.

The goal of being "good company" is important for any relationship, but especially the relationship between a husband and wife. Here are a few ways that we can be hard on the nerves:

1. We're tuned to the "History Channel." 
This is the place where we bring up things that he did wrong from any time in the past decade (or more)! This is an irritating habit, but we can only feel the irritation when it's being done to us. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12) Would you like your husband to recite your transgressions from the day you said "I Do"? I didn't think so.

2. We're tuned to the "Nitpick Channel."
Ah, the channel of major itchy-scratchiness. "Don't leave your cellphone there. Please take off your shoes when you come in the house (guilty, even if I say "pretty please"). Can't you find the clothes hamper?" After a while, we stop sounding like "wife" and start sounding like "Crabby Momma." Where is the reverence in this misbehavior? Nowhere. "Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband." (Eph. 5:33) "Aha!" you may say. "The Bible talks to the husband in this verse before instructing the wife! If my husband would love me like he's supposed to, then I could reverence him!" I've heard variations of this argument before, but I've never seen it produce anything other than a standoff. Here's something to try: Reverence your husband because it's right, and leave the rest to God.

3. We're tuned to the "Cold Shoulder Channel."
He offended you, and you're hurt, so you're icing him out. You are so cold, you make Minnesota look tropical. He knows he's in trouble, but can't find the button marked "reset" because you've hidden it. Most of us have at least one appliance that has a reset button, which is there to push when you want to get things working again. When you hide the reset button, you're trying to keep things broken. Get out of the "me first" position and look at things from his point of view. This requires effort, but an impartial judge of your situation could easily do it. Before you chill your marriage into trouble, forgive and press reset. "He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him." (Prov. 18:17) Have you ever noticed how poorly the cold-shoulder works anyway? Your husband gets to snore and smack his lips as he eats an imaginary steak in his sleep, while you lay there wide-awake and fuming!

Don't allow little things to become big irritations. Communicate, and if the little things are still happening (like socks in front of the hamper), purpose in your heart not to be cantankerous about such small stuff. How much will those little things matter tomorrow? Pick up the socks and carry on.

"Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands." (Prov. 14:1)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Free the Love

On Mt Soledad in La Jolla, CA

I love the Lord. He's the best listener, hearing my prayers day after day, year after year. He loved me first, and now my life is one long thank-you note back to God. "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live." (Psalm 116:1-2)

I love my Norman H. Taylor, and I love him freely, richly, deeply. I wasn't just mouthing the words when we said our wedding vows over 30 years ago. We've seen better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, health, and God has sustained us through it all. We are different, but yet we are one. "And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh." (Mark 10:8) I've learned from my widow friends (including my widowed Mom) to love my Norman without reservation.

Family vacation in Pensacola, FL

I love my children: Austen, Hillary, and Collin. They are as unique as gemstones, and they make our lives brilliantly full. We've had good days, not so good, instructions, corrections and firm rebukes, and yet God has deepened the love between us all. "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward." (Psalm 127:3) It's fascinating that God refers to our children as "rewards."

Celebrating Mom's Birthday
I love my Mom, my sisters and their families. One of my nieces is sitting in a hospital room with her daughter (my great-niece), getting a broken arm mended as I write this. I am positive that my  niece is feeling great loving relief that it is just a broken bone and not something much worse. "This is my commmandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12)

I love my sister friends who are scattered all over this globe. One of my sister friends lives in Peru, but she may as well be next door with technology allowing us to send notes and photos with a click. Another sister friend lives in Romania, and yet another in Nigeria, and several in Mexico, and in too many other countries and states to name. I never take for granted the heart-gift of friendship. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Life is truly a vapor, lived out in moments. We are not guaranteed a full day of heartbeats. Have you been holding back on freely loving the people in your life? God sure didn't hold back.

Free the love. Love freely.

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (I John 4:11)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Avoid Talking Lingo

I had phone coffee with a new Christian recently, and she asked me this: "What is Psa?" (I had written down some Psalms for her to read, not realizing that Psa. meant nothing to her eyes.)

When we've been saved for years, we tend to speak in shorthand that is only understood by those who read shorthand. It's better to spell things out, and to remember when we didn't know our way around in the Bible. (Turn in the Bible to Zech-a-WHO?)

This was her next question: "Romans 10:13...Does that mean chapter 10 and verse 13?" This baby Christian wanted to share the Gospel with her dying father in plain English, and when I reviewed that verse with her, I had abbreviated the reference, forgetting that "ten-thirteen" would be foreign to her ears.

Romans ten-thirteen. I know what that means, and you (probably) know what that means, but do you remember when you didn't know? I learned a good lesson from this new Christian. She taught me to slow down and ditch the lingo.

This reminds me of the story in the book of Acts where Philip was helping the man from Ethiopia to understand a passage from Isaiah. The Ethiopian man didn't understand what he was reading, and wanted to know more, so he asked Philip to help him:

"And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired that Philip would come up and sit with him." (Acts chapter 8, verses 30-31)

When working with a young Christian, speak plain English, and if something needs further explanation, take the time to break it down into bite-sized pieces. The Bible doesn't indicate how long these two men spent in study and discussion of this passage, but we do see that it ultimately led to the Ethiopian man getting saved and baptized (Acts 8:35-39).

The next time you catch yourself talking "lingo" to a new Christian, slow down and translate your words. "I'm going to sing a special today" may mean something to you, but if I were a brand new Christian, I'd think you didn't know how to finish your sentences! You're going to sing a special?

A special what?

"So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air." (First Corinthians: chapter 14, verse nine)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Don't Make Assumptions

We are hard-wired to judge people based on their appearances, but it's a faulty mechanism that we need to ask God to fix. Do you look at a person and make assumptions about them?

  • If a person is heavy, do you assume that they have no self-control?
  • If a person is of a different race than you are, do you assume that they are inferior?
  • If a person drives an older car, do you assume that they can't afford a newer one?
  • If a person doesn't respond when you greet them, do you assume that they're stuck up?
  • If a person lives in a small home, do you assume that they are poor?

We make assumptions based on what we see, but the flaw in this system is the lack of facts. "All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits." (Prov. 16:2) What if a person is heavy because they are ill? What if that Hispanic man that you looked down on is a medical doctor who treats you at your next appointment? What if the person driving the older car is the biggest giver in your church? What if the person who didn't respond to your greeting was seen later speaking in sign language with an interpreter? And what if the people in the tiny home are saving up to buy a home large enough to provide room for their elderly parents one day?

Assumptions are wild guesses pretending to be facts.

Instead of looking at people and "sizing them up," why not get to know them instead? "There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches." (Prov. 13:7) The very person you've been snubbing could be a walking storehouse of wisdom, placed in your path by the Lord to fortify and enrich your life. God has a garden full of personalities, and just as we are nourished when we eat from a variety of food groups, our lives are enriched when we get to know people from all walks of life.

Branch out. Get to know someone who is nothing like you. Banish the assumptions and just be a godly friend.

"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
(Proverbs 18:24)

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...