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Archive for the ‘Focal Point’ Category

I bought a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider with the hope of someday celebrating a publisher’s decision to purchase one of my picture book manuscripts. The bottle resides at the back of an unused cupboard. Its top label is coming unglued. It’s stained. It’s dusty. It’s ten years old.

I am good friends with the first half of Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I told myself if I received 25 manuscript rejections, I would throw a party. I lost count somewhere in the mid-thirties and never had my party. But I still have my bottle of Martinell’s. And even though its drinkability died about seven years ago, the hope it represents has not. Hope deferred is still hope. It is hope prolonged…not annihilated.

I love Psalm 71:14, “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” It’s a statement. A resolution. A choice against odds. Hope needs to be a determined purpose because it is difficult to sustain when its fruit seems nonexistent. But ponder hope’s alternatives: despair, self-pity, cynicism, anger, depression.  As for me, I will always have hope. Micah 7:7 is similar:

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

Expectancy while waiting. Confidence that the One you trust will deliver.

I look forward to the day (soon, I hope) when Proverbs 13:12aHope deferred makes the heart sick” is no longer relevant to my picture book dreams. Instead, I anticipate the “b” portion of the verse: “…but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” So the next time I’m at the grocery store, I’m going to buy a fresh bottle of Martinelli’s. Because I don’t want “a longing fulfilled” to make the stomach sick.

As for me, I will always have hope.

What are you hoping for?

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Have you ever known a young child with an imaginary friend? My daughter, Hannah, had an imaginary country. Dinka-Dinka, whose residents lived in lime green trees above hot pink grass, was referenced at her convenience:

Me:  “Here. Try this yummy broccoli.”

Hannah:  “I already tried it in Dinka-Dinka. I didn’t like it.”

*                *               *                *

Me (Smiling):  “Time to sleep!”

Hannah:  “No. It’s not bedtime in Dinka-Dinka.”

Me (Not smiling):  *Sigh.*

When she was in trouble, Hannah would threaten to run away to Dinka-Dinka, even packing her Pooh suitcase on one occasion. A scapegoat country. Good idea…for a three year old.

During difficult circumstances or when we’re in trouble, many of us would enjoy running away to an invented country where life is easy and operates on our terms. But competent doctors have a scary name for adults who habitually live in make-believe locations…schizophrenic. Many hurting people prefer more socially acceptable platforms for fleeing to imaginary worlds–including video games, the internet, movies, and fictional novels.

Although everyone relishes opportunities to “get away from it all,” the truth is, Christians do not need a fantasy location for escaping life’s harsh realities. We have an authentic one. Because Jesus became the scapegoat¹ (escape goat) who bore our sins and failures, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”² Through Christ’s blood “we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into the Holy Place.”³

We can boldy go to the Holy Place:

A safe, sane haven.

Immediate openings.

Direct access to the grace and place of God’s presence where there is mercy, help, “fullness of joy,⁴” and rest for the weary.⁵

Can you think of a better place to get away?

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¹See Leviticus 16

² Hebrews 4:16, NIV

³Hebrews 10:19, The Message

⁴Psalm 16:11, NKJV

⁵Matthew 11:28

Picture Source: Dreamstime

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Outside of the Bible, there are two quotations I have used as creeds for decades. One is Alexander Hamilton’s “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The other comes from a key chain I had in high school which featured a confident, dolled-up Miss Piggy proclaiming, “You’ve gotta go with whatcha got!” In the last year, however, I’ve added my own simple creed:

“Be fully present.”

Like many multitaskers, I spend too much of life physically present in one location and mentally in another. I feel like Luke Skywalker during his Jedi training–being poked in the chest and chastised by an irritated Yoda, “All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”

© Nicholas Sutcliffe | Dreamstime.com

In our pressure-cooker culture, I’m sure some  of you can relate. Physically, you’re watching your child’s soccer game, having lunch with a friend, or listening to a sermon…but mentally you’re organizing your schedule, making a grocery list, solving a conflict, or editing mistakes. Almost everyone has difficulty sustaining focus for long periods, but consistently choosing to be in two places at once can create several problems:

1. Divided Focus Can Be Unsafe

While driving, have you ever missed your turn because you mindlessly headed in a routine direction…rather than toward your actual destination? Some tasks are too critical for mental multitasking. We trust childcare providers, airline pilots, knife-wielding surgeons, drill-operating dentists, and coffee-bearing baristas to be fully present.

2. Divided Focus May Be Sin if…

  • you’re attending to the voice in your head more than listening to your “neighbor.” That’s called selfishness.
  • …the cause of your lack of focus is worry. The Bible is clear, “Do not be anxious about anything.”¹
  • …mental preoccupation hinders you from doing “whatever you do”…” with all your heart.”²

3. Divided Focus Can Rob You

Being “lost in thought” prevents you from: embracing moments with your children, fully enjoying the company of a friend, entering deeper into worship, maximizing time spent in God’s Word, or maintaining peace of mind. Divided focus can rob you of life’s simple pleasures and keep you from being content…whatever your circumstances.³

I’ve been praying for the mind of Christ and working on being fully present, but I’m not there yet. Not. Even. Close.  I’m going to keep trying to live my creed for several reasons…but especially because my time as a full-time mom is more than two-thirds gone. I don’t want to lose out on memories with my children because my mind is preoccupied. I want to be fully present. After all, “You must be present to win.”

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¹Matthew 6:25, 31, 34; Philippians 4:6

²Colossians 3:23

³Philippians 4:12

Photo Link: http://www.dreamstime.com/free-stock-photography-pensive-businesswoman-rimagefree405679-resi3675470

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Is viewpoint important? Ask an artist. His success is linked not only to skill, but to his “way of seeing” a person, place, object, or event. Discomfort, delight, disgust, or humor may surface when an art observer’s perception differs from the artist’s…which is why the following biblical paintings entertained my brain:

"Loths Flucht" (Lot's Escape), Albrecht Dürer, 1496

Somehow, I never  imagined Lot and his daughters escaping their exploding home so fashionably, calmly, or slowly. And it took me a long time to figure out that Lot’s daughter rescued some sort of yarn holder…and not a monkey on a stick. The figure in the background has “combo deal” privileges–it doubles as Lot’s salty wife and the Grim Reaper.

"Pharaoh's Daughter and Her Handmaids with Moses in the Reed Basket," Jan de Bray, 1661

Does anyone in the second painting look remotely Egyptian? Jan de Bray was famous for painting contemporary people in the pretext of historical events–vanity gifting the world with Baby Moses’ Discovery, the Shakespearean Edition.

'The Women at the Sepulchre" ("The Angel at the Tomb of Christ"), Benjamin West, 1805

Why is this awkwardly posed, flush-faced angel glaring over his shoulder? Is he angry because the women are ignoring him? Upset about his Poseidon-trident hairdo? Oh, and West’s model for the undignified angel must have been one of Gene Wilder’s ancestors.

My point is, the gap between these artists’ portrayals and my perspective produces humor. However, when there’s a gap between the way God is working and my perception of how He should be working…it’s not so funny. You see, viewpoints are crucial. They form beliefs, engage our emotions, and lead to actions.

In his book Our Ultimate Refuge, Oswald Chambers writes, “An accepted view of God has caused many a man to fail at the critical moment…only when he abandons his view of God for God Himself, does he become the right kind of man.”

In these tough times of job loss, financial strain, family conflict, and life-threatening illnesses; we don’t always understand the way God chooses to treat his children. Heartache rattles our view of God. IT IS OK when our finite minds do not comprehend what an infinite God is doing. However, we must trust the One who is doing it:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55: 8-9

Although I found the above paintings comical, many I viewed were beyond my imagination. Breathtaking. Insightful. Powerful.

"The Storm on the Sea of Galilee," Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633

And that’s why I’ve got to stop trying to fit God into my viewpoint. Stop “painting Him into a corner.” He’s the Master Artist. I’m the apprentice. And His painting of my life, of yours, will be “immeasurably more” beautiful than all we could “ask or imagine.¹”

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Are there areas where you need to abandon your “view of God for God Himself?²”

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¹Ephesians 3:20

²Oswald Chambers

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jcarloson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Even

in darkness

light dawns

for the upright…

Psalm 112:4a

Cancer. Rebellious children. Unemployment. Transition. Financial strain. Loss. Depression. Several friends and I recently discussed the number of people we know who are embroiled in adversity. None of us could recall a time when so many friends and family were facing darkness.

Most of us don’t comprehend the darkness created by suffering or uncertainty while we are busy surviving it. The Old Testament’s Job didn’t understand it. He brazenly informed God and misguided friends of his anguish, his confusion. Yet in the middle of his sufferings when he was “nothing but skin and bones,” when his breath was offensive to his wife, when friends had forgotten him, and when young boys taunted him;¹ Job made a bold statement, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”² Unwavering faith–despite his conviction that this same Defender had “blocked” his way and shrouded” his “paths in darkness.”³

During two of my blackest weeks, I was restricted to a hospital bed in the Cayman Islands. My tactful physician from the Grenadines warned, “If da clot in ya pelvis come loose den ‘BOOM,’ ya dead.” I embraced Psalm 18:28 and have returned to it often:

“You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”

Roberto F (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The prophet Daniel desperately needed darkness illuminated. He, and all King Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men, faced execution unless someone could interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream–without being told the dream. After God revealed the dream and its meaning, Daniel lifted words of praise including:

“He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells in him.”⁴

We may not know what lies in our darkness, but The Light does…and “at night His song is with” us.⁵ Our God “will turn the darkness into light before” us.⁶

jcarloson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Do you have an encouraging story or scripture for dark times?

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¹Job 19: 12-20

²Job 19:25 (NASB)

³Job 19:8 (NIV)

⁴Daniel 2:22b

⁵Psalm 42:8b

⁶Isaiah 42:16b

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When my dad was teaching me to drive, he advised me to “Back up only as far as is necessary to go forward. Backing up too much is how you get into trouble.”  Two separate scrapes in my van’s bumper testify to the wisdom in that statement. But I think I’ve remembered his words for thirty years because they comprise a good analogy for life. Some backing up is necessary to recall God’s faithfulness or to avoid repeating mistakes, but constantly dredging the past gets me into trouble.

There is a Japanese proverb that says:

“My skirt with tears is always wet, I have forgotten to forget.”

While it can be a struggle to forget wrongs inflicted by others, I mostly wrestle with forgiving my own sins or failures. Although my greatest opportunity for having a manuscript published is before me, I “forget to forget” dozens of previous rejections, and wonder if I should “ditch the whole writing thing.” However, if I am writing for God’s glory, I need to overcome fear, put my “hand to the plow,” and not look back.¹

After listing his prestigious religious accomplishments, the apostle Paul “remembered to forget” them. He did not want pride getting in the way of moving forward:

“But one thing I do:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

I press on toward the goal

To win the prize

For which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13b-14 (NIV)

I appreciate the word “straining” in Paul’s verse, because forgetting and pressing onward require strenuous effort. However, the alternative consequences are more agonizing. If I have “forgotten to forget,” then pride, bitterness, pain, and fear offer stagnation, slow progress (three steps forward, two steps back), or retreat. And focusing on the road already traveled obstructs my view of God’s new way ahead:

“Do not call to mind the former things,

Or ponder things of the past.

Behold, I will do something new,

Now it will spring forth;

Will you not be aware of it?

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,

Rivers in the desert.”

Is. 43:18-19 (NASB)

Even if an ill-chosen path abandons me in the wilderness, the fingers of God will carve a new one. And if the omniscient God of the Universe remembers my  sins no more,² what grace should I extend to others…or myself? I must “remember to forget,” and drive forward.

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¹Luke 9:62

²Isaiah 43:25

Photo: http://www.picturearchive.co.za/index.php/cms/contentview/action/view/frmContentId/150076/image/0/name/No%20MCs…just%20old%20car%20pictures/

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Since I educate children to see life through “biblical worldview lenses,” I like to think I recognize when our materialistic culture is clouding my perspective. After reading an unremembered story in the thirty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah, however, I decided my worldview glasses need an updated prescription.

In the biblical account, God sets up Jeremiah. He instructs Jeremiah to invite the Rekabite¹ clan to the temple and serve them wine. Problem is, they decline the wine since Rekabites have abstained for years…HUNDREDS of years. Why? Their forefather Jehonadab² had commanded his sons not to drink wine. Or plant vineyards. Or sow seeds. Or build houses. Rekabites were to be tent-dwelling nomads. File:Uvas.jpg

I imagine that some Rekabite wanderers would have preferred to raise a roof, plant a garden, grow grapes, drink wine, and claim personal pieces of the Promised Land–rather than follow the outdated counsel of a dead guy. But that was the point. God’s “Rekabite Wine Experiment” turned out to be an oversized object lesson for the people of Judah. The Rekabites faithfully honored a human forefather’s ancient commands, while Judah refused to obey God the Father–despite His speaking to them “again and again.” Consequently, God pronounced disaster upon Judah, but bestowed the following blessing upon the Rekabites:

“You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jehonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered. Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says:

‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.³’”

That was it? Pitching tents, packing tents, bundling belongings, toting babies, herding stubborn livestock, walking, hunting, gathering, obeying primitive orders…and that was their reward? I delved into chapter 36, hoping to discover where God promised the Rekabites prolific gardens, tasty grapes, and restful, secure homes. And that was where my worldview was out-of-whack. God was not miserly, mean, or forgetful. He was offering the Rekabites the greatest gift–the blessing of children who would serve a loving God; acreage in eternity. Among those of us who believe in the reality of heaven and hell, who would not sacrifice cultural comforts for the promise her children would serve Him? What does it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our children’s souls?

I think I wanted immediate relief for the Rekabite nomads because as I wander through life’s trials–trying to obey God the Father–I hope to be rewarded (any day now) with an earthly, peaceful “land flowing with milk and honey.” I guess I keep forgetting that Israel’s “milk and honey” was served with walled cities, giant men, angry heathen kings, idolatrous temptations, and war.

The truth is, Christ “himself is our peace⁴” and rest for our souls.⁵ He is enough.

And that tranquil “land flowing with milk and honey?” My new glasses see it clearly. It comes with streets of gold and a mansion.

¹NIV, 2011. Other Versions: Recabite, Rechabite

²Also: Jonadab

³Jeremiah 35: 18b-19

⁴Ephesians 2:14, John 14:27, Philippians 4:7

⁵Matthew 11:28-29

⁶Photo Credit: Tomas Castelazo, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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