All posts by BethBac

The Best is Yet to Come

Is there any way to fully capture the feeling of falling in love?  Any way to adequately describe it?  To really do it justice?  It stirs the soul.  Joy-saturated energy rises up from somewhere inside and overtakes you.  In that moment, you can conquer the world.  You can take on any obstacle.  You can overcome any fear.  You can be fully alive.

I just listened to “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” by Switchfoot from their film and album, “Fading West” and that’s exactly what I felt.  Fully alive, overflowing with that joy-saturated energy.

I always enjoyed Switchfoot’s music: “Dare You to Move”, “Meant to Live”, “This is Your Life”.  Good songs.  Great anthems.  Powerful lyrics.  Strong.  Motivating.

But in the summer of 2014, when I first watched the film, “Fading West“, I fell in love.  Not with the guys (although they are adorable), but with the feeling behind this film.  The breath-taking scenery from all over the world, watching the guys surf monstrous waves, play concerts, interact with fans, each other and fellow bands on tour.  And the music.  Oh, that music.  It lifted my soul.  This was actually the beginning, the spark, of everything that happened in the fall of 2014.  My miracle started here.  If you don’t know that story, you can find it here:  My Story

That particular story concluded on my birthday, 10-19-2014.  And here I am at another birthday.  I always post a blog on my birthday.  Sharing these posts has continued to be a daily joy and I can’t imagine 2017/2018 without sharing a new one with you.

It started in 2014:  Moment by Moment  (all that junk – yep, Jesus redeemed that)

It continued in 2015:  Through Heaven’s Eyes  (what does God see when He looks at us?)

And this was 2016’s installment:  Treasure Hunting  (can we really live every day better than before, or is this as good as it gets?)

And for the entire month of September 2017, all I heard was “the best is yet to come”.  Everywhere I went.  Here are just three examples:

  1. Craig McGlassion of Paradox Church gave a message on 9-10-17 called “Plan for Rain“.  Craig told of hiking the Grand Canyon and finding himself wanting to stop and camp at every turn, so beautiful, massive and enchanting.  Thankfully, Craig was with people who had gone this way before and they encouraged him to keep going because they knew what was ahead.  Every stop was more amazing than the last, and he was thrilled that he listened to them and kept going.  Craig tied that story to our lives today and said, “Our best days are yet to come….  Your best days will always be in front of you instead of behind you….  Don’t be satisfied….  Don’t spend more time reminiscing about what God did than dreaming about what God is going to do.”
  2. I was blessed to be able to attend Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live Simulcast in person in Toledo, Ohio on 9-16-17.  Beth spoke on regaining our vision.  She said that we may have had an “initial vision”, but something happened along the way and we lost it.  Maybe we gained an “unwanted vision” in the process, and saw the darkness in the world and in ourselves, which lead to cynicism.  We wanted our eyes to be opened to good and evil (like Adam and Eve did), but we weren’t expecting to see our nakedness.  We wanted to see grandeur, not gore.  So, maybe we lost our vision.  And now it’s time to “Re-Vision” our future, which may include our original vision, but it will most likely transcend it.  This new vision will probably be harder, but it will also be more meaningful.
  3. And then on 9-24-17, during the first week of the message series called “Leave a Mark“, at exactly 1 hour 15 minutes, Chris Zarbaugh said, “We are incredibly grateful for all the past stories of success and life change, but THE BEST IS YET TO COME.”

So, why all of this encouragement to keep going?  Craig McGlassion put it this way:

“Where are you camping in your walk with God?  When the past of what has been satisfies us more than the future of what could be is driving us, we’re camping.”

Camping.  Yep, I’ve been camping.  Actually, I think of it more as “coasting”.  I’m 46 today and I’m coasting.  If my great grandmother, Willie Katherine Saylors, had lived three more weeks, she would have been 96 years old (February 13, 1908 to January 20, 2004).  So, at 46, if I live to be 92, I’m only half way there.  Coasting?  For half of my life?  Why?

Christopher Cook answered this for me.  On 10-5-17, I received an email survey regarding Chris’s podcast, “Win Today”.  In the process of completing the survey, we were asked to read the story behind his company, which included this statement:

“I was safe and stuck in my very small world, with arms wrapped tightly around every aspect of my life in an attempt to control and prevent further pain.”

Why am I coasting?  Chris said it: “To control and prevent further pain.”  If I stay safe in my own little world, maybe I can protect myself from pain.  But notice that Chris said he did this “in an attempt” to prevent pain.  In practice, it doesn’t actually work.

At the simulcast, Beth Moore took a deeper dive:

“We can so protect ourselves from being hurt that we protect ourselves from JOY….  We think it isn’t worth the risk….  Lord, grant us courage to live.  To really live….  Awake me to the wonder of You, finding wonder in the every day….  Wonder cannot be held.  These are moments.  But they are worth it….  We live in the Now and Not Yet.  The world is a mess, but we’re still called to rejoice in it and to love each other with His Love.”

Back on 5-13-17, I received a “Whole 90 Devotional” email written by Cliff Johnson, our Birmingham campus pastor.  Cliff expands on Beth’s thoughts:

“In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul reminds us to remember not only how we were saved:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not of works, so that no one can boast,”  BUT WHY WE WERE SAVED, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do.”

I have not only been saved FROM something—like death, sin, hell—but I have been saved FOR something.  God actually has moments waiting for me to boldly engage to advance His Kingdom.  For those of us longing for new stories, this truth should be music to your ears.  Although the journey has been painful at times, sharing the story that God has crafted in me through both heartbreak and healing is part of the future He has laid out for me.”

And that future is worth living for.  The Prophet Isaiah said it this way:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.”
-Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

In 2016, Jon Foreman, Switchfoot’s lead man, did a TED Talk at the University of Nevada called Live Your Song.  Check it out.  It’s nineteen minutes of pure inspiration.  After the first of three songs, Jon encourages us to keep on keepin’ on:

“You matter.  And there is a void in the symphony of life when you are silent.  The pain, the anger, the frustration, the dissonance.  Be brave.  Sing through it.  Be brave and sing the truth, one note at a time.”

Don’t be silent.  We need you.  Fill the void with your song; a song that only you can sing.

And join me in falling in love, letting yourself be overcome by the exhilaration of being fully alive, belting out “Love Alone is Worth the Fight“:

We’re only here for a season
I’m looking for the rhyme and reason
Why you’re born, why you’re leaving
What you fear and what you believe in

Why you’re living and breathing
Why you’re fighting it and getting it even
Let’s go headed down the open road unknown

And we find what we’re made of
Through the open door
Is it fear you’re afraid of?
What are you waiting for?

Love alone is worth the fight

-Switchfoot, “Love Alone is Worth the Fight“, from the film and album “Fading West

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”
– Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV)

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In Pursuit of Fullness

Whether you’re a follower of Christ or not, I bet you’ve heard this verse before:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
-Philippians 4:13 (ESV)

I’ve generally seen this verse used in the context of being strong or able to accomplish great things.  But do you know what it says right before that verse?

The Apostle Paul writes the following in his letter to the church in Philippi:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.  Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
– Philippians 4:10-13 (NIV)

You see, read in context, this verse is really not about being strong or accomplishing great things.  It’s about contentment.

Contentment.  Yeah, maybe 2000 years ago, but in this day and age?  What is that?  In this “gotta have it now”, smart-phone-driven, “just Google it” world that we live in, what value is there in contentment?

Let’s back up a bit.  Earlier this year, before I started back on the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, I was really struggling with the concept of “fullness”.   It didn’t seem to matter how much I ate, I was never full.  I was so frustrated that I sat down at my computer and pounded out a big, long rant about the futility of the pursuit of fullness.  I felt better after ranting, but it still didn’t solve my problem.

Thankfully, I remembered the Carb Addict’s Diet, bought the book again (I must have given away my old copy) and got back on it.  Turns out that insulin is one of the most powerful “drugs” available and it’s manufactured right here inside this amazing human body of ours.  I’ve heard it said that food addiction might be the most difficult addiction to deal with because we can’t just go “cold turkey” and stop eating.  It must be managed and it’s crazy hard to do.

I had been on the Carb Addict’s Diet for five years (2008 to 2013) and loved it, but in 2013 I found out that I had a gluten problem.  I was in so much pain that I hired a Functional Medicine doctor and a health coach and I completely changed the way I ate.  If you’re interested, you can read more about it here: Salsa Chicken

Through that whole endeavor, I solved my gluten issue, but I created an insulin monster that was getting harder and harder to tame.  Thankfully, in April 2017, I had enough knowledge, along with a gentle reminder from Jesus, to put myself back on the Carb Addict’s Diet, without the gluten madness, and the insulin monster has once again been tamed.  Thank you, Lord!

But that process got me thinking about the concept of fullness, or the pursuit of filling that “hole in our soul”, instead of living in contentment.  And I came to the conclusion that, on this planet, we are always going to feel a little empty.  We’re always going to want one more thing, one more toy, one more taste, one more nap, one more show, one more laugh, one more hug, fill in the blank: one more, one more, one more.

Vince Antonucci from Verve Church in Las Vegas said that God longs to fill us because He knows that we leak.  No matter how full we are, we leak.  And we need to be filled again.  Vince’s solution?  Go to God and let Him fill you.  But don’t stop there.  Vince encourages us to ask God two questions, every day:

“How do you want to love me today?  Who do you want to love through me today?”

I love it.  I love the focus.  But if I may, I would like to tweak those questions just a bit.  Because I think that asking one time per day isn’t enough.  We lose focus much too easily.  And it seems that the more challenging our day is, the faster we “leak”.  How about:

“Lord, how do you want to love me right now?  Who do you want to love through me right now?”

If we could ask those two questions over and over again, all day long, listening for the answer and doing what He says, what kind of world would we live in?  If we were to let God fill us and then take that love and pass it along to someone else, I bet we’d feel a lot more full, a lot more complete, than filling ourselves by our own devices.

So, let’s do it.  Let’s let Him love us and pass that love along.  Let’s not fill ourselves completely, but leave room for God to fill us.  Let’s not focus on what we don’t have, but instead thank Him for what we do have.  I believe God wants us to want what we already have.  We may not feel like it’s enough, but it is.  We can do this through Him who gives us strength.  This is contentment.  This is enough for now.

King David said it this way, a few thousand years ago.  I think it still applies today:

“Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.”
– Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

IMG_1731
“The Lord Bless You and Keep You” – Numbers 6:24 on my favorite coffee mug in my 1951 pink and blue bathroom.  I am Blessed and Loved.  And so are you.  🙂

Meet Your Maker at “The Shack”

If God is so good, why did He allow my little girl to be murdered?  That was the question that haunted Mack and kept him stuck in The Great Sadness.  How many of us are stuck in a great sadness of our own, brought on by one tragedy after another, day after day?  Would we jump at an opportunity to have our questions answered by God Himself?  One day, Mack received an invitation to meet God at “The Shack” to do just that.  I would like to invite you to do the same.

Have you ever invested hours and hours of your life in great book, only to go to the movie theater and be completely devastated by how a wonderful book could be turned into such a disappointing use of two hours?  This is not the case with the movie “The Shack”.

I spent much of the summer of 2013 listening to “The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity” by William P. Young on CD in my car.  I listened to it a full three times before the library insisted that I give it back.  And when I found out that the movie of “The Shack” was going to be released on Friday, March 3, 2017, I grabbed my print version, which I had never actually read, and dove in.  I’ve invested a good 25 hours of my life in this book, and the 2 hours and 12 minutes that I spent on Saturday, March 4th watching it unfold on the big screen did not disappoint.

Actually, the only criticism I’ve heard about the movie is that “Father God”, also known as “Papa”, is played, for most of the movie, by a an African American female actress.  If God is our Father in Heaven, why is He portrayed as a woman in a dress?  That’s another question Mack wanted answered.  Papa responded:

“To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure, with a flowing beard like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”

I would say this entire book (and movie) is all about challenging our religious stereotypes.  How many of us struggle with God as a Good Father simply because we have no earthly example of a good father?  Might it be freeing to see God through fresh eyes?

Consider Genesis 1:27:

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

If God made us male and female in His image, then His image contains both male and female attributes.  God demonstrates this throughout the Bible by referring to Himself not only in “fatherly” terms, but also in “motherly” terms.  Here’s just one example.  The Apostle Matthew records Jesus lamenting over His children with a Mother Hen analogy:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Matt. 23:37 (NIV)

Papa has full knowledge of Mack’s “father wounds” that keep him far from a Fatherly God, and so He presents Himself as Mother.  And this is just one example of God’s goodness and kindness portrayed in “The Shack”.

Another example has to do with the rest of the Holy Trinity and another character known as “Wisdom”.  Papa is an African American woman and, later in the movie, a Native American man.  Jesus is a Middle Eastern Hebrew man.  The Holy Spirit is an Asian woman.  And Lady Wisdom is a Hispanic woman.  What a beautiful picture of God’s Kingdom:

“Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Clare Herbert Woolston

So, if you’re red or yellow or black or white or purple, if you have questions for God about good and evil and why He allows such things, I urge you to go see “The Shack”.  And if you want to know more, read “The Shack” (or take it out of your library on CD and have it read to you). Eugene Peterson, who wrote “The Message” paraphrase of the Bible, is quoted on the front of my print copy of “The Shack”:

“This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good!”

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Treasure Hunting

I haven’t written a lot in the last year.  Why not?  Well, I’ve been medicated, which is a beautiful thing (thank you, Jesus, for good meds!), but the same mechanism that stops the downward-spiral of anxious thoughts also stops the creative process of writing. So, you could say, my muse has gone on vacation.

But it’s my birthday and I always post a blog on my birthday.  Sharing these posts has become a daily joy and I can’t imagine 2016/2017 without sharing a new one with you.

It started in 2014:  Moment by Moment  (all that junk – yep, Jesus redeemed that)

It continued in 2015:  Through Heaven’s Eyes  (what does God see when He looks at us?)

And for 2016, I’d like to take a little deeper dive.  Let’s start here.  This fall, my best buds and I joined a Bible study by Angela Thomas-Pharr called “Redeemed: Grace to Live Every Day Better than Before”.  That title intrigued me.  Can we really live every day better than before?  Really?  What if this is as good as it gets?

I’ve been a Christian for 22 1/2 years and today is my 45th birthday, so I’ve been a follower of Christ for exactly half of my life.  After all of these years, why don’t I have this down yet?  Why am I medicated?  What is there to be anxious about?  I know my identity:  I am in Christ and Christ is in me.  “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Rom. 8:31)  So, why can’t I just calm down and enjoy my life?  What am I missing?

CS Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said it this way:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees 10.148)

Pascal’s quote has been summarized/ paraphrased as, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.”

That’s actually the quote that Dave Wilson used in his message in April of 1994, during my first visit to Kensington Church.  That’s what got my attention.  Yes, I had been trying to fill that God-shaped vacuum with all kinds of created things and none of them were working.  And for the past 22 1/2 years, my focus has changed, but I’m still searching for something.  What am I searching for?

Angela Thomas-Pharr took a considerable amount of time in her study to teach about the three unique stages of redemption.  I’m so glad she did, so I could share them with you:

  1. The day you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are redeemed, “changed from an unbeliever to a believer” (salvation/justification).
  2. As you live out your life from that day forward, you are being redeemed, “being changed into the image of Christ” (sanctification).
  3. When you leave this earth and go to be with God in Heaven, you are finally and completely redeemed, “eternally changed into the likeness of Christ” (glorification).

The writer of the Book of Hebrews defines Jesus’s sacrifice this way: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” -Hebrews 10:14 (ESV)

We are being perfected (sanctified) every day we’re alive, but we won’t be completely perfected (glorified) until we get to Heaven.  It’s crazy that I spend so much time and effort trying to reach perfection (or at least perfect contentment) here on earth, because I’ll never get there this side of Heaven.  And why would I want to?  Adam and Eve had perfection in the Garden of Eden and they must have found it so boring that they chose to disobey God.  Hmmm, maybe that’s a big part of the deception.

Deception?  Yes, there is an enemy of our souls, the deceiver, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and his job is to keep us from God, the Father of Truth.  But if we’ve already accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, what’s our enemy to do?  If he can convince us that we need perfection on earth, we’ll keep striving for it, wasting our time, wearing ourselves out, running in circles, looking in all the wrong places.

Do that for long enough and a new lie begins to surface.  Beth Moore has said that we can be so paralyzed in our pursuit of greatness that we do nothing good.  If the enemy can keep us busy, distracted, beaten down, ineffective and exhausted, we just might stop trying all together.  Angela Thomas-Pharr describes this way:

“Maybe you know this.  When you are tired and your spirit is heavy, the heart begins to mumble the saddest word:  Whatever.”

Yes, we are being lied to.  If we believe the lie, we’ll get stuck.  It’s an effective tactic.  It works.  And our job is to fight against it with truth.  The truth is, whether we “feel” it or not, we are actively being redeemed by the God who perfects us as we live and breathe.  The Apostle Paul knew this truth and he explained to the philosophers in Athens, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ … ‘We are his offspring.’  -Acts 17:28 (NIV)

Offspring.  Yes.  We are not children of the enemy, that we should obey him.  We are children of God.  Living “every day better than before” is about knowing who we are and Whose we are, growing closer to our Father until we get to Heaven.  And isn’t that what Heaven is: the place where we are completely and eternally redeemed, fully in the presence of God?

Isn’t that how Jesus brought Heaven to earth, perfectly connected to the Father?  That’s what he wants for us.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  -Matt. 6:10 (ESV)  If we allow Jesus to live through us, connecting us to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring a little bit of Heaven to earth.  And as children of God, we need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to keep our focus.

The Apostle Paul taught about this spiritual battle and he encouraged the church of Galatia:  “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” -Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

Don’t give up.  Don’t quit.  Stay connected.  Stay awake and pay attention to every little miracle.  Be a treasure hunter, hunting for every scrap of joy, every gift, every moment, fully engaged.  And be a treasure hunter for others too.  Help them to see the gifts all around them.  Life is hard and we need each other.

That’s why it’s so important that we stay connected to a community of believers; other people who can point us to the truth.  No church is perfect.  How can it be?  The church is made up of imperfect people.  But if all of us, in our imperfection, can point each other to our Perfect Heavenly Father, then we have hope.  And that’s why I love my church.  That’s why I go every week.  Not because I’m a “super Christian”, but because I’m not.  None of us are and we need all of the encouragement we can get.

A few weeks back, my church started a new series called “Heart & Soul”, exploring seven core values that can define our lives.  If you missed the message on the first core value, check it out here: Heart & Soul: Identity

Towards the end of the service, Chris Zarbaugh reads Max Lucado’s “You Are Special”, Danielle sings “Out of Hiding, Father’s Song”, followed by a video called “Identity”, by Dan Stevers.  It was so powerful with each piece building on the other.  And the words of the video tied it all together:

Before Christ
I was a different person
This person was my old nature
My old self
But that person died
And my life is now hidden
With Christ
I am in
Christ
And He is in me
I am a new creation
This doesn’t mean that I will never stumble
Or fall back into old patterns
But I will call them what they are
Old patterns
Old habits of the old person
I will confess them
I will thank God for his forgiveness
I will make amends
And then
I
Will
Move on
Not because I am taking sin lightly
But because I am taking seriously
Who God says I am
Holy
Pure
Unstained
Without blemish
Not because of anything I’ve done
But because of what God has done
For me
He has wiped my slate clean
I am blameless before God
Therefore shame
Has no place in my life
Because I am
A new creation
And all of the ugly parts of my story
The parts I want to pretend never happened
Have been redeemed
And they have become
The moments in my life
When God’s grace is most on display
Thank you God
My mistakes do not define me
My past does not define me
Because God has defined my identity
I am his beloved child
In whom He is
Well pleased
This is my identity

–Dan Stevers, “Identity” preview video (click the red words to see the video)

In Angela Thomas-Pharr’s study, she tells of a man who was asked, “How long have you been redeemed?” He answered:

“I was redeemed by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago when He gave His life to atone for my sin. But I only found out about a year ago.”

Comedian Jeff Allen was on Smile FM a couple weeks ago.  He said he spent a lot of his life waiting for an explanation from God, but what he really needed was a revelation from God. I think that’s what the man in the quote above received: a revelation from God. He is redeemed. I am redeemed. And if you’ve received the gift of Jesus’s forgiveness, you too are redeemed.

I pray that today we might receive a revelation from God.  A revelation that we are redeemed and our identity is in Christ, but it’s going to take a lifetime of “day in and day out” to walk this thing out, together.  Grab your best buds, the ones who point you to the Truth, and hang on tight.  We are brothers and sisters and we need to keep reminding each other:

keep going
keep treasure-hunting and
keep focusing on Dad, our Abba Father.

We are His beloved children and He is well pleased with us.

Want to know more about my “revelation day” back in 1994?  Here’s my story told through the story of my son:  Joshua The Prophet

And those meds, why do I take them?  Well, they help me to drown out the voice of the enemy and to focus on the One and Only voice that matters.  They help me “come out of hiding” and connect with others who can encourage me, so that I can encourage them, and we can treasure hunt together.  We’re blessed to be a blessing.

“Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to me”
Out of Hiding, Father’s Song by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook

Want to know more about the power of community?  Check out Heart & Soul: Community

Costa Rica 2013 / 2017?

In 2013, when Joshua was 11, he and I were blessed to be able to go on a mission trip to Costa Rica with Joshua Expeditions through Kensington Church.  I brought my iPad with me and sent email updates home every day to keep all of our trip supporters “in the loop”.  Once I got home, I compiled all of the emails into a sort of “blog”, added pictures and sent out the PDF to all of the friends and family who had supported us on our trip through their prayers and financial gifts.  I’ve always thought about sharing that “blog” here, but I’ve never really felt the push to put the work into doing so.  Until now.

Beth on the catamaran heading to Tortuga Island
On the catamaran heading to Tortuga Island

You see, I’m still shocked that I went on the trip in the first place.  Looking back, it was an amazing trip, but it was also full of new experiences and uncertainty, which would normally put a person with my anxiety issues over the edge.   When I first heard about the trip and read that it was “ideal for first-timers” and for those “11 and up” and realized that Joshua would be turning 11 a couple weeks before the trip, I knew we had to go.  And it was that certainty that pushed me through all of the uncertainty.

Joshua at sea
Joshua at sea, heading to Tortuga Island

But when we returned home and I thought about all that we had done, I couldn’t see myself going back.  What if it didn’t turn out as well?  What if I did completely fall apart?  What if I didn’t have the energy to push through the challenges?  So many “what if’s” (from the enemy, of course, as that’s where most “what if’s” come from), that I thought the only way I would go back was if John would come with us.  So, for the past 3 years, we’ve casually talked about John and I taking Joshua and Jordan in 2017 when Jordan turns 11.  But John really doesn’t have an interest in going, so it remained casual talk.  Safe distance.  No commitment.

Something changed last week.  I had dropped Joshua and Jordan off at SpringHill Day Camp in Troy and was driving home.  As I drove, I had this vision of taking Jordan to Costa Rica, just the two of us, or maybe the two of us with another mother-daughter team.  And I knew exactly who that mother-daughter team was, I just didn’t know if God would give them the same vision, or if the vision was just to encourage me to take Jordan.  A gift from God to light a fire under me.  So, I came home, asked John what he thought of the idea, he loved it, and I sent an informative email off to my friend.  Included in that email was this blog.  I thought I would share it with you as well.  It’s about time.  🙂

 

All 57 of us in front of the church - 57 Heinz Varieties
All 57 of us in front of the church:  57 Heinz Varieties

Friday 7-5-13 @ 10:24pm

We’re at the Marriott by the airport, getting up at 2:45am to catch our 6am flight to Costa Rica.

Night-night!
Love, Beth & Joshua

Some of our 11 year old boys at the airport in Costa Rica
Some of our 11 year old boys at the airport in Costa Rica

Saturday 7-6-13 @ 2:30am

Got 2 hours of sleep, woke up, got ready and now I’m sitting here drinking coffee waiting for time for Joshua to get up.

Blessings to you!
Love, Beth

Joshua drinking Costa Rican coffee at the hotel with his buds
Joshua drinking Costa Rican coffee at the hotel with his buds

Saturday 7-6-13 @ 9:42am

Good morning!

Feels like afternoon, but it’s 8:25 in Houston CDT.  Costa Rica is on CST, so we will be 2 hours behind you.  Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:30 (about 3 hours from now).  We just found bacon and eggs for $14 for the 2 of us.  Yikesters!

Love this Logitech keyboard.  🙂  Happy Mother’s Day to me.

Love you and talk to you soon! -Beth & Joshua

 

Saturday 7-6-13 @ 10:31pm

Good evening!

We are home from a lovely dinner and settling into our rooms for what will hopefully be a much longer night sleep than last night.  🙂  Two hours was not nearly long enough (nor was Joshua’s 3 hours), but I did manage to sleep on both planes (Joshua didn’t – he was too busy visiting with friends – can you imagine?).

Country Inns & Suites - home base
Country Inns & Suites – home base

We are at the Country Inns & Suites, so any contact info you had for the Radisson is not correct.  That was a mix-up of dates.  They had plenty of room at this hotel for this week and it’s the hotel they’ve stayed at all 7 years, so it is the natural choice.  

You are all on the blog list, so you should be receiving a blog update each night.  Now that we’re here, Joshua and I plan on putting our electronics away for a few days.  It was great to talk to Ma, Papa, Jordan and John on Facetime tonight and also to Rick on iMessage.  I’m glad we got to connect with you.  But don’t be concerned if you don’t hear from us for a few days (other than the blog).  I’m so glad that Rick was able to help Ma & Papa get Facetime working.  Great job, Uncle Rick!!  🙂

Have a good couple days.  Much love to you all! -Beth & Joshua

Beth and Joshua in front of the church Sunday morning
Beth and Joshua in front of the church Sunday morning

Monday 7-8-13 @ 12:42am

Good evening,

Or really good morning, as I think it’s 12:30 am your time.  Getting out my iPad to set the alarm for the morning, and thought I’d send you and update.  I don’t think a blog post went out last night and we just got home from dinner, so I don’t know what their plans are tonight.  

Lunch! They fed us so very well every day. Yummy!
Lunch! They fed us so very well every day. Yummy!

Today was a great day.  Long, but wonderful.  The food here is so fresh and delicious and I had no idea that rice, black beans and scrambled eggs taste good together, but they’re fab!  Joshua mixed his together too and agreed with me – yum!

Counting and sorting pills for the medical clinic
Counting and sorting pills for the medical clinic
View of San Jose lights from the restaurant up on the mountain.
View of San Jose lights from the restaurant up on the mountain.

We went to church where we’ll be working this week, they fed us lunch (delicious again!) and we started getting ready for the medical clinic tomorrow.   SOOOO many medicines to unpack and repack (we could only take sealed containers through customs), but we got a big chunk of it done before it was time to go.  We traveled all around San Jose in our 2 tour buses, briefly stopped at an open air market and road the buses up the steepest hills I’ve ever seen to get to our dinner destination.  The view of San Jose was incredible – so many lights going on and on, twinkling and dancing in the distance.  There was beautiful dancing at this restaurant and we didn’t leave until about 9:30.

We’re up at 6am tomorrow to meet with everyone at 7am, 7:30 breakfast and on the bus by 8:15, so I better sign off.  It will be a busy day getting everything finished and ready to see 400 patients this week.

Love you all! Beth & Joshua

Part of our medical team and patients patiently waiting in our hallway "waiting room"
Part of our medical team and “patients waiting patiently”  🙂

Monday 7-8-13 @ 11:47pm

Good evening!

I got to Facetime with Dad and Jordan for a few minutes before we left for dinner tonight.  I tried John, but he had already left the store (it was 8pm your time).  Jordan got to say hi to lots of people on our team of 57.  

Started out the morning with a small stomach ache (I’m sure I ate some hidden gluten yesterday, but not much), running a few minutes behind (really tired still from getting home so late last night and not getting enough sleep), and a bit unsure of what our day would look like.  

So many flip-flops waiting for new owners (thank you to all who donated them!)
Flip-flops waiting to bless some feet (thank you to all who donated them!)

Our day turned out to be wonderful.  I am on the welcome team for the medical team and our plan was to wash people’s feet and offer them a pair of flip-flops and maybe paint their nails if they wanted while they waited to see the doctor.  We weren’t sure if anyone would let us wash their feet, but out of the approx. 50 people we saw (34 adults plus children), all except about 4 let us wash their feet.  A couple women cried and I got to hug almost everyone.  They don’t just give you a hug and a pat.  They REALLY hug you and squeeze you.  Really, I was the one who got to receive the hugs.  It was just beautiful.  I told them “Christo te ama” which means “Jesus loves you” and they all said “Amen, amen”.  They were so sweet.  

Painting nails in the hallway waiting area
Painting nails in the hallway waiting area

We spent the morning finishing up our 400 first aid packets, counting out pills and putting Spanish labels on everything.  The first patients started coming around lunch time, so we stopped for lunch so that we could see them at their 1pm appt times (they were an hour early for the appts).  Our original plan was to wrap up around 3:30pm, but it was just after 5pm before we were done with the last patients.  Off to the hotel to freshen up quick before dinner (that’s when I tried Facetime) and then off to the restaurant.  Everything is so fresh and wonderful.  And when they say “fruit punch” it’s REAL fruit blended into a punch.  Or they serve a wonderful peach tea that everyone loves (especially Joshua).  

We arrived home about 8pm and shared together as a group until about 9pm.  It was really neat to hear about everyone’s experiences on all of the different teams.  The construction team got to meet the family today who is receiving the new house.  We all get to go see the finished product on Thursday before we head up the mountain to go ziplining.  

I better get to bed.  They need us to come earlier tomorrow, so we need to meet at 6:45am.  I got up too late this morning (too rushed), so I’m setting my alarm for 5:15.  

Love you all! -Beth & Joshua (who is asleep up in his loft bed – hopefully he’ll get a full 9 hours tonight, from 9pm to 6am, as he was REALLY exhausted tonight.  He even laid his head down on the dinner table when he was done and almost fell asleep there).  🙂

Beth and fellow foot-washer Rosemary
Beth and fellow foot-washer, Rosemary

Wednesday 7-10-13 @ 12:10am

Good evening!

Started out the morning taking pics around the hotel and posting them on Facebook.  I told Joshua he should be very proud of me for getting so much done on the iPad so quickly.  🙂  I tried to Facetime Mom & Dad (but I think I was too late – it was already 8:30 your time and I’m sure Jordan was already off to camp) and tried John, but he was probably busy with customers.  Tried again tonight, as well as Rose & Mr Dean, but no answers.  Thankfully, when we tried Rick & Delia, they were there and we got to chat for a few minutes before leaving for dinner.  Tomorrow night we won’t be coming back to the hotel before dinner, so we probably won’t be able to Facetime at all unless we catch you early enough in the morning.  

Me and my Sister in Christ
Me and my Sister in Christ

Today was a great day.  We saw about 50 patients yesterday and I believe we saw 101 today.  I didn’t wash nearly as many feet today, as I wanted to give other people a chance to experience it (VERY emotional for some people), but the couple people whose feet I did wash were very impactful.  One dear woman kept crying every time I looked at her.  We hugged a lot and one of our team members who spoke some Spanish came just in the perfect timing for me to ask her how to say that I am this woman’s “Sister in Christ”.  When she told her, the woman’s face lit up and she grabbed me and hugged me even harder.  She was so sweet.

I ended up making number tickets this morning and gave them to each adult as they came in to keep everyone in order better today.  So, my job revolved around welcoming people and getting them set up with clipboards to start giving us their medical info.  I also picked out a lot of flip-flops (matching up shoe sizes to what we have) and painted some nails.

Some of the medical team - love these ladies!
Some of the medical team – love these ladies!

Oh, Rick, I think the picture you saw of me in the blog was of me helping a woman pick out nail polish after having her feet washed. Our welcome area is a hallway, so it’s a bit crowded, but it works.  

Our meals were all great again today and Joshua’s highlight of his dinner was having a lizard of some sort (which was on the ceiling in the restaurant) poop right onto his hand and his plate.  🙂  He laughed so hard that the tears were running down his cheeks.  They offered him a new plate of food, but he was already done.  And it rather spoiled his appetite too.  🙂  He wasn’t nearly as exhausted today as he was yesterday.  He did manage to get about 9 hours of sleep last night, so that was great.  My body just really wants to wake up at 4:45 (6:45 your time) and I don’t have time to fall back to sleep again, so I just get up.  Makes for a more relaxing morning too having extra time.

We should be able to go see the completed house tomorrow after 4pm.  It’s up and the roof is started.  Our biggest challenge tomorrow is going to be something we have absolutely no control over – if people come on time for their appts.  We are praying that they will come on time or early and that we’ll be able to see everyone before 4pm so that we can head to the construction site.  I know we all want to meet the family and see the house.  We haven’t finished until after 5pm today and yesterday, so we would appreciate your prayers for tomorrow.  Thank you!

Sharing at our debriefing each night has been really special.  And spending time with everyone through out the day has really bonded us all together.  I really feel like we now have 55 more people in our family (plus Beth and Jimmy from Joshua Expeditions).     

Mom – Beth is Beth Andersen, the sister of Don and Dennis Andersen.  She looks just like Don when she talks!  And Jimmy is from Costa Rica and tells us all about the country.  We have decided that Jimmy’s bus (the smaller one) is the best bus and we all try to get on his bus whenever we can.  No offense to Beth Andersen.  🙂  She’s great too.

Ok, time to go to sleep.  Love you all! -Beth & Joshua

Joshua and Seb, having fun at the kid's camp
Joshua and Seb, having fun at the kid’s camp

Thursday 7-11-13 @ 12:32am

Good evening,

I feel like these e-mails are getting later and later each night.  And we just found out that we might be back REALLY late tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if there is no e-mail at all tomorrow night.  Maybe I’ll just write quick to tell you we’re still alive.  🙂

Today was another amazing day.  I spent most of the day charting kids’ heights & weights on growth charts.  It was more relaxing that doing the welcome/intake/feet washing/flip-flop fittings and a lot of other people still wanted the opportunity to wash feet, so I was good with that.  Later in the morning I had a chance to go up to the kids camp to see well over 200 kids in all different activities that our kids’s camp team had planned for them.  I also took my camera today, so I got lots of great pictures of the kids and of people back in the medical clinic.  I was really happy that I had waited to take pictures, as I really got to capture quite a bit of what I really wanted in a short amount of time.

Later in the afternoon, I got to go help out where the doctors work, filling prescriptions and saying goodbye to people as they left.  Some of them had seen me at the beginning and the end and they looked confused – like I had a twin or something.  🙂  The pastor taught me to say “God bless you” (Dios te bendiga) the other day and I got to say that a lot as people were leaving, as well as “Christo te ama” (Jesus loves you).  We’re all slowly building our Spanish vocabulary and it’s been really fun.

The boys with their new buddy Joan
The boys with their new buddy Joan

Sonja (our trip leader) and the camp director (Flory, which means “flower”) were leaving to go to the kids’ camp over in Guarari about 3pm and Nancy, our medical team leader, said I should go with them, as I was done with my job.  Thank you Nancy!  What a wonderful opportunity to drive over with a small group of women and one little boy from the neighborhood who Flory watches.  We also called him Flory’s GPS, as he tells her how to get around that side of the city.  🙂  Joan (pronounced “Joe-an”) was his name and everyone loves him.  When we got to Guarari, Joshua said, “Joan!”  He was very happy to see him.  What a special little boy.  We all prayed for him later at the construction site, as Mariela really felt that he is going to make a huge impact in his life.  He’s just that kind of kid.  It was beautiful to hear Joshua join in on that prayer for Joan too.

I love this picture of our team leaders, Sonja and Dean, in a huge embrace after a long day of hard work
I love this picture of our team leaders, Sonja and Dean, in a huge embrace after a long day of hard work

We were only at the Guarari kids camp for a few minutes before it was time to head over to the construction site.  The kids had been there since about 1pm and their time was up.  We did get a few pictures before we left, but I can’t share them until I get home and can download them on the computer.  When we got to the construction site, we were all overwhelmed by the fact that people live in these kind of conditions.  Susan shared tonight that she’s been in a lot of proverty-stricken places in her life, but that city poverty feels much worse.  Being in Africa out in the bush, at least you’re surrounded by nature.  But in the city, it’s just filthy.

The construction team getting ready to present the family with their new home
The construction team getting ready to present the family with their new home
Setting the table, waiting for the family to arrive
Setting the table, waiting for the family to arrive

What a bright spot in the middle of all of this to see the newly constructed home.  And we got to completely surprise the family with the furnishings.  They had no idea that the house wasn’t empty.  After everyone on the construction team had a chance to share, and the pastor prayed for them, they got to go into the house all by themselves.  They screamed when they saw the inside.  Screams of joy.  We let them have some time and then came and knocked on their door as their first visitors.  But it had rained through our whole ceremony, so our feet were pretty muddy and we didn’t want to dirty their brand new house, so just the construction team went in and the rest of us took pictures from outside.  I’ll share those after we get home.  It was just beautiful.

Waiting outside with the pastor while the family sees their new home for the first time
Waiting outside with the pastor while the family sees their new home for the first time

We went directly from the construction site to dinner and arrived back to go directly to our debriefing.  Lots of people shared tonight and it was a wonderful meeting.  The kids and teenagers commented that these people have so little, yet are filled with so much joy.  Joshua agreed – why are they so happy?  He concluded that it could only be the love of Jesus that fills their hearts with joy.  I completely agree.  Our “stuff” weighs us down, but these people are free to be generous with whatever God brings into their lives.  It’s really beautiful to see.

They've got the "joy, joy, joy, joy, down in their hearts"
They’ve got the “joy, joy, joy, joy, down in their hearts”

Tomorrow is our last morning at the church and Beth Andersen warned us tonight that it will be very emotional saying goodbye and that we need to leave plenty of time to do so.  She said “Saying goodbye takes a long time in Costa Rica”.  🙂  We have to leave the church no later than 1pm tomorrow to get to the zip-lining mountain on time.  But God completely answered our prayers today and everyone who wanted to see a doctor got to see one and the rest of the medical team was on the bus by 4:05.  Whew!!  I know He will answer our prayers again tomorrow.

We got to talk to John on Facetime this morning and maybe we’ll have a chance to try Mom & Dad & Jordan again in the morning.  We’ll see how it goes.  

Love you all! -Beth & Joshua 

Joshua and lots of new friends
Joshua and lots of new friends at kid’s camp
Beth & Joshua with "poor man's umbrella" leaves behind us in the rainforest
Beth & Joshua with “poor man’s umbrella” leaves behind us in the rainforest

Friday 7-12-13 @ 12:27am

Good evening!

As promised, I am writing to tell you that we are alive.  🙂  We did all 12 zip lines today and they were AMAZING!  We finished up at the church this morning with a very emotional send off from the pastor and were off to the zip lines.  Then we went from there to dinner & shopping and this time we managed to buy a few things (no bargaining this time).  

Beth & friends after zip-lining through the cloud forest
Beth & friends after zip-lining through the cloud forest

We have to be on the bus at 6:30am, so I am going to bed now.  Figure I need to get up at 4:45 to be ready on time.  We take a tour bus 1.5 hours to the catamaran, then eat breakfast on the dock and then take a 1.5 hour catamaran trip out to Tortuga Island, where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.  Tortuga means turtle.  🙂  We’ll be on the island for 5 or 6 hours and then we take the 3 hour trip back to the hotel.  I’ll try to send another quick “we’re alive” e-mail tomorrow night.  🙂  We have a 6:30am flight on Saturday morning, so we’ll want to head straight to bed tomorrow night.  

I just gave my SD card to Sonja for her to use pictures for the blog, so check it out Friday.  You may see some of my pics from Thursday (the only day I took pictures).  Just go to Sonja’s e-mail from a couple days ago with the link to the blog and then click “home” to get to the home page (which will probably show you today’s blog once it’s done).  Please pray for Sonja.  She looks exhausted.  Too many late nights up working on the blog, thank you cards, and other trip details.  No rest for a great leader.  

Sonja and Joshua hanging out after dinner - this place was amazing!
Sonja and Joshua hanging out after dinner – this place was amazing!

It was great to talk to Mom, Dad & Jordan this morning on Facetime.  I don’t think we’ll be Facetiming again until the airport, if I can find a wifi signal.  

Love you all!
-Beth & Joshua

Hello from Joshua, Tortuga Island
Hello from Joshua, Tortuga Island

Friday 7-12-13 @ 11:55pm

What a day!  On the bus to Tortuga Island at 6:30, breakfast on the dock at 8:30 and to the island by about 10:30.  Took more pictures today on my camera, so I’ll download those when I get home.  The camera battery is now dead, so I’ll charge that at home too.  It lasted just the perfect amount of time.

Joshua and Jack kayaking off of Tortuga Island
Joshua and Jack kayaking off of Tortuga Island

We snorkeled in the ocean (lots of beautiful fish!), road on a banana boat being pulled by a fishing boat (with a 75 HP Yamaha, may I add), ate a lovely 4 course meal on the beach (in the shade – very nice), rented a 2 man kayak for an hour so that the boys could paddle around and it ended up being used by about 6 people, which was really cool, played in the water, and watched as 9 people from our group got baptized in the ocean.  Wonderful! 

Dean Maletta, Joshua Bacarella and Beth Andersen enjoying lunch on the island
Dean Maletta, Joshua Bacarella and Beth Andersen enjoying lunch on the island
Joshua on the catamaran ride back to the main land
Joshua on the catamaran ride back

Then we got back on the boat for another 1.5 hour ride, which was really nice, and a 1.5 hour bus drive during which most people slept (you guessed it, I was talking the whole time).  🙂

 Dinner, shower, packing and now heading to bed.  Joshua was so exhausted that he took his shower and went right to bed with no dinner (he wasn’t hungry).  I could only eat veggies, as we were having pasta tonight, but it was the perfect night for it.  I wasn’t really hungry either.

Taking a picture of myself up in the loft before bed. Capture the moment.
Taking a picture of myself up in the loft before bed. Capture the moment.

Joshua fell asleep on my bed, so I’m up in the loft tonight.  I just posted a quick pic on Facebook.  Bittersweet tonight – happy to be going home, but really sad to leave.  It’s been an amazing trip for everyone. 

Should be home in about 24 hours if all flights go well.  We should get into Detroit about 8:30 tomorrow night.

Love you all and see you soon! -Beth & Joshua

An Acronym for LIFE

Why are we here?  What is this life all about?

Dan Kopp’s 4-3-16 message, “The Power of Now” focused on Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment: love God and love others.  Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, I’m guessing you’ve heard that commandment before.  In his message, Dan put an interesting spin on it: we can’t love someone that we’re not aware of.  Just as we can’t love those around us if we’re not paying attention to them, we can’t love God if we’re not aware of God.

Jacob felt that way in Genesis 28.  Verse 12 tells us that “As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven.  And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.”  God spoke to Jacob from the top of that stairway, telling him about his future, and reassuring Jacob that He would be with him, protecting him.  Jacob woke up saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  (v. 16)  When Jacob became aware that God was with him, he called that place “Bethel”, the house of God and the gate of heaven.

Guess who else is spoken of as the gate of heaven and as a stairway between heaven and earth?  Check out John 1:51 (NLT):

“Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.””

That was Jesus speaking about himself.  And in John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

In Matthew 1:23 (CEB), an angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife saying, “Look!  A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.  (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)”

Emmanuel.  God with us.  Jesus.  The gate of heaven.  The stairway between heaven and earth.  He is with us.  And what does this mean for us?

Dan went on in his message to quote what theologians have said about “The Power of Now”:

1) Greg Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, said “Over the last twenty-plus years . . . I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.”

2) Frank Laubach, known as “the Apostle to the Illiterates” and honored with his own postage stamp in 1984, said this in Practicing His Presence, “One question to be put to the test is this: Can we have contact with God all the time?  All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence?  Can we attain that?  Can we do His will all the time?  Can we think His thoughts all the time?  Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”

3) And Brother Lawrence, in his classic book, Practicing The Presence of God, said “If I were a preacher, above everything else I would preach the practice of dwelling in the presence of Christ.”

Dwelling in His presence.  Did you know that the name Beth means “dwelling” or “house of God”?  I love that.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,  “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)  My name is Beth, but even if yours is not, you are still a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place for God’s presence.

I completely agree with Greg Boyd, Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence, but I didn’t know how to phrase it until now.  This is it:  “Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”

So, back to this life of ours.  Why are we here?  I’ve been messing with an acronym for the word “L.I.F.E.” for quite some time now.  Listening to Dan’s message this morning brought it together for me:

Legacy
Impact
Focus
Emmanuel

Translated:

Our Legacy (later) and our Impact (now) depend on our Focus on Emamanuel (God with us).

You see, if God is with us, what have we to fear?  If God is with us, The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  -Romans 8:11 (NLT)

LIFE to your mortal bodies.  But that LIFE starts with awareness.  Focus on Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.  And what’s the best way to keep our focus on Him?  Thank Him.  Praise Him.  Rejoice.  Once again, the Apostle Paul comes to our rescue with words that help us put this into action:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

100_5741
I love these verses so much that I had them engraved on the back of my iPod.  🙂

Keep in mind that Paul didn’t instruct us to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN all circumstances.  No matter how miserable things get, we always have something to thank Him for.  This is God’s will for all of us.  If you’d like to read more on this subject, please do check out these blog posts:  Moment by Moment, Life that Really Matters, The Swivel Chair, Daddy’s Shoulders, to name a few.

And here’s how Dan ended his sermon.  Again, the Apostle Paul to the rescue, this time to the church in Ephesus (and to us!).  Couldn’t be more appropriate:

“May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (AMP)

Daddy’s Shoulders

Special thanks to Pedroni Photography for this lovely picture.
Special thanks to Pedroni Photography for sharing this beautiful picture with us.

Take a moment.  Breathe.  Look at the picture above.  Imagine that you’re that tiny person on the shoulders of your Dad.  His strong arms have a firm grip on you and you’re heading out along the path.  The road ahead is blurry from your perspective, but your Dad knows what’s around every curve.  From your vantage point, you can choose to be a nervous wreck, or you can choose to relax and trust your Dad.  Relax and thank him every step of the way, knowing that this life is a beautiful adventure with your Dad who loves you more than you could ever imagine.  You’re a lovely little princess (or a strong, handsome prince) on the shoulders of the King.

You see, this is how I feel about God, my Heavenly Father.  I’m up on His shoulders, His strong arms have a firm grip on me, and we’re heading out along the path.  The road ahead is blurry from my perspective, but He knows what’s around every curve.  From my vantage point, I can choose to be a nervous wreck, or I can relax and trust Him.  Relax and thank Him every step of the way, knowing that this life is a beautiful adventure with my Dad, Who loves me more than I could ever imagine.  I’m a lovely little princess on the shoulders of the King.  I hope you can picture yourself up on those shoulders too.  Your Heavenly Father hopes you can too.

He wants us to relax.  Trust Him.  Thank Him.  Moment by moment, every day.  Let Him guide you.  Take the next step.  This is not about trying harder.  This is about trusting and thanking our Heavenly Father.

Yoda says, “There is no try.  There is do or do not.”

I say, “There is no try.  There is Trust God and Thank God.  And then take the next step.”

Trust & Thank.  T&T.  TNT.

TNT is the abbreviation for the explosive compound used in dynamite: Tri Nitro Toluene.

But the root word of dynamite is from the the Greek “dunamis”, which is used 120 times in the New Testament and is loosely translated as “strength, power, or ability.”

GotQuestions.org put together a quick, easy read about “dunamis” and I highly encourage you to check it out:  What is the meaning of the Greek word dunamis in the Bible?  In that post, they reference several verses where “dunamis” is used.  Here’s my favorite:

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  – 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

So, what does this “dunamis power” have to do with that path we’re heading down?  The Apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans (paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in “The Message” version of the Bible):

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!  We go through exactly what Christ goes through.  If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!”
-Romans 8:15-17 (MSG)

It’s true.  The path of life isn’t easy.  It isn’t all roses and sunshine.  It can be incredibly difficult, discouraging and frightening.  But it can also be really good.  And I believe that God wants every moment.  The good, the bad, the exhilarating, the terrifying.  Every little thing.  Every little decision.  Turn to God and say, “Daddy, what’s next?  What’s the next step in our adventure together?”  In my experience, He doesn’t show me everything that’s coming.  He just gives me the next step. The Psalmist said it this way:

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  -Psalm 11:105 (NLT)

A lamp only lights the next step or two, not the whole pathway.  If you want to see more of the path, you need to take another step.  God wants to guide every one of those steps.  And He gives us the power to take each step, as we trust Him and thank Him.  He doesn’t shine a light down the road so that we can see the destination.  He’s much more interested in the journey, guiding us step by step, walking with us, calming our fears, enjoying our presence.

Think back to that picture above.  We’re up on His shoulders.  He’s got us.  We have no need to fear.  We are His dear children, safe and secure in the arms of the Father.  Bethel Music wrote about this so beautifully in their song “No Longer Slaves”.  Listen and let the words sink in.  Trust Him, Thank Him and live in the Dunamis Power that He provides.  May our fears be drowned in His perfect love as we live this adventure called life.

“You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I am surrounded
By the arms of the father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I could stand and sing
I am a child of God…”

-Bethel Music, “No Longer Slaves”

Martin Lowenberg’s Story

On November 1, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I went to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan on a field trip with my 6th grade class in 1983.  I will never forget what I saw there.

When Joshua came home last year with a paper about a Holocaust survivor named Martin Lowenberg, who was going to come to speak to his 7th grade class, I knew I wanted to see him.  It was on March 6, 2015 that I met this extraordinary 87 year old man.  Here is the write-up that Joshua brought home about him:

“Martin Lowenberg was born in 1928 in the province of Hessen, Germany.  In 1933, when the Nazis came into power in Germany, Lowenberg lived with his parents and his siblings.  Initially, he attended public school, but in 1936 at the age of eight, he was sent to a Jewish boarding school and then transferred to a segregated school for Jews only in Fulda.  All attempts made by the family to leave Germany and remain together were unsuccessful.  It was virtually impossible for a large family, without relatives in foreign countries, to obtain the required affidavit of financial support necessary to obtain an immigration visa.

After the beginning of World War II, a decent life in Fulda became even more difficult.  Merchants refused to sell food or goods to Jews.  Beginning in September 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing.  In December 1941, Lowenberg and his family were deported with approximately 1,000 other Jews to Riga, Latvia.  The train trip took four days.  From the train depot they had to walk in severe cold temperatures several miles on snowy and icy streets to a ghetto, called Moscow Suburb.  On August 16, 1943, Lowenberg, now fifteen years old and considered fit for slave labor, was sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga.  That was the last time he saw his parents and twin brothers who were at the time just nine years old.  

The Riga ghetto was closed on November 2, 1943.  The remainder of the ghetto’s inhabitants, including Lowenberg’s parents and his brothers, were taken to the freight depot and loaded on cattle cards and boxcars.  They were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where they perished.

In the Kaiserwald concentration camp, Lowenberg slept on wooden bunks without mattresses and wore striped prisoners’ clothes.  The food rations were barely enough to sustain life, consisting of one slice of bread and two bowls of watery soup per day.

In September 1944, Martin and his sister, Eva, were taken to Hamburg, Germany.  In Hamburg they were placed in the Fuhlsbuettel prison.  In April 1945, the Jewish prisoners were forced on a death march for four days and nights to the German city of Kiel, about seventy miles away.  

Near the end of the war, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler made an agreement to exchange truckloads of Polish women for the safety of his own family into Sweden.  Jewish prisoners, however, were substituted for the Polish women and Lowenberg and his sister, Eva, were liberated to Sweden.  They spent one year recuperating in three displaced persons’ camps in Sweden.  Three more of Martin’s siblings survived the war and they were all reunited in the United States.  All of his other close relatives perished during the Holocaust.  In 1960, Martin Lowenberg married U.S. born Carol and they have three daughters and fourteen grandchildren.

For more information on the Holocaust or on Mr Lowenberg, please visit the Holocaust Memorial Center website.”

When Mr. Lowenberg spoke to Joshua’s 7th grade class, he shared all of those details and so many more.  He stopped attending public school at eight years old because his teacher falsely accused him of sticking his tongue out at a picture of Hitler.  As punishment, his teacher had four boys beat him up and then his teacher pushed him onto a board covered with nails.  That’s why his parents took him out of the public school and sent him to a Jewish boarding school 150 miles from home.   This house was burned down, his synagogue was burned down, his father had served his country as an officer in World War I, but no one cared.  When they were forced to wear the yellow Jewish star with the name Jude (Jew) emblazoned on it, they couldn’t go outside without being accosted.  When they were forced out of their homes in 1941 to be “resettled” elsewhere, they were told to pack a bag and that it would be sent later.  Of course, the bags were never sent.  Yes, the train trip to Latvia took four days, but in old passenger, freight, and cattle cars where he was standing the entire time because there was no room to lie down.  Once they arrived in Riga, they had to eat snow for two weeks, as there was no food.

I can barely type these words, my hands are shaking so badly.  I urge you to read Mr. Lowenberg’s story on the Holocaust Memorial Center’s website:  click here for the full story.

In this interview, he was asked, “What message would you like to leave for future generations?”  His answer:

“Be kind to people, be good citizens, vote, be a religious person, and believe in the way you were brought up.  We were brought up as good decent people.  Love thy neighbor as thyself, this is the basis of everything, that everybody is equal, nobody’s different.

Do not hate.  Hate is such a terrible word.

The H stands for humiliation, horror, harassment, hunger.
The A stands for atrocities, anger, awful, abolishment.
The T stands for torture, torment, and trauma.
The E is for extermination, elimination, and evil.

Put a D in front of evil and you get the Devil.  That’s what I lived under, the Devil.  Hate is a horrible word.  Love is the most beautiful word.  Hate hurts, love heals.  This is my motto when I do my public speaking here in the United States as well as on visits to Germany.”

“Mr. Lowenberg has been a Holocaust educator for more than 25 years.  He is a regular speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as at community functions and schools. Uniquely, Mr. Lowenberg frequently travels outside of the Detroit area to give lectures for Holocaust education.  He speaks throughout the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula.  In 2006, Mr. Lowenberg was honored by the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families for his dedication to Holocaust education and remembrance.”

Here is brief video clip of Mr. Lowenberg recorded on April 24, 2014 at 86 years old:

If you ever have a chance to see Mr. Lowenberg, or any other Holocaust survivor, speak, please go.  Please listen.  Please remember.  Let us never forget.

In memory of the eleven million victims of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan has waived museum admission on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  If you’re in the area, please stop by today or any day, Sunday through Friday.  There are public tours at 1:00 pm each day, usually followed by a Holocaust Survivor Speaker.

Money without Meaning

It’s official.  Our $1.5 Billion PowerBall lottery dreams are gone.  All of the hopes and plans for that money, or even just a small part of it, are no longer.  But it sure created a buzz while it lasted.  What would you do with all of that money?

Did you know that Jesus taught more on money than on any other subject?  There are more than 2000 verses in the Bible about money.  That’s more than prayer, more than faith, more than forgiveness, heaven, hell and the Kingdom of God.  Check out some of the “financial” words that God uses to describe His relationship with us:

1) we are redeemed (Is. 44:22, Lam. 3:58, Gal. 3:13),
2) we are reconciled (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20, Col. 1:22),
3) our debt is cancelled (Luke 7:41-43, Col. 2:14),
4) Jesus became poor so that we might become rich (2 Cor. 6:10 & 8:9),
5) we cannot serve two masters, both God and money (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13).

And that’s just a small sampling.

There’s a hymn that describes the gospel of Jesus this way:

“He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay”
He Paid a Debt by Ellis J. Crum

Let’s take that a step further.  What if Jesus is more powerful than PowerBall?  What if He died so that all of our debts would be forgiven, literally?  What if our mortgage was paid, our cars were paid, we had no credit card debt, no student loan debt, or any debt at all, and all of the food, clothing and shelter we would ever need were provided for us?

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:24 about not serving two masters and goes on to say:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”
-Matt. 6:25-26 (ESV)

Our heavenly Father knows that we need food and clothing, and He provides them for the birds and flowers.  Why wouldn’t He provide them for us?  We’re so caught up in making money, saving money, spending money, moving money around, worrying that there won’t be enough money, trying to figure out how to get things without money (lotteries, loans, credit cards, getting you to give me something), anxious and distracted.

What if we never had to think about money again?  What if wealth and power and greed had no meaning?  What if I didn’t need to be concerned about what you had (envy, jealously, keeping up with the Jones’s), because I had everything I needed?  What if I were content down to my bones?  What would my life be about?  Would I go to work?  Would I strive?  Would I do anything?  What would define me?

The Apostle Paul says this in his letter to the Romans:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
-Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

What if Jesus is the one who takes away the debt of the world?  What if believing in Him and receiving Him means that we get to see the world through His eyes?  Would our entire focus change?  Would we no longer be slaves to the “stuff that makes the world go round”?  Would we instead be free to love one other, because that’s what Jesus does and that’s what He wants to do through us?  Would that be Heaven on Earth?

The Eastside Vineyard Church started a new series on Heaven a few weeks back.  In Dan Kopp’s 1-17-16 message called Looking (and Praying) Down from Above, he asked two questions:

1) If someone from Heaven could talk to you, what do you think they would say?

2) If someone in Heaven was praying for you, what do you hope they’d be praying for?

Do you think they’d tell us that we should focus on accumulating more while we’re here (“whoever dies with the most stuff wins”?) or do you think they would pray that we would focus on what really matters?  PowerBall or the Power of God?  It’s only by His power that we can truly love one another.  We don’t have it in us.  But if He is in us, we have all we need.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matt. 6:33 (ESV)

There is power in the name of Jesus
To break every chain
All sufficient sacrifice
So freely given
Such a price
Bought our redemption
Heaven’s gates swing wide
Break Every Chain by Jesus Culture

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

I wanted to share with you a video that we recorded at our new building a couple nights ago.  It’s a “thank you” video to all of our customers at Sportsmen’s Direct, but it applies equally to our employees, founding ProStaffers, suppliers, friends, family, really everyone who has supported us over the last 6 years.  It’s been a crazy ride and we wouldn’t have made it without all of your support and prayers.

I also wanted to wish all of my blog supporters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Thank you for supporting me and my blog over the last 18 months.

Here’s our annual Christmas collage card:

2015 Christmas

If you see me live and in person, please ask – I have a hard copy version for you. 🙂

If you’re in the Metro Detroit area (or the Orlando, Florida area), please join us for one of 46 Christmas Eve services at Kensington Church (your choice of 7 different campuses). Free tickets are available by clicking here.  If you’re not in the area, I believe Troy will be live-streaming their services: click here to live-stream.

And, lastly, I wanted to pass along several blog posts that have meant a lot to me over the past year.  Feel free to check them out if they sound like they apply to you:

1) What in the world was God thinking when he created us?  Worth It

2) Does life feel like one problem after another?  Life That Really Matters

3) Ever feel like you’re too much and too little all at the same time?  Won’t You Be My Love?

4) What does true love look like?  Grace, Truth and Audacious Dreams

5) What does God see when He looks at us?  Through Heaven’s Eyes

6) How can we really “let go and let God”?  Moment by Moment

7) Can I brag on my kids?  My Kids (including K-Rock’s 2015 Star Wars production)

Merry Christmas to you and your families!
-Beth, John, Joshua, Jordan Rose & the Charlie dog

2016 Update:

Here’s a link to the 12-30-15 C&G News article on Sportsmen’s Direct: C&G News article

Here’s a link to the 1-14-16 Michigan Out of Doors episode, ice fishing on Lake St Clair with a visit to Sportsmen’s Direct and an interview with Justin Clark:  Michigan Out of Doors