Category Archives: Miracles

Every day miracles, “coincidences”, God-incidences

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.

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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

The Swivel Chair

When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction?  That was me.  I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity.  Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).

After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year.  Have you read it?  If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words

For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me.  And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you.  How can I make it crystal clear?

The Swivel Chair in my mind
The Swivel Chair in my mind

How about this?  I have a swivel chair in my office.  I can choose to turn it in all different directions.  I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway.  It’s my choice.

Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds.  We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts.  But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions.  It can turn toward God or away from God.  And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.

If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe.  In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”.  That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).

But it’s not up to God.  That’s not the kind of world He created.  Instead of creating robots,  He created human beings with free will.  Why?  Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him.  If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love.  Love requires choice.  And the choice is up to us.  He already made His choice.  He loves us no matter what.  But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.

And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him.  Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God?  Isn’t once good enough?  Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?

Nope.  Salvation happens one time.  But we are human.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again.  Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires.  And that is “sin”.  That is turning away from God.  That is “missing the mark”.

Think about that swivel chair in our mind.  There are only two directions:

  1. Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
  2. Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction

Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense.  There are only two directions: Faith or Sin.  We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin).  “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.”  Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)

God created us to have a relationship with Him.  Intimacy with Him is the goal.  Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.

In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken.  Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.”  When I read that, my heart broke for her.  I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life.  Turn around.  Come to Him.  That is repentance.  That is faith.  That is humility.

In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives.  Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”

He loves us.  He created us.  He wants us, warts and all.  He knows we’re messed up.  He knows we’re broken.  But that brokenness is not sin.  That is part of being human.  Our sin is our turning away from Him.  Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?”  Here is my answer.  And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.

Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”,  and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.

Go ahead.  Read that again.  In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge  smile on His face, and read those words to Him.  He’s so happy to see you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Inspired by “The Cure”

Two days ago, I received an email asking if I was still writing blogs because she hadn’t seen any lately.  How sweet of her to ask.  She was right.  I haven’t written since April 11th (Won’t You Be My Love).

I realized yesterday that my blog’s one year anniversary is today, July 16th.  “If they asked me, I could write a book…” was that first post where I said, “I keep writing and writing, waiting for a book to pop out, but it never does.”  But now, looking back, I know that it finally did “pop out”.  If you’d like to read it, this is My Story.

It even had a sequel, a series of posts that expanded on that story:  Moment By Moment.

So, what have I been doing since that last post on April 11th?  Well, another interesting story has begun.  It all started on March 28th, when I realized that I wasn’t going to have something written in time for Maggie’s birthday party.

You remember Maggie.  She’s the young songwriter featured in the original Moment By Moment post.  If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve most likely received that post as my birthday present to you (written on my birthday last October).

You see, Maggie’s amazing parents were putting together a one-of-a-kind birthday party for a one-of-a-kind 16 year old girl.  They wanted to tell the story of Maggie’s life, honoring the God who made that life possible, and share the day with friends and family who had impacted Maggie’s first 16 years.  I was honored to be on the guest list.  And those on the guest list were asked to write something to bring to the party to share with Maggie.

But my brain wouldn’t cooperate.  I wanted to encourage Maggie with words of wisdom, something akin to Bart Millard’s “Dear Younger Me“.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but it just wouldn’t come together.  I always say that I need a lot of “space” in my brain to write, and I was seriously lacking in space.  I sobbed as I told my dear husband that I couldn’t do it.  And I almost decided not to go to the party.  Thankfully, John encouraged me to go anyway, even without something written.  I’m so glad I did.

The party was incredible.  I would have gone if only to be able to watch Maggie’s mom tell the story of her life.  It was beautiful.  And then friends and family shared and their stories added to the beauty of the day.  We all joined hands and prayed over Maggie.  I prayed that Maggie and her friends would never cancel their plans because they felt inadequate.

I cried as I prayed those words, because I knew that God wanted me there and I knew He wanted me to pass along that message.  I didn’t want them to ever miss an opportunity like that because, in engaging with others, we are in fact engaging with God.

Here’s how God engaged with me that day.  I sat with two friends who I hadn’t seen in years.  We spent some time catching up on each other’s lives.  I shared with them about my blog and about the miracle that God performed on September 13 & 14, 2014.  That was the beginning of my story: Redeemed – Part 1.  In that post, I wrote about seeing MercyMe in concert.  Bart Millard, MercyMe’s lead singer, had “been on an amazing road to transformation over the last couple years and it was exciting to hear his story.”

What if God isn't who you think He is and neither are you
The Cure: What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you

One of my friends said, “Do you know what started all of that?  He read a book by John Lynch called The Cure“.  She and her husband “just happened” to have been on the “MercyMe at Sea” cruise in January 2015 where they got to hear first-hand from Bart Millard about the book and why it was so impactful to him.  In fact, you can hear about it, right from the authors themselves, in this 11 minute podcast:  Sailing in the Dark.  MercyMe’s Welcome to the New album was directly inspired by this book.

Well, I went home from Maggie’s party and ordered the book.  And when it arrived, I devoured it.  Many times throughout the book, I literally laughed out loud as I read.  I could not believe what I was reading.  So many of the concepts I’ve written about in this blog are IN THIS BOOK.  Bart Millard never mentioned “The Cure” at the concert last September.  How huge is God that He was able to communicate all of this to me through MercyMe’s album, never having read the book that the album was based on?

If it was that important to God that I find this book, then I needed to know more.  I’ve since bought several other books by the same authors and listened to many podcasts on their website, TrueFaced.com:

Bo’s Cafe:  “The Cure” for marriage (devoured that one too)
The Ascent of a Leader:  “The Cure” for leaders (currently devouring this one)
On My Worst Day:  John Lynch’s story (this one is next on my list to devour)
Podcasts:  “Bo’s Cafe” informal chats with the authors, each only about 10-15 minutes long

And I’m blessed to be working through “The Cure” Small Group Study with two dear friends this summer.  We’re about half way through and it’s been wonderful.

But, first and foremost, if you’re intrigued, get The Cure.  And if you’re inspired too, please share.

And what ever happened with Maggie’s birthday present?  That 50th post, Won’t You Be My Love, was for her.  And this 51st post?  This one is for everyone.  After all, when you find the cure, don’t you want to share it with the world?

Won’t You Be My Love?

“Every woman I’ve ever met feels it — something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does.  An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is.  I am not enough, and, I am too much at the same time.  Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough.  But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy.  The result is Shame, the universal companion of women.  It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeding on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone.” – Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge

Wow.  I just finished reading this powerful book.  This is not a “do these 10 things and you’ll be a Proverbs 31 woman” book.  The subtitle really sums it up:  “Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul”.  Sounds pretty, doesn’t it?  Boy, I’d like to think that I’m “mysterious”, because most days I just feel “messed up”.  John and Stasi nailed it.  I am too much and too little all rolled into one.

Beth Moore said something at her 2009 Living Proof Live conference that has always stuck with me:  “Repression will make you sick, rebellion will make you stupid.  We gotta be real.”

The Apostle James says it this way:  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)  

Sharing our hurts is healing and I believe that positive life change only happens with other people.  Keeping it to ourselves only makes it worse, or in 12 Step language, “we’re as sick as our secrets”.  I spent most of 2013 in a Celebrate Recovery 12 Step Study and I learned that genuine confession leads to genuine change.  Telling our story is freeing, on so many levels.

Think of it this way.  If we keep it between us and God, there is no accountability.  We might say, “Hey, He forgives me, we’ll just keep this between us.  No need to get anyone else involved.  It’s a private matter.”  Just one problem with that.  No change happens.  We keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, the very definition of “insanity”.   But when the pain of changing finally feels less than the pain of staying the same, it’s time to change.

So, here I am with you, my trusted friends, confessing my sin to you.  I am a mess.  I am too much; I am too little.  I am up; I am down.  I am happy; I am sad.  I am carefree; I am frustrated.  I am optimistic; I am pessimistic.  I am kind; I am harsh.  I am manic; I am depressive.  I am intelligent; I am hopelessly stupid.  I am encouraging; I am discouraged.  I am on top of the world; I am in the lowest pit.  I am an eagle soaring high above the clouds; I am Eeyore beneath the rain cloud.  I am free to dream the grandest of dreams; I am tied up in knots.  I am a woman of faith; I am a woman of fear.  I am filled with the love of Jesus; I am bound by the lies of the evil one.  I have it all together; I am completely overwhelmed. 

So much of it comes down to expectations.  Am I expecting too much?  Am I expecting too little?  Do I expect everything to fall apart?  Do I expect that I will be left “abandoned and alone”?  Or do I expect that God will come through?  Do I expect that He will take care of me?  Do I expect that He will never leave me, never forsake me, and that He has amazing people waiting to help me at just the right moment?  If I give in to despair, if I give up, will I miss out on seeing God come through for me?  Yep, I will.  I’ll miss out.  And something will be missing in the world that could have been there if I hadn’t given up.

Toward the end of Captivating, in a chapter called “An Irreplaceable Role”, John and Stasi remind us that we were each made with a unique purpose in mind.  No one else can live the life that we alone were created to live.  You are the only person on earth who can fulfill your purpose.  I love this beautiful reminder of who we truly are:

“You are a woman.  An image bearer of God.  The Crown of Creation.  You were chosen before time and space, and you are wholly and dearly loved.  You are sought after, pursued, romanced, the passionate desire of your Fiancé, Jesus.  You are dangerous in your beauty and your life-giving power.  And you are needed.”

Oh, there’s so much more.  Read the book (check your library).  We are needed.  We all have something to contribute.  Expectations can kill us, but hope frees us.  Hope of today, hope of tomorrow and hope of eternity.  Hope lives with Jesus.  And when we live with Jesus, we get to experience that hope.  And if we don’t feel it, we need to ask him to help us feel it.  But don’t wait on feelings.  They’re so fleeting.  One minute everything is amazing and the next minute everything has gone wrong.  But God is still working.  And He still loves us immeasurably.  And He’s fighting for us, as a groom fights for his bride.  I wrote about that in December when I started reading Captivating.  Check out The Beautiful Adventure if you’d like to read more.

I heard MercyMe’s “Won’t You Be My Love?” this morning and it stirred something in me that made me want to write for the first time in a month.  I hope it stirs something in you too.  And if you love it, the whole album is only $9.99 on iTunes.

“My friends are broke and lost
Looking for someone to lead them to my cross
I need your help, I need your help

Won’t you be My voice calling
Won’t you be My hands healing
Won’t you be My feet walking into a broken world
Won’t you be My chain-breaker
Won’t you be My peacemaker
Won’t you be My hope and joy
Won’t you be My Love”

We may be broke and lost, but even in our brokenness, we have something to give.  We are needed.  Our prayers are needed.  They are powerful and effective.  Our lives are powerful and effective.  God is powerful and effective and He wants His power to flow through us out into this broken world.  Our expectations may be unrealistic.  Let’s place all of those expectations on Him.  He can handle it.  His shoulders are big enough.  And, in that freedom, let’s go out and live the lives that we were created to live.

The Tale of 4 Justins

John doesn’t go to Wednesday night church.  He likes Sunday morning church well enough, but standing and singing aren’t his thing.  I take the kids to church on Wednesday nights for their K-Rock classes, and I really enjoy the services.  John has been in therapy every Wednesday night for the last several months for his neck, back and arm, but he couldn’t get an appointment for Wednesday, March 4th.  I invited him to church, but he wanted to close up the tackle store to give the guys a break.

When John texted Justin, our store manager, and told him that he didn’t have therapy, Justin told him to stay home and spend time with his family.  Little did he know, that would mean going to church with us too.  I was excited, but I knew he wasn’t, so we sweetened the deal with dinner at La Botana Mexican before church.  And a lovely time was had by all.

When we got to service, we realized they were doing baptisms that night.  There was a lot of activity with people getting ready for the service.  One family stood out to us, as the dad, mom and daughter were all wearing Superman t-shirts.  We both wondered if they knew Roy Townsend’s family, as Superman t-shirts had come to mean “Justin Townsend” to everyone who knew them (more on that below).

About an hour into the service, it was time for this family to be baptized.  Instead of telling you their story, I’m going to let them tell it:

“Hi, my name is John, this is my wife Heidi, my 13 year old daughter Natalia and my son Antonios.  About the last week we’ve been having conversations with my daughter regarding God Himself and she’s had a lot of questions like most 13 year olds do.  And one of those questions was how do you know when God speaks to you?  And I told her that as you grow in your faith and you have a personal relationship with God and your arms are open and you’re receptive to Him, you’ll know when He speaks.

Unfortunately, about 6 months ago, one of her classmates passed away after a year battle with cancer.  The young man’s name was Justin.  This symbol that we’re wearing here tonight was a symbol that his family had for him in that struggle.  So, we’ve always had the name Justin and Superman in our head.  

About a month ago we came here to Kensington and we watched the baptism.  And it was a young strong man who got up on stage.  He walks up, he’s got a Superman shirt on, he’s vibrant and excited about his journey that he’s going to take on with God and he says his name is Justin.  At that moment, it spoke to my daughter.  She spoke to her mother afterwards and explained to her that she thinks that God spoke to her.

What’s more amazing is God brings people, Christians, together to bring us to that point and be an example.  What’s even more amazing is when we walked in this evening, that man Justin was standing there, which we never met.  And it’s this man right here (points to him down front and everyone claps).  And I want to just say thank you for your testimony.  We all love you.  Without you, we wouldn’t be here.  So, God bless you.”

As we were walking out of church to get the kids from K-Rock upstairs, the “young strong man” Justin was outside the auditorium.  I asked him, “Are you Justin?” and then “Superman” John walked up.  I introduced John to my John, telling him that John had worked for Roy Townsend (Justin’s father) for years.  But I was crying at that point, as John wouldn’t have been there if our store manager, Justin, hadn’t told him to stay home and spend time with his family.  Thank you, Justin!

If you’d like to watch the service for yourself (you don’t have to stand and sing if you don’t want to), click here:  First Wednesday

Justin Townsend’s 14th birthday would have been March 7th.  Roy wrote the most beautiful letter to his son on his Caring Bridge journal, which I just read tonight (and I would encourage you to do the same – click the red words above).  Love this part:

“As you know, several of us went to the hockey game last night.  We found it ironic that the only two goals scored by the “Red Wings” were scored by “Justin” Abdelkader.”

Happy Birthday Justin!
Happy Birthday Justin!  In the words of your father, I hope your birthday was as wonderful in heaven as it was here on earth.

What to do, what to do… (“Christian Redefined” part 3)

When you think of “Christians”, what words come to mind?  Kensington asked that question on Reddit and here are some of the responses they received:  “rude, ignorant, unthinking, thick-headed, delusional, gullible, doomsday cult, dummy, hypocrisy, cruel, blinkered, judgmental, stuck-up wealthy white people who work harder to preserve their image rather than their souls.” 

Ouch.  And why would I want to call myself a Christian?  That’s why Kensington’s current message series is called “Christian Redefined” (click those red words to watch the first message from 3-1-15).  When I found out that this series was coming, I started writing about what I think it means to be a Christian.  I intended it to be 3 parts, and I wrote about training ourselves to say Thank You (part 1) and Bless You (part 2).  

But whenever I started to write this third part, I couldn’t finish.  Every time I asked, “Lord, what’s next?  What is the best thing for me to do right now?”, the answer was never “write”.  Three weeks ago, the answer was “pack for Disney World!”  But now we’re home and caught up and it’s finally time to write.

The third area of training I’ve been wanting to write about is asking “what am I to do?”  For me, that question isn’t about what to do next week or next year as much as it is a constant, moment by moment activity.  Well, at least I want it to be that way.  But my mind wanders and I forget.

I forget to count my blessings.

I forget to say thank you and bless you.

I forget that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

I forget that God loves me more than I could ever imagine.

Almost 300 years ago Samuel Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed” and I believe that’s even more true today.  I get so distracted.  I need God’s Holy Spirit to remind me to come back to Him.  My goal is what Brother Lawrence called “The Practice of the Presence of God“.  If I want to follow Jesus, I need to be aware of his presence every moment of every day.  I need to remember that he is always with me.  And I need to be asking what it is that I should be doing.  There are so many good things that we could spend our time on.  How are we supposed to know what the BEST things are?  One word:

Ask.

Jesus teaches us to be shamelessly persistent in asking for what we need in Luke 11:5-8 (click the red verse if you’d like to read what he said).  He then continues with the following:

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  10 For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10

In John 5:19, Jesus said that he did nothing by himself, but did only what he saw his Father doing.  He was in constant communication with God the Father.  I believe he wants the same for us.  He gave us his Holy Spirit so that we too can be in constant communication with God.

So, as I am reminded, I ask.  Sometimes I hear things that I should do (help the kids get ready for school).  Or things I shouldn’t do, or just shouldn’t do right now (don’t do the laundry right now – it will make you late for your appointment).  Sometimes I hear things that I should say (send a note of encouragement).  Or things that I shouldn’t say (keep your mouth shut, Beth).  Sometimes it’s as simple as keeping focused on the task before me and not letting my mind spiral off into anxious “what if”s of future scenarios that may never happen (what if John dies and leaves me with two kids and a tackle store to run?).

What am I to do?  How can I live my life so that the word “Christian” means what Jesus would have wanted it to mean?  I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I believe I know the One who does.  But I need to slow down to hear Him.  I need to be patient and listen.  I have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  I should be listening at least twice as much as I’m talking.

If you know the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8, you may have wondered why Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust.  The Pharisees (the “religious” scholars) were demanding an answer from him.  They had their case against this woman and they were trying to trap Jesus by his words.  He could have just blurted out an answer to the Pharisees, but he didn’t.  He stooped down, drew in the dirt and waited.  I believe he waited because he was listening for what God wanted him to say.  And when he stood to speak, his reply was one of the most profound statements ever formed by human lips:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (John 8:7)

And, one by one, they all dropped their stones and walked away.  What if Christians (the “religious” people) listened to God like Jesus did and responded with God’s grace and truth?  Would we be called rude, ignorant, unthinking, thick-headed, delusional, cruel, judgmental, stuck-up hypocrites?  Or would a whole lot of stones never get thrown?

 

 

Bless You (“Christian Redefined” part 2)

“They’ve made me feel like a prisoner
They’ve made me feel set free
They’ve made me feel like a criminal
Made me feel like a king

They’ve lifted my heart
To places I’d never been
And they’ve dragged me down
Back to where I began”

What is Hawk Nelson talking about?  Sounds like a riddle between Gollum and Bilbo Baggins from “The Hobbit“.  The first several times I heard this song, I didn’t listen close enough to hear the words.  Then I found out that’s exactly what it’s about:  “Words“:

“Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out”

Yep, our words are packed with power.  Deuteronomy 30:19 says that we have a choice to make: we can bless or we can curse.   I think that, next to saying “Thank you” (click on the red words to read that post), the next best habit we can develop is that of blessing.   This post is about saying bless you:

Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (check out Speak Life for more on that).  Joyce Meyer spoke about this in her broadcast on 2-4-15 called “The Power of Words“.  She said, “Your words can carry your faith to the Kingdom of God and release angels to help you, or your words can carry your fears to the Kingdom of Darkness and release more trouble in your life.”

I remember taking Jordan Rose to a service project in a questionable neighborhood a few years back.  I parked my car and we walked to the house where we were working that morning.  My mind kept going back to my car, worrying that someone might break in.  I believe that God spoke to me through His Holy Spirit and said, “Do you want your worries to strengthen the power of darkness or do you want your prayers to strengthen the power of God?”  A switch went off in my brain and I started praying that God would bless the whole area.  Everyone was safe that day and our cars were untouched.  Was that a coincidence?  Or did prayer make a difference?  I may never know, but I know I wouldn’t give up the peace I felt in offering prayers and blessings instead of being wrapped up in a bundle of nerves.

You might call me a “blessing fanatic”, as I’ve spent many years training myself to bless everything I can think of.  I bless the house when I leave; I bless the dog and the basement; I bless the people walking down the street as I see them; I bless the car that’s tailgating me and the one that cut me off (hey, that could have been me and I pray that the person I cut off would bless me too); I bless the people I’ve met and the people I’ve yet to meet; I bless the people who can see the gorgeous sunrise and the people who can’t see the gorgeous sunrise because they’re stuck in a building at work (boy, I guess that covers just about everyone!).  If you’re reading this, I’ve probably blessed you too.  I believe that living a life of blessing is not only good for those being blessed, but it’s also good medicine for my brain.  The more I can focus on blessing you, the more I get my mind off of myself.

Joshua just said the other day, “Dad yells at the traffic. Mom just blesses everyone.”  I loved that.  It was beautiful confirmation that it’s not all talk, but that I’m actually practicing what I’m preaching.  And God bless my husband.  May he learn to bless the traffic as well.  🙂

Thank You (“Christian Redefined” part 1)

Our church is getting ready to start a weekend message series called “Christian Redefined“, looking at what Jesus really said about the religion that bears his name.  What was he expecting from us when he came to visit this planet?

I’m not in on the church’s planning meetings, but the new series announcement got me thinking about what it really means to be a Christian.  I’ve written a lot about the importance of our posture towards God.  We can either live our lives turned away from Him or turned towards Him.  But what does that look like in practical terms?

In my post Moment by Moment, I talked about how I had turned away from God and stopped saying “forgive me”, but ended the post talking about thankfulness.  It wasn’t until I did a “mini-series” on Forgiveness that I realized what was really going on.

We only ask for God’s forgiveness one time: at the moment that we acknowledge that Jesus has saved us from ourselves by dying for us and coming back to life again.  In that “lightbulb” moment where it all comes clear, we see that we need God’s forgiveness.  But God forgave us long before we turned away from Him.  He forgave us before we were even born.  Now, I don’t understand how all of that worked, and I wrote about that, if you’d like to read more: A Forgiven Atheist?  What I do know is that we don’t have to keep asking for forgiveness over and over again, and I wrote about that here: Garbage Truck Confession

So, if Christianity isn’t about asking forgiveness over and over, what is it about?  I think it’s about developing new habits, not “trying harder”, but training our minds to respond wisely.  I’d like to talk about 3 specific training areas:

1) saying thank you

2) saying bless you

3) asking “what am I to do?”

I have too much to say about each of those, so I’m going to break them up into 3 different posts.  Let’s start here, with saying thank you:

Yes, we’re human, so we’re selfish and we want to be in control.   We’re going to turn away from God and do what we want to do.  Over and over and over again.  But God did something really beautiful.  When Jesus died and was resurrected, he said it was good that he was going away because he would send us his Holy Spirit (John 6:7-11).  He calls his Spirit the Advocate, the Counselor, the Helper, because He will help us and counsel us.  What happens if we go to a counselor for help and then don’t listen to them?  Can they help us if we’re not listening?  Nope.  The Holy Spirit will tell us when we have turned away from God, but we have to be listening.  And when we hear Him and turn back to God the Father, what’s the most appropriate response?  “Thank you!”  All day long, every time our thoughts are turned to God, thank Him.

I was driving to get my taxes done yesterday, which is almost an hour drive each way.  Thankfully, the roads were clear, but there were a few snow showers that seemed to come out of nowhere and disappear almost as quickly as they started.  There were big trucks that were entirely too close to my car for my liking.  And there was a headache behind my eyes that just wouldn’t go away.  But every time my thoughts came back to “Thank you, Lord”, “Thank you, Jesus” or “Thank you, Lord Jesus”, my body calmed down and the drive was smoother.  There is something healing and freeing in the words “thank you”, especially when they’re directed towards God.

When I was in counseling 3 years ago, working through the aftermath of a nervous breakdown, my counselor told me, “Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “Thank you”.” I had gotten myself into a crazy pattern of needing help, getting help, feeling guilty for being a bother, falling apart and saying “I’m sorry” over and over and over again.  I was surrounded by people who wanted to help me, but I felt so guilty for causing such a mess.  But my counselor was absolutely correct.  If I someone helped me and I immediately said, “Thank you”, the guilt never came , I stopped falling apart and my pitiful, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” cycle never started.  Thank you, Jesus!!

In the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the church at Thessalonica, he gives them these instructions:

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

If we don’t know what God’s will is for our lives, now we do:  joyful, thankful prayer in all circumstances, all day long, no matter what happens.  “Happiness” depends on what “happens” to us.  Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  And what does the Holy Spirit remind us to do?  Turn around and say “Thank you!”

As I’m writing this post, this song is playing on WOW  Cable’s Music Choice channel 534.  Something tells me I should include it here.  🙂

33 Miles – “Thank You”

What if I looked at my life in a different way
Took a little more time to stop and pray
I know it would change all the moments in between

Garbage Truck Confession (part 3)

A few weeks ago, Pastor Chris Zarbaugh gave what was, in my opinion, the best message on confession that I had ever heard.  Here’s the link to that message: Get Rid of Your Baggage.  Chris taught on 1 John 1:9, which says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (ESV)

After hearing that message, I was inspired to write about forgiveness, reconciliation and repentance.  I wrote about them from a person to person point of view and from what I believe is God’s point of view.  Last year, I wrote on repenting (turning to God) but I had yet to address the subject of confession.  What does confession have to do with all of this?

In that message a few weeks back, Chris said that to “confess” means “to agree with”.   When we go to God in confession, we are agreeing with God.  The verse above from the 1st Book of John (1 John 1:9) talks about the very first time that we went to God to ask His forgiveness.  That was the time that we decided to follow Jesus.  That only happened once.

Every other time that we confess to God, it has nothing to do with forgiveness, but we think it does.  We mistakenly think that there is a transaction occurring when we confess.  We think we’re bringing our “bucket of sin” to God, which He empties and hands back to us.  We live our lives and the bucket fills up again, so we go back to God in confession.  And the cycle continues, as if God is a Heavenly Garbage Man, taking our junk week after week after week, right on schedule.

But that’s not what’s happening at all.  Chris stressed the fact that no transaction is taking place in confession.  There is no bucket to empty.  God forgave us 2000 years ago when Jesus died and was resurrected.  That “bucket of sin” was emptied and thrown away long before we were born.  In confession, we are simply agreeing with God that we turned away from Him and thanking Him for having already forgiven us.  In thankfulness, we can turn back to God, knowing that we are in good standing with Him.

All Sons & Daughters say it so beautifully in their song, “Brokenness Aside“:

Will your grace run out
If I let you down
‘Cause all I know
Is how to run

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

Don’t like that word “sinner”?  I didn’t either, but here’s what I found out:  A Forgiven Atheist?