Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lashed Together

Off the coast of Alaska, tides can be hazardous. They can vary up to twenty-five feet and turn very quickly. A boat was trolling close to shore when the tide turned and was ebbing so fast that the fisherman could not pick up speed fast enough to get away from the shoreline before his boat became stranded. The troller was rocking back and forth on its keel and would soon break apart, destroying his livelihood and endangering his life.

A fellow fisherman farther out to sea saw his plight. Without hesitation, he steered his boat alongside the mired boat and threw lines to the other vessel, lashing them together to form a catamaran, a boat with two parallel hulls connected together--one of the most stable structures afloat. This way, both boats could ride out the low tide together without a threat to either. When high tide returned, they were both able to back off to safer, deeper waters and go their own ways.

Wise King Solomon, the observant writer of Ecclesiastes, pointed out that "two people are better than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble" (4:9-10, NLT). I have found that to be true. I feel safest when walking arm in arm with my husband.

One time while walking by myself across a parking lot, I didn't notice the slight dip until my rubber-soled shoes stuck while my body kept going. I found myself on the ground. Not only had I fallen and broken my wrist, but I couldn't get up, and no one was around to help me up. Fortunately, I had my cell phone in my purse, so I was able to call for help. If my husband had been walking with me, though, I might have stumbled, but I wouldn't have fallen.

Of course, as Paul pointed out in 2 Cor. 6:14-16, we must not enter into partnerships or marriage with unbelievers because two cannot walk together unless they are agreed on the direction to go, but we do need to be willing to "lash ourselves" to others who are in distress and ride out the storm with them to strengthen them in their times of need, and be willing to seek help when we need it.

Jesus is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother. Have you "lashed together" with Him? He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Who has walked with you in your times of distress? Who needs your helping hand today?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

One of the "All Things"

My family believes in divine healing. We've experienced it many times. My grandparents received many miraculous healings from God, which are recounted in my book, Frontiers of Faith.

As a young teenager, my mother lay dying of mastoiditis, a severe infection of the bone behind the ear that resulted from a middle ear infection. God healed her in answer to prayer. Years later, when she experienced an attack of gall stones, after prayer, she had no more attacks.

In 1972, when the doctor told my mother that she needed major surgery, she refused, deciding she would trust the Lord to heal her this time too. After months of hemorrhaging, though, she became weaker and weaker. Why didn't God heal me? she wondered, as she finally submitted to surgery.

At the time, my parents were pastoring a small church in Valdez, Alaska. To have the surgery, she had to travel five hundred miles to Fairbanks. Her hospital roommate, upon learning that Mother was a pastor's wife, began to tell her about a ministry need at the Pioneer Home in Fairbanks. Her mother was a resident, she said, and no one ever came to the facility to conduct church services. My mother began to pray that God would send someone to minister to that need.

Little did she know at the time that within the next six months, she and my father would move to Fairbanks. As soon as they were settled, Mother went to the Pioneer Home and offered to hold services. She was told that she could not read the Bible or quote Scriptures to the residents but she could play the piano and sing whatever she wanted to.

What they didn't know was that my mother not only played the piano and had a lovely soprano voice, but she also wrote songs. So she set the Scriptures to music and sang them. Many lives were touched. In the two years my folks lived in Fairbanks, Mother led many of the residents to the Lord, and she was asked to sing at many of their funerals.

Through that experience, Mother came to understand that sometimes God allows His children to go through hard times, even surgery, to work out His purpose in our lives and in the lives of others. If she had not had surgery and met her roommate in the hospital, she would not have learned about that need in the Pioneer Home that she was uniquely gifted to meet.

Didn't God promise in Romans 8:28, 29 that "all things [even surgery] work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose"? How has God proven this verse to be true in your life?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Uniquely Designed

Growing up, I was awed by my mother's creativity. I loved to listen to her play the piano and sing the many songs she composed. She sewed beautiful clothes for us, created her own recipes and cooked delicious meals on a shoestring, decorated our home tastefully at very little expense, even designing and building items of furniture to meet our needs. She taught a children's Sunday school class and wrote her own continued stories to teach life application. She was quite artistic and developed a way of crocheting beautiful decorative ornaments out of clear plastic wrap using her own patterns for three-dimensional angels, snowflakes, snowmen animals, hats, baskets, and flowers.

She was renowned for her baking of pies and cakes. Not only did she decorate cakes for special occasions, she "built" them into special shapes. Once, she created a birthday cake for my father in the shape of a Grumman Goose that really looked like the amphibious planes flown by Alaska Coastal Airlines where he worked. Another time, she made a cake in the shape of an apple for a PTA meeting and figured out how to make the frosting look like a shiny red apple.

One time in church, we were in the middle of viewing a Billy Graham film when the projected broke. She fixed it with a bobby pin, enabling us to see the rest of the story. She could fix anything with a safety pin or paper clip. And she was always inventing new gadgets and better ways of doing things more easily and quickly.

By the time I was a teenager, I felt very lacking in creativity compared to my mother. Then I heard a someone say, "A person can become more creative by deciding to be creative."

God has designed each of us for His purpose and has endowed us all from birth with certain natural talents and abilities to fulfill His purpose for our lives. These talents and abilities are not yet developed, but one aspect of stewardship is to study and exercise our gifts to hone them to usefulness for God's Kingdom. I made up my mind never to refuse to try to do a task someone asked me to do, thinking that if someone thinks I can do it, then with God's help, I probably can.  

At a very young age, I realized God had given me a special voice to sing for Him, so I sang. In addition, I learned to play the piano and the accordion for church. Classmates elected me to leadership positions, and I learned skills that helped me as a minister and pastor's wife. When I worked in editorial for a publishing house, I submitted stories and articles I'd written. To my surprise, they were accepted, and that led to a lifelong vocation of writing. 

As I look back over my life, I find that I too have become more creative and have accomplished more than I ever thought I could. Mother taught me many of her skills. Over the years, in the churches we pastored, I have even done many things outside of my natural gifting. I noticed that by developing the talents I knew I had, I discovered more.

Isn't that what Jesus indicated in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:21, where God gave more talents to the ones who were faithful in handling the talents God had given them? (Of course, Jesus was referring to money, but I think the same principle applies.) Have you found this to be true? 

You too are uniquely designed. What talents have you developed? What new talent did you discover?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

God Enjoys Our Journey

“You’re guilty!”

“You’re a failure!”

“You've done it again!”

“These accusations were not audible charges leveled by a stern judge, a thundering preacher, or an angry parent. They are the self-criticisms and condemnations deep in the soul of every man...”

Those words on the back of a small paperback book, Guilt and Freedom, leaped out at me. That’s how I believed God viewed me.

When I was 5 years old, I’d invited Jesus into my life to be my personal Savior. I knew God loved me, but I didn’t understand then just how much He enjoys His relationship with us as His children.

During my early years, my parents operated a children’s home. As their eldest child, I can’t count how many times I heard my mother say, "AnnaLee, you've got to set a good example for the other children.” That was a heavy load for a young girl to carry. Later, as a P.K. (pastor’s kid), it was, “Set a good example for the church kids.”

My mother was a wonderful, loving mother, but she was a multi-talented perfectionist. I admired her and wanted to be like her. Everything I did, she would tell me how to do it better. I mistook instruction for criticism and began to feel that I could never please her. Soon, I began to expect perfection of myself too, but I couldn't please myself either.

In my childish understanding, I believed that God expected me to be perfect too—to act like a mature Christian even though I was still a child. Anger and jealousy were sins I must never feel. It wasn't until years later that I understood that they are God-given emotions to be harnessed for our well-being, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and sin not.”

No matter how hard I tried to be perfectly good, I made mistakes. I was cranky. I fought with my sister. I got jealous. I complained about chores. I would ask God to forgive me, but I imagined Him checking His records and scolding, “You've done it again? I’ll forgive you this time. Just don’t you ever do it again.” Then I’d fail again. Romans 7 described exactly how I felt.

Well into adulthood, I carried a lot of guilt on my shoulders.

When I became a mother, I really enjoyed watching my son grow and learn to sit up, to walk, to talk, to feed himself. Oh, he fell down many times as he learned to walk. When he’d fall and cry, did I scold him? Of course not! I picked him up, hugged him, kissed his boo-boos, and encourage him to try again. When he learned something new, I was very proud of his progress. Even though he made many mistakes and wasn't doing anything perfectly, I enjoyed my son.

Around that time, I found that little book mentioned above, entitled Guilt and Freedom, by Dr. Bruce Narramore and Bill Counts. As I read it, I came to understand God in a whole new way. God knows we are human. As our Heavenly Father, He not only loves His children, He enjoys us in the same way we enjoy our children. God is even more patient with us as we learn and grow. When we are trying to obey Him but make mistakes, He is quick to forgive us when we repent (turn our backs on sin), confess it, and ask His forgiveness.

When we humans forgive, we still remember the injury. God is not like us in that respect. When we confess our sins, God forgives us and covers them with the blood of Jesus. They are erased from God’s sight, never to be remembered against us again (Isaiah 43:25). Our sins are expunged from the record. The slate is wiped clean. We enjoy freedom from guilt and have fellowship with God.

When my son was little, I'd often buy clothes that were too big for him, knowing that he would grow into them. When we ask Jesus into our lives, God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. He expects us to grow into that righteousness, but He knows it will take a lifetime. Only in heaven will we be made perfect.

God enjoys us and our journey with Him. Now I confess my sins, knowing that "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Now I enjoy the journey too. How about you?