Today Was THAT Day Teresa Barlow, 87, Graduated

Well you never expect it to come. You know it will but you don’t know when. Will it feel different? When the day dawns on THAT day – will you know it? How do you prepare yourself? How do you make yourself ready for THAT day?

It’s 10:08PM right now. My Mom died this morning at 11AM. So it hasn’t been a full 12 hours yet. But today was THAT day.

I just turned 53 a few weeks ago. We came to have dinner with my Mom the day after Mother’s Day. Just two weeks ago. What a great time. Well, if you knew her, you’d know what I mean. With her you were always welcome, accepted and respected. She could talk to anybody and ask you the best questions. She was easy to talk to. Loving and accepting. She didn’t need to do all the talking, she loved to listen, that’s what made her a great conversationalist. So out to dinner at her favorite place. She had the stuffed pepper. I hate stuffed peppers. But she enjoyed hers. Nancy & I sat on either side of her at the booth.

We loved Teresa.

Later when we took her home she told us straight: “I’m ready to go!” We knew what she meant and we had heard some similar conversations before but she looked in good health. She was up walking around seemed to be doing fine. But when we said our goodbyes I had that feeling; that feeling you want to reject as insignificant or not valid; I had that feeling that this was it, this was my last time to see her. God was warning me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I wanted that impression to be wrong.

But we got the text last week: she broke her hip. Surgery planned, should be no problem. Surgery successful but got to keep her asleep an extra day, had a blood clot. Got to thin the blood a bit, easier to do when she’s sleeping. Today, text: turn for the worse, infection they can’t control, kidneys shut down, only ventilator keeping her going. 11am email: She’s gone.

My first response: you may think crazy, but I was elated! She’s walking the streets of Gold. She gets a hug from Jesus! God answered her prayer. We found out later she had prayed right before surgery, “Lord, take me now.” God had answered her prayer.

She was faithful. She showed up, got to work and kept on going.

I remember one time my older brother, Michael had run away from home. He got to the end of the street, she confronted him: “You’re not getting out of this! We’re going through this together.”

She showed up, got to work and kept on going.

That’s why at 87 she has over 80 descendants, some impacting the world very powerfully.

She didn’t quit.

She finished her race.

I’m having quite a proud moment for her right now. I love my Mom. I’m very proud of her.

Well done Teresa! Well done.

Your loving Son, Joseph 10th of 14.

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Ponder This Word…

This word the Lord spoke to me last week is part of what I was teaching Sunday at church about having ears to hear. We all put up too many filters in our hearts and minds to block out what we don’t want to hear. Sadly too often God’s voice is blocked out by those same filters.

We need to remove them. Listen to the sermon and ponder this word.

My child, you do hear my voice and the essence of that is the Father/Son relationship. You know your Father. You know when I’m speaking. You have willfully tuned in to hear. You want to know. Your heart is inclined to me. You want to hear me speak.

These are all tunings to hear:

  • your will,
  • your attention,
  • your time,
  • your peace,
  • your silence,
  • your honor.

All of these are dials to be tuned to gain audience, to gain access, to hear my voice.

Please click here to listen to the message where I shared this word.

Put A “Joy” Sticker On It!

Why do little kids like to play with stickers? When my girls were younger, if the grocery clerk would give them stickers it wasn’t long before there were stickers everywhere. Maybe they are trying to improve their world? What is on the sticker appeals to them. They can change things by labeling them. Works for them. We’re supposed to ‘become like little children’. Maybe there’s some wisdom here?

In the Bible, James 1:2 ESV says:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds

When you look in your refrigerator for something to eat you begin to see each item and you begin to categorize it, you’re taking inventory. Maybe you want something sweet and you see the eggs there, in your mind you may say ‘breakfast’ – ‘not sweet!’ – ‘not now!’ Then you find the key-lime pie! (I have some in my fridge right now.) In your mind, if you were to put some word stickers on that pie you might consider these: ‘happy’, ‘yes’, ‘delicious’, ‘tempting’, ‘diet!’, ‘vacation from diet’. There are many ways you might label that pie. Some might say, “I don’t have time to label anything! Where’s the fork?”

James said, in the Bible, to count it all joy when you run into all kinds of trials. Now if someone hands me $100 bill I can see in my mind, taking inventory and putting a ‘joy’ sticker on that. Or if someone served me that key-lime pie on a plate with a fork, I can put a ‘joy’ sticker on that! But, what if someone steps on your toe? OOOWWW!!! Some people yell as loud as they can, making it clear and plain to everyone around them that they are hurt and they want everyone to know it!

Proverbs 12:16 NIV says, Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.

If something angers you or annoys you and you instantly lash out with a strong negative response it most often doesn’t do anyone any good, including yourself. Many times the complaint is a bigger problem than what they are complaining about. In turn complainers can become too much for people to handle.

Years ago I was talking to a mechanic (he obviously wasn’t a very good one) who couldn’t get a light to go off in a car so he broke the light with a screwdriver. He saw the light not going off as his problem, so he fixed his problem. When people complain a lot, they are like a red warning light telling you that something is wrong. The logical thing is to try to fix the problem that is causing the warning light to go off. But people aren’t always logical…some people just want to get rid of the warning light.

If you complain too much about things, you may end up lonely, because people just want to get away from you. We don’t want you to be lonely. God doesn’t want you to be lonely. Loneliness is the first thing in creation that God disapproved of. “It’s not good for man to be alone.”

When you see trials coming your way, any kind of trial, imagine putting a joy sticker on it. Label that thing “JOY!” In your mind call it “Joy”. Now you could, instead, call it “Mighty Problem That Has The Potential To Destroy Me” or “The Thing That Could Ruin My Life.” But if you name it that, then it has the power to become that. In your mind categorize it as a simple problem that you and God can overcome. Remember, it’s not a big deal! Call it Joy. When it comes to problems, remember this phrase: “It came to pass.” It didn’t come to stay.

If you call your problems “Joy” you are giving them way less power to overtake you.

So, today my advice is simple, see a problem? Put a joy sticker on it.

Have a great day!

God’s Sustaining Power

God has an amazing ability to keep us. When we endure so many trials and wonder how things are going to turn out, its amazing that His power is still there keeping us. He is so loving and faithful! Its not so much that He loves us, which He does, but He also wants to love others through us. For Him to do that we need to survive and stay in place. In the Bible Paul calls us living stones; we are alive but we are put in place like a stone that’s used to build a wall. People being in the right position is a powerful thing.

This year Nancy & I will be pastoring for 10 years. We are still in position. We have had some wonderful times as pastors, but we have also had some very difficult times. Somehow God has been able to sustain us. He’s kept us alive. We haven’t missed a meal. We haven’t done everything right and there’s some things that we’d change if we could do it again, but God’s faithfulness is what deserves the real acknowledgement here. Its God’s sustaining power. We would have been knocked out of this a long time ago, but God kept us here. He placed us here. He wants to love through us. His faithfulness to us is not just about His love for us. We’re confident of that. But His faithfulness and His sustaining power is also because God has a plan and a desire; He wants His representatives loving on His behalf. He wants those who will represent Him accurately in place.

There is such a huge wave of needy people and God’s heart’s desire is to envelope all of them with HIs love, His wisdom, His healing…all of His goodness. So He must have people in place who will allow HIs love to come through. There are so many that are so hungry and needy for His love. He must have us in place.

He is the mortar that holds the living stones in place. When God gives you an assignment He wants you to stay there. The Devil will provide many opportunities for you to give up that assignment. But God will also provide HIs sustaining power. So many things pass before your eyes; so many problems that make staying in place look impossible. But staying in place is exactly what God wants us to do. His faithfulness is here to see you through, to help you and to keep you in place. If we focus on the problems then their chance of overcoming you increases. If you focus on God then His promise of surviving and thriving are yours.

Now when trials and storms come, remember that they don’t last. We don’t live in a constant storm. There are times of peace, hopefully sustained periods of peace. If you’re living in a constant storm, you may consider whether you are in God’s will or not, or you may consider that you might be missing a piece of wisdom for the way you are doing things. If you turn down a one way street going the wrong direction you will face continuous opposition until you turn around. God has a place of peace for you; a place of productivity, of meaningful service, of significance and plenty.

Let God position you. Be faithful to Him. Let HIs faithfulness sustain you.

Sin Is The Wrong Answer To Your Problem

Here it comes again. That same old temptation is back to try to take you down, to pull you away from God, to fill you with depression, condemnation and especially a guilty conscience. Remember, as I heard a preacher say years ago, ‘Sin is not the problem. Sin is the answer. But it’s the wrong answer.’ You see you may have an itch and you want to scratch it, but you need to see if your answer to that itch is God’s answer. Or else you may be falling into a trap.

Satan doesn’t parade answers to your itch in front of you to help you. He doesn’t tempt you because he likes you. He’s trying to kill you.

In John 14:30 Jesus said about Satan, ‘he has nothing in Me.’ You could say it another way, ‘He’s got no hooks in me.’ He tries but he is not successful in tempting me. There is nothing left in me to tempt me with.

1Peter 4:1 “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin”.

Can you imagine being done with temptation? Being in a place where Satan has no hooks in you? Being literally unresponsive to the temptations paraded before you to get you to fall? Can you imagine that? Most likely your flesh can’t imagine that. Your flesh still wants to have its own way. But this verse in 1Peter 4 says that he who has suffered in the flesh is ceased from sin. Does that mean if you’ve been persecuted with bodily harm for the Gospel that you have an immunity to being tempted? It could mean that. (Stick with me, I’ll unpack that.)

So there are two kinds of suffering in the flesh to discuss then: there’s the persecution where someone has received bodily harm and there’s the kind where we cause our own flesh to suffer through fasting, denying the flesh its appetite. Paul talks about putting the flesh under. He talks about beating it and making it his slave.

We can be ruled by the demands of the flesh, the itch that screams at us, the desire that tries to pull us off. Or we can rule over the flesh, put it under, make it obey us. But fleeing something is not as good as pursuing something. Often times when trying to avoid temptation people try to ‘turn off the darkness’ instead of ‘turning on the light’.

What do you desire? If its godly, pursue it. If its not godly, not only should you not pursue it but you should change your desires. Set your heart on something good instead of something negative. Most often you will pursue what you desire. If you pursue godly desires, temptation is no where in sight. Instead of turning off the darkness, turn on the light of good godly desires. Set your affections on things that God wants. Desire them. Desire them strongly. Now pursue them. That’s turning on the light.

Temptation

Matthew 26 (KJV):

40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

A friend of mine writes books about family matters, one of his quotes is ‘peer pressure is only as strong as family identity is weak.’ (Gary Ezzo)

Peer pressure is an external emotional pressure that works to get you to conform to a certain line of thinking or behavior. Its pack mentality; go with the crowd. The bigger the crowd the stronger the influence. Gravely, negative behavior has come about in kids from great families because peer pressure won.

A family must create or discern its own identity and develops its own ‘family pressure’. If there is buy-in by most or all of the members then a sufficient offset to peer pressure exists. It’s really a battle between two different mindsets- the family vs. the peer crowd. It’s two different crowds. It’s two different directions. It’s two different sets of values.

If a child spends more time with their friends than with their family the influence of their friends will be strengthened. If they spend more time with their family then they will find family values and ideas to be more acceptable.

So you have to believe in the set of values you follow. It helps if you are around others who also believe in those same values, so you can successfully live out those values in your life.

Now Jesus said to watch and pray so that you won’t fall into temptation. Can you see how you will be stronger against temptation if you spend time with God in prayer? You will be influenced with His values, His desires, His ways. As you get to know Him better the influence and ways of the world become more and more distasteful. Temptation loses its strength. The more time you spend with God in prayer the stronger you will be against temptation. As a matter of fact, temptation becomes a non-issue.

Resisting temptation is easy if you are strongly identified with Jesus. If you identify with being part of God’s family then you know who you are.

Do you know how much I’m tempted to do drugs right now? Zero! Not at all. I’m not around drugs. I don’t hang out with people who are doing drugs, I have no desire for the high that drugs produce. I’m quite happy without them. So there is the freedom from temptation because of the proximity to the temptation.

But when I was in high school, I used to take my guitar and go out behind the school on the other side of a hill and play my guitar for all the kids who were getting high. I never saw them doing the drugs I could just always see that glassy look in their eyes and I noticed their altered state of mind. I was around them a lot. Apparently my guitar playing was quite impressive when they were high. But I can tell you quite honestly that in all that time I was never once tempted to partake in their drugs. I knew who I was, I was regularly reading my Bible, I was constantly praying. I was aware of God’s presence. I also knew who my family was and what they stood for. Actually in my family we used to make fun of people who had to use alcohol or drugs to have a good time. To be quite honest in my young mind, an image had formed through family conversations to the effect that joy was for higher life forms and lower life forms had to use drugs and alcohol to partake of joy. Because of this mindset, right or wrong, I never envied the people who were getting high. I just enjoyed playing guitar for them, because they seemed to enjoy it as well.

So, I want to encourage you that temptation may be quite helpful to you in that it exposes where you may have a weak philosophy about something. Maybe you don’t believe something as deeply as you should. The Devil looks for open doors not solid walls. So go revisit what you believe in the area you are being tempted in. Go find out why you believe what you believe. You might need to fortify something. You might need to strengthen your beliefs so that you’ll be stronger. I  guess I’ll have to write more about this later. Be blessed! You can be strong.

Who Defines You

When I was in high school, my younger brother and I were in the same math class. He was smarter than me in that topic and more motivated. I didn’t have a problem with being in the same class with my younger brother. It never bothered me. I had my own strengths and was happy that he had his. One of my strengths was guitar playing.

In our Catholic high school we had all school masses (basically a worship service) on some regular basis. As a guitar player, I joined the team to lead the singing. Sometimes I would do a special song right after communion for the whole school. On one particular day, I sang a somewhat popular song and the student body responded very favorably; they loved it. On my way to math class right after the mass I was congratulated and complimented frequently by my peers. It was a great feeling being appreciated.

When I sat down in class, my brother was sitting right behind me, then it happened: a pretty girl in the class came up to us, turned to my brother and asked “What’s it like to have a brother who’s wonderful?”  I was very angered by her question. Although I didn’t show it, I was livid. Didn’t she understand what she was doing? Didn’t she understand the place she was putting my brother into? I wasn’t concerned for me I was concerned for him. She was placing him into what I’ll refer to as negative space. She was highlighting the space I was in and making it clear that he dwelt in the opposite space of me; the negative space.

Now I never discussed with my brother how this affected him. I’ve never brought it up until this writing. I hope he didn’t let this become a defining moment for him. That would be sad to let someone else’s limited perspective define you. Choosing the negative space as your identity isn’t about you its about the other person. If you do this, you and the world will never find out who you are.

If you live in the shadow of someone, or think you do, don’t let yourself be defined by what you are not. Don’t take the negative space and say that must be who I am. No! You are a unique and awesome individual not to be defined by someone else, but by who God made you to be. Discover your own characteristics.

If you define yourself by negative space then you take the definition of that other person and choose the opposite and say that must be who I am. So if I play guitar my brother then would have to reject playing guitar, whether or not he had an innate talent or skill. If I chose Christ he then would have to reject Christ to maintain his identity. If I am straight he must choose to be gay to maintain his identity.

Can you see how faulty and tragic this is? I believe this happens all over the world and throughout the human race over and over. We must give people the freedom to be who they are and the affirmation of that as valuable.