A Letter-Live!

LetterBy Elaine Baldwin | elainehbaldwin

Along with millions in our country and even around the world, I’ve paused and contemplated the evil brought upon the community of Sandy Hook, CT. The images and accounts from that day and in these ensuing days of pain have been part of conversations and integral in prayers…as they should be. This truly is a time to weep with those who weep. But I live half a country away and know no one personally or even remotely connected with this greatest of heartaches.

I am only one and the complexity and depth of the need is great, but it is my heart’s desire to do something…not just anything…but something…profoundly meaningful.

But, what will last? What will have the greatest impact; not just for those in Sandy Hook, but for our nation?

I struggled with a suitable answer until I was reminded of a letter received long ago that I had  pulled out from my stash a few months ago. I’ve poured over its words several times since its rediscovery and I believe it is most appropriate for the times we abide in.

The letter was written by a man, a leader, facing great struggles. In fact his life could be characterized as one big tragedy. I think that is what makes his letter so credible and practical. He didn’t write it as one who’d been spared hardship. No! He lived in hardship every day and yet he believed and lived with great hope and strength. I guess you could say he practiced what he preached. I like that.

I don’t like being told how to get along in life by people surrounded by comfort and ease. But, not this man. He’s seen and lived among wickedness and evil. He wrote this letter to several of us who have lived in captivity. (I guess I’ve never told you about my captivity. I will some day.) Captivity is awful and can hardly be described in words. And I must say that when I first read his letter I thought him crazy, at the least, and, at worst, callous.

Did he not understand what we captives were going through? Had he forgotten our cries as we were carried away  and dragged from the arms of our loved ones? Did he not realize our deepest desire to be free from the unbearable pain and anguish? Of course, he did. Though it took me several reads to understand the wisdom of his words and his plan for not just surviving our captivity, but thriving even while in captivity. Because even though we may be captive, we are free and no one can separate us from the One who gives this freedom.

It seems impossible, but I share his letter with you now as a testament to its truth and power.

Oh, I almost forgot. I think you have this letter as well. You remember. It’s the letter from Jeremiah. I know you have it. It’s probably just stashed away like mine was. Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-13

Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…

…Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Here’s the bottom line according to Jeremiah.The very best thing we can do for our hurting nation.

Live life While Seeking Our Nations Welfare!

The saying goes, “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” I think that is true. But according to God, evil also needs God’s people to stop living and to only exist. There is a huge difference! It would have been easy for these captives to simply give up. To stop living and just survive. But God commanded them to thrive and live fully. As the New Testament puts it, “to be salt and light.” We can’t do that if we allow our weeping to become more than consoling and instead turn into worry, fear and despair.

Do you want to help those in Sandy Hook? I do!

Do whatever tangible, specific thing God instructs you personally to do and then…Live!

Live wholeheartedly with reckless abandon for God and His Son, Jesus Christ!

Seek the welfare of our nation; however God shows you to do so.

This is this week’s One Another Living Challenge, and, I would dare say, the never ending challenge for all of us!

(I was re-introduced to this passage in the Fall of 2012 by Janet Parshall at the True Woman conference in Indianapolis, IN. It has made a huge impact on my outlook on life and drilled my focus to why God leaves me here, a captive in a sin cursed world. I pray my small, condensed, and inadequate version of Janet’s insights compel you to thrive as we wait for our complete deliverance to Glory! You can hear Janet on Moody Radio and you can also purchase her book, “Buyer Beware”. This is not a book about economics…it is about living life fully in a hostile world. I highly recommend it.)

photo credit: athena. via photopin cc

It’s Election Day-So Laugh

By Elaine Baldwin | @elainehbaldwin

Please don’t stone me! I’m not making light of the importance of this day or its historical significance. It’s just that I am trying take the advice of a very special lady. One many of us know and try to emulate.

Oh, what is her name? Well, this is embarrassing writing about someone and not remembering her name. Good grief! I know you know her.

She’s a very moral and honest person; a real respectable sort. She’s a valuable friend. Wish I could say the same as I can’t even remember her name. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve seen her around. She lights up any room and is definitely the right hand woman to her husband. And is he ever the lucky one. I’ll never quite figure out what she sees him, but that’s for another day.

Maybe you’ve been to her shop, though she does a lot of her business online these days. Honestly I don’t know how she does what she does. Though she confided in me once that she really doesn’t always have her act together and on those days she clings even harder to Jesus. Another good piece of advice from her that I try to follow.

I do know she’s been a big help to me, even though her name still has not moved from the inner sanctum of my brain. How will I ever admit to her that I forgot her name? If someone treated me that way, I’d just… Well, just never mind what I would just!

Thankfully, she doesn’t hold grudges, so I know she will accept my apology with grace. That is once I remember her name so I can remember how to reach her.

(Have I mentioned the recurring memory loss issues I’ve dealt with lately.) Let’s see. Where was I? Oh yes, the reason I want to laugh on this election day. I’ve got to tell you this woman I know has such a great outlook on life. Even though she is constantly on the go and looks out for others, she always holds herself with such grace and poise.

And she gives the best advice; every time I seek her out. So when I asked her how she was handling all the election stress and she laughed…well I have to say, I was, indeed, a little shocked. I asked her to explain her joviality.  And this is what she said:

“I am clothed with strength and dignity, and I laugh without fear of the future.”

“Really?” I replied. “Can you rephrase that so I can better understand?”

“But, of course,” She graciously responded.

“Strength and dignity are my clothing,  so I can laugh at the time to come.”

“That’s what I thought you said,” I replied. “But, I still don’t get it.”

“Sure you do,” She said as she walked through the door. “Just read Proverbs 31 again. Then you’ll remember.”

 

photo credit: dMad-Photo via photopin cc

The A, B, C’s of Loving One Another, “S”

By Elaine Baldwin | @elainehbaldwin

Serve one another. Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I would venture to say that most born-again believers want to serve God faithfully and want to serve each other as often and as best as we can. So why is it that many disciples of Christ live with unmet needs and feel isolated and alone? And why is it that those believers who do serve others are quickly burned out and also feel isolated and alone?

Just this week I’ve heard a radio broadcast from Dr. Charles Stanley which answers these questions. The sermon was first preached in 1989 and to seminary students, but I believe his premise is just as pertinent today. You can hear the entire series (here).

Dr. Stanley said there were 7 steps leading to frustration and regret in service to God and others. I want to summarize this particular section through a personal lens. Dr. Stanley started with the first step, but I’m going to start with the final result and work back to the very first thing that starts us down the path of disappointment in serving others.

Step #7: Disaster!

Have you ever stood over a mess of human emotions and program failures and wondered; maybe even said aloud, “How did all this turn into a disaster?” I have! And more times than I care to confess here.

In each and every occurrence I had the best of intentions. I had the right people in place. I had every detail taken care of. Those within my circle of influence were excited and supportive of the service project; large or small

Sometimes the objectives of the service were met thoroughly and even above expectations. But, it didn’t matter because there I stood in the middle of some sort of disaster directly related to the service being provided. Sadly, I was usually clueless as to why said disaster occurred.

(I no longer have the excuse of cluelessness now that I’ve heard this teaching from Dr. Stanley. If you want to remain clueless, don’t keep reading. But if you’re tired of being tired in your service for God to others then read on!)

Step #6: Disobedience!

This is so hard to admit. And trust me. I’ve used every argument and every twist of Scripture to explain the disasters in step number seven. It had to be anything except my own disobedience.

But, alas! In every disaster of ministry to others; serving the one anothers around me, there was an area of disobedience in my life. It used to be I was horribly blinded to these sins. The result was repeating step number six and repeating step number seven over and over.

I am so thankful there is now some level of maturity and the blinders are quickly removed. My service to others is not perfect, but I am avoiding this step more often which means I am avoiding more disasters.

Step #5: Disillusionment

God is so honest in his Word, the Bible. He tells us all about the human condition. So why is it I wear rose colored glasses when it comes to serving others?

Why am I surprised when someone doesn’t seem to be genuinely thankful for my service? Why am I hurt when half the volunteers don’t show to set up and the other half don’t stay to clean up?

Why am I not prepared to deal effectively and decisively with the “Woe is me” feelings that often permeate my soul? Why am I not ready for the barrage of questions and even whining that is sure to come from some of the one anothers I am serving with?

Maybe I have taken on too much. Or my own expectations are too high. Or maybe my pride is bruised or puffed up. Whatever the reason, once I am disillusioned it’s not rose colored glasses I have on. It is the dismal dark glasses of despair that cloud my judgment and my heart.

Step #4: Discouragement

Over time and under continued stress it is easy to replace the obvious blessings of God with twisted opinions of our reality. The result is discouragement.

There is no doubt that when I’ve stood in the middle of my ministry disaster (step seven), discouragement was not far away. Maybe it was even as close as a few moments or drawn out for as long as months and even years.

Most likely my self-interests were not being met. Or my need for affirmation was not as “sparkling” as I would have liked. Or me, myself and I were feeling overused and under appreciated. Or  _________________ just fill in the blank.

Step #3: Weariness

(You thought I was going to use all “D” words, didn’t you? I thought the preacher, Dr. Stanley, would too, but there just weren’t applicable “D” words to use for the last three steps. That’s probably a good thing.)

The very serving opportunity that used to excite me and be the catalyst for getting out of bed, now keeps me reaching for the snooze button. I’m just plain tired. Maybe you are too.

We’re tired of greeting the same people at the same door each and every Sunday morning. We’re tired of telling little Johnny for the umpteenth time to stop leaning his chair back on two legs. We’re tired of taking a lunch meal every Thursday to the crusty old gentlemen in 12B.

We know we shouldn’t be tired of serving others; of doing the Lord’s work. But we are and it just makes us more discouraged.

What’s happened? How did we get so tired? Why has the joy of serving Jesus gone?

Step #2: Burden Bearing

This is an interesting step because it seems so spiritual to bear one another’s burdens. In fact there is a command to do so. (Galatians 6:2)

But, the defining truth here is feeling the weight, the heaviness, of your service. It feels like you are being buried or crushed or at the very least bent over by all you are doing in the Lord’s name for others

I know this feeling and so do you. There is one reason and one reason only why we feel this crushing weight. And that is Step Number One!

Step #1: Prayerlessness

The ultimate, foundational reason I have stood in the middle of disaster after disaster in my service to Jesus for others is because I was too busy to pray. That’s it!

I am too busy to pray so I try and bear other’s burdens in my own strength and I am crushed underneath the weight. (Step #2)

I am too busy to pray so I work really, really hard but it is in my own strength and I become tired and oh so weary. (Step #3)

I am too busy to pray so I keep pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but the straps keep breaking and I keep falling and discouragement creeps into my heart, mind and soul. (Step #4)

I am too busy to pray so I raise the expectations for myself and for others only to find my rose colored glasses shattered on the all over my service mess. (Step #5)

I am too busy to pray so I disobey just a little, then a little more and more until I am blinded to my own sin. (Step #6)

I am too busy to pray so I stand in the middle of a service disaster and shake my head and wonder what in the world happened. (Step #7)

The bottom line is this: If I am too busy to pray…I am too busy to serve.

 Are you too busy today?

Photo By: Margaret Richards | http://richardsandcompany.smugmug.com/