Empty or Full

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During my high school and college days I feel like I had a singular focus:  Get through college without any debt.  I worked as much as I could while still finding time to study and get good grades.  I spent as little money as I could on things that did not last.  I saved my money for books and tuition.  I worked as a waitress throughout my college days.  I saved all my tips, but one thing I did that I did not have to do was claim all my tips on my taxes and tithe on all my money.  Who would ever know?  The government did not know how much I made in tips.  My church or my parents did not know.  Yet, I remember thinking I needed to do the honest thing.  I claimed every penny I made on my taxes and tithed on the money I made to my church.  I also spent one summer on a missions trip (no income) and another summer as a camp counselor (minimal income).  I was careful, even frugal, in how I spent my money.  I never went out to eat or bought a treat for myself.  I was careful to only spend money on necessities.

I had a goal and that was to complete college.  As I look back on that time in life and evaluate my time, my talents, and my treasure, I see that the Lord blessed me.  I used my time to work, study, and serve the Lord.  I used my talents to work and serve the Lord on a mission trip and at a camp.  I used my treasure to pay for college and carefully only spend money on necessities.

The Lord blessed me immensely, but I have only seen this as I looked back.  I payed for my entire way through college except for $2000 my parents gave me as a result of some money willed to them.  I had taken out a loan at the beginning of my college career for $5,000.  That money sat in my bank account and collected interest and at the end of my college days I payed that loan back without any penalties all the while it sat in the bank for four years earning interest.  I needed a new car so I bought myself a “new to me” car.  I graduated from Cedarville University without any debt.

I spent my time, talents, and treasure on the things that honored God and God blessed me.  I did not strive for empty things because in the end they would have left me empty.  Rather I strove for things that were pleasing to God.  I did not graduate empty, I graduated full.  I sacrificed much, but the blessings are immense.

What is empty will take our focus off God.  Is our focus on what pleases God or pleases ourselves?  God knows and we know.

“And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.”                                                                                                                                                                                 (I Samuel 12:21).

Empty things leave us feeling empty and searching for more, full things leave us satisfied and content.

We each must evaluate our motives to determine what is empty.  God sees our hearts.  He knows what is in our hearts.

If we look at the three “T’s” and evaluate our lives based on them, we might get at the heart of what is empty.

TIME

TALENTS

TREASURE

How do you spend your time?  Do you plan your day or “fly by the seat of your pants?”  Do you spend your time on things that you would not want the Lord finding you doing when He returns?  How much time do you spend watching TV, looking at digital media, selfish endeavors?  If you took an accurate account of your day and wrote down everything that you did, what would you find filled your time?  Could you pinpoint the empty endeavors?

How do you spend the talents God has given you?  God gave us talents to be used for His glory?  Do we use our talents whatever they may be for His Glory?  Or for our own glory and recognition?

What about your treasure?  Your bank account does not lie.  It is easy to see what you spend your money on.

Empty things leave us feeling empty and searching for more, full things leave us satisfied and content.

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Tears of Joy

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This summer two of our daughters join the ranks of many who will spend their summer working at camp.  They were home from college for a month, but will be gone for the remainder of the summer with enough time to come home, go on a family vacation, and get packed back up to head back to Cedarville University.

Our oldest daughter is spending the summer working at Lake Ann as a counselor-where Dave went went to camp when he was growing up, and our middle daughter is working at Scioto Hills-the same camp I went to and worked at when I was growing up, and where my parents are currently volunteering.  What treasured memories I have from camp.  God works in great ways at camp all while making wonderful memories and making great friends.

As excited for them as I am that they are so willingly serving the Lord this way, I still hate to say good-bye.  I know they will be back and I know I will see them both during the time they are gone, but I still hate to say good-bye.

I tell them and remind myself at the same time, “They are growing up and becoming the young ladies I raised them to be.”  Growth brings change and tears.  Growth and maturity also come with a price tag.

I am reminded of a tearful good-bye in Acts 20:36, 37 “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.  And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him.”  The Apostle Paul was moved with emotion to the point of tears when he said good-bye to those he ministered to in Ephesus.  Paul spent hours pouring his life into many people during his life after his conversion.  After that much time investing and loving, there is a sense of loss during the good-bye.  This feeling of loss over the separation of distance shows that a true heart connection is made.  A valuable relationship is formed.  A treasured bond that is inseparable despite the miles was established.  Despite the heartache and the sadness with the good-bye, the beauty of the relationship is seen with those tears.

As I miss my girls this summer and cry over our separation of distance, I also have a sense of pride over what they are doing with their lives.  I see them carrying on the things that are important in life: loving Jesus and loving people. No matter the sacrifice, no matter the loneliness, no matter the challenges in the end this is what matters.

Right before Paul said his tearful good-by to the people of Ephesus in Acts 20, he reminded the people, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).  Paul willingly gave all that He had to serve our Lord: to love Jesus and love people.  He lived out this verse.

As I miss my girls this summer, I know that they are right where God wants them, doing the work of the ministry.  There is much joy in my sadness and to be honest the sadness shows the beauty of the relationship.  So as we shed tears on behalf of those we miss, don’t be embarrassed by the tears, rather relish them and treasure them for they show how valuable that relationship really is.

A Story to Tell

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Psalm 78:4 “We will not hide them from their children but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done.” We all have a story to tell and it is commanded by the Lord that we share what He has done in our lives.

One of the stories in my life goes like this.  Many years ago in the small town of Cedarville, Ohio a young couple who were students at the then Cedarville College felt led by the Lord to start an AWANA program at Grace Baptist Church.  Not far down the street from Grace Baptist was a little girl who was about to enter 3rd grade.  People from the church came around knocking on doors and inviting the children to come to their AWANA program.  I went to a different church, but my parents sent me to that AWANA program.  After three years I earned my Timothy Award and three years later I earned my Meritorious Award.  I heard the program went on through high school, but Grace Baptist did not have AWANA into high school.  I did the next best thing, I worked in AWANA for as long as I could.  Move forward a few years and I grew up, got married, and had three daughters.  We moved to Rochester, MI.  We heard about First Baptist Church of Rochester (FBCR) from our friend Vicki and also found out they had an AWANA program.  Since AWANA had such an impact on my life, I wanted our daughters to be able to attend AWANA.  What a bonus for us.  AWANA started at Cubbies (3 years old) and went all the way through high school.  I had always wanted to earn my Citation.  It was one of those things on my bucket list.  I asked about being able to get my Citation and found out I could do the work needed and earn my award.  Finally, a few years ago I started learning my verses and doing the other work needed so I could earn my Citation.  It was a joy to do the work my daughters were doing and also to say verses each week to the T and T girls (3rd -6th grade) that I was working with.  They were not easy ones to say verses to either.  They never gave me any slack and if I had one word wrong they were sure to make sure I knew it.  They held me to a very high standard.   Even though we moved to Grand Rapids last June, I still so desperately wanted to earn this award so our youngest daughter and I continued the work.

A few years ago, God led a couple to attend FBCR that had a love for AWANA and now Chad is the Director of the AWANA program at FBCR.  Remember that couple I mentioned who started the AWANA program in Cedarville, Ohio so many years ago.  That couple happened to be present as I received this award.  Chad’s in-laws started that AWANA program so many years ago.  Who would have ever thought that a dream that I have had for so many years would result in me finally receiving the Citation award with the couple present who started the AWANA program that started my love for AWANA and for God’s Word so many years ago.  Only God could orchestrate such a thing.

The moral of this story is to be faithful to the work of the ministry and watch God work.  That AWANA program produced a love for AWANA in my heart.  I now have my Citation along with my three daughters.  Thank-you, Mr. and Mrs. Pycraft for your love for the Lord and His Word.  After the Israelites crossed the Jordon River, they picked up stones from the middle of the Jordan River.  The purpose of the stones was so the children would ask “What do these stones mean to you?”  Again I want to remind us all, we all have a story of God in our lives.  We are commanded by God to share it.  It seems fitting that a picture frame from Cedarville University would be that “stone” of reminder.  To God be the glory!

The Dusty room

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We took Danielle to begin the next phase of her life on Friday as she began the journey of a college student at Cedarville University.  What a joy for me as she experiences all the wonderful things at this great university that her dad and I experienced.  What a comforting thought to know she will become even more grounded in her faith by hearing great men of faith share what God is doing in their lives.  She will have a better grasp of doctrine and theology as she takes Bible classes and learns how to integrate her faith with the other aspects of her education.  She will make many new friends which she has been longing to do for so long who will also build into her life.  So many good things that my dear, sweet daughter is embarking on in this next stage of her life.

I cleaned her room when I got home.  It took me some time to muster the courage to go into her room and start the process.  Yet, it needed to be done.  She reminds me of myself as I found so many cute things that she saved.  It is hard to let go of the memories that these objects or notes reminded her of.  I didn’t throw anything away, okay maybe a few things, but I put it all away in a box that we can go through later and share the memories together these things remind us of.  We moved out her desk and in its place I put my Grandma’s chair and the quilt that my Grandma spent seven years making by hand.  This lovely quilt is now being showcased on a lovely quilt rack.  Now that Danielle’s room is clean and the clutter put away, it doesn’t looked lived in anymore.  No more skating equipment scattered around the room, or miscellaneous paper, or empty candy wrappers. No more stacks of library books sitting next to the bed waiting to be read.  No more sleepy girl to wake up every morning.

As life marches on and we see the next stage that begins to unfold, we must live life not with regret but with joy.  Joy over the many shared experiences, joy over the next stage of life to unfold, joy at watching my sweet little whippoorwill leaving the nest and flying on her own.  I realize so much more how important people and relationships are.

As I begin to enter a new stage of my life, I want to remember to embrace every moment.  Live life to the fullest.  People are special and need to be reminded of that.  Enjoy the sweet memories from the past and treasure every opportunity to make new ones in the future.  Messy, dusty, smelly rooms need to be embraced because they show a life well lived with memories being shared from every corner. I will shed many more tears as I miss having Danielle around every day, but life marches on and this next phase is good.  After all, do I want a thirty year old daughter living in our basement living an unproductive life when there is so much in this world our God created and planned for her to do.  So with sad excitement I say to me and I say to Danielle, Carpe Diem…seize the day and make the most of every opportunity God has given us.

A Precious Memory

I grew up in the small town of Cedarville, Ohio, which is also home to a small Christian Liberal Arts University, Cedarville University. This University had a wonderful man as President for 25 years that led it to new heights in the academic world and also in the area of Biblical leadership and cultural influence. Dr. James T. Jeremiah served as a Pastor before taking the responsibility of President and then Chancellor after retirement from Cedarville University. Growing up in this small town as a child, I knew Dr. Jeremiah and appreciated his godly influence from afar.

When I graduated from high school it seemed only logical for me to go to Cedarville University. As I went to school I also worked as a waitress at Perkins to help pay the bills. (God’s provision was evident through this time in my life, and even now I am amazed at how my God provided for my needs.) One morning as I was working I went to one of my tables to wait on a customer, and to my surprise and delight it was Dr. Jeremiah. I felt honored to take care of this great man that day. I learned as we shared together that he was on his way to visit his lovely wife, Ruby, in a nursing home. As he left that day, I felt like God had blessed me with honor of meeting Dr. Jeremiah and serving him breakfast. Imagine my delight the next week at the same time, Dr. Jeremiah was again at Perkins for breakfast on his way to visit Ruby. I don’t remember how many weeks after that I had the privilege of waiting on Dr. Jeremiah, but I knew that I had been blessed by being in his presence and seeing his faithfulness to his wife as he went to see her.

A few weeks ago, I needed some books related to my study on canonicity. As I was asking some people for resources and looking for various books, I came across a book written by Dr. Jeremiah, The Importance of Inspiration. I picked up that book and felt like I was holding a treasure. Here was a book that was written by a man highly esteemed, and I felt like I had been given a great gift. I read the book and every time I picked it up to read it, I pictured Dr. Jeremiah sitting in that booth at Perkins eating his breakfast on his way to visit his wife. I looked at that book as a special treasure.

As I opened my Bible one day, I thought do I look at God’s Word the same as I look at Dr. Jeremiah’s book? At that moment I felt saddened by my answer…no. It is not that I don’t read God’s Word every day and learn from it every day, but it had lost its preciousness to me. After all, I have access at my finger tips to a Bible on my phone, on my computer, and many in print form. Bibles are not scarce in America. With scarcity comes value.

As I talked with God about this and thought about this, I realized that I had taken God’s Word for granted. I enjoyed reading it every day, studying it, using it to teach the girls; but the awe had worn off. With this conviction on my heart I began to change my attitude. The Bible is God’s Word to me. Seems like a simple enough thought, but it had a profound impact. When I hold the Bible it is also a treasure.

There will probably come a day when this preciousness wears off again, but when it does I trust that the Holy Spirit will gently tell me to remember, “You are holding God’s Word to you. Don’t forget to cherish it.”