Friday, December 30, 2011

Perfect Peace in a Frenzied World

Christ followers have access to something that is foreign to the rest of the world.  It is something for which people greatly yearn. It is something so remarkable that people without Christ in their life would consider it “not normal.” Yet it is something they would love to have.  It is a true and deep human need, however this something cannot be achieved by natural means, for it is supernatural.   That something is peace and specifically inner peace in a turbulent world.

The truth is that our world has not been a place of peace since Adam and Eve chose to rebel from God’s perfect love in the garden of Eden. We see a world almost frenzied in a desire for peace but with no enduring way to achieve it. 

Even within our immediate families and extended families and with friendships there is conflict, disagreement and division. 

Like a Christmas song says, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men, every year we sing it again, such beautiful words, they’ve got to be true, but down deep admit it, you’d like to know when?”

Yet, the Scriptures talk about a “Perfect Peace.”  Isaiah 26:3  Says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!”  So what is this inner peace the Scriptures talk about? 

 1.     First we have to recognize that peace comes at the point of surrender. In the spiritual realm, we end our private war with God.  

2. Secondly, to pursue God’s peace we “put on” behaviors and practice those things that help keep our minds on God.  The Scriptures teach us to “lay aside” things and “put on” things.  Kind of like changing clothes.  

3.  Third, we choose to carve out time for God. To keep our minds on God we choose to remind ourselves to think about Him.  He will help us on this, count on it.  He wants to spend time with us more than we can imagine.

4. Fourth, we pray prayers of victory focused on who God is, rather than our current circumstances Perspective is everything.

5.  Fifth, we grow in our trust of God.  A growing trust in God allows us to experience His perfect peace, in fact I would say that the amount of peace we have in a situation has a direct correlation to the amount of trust we place in God as we go through that ordeal.  Trust is not an automatic response.  It’s an act of the will, and it is a process.  We learn to trust. 

Inner peace in a frenzied world - what an incredible gift!

Ten Ways to Help a Discouraged Friend

1.  Be a good listener.  Restrain the urge to tell your own story.  Let it be about them.

    2.  Use gentle words  - and only a few words - to help your friend gain perspective.  When we are discouraged we tend to lose sight of the   whole picture.

    3.  Affirm your friend’s feelings.  Sometimes we just need to be heard or to    know we are not alone.

    4.  Pray for your friend.  Then write them a note and tell them you prayed.   

    5.  Let your friend know you are thinking of them in moments they would   not expect to hear from you.

    6. Sometimes a thoughtful (not expensive) gift can convey feelings that words can’t.  Something informational that they are interested in,   something made in the kitchen, a single flower, an offer to go out for   latte or a smoothie, are small ways to convey that you care.   

     7. Encourage your friend by pointing out their gifts and talents and remind  them of how they have influenced your life.    

    8. Share your favorite Bible verse with your friend.

    9. Be worthy of the trust your friend has extended to you by sharing their problems.  Consider that trust a compliment.

1  10. Point your friend to hope – not empty words but the true source of hope  that God has expressed through His Word.  A few examples are: “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  I Peter 5:7; “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18;  “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;  from where shall my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2;  For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11   

Parenting Style

She sat at the stair step by my computer nook and drew happily, occasionally explaining in detail about the flowers and beginnings of alphabet letters she drew.  I was amazed at how unbelievably content she seemed - this "just being together" time.  The moments reminded me of my own childhood as I would spend hours drawing at the desk my father made me.  In fact some of my most treasured memories are of the times he and I would sit at the desk and design projects and dream of good ideas - drawing them all down on paper.  We had both times of togetherness and times of unstructured drawing - of creativity, brainstorming and exploration.  Part of the wonder of childhood is just that "dreaming time".  

As now a grandparent I appreciate anew how my parents provided both a loving stable structure for me, yet gave me the freedom of expression crowned with praise and encouragement for my efforts.  What a blessed child I was.  Because of how they treated me, I always knew children were special.      

When Jesus, "God in the flesh," walked planet earth - He demonstrated to a rough and adult-oriented world the great worth and value of children.  In the way Jesus treated others, and in particular - children, He shows us a parenting style that leaves no doubt that He delights in us, enjoys our company and loves us more than we can comprehend.  ""Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, "anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me""  (Mark 9:36-37 NLT).   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Surprise packages

Some of the best surprise gifts come in unassuming packages.  I'm reminded of the story of Ruth who had a mother-in-law who was elderly. Ruth chose to lovingly care for her mother-in-law in her old age rather than seeking her own desires for love and romance and the financial security of a new marriage. It meant that life was hard and she didn't have time to think of herself.  She worked and listened the the wise advice of her mother-in-law.  In a turn of events, Ruth ended up with both a loving secure home for her mother-in-law, and an incredible new marriage, and then a child.  But this all was accomplished in turn as Ruth choose to do the unselfish thing - step after step. By putting her own desires on hold, she received more than she ever could have ever dreamed.  Ruth's new life was a surprise gift in a package she never would have considered previously.  The people of her village remarked to her mother-in-law, "Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family!  May this child be famous in Israel.  May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age.  For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!  Ruth 4:14-15 NLT).  In that culture, that was the supreme compliment.  

And so as this time of gift-giving unwinds, sometimes we find the best gifts are the unexpected remnants of unselfish choices.  Can you think of something that made you smile because you put someone else's happiness first?  Bingo.   

Sunday, December 25, 2011

When This Christmas is "Different"

As the years go by our Christmas celebrations undergo change.  Even though there are treasured traditions that we often cling to, change is inevitable.  People who were once an intricate part of our Christmas time that are gone through death, divorce, a geographical move or estrangement can leave a cavernous hole in our hearts, especially this time of year.  Our culture, as a rule, doesn't grieve very well.  Yet, as much as that hurt can be we can probably think of someone in our lives who is having a much harder time than we are this season and just the thought of extending some comfort their way can disengage us, in a small way, from our own loss.  

But truly, as strong as all those memories may be, today is a day set aside to focus on someone else.  It's the celebration of Jesus' birthday.  "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on His shoulders.  And He will be called, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6 NLT)."    

It's uplifting to consider, what kind of gift can I give to Him?  It may be a commitment to be more engaged with people this year and reach out where we normally wouldn't.  It may be to pray more often and more fervently.  Perhaps our gift will be in the area of trusting God more and taking to heart that He does have plans for us and rely on His promise that His plans are good.  Perhaps there has been a nudge in our hearts - something we believe God wants us to do, but it is inconvenient, so it sits on the back burner of our minds.  Perhaps this is the year to turn up the flame and take a bold step of faith.  Maybe that gift will be a resolution to take God's Word more seriously and notch up time spent reading the Bible and asking each day, "how does this effect me, and what would God want me to do today?  Maybe it's forgiving a grudge or showing someone grace that reflects the love of God, even if they do not deserve it - keeping in mind when it comes to deserving grace, none of us qualify.  

The legend of the Little Drummer Boy asks what kind of gift do I have to offer a King?  Gifts of wealth or possessions did not propel Christ's mission on earth.  It was the gifts of the Spirit and the heart that changed the world.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

It IS A Wonderful Life

Finally finished the movie, yet again.  This Christmas season my husband has been recuperating from surgery while I had the normal busy ministry pre-Christmas schedule.  And so we "fit things in" differently.  We didn't decorate or bake much and I certainly didn't keep up the house like I should.  But we enjoyed every minute of visitors, phone calls, those who came to help and dear hearts in crisis....people.  Like George Bailey we found that God does answer prayer, sometimes in mysterious ways.  We found that the love and companionship of the people in our lives means much more than any type of material possession.  And we definitely learned, yet again, that our perspective is so limited.  Adversity, a seemingly common thread in life, is the thing that really has opportunity to change us for the better.  Conquering life one step at a time often means coming out of the most recent storm stronger and better than when we went in.  And so as I think of all God has brought us through, despite my failures and missteps along the way, I can rejoice in some things that never change, like   God's faithful love for people like you and I. Yes, it IS a wonderful life.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Blues

Christmas – just mentioning the word can cause intense images to fill our imaginations. It’s a season laden with memories. For some the mental pictures are rich and sweet. For some, Christmas is a painful time of remembering, and the memories hurt.

There may be those in our midst who are mourning the loss of a loved one taken by death, or divorce. People around us may be experiencing the loss of love or attention from a friend or family member. Individuals may be lonely, suffering from rejection, feeling the heartache of a child going astray, or reeling from the revelation of bad news about their health, finances or marriage. Christmas can fan the flame of a memory one would rather forget.

How can we offer the hope and healing of Christ during this season that for some heightens painful emotions? Here are three things to consider:

1. Help resolve the immediate pain. Perhaps there is some practical help we can offer to someone around us experiencing the holiday hurts. Whether it’s an extra visit or offering assistance in an area of physical need, or being a sensitive listener, timely attention can help take the sharp edge off the loss.

2. Encourage growth. A natural response to pain is to withdraw. We can encourage a friend to stay strong in church by offering a personal invitation. This kind gesture helps him or her to stay connected to other people and to the Lord.

3. Help increase the coping mechanisms. The thought of normal traditions may be painful. It’s okay to start a new tradition or do something new and creative during the holidays. Offering our friends a fresh perspective or a shoulder to cry on helps him or her process the heightened emotions. ’We can help our friends discover the ways that God shows His goodness by helping us each step of the way on our journey of hope and healing.

Most of all we need to remember that God is the God of hope. His Word is the book of hope. Through the pages of the Bible we find help for our deepest needs, especially when we’re hurting. Jim Cymbala, in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, says “ I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him”.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

"and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6b
Feeling Thankful.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Positive and Optimistic and (gulp) Troubles

Uhggg...troubles again.  Seems like some troubles are like what they used to call a broken record that plays over and over.  Now, they may be likened to that skip on a CD that messes up the song every time it is played, never goes away and is very annoying.  That's what trouble is like.

Along come this guy named James.  He grew up with a perfect brother, and even though Jame's brother never did anything wrong, a lot of trouble came his way.  And to James, the whole thing was annoying - at least for a long while.

Later in life after he had been through a whole lot of things, James tells us that is the exact opposite of our normal experiences.  He ways, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy".  Huh?  What's good about trouble.  The first thing we do when trouble comes normally is to pray or at least wish it would just go away and leave us alone.  James goes on to say, "for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4 NLT).

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to stay put and endure something that is indeed troublesome.  This Scripture passage acknowledges that troubles come our way and not for the purpose of teaching us to dodge them or be in denial about their existence.  Then again we don't want to be so focused on our troubles that they tend to define what is James talking about?  Just hanging on until our troubles go away seems senseless.  So what is "joyful" about all of this?  

The joy isn't due to the bad things that have happened.  The joy is in what is happening to our faith as we are being tested.  Endurance, patience and maturity are beautiful things and they do not happen unless we are put through hard and difficult things. That's just the way it works.  The people whom we love and admire for having great characters probably became that way because they have suffered in some way.  If we can find even that small seed of faith to offer to God some trust when something bad happens, then He grows our faith and we become stronger - and more positive and optimistic.  This stronger faith allows us to see the hand of God working in even the strangest of circumstances.  The blossoming of our faith is precious to Him, and He delights in our growing trust of Him. And when we have found that the next time trouble comes and we are not shaken we realize our faith is stronger, we are more confident that God is going to faithfully take care of us no matter what, and that is reason for joy. 

And, by the way, did you know that the "perfect brother" of James was Jesus?  Yes, James learned these words from his life experiences.  James saw great and fearsome trouble turn into joy because of the outcome of Jesus' life.   

Go Home and Tell Everybody

He was the picture of torment.  "Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones."  From a slice of history, this man is not unlike some anguished people today.  It may be mental illness, it may be something amiss in the spiritual nature, or perhaps it is the effects of years of drug or alcohol abuse and the tragic choices that tend to accompany the lifestyle.  Insomnia was his constant companion.  He was indeed miserable and without a sense of hope, and people were afraid of him.  Even those with a touch of compassion didn't know how to deal with him, so alone he stayed.  Cut off from the warmth of social contact, finding strange familiarity among the tombs, and injuring himself.  Some say cutting eases the pain.  But more pain comes as a result.  In every conceivable sense, he was a mess.

And then it happened.  Jesus found him and dealt with his issues.  Jesus was not afraid of his condition or appalled at his choices.  Jesus showed tremendous compassion, dealt with the man's heart and healed that which was terrible injured, physically, mentally and spiritually.  And that's how Jesus works.  By the time the bystanders encountered the man they found him described as "fully clothed and perfectly sane."  In fact the change was so dramatic that the bystanders became afraid, because they knew this was beyond human.  It was miraculous.   

Jesus then had to leave, for He had much to accomplish.  The man who had just been through a remarkable transformation begged to go along with Jesus, but Jesus gave the man something of his own to accomplish.  "Go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been (from Mark 5, NLT)."  

Even when we make bad choices...God is the compassionate Heavenly Father ever searching for His wayward children.  Be saved, be healed, be transformed.  Go home and tell everybody.     

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mary, Sweet Teenager

Mary sweet teenager, called upon by God
Mary, so vulnerable, what tumult did you go through?
The presence of the angel
The radiant warmth of God’s undeniable love
Must have been of such a magnitude
That it obliterated all fear and doubt.
Such faith.
Such conviction from someone so young.
She pondered this visitation, and obediently responded.
Her magnificat revealed a soul that yearned for God.
Did your heart skip a beat as you thought of the wonder?
Did your stomach knot at the thought of fear?

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Hating" and "Occupying the Land"

He's right, you know.  Having kicked a meth habit, he sat in my office and politely recoiled at my words of congratulations for his strength of will to overcome the highly addictive drug.  "People say that - but really it's that you have to hate what you are doing so much that you say, that's it.  I'm done."  

'Hate', hmm, I have to admit, I hadn't thought of that motivation.  But he's right.

I got up and actually ran around the block today.  And, although I had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner last night, I didn't gorge.  The reason?  I hate the way I feel being "out of shape," having packed on a few extra pounds over the last few months.  

When my child was young and she would use the word "hate" I would say, "hate is a strong word - use the word 'dislike.'"  But sometimes a genuine change in ourselves has to come about through a hate of the choices we have made and a real grieving over not doing that which we know to do.  James, the brother of Jesus, told us if we know the right thing to do, and don't do it, then it is sin. 

We tend to relate easily to the physical realm - things like the effects of abusing our bodies with destructive substances or even overeating or a lack of exercise or sleep.  But that which is true in the physical realm also has application in the spiritual realm.

The choices we make everyday - whether to not to pick up our Bible and read what God would say to us, or whether or not we seriously make a focused effort to pray have an effect on our souls - just as real as the choices we make for our minds or our bodies.

In Deuteronomy 32:47 we read, "These instructions are not empty words - they are your life!  Be obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River."  At this point in history God was speaking to the children of Israel before they crossed over into the promised land. But the principle of what He said is just as true today.  If we do what the Bible tells us to do, we will have a full and meaningful life full of purpose and meaning.  Do notice that I did not say an easy life - but a very good life.  

So, sometimes hate can be good - good in the sense that hating to do the wrong thing - whether it affects my body, mind or soul - can propel me to do that which is right and good and all the great experiences that come along with those life-giving choices.  And ultimately those choices affect all those around me for whom I care deeply.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Captain of Our Soul

"Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.  My victory and honor come from God alone.  He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.  O my people, trust in Him at all times.  Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge."  Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

We live in a world that subscribes to the theory that we are the captains of our own destiny.  While there is certainly consequence for our actions and we are responsible for our own choices and decisions - to think that we create our own future is false.  If we are blessed with health, a nurturing family and prosperity - it is by the grace of God.  Our good choices along the way certainly help but no one has control over to whom we are born, and what country we are raised.  We do not control a million circumstantial elements in our lives that impinge upon us.  We can only control our response to such circumstances.  All of this is stated as a precursor to dissecting the cultural thought process that if were are the captain of our souls we must make things happen.  Such an attitude can easily lead to selfish pursuits like pushing our way to the top for the sake of being number one and a host of other self-centered things.  In other words, if we are the "captains of our souls" then it is all about us.  And that where that line of thinking goes haywire. It is never all about us.

What I love about the above Psalm is that it models quietly waiting before the Lord and understanding that the battles in our lives will be won by the strength and power we find in Him.  There is such great relief when we realize our destiny is not all about what we do, but what He does from within us as we trust in Him, wait on Him and seek His direction.  He is a God of refuge who can be trusted with every hope, dream and desire in our hearts.  Oh, Jesus, the captain of our souls. 

"Yes, He knows what is best for me.  My environment is of His determining.  He means it to intensify my faith, to draw me into nearer communion  with Himself, to ripen my power...Yet let me believe that , if difficulties remain, it is that I may learn to trust Him all the more implicitly  - to trust and not be afraid."  - Mrs. Charles E. Cowman - 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Morning Reflections After Surgery

"But as for me, I will sing about your power.  Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.  For You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.  O my strength, to You I sing praises, for You, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love."  Psalm 59:16-17 (NLT)

My husband has been enduring an increased amount of physical pain in his back for the past couple of years.  He underwent a series of medical procedures prior to the decision of surgery, for other methods needed to be exhausted before the risks of surgery were considered on a  man in his "vintage" years.  Although he was in tremendous pain, especially the last few months, I would have to name that section of our life together as "the best of times and the worst of times."  Of course when someone is hurting so much, it is just terrible to watch and not be able to ease the physical suffering. That is the worst part.  But the best part is the sweetness of spirit and genuine appreciation that was shown and expressed toward God and for one another and the people in our lives.  My husband's faith in the Lord's goodness stayed strong.  There are some great memories of walks we took in a garage sale wheelchair we found and he restored (complete with oak arms).  The walks and little inclines in our neighborhood sidewalks gave me some much needed physical exercise.  He benefited from getting out in the fresh air and we explored streets and cul-de-sacs we hadn't visited since the houses were built some years ago.  The encouraging words and short visits with people along the way brightened those days and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together.  Since we were new to this wheelchair thing, we looked pretty silly on one trip to a large grocery store as my husband had me push him in the wheelchair, and he put his feet up on the shopping cart and reached up to steer it.  It made kind of a long train to which one six year old looked upon with wonder and said, "ah - awesome!"  Each time I felt a little self-conscious about looking a little out-of- place (not about the wheelchair, but about the "wheelchair train") I'd look at my husband and he was just smiling and enjoying being out and exchanging cheerful words with the other shoppers.  I just love him, I thought, and then we'd move on. That was the "best of times" part.

And so when surgery was imminent, we realized things could go really well, or not.  We acknowledged that God is good, whatever way this goes, holding on to His promise to be with us always.  Our dear family helped us with many practical things and our circle of family, friends and spiritual family held us up in prayer and we definitely felt that reality.  The surgery going well was a real gift.  I was made mindful that others who at a similar place in life do not have the same outcome and sometimes the mystery and workings of God are hard to grasp.  I was reminded of the Scripture that tells us to "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep."  I have to say the people in our lives do this very well.  Being in ministry we often are in the place of weeping with others for life has many challenges and difficult times.  But for now in this time and this place, it is a time for rejoicing and we are appreciative of this gift of health at this time. Recovery in such matters goes on for some weeks and months, but each day is a present and we can say with the Psalmist, "O my strength, to You I sing praises, for You, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


On Halloween night I watched, with my husband, a film about two strangers surviving a plane crash is the extreme north and how the survival skills of the young native woman saved her pilot’s life. Her acts of kindness using her life skills of surviving in very low temperatures and blizzard conditions given for this man who hadn’t been, until this point, very nice to her, were very touching.

I awoke the next morning, thinking, I am waking up in a warm house. Many people wake up in places where they are cold as soon as they wake up. Many people live in locations where it is hot and muggy and sweaty when they start that day. The experience of waking up made me thankful. Furthermore I didn’t wake up with the flu that is going around. Nothing like feeling terrible to incite thankfulness for feeling good, don’t you agree? And so I realized, in the big scheme of things, this is a great day. I’m comfortable and I am not throwing up.

That movie was a very little thing, but, as I have discovered that in cultivating a heart of thankfulness we often learn that the little things in life are really the big things.

And when we realize little things are actually big, our capacity to become more thankful expounds.

The coffee that someone else prepares for us smells better, the snuggle from a child becomes sweeter, the mere voices of people that we love – even, or especially the wailing of a baby can be the sweetest music on earth. Things did not change – we changed. Our ability to appreciate our circumstances and be thankful has been increased.

And, as we are considering how we can become more thankful, what I have really become cognizant of is that the brightness of something good in my life is often brought to light by the juxtaposition of something either dark or bland right next to it.

There is a wonderful painting by John Singer Sargent of young girls lighting a candle inside of paper lanterns.  The colors in the paper lanterns absolutely glow - it is very apparent there is a flame inside.  If you put your hand over those lanterns, however, one notices how dull and drab the color around them really are.   It is precisely those somber colors that make the colors in the lanterns come alive.  If the whole canvas were bright and colorful, the lanterns would not appear to have fire in them.  They would lose their brillance, there would be no vibrancy. 
And so in this context, I’d like us to dare to think, what good things – things for which we can become truly thankful, have been brought to light by the somber, drab or boring things in life? Put another way, what good things (that we can now be very thankful for) were brought about through something difficult? 
No doubt the joy we feel over the good in our lives is made possible by going through the hard stuff.  Experiencing that contrast can make our capacity to be thankful go through the roof!
So while I thank God for all the good in my life I am reminded that my perspecitve has been shaped by the pain He has allowed me to undergo at times.  This strengthens my faith, helps me trust Him more and gives me hope.  Because nothing that I go through is merely random.  It may take awhile for me to see good coming out of a bad situation.  But God is the great conductor of life's orchestra and someday every note will fall into place and we will all stand and listen and the magnificence of it all will take our breath away.  Thankful. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Compassionate Shepherd

This is a detail of a painting I finished today and you may be wondering why I painted Jesus crying.  Well, even though Jesus certainly experienced all the emotions that we do while He walked planted earth, including laughter and joy, it is His tears of compassion that touch me most.  In fact, I tend to be a cryer when I pray.  I think that God gave us tears to express those deep emotions that just can't be expressed in any other way.  The shortest verse in the Bible is simply "Jesus wept."  Here we see the most strong and powerful being that ever existed.  And at times, He cried.  Most notably, He cried over us.  We tend to weep over those we love most.  The love in those tears are more than I can comprehend.  May you feel the mighty and compassionate love of God wrap around you today.  

"NO WAY!" "Well, O.K...."

"Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.  The son answered, 'No, I won't go." but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, 'you go,' and he said 'yes, sir, I will.'  But he didn't go.  Which of the two obeyed his father?"  They replied, "The first,"  Then Jesus explained His meaning.  "I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do."  Matthew 21:28-31

We human beings tend to look at the outside of a person to make an assessment of another person's attitudes and motives - or what we would call 'the heart."  I'm so thankful that we have a heavenly Father that sees far deeper to the inner core of our being, knows us in intimate detail and truly "sees our hearts."

Jesus in the above passage was addressing some religious leaders.  These leaders were strict, legalistic, and did much of their pious works for show and attention.  Jesus saw right through them.  While they may not have engaged in what we would consider "big sins," their pride and arrogance was offensive to God.

Jesus had an overwhelming compassion and desire to reach out to those who "had really blown it" in life.  In the people who were regarded the least in society - "corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes," Jesus saw souls who had certainly made bad choices and even caused others pain - but also saw a humility that was redeemable.  For Jesus saw that the person who has really messed up by the world's standards often times recognizes their humble state before God and has no quarrel with the fact that they have sinned.

It was to these that Jesus said, "come" - do leave behind that lifestyle - but come now, come as you are.  You can be a brand new, forgiven and amazing creation with a fresh start.  For through Christ God forgives completely and He is all about the attitude of the heart.  He simply asks us to "come."

And so, ultimately, it's not about the mistakes we have made or having a 'clean track record.'  No, rather it is about the condition of our hearts.  And truth be told, sometimes we human beings have to go through a lot of bad stuff before our hearts are willing to become humble and soft and able to see our desperate need of a Redeemer.

Looking for a merciful and compassionate "Shepherd of your soul?"  Come to Christ.  Express your belief in Him, ask Him to forgive your past and accept His free gift of life.  And, if you let us know that you did, we will celebrate with you.  For a brand new start on life is cause for joy and celebration and open to anyone.         

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Little Child is the Greatest...

"About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?'"  Jesus called a little child to Him and put the child among them.  Then He said, "I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."   Matthew 18:1-4

Is there no thing so tenderly precious as the honest expressions of a child's heart?  True, children "have their moments,"  because they are human and we all share that nature, but when a child exhibits their humility, trust and love, there is nothing like it.  When children trust and confide in us, we have the most solemn obligation, the responsibility to nurture that child's heart and this includes their spiritual training.  Minister-singer David Johnson sang "children are precious, they have the right to know...teach your child about the King of Kings, teach them how to pray..."

Of all the Kings, authorities and kingdoms of the world, when Jesus was asked about true greatness, He pointed to a child.

At that moment when we come to the end of ourselves and do the honest act of turning from our sins and humbly receiving the forgiveness of Christ, we become spiritual children - babes in Christ.  As Jesus said, we become "born again."  Everything is fresh in new.  We can trust and hope as a child does and place our complete faith in our Heavenly Father.     

The Gift of Presence

"When three of Job's friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him...Waling loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words." Job 2:11a; 12b-13

We know from the rest of the story of Job that after Job's comforters started talking they made his suffering even worse. But for the first seven days they got it right. They stopped whatever they were doing and traveled to be with their friend. The joined Job in his grief and expressed their deep sadness over his situation - wailing loudly.

Grief shared brings a measure of comfort. It means so much when we know we aren't alone - when others hurt for us.

Job's comforters showed sensitivity to his plight. They understood (at that point) that their words could not make the situation better and were wholly inadequate to express the depth of grief required.

Sometimes words aren't enough.

Job's friends gave him the gift of their presence. They were there just staying close - expressing great care just by being there.

Maybe Job would tell us something like this:

The person in grief doesn't need to be fixed, to get their mind off the tragedy, to be told to get over it, to look at the bright side or any other cliche statements. That person needs time and space to process grief and the best comforters are those who allow them that and just stay by their side without shallow commentary.

The gift of presence - emotionally, physically and spiritually is what it means to "be there."

Keeping Perspective

"Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember You."  "Why am I discouraged?  Why is my heart so sad?  I will put my hope in God!  I will praise Him again my Savior and my God!  Psalm 42:5b, 5a

Everyone has discouraging days.  I am comforted by the Psalmists wise words that instructs us what to do when those times come.  Even though his feelings are honestly expressed, he ends the sentence with , "but I will remember You."  It's o.k. to tell God our gut-level feelings, but how important to add what we know, by faith, to be true.

When we remember what good things God has done in our lives it puts that sense of discouragement back into perspective.  The fact is that we each have much for which to be thankful - despite the times of overwhelming problems.

"...but I will remember You."  It was most likely a discouraging time that led most of us to realize our need for a Savior.  In turning to Christ as we realized the depth of our own wrongdoing we received undeserved mercy.  In confessing our sins to Him and asking Him to come into our lives and become our Lord and boss, we receive a rush of deep peace and relief that only forgiveness can bring.

Our lives have worth and purpose in Christ.  Even on discouraging days we can remember how much God has done for us and place our trust in Him anew."


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fighting Against Discouragement

But the Lord is in His holy temple;  the Lord still rules from Heaven.  He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth."  Psalm 11:4

When troubles get me down I must remember this verse.  It does me no good to fret about wrong doing or camp on my troubles.  The night is most likely the time when negative thoughts either wake me or bombard me if I wake.  I have lost too much sleep in entertaining the "what ifs."  It helps nothing to do that.  Instead, the nights of victory are won through prayer and bringing to mind the promises in God's Word.  Rehearsing troubles can only rob me of sleep and faith.  Trusting that the Lord still rules from heaven gives me spiritual power whether the circumstances change or not. It's a discipline.  This turning to God is often going against my natural feeling and choosing, as an act of my will to trust.  All the people I look up to in the faith, past and present, have won such skirmishes by faith and trust.  It is hard fought battle in the mind, the will and the spiritual realm.  Author Mrs. Charles E. Cowman reminds us, "Let us give ourselves no liberty ever to doubt God or His love and faithfulness to us in everything and forever...Let us refused to be discouraged.  Let us refuse to be unhappy....Let us rejoice by faith, by resolution, by reckoning, and we shall surely find that God will make the reckoning real."     

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"You were made by God and for God - and until you understand that, life will never make sense." R. Warren

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Prayers and Tears Together

The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for You, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. Psalm 9:9-10

Unless we go through trials and suffering that are excruitiating in heart and experience God's grace through those times, we really have nothing to say to those who also suffer. When people hear words of comfort they have to know that those true-to-life words have also come from a place of deep pain. Otherwise the words will seem empty. When we know that the words of comfort come through those who have experienced horrendous things in life and found God to be faithful and good even during those times, we are uplifted and have hope. Hearing how God brought about good, even through tragedy, helps our faith to be strengthened and our outlook brightened. There is hope in Christ - real hope. It is the kind of hope that helps people get through the toughest unimaginable things that life may throw at them - and come out better than before. They are more confident about life, they have a sense of perspective, they can keep the long view in mind, and stay strong in their faith in Christ, smiling even as life roars. In that place of pain when we come to know that nothing - nothing can seperate us from His love and that His plans for us are ultimately good, no matter what we are experiencing us in that moment, there can be a sense of peace of heart and mind. The Bible defines good as that which forges our character more into someone like Jesus. Things that forge character are usually not easy things. Character is usually built in the difficulties and heart-rendering "unfair" brutal realities of life. Tears are ok. They are the workings out of our faith - prayers and tears together. Like the Psalmist we get out our tears and complaints and then place our faith and trust in God all over again. We are told, "when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10). It all ends well for the child of God, who promises a future and a hope. Hold on. There is true hope in Christ.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Odd Invitation

…but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace…” II Timothy 1:8b-9a

An invitation to suffering? Uh, thanks, but no thanks. I’ll wait for a better offer.

But the problem is, invitations from God always come with an R.S.V.P. “R.S.V.P. stands for a French phrase, "répondez, s'il vous plaît," which means "please reply," Yes, God’s invitations, like this one “join with me,” always come with the expectancy of a reply. The invitation to suffering is a difficult R.S.V.P. with which to respond. Curiously, like some wedding invitations might read, the R.S.V.P. to suffering is more like a “R.S.V.P. regrets only”. “Regrets only mean “we will assume your response is positive, unless we hear from you”. It’s more of an automatic. Because we live in a fallen world, we all are going to suffer. The question is, are we going to suffer for the sake of the gospel?

We know that Christians in foreign lands suffer mightily for the gospel. Westerners seem to be isolated from the perils that our brothers and sisters in Christ endure over seas. Their suffering is outright persecution. Our suffering is often in the more subtle realm of our spirit and emotions rather than the physical and mental torture some Christians in other countries endure. Yet, the invitation to suffering is given to all Christ-followers. Ephesians 5:1 tells us, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma”. If we seek to imitate Christ and become more like Him, we are going to go through some times of suffering. Christ suffered. We don’t have to go looking for suffering. It finds us. The distinguishing mark between “having a difficult time” and “suffering for Christ” is often in the nature of our response; our reaction to the R.S.V.P. sent our way.

If we entrust our lives to God and live by faith, then every difficulty that comes our way can have spiritual purpose and meaning. Our suffering can be “for the gospel” as we live out real genuine lives that point people to the hope we have in Christ.

Psalm 40:1-3 tells us: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.” It’s not that the Psalmist’s life was all roses. On the contrary - his life was “in the pits.” But it was in the process of seeing how he handled things that caused people to put their trust in the Lord. It was in David’s public suffering that others were won to the Lord, for they were able to see that God was the source of David’s hope.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was the most popular preacher in London by the ripe old age of 21. He preached to crowds of 10,000 (talk about a mega church!). Spurgeon was used by God in mighty ways, and the process that God used to hone Spurgeon’s character and ministry was through suffering. The R.S.V.P. that was sent to Spurgeon went like this: “The Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall, a popular amusement hall that Spurgeon’s congregation rented when they had outgrown their building and had not completed a new one. On Sunday night, October 19, 1856, Spurgeon’s first service there was interrupted by false (probably premeditated) cries of “Fire!” In the ensuing melee, 7 people were trampled to death. Spurgeon, only 22 years old, was so distressed he was unable to preach for several weeks and later said the experience was “sufficient to shatter my reason” and might have meant his ministry “was silenced for ever.” Spurgeon went on to recover, but suffered from bouts of depression. “Spurgeon felt great anxiety, but it stemmed not so much from the multitudes as from the awesome responsibility of being accountable to God for the souls of so many. This remained a hearty source of spiritual suffering throughout his career. He remarked in 1883: “I have preached the gospel now these thirty years and more, and … often, in coming down to this pulpit, have I felt my knees knock together, not that I am afraid of any one of my hearers, but I am thinking of that account which I must render to God, whether I speak his Word faithfully or not.” Spurgeon realized, difficult though it was, that his suffering equipped him to minister more effectively. He said, “It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”

The invitation to suffering also comes with the ending, “according to the power of God.” For He is the One whose power transforms something terribly difficult into a source of purpose and meaning and hope.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tremendous Hope

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. From John 8:31 John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”. It is in the act of believing – of placing complete trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation that we are what the Bible calls, “saved.” We are saved from our sins by receiving the forgiveness that the sinless Christ offered us when He died on the cross, willingly taking on the sins of the world, and dying in our place. Unless we are on earth when Jesus Christ returns, we will all experience physical death. But believers in Jesus Christ have the blessed hope of the resurrection. We do not grieve the death of another believer in the same way the rest of the world grieves death, for we have the sure hope of seeing this loved one again. That hope makes all the difference in the world! Although we in North America tend not to focus on heaven so much, heaven is a very real place. But, what about the here and now? Does this one time act of placing trust in Christ make for an exciting faith-filled existence while we reside on planet earth? Not necessarily. There is a difference in being eternally saved and of being a disciple – a true follower - of Jesus Christ. And although a person in either category will go to heaven one day – the person who is saved, but continues to live like everyone else in their society (the Bible calls this being pushed into the worlds mould), will live a very different and much less satisfying life (to put it very mildly) than the person who day-by-day chooses to run after God and be Christ’s disciple. Does being a disciple mean that there will not be problems in life? No, definetly no. The difference is when we face those problems we not only have the assurance that Christ cares for us in all circumstances and will help us to get through our situation, still firmly rooted in His love and that He does have purpose and meaning in and thorugh our lives. That gives us tremendous hope.

Wait in Faith

“To Thee, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in Thee I trust. Do not let me be ashamed; Do not let my enemies exult over me. Make me to know Thy ways…teach me…lead me…For Thee I wait all the day. Remember, O LORD, Thy compassion and Thy loving kindness,…do not remember the sins of my youth…He leads the humble in justice…He will instruct him in the way he should choose…Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Look upon my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Guard my soul and deliver me; do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in Thee…Let integrity and uprightness preserves me…For I wait for Thee.” Excerpts from Psalm 25 The Psalmist, David, brings out the character of God and David becomes an ‘open book’ about his own struggle with his personal character traits and shortcomings. David pleads with God, and at the same time expresses trust and confidence in God based on who God is and the relationship God has with “those who fear Him.” What does mean to “fear God?” The top word choice I would make would be “reverence.” Therefore I can have trust and confidence in God because of the character traits this Psalm brings to light. He is: powerful, trustworthy, just, a teacher, a leader, my salvation, compassionate, loving, kind, forgiving, good, righteous, truthful, a guide, the Savior, gracious, a guardian, a deliverer, a protector, and redeemer. Since the Lord is all those things to me, why would I ever stress? Lord forgives the times we focus on little things when you are so big and able to perform all that you have promised! When David pleads his case before God he: lifts up his soul, expresses trusts in God, is teachable, is willing to be led, waits upon the Lord, confesses his sins, asks forgiveness, receives instruction, is humble, never forgets the depths of his own sin, asks for God’s grace, admits his loneliness and affliction, asks for help, talks about the enormity of his troubles, asks for deliverance, asks God to guard him and waits in faith. The Bible is absolutely reliable and trustworthy. This Psalm of David has treasures to help us to navigate successfully in everyday life. These are not little suggestions. They are life-saving and life-changing aspects of faith! In times of doubt, confusion or discouragement, this list of David’s should keep us very busy and in the right frame of mind to face our challenges. Don’t give up! Wait in faith for the Lord.