Wednesday, December 28, 2011

To Follow His Example

If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 11-13




“He cannot disown himself.” We are God’s children. As our Father He sees us as a part of Him. We can make mistakes as well as conscious bad choices and He will forgive us. What a great feeling to know that every time I turn back to Him, repent, God will accept me with open arms.


I have been disowned. Let me assure you, it’s as painful and nasty as it sounds. The worst of it is that it isn’t a once for all thing, as it sounds. It’s a continuous pattern. Certainly the event of being told, that’s it, we’re done with you was a once for all event but as life goes on, so does the reality that I am no longer a part of a whole that should have a spot for me. The niche that was mine is closed. For me the words of Thomas Wolfe are very true, you can’t go home again. Fortunately the above words from Timothy are also true, as are the words of Paul to the Romans in chapter eight verse twenty-eight, “And we know all things work together for good to those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose.” Here in this world I have been disowned and it isn’t pleasant but through it I have seen the hand of my Father in heaven who will never disown me.


My four children have given me plenty of opportunity to imitate our Father’s behavior. Raised on the foundation of the Holy Word, they all know what is expected of them. Yet each one of them has strayed and/or lived in a way that ignores the Word of God. Each time they do it breaks my heart and yet they are my own. They know that while I will not condone their choices I will also not turn my back. It is my desire and intent to love them as my Father loves me.


I fall so far short of living the way God wants me to live in so many areas. I know the Scripture well that admonishes us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) That reality is far, far away for me. Too much of my life is self-centered rather than God centered. Too many of my thoughts are critical or unkind. Even with full knowledge of those facts, my Father still loves me and will not abandon me. My children benefit from the disloyalty of my birth family and much more important from the perfect love of my true Father. Those four are my own and I cannot disown them.


Too many people say that the Bible is old and not relevant. I disagree and whether they’re living the Word or not, I bet my kids would too. All of us have learned and benefitted from the Word of God. It is alive, real and extremely relevant.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kingdom Now

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should
bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is
Lord
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11


There is a worship song that talks about a time when everyone will realize the sovereignty of God. It says that even given that truth, the best life is lived by those who know God now. I think of the story of the vineyard workers. It illustrates the fact that it is never too late to seek God. Losing a friend who seemingly did not know God my husband and I have prayed that the truth of that verse would carry him home. So, if I can get to the kingdom at the absolute last minute why worry about loving and serving God now? Is there any truth in the statement that life is better lived with God in it? Too many people have told me that they don’t want a relationship with God because then they couldn’t enjoy the pleasures of this life. By that they mean they couldn’t live for themselves honoring whatever paltry thing they have chosen as a god. My favorite is the “Sunday is my day for myself, to sleep in, read the paper, you know” line. I tend like most Christians I know, to try to focus them on the eternal issues but the truth is a life devoted to God is a much better life than one that is not.

The kingdom of God is in our futures the second we truly put ourselves at the feet of Jesus, accepting his gift of salvation and offering him the meager gift of our inadequate little selves. In that same instant when we choose a relationship with Jesus, things begin to change. The kingdom of heaven is in our future and in our now. The power that raised Jesus from the grave is at our disposal for healing, health, joy, peace, providence and endurance. Our time here may be long or it may be short. One of us may live a life of ease while another experiences more strife. Still God remains the same and meets each of us at the exact point of our need.

Salvation is available to us right up until the very last second and possibly beyond what we see as the last second but why wait? Accepting salvation does not mean I cannot have, think, be, or do something. It means I will want to have, be, think and do the things that please the heart of God. As my relationship with him grows my desire will become more about pleasing him and less about pleasing myself. It is the more of you, less of me nature of a life given to God that should make a Christian stand out in a crowd.

As the Light of Christ replaces the darkness of the world, as each ugly selfish desire is removed and replaced by the desire to serve our lives become more joyfilled and less harried. Gone is the rush to attain what I want because I know my Father will answer the desire of my heart in the best possible way.

The kingdom of God, the vast kingdom of perfection, joy, peace, the place where weeping and sorrow is still out there somewhere in my future but the foretaste of that kingdom is a part of every day that I remember whose I am and live accordingly.

Can you wait until the last minute to accept God? Yes. Should you wait? No. When someone asks you why they should be in a hurry to make God a part of their life now ask them if they want more peace or more stress in their lives. There is a saying I have seen on t-shirts and bumper stickers that is corny and trite but oddly enough true,
“Know God know peace.
No God, no peace.”

Enjoy the little bits of the kingdom of God that are available to us today and invite your friends to do the same.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting Prepared

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12


In the song “Joy to the World” there are two lines that stand out for me every Christmas season. One is “let Earth receive her King.” Those words are a thrill to me. I see it as my children’s reaction when their grandparents arrive. “They’re here! They’re here!” Last year our oldest son had a significant birthday and his grandparents surprised him by coming to his party, from the other end of the East coast. He was as thrilled then as he was when he was a child. Of course we received them. We changed our plans for the next several days to enjoy their visit. That’s the emotion I have when I hear “let Earth receive her King.” Jesus is here! Yay! Sadly that is not everyone’s reaction. Some sing along with the words but don’t get it. Others are offended by the idea of Jesus. To me that is tragic. Parts of Earth are still not receiving the King.

The other line that grabs my heart is “let every heart prepare him room.” It’s Christmas time, in fact we are just a few days away and my house is in an obvious state of preparation. My house is being prepared to celebrate. There are pretty packages stashed away, lights, ornaments etc. all over the house and of course a tree. There are cookies in various containers and lots of extra snacks in the pantry. The house is being prepared. What about the heart?

I am fortunate to work in a school, which means I have a few days off before Christmas. That gives me time to prepare my house and my heart. Thanks be to God, Jesus has been a resident of my heart for a long time but this time before Christmas, Advent, as we call it in liturgical circles, is always a great time to reflect on that. My heart sees Jesus as a baby at this time of year. Baby Jesus, cold, threatened but oh so anticipated and desired.

Today I wonder if the truth is far from that description. Jesus may not be coming as a baby this year but so very sadly there are far too many places where he is not welcome, where no room has been prepared, where doors are barred. There is no baby lying in a manger shivering but there is a Savior who encounters scoffers and naysayers. I can’t change them. Although I do try, I know that only God can soften a harden heart. What I can do is make sure that I focus as much on the true gift, Jesus, as on any other preparation.

My house prep is going pretty well. Today is another baking day and tomorrow I will clean up from all the creativity that has occurred here. Through it all, the decorating, shopping, creating and cooking I have spent time with Jesus, who came to Earth over two thousand years ago and came to me over thirty years ago. My heart is as prepared as my house and my prayer is that many, many, many hearts are touched by the love of Jesus, this season and every season of every year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Inn


While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in the manger, because there was no room in the inn. Luke 2:6-7





December is here. It’s Christmas time. I know that because my street is alive with colored lights and every store I pass by is busy. I hear conversations about this party, that dinner and who is giving what to whom. I hear very little if anything at all about Jesus.

Due to the eagerness of advertisers and businesses we have all been primed for the season since the middle of October and each day that brings us closer to the 25th intensifies the onslaught. I hear about stress and too many commitments. I wonder myself if we can celebrate the holiday without any harsh words about where, how and with whom to celebrate.

Our pastor has a tradition of basing his Christmas sermon around some trinket he can give as a reminder of his message, the message that we are who we are because of Jesus. He makes sure to have many more trinkets than the normal number of attendees. That’s smart planning because many people come to church on Christmas who can’t be bothered any other day. The visit to church is part of the season, not a matter of faith. They at least make an attempt and hear the Word. Many other people use the excuse that the church is too full. They stay away because churches are so crowded at Christmas. Is the church too full? Or is it their hearts that are too filled with the commercial to make room for the sacred?

December is here. I know it because in my prayers I’m seeing a tiny baby Jesus rather than the man who gave His life for me. It happens to me every year, for a few weeks Jesus is a baby all over again. That is lovely because it reminds me of the whole story. The baby was born in Bethlehem and later died on Calvary and all to give me a chance to live. Baby Jesus. Over two thousand years ago there was no room for that precious baby in the inn at Bethlehem. Is there room in your holiday inn for that baby this year?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Every Knee Shall Bow

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Philippians 2:9-10

There is an item in the news this morning that is frankly making me ill. Somewhere in New York several boys were suspended from school for bowing their knee in what looks like prayer. It isn’t prayer however; it is an imitation of sports figure, Tim Tebow. Putting aside for a moment the basic problem I have with the fact that the boys would not be allowed to bend their knees in AMERICA a country founded on and for religious freedom…. Let me say that I am not a sports fan. I don’t follow sports and ordinarily would never have heard of Tim Tebow except that I live in Orange Park, Florida just a bit over an hour away from Gainesville where Gators rule baby and Tim used to be their king aka, the quarterback. My children are rabid Gator fans, which is why I know a bit about Tim Tebow, who now plays for some NFL team.

Given even the little I know about Tim I have great respect for him. This is a young man who is quite honest and open in his love of God, country and his parents. He is respectful and well spoken, not the least bit flashy. There is no look at me, look at me about him which is part of the reason I think, that his obvious faith draws so much attention. A lot of people in the media seem to want to see it as self-promoting. That is ridiculous. This young man certainly has plenty of accomplishments and now a huge forum from which to promote them. He doesn’t. What he does is thank his Lord, sincerely in his own unassuming, quiet manner but he does at every opportunity. To that the media says, sit down you’re rockin’ the boat. Then in the bipolar way of what is ludicrously called “news” the media turns a personal display of faith into a circus. No more are athletes, or anyone else I suppose, bowing their knees in praise of our God, noooooooo, they’re “Tebowing.” Ugh!

Again, I don’t know Tim Tebow personally so I can only assume that he enjoys his job and some of the limelight. I would dare to say however, that he is as sickened as I am that anyone would turn genuine, faithful adoration and gratitude to God into a display of affection or admiration for him.

I bow my knee(s) fairly often in prayer and praise, in supplication and out of respect to my Lord. I like Tim Tebow as far as I know him but I will not bend my knee to him or any other human being. There is one God, one King, one Father of all and his name is not Tim.

We live in America, Tim and I, where we should be able to publicly pray, speak of our Lord or show admiration of God in any way we choose. It used to be that way. In years past no one would have seen a group of people on their knees, head bowed, eyes closed and called it anything other than prayer. Yesterday I was told again, that I am not allowed to pray in the public school where I work. For now, it is that I cannot pray in any way that is obvious or open. I can in no way influence the people around me with my faith. Before long I suspect there will be an attempt to get us not to pray in any way at all outside of our homes or churches, where that stuff belongs. When that directive was reissued in our meeting yesterday I said exactly what I meant, “Good luck.” I work with special needs children and among their needs, in my book, is that I bring their names to God for His attention and mercy. I pray in that classroom every day, for the children, my co-workers, my family and no I am not on my knees, no one is aware that I am praying but I wouldn’t care if they were. I have no problem joining my students in their prayers which according to the “rules” is not acceptable. Again I say good luck with that.

God bless Tim Tebow for being proud of his Father and grateful for all the talents and abilities that were given to him by that Father. I just pray that the attention being drawn to his faith does not harm him in anyway. I think the media and the people telling me and my co-workers that we can’t pray and belittling an honest show of faith, ought to remember one thing, if God is for us no can be against. (Romans 8:31)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The One Who Always Watches Over Us

For he will command his angels concerning you
To guard you in all your ways;
They will lift you up in their hands
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91:11-12



My granddaughter Faith has had an experience of some kind with God. I’m not sure exactly what happened but I know it’s real. She knows things about God that a child of her age, who is fairly unchurched, would not know. Further, she knows things about people who died long before she was born, that none of us have told her. One night while she was sharing some of her experience with me she referred to God as “the one who always watches over us.” When I asked her who she meant she said, “God” in a voice that suggested that I might be a bit less than intelligent, not in a sassy way but more in the way of a teacher to reluctant student. I then asked her why she didn’t just say God and she told me that “the one who watches over us” is one of God’s names. She informed me that lots of people call Him that. My reaction to that is a story for a different day. Today I am more interested in the idea of God watching over us.

Faith and her sister Madelyn have an Elf on the Shelf. It’s a brilliant marketing idea. This little elf watches them, returns to Santa at night to report on their behavior and shows up the next day back in their home. Chippy, as they call him, watches them. He’s monitoring their behaviors, making notes to take to his supervisor. Chippy is a spy, not a protector, watching, not watching over, and only for the days just prior to Christmas, in contrast to the one who always watches over us.

When I asked Faith why God watches over us she had a great answer, again one that is not prompted by Sunday school. She told me, “’Cause He loves us. It’s like, if you have a disaster or something, like sickness or a wreck or something, you might stay here or you might go to heaven. If you stay here or go to heaven isn’t important. The important part is God is right there, He’s watching over you. You might hurt or cry but you aren’t alone. You don’t have to be scared.” I might want to mention here, that Faith is six and no, she has never had a near death experience and these conversations notwithstanding, is a normal, average six year old. She’s not a genius or a savant.

Thinking about being watched, as in monitored as opposed to being watched over is something I dealt with when beginning my relationship with Jesus. Unlike Faith I was taught everyday about the God who watches us, watches, in the same way as Chippy the elf, as in, trying to catch me doing something I shouldn’t. I like the concept of a God who watches over us so much better.

Faith said that we are never alone not even in our worst moments. I knew that but to hear it from a six year old had a huge impact. I have no fear of being dead because I know, due to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ I am going home. I do some trepidation about the journey. I have watched too many dear ones suffer. I want to be here one minute; there the next and that may be God’s plan for me. In the meantime I will hang onto Faith’s name for God, the one who always watches over us and I know He will be there in my hour(s) of need.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas


For to us a child is born,
to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6


A few days ago I was reviewing some Christmas messages I have written. I hate to repeat myself too closely. Granted the message is the same year after year but if I state it the same way twice that could be bad. My kids already accuse me of being senile sometimes. While reviewing the messages I saw Christmas over the last few years. A lot of them deal with Mary’s feelings about the whole thing. That seemed right to me, as I am a mother and two of my sons were born either side of Christmas, one in the beginning of January and one at the very end of November. I can relate to Mary’s pregnancy on some level.

A few of the messages were about the commercialization of Christmas, the emphasis on the ordinary rather than the sacred. One of my favorites uses the image of my two granddaughters, Faith and Isabelle, then just a couple of months old. I speak of them shivering in the cold, dressed in snuggly clothes with a tent of blankets over their car carriers. I love that one because I can immediately see my two now six year old beauties as the tiny precious babies they were.

I have my favorites among the messages, of course, but what stood out to me was that almost every message points to the fact that too many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike “focus on the wrong part of the story.” I borrow that expression from my son Joseph and it fits perfectly here.

Christmas is about….wait for it…. Christ. I know there are plenty who would disagree and I get that, considering the number of movies, songs and books that are about Santa. I promise you, though it is about Jesus Christ. Look at the word, CHRISTmas. Ohhhh. I’m being a bit facetious here because if you are reading this then most likely you already knew that.

Even when we know it we can forget. Last year my granddaughter Faith learned a lot about Christmas in her Christian pre-school. For months she would only refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.” The other day when a discussion came up with her younger sister Madelyn, who  was asking about the whole concept of the birthday on Christmas, Faith got a little perturbed. She couldn’t understand how Madelyn, who to her defense is four, could forget that it’s Jesus birthday. Madelyn forgot because she’s little and at her age, being inundated with Santa, it’s easy to forget the real reason we celebrate. As adults it is our responsibility to focus on the right part of the story while allowing our children and grands to enjoy the ho ho ho and jingle bells as well.

I love all the prep, all the movies and songs, all the gift giving and cookie baking but I love Jesus more. Christmas is referred to as the most wonderful time of the year but for all the wrong reasons. For us, it is the most wonderful time of the year for the reasons given in the Scripture above, because we were given our Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saints of God

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be opened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Ephesians 1:18

Saints are very important to the people of the Catholic Church. I know this because I was raised Catholic. In my teen years I found the whole thing quite amusing and as I grew to truly know Jesus I found it a little sad. Now I have to admit I find it all interesting. No, I don’t believe a certain saint can bring a certain result but I bet they did while they were alive. They got those credentials from somewhere.

Think about it, when we have a specific prayer request we think of a person we know who was healed or helped through something similar. We wonder who prayed for them and we want the same person praying for us. When my oldest son Paul was born and experienced complications a woman named Melissa prayed for him. Her daughter had just been healed of an inoperable brain tumor. I believed that having been that close to the healing power of God she would be able to share it. I don’t know if it was her or any one of the dozens of other people praying for him but Paul was and is just fine.

So maybe Anthony said to the person who lost their keys, “oh I’ll pray for you” keys found, word passed, request repeated, reputation established. It makes sense doesn’t it? Of course my personal favorite as a child was St. Blaise. Every February 3rd, the feast day of St. Blaise, a priest would come in our classrooms and bless our throats with candles. Every Spring I would have tonsillitis…. And yet Blaise is the one I remember so fondly. I surely didn’t help his rep. What of St. Jude, the saint of hopeless cases? I see plenty of hopeless cases around me but then without Jesus we are all hopeless.

You have to be careful too because so many saints have the same first name. There are several Elizabeth’s and their causes are varied as are the Francis’s, John’s etc. It really is fascinating to study them but how seriously can we take it? I absolutely do not mean to offend anyone. Believe me when something seems irretrievably lost I remember Anthony. I just think we ought to think about where and why they received their notoriety. None of them would want to be seen as superior to Jesus. Jesus is our true intercessor.

Studying the saints is very enlightening not to mention humbling but they, like us, lived to glorify God. I believe they would be the last people to want credit for anything. I would love to hear their heavenly conversation.

“So, Jude, hopeless cases? How did that happen?” Of can you imagine poor Patrick? “Okay snakes I get but beer? Seriously is that what you had in mind?” We distort who those dear people truly were and who they still are in Christ. Instead of revering or reviling them we need to emulate their behavior. Each one, regardless of their specific claim to fame, was completely devoted to God and that is what absolutely makes them special.

We sing a hymn at Baptisms called “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” it includes the words “the saints of God are just folks like me and I want to be one too.” The good news is that we can be one too. We can live and grow in Christ and one day get to know those amazing people that we call Saint __________.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Many Times

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22


There are a couple of relationships in my life that continue to fall into a less than positive pattern. Things go well for awhile and then they get stale, to put it tactfully and that brings difficulty and hurt feelings. In praying about one of them today I realized how much God puts up with in having relationships with us.

On any given day I can be totally devoted to Him at one point and fairly ignorant of Him in the next section of the day. Although it may not be the first image that comes to mind when you hear or see the word ignorant, one of the synonyms for it is unaware. I think that fits what I’m talking about perfectly. It isn’t that I don’t love God or appreciate Him. It is that in certain moments I am unaware of Him and the worst of those is when I choose to ignore Him, a synonym for that verb being discount. Look at it that way for a minute, we can choose to discount the creator of the universe, the being who chose not to discount, ignore or be unaware of us, but instead sent His only Son to provide us with a way out of the debacles of our own making.

My feelings get hurt in the relationship scenarios that I outlined for you. Then my hopes get raised because it looks as if things will truly be different this time. Then they get dashed, then raised, then dashed, in a cycle you’d think I’d give up but I won’t. The truth is the other people in those relationships are too important to me. Sometimes I feel foolish for not giving up. Today I don’t. Yes, I know there is potential for hurt and honestly, contrary to what should happen, I should get desensitized and not feel it as much, each time it hurts a bit more. I know that seems masochistic. Why keep going back for more? It’s the if you always do what you always did thing, right? In a sense it is and I do berate myself at times for trying again. Or at least I did, until today when I realized that more times than I can even imagine a number, God does just that.

We are to follow as closely as we can, the example of our Father in terms of love and forgiveness. How many times should I forgive my brother? Not seven times but seventy-seven times and some Biblical scholars say that that means in one day! The King James says seventy times seven. What if that’s in a day? The point is we forgive and if we want a relationship we let it go. That may mean that each hurt feels like the first one and so has more sting but that doesn’t matter. Every day my Father forgives me countless times. My perfect Father who has never once been lax in our relationship forgives me for ignoring Him or worse. Since that is true who I am to do any different.

From a worldly view my attitude may seem self-defeating or foolish but I don’t really care about the world view. Every time I give another person one more chance, truly forgiving the past offenses I imitate my Father. The hurts still hurt and I’m sure that won’t change. I do know that my heartbreaks are miniscule compared to the pain caused to the Almighty One which means He understands my pain completely and is always there to walk beside me and comfort me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

He Does It His Way

I know that the Lord is great,
that our Lord is greater than all gods.
The Lord does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens, and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. Psalm135:5-6


“The Lord does whatever pleases him.” That sounds a bit arrogant taken out of context. If I say of someone, he does whatever pleases him, most likely I am describing someone selfish or thoughtless. These words are describing God, who is neither selfish nor thoughtless. Reading this psalm however, I wondered what a person who is just coming to know God or opens the Bible for no reason other than to disprove it, thinks of that passage.

It would be pretty scary to serve a god who “does what pleases him” if that god didn’t care about people. Thankfully what pleases God, the one true God, is to care for us, teach us, prosper us and bring us home. Jeremiah 29:11 is a verse a lot of people know and love. It says “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” A god whose plans are to give hope and prosperity, a god who is concerned with the future of his people, a god who wants what is best for those who love him, that’s my kind of god. In fact that is my God.

When my children were young I planned all of their activities and created schedules for them that best suited their needs. They are all adults now and they don’t need me to do that for them. They haven’t needed it in quite some time but I wonder if they ever wish that I still would. They know that I have always had their best interests at heart. Of course a toddler may not agree with mommy’s assessment of what is best for him. At that point the toddler fights. How close is that to how we act with God some times. The enormous difference being that I am fallible and He is not.

I wonder if my children want me to arrange their lives because I very much want my Father to arrange mine. The problem is that I don’t always let Him. I love the idea that God will do what pleases Him because His ways are right and best. Just like a toddler though, I balk at that when His way is not my way. It may make me irritated at worst or just confused but I know which one of us should have the final word.

“The Lord does whatever pleases him.” Isn’t it wonderful that what pleases Him is to protect us, provide for us and love each of us as we were His only child? He does it His way and His way is perfect.

The Gift Box

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

I read an account of children in El Salvador receiving Christmas gift boxes prepared by American children. It was in a book by Max Lucado. He spoke of the excitement the children feel at receiving toys, books and personal items but that the part they enjoy the most is the letter that comes from the other child. He made many eloquent and touching points comparing that gift to the gift that God gave to us in the form of Jesus. There was one line though with which I disagreed. He said that for us the box, which is Jesus doesn’t come with toys, books etc that Jesus is the gift.

While I agree that Jesus is the main gift and in fact the only gift we need I believe there are other gifts involved. In fact I believe that every good thing in my life comes from that gift box from God. My family, my home, my health all of those are gifts from a loving Father. There are other things too, like a phone call from a friend when I am feeling particularly alone, the knowledge that someone really needed my help or was glad to see my face. Even that extra little bit of cash right when I need it is a precious gift. There are so many things that are gifts from God. I’m sure you can make quite a list of your own, can’t you?

The other thing that struck me about the passage was the children’s delight with the letter. We too have been given a wonderful letter full of all the ways our Father is here for us. Full of the love he feels for us, enough love to send Jesus to die on the Cross. Each page of the Bible is a blessing just as the letters written from one child to another are blessings.

Those poor Salvadoran children only experience that happiness and excitement once a year, for us, that excitement is at our fingertips everyday. We don’t have to wait a year we only have to pick up our Bibles and read God’s love letter to us.

Don’t wait for a special occasion, reach out now and let the love of God fill your day.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Receive the King

Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government of the world will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:7


“Joy to the world the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King.” Christian and non-Christian alike are singing these words today. It’s Christmastime and people who don’t give Christ a single thought all year long are singing about His birth. I love Christmas. I love the colors, the smells and the songs. Unlike some other people I realize that the songs like the season itself are two sided. There are songs about Santa and jingling bells and there are songs/hymns about Jesus. So we sing, “let Earth receive her King.”

Long years ago Earth received that King with little excitement. Sure, the whole thing touched a few shepherds and a few other common people but the Earth did not stand still in awe to receive the King. It won’t this year either. Some people who otherwise steer clear of church will go “because it’s Christmas.” Some will put a manger scene next to the blow up Santa in their yard but receive a King? No, there won’t be much fanfare for that.

When I was a child we teased my mother about setting a special table because her friend Georgia was coming to lunch. There were no condiment jars on the table that day. Everything was in cute little bowls all pretty and inviting. Like my mother, many of us get frazzled trying to be Martha Stewart when an important person is coming to visit. The truth is if that person wants to see and be with us whatever effort we make will be enough but we want them to know they are important so we fuss. What if that person were a king? What if he were not just a king but the King? How would you prepare then?

We also sing, “let every heart prepare Him room.” That doesn’t mean fluff the pillows and set out a mint. It means clean out resentment, bitterness, stress and anger to make room for devotion, mercy, peace and patience. Prepare a humble quiet space for love and compassion to come and rest.

How is our earth receiving the King this year? Sadly it seems that the world is receiving Him with paper, bows and 50% off sales. In other words it isn’t receiving Him at all.

How are you receiving your King this year? To be honest I’ve had a rough patch with my King these last few months. I want something desperately that He seems unwilling to release right now. His will is right and I know that so of course I bow to it but it still hurts. So I am receiving my King with humility and with hope that what I am praying for is coming with that precious babe in the manger. The Earth received that King one cold night many years ago. We can receive him every morning. Let your heart prepare Him room and sing with heaven and nature that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Truth (Re)Revealed

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved Joel 2:32a
Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32


I was reminded this morning of a very simple teaching and that reminder exposed a huge lie, a lie which I have believed and been bruised by for quite awhile now. The teaching was this, when times are hard, go to the Word of God. The lie was this, when I feel overwhelmed, sad or frightened and I go to God’s Word, written or sung, I am putting a bandage on the problem.

A few years ago I had an injury. The doctor I saw told me to wear a pressure bandage. Bryan, a physical therapist with whom I work, told me that bandage wasn’t doing me any good. He explained that all the bandage did was compress the area to make it feel better when in fact it wasn’t. That was true and was also excellent advice. It would seem that what the enemy was telling me was similar.

In going to the Word of God I could get lost in the comfort of the familiar stories. In singing His praise I could change my mood simply by singing. Bottom line, I was fooling myself. Unfortunately I have believed that for several months now and have walked away from the wise practice of seeking first the Lord and His wisdom. It has gotten to the point where in the toughest times it is my temptation to just sit and expect God to rescue me, which by the way He is more than happy to do.

This morning, after the revelations I was confessing my error to God and I almost laughed out loud. For years a joke has circulated about a man trapped in a flood. He makes his way to his roof and cries out to Jesus for rescue. A boat comes along but he refuses the help because God is coming to help him. Next is a plane and then a helicopter, all as the water rises and all of which he refuses, only to drown and then meet God. Upon meeting God the man asks why his prayers weren’t answered. God replies, “I sent you a boat, a plane and helicopter! What did you want?” He wanted the literal hand of God to reach out and lift him up. When our Father reminded me of that joke and showed me the similarity of my behavior it was at once a relief and an embarrassment.

After all these years of receiving peace and comfort from the Word, written or sung why did I listen to the enemy? Where else would I go for relief? Where indeed! Nowhere is the problem. There is nowhere else for me to go which means until out of discipline or desperation I reached for the Word I was stuck on the roof of my own lousy attitude with no way down.

The saddest part is that in those times I missed the point in more ways than one. No matter what I cannot start my day without at least a little Scripture. So even on my worst days I would read a little or listen to a little. Then I would reject it, using Satan’s lies, telling myself that I was manufacturing a faulty peace and that it was not from God.

Praise God today I am off the roof, live and ready to fight. God sends me not a boat or a plane but His promises, His story, His love in the form of written word and song. When my heart hurts, no matter how deeply, the answer is in the Word of God. I cannot manufacture the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) but I can cling to it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus Christ is Born

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

I love music. I say that my life has a soundtrack because for every event, major and minor in my life, I attach a song. Now the Christmas season is here and with the Christmas season comes Christmas music, which I love. Every year one song becomes my favorite, the one I have to hear over and over again. Last year it was a tie between “Sing Mary Sing” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” Whether it is my current favorite or last year’s fave or just one I really like a lot, all of the Christmas songs speak to me. We’re not talking Jingle Bell Rock here, I mean the ones you’d sing in church.

Earlier tonight I was listening to Christmas CDs as I prepared some food for a gathering at work. During that time in the kitchen I heard two different versions of “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” As I listened I kept hearing, make that hearing, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. I listened to what is referred to as Christian music so it isn’t unusual for me to hear the name of Jesus being sung. Still it hit me, over and over again, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is born.

A few minutes after listening to the second version and noticing again the name of Jesus, I heard my absolutely favorite version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s the Third Day version and it is beautiful. That’s when I realized why the singing of the name of Jesus was calling for my attention.

I grew up Roman Catholic and I was born in the late 1950’s which means Mass was in Latin and while we heard, about God, we didn’t hear much about Jesus. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I ever had a conversation about Jesus. I knew about him of course, but for most of my childhood he was a figure who showed up twice, on Christmas and on Easter. I was aware in that vague kinda’ sorta’ way that the act of receiving the Eucharist had a lot to do with Jesus. Again, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to understand in any real way, the importance of Jesus Christ. We did not speak his name as easily and comfortably as we do today, the relationship that allows us to do so was not encouraged in my growing up years, at least not in the RC church.

Today, while I would happily and eagerly talk about Jesus Christ all day long, the social and political powers would very much like me and others like me, to shut up. I can speak Jesus’ name but not at work, in the public school where I am employed and not in any public place where people are gathered who might take offense. To them I say…. Get. Over. It. And that is why while singing along with the words, “Jesus Christ is born” I felt that nudge that God sometimes gives me.

It is the Christmas season, although in liturgical churches it isn’t. It’s Advent but everywhere else this time before Christmas is considered the Christmas season and that somehow makes the name of Christ acceptable. For the next twenty-five days, Christians and non-Christians alike will hear and sing about Jesus. I love it!

I would love to go tell it on a mountain, in a valley or anywhere else that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. It would be wonderful if Christians were allowed the religious freedom for which our country was founded. It would be better still if we were allowed the same freedoms that other religions are afforded. Maybe one day, if we make enough waves, we will be. For now, enjoy with me, the fact that Jesus Christ is being sung everywhere you go and shouldn’t he be? It’s his season after all.

Clothes Don’t Make the Faith

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

At church this morning our pastor spoke about appearances. It was a small part of a bigger message but it really hit me. He showed a picture of some Amish or maybe Mennonite people and a picture of Catholic nuns. Though he didn’t use these exact words, his point was, clothes don’t make the faith. We are not wholly based on how we dress or what emblem we plaster on our vehicles, backpacks etc. We can wear the t-shirt, have the bumper sticker and wave the flag without believing one single word or living out the ones we do believe. He is right of course, although I do believe that the habits worn by the nuns are more about purity than anything else. Anyway, I was quite taken with the sermon and especially with that part of it because of something I was thinking about yesterday.

I work in a public school. Every day I encounter a woman who wears a hijaab. Make no mistake, she’s Muslim. I know this not because she has ever spoken to me beyond what is absolutely necessary but because she wears that hijaab, with her jeans, t-shirts and very American designer handbag. It irritates me. I tell myself it shouldn’t. I get aggravated because it does which was what I was confessing yesterday, for the umpteenth time.

Often when I see her I think, what can I wear that screams look at me, I’m a Christian? Yesterday, not for the first time, God answered me, my attitude. Granted I can wear a cross and I do, I have several lovely ones. I can wear other jewelry that reminds people of Jesus but much like Miss Lady’s hijaab it’s just stuff. Miss Lady’s attitude says, “I have no time for you. You are beneath me and my children.” This is not a nice woman, not an approachable woman. I’m not saying that is because of her religion, I’m just stating a fact. A fact that begs the question, what does God want my attitude to say? The answer is simple. He wants my attitude to say, not, look at what I’m wearing or even look at who I am but look at what I have. And what do I have? If I’m relying on my Father I have another thing our pastor mentioned today, a peace that passes understanding. Peace like that ought to show, don’t you think?

As Christians we don’t have a uniform. Even most nuns have stopped wearing habits. What we have that other religions do not is on the inside. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that ought to shine out of us for all the world to see.
Years ago I was getting out of my car at the Post Office as a woman coming out approached me. I smiled and said hello. She smiled back and then stopped. She heard the music coming from my car, where my teenage children were waiting. She looked at me and said, “I knew you were a Christian, I could just tell.” That made my day, my week, my month and writing it now it still makes me feel good. That’s what I want to hear. That is what I want people to see.

I’m not sure who Miss Lady in the hijaab is actually representing or why she chooses to represent that faith but I do know who I serve and I want that to be brilliantly apparent.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Believing

Immediately the boy’s father answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

Boy can I relate to this guy! For years I have thought that this verse was about not having enough faith, believing deeply enough. It may be, but today I am wondering if all these years I’ve gotten it wrong. The man has just asked Jesus to heal his son, “if you can.” To which Jesus replies by repeating the, if you can and telling the dad that everything is possible for people who believe. Which elicits this famous, to me at least, response, that he does believe but maybe not enough, or as I’m seeing it today, maybe not in the right way.

I believe in God. In fact I’m fascinated by the arguments of people who don’t. I find it remarkable that they can’t see the holes in their theories. Believing in God is easy. There are signs and evidence of His existence everywhere we look or in the fact that we exist and that we can look. That part is quite simple. I believe God can do anything He chooses to do. Further I believe that what He does, whether I like it or not, is right and best. So what’s the problem, right? I believe in God. I believe He can and will for other people. What I’m not sure is that I believe He can and will for me.

Please understand, He has already done so many amazing things for me. So many of His promises have manifested in my life and I know they are from Him. Now, I wonder if perhaps He is tired of my neediness, which I know intellectually cannot happen. I do believe but I need help in my unbelief. I believe in God. I just don’t know whether I believe Him or in other words, trust Him.

I suppose this could be a crisis of faith. In some ways I can see that it is. In other ways it isn’t terribly disconcerting because I believe that Jesus came to save me. I believe that I am going home at the end of my days here. What I’m not sure I believe, or believe deeply enough, is that God is in my small stuff.

One day, many years ago I was the father in this verse, begging for my son’s deliverance, begging for his healing. The result? God healed him. My son is a grown, wonderful, crazy intelligent guy. Thank you Lord! After a miracle like that, one might believe they’ve used up their credit with God. The thing is God doesn’t work that way and in giving me so much more, so many other miracles and blessings He has shown me that He isn’t that way. My unbelief, and maybe the dad from Scripture felt the same way, comes from viewing God as finite and human. God is eternal. Better than that, God is eternal love. I do believe and I am praying for grace and strength to overcome my unbelief.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

There is no school today or tomorrow or the next day…. For which I am extremely grateful. I’m so blessed to have a job and I’m thankful for that as well. The job, however, is a bit stressful at times and very tiring. It is also incredibly rewarding. Still, it’s just lovely to be home, to sit with my Father and not have to check the clock to be sure to leave on time, to sip my tea and to look over the hours in front of me knowing they are all mine. Today is Monday, this is my day. Tomorrow afternoon three of my grandchildren will arrive for a sleepover that puts them in position to help Grammy and Uncle Paul in our annual Thanksgiving prep. We are all quite excited about that, as usual.

Right now I am just happy to have this time to be able to think about all the things for which I am thankful. On Thanksgiving I will pass around our family notebook in which each person writes what he or she is thankful for. All the men will groan but they will do it. The children will happily do it and my sweet ladies will be very thoughtful about what they write. It’s a great tradition and I’m glad we have it. Even though everyone writes something we don’t even scratch the surface of the things that make us thankful.

I could give you my list of people and things for which I am grateful but honestly I don’t think you would care. What I can tell you is what I know today, on Thanksgiving and every day of the year. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Each night before I go to sleep I write at least three things for which I am grateful. Some days it doesn’t take much. Other days, the hard days I struggle, or I used to until I realized God was in each difficult moment. He stood by me in my pain, fear or humiliation. He held me, even if I couldn’t feel it at the time and at the end of the day I was there, able to see, think and write with a pen so, if nothing else came to mind, there were three things right there. Of course every day has something in it for which I can give thanks.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday by far. I love it. It just saddens me that far too many people have to be reminded to be thankful and that so many have no idea who they are thanking. Some may be able to get to “I’m thankful for” but not as far as “I’m thankful to.” On this Thanksgiving and on every day of our lives to God be the glory and the thanks.

And… to all of you who are reading, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my faith and my experiences of that faith with you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Myself

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48


I’m one of those people who is always reminded of songs. Any word or phrase, circumstance or situation can remind me of a song. Earlier, thinking about Thanksgiving, I found myself humming that old Sly Stone song, “Thank You (for Letting Me Be Myself Again).” Which was spelled, Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin. As it hummed through my head I started laughing. It seemed so ridiculous. I get his point, he was a bit out there, showing us all his non-conformity and he was giving kudos to the people who were letting him do it or as we say to today to the people who “got” him. To me it just was hilarious to have that in my head because I spend a portion of my prayer time every single day praying for God to change me. I see my faults, well, some of them, I know there are more I don’t see, and I want them to change. No, thank you I prefer not to be myself. In fact the lyric was thank you for letting me be myself ….again~~~~~~~~ UGH! No, no, no! My song would say thank you for helping me defeat myself again.

God is so good. When He allows us to see a sin or fault He is there to help us change and grow. We are called to be perfect as He is perfect and He knows we can’t do it. He knows we are lost, human, and incredibly fallible. In fact fail I am quite familiar with, victory often evades me. This is not a poor pitiful me stance. It is the truth.

So, in this week as I prepare for Thanksgiving in the usual way with my sous chef and his three assistants aka my son and three grandbabies, with music playing and silliness abounding I do not want them to let me be myself I want them to call me to growth. I want to thank God that He encourages that growth and enables me to attempt it. I thank God for always being Himself and allowing me access to Him through our precious Jesus, a gift I may never fully appreciate.

While writing this I was reminded of my young friend Joanna. A few years ago during a vacation together she and her friend exhorted each other to “act natural” as they attempted some sneak attack on Joanna’s mom and me. It was the culmination of a silly night with all kinds of borderline funny jokes and random conversations. “Act natural” has become our little tagline. We sign cards and messages to each other always adding, “act natural.” I guess you could say we’re ascribing to Sly’s way of thinking. Joanna is one of those gifts for which I could never forget to be thankful. She certainly lets me be myself but knowing she is observing me is one more reason to want to be a better self.

In this season of Thanksgiving and every day we need to be thankful that God allows us to be ourselves but invites us to grow into who He created us to be as well.

Monday, November 21, 2011

“It Duddn’t Maddah”


“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father know that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34


A few years ago I met a little boy whose smile could light up the darkest room. In the first few minutes of knowing him, he asked me and then two other people if we knew Jesus. Maybe that doesn’t seem terribly remarkable but at the time that boy was ten years old and he has Down syndrome. Still upon meeting a new person his first thought was to ask about Jesus.

In the years we spent together I tried to make sure that somewhere on my person I had a necklace, earrings or a pin that was a cross because each day he would look me over, searching for one. His eyes would light up and he would say, “Oh, it’s my Lord!” His mind may not be terribly sharp but his spirit is as bright as all the stars in the sky combined. Unfortunately he also had a naughty streak. His behavior often caused him to be miss out on treats and/or special events. Thank God there were other people around to discipline him. Left to my own devices I may have spoiled him way past rotten! In any case as he would realize that he was once again being left out he would come to me and say, “It duddn’t maddah.” My heart would just crack. He never threw a tantrum nor demanded the reward. He simply took the consequences.

Once on a particularly hard day he could see that I was upset. He put his arms around me and said, “It duddn’t maddah.” Then it didn’t. His little face with the crooked grin, his love of his Lord and his sweet presence reminded me of what does matter.

Many of my colleagues and I have picked up that expression. We quote our little angel when things get stressful or just irritating. One of us will look at the other and say, “It duddun’t maddah.” It is very precious especially since he has moved on to another school so we never see him anymore. He left us a little gift, a reminder of what is important and what is not.

The other day I heard a sermon that used the same words although spoken more clearly. It doesn’t matter. The situation may look bleak. It may even seem hopeless but then God shows up, and guess what? “It duddn’t maddah.” It doesn’t matter how supposedly terminal the illness, how deep the financial hole, how empty the life or how debilitating the depression. All of that changes when God is invited in. When the power that created light, life and everything else shows up nothing else matters. Even if the situation appears to remain the same the presence of the Lord causes changes that our eyes cannot always see. It is that peace that we can never quite understand.

The next time the enemy attacks you on any front, just look him in the eye and tell him, “It duddn’t maddah.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Sinner is a Sinner


Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7


Earlier today I was listening to some songs that have really touched my life and enhanced my faith experience. They are performed and were written by an amazingly talented young woman who according to her songs, has great faith. She is also a sinner. She made her sin a very public thing a few years ago. Before that we, in the world, knew nothing about it but she was painfully aware of it, all too painfully aware. Her songs take on a richer, deeper meaning to me when you know of her struggle. Other people find them invalid because of what she has done. If you are one of those people stop reading right here because while my sins may be very different from hers they are still sins. That makes me a sinner and if you can ‘t appreciate the perspective of one sinner, you most likely won’t appreciate the perspective of another. The difference between that woman and me is that I am better able to keep my sins hidden.

The songs I love the most are the ones where she speaks of herself as God’s daughter. She asks in one song if knowing her sin He will accept her back into His heart. Truth is, she never left because God’s love never fails. She sings about redemption and wanting to please her Father. She sings about the ridiculousness of trusting in anything other than God Himself. She speaks of Jesus and Peter as her brothers. She speaks from a heart filled with faith.

I said the difference between us was in the variety of our sins. The similarity is in how we’ve both wrestled with our sins. We have both mourned our choices, asked for mercy, leaned on God’s understanding and patience and trusted in His holy name.
Romans 3:23 says that we’ve all sinned. That’s the truth, more to the point it’s the Truth. The question is once we’ve realized our sins and repented what will we do with them? God wastes nothing and neither should we. If we can put our struggle in words for a huge audience or even for one person we can make the experience mean something. We can save it from being simple, selfish sin. We can use our own brokenness to help others around us heal.

I’m so glad that that young woman didn’t let guilt keep her from writing her songs or singing them or recording them. I appreciate her willingness to let us crawl into her wounds in order to find a way to mend our own. God is faithful and just. He will hear our prayers and He will love us even when large numbers of people are pointing judgmental fingers our way. In Him we find redemption and mercy, even when we can’t find it anywhere else.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Testing

Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Galatians 6:4-7



I spoke to two different friends about this verse yesterday without even realizing that this was what I was talking about. We were talking about a common acquaintance I’ll call Nancy, and how obtuse she can be about her own behavior. Before you judge me for judging her, let me say, she is what I would consider an acquaintance but I treat her as a dear friend for many and various reasons. This is not a person I hold in any kind of contempt. I love her, exactly the way Jesus advises us to love. I get a lot wrong but with her I believe I get it pretty close to right. Back to the story…. This woman was extolling the oddities of a person we often observe, none of us knows her at all we are just in position to see her actions. So there was Nancy going on and on about how bizarre this woman’s behavior seems to her. Everything in me wanted to scream, “you act just like that!” But I didn’t. It is not my place to point fingers. It is my place to look inward which is why I was talking about it with my friends.

Nancy is totally oblivious to her own oddities. We are not talking sin here, it really is just idiosyncrasy. Listening to her, even at one point teasing her a bit that she might have a touch of the same behavior, which she denied, I couldn’t help but wonder how she missed that tendency in her own life. Walking away from the conversation I began the mental check list, first with the behavior that was discussed and truly I am not like that. The thing that is so important to Nancy and the oddball is not at all important to me. But something is…. Somewhere in my life there is something I do, repeatedly and then complain when I see someone else do it. I’m sure there is. If there weren’t it wouldn’t bother me to see and hear Nancy or anyone else berate someone for doing exactly what they themselves do.

As I write this I am still searching for the answer. I guess it falls under the heading of what your good friends won’t tell you because the two friends I confided in shed no light. Although we did all agree that the problem might be that we all share the same oddity and therefore see it as normal.

This issue is tiny, it’s weird but tiny. No one is getting hurt and no sin is involved although taken to extreme it could turn into sin. Sin is insidious and most of us are very clear eyed when it comes to other people. We can see their sin but our own, hm, well, we have good reasons for why we do the things we do, sin or otherwise. Paul says, “Each one should test his own actions.” It’s great advice and I want to follow it. I will fail sometimes and pass others but the important thing is to keep looking and not suppose that I am fine while the rest of you…….

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Noah and Timing

So Noah came out together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All of the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another. Genesis 8:18-19

Do you know about Noah? I’m sure you do. Noah is a fairly illustrious guy. I’ve read his story a few times in my life including earlier today. What hit me during this reading was timing. Noah sent out the raven…. not yet. Okay, then he sent out the dove. Nope, still not dry. Then he sent the dove again, and received signs that the land was drying up. After that he still had to wait for God to say, “okay Noah, now get out of the ark.” That’s patience and a firm reliance on God’s timing. Not my strong suit.

A year or so ago one of my favorite Christian bands released a new CD. The first song from the CD was all over the radio. I never listened to the whole thing. I would hear a few bars and decide that oddly enough, I just didn’t like that song. This band has a lot of CDs and of all of their songs there are maybe one or two that I don’t love. So this was strange, to have no interest in listening to the whole song. A few months later I heard a different song from that CD and liked it. Eventually I bought the CD, again odd because I usually get this band’s CDs as soon as humanly possible. Even after buying it I didn’t listen to the whole thing. Then a few weeks ago I turned it on and started from song one listening, really listening to the whole thing. I’m sure you are way ahead of me here and know that one of my current favorites is the one I thought I didn’t like. It has brought great comfort and hope to me during a very odd, sad and confusing time in my life.

What you may be asking does this have to do with Noah? Let me explain. Noah listened to God. He heard God and did exactly what was asked of him as far as the whole ark project went. He went in when God said go in and came out when God said come out, not sooner, not later. Noah fully relied on God’s timing. He trusted that God knew best. Sometimes I am good about God’s timing and other times I tend to be a lot more like Abraham and Sarah were with Hagar. God in His incredible wisdom and mercy knows that and so sometimes takes things out of my hands.

I believe that my current favorite song did not appeal to me at first because God wanted it that way. Knowing me He knew I wouldn’t wait to hear it until I needed it most. So He distracted me from it with other songs, other things. Then when it was best in His time, He showed it to me.

I wish that I were more like Noah and would just sit and wait for God’s nudge. I don’t. If I had been captain of the ark we would all have drowned, getting off way too soon. Patience may be a virtue but it is one with which I am not terribly familiar. Even in my immense weakness God lovingly leads me. God’s timing is best. God’s will is best and God’s mercy is endless. That is a great deal for us because our timing is often off. Our wills are often misguided and I don’t know about you but my mercy has serious limits.

Today has been an odd and difficult day for me. I’m feeling quite uncomfortable but I have listened to the words in my new favorite song and followed the advice therein. I know my Jesus is right here by my side. I know my Father has great plans for me and I hope that I will patiently wait until He reveals them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Courage

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9


Sometimes terror is the only thing that wants to register on our emotional radar. All those phone calls that bring bad news, from family members, from friends, from the doctor or the police, terror is sometimes our first response. Sometimes it shows up right after shocked disbelief has gone off to look for a new victim. In all of it our Lord counsels us “be strong and courageous”. Those words repeat several times in the first chapter of Joshua. The Lord begins by promising Joshua that He will never leave or forsake him but He does not promise a bed of roses.

Neither does He promise us an easy road. It is a common mistake among new believers the supposition that once we have given our lives to God He will make it all smooth sailing. He promises to be our strength, our hiding place and our refuge. Why would we need all that if life were without trials?

So what does it mean to be strong and courageous? I think it means to hang on in faith when the circumstances indicate trouble. I think it means to believe that God is good all the time when we are in the middle of heartbreak.

The words be strong and courageous are repeated again in 1 Chronicles. We aren’t to take them lightly. Our strength and courage in hard times bring great glory to God and enormous grace to us.

I was sitting the middle of an incredibly painful time when the Lord brought me to those words in Joshua 1. At first my despair grew larger. How could I be obedient? I couldn’t possibly be strong and courageous. Then I remembered the words of Psalm 91, “He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in times of trouble.” The strength I was being asked to demonstrate would be provided for me if I would put my faith in Him.

The events that broke my heart that morning, eight years ago, are not fully resolved. There are days when God calls me to continue to be strong and courageous but in it all He has never asked me to do it on my own. When troubles come and they surely will, remember the last five words in Joshua 1. “Only be strong and courageous.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Past

Forget the former things: do not dwell in the past.
See I am doing a new thing.
Isaiah 43:18-19a


One day I am going home. I have no idea when that will happen but thanks to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ I know that I am going home eventually. In my prayer time this morning I realized that the last thing I want to do is bring my dirty laundry.

Twice today I heard or read messages about letting go of the past. Sounds simple, but then we read that God allows some suffering in our lives for the benefit of others. My most intense suffering is in my past which means I would have to remember it, relive it, in a sense to help others, right? Lately I’m beginning to think the answer is no.

What happened to me, what I have experienced has defined my personality and my choices. I can help because I understand. I can bring empathy to the situation without revisiting my past. I can encourage and offer support because I know there are brighter days, better opportunities ahead.

Our Father offers us freedom from our past. He does not want us to carry that burden. We should learn what we can and move on. More important we are called to live in the moment. Many of us have worries about tomorrow based on experiences from last year.

Besides painful experiences I also have many pleasant memories and I don’t believe that God wants me to give those up. I don’t think He wants me to allow them to become idols either. Whether we are caught in the negativity of past embarrassments or failures or trying to relive our glory days or replay the highlights of our lives, our past can have a hold on us that becomes unhealthy.

Each day we are given a new chance, a fresh start. We can accept that gift and make the most of every day or we can live in fear or disappointment. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34 ) and based on the, “each day has enough trouble of its own” I think he would want us to leave yesterday behind as well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Clean Up

Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine of nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

While I was praying for a friend one of our students came to my mind. In any study of child development one is taught that a child is never bad. His actions may be bad but the child himself is not inherently bad. To those who penned that teaching I would say, “You’ve never met Stevie.” But that would be facetious because while the better part of Stevie’s behavior is beyond bad and straight into deplorable, Stevie is not bad. He is a product of other people’s bad choices. Stevie came into the world with more than three strikes against him. When I am praying for him, when he is finished terrorizing the people around him and has given himself over to tears and when he is sleeping or sitting quietly I can easily remember that his behaviors are not his fault and for that I thank God. That knowledge, that merciful view of Stevie gets me through the moments when he is literally kicking and screaming. I am able to feel at least a smidgen of compassion even as he is hitting and spitting because I know he did not choose the circumstances with which he has to deal. The firestorm in his brain is not of his own making. As bad (sorry, it’s the best word to use) as he is, Stevie has brought grace into my life.

Thinking of him this morning I also learned a little lesson, or maybe remembered is a better word. Among the contents in his bag of heinous behaviors is the lovely penchant for throwing things, big things, small things, containers full of things, all are fair game when the madness starts. Nothing on a table, shelf or counter is safe. In fact the tables and bookshelves are fair game as well. Once the fury wears down and Stevie is slightly more controllable we instruct him to clean up his mess. For the first few minutes Stevie works alone but after we have seen an effort most often one of us goes along side of him and either physically helps or at least offers encouragement.

That made me think of how God handles us. We make our mess and for awhile God watches while we attempt to clean it up. He gives us the tools and nudges us in the right direction but the cleanup detail is ours, for a time. Then suddenly there’s a shift. The load seems lighter. The work seems easier and we realize Dad is doing the heavy lifting. That is where my whole train of thought started and obviously went off the tracks.

I was praying for my friend to feel the presence of God, to know that if not today eventually He will do the heavy lifting. I’m sure at this moment she not only feels buried underneath her mess but alone under there as well. My heart goes out to her. Again, Stevie comes to mind. If I had to deal with his idiosyncrasies by myself I would be absolutely overwhelmed. I don’t. Not only are there three of us in the classroom but by God’s provision each of us carries His grace into the situation. Dad is right in there with us and that brings great comfort. I want my friend to feel the loving hand of God but more than that I want all of us to be aware that no situation, no person, no problem is ever greater than the love of God.

The verse I chose comes from Romans 8 where we are also told that if God is for us no one can be against (verse 31). We are told that all things will work for our good if we love and trust God. (verse 28) and right beneath the verse I chose in verse 37 we are told that we are more than conquerors. Stevie will make me question that, the conqueror part more than once today. In light of his needs I often feel completely inadequate. I am, but that’s okay. Dad will show up and help me. He will show up and help my friend and if you invite Him, He will show up and help you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall Back

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 24-25

Given my early life experiences it is no shock to me that trust does not come easily, when it comes at all. Today looking at these words “to him who is able to keep you from falling” I thought of that stupid (to me) exercise people do in various groups, self-help, youth group, mission planning etc. where one person is supposed to fall back trusting another person, positioned behind, to catch him. I hate it! The idea is to trustingly collapse into the arms of another person to illustrate how you can count on each other in other circumstances. It’s not a huge leap of faith really. If it were just the two of them in the room the one in back may or may not catch the one in front. However, in a group of people if you don’t catch the person you will look like a jerk, or as the exercise is pointing out, someone who can’t be trusted.

It is an activity in which I have never taken part, nor do I ever intend to take part. I am not a trusting person. In fact, trust, real trust, as I said, comes very hard to me. In that situation, regardless of who was behind me, I would be fairly sure that they wouldn’t catch me. It may happen by design, they can’t be trusted or they’re trying to be funny. It may happen by accident, they get distracted or we misjudge the distance. In any case it is my belief that if I were to try such an experiment I would end up on my bottom.

It begs the question do I trust that God is able to keep me from falling? I do. I believe that He is able to do it. What I’m not sure of is that He wants to keep me from falling.

We used to sing this doxology in church. In that song it is worded a bit differently. It says, “to him who is able to keep you from stumbling.” Well, I’ve stumbled and fallen enough times in my life to know that God is able to keep it from happening but He does allow it. Moreover He allows it for reasons I very often do not understand. I have figuratively and literally fallen on my face as well as my backside. It hurts and it is humiliating. Sometimes I can see that it is a learning experience but sometimes all I can see is humiliation.

I do not doubt God for a second. I believe He is strong, willing and most certainly able. What I don’t believe is that I am wise enough, humble enough or trusting enough to receive it. The rest of the words in the doxology are about giving glory to God. I can only hope my lack of trust does not hinder my ability to glorify my God. Friends if any of this seems familiar to you, join me in a prayer to fully release ourselves to God, to give Him full control and to willingly fall back into His arms.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blessings

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19


Some weeks are busier than others. I was in the middle of a particularly hectic week rushing home from work to make a dessert for a small group that was meeting in my home that evening when I got a phone call. It was from a member of the group just letting me know that she would be bringing some goodies for the meeting. “Oh bless you!” I said as I drove. As I finished the phone call I thought how truly I meant those words. If I were literally in the business of bestowing blessings, she would absolutely have been a recipient at that moment. She had just taken a task off of my hands that I didn’t quite have time to accomplish. It was a blessing to me and I wanted to return the favor.

I thought about it for quite awhile as I drove home, prepared dinner for my husband and got the house ready for the group. If we can bind and loose than can we bless? Further it brought me to the whole idea of how God treats us. God does not need a single thing from me. He is all, owns all and can do all. No phone call from me is going to lift a burden from His heart. Nothing I do is going to relieve stress from a being that is devoid of stress.

We love God because he first loved us. A friend of mine told me a story of her little boy’s answer when asked why he loved his mommy. He said, “Because she loves me.” In among the kindergarten answers of “she buys me stuff”, “she’s pretty” and “she cooks good” how precious it was to that mom to hear, “because she loves me.”

I really don’t think God needs our help. I think He allows us to help because He loves us. It is more evidence of His mercy that He allows us to serve and to feel useful. By blessing my day my friend made God’s heart happy. We are all able to please God when we bless His people. We are privileged to be His hands, feet, eyes, etc. in this world.

I hope my friend was blessed in at least the same measure that she blessed me. I’m pretty sure she was or will be. God is never outdone in generosity.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Church

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19

The church my husband and I attend has as its subtitle, “the Church of Second Chances.” We have a set of defining and hopefully motivating values that we go over every week. It’s a lovely little church and the concept is great. The idea of being “the” church of second chances just struck me as odd today. Shouldn’t all Christian churches be places where people are given not only second chances but endless chances? Shouldn’t the tenets of forgiveness, renewal and mercy be a major part of any group that claims Jesus Christ as its leader?

With absolutely no malice toward my own church, a church I do appreciate, I wonder how far we’ve strayed from God’s original idea? When Jesus said to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church”, is what we typically see what he had in mind?

At our little church we have one Sunday morning service. If you don’t like someone there the best you can do is sit on the other side from them. At other churches I’ve attended, I have heard people say that they switched services because they didn’t want to see someone. I’ve been guilty of similar sentiments myself. What are we going to do in Heaven? Can you see that? “Um, excuse me but I need a cloud as far away from him as possible. Oh, but not next to her!” That won’t work.

The Bible is sometimes called Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Those instructions include, turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), forgiving not once but repeatedly, (Matthew 18:21-22), loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44), showing mercy (James 2:13b) and carrying each other’s burdens, (Galatians 6:2), to name a few. Micah 6:8 sums it all up for us, “What does the Lord require of you O, man? To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” In order to do all that wouldn’t we have to give people more than one chance? Wouldn’t we need more than once chance? I need more than a second chance, quite frankly. I’d hate to know what “chance” I am on.

God doesn’t deal in chances. Again, with no disrespect to my own church, chances are not in God’s programs. God forgives repeatedly, not by chance or whimsy. God is love. We aren’t taking chances with Him. His mercy is a given. In order to be like Him, ours should be as well.

I appreciate my church for saying, in effect, we aren’t here to judge you. We are here to love you. I just wonder why having called ourselves “church” we feel that we have to say that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Closed Door

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

God has closed a door. For months I have been eagerly anticipating an opportunity to which I felt truly led. Now that opportunity has evaporated. It is gone, due to human error, although not my error. I had to rely on other people doing their jobs and someone didn’t. For a moment I felt sick. I felt the bile of disappointment rise in my throat. Then I remembered a teaching I heard just yesterday.

Yesterday morning I was not feeling well and stayed home from church. While resting I tuned into a program that features an evangelist I used to listen to quite often. I haven’t heard him or read anything by him in the last year or so. Yesterday his message was for me. I just didn’t know it until today.

I listened as he spoke about his own disappointments and a very serious situation that had troubled his father. He spoke about how in such situations each of us has a choice. We can choose defeat or see it as a redirection. In the case of his father, what might have been a nice little ministry was instead a huge ministry, all because of adversity.

As he spoke I realized that what he was saying had a familiar ring. Not like, oh, yeah, I know this. More like, wait, didn’t I just read this somewhere? That is because I did just read basically the same message from Beth Moore. She was writing about how sometimes God says no to rescue us or to save us for something better. When what we are asking isn’t good enough for us, God says no. Hm….

So here I am this evening, disappointed still but also a bit excited. As the one pastor said, not getting what I think I wanted will leave room for something better. This no, this slammed door, this obvious invitation to ranting and raving and pure frustration, may be an enormous blessing in disguise. I certainly hope and pray that it is.

God’s ways are not my ways, thankfully. God is perfect. I am a mess. I do not pretend to understand why this happened or how. All I know is that I need to trust that God will swing wide a much better door. I can choose door number one, anger, frustration and disappointment. I can choose door number two, sulking, giving up, deciding I misunderstood God in the first place. Or I can choose door number three, the door behind which stands my Father. That door takes trust and patience, two things that are hard for me, but I will choose that door. I have to, He’s been prepping me for it for the last week.

The Teapot

How long will the enemy mock you O God? Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back you hand, your right hand?
But you O God are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
Psalm 74: 10-11, 13


I do not believe that God does things to hurt us. I do believe He allows temptations, consequences and even disasters. He uses the negative things of this fallen world as tools for our spiritual growth, to give us better understanding of Him, to strengthen us and for many other reasons, most of which I do not understand. I do know that God wastes nothing so even my disappointments and heartbreaks have a purpose.

Several years ago my husband, a self-employed painting contractor, did work for a company who then did not pay. Unfortunately my hubby still had a crew to pay, which he did. In the same span of time we had trouble with two vehicles, not impossible but costly enough to pinch. Then our pool pump died and took our air conditioning unit along for the ride. We were looking at no income, except my little contribution, and disaster upon costly disaster.

One Saturday while my husband was working I was doing some major housecleaning, in the take care of what God has given you vein. This was not just some dusting and mopping, this was major overhaul cleaning, which gave me a bird’s eye view of everything that needed a bit of work in our home. There were a lot of things that needed a little help or refurbishing. Thanks to the grace of God I kept cleaning with the mindset of appreciating what I did have and not focusing on what I didn’t.

Toward the later part of the day I decided to take a tea break. I rinsed out my lovely electric teapot and prepared to make tea. I filled the reservoir with water, placed the tea in the filter and plugged it in only to have the water begin pouring out of the back of the machine. Was that the straw that broke the camel’s back? Not at all! Instead that broken teapot looked like victory to me. I laughed out loud. It was that moment, when you either laugh or at least smile at the ridiculousness, or you give into despair.

I knew in that moment that the enemy’s time was up. God had stayed His righteous right hand. He had allowed Satan to poke, scratch and kick at us but now enough was enough. I made tea the conventional way by boiling water on the stove. I enjoyed that tea while chatting with God, thanking Him for the upturn of events that I knew was coming. That upturn was gradual but not too slow in coming. Our disasters were righted one by one, our finances were repaired to be broken again another day.

That teapot has become quite a symbol for me. When it seems that all around me is muck and mire I wait for the tiny disappointment. Once that comes I know Daddy’s home. I can say to the enemy, “Ooooh, you’re in trouble………….”

God will allow pain, disappointment and even tragedy in this fallen world. We need to respond in faith, ride it out as best we can, seek God and His purpose for our lives. Trust that He will be victorious and wait for the clue that the enemy is running out of schemes.

If God is for us, and He is, (Romans 8:31) no one should dare to be against because in the long run God wins.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Accepting God’s No

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

Lately I have read a lot about why God says no. None of us like it. We want God to say yes and from that yes we’d really love smooth sailing. He’s God after all. Can’t He just make it easy? No, He can’t. That’s not technically true, because of course He can. He chooses not to for our good. When God says no, as harsh as that may sometimes seem, it is always for a reason.

For the past several months I have been making the same request of God over and over and over. It isn’t for wealth or power or influence. It is a simple request, one that the Bible supports. In fact what I am asking for is highly recommended in Scripture. So why, oh why, oh why does God keep saying no? I have no idea. Quite frankly I am beginning to get aggravated and frustrated, which I heard in a teaching a few days ago is referred to as the sin of Jonah. That made it a bit easier to see, the whole I want what I want when I want it but honestly what I want is a good thing. This by the way, makes me continue to question the no.

This morning I was reminded of the story of Joseph. First he garners the hatred of his brothers, then those brothers sell him into slavery. Just when things are looking up, when things are getting a little bit easier, Potiphar’s wife accuses him of some really nasty behavior and that lands him in a dungeon. Through all of that I’m pretty sure Joseph was praying. I think it would be safe to say that while some of his prayers were answered yes a lot were answered no. Ultimately Joseph was able to save the lives of his treacherous brothers. Later still the children of Israel would have to be delivered from Egypt where they had become a nation of slaves. Life then, as now, has its ups and downs, it’s yeses and nos.

Joseph’s life is a perfect illustration of why God says no when He says no and yes when He says yes, because, as we read in Jeremiah 29:11, He knows what He has planned for us.

I want a yes, dearly and bordering on desperately. Perhaps in time I will get one but for now I will focus on the message I heard for the bijillionth time while reviewing the story of Joseph. Attitude is everything. While being sold out by his own brothers, in shackles and a neck iron, while being falsely accused and even put in a dungeon, Joseph believed that he was beloved of God. He knew that his heavenly Father was especially fond of him. That belief allowed him to maintain an attitude of trust. They say attitude reflects leadership. In never losing sight of who he was following Joseph was able to keep an attitude that kept him in tune with God’s plan. That’s the best attitude to have.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Humility

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

On humble people, Christian writer Brennan Manning says, “Following the counsel of Jesus to take the last place, they are not shocked or offended when someone puts them there.” It is important to know your worth to God but to know also that while no one is better than you, neither are you better than another. Our Father sees us all as equal. Though it is difficult for us to understand He sees all sin in the same light as well. We often fall into the trap of the Pharisee who compared himself to the tax collector, forgetting that our Father loves each of us as if there were only one of us. Self- promotion is never effective. Only God’s promotion counts.

The way of the world is to shine our own light. Take a look at any political campaign. Such paragons of virtue and people of immense strength and widespread accomplishment are running for office. It is hard to believe that such people exist. Before we get too comfortable with those beliefs someone from the opposing team is right there to tell us the real story. Political campaigns are the epitome of this verse from Matthew.

We would all do well to remember that when we yell, “look at me, look at me” people will surely look. When they share what they see we may not be flattered. We may well, as Manning suggests, be shocked by the position others think suits us best. We are wise then to follow James’ advice. “Humble yourselves then in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.” James 4:10

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seeing the Hand of God

“A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
Luke 2:4b-6 (paraphrase of Isaiah 40:3-5)


My young friend Anna is going through a terrible time in her life right now. Her brother is literally fighting for his life. He is alive, after an experience that most certainly could have and some would say should have, resulted in death. Today the quality of his life is what hangs in the balance. So the good news is that Patrick is still with them. The hard news is to what extent? Anna and her family are surrounded by medical professionals who shake their heads and murmur words of, if not discouragement, then at least what they see as reality. Anna and her family, strong believers and lovers of Christ, nod, take in what they believe they need to hear and toss the rest. They are listening to a much more important voice. They are looking for their direction from the highest guide possible and they are seeing and hearing Him.

As the fight has progressed Anna and I have had several conversations. A few years ago I stood in prayer as my friend Jamie fought a very similar fight with a very similar and even drearier prognosis. Jamie is back on his feet now, in fact is doing better than he was before in some ways. People call him a medical miracle. I call him beloved of his Father and I know Patrick is as well.

The real story here is in how the family is seeing and then sharing the movements and messages of our Father. This morning in prayer for them, in prayer for Patrick’s precious wife to have clarity about her next move as to his care, it all became beautifully clear to me. At least in my life, Patrick’s ministry has already begun.

Every day I make decisions, do my job, and have conversations. Every day there is a chance to hear God, to see His movements, to receive His blessings and today I wonder how often I miss it. Anna’s family has very heightened senses right now as they listen for God’s directions. The stakes are incredibly high. But are they any higher than the decisions Patrick has made and will make about his son’s future? Is it more important to save for college or to take the trip to the mountains? The answer may seem obvious to some but it isn’t. Only God knows his will for us.

In our day to day dealings we think that our basis of faith is good enough to make our choices. We “know” God so we know what He requires or wants from us. How often do our own desires cover that knowledge?

Anna and Patrick’s family have literally received an answer from the sky. They’ve heard messages from the most unlikely of people and they received encouragement from close friends to acquaintances to near strangers. God is speaking to them. He is speaking to us too; we just aren’t listening as intently.

Right now the clearest, strongest voice in Patrick’s head is most likely that of His loving Father. I promise you God is in that room 24/7. The problem is that Patrick can’t communicate that to anyone right now. He is forced to simply listen. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say when he can speak but in the meantime his life reminds me to be more attentive to the voice of God and to His movements all around me. God is not dependent on our abilities as we see them. He does not choose the able, He enables the chosen. One thing I know with absolute certainty, Patrick has been chosen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

But for the Grace of God

But because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5


Through my life I have heard and used the title of this message repeatedly. Disaster strikes someone near to us or similar to us and we think, “there but for the grace of God go I..” True! I used to work with a woman with whom I had much in common. The major difference being I chose to accept salvation, to invite Jesus into my heart and she said, “no thanks.” The choice however is ours. God’s grace is available to any and all who will open their hearts and take it.

Over the last year or more I have watched as a young man I know, I’ll call him James, chose to reject the invitation of God. He has cast for himself idols made of flesh, chemicals, hops and barley, etc. etc. etc. He has lived fast and loose not caring who paid the price, not concerning himself with the needs or desires of the people around him, including his two small children. He has taken every wrong turn available in an attempt to fill the God-shaped hole.

A few months back I met another young man, Steve, who looks very much like James. He even carries himself like James in some ways. The major difference between them is that Steve said yes. He said, “Give me Jesus.” I see him in church praising God and I am taken back. The physical similarity to James is remarkable but it is all surface.

I would tell you that the two young men smile the same. They do. But Steve smiles with the easy confidence of a young man secure in his Father’s love. James smiles just with his lips. The love of God is rich and fulfilling. It is life giving and affirming. The love of idols is empty, destructive and sometimes painful. The smiles of these two young men will prove that to you in a split second.

Did God never offer His grace to James? Is Steve just more blessed? No! The same God made the same offer to both young men and by His grace Steve said yes. Out of blindness and the assurance that the world had better to offer James said no, repeatedly. He has pretended to say yes in attempts to get people off his back about his behavior but he has never truly embraced a relationship with Jesus.

Watching Steve one Sunday, his face so alive with love and with health, I could see God’s hand on him. Three days later I saw James and the contrast was palpable. James’ eyes are dead. His spirit is defeated. He is sad and weary. Idol chasing is destroying him.

It isn’t over for James and I am hoping that by God’s grace I will see him in some posture of worship. In Steve I see what James could be, what he could look like and I want it for him.

I don’t know Steve well, so I don’t know what he would say were his reasons for accepting Christ. I do know this, that decision has made all the difference. He is a very talented young man and that talent could have become his idol. He could have used that to buy, create and abuse other things that would become idols. Instead Steve chose to accept God’s grace and I hope and pray that one day James will too.