Monday, December 31, 2012

Choose An Open Heart


 

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

 
Every now and then something happens that causes a television show to make the announcement, “you are joining a program already in progress.” We enter most people’s lives that way. With the obvious exception of our children, we join lives whose stories are already in progress. I joined one such life when my life was barely in progress. There isn’t a time in my early life that a woman I’ll call Angie, was not there.

 We lived in very close proximity so my observations of her are very personal.  Angie was cold to the extreme. There was no real option of getting to know her beyond surface information. She was unhappy, dissatisfied with her life and it showed. Watching her I determined to be nothing like her. Where she was unapproachable, chilly and dark, I wanted to be a warm, caring and affectionate person. As a child I was none of those things. I was reluctant, shy and fearful. As I grew life experiences took me more in Angie’s direction.  Don’t offer your heart, don’t show affection and by all means, never, ever let them see you cry. That seemed safe to me, smart but God had a different plan.

 Throughout my life I have been surrounded by small children. Before my children came to me it was younger cousins, then nephews and nieces, after which came babysitting clients and eventually a career in education, primary school education. That is what God used to keep the soft, open, loving parts of my heart alive. Those children were the tools he used to give me the desire to be like them, open, warm, hopeful.

 
God was not foreign to me. I was raised in church. Unfortunately the image of God presented to me there, in my early years, often seemed more in tune with Angie’s life than with mine. Then I met Jesus, really met him, as a person, not a doctrine and life began to change. With the help of his grace I allowed myself to be open, affectionate, compassionate and forgiving. People have seen me cry, although to be completely transparent, that one is still a struggle.

 
Life moved on and I began to experience the harshness of it but with the view of Jesus clearly with me. While my life has certainly presented challenges and there have been times when I’ve wondered if a cold hard heart would have been a safer option, I know that my heart has to be open and inviting if I want Jesus to dwell there. Which brings me back to Angie.

 
My own awakening has made me wonder about her so many times. What happened to cause such darkness? What event prompted her to close off and become cold, bitter and seemingly uncaring? No child starts life that way. How early, I wonder, did the pattern begin?

 Over the years of knowing her I would catch glimpses or get a little information that would lead me to believe that Angie was no more content living that way than I was watching her, but there was no room for conversation. No questions or suggestions would have been tolerated. Her life, in many ways, was a no trespassing zone.

 Angie has passed from this life and I still wonder why she was the way she was. Even though her actions, words and demeanor hurt me deeply I am grateful for the example she gave me, an example not to follow but one from which to learn.

In her last years we did not have contact so I have no idea what the end of her life looked like or if there was any change of heart.  I hope that somewhere in her life there were moments of communion with Jesus that brought her joy. I hope that she was able to forgive those who caused her pain as I have been able to forgive her. I hope at some point she came face to face with the Truth of Jesus Christ and that that truth set her free.

 I hope that someone will read this and decide that risking some hurt and humiliation but having a heart that allows Jesus free reign, is far preferable to staying safely closed and cold. That safe zone is a lie. The hurts still happen but instead of becoming learning experiences they become blocks in a wall that no one can scale.

 Deuteronomy 30:19b says, “ Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Choose life, life with Jesus Christ at the center and live well.   

Friday, December 28, 2012

Called By Love


I just began to read the book of Jude, not looking for anything in particular, just because I wanted to read it.  The first words in it grabbed my attention. It reads, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.

To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy and peace be yours in abundance.”
It’s just the greeting. Maybe it’s the New Testament version of “To whom it may concern.” But read it again. “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.”

I was reading Jude, just to read it. I love the last two verses, the doxology, so much and for whatever reason, was drawn just now to read the whole book, which I will do in just a few minutes, after I think about these words above that stopped me. “To those who have been called.” That’s me! My guess is if you are reading this, that’s you!

We have been called by God the Father and are kept by Jesus Christ and if that isn’t fantastic enough, back up to, “who are loved by God the Father.” Called and loved by God!
Some days I take it all for granted. I belong to God. Of course, I do, right? Wrong! God is not pushy. Revelation 3:20 says, “Here I am I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” He will knock and unless we open the door to Him, He will stand outside! God, the one true God, I AM, will knock and wait! God the Father called (knocked) but beyond that, gave me (and I again, I suppose you) the wisdom and humility to answer. The scary thing is I could have said no thanks.

We hear the Gospel referred to as Good News. The word gospel, we are told, means, good news. What could be better news than to know that Jude’s letter, written to “those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father” means us?
There are various greetings, written to various people groups in all the epistles but the fact is, every word from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 was written for us and to us. In those pages is everything we need to know, in those pages is the person of Jesus Christ, by whom we are kept.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

You and You and You



But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town David a Savior had been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

The other day I was listening to a modern version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and something stood out. In this particular version the singer sings the words, “He’s coming back for you and you and you and you….” As I listened I began to smile. I heard a very different voice, the voice of a young friend of mine who lives with a mild version of autism, among some other challenges. My little buddy fixates on certain songs or movies and repeats them over and over for a time before moving onto the next one. Right now one of the songs he loves contains the line, “You and you and you and well…..all of you!” See the connection?
While listening to the promise that Jesus, Emmanuel is indeed coming back for you and you and you, I thought of his willingness to come for us at all. We read in the Scripture that Jesus came to the Jews, to the people of Israel, but when they weren’t terribly accepting he opened his invitation to the Gentiles as well, i.e., the rest of us. Hallelujah!

He [Jesus] was born in a stable, in the cold, with no earthly celebration. There was however, great celebrating among the heavenly hosts. I had an occasion to assure a loved one the other day that heaven celebrates when one sinner repents. If heaven celebrates sinners, can you imagine the party thrown for its own precious, sinless Son? That reminds me of proud parents when their child does something, anything and the parents say, “Look, look, at him!” The angels tried to direct the spotlight and a few people got the message. That message wasn’t meant for a few, however, it was meant for many. It is an invitation given to anyone who will open his or her heart to receive it.

Jesus is coming back. I have no idea when and frankly, in my mind, it can’t be too soon.  We sing O Come Emmanuel and beg him to come “and ransom captive Israel.” Captive Israel has expanded to include all of us who believe.

Jesus is coming back, for who? For you and you and you and you and well……all of you (us).  We have no reason to fear, although the circumstances may look scary. Jesus is coming to take us home to the place that he has prepared for us, for all of us who accept the invitation. “O Come Emmanuel!”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Miracle Babies


“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son o God.”  Luke 1:34-35

Thirty-two years ago today I was as hugely pregnant and thrilled.  Throughout Advent I thought about Mary and her pregnancy. It was thrilling to think about my own baby, expected so close to the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  I was healthy and happy right up until the my own journey of labor, my twenty-eight hour, excruciatingly painful, journey. All of which was very worth the product, my son Paul.
Today Paul’s wife is expecting their first child. Her journey is a bit off from Mary’s as Paul is a January baby and my grandson, who I call “Silas,” as they are keeping his name a secret, is due in March.

There is however a huge similarity between Paul and “Silas,” even before our little man makes his appearance on this earth. They are both miracle babies. Of course neither of them has quite the spectacular story of baby Jesus but because of him, his sacrifice, his love for us Paul and Silas exist.

My son was born healthy and whole, only to suffer some trauma at five days old. That first day back in the hospital I was told Paul’s life was not secure, that he may well die. A few days later, five long, torturous days later, I was told that he would live but that he would have brain damage, irreparable, possibly serious brain damage. I was given a list of the things my son would most likely not do and that list was repeated to me several times over the next three years. He did them all and always ahead of the schedule on my American baby first five years timeline. Paul is a very accomplished young man, currently working on yet another advanced degree.  So much for brain damage.

A few years ago Paul and his wife were told that it would take some medical intervention for them to have a child. Paul, being Paul, began to plan for that. As is his way, he methodically arranged just how to approach the situation. Then God showed up.

When I got the phone call that they were expecting I was thrilled, for them, for all of us. What a miracle! Praise God! But it wasn’t until a bit later in communicating with my daughter-in-love about the baby that I realized, the miracle baby is having a miracle baby.
Doesn’t that just make you smile?

We live in a world where many people scoff at the idea of miracles. Ridiculous! The fact that we live, move, speak and breathe….. Miracle! But even if you take those things for granted, look around. There are miracle stories everywhere.  If you can’t see them, start talking to people. You may be surprised at how many people have miracle stories. As I write this there are names floating through my head, Madelyn, Jared, Ann, Heather, JJ….to name just a few.
Our God is a God of the great and the small. Take a breath and thank Him for the privilege. Then ask around and see who has a miracle story to tell.

 

 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Expectations


 

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus. Luke 1: 31

This morning I read a line in a devotional that really made me think. It said that the religious people of Jesus day had the attitude that the Messiah would get their allegiance when and if he fulfilled their expectations.  As soon as I read the words I expected a prick of guilt. Do I do that? Do I expect Jesus to meet my expectations?

Those questions made me laugh. I’ve had many reasons lately to take stock of all that God has done for me so far. I know what he is doing now and I have experienced the thrill of knowing that my future is in his hands. Do my expectations need to be met? No! Because they have been surpassed by miles and miles.

Looking around at my imperfect life, at my family, friends, job etc, I can see the myriad ways that Jesus has blessed me. There are people, things and experiences in my life that I couldn’t have asked for because they are beyond what I expected.

Jesus Christ and the simple, beautiful truth of his existence and his sacrifice, blow my expectations way out of the water.

Instead of guilt I felt pity. Pity for the people of Jesus’ days here on earth who didn’t get it and pity for the people of today who still don’t get it.  Jesus is not a means to an end, he is the end. He is the prize, the greatest gift, the biggest blessing. If he isn’t meeting your expectations then your expectations are wrong.

Having said that I will make the insufficient analogy of a young child’s visit with his grandparents.  This is the place where love is an absolute. He feels secure, accepted, desired but there is more.  In his grandparents house our little one knows that within reason, within the boundaries of safe and sane, he can have and do whatever he wants.  This is the place of ice cream sundaes not plain vanilla. This is the place of endless rounds of the current favorite game. This is the place where it seems that nothing bad can ever happen.

Now, multiply that by some huge number I can’t imagine and we’re getting close to who Jesus is to us. Having secured our place in eternity and taken abuse so that we can walk free, clean and healthy,  Jesus is not finished. He provides our ice cream sundaes, our ponies, and whatever else our hearts desire within the boundaries of safe and sane. He does not allow that which would put us at risk. He is our protector.

My heart breaks for the people who are waiting for something better, something more tailored to their expectations.  There isn’t anyone better.  All of our hopes, dreams, expectations and then some are answered in the person of Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Most Wonderful


 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7a

 
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Every year at this time something prompts me to borrow that line from the much loved Christmas song of the same name. It is the most wonderful time of the year but not for the reasons the media would like to sell us. This is what liturgical churches call Advent. When I was a child I was very confused by the juxtaposition of Advent and the secular preparations for Christmas.

In our church Advent was a solemn time. We prepared for the birth of the baby Jesus. That should be happy, right? Yes and no. Are we happy that Jesus is being born? Yes but because we know his whole story, we know about Good Friday and we know the part we play in it. That casts the solemn light on things. For while we were still sinners that precious Christmas baby, grown to a very young man, died for us. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

It is! Not because there are red, green, gold and silver decorations everywhere but because in a stable a baby was born, a baby who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of peace. (Isaiah 9:6) He would grow to tell us all that he is the vine and we are the branches and that without him we can do nothing. (John 15:5). It is the most wonderful time of the year.

It is, because we sing about and read about the obedience of a very young girl named Mary who carried that baby into this world. She did it knowing that this was no ordinary child. She did it knowing that she would face humiliation and possible punishment. She didn’t hesitate, as far as we can see from Scripture and her behavior is a beautiful example to us of the blessings that come through serving our Father in heaven. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It is because this time of year allows me and anyone else who chooses so, to live the Scripture, we love because he first loved us. (John 4:19 ) In a few days I will have the privilege of giving a gift that tells six people how much they mean to me and to God. Hopefully, they will see in that gift, that my love for them, constant and true as it may be, is sawdust when compared to the love of the Cross, the love that Jesus Christ has for each of them.

I will also spend time doing ridiculously messy but incredibly fun things with my grandbabies, another overflow of the love that is given to me by my Abba. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. “For unto us a child is born…. and he will be called Wonderful Counselor.” It’s the most wonderful time…………….

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Gratitude Epiphany


 
Weeping may remain for a night but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

For years I had nightmares. I didn’t sleep much and when I did it was fitful sleep. The demons I could hold at bay during the daylight hours plagued me at night.  I would pray as I closed my eyes to sleep that no evil or fear would find its way into my dreams but more often than not, the nightmares came. Then my life took a decided turn. More secure and more able to live in the Light I found sleep less fitful. The nightmares dwindled and eventually disappeared.
Over the last several months a cousin of those nightmares has resurfaced. Rarely are they as severe as they were but now it isn’t a few nights out of a week but just about every time I close my eyes to sleep. I pray. I fill my mind with Scripture and with praise but still the dreams come.  Once again my sleep is fitful. I wake up often but when I return to sleep the same negative images await.

Just today I was thinking and praying, trying to find an answer.  There has to be a reason for this interruption of my rest. There has to be a faithful way to dispel the images. Each morning when I wake up and can make mental choices I praise God. I do what I can to chase the ugly thoughts away and I get out of bed praising God. Each morning, whether my dreams are pleasant or unpleasant or if I even remember, I praise God.
Weeping/sorrow/fear may last for the night but rejoicing/joy comes in the morning.

This morning I heard a song that calls on the words of this very Scripture and I had an epiphany.  Odd as it may seem this is part of the lesson of giving thanks in all things.  In this same time frame I have been hearing and reading a lot about gratitude. As I make it a practice to be as grateful as I can and then to ask to become more grateful this all makes a strange sense.
I hate those dreams or nightmares. I hate waking up feeling as if I were in a fight the entire night. I have not one time thanked my Lord for those dreams. I have asked, no, begged to be released from them. I have told my husband about them and fought them but I have not one time thanked God for them.

Are we not told to give thanks in all  circumstances? (Philippians 4:6) Listening to the song about joy coming in the morning I realized that I need to be thankful for those dreams that threaten my peace. If for no other reason than the one given in Philippians but also because of how incredibly sweet the joy of the morning feels in comparison. 
God does not ask us to like our circumstances. He tells us, however to give thanks.  I have prayed and prayed to be more grateful, truly grateful. Starting now, I am thanking my Father in heaven for those nasty dreams.  They may stop. They may not but one thing I know for sure, joy comes in the morning.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Get A Helmet


 
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17

Years ago when my children were at the age where everything is unfair, they would complain to me ad nauseam about any and every issue. I found one answer I repeated over and over. “Life’s tough. Get a helmet.”
I was reminded of that recently when I began to feel as if one by one, unpleasant things were falling on my head. For years I’d lived with the ever present sense of a shoe about to drop, as they say but for awhile my life seemed somewhat emancipated from free flying shoes. Recently it seems that footwear is once again dangling precipitously over my head. I laughed as I thought about my own words to my children, “Life’s tough, get a helmet.”

Thinking about my total lack of control over said footwear I thought, “Hm, maybe I ought to get a helmet.” God in his amazing graciousness reminded me, ever so gently, that I have one. It is the helmet of salvation and it is one piece of an outfit designed to keep me safe, the armor of God. (Ephesians 5:10-18)
The helmet of salvation will see me through to heaven. It will not prevent shoes and/or boots from dropping unannounced on my head. It will protect my head as well as the rest of me. 

Life is tough, or at least it can be at times.  People we love and trust betray us. Jobs end, bad medical reports are given and things change, often not in positive ways. Without the loving protection of the armor of God any and all of those things could knock us over. With the armor they can sway us a bit but they cannot defeat us.
 Isaiah 54:17 says that no weapon formed against us will prosper.  If the adversary isn’t prospering does it follow that we are? It may not appear so in the moment. The prosperity from adversity may come here or it may be waiting at home. Either way, we, who believe in Jesus, will be safe. We are saved by his blood and nothing can take that away.

Shoes will most likely continue to drop on my head as I walk through this life. Some are light, bedroom slipperish and some are heavy work boots. It doesn’t matter. I have a helmet. That helmet may be full of dings and scratches when I get home but my head will be intact.
Life is tough, get a helmet. Get the helmet of salvation. It’s free, brought to you by the grace of God in the form of Jesus Christ and nothing formed against it can do any real damage.

 

 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hey


  

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:2

I began this message with the greeting from Ephesians because that is where my Bible happened to be open. I could have chosen any of Paul’s letters, as they all contain some version of the same greeting. Grace and peace.

Recently I have become a big fan of Pastor Joseph Prince.  Pastor Prince is all about grace. He is also quite well educated in Hebrew letters, their meanings and significance. Many, many times I have heard him talk about Hei (pronounced, hey), that is, grace.

I am a Yankee transplant. As I write this I am eight months away from having lived in the South as long as I lived in the North. The theory is, however and I do believe it, once a Yankee, always a Yankee.

When I first moved here there were many Southern phrases that made me clench my jaw. To be fair, twenty-seven years later several still do. One, however, has grown on me. That is the use of the word, hey as a greeting.

Growing up I was reprimanded for using hey. “Hay is for horses.” My Gram and my mother would tell me. Or I would hear, in rather aggravated tones, “Hey, what?” While ‘hey there” was marginally friendly and acceptable, it was still mostly reserved for use by men. Nice girls did not say hey.

So there I was in the South, hearing over and over again, “Hey!” Okay….. At first it really bugged me but eventually I started to see it as friendly, colloquial, acceptable. I began to use it myself. Lo these many years later, I have embraced the “hey.”

Enter Pastor Prince who tells me that hei is grace in Hebrew. Really? So every time I say, “Hey” to someone I am wishing them grace? Fabulous!

Our world has become quite informal. I can’t for a second, imagine greeting even my nearest and dearest by saying, “Grace and peace be with you.” That is exactly what I want for them but saying it just seems a bit awkward.

I am thrilled to know that one of the words that irritated me upon my arrival to the sunny South has become a gift. I just wish Pastor Prince could help me get past, “all y’all” but I doubt that there is anything even the Hebrew language can do for that one.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

There She Is



Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12
 Reading that verse this morning I was filled with joy at the idea of being fully known by God. This is a new experience for me. Any thought of God, of my Father knowing all about me has, up until very recently, made me quite uncomfortable, even ashamed. I’m human, all the way through and as such have done and said things I so very much wish I hadn’t. But God loves with perfect love. In the verses just prior, the very well known section of 1 Corinthians, it says, “it [love] keeps no record of wrong.” Thinking about that, about always, always, always being welcomed into my Father’s presence reminded me of a little friend of mine, Brittany.

Brittany’s mind doesn’t work in what we refer to as the “normal” way. She tends to grab hold of a phrase or two and repeat them over and over until something else catches her attention. The crazy part is that every now and then she gets a hold of one and uses it semi-appropriately. One of her current favorites is “There she is!”  My guess is that she hears it from her daddy, a man who clearly adores her.

Thinking about being fully known and at the same time fully loved by my Father I could see him, looking at me, catching my eye and saying, “There she is!”

Beloved, our Father feels that way about us all the time. It doesn’t matter who we think we are or what we are doing, through the sacrifice of Jesus we have been made beautiful and forgiven. I have no idea what details Abba sees when he looks at me. Tall? Short? Talented? Shy? I couldn’t tell you. I barely know what I see in me. This I do know, whatever he sees, he loves. How great is that?

I am very grateful to Brittany for shedding a new light on this Scripture for me. In my hardest, darkest moments as well as my happy ones, I plan to picture my Abba looking at me and saying, “There she is!”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Give Them Something to Talk About


 

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sind and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19-20

Normally when we think about talking about other people it carries some bad connotations. Recently I’ve had several conversations about others that have been very positive. The one that stands out is the chat I had with my husband, Otto about my sister, Brenda.

About a month ago Brenda came to my home for a quick weekend visit. That may not seem notable but when you consider the contortions and the alignment of events that had to take place to make that visit happen it becomes significant. Add to that that Brenda and I are not sisters by birth. (Make no mistake, although we do not share a family of origin we do share family and are very much sisters.) We had a great time on our weekend and agreed that at least once a year there has to be a visit for just the two of us.

When I was talking to my husband about it I realized even more how much that time spent together truly meant to me.  As I explained it to him and talked about my sister I also realized, not for the first time but in a very deep way, how much she really means to me. That gave me another idea.

I am not an evangelist. I’ve done the spiritual gifts assessment so I can assure you that I truly am not. Beyond that, the whole concept of traditional evangelism, the Roman Road, etc. makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve always been more of a proponent of St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary use words.” While I still feel better in that camp than in the door knocking, what would happen if you died tonight camp, I can see where a certain kind of talking could be extremely valuable.

In talking about Brenda, it wasn’t just I who was touched by the words. As he listened my husband saw my feelings and also commented on how much he likes her as well. Follow me here. If I speak about Jesus in that same casual way, just sharing about the time spent with my brother, not only will I see how much that time means to me but so will whoever is listening to me.

Anything that brings me closer to Jesus is desirable to me. If I can also draw others to him that’s even better. I may not be an evangelist but I am a talker and I do love the Lord.  That’s a far better topic than a lot that I hear around me. If my joy in my relationship with Jesus can influence someone else to seek him that will be the best of all outcomes.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Loss of Brian*


 
Do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Our bodies are temples, created to house the presence of God. Let that sink in for a minute. How did you treat that temple yesterday? Don’t worry, this isn’t a fitness lecture. Trust me, I’m in no position to give one of those! My point is that while we know that and believe it, we forget sometimes.

Think of your home.  At our house there is always a project and they are all designed to enhance the look and livability of our house. To be completely transparent, I don’t do so well with the aforementioned temple. I go through phases of eating well, sleeping enough and getting a decent amount of exercise but then so many other things are pressing or more important and let’s not deny the trumpet call of chocolate.

For years I knew a man named Brian who was constantly challenging me to change. Before you picture me as morbidly obese or horribly out of shape, I’ll tell you the facts. My weight is at the lower end of the normal range and my body is quite healthy. I have no chronic diseases or health issues. The thing with Brian was that his goal was to build and preserve the best body possible to live as long as humanly possible. As long as humanly possible because in Brain’s life there was no God.

One day as he was explaining that to my friend Charlene and me, I commented on our lack of need for such vigilant attention to the details of our physical body. There ensued a conversation about what is important. To Brian, physical and mental health were paramount. To Charlene and me, God is God, number one priority in our lives. That’s where the rubber hit the road because of Brain’s atheism.

We spoke for about forty minutes, all of it calm and pleasant. When Brian left our classroom he told us that while he still found us terribly misguided, he appreciated that we didn’t yell and carry on and that we treated his ideas with respect. (A side note, that was his perception. We treated him with respect. His ideas were ridiculous.)  At one point in the conversation I told Brian he did have a god. Which he vehemently denied. Brian’s god was his own body.  He didn’t see his body as a home for God but as god.

Sadly that body, that god, turned on him just a few months after our conversation. Charlene and I, among so many others hoped and prayed that the physical pain he was suffering would show Brian how fallible his system really was and cause him to reach for something better.  Apparently that never happened because, most likely feeling betrayed by the god of his making, Brian took his life.

There is a line from the Newsboys song, “Breakfast” that has been running through my head since I heard that news. “Those here without the Lord how do you cope?” It is a line that I have pondered on many, many occasions. My hope is in the name of the Lord and I am never disappointed.  When my hope is in another person, I can  suffer disappointment. Money? Disappointment.  Success? Disappointment. My body? Disappointment, again. My point is that no matter how great our relationships are, how wealthy we are, how successful or how healthy and gorgeous we are, nothing has value without God.

So I think about Brian and my heart breaks.  Sad enough to endure this world alone but tragic beyond my comprehension to head to the next one without Jesus by my side.

We did what we could, Charlene and I.  We loved Brian. We prayed for him. We offered the invitation many times to introduce him to the One who saves.  Brian believed he knew better.  My heart breaks for him but where is the hope?

Today I will head to church where I will gather with other people who believe as I do that God is all we need.  I will pray that someone, somewhere recognizes his or her need for a Savior.  It’s all I can do at this point to move past the loss of Brian.  

*This is dedicated to the memory of Brian Syme, an extremely kind and incredibly intelligent man, who will be missed by so many people.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Let Blessings Flow


 

A generous man will himself be blessed, because he shares his food with the poor. Proverbs 22:9

“Where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and all blessedness. We do not obtain forgiveness by good works, but through the forgiveness of sin come good works.” Martin Luther

I don’t know if it’s because Thanksgiving is around the corner or because Christmas comes right behind it, in any case I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about giving and forgiving lately.

For awhile our enemy really tried to convince me that I didn’t give out of the overflow of what God has given and continues to give to me, but as a means to an end.  Just as I began to question my motives and look for guilt, (yes, look for guilt!) I read this quote from Martin Luther. Oh! That’s right.

I love how perfectly and succinctly he puts it. We can give and serve ourselves to exhaustion but that isn’t going to earn us any forgiveness. Hello, the word is forgiveness! But once we receive forgiveness a natural chain of events is to want to take that grace and spread it around.

There is much debate, even among Christians about faith and good works. There is an attitude in some circles that if you aren’t serving you shouldn’t expect anything from God. For me that begs the question, have you met God? Because He surely doesn’t operate that way, thankfully!

Doing something, anything, that we can call a “good work” can serve a couple of purposes. It can lend one the decidedly erroneous impression that one is earning salvation. It can also give one something to hold over the head of others. “Well, I put in four days at that church! What did he do?”  Yuck! If that makes us cringe….well, I can’t believe it pleases God’s heart.

We are called the children of God, family. We are supposed to love one another. That love shouldn’t be based on what someone is or is not doing. It’s just supposed to be love, based on the example of our Father, a free gift.

If hurting people hurt people, then shouldn’t it follow that blessed people bless people?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Heavy Feet


So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. John 20:3

Can you draw a picture of Peter and “the other disciple” [John]? I cannot but when we see depictions of the apostles John is tall and lithe and Peter is shorter and burly. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s based on the men of the time and the attributes ascribed to each one in the Bible.  If we believe those descriptions to be accurate then it makes sense that John arrives first. Peter, chunky boy that he is, comes huffing and puffing bringing up the rear.  That could be why but today I’m wondering if there is another explanation.

Peter and John were both very close to Jesus. John stuck with Jesus to the last breath. Peter ran. He denied their friendship and then he ran and hid. Now, the tomb is empty.  Of course they want to see it for themselves. They want to know what happened. Where is Jesus if not in the tomb? So they both begin to run as one might suppose, their thoughts do as well. What would each one be thinking?

They were both with Jesus when he said that he that he would rebuild the temple in three days. As they ran I can’t help but wonder if their thoughts took that path. They are at three days later and what they know is that the tomb is empty. John most likely is excited. It can’t be real, can it? And yet, in his time with Jesus,  he’s seen so many things that didn’t seem possible.

Peter on the other hand might very well be a bit nervous. The last time he saw Jesus he was denying their friendship. Were the words “I don’t know the man” slowing his steps? Had Peter lost a bit of his eagerness? Was he thinking it might be better to let someone else get there first? In that moment, what words could he possibly think would be the right ones to say to the dear friend he’d betrayed? And what reception does he anticipate from that friend?

I have no idea why John got to the tomb first but today I am struck with the idea that it very well could be the feet of innocence versus feet leaden with guilt. Then I have to ask myself the question, how often have I let guilt slow my steps? How often have I neglected, just like Peter, to understand that the whole point of the Cross was that nothing, not one thing, not even my own guilt can separate me from the love of God?

Maybe Peter didn’t hesitate. Maybe you don’t either but I can assure you that I have. I have forgotten that it isn’t about me. It’s about Jesus and his sacrifice. Perhaps the foolishness isn’t so much in the hesitation that occurs because I feel unworthy. Perhaps the bigger problem occurs on the days when I foolishly believe that on my own I could ever be worthy.

Peter and John were running to the tomb to learn what we are also privileged to know. Jesus Christ did die on that cross but three days later he walked out of that tomb, clean, free and very much alive so that you and I can live clean, free very much alive and soaked in grace.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Daddy, Wha!"


 

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:17b-18

My little granddaughter Abigail, is at the perfect age. She is nineteen months old, chubby and absolutely adorable. She loves life and is as content to sit and watch as she is to get up and dance.  Whatever she’s doing, she does it with a sweet innocence and openness to the world around her that is the lot of life of children raised in happy homes by loving parents.
Abigail is very attached to her mama but when it comes to superheroes she has one, Daddy.

My son Jeffrey is a musician and encourages a love of all things musical in all of his children.  Abigail is a dancer.  If Daddy will make noise that has a tune and/or a beat, Abby will dance.  I commented about that to my sister, who then asked if Jeffrey could send her a video of the baby dancing.  He did and knowing I’d have to see it too, he sent it to me as well.

In the beginning before the future Dancing With the Stars winner begins her routine she looks right at Jeffrey, holding the camera and says, “Daddy wha!” or at least that’s what it sounds like. Apparently she is saying “Daddy what.”  So cute! Beyond cute there is a delight in her face. Clearly she knew Jeffrey was in the room with her but when she looks and sees him there her face lights up and she shrieks with delight.
This morning I was overwhelmed with the love of my Daddy, our Abba Father.  I wrote in my journal, “Abba, wow!”  I immediately thought of Abigail. She is delighted with Jeffrey, as well she should be, he adores her and he’s an excellent daddy to all three of his children.  My first thought was one of thanksgiving for Jeffrey, for Abigail, for her sister Isabelle and her brother Samuel. They have a great example of what a father should be which will make a relationship with their heavenly Father an easier one to build.

The next thing that grabbed my heart was the simplicity but unabashed joy with which Abigail greets Jeffrey. I thought then of how often I am taken by surprise by the presence or the sheer enormity of God’s love for me.  I can’t be alone in that.  How great it would be if when we are presented with the undisputable fact of the unconditional love of our Father if we would just look at him and say, “Abba, what!” It isn’t a question. As in, what are you doing here. It’s an expression of delight. As in, what did I ever do to deserve this? Our Daddy’s answer to us would be the same as Jeffrey’s to Abigail. Nothing, you’re just you. Now doesn’t that make you want to shriek with delight?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Jesus


 

Everyone who calls on the name of the will be saved.  Romans 10:13

 
Salvation is a funny thing.  It seems that it is often misunderstood. I know I’ve struggled in that area and sometimes still do. Although, praise God, that is rare these days.  When Jesus died on the Cross that was a once and for all sacrifice on his part. However, we need saving more than once. Now, I don’t mean saving in the sense of eternal salvation.  I mean saving from, as in one day I may need saving from fear. The next day or week it might be pride.  We have been saved by Jesus for eternal life. (John 3:16) but there is so much more to it.

Look at John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” When the thief arrives at my door, attempting to steal my peace he does it in various ways.  The success of those tactics is pretty much up to me. Just this week I’ve had several opportunities to, if not panic, at least get quite anxious. I am sad to say that even thirty plus years into my close relationship with Jesus my go to position is, “oh no!” Not good! Thanks be to God this week I have stopped, listened and spoken the name of Jesus and a word of praise. Guess who won? Jesus, of course.

I am human, flawed and forgetful.  I do not for one minute expect you to believe that I will never panic or become fearful again.  Like you, I will also experience God’s “no” and feel the disappointment that brings.  In those times I will try to remember that God sees the whole picture and that His ways are perfect, right and best. Given the progress of this week I am confident that the turnaround time from my next disappointment or “no” will be swifter but I can’t know that for sure. What I do know is that God is for us which means only a fool would come against us. (Romans 8:31)

Life on Earth is hard and it brings with it myriad opportunities for worry, fear, pride, and arrogance. The name of Jesus can strike those and any of their cohorts, down in less than a millisecond. Try it. The very next time you are willingly giving your peace to the enemy, to the thief at your door, say the name of Jesus. It’s great if you can quote a Scripture but it isn’t essential. Just say Jesus. Say it softly, in a whisper. Speak it in conversational tones or scream it out at the top of your lungs. Volume doesn’t matter, heart does. If we say that name, call it out like a child who is fearful or hurt yells, “Mommy!” then we will feel that unexplainable peace rush in.

Jesus. By his precious name we are saved, once for all, yes, but also over and over and over and over again.  The thief came to destroy and one failure, one million failures will not deter him. So answer him every time with the name that came to give abundant life, the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Just Enough


Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9b-10

This morning I was reading about manna.  The message was describing the loving providence of God. It dealt with how our merciful God meets our needs. It was lovely but to be quite honest, my mind wandered elsewhere while I was reading it.

When the Israelites were in the desert they were given manna and they were told to gather just enough for one day. (Exodus 16:4-5)  Of course the Israelites were human and some of them didn’t exactly obey the directive which led to some pretty nasty results. (Exodus 16: 20)  The manna they held onto for the future ended up filled with maggots. Gross!

Thinking about that aspect of the story made me wonder why they didn’t trust God? He said he would provide food every day but they doubted…. Suddenly I became very uncomfortable with my thoughts as another Bible verse came to mind. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34.  Who looks unfaithful now Patricia? Oh yeah, that chick in my mirror.

This comparison came to me two days after I let the enemy run rampant in my head on his little “what if” unicycle.  I literally made myself sick over some what ifs. These are things over which I have zero influence let alone control. They are also things that may or very well may not occur. On top of that they aren’t any part of today. Oh heaven help me, I’m an Israelite! 

The passage from Matthew 6 ends with the words about tomorrow but it begins with the same admonition. “Therefore I tell you do not worry….”  (Matthew 6:25 emphasis mine) Worry is the child of unfaithfulness.  If I have faith that God is for me then I have to believe that he will see me through whatever happens.  When I don’t believe it I worry. Worry takes me away from God, as it has shifted my focus to myself.  I have then become egocentric  as opposed to Theocentric and that makes life hard.  

Like the Israelites manna there are areas in my life that are ugly, covered, theoretically in maggots.  Why ? I didn’t obey the directive.  God says, “trust me.”  When I don’t things get much harder and much more complicated.

The other day in a conversation with my son Paul I said to him, “You’re making this much harder than it has to be.”  Hmm… How easy it is to see it when it’s someone else, like my son, like the Israelites but not so clear when it’s me.

Today is a good day.  It is a gift from my loving Abba. Why would I want to waste one precious minute worrying about tomorrow or next week or next year? I suppose the answer is because I am as human as the Israelites and while I believe with all of my heart that God’s will is best there is that ugly little voice that asks, “but what if it isn’t what you want it to be?”  The answer to that is then what I wanted was wrong. If I follow his directives and stay close to him God will always provide for me, just enough and then some.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Freeing Spirit


 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.
2 Corinthians 3:17 (NKJV)

 
It is hard for me to understand how people live without God.  Thankfully over half of my life has been lived with a real relationship with the Trinity.  Beyond that I was raised in church and as much as that means nothing on its own, I believe God was always preparing my heart to welcome him.  I cannot think of a time in my life that for better or worse was not influenced by my idea and/or knowledge of God.

Just a few days ago I listened as my very dear friend, Kim, recounted events in her mother’s life. To say the situation is unstable is a vast understatement as it leans precariously close to deadly.  My heart broke for my friend, first of all because I love her and I know she loves her mother.  I also felt a deep connection as just ten days prior I had experienced a similar event with someone exceedingly close to me. I knew firsthand the fear and disappointment that my friend was feeling.  I also knew the desperation. We who love Jesus, who depend on the love of our Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are terrified when we see a loved one on such a well defined path of destruction with no thought to salvation.

As we prayed, Kim, another dear sister in Christ and I, the above verse rolled around in my head.  “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”  Or as it is written in the NIV, “freedom.”  When it was my turn to pray that is exactly what I prayed for Kim’s mother and for Kim and I realized why that verse was poking at my mind. That is what Kim’s mom needs. It’s what my loved one needs as well, liberty and freedom but the kind that come from the Spirit of the Lord.

Their stories are dissimilar in detail. Their bondages are dissimilar but they have in common one very important detail, neither of them acknowledges the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. They both give lip service to appease the believers around them but there is no heart behind it.  I’ll say again, I do not know how people live that way. Without Father, Son and Holy Spirit, what’s the point?

When I think of Kim’s mom, my dear one and others like them the word tortured comes to mind. I see them running in circles, chasing after a peace and a love that only comes from God.  To the outside observer, people unaware of the intimate details, both Kim’s mom and my dear one look like people who enjoy life, who are relaxed and happy, taking life as it comes.  While inside there is a sickness, a torment that comes straight out of hell. We know, Kim and I, where they can find liberty, freedom and peace and we hope and pray that they will reach for it.

What we also know is that God has a solution for every problem, a word for every hurting soul. Faced with Kim’s broken heart I knew I wanted to pray and offer comfort to her and hope for her mom. I had no idea what I would pray until God put it in my heart and mind.  That goes beyond liberty and freedom to providence and mercy.  Who wants to live without that?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

High/Low



As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous.  Joshua 1:5-6a

 
Does your family do the high/low game?  It’s the game where at dinner or bedtime, each person in the family tells their high and low point of the day.  The idea is to make us more aware of our blessings and show us that in light of those blessings the lows maybe aren’t so low or are at least bearable.

Yesterday, in an effort to distract myself from some things that had occurred during my day,  I played the game with three of my grandchildren.  They are all under the age of nine so their answers were quite precious.  Two art projects and a “cool way to play football with a soccer ball” made the high list. The lows were benign in the extreme. It warmed my heart as my high and low were the exact same thing and I was still in the throes of trying to process it. To be perfectly frank, I’m still trying to process it.

God is incredibly good.  In his goodness he has answered one of the most earnest prayers of my heart.  Yesterday I found out that someone who used to be very near and dear to me received a miraculous answer to prayer. It was absolutely a PRAISE GOD moment. Upon hearing the news that is exactly what I did. Due to God’s mercy I was able to stay completely in that praise mindset for several hours. That was an enormous high.

The low? Note the words, “used to be very near and dear.”  There is an estrangement now that takes me a bit away from the miracle.  While I should be knee deep in celebration I am barely able to dip my toe in the oceans of joy that are a part of this news.  In recent months I’ve gone from near and dear to persona non grata. It’s quite a conundrum. So when the reality set in and the realization came that I am an outsider in this miracle, an observer with no invitation to come closer I felt my heart break.

Wait a minute! While my feelings are absolutely valid there is no room for heartbreak here. This is cause for celebration. This is  praise God moment after praise God moment. What was said to be impossible is not. It’s happened! This is certainly a thing that only God can do.

Does my heart still bleed? Oh yes, all over the floor! And yet, I know that my redeemer lives. I know that he will carry me through my personal pain. This is a bit of a storm for me and in this moment I can pretty much hear Jesus snoring in the back of the boat, my boat. In the other boat he’s dancing an Irish jig and for that I am extremely grateful.

For my part, I know he never lets go of me. Calm, storm, joyous, heartbroken or as in this case some odd mixture of all of the above, my Abba holds me in his hand and he won’t let me go. So to the enemy who is attempting to minimize this miracle and cause me sadness because of it I say, “get behind me!” My God reigns and this is a huge high, a huge victory. Praise God.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Who Are You?


Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

          John replied, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the path of the Lord.’ ”
 John 1:22-23

 
“Who are you?” How would you answer that question? I suppose it could depend on your mood, right?  It would also depend on who is asking, which already half answers the question.  I identify myself very often by my relationships.  Otto’s wife, Paul/Joseph/Jeffrey/Laura’s mom  “Grammy” to their children,  Charlene’s friend but Mrs. Davis’ assistant (Charlene is Mrs. Davis) etc.  My identity is very much tied to the people around me.

Here John the Baptist is saying that he is the one making the road ready for Jesus.  John is the precursor. That’s a mid-size word that simply means the one who comes before.  So here John is identifying himself by one important relationship. Oddly in verse 31 he says, “I myself did not know him.”

Let that one sink in for a minute and skip over the fact that John and Jesus are cousins. ( I have thirty-six first cousins and I know every one of them.  So that strikes me as odd.)  John is preparing the way for Jesus. He loves Jesus sight unseen.  The motivation of his life is to prepare people, to call them to readiness for the arrival of Jesus.

How many people do you know that identify themselves as children of God, as believers? When asked they will say they are Christian but do they know Christ?

I identified myself as a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and co-worker and all of those things are true.  First and foremost, however, I am a child of God. It is his mercy that allows me to live. It is his compassion that helps me through hard times, his joy that makes my joy sweeter, his wisdom that guides me and his strength that enables me. On the days that I can readily and easily answer, “Who are you?” by saying,  “I am Tricia, a child of God” I can count on great strength,  infinite mercy and absolute guidance.  On the days that I want to say I am his but hesitate for whatever reason I give the enemy a toehold.

John the Baptist is known for being just a little left of center.  He looked odd. He ate weird things and he said things that seemed even weirder but take a look at his answer. John was a man who knew exactly who he was and exactly why he was here. I don’t know about you, but that makes me a little jealous.