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?