Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Expectations


 
Listen! I am coming soon! I will bring my reward with me. And I will repay each one of you for what you have done. Revelation 22:12

A week ago it was Christmas Eve. Having many little ones in our family I am well aware of how anxiously they awaited the big day, Christmas. As an adult watching the little ones you always hope the event will live up to the hype and anticipation.
A few weeks ago my husband and I went on a trip to Tennessee to celebrate a special anniversary. That trip far exceeded my expectations and hopes. But, you never know. When we wait and wait for something, Christmas, a birthday, a vacation there’s always a chance that it will disappoint.

Some people live their entire lives waiting. When I get married. When I graduate. When I get the better job, the new car, the driver’s license etc. It’s all going to change when the_____?_______ happens.  Sometimes it does. Some of those things are turning points in our lives and things do change. Even then the change isn’t always good. Even spiritually, we pray and wait to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Then he moves and sometimes it isn’t what we wanted. Growing closer to God isn’t an easy process. We get to know him through grace and blessings of course but we also draw closer and learn in our suffering times.

Here in the verse from Revelation Jesus is talking about coming back for us. It’s a day that for true believers is better than any other day imaginable. Most of us don’t think in terms of being here for the Rapture. We think in terms of our death and our journey to the new life and that has some scary aspects. Let’s think for a minute though of the actual arrival at home. Jesus is waiting for us. Father God is waiting. The Holy Spirit is waiting. We are told that a cloud of witnesses is waiting. (Hebrews 12:1) People who have had near death experiences talk about seeing loved ones who have already made it home. It’s so amazing to think about it, isn’t it?

Unlike any earthly event to which we look forward, this one cannot disappoint. When my husband and I took our trip to Tennessee we had great expectations and they were exceeded. We had no way of knowing how much fun we would have there. There were blessings in that trip that we couldn’t possibly have anticipated. That is a weak comparison to what awaits us in heaven and our trip was temporary. Eventually we had to leave.
When we get home we will be with our Father. Jesus, the one and only Jesus will greet us and hold us close. I can hope and plan, wait and watch but I can’t begin to imagine how great and glorious it will be.  No matter how wonderful I think it will be, I know it will be better.  Human plans carry the potential to disappoint but God’s plans never do. That makes me happy and excited to get there, to go home and to know that I never have to leave.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Love Trumps Dirt


 

When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought  an alabaster jar of perfume and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”  Luke 7:37-39

In reading an incredibly well written explanation of grace, I came across this passage as an example. It certainly speaks to grace and the author made excellent points. I was however, distracted by an entirely different image. My mind’s eye immediately saw images of the Chilean miners emerging from their underground nightmare. It wasn’t the over the top mercy and love of God evidenced in that rescue that caught my attention either; it’s the simple filth of the whole situation.
For sixty-nine days those men were underground. Now it is beyond fair to say that I know nothing about mining or what is and isn’t a part of that experience but I’m fairly confident in assuming that toileting and certainly bathing options were seriously limited if they existed at all. So, sixty-nine days after any real bathing opportunities, the men emerge. Did their love ones stand back or recoil at the sight and/or smell of them? No! They ran, they grabbed on, they hugged and kissed. The relief, the love and the truly miraculous nature of the moment negated anything else.

Go back to the Scripture. This woman is weeping and her tears are the “water” she is using to clean the feet of Jesus. Take the word Jesus out of the equation for a brief moment. This is a young man who walks everywhere on dirt roads also frequented by animals. Yuk! His feet aren’t just dirty….. Beyond washing them with her tears, she dries them with her hair. (Beth Moore must shudder at that thought! Most women do, I think.) Then, as if that isn’t intimate enough, she kisses his feet. Why? Okay, now put Jesus back into the picture, not just some random young man with dirty feet but Jesus Christ. Ah, that explains it. It’s love, huge, enormous, crazy love that spurs her actions. She knows him and she’s felt his graciousness. Much like the family of the miners, his condition is not the main factor. It is simply a matter of who he is to her and how much she loves him.
So what about her? The Pharisee, ever helpful, would like Jesus to get a clue. “Uh, hello, that chick kissing your feet is a prostitute. I’m just saying.”

 He’s so sure that if Jesus knew who she was he wouldn’t allow her to touch him. Wrong! And there it is again. Love. She is untouchable, at least in the light of day by men who wanted to be seen as respectable. Maybe in a dark corner somewhere if it could stay a secret but not like this! Does Jesus care? Yes, but not the way the Pharisee wants him to care. Jesus loves her. He is so touched by her open and obvious love for him. She doesn’t care about his dirt and he doesn’t care about hers. Now that, beloved, is pure, unconditional love.
Another quick image came to my mind. I saw my sweet husband after a few hours of yard work. The joke is always, “give me a hug” as he drips sweat and has dirt and grass clinging to his body. Um… no, thank you. I always give him an air hug and kiss, exactly what he expects. But suppose he’s filthy and sweaty from a near fatal accident? Or suppose I hadn’t seen him in days or weeks? Then I wouldn’t even see sweat and dirt. Then I would only see love.  My sight would be skewed by my love for him and his for me.

We are dirty, filthy, sweaty people, in far worse condition than those miners or even that woman. Yet, Jesus reaches his arms out without hesitation. Further, he transfers our dirt to his body where it was crucified and defeated. That, my friends, is LOVE!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Cry of Jesus


 

Today in the city 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 swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Luke 2:11-12

 
Yesterday I had the privilege and blessing of spending the day with five of my eleven grandchildren. The two youngest ones were part of the group. Abram is just short of nine months old and Harper is six months old. Neither of them is talking but both of them are great little communicators. Abram has eyes that speak volumes, even in pictures. His moods and opinions are pretty clear if you can see those big beautiful eyes. Harper uses her whole face but it’s her mouth, they way she opens or purses her lips that give her away. Both of them have a certain head tilt that is equally adorable and telling. They let you know their opinions, wants and needs with facial expressions and noises, not words.

Joey, who at nine years old is our oldest grandchild, spent the night with us. While we were admiring the new crèche that Pop Pop built for the Holy Family, Joey was explaining to me that Jesus wasn’t born in December.  Later in the night I was thinking about that conversation and about Jesus as a baby. The images of my precious Abram and adorable Harper came to my mind, in particular how different they are. When Harper wants something she yells, short, sharp sounds that if unanswered turn into a disappointed cry. Abram is quieter at first with his tears. Where Harper opens her mouth wide, Abram’s sweet face crumbles, his lip quivers and his cry starts, sad and plaintive. As their grandmother all I want to do in either case is give them whatever they need or want. My little angels should never be sad!
Thinking of Jesus as a baby in comparison to my angels I started to wonder.  Jesus would have to have cried for what he wanted and needed just like Abram and Harper. I pictured him both ways, Harper’s way, a tad more insulted that we hadn’t anticipated her needs and Abram’s a bit more poignant, how could we not know he needed us? How would baby Jesus cry? And why?

We learn all through Scripture that Jesus was fully man yet fully God. This is a being who could and would eventually heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind and save the world. Doesn’t it follow that he could have just looked at Mary and said, “Mother, I’m a bit chilly here, not to mention hungry and wet.” He didn’t. He came to us as helpless, needy and limited as Abram and Harper. Like my sweet ones Jesus had to cry for attention. Oh yeah!
When my thoughts got there I realized that the Savoir of the world, the One true God, the Almighty, did grow as a boy and man. He did speak, quite eloquently in due time, just as my babies will. Then after humbling himself to that most dependent form, he literally gave his life for us. Yet, he still cries for our attention. There I see a bit more of Abram’s heartbroken cry.  Jesus does not demand our attention, though he could. He waits, he calls and he beckons. Sometimes we answer and sometimes we don’t. ( See Luke 19:41-44 for an example )

To think of Abram or Harper crying and crying to no avail is heartbreakingly sad to me. I cannot stand it. I am so grateful to have them in my life and now I’ve learned an important faith lesson from them. They’ve given me an image of Jesus as a baby and now, that I hadn’t fully considered before. One day soon both Abram and Harper will use words instead of just sounds and facial expressions but for now I’ll enjoy their unique ways of communicating.
Merry Christmas and may Jesus touch your life today and every day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Seeing or Believing


Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

It is Advent or what is referred to in the secular world as “the Christmas season.”  During this season I love to watch old movies. My favorites are mostly the ones in black and white but my husband and grandchildren make other requests. One of their favorite movies includes the line, “seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” It’s corny, incredibly, ridiculously corny in a way that is only tolerable in the red, gold and green of the season but in its own corny way there is a certain profundity.  Think about it, “Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” Does it strike a familiar chord?

Remember Thomas? He’s the disciple that had to see and feel Jesus’ wounds to believe that Jesus had in fact, risen from the dead. (John 20: 24-28) He was an, I’ll believe it when I see it, kind of guy.

Hebrews 11 is the faith Hall of Fame. In it are listed people who believe in impossible circumstances. These are people whose situations brought to mind words like hopeless, over, impossible, Not. A. Chance. And yet, here they are listed in the Bible as people of great faith. They believed and then they saw.

How about you? Do you believe after the miracle or before?

My own life has been a minefield of challenges for the past several months. That is not to say that I have been miserable or unhappy. It is however, to say that I have become very aware of the origin of my joy, blessings and victories. There have been defeats and disappointments but in it I am fully confident that God has a plan; that he who began a good work in me will not now leave me to finish the race on my own. (Philippians 1:6) In many areas I cannot see his hand but I believe that he is orchestrating the events of my life for the best outcome even as I feel defeated or unhappy. Feelings are human and fleeting. Joy is real and comes from a never ending Source that we cannot see but whose promises we can most certainly believe.

So back to the corny line, “seeing isn’t believing.” True because where there is proof there is no need for faith, for belief and hope in what appears to be impossible. “Believing is seeing.” Again, true, because when we believe that God’s plan, purpose and will are the best we can rest and trust in him. We can “see” his hand, his blessings and his love for us and from there we can hope. We can be certain that we are in the best care possible.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Before You Were Born


 
The Lord appeared to us in the past saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with loving kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

 
Today we will celebrate our youngest son’s thirtieth birthday.  It is hard for me to believe that he is thirty. In my mind he’s still four, pretending to be an old man, with his baby sister at his side pretending to be his wife. As we’ve planned and cooked and created surprises for today I’ve gone back in time. I remember being pregnant, delivering him, the news that he was a boy, a very big boy. So it was quite fitting today that my first devotional reading of the morning included these words, “Before you were born I knew you.”

It made think of Jeffrey. Due to his size, 9 pounds, 22 inches, Jeffrey made his presence very much known to me in the months that we resided literally together. I joked about his very active behavior when he began to roll, kick and poke but those jokes changed to a feeling of concern when the movements slowed down to very little activity. My doctor quickly assured me that it was because my baby had no room to move around but that the baby was, in fact, just fine.
Note my use of the words, “the baby” or “my baby.” I’m in my fifties. In my day there weren’t scans to tell you the gender of the baby. Those scans were brand new, used very rarely. The morning of November 30, 1983 all I could tell you about my baby was that he or she was making it very hard for me to sit down and that I loved that baby sight unseen. I did not know Jeffrey before he was born, anymore than I knew his older brothers, Paul and Joseph, or baby sister Laura. I knew that they were mine, that I wanted them and that I would love them no matter what. I did not however have a clue of how difficult no matter what could get.

This morning I read the words, “Before you were born I knew you” and had a heightened respect, love and sense of gratitude toward God. I did not know when I was carrying and delivering each one of my children that while each of them would bring incredible joy, amusement, tenderness and love, that each one would also break my heart at times in ways I could never imagine. The depth and ability a child possesses to cause pain to a parent is unfathomable until it occurs. The level of ability to forgive and move on is a beautiful gift from God. But I didn’t know about that pain before I had children nor did I know about the connection or joy I would feel. What if I’d known the whole story? Would I have chosen to be a mother? I can’t honestly say. For one reason our journeys are still going and for another, I also didn’t know that God would give me strength and comfort.
God knew and knows us all, from conception to eternity. He loves us the entire way through with no strings or conditions. Sadly, I cannot say the same. I have, at times, placed conditions on my children. What’s worse I’ve done it passive/aggressively. The whole “of course I love you but please by all means feel the intensity of my disapproval.” YUK! All I can say is PRAISE GOD, that he does not love us that way.

Our Father knew before we were born, about every sin that we would commit and still he allowed our lives to happen, he allows us to sin and repent over and over again without fear of having gone too far.
My son Jeffrey is a precious gift in my life and I wouldn’t give him up or trade him, ever. Today, because the focus was on him, on his birth he helped me to see a wonderful truth in a deeper way. God’s love is truly a free gift, given with full knowledge that we did not and cannot deserve it and that, as horrific as this sounds, sometimes we don’t care if we have it or not. We ignore God and he knew we would.

It has always been my goal to be the best mother I could be. Looking over my children’s lives I fear that my best, if in fact they got it, was just not good enough. My children may measure, they do measure, and find me lacking but our Father doesn’t ever measure. He simply but perfectly loves.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Always Protected


 

He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

 Growing up I was a very timid child. For reasons that aren’t worth discussing I was quite fearful and had no real comfort zone. Still I felt worse when I was away from home. My mother was a big woman, prone to wearing dresses and skirts, most of which were bell shaped or flowy. I loved those skirts! They were my haven. Whenever I was totally intimidated, read that as most of the time, I would stand as close to my mother as possible and pull the material of her skirt in front of me.
This morning while praying, I was blessed with the image of God’s giant hand holding the enemy back, off, away from me. As I prayed in thanksgiving I said. “I love it behind the shelter of your huge hand.” That reminded me of the skirts.

Note it was not my mother’s presence that gave me comfort. She was not a comforting person, because, God bless her, she was not a comfortable person. If I lacked a comfort zone and I did, I’m fairly sure it was an inherited lack. So it was not the fact of her person that gave me a bit of relief but the ability to literally hide behind her clothing.
In contrast, the mere knowledge that my Gram was in any room gave me a sense of safety that I cannot describe. In Gram’s case it absolutely was her person, her being that made uncomfortable situations bearable, good situations better and gave joy to my life.

While I didn’t see it until recently both of those women were God’s gift and blessing to me. While it has always been easy to freely and openly love and be grateful for Gram, for years I have chosen to be grateful for and to my mother for the fact that she gave me life and I’ve pretty much left it there. In recent years I’ve begun to see her differently and to see that God used her brokenness to make me who I am.

Today I have the illustration of the skirt to give me a worldly experience that helps me understand a spiritual concept. We are protected every minute of our lives by a force we cannot see. The psalmist uses a lot of bird analogies, wings, nests, etc. I like my skirt analogy. In the same way that I became semi-invisible and therefore unnoticed behind my mother’s skirt, I become fully protected behind my Father’s hand. I see him holding that hand up toward the enemy in a gesture of “turn around you aren’t getting any closer.” There is such comfort, love and grace in that image. It makes me want to stay there at the exact same time it encourages me to be the hand or the skirt for someone else.

Once more I can see the truth of Romans 8:28. God truly does work things for our good, even things we saw as, or believed to be, difficult or miserable. Stand behind your Father. He will always protect you.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Not So Hidden Treasure


 

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

 
Earlier today I read a message about how God goes before us in life, planting little bits of joy, little treasures for us to find. That reminded me of my husband and my grandchildren, not for the obvious reason.

My husband makes jewelry, beautiful jewelry created with precious and semi-precious gemstones. The stones he uses aren’t purchased. They are found. What he does purchase is dirt, dirt that he then sifts through to find the gems.
The first time he did it at home our grandson Joey helped him. Joey was about four at that the time and would often miss something that was actually valuable. Pop-Pop patiently showed Joey how to slow down and consider each rock. Soon Joey was finding all kinds of things.

Last night our grandson Samuel was showing me all the wonderful riches he’d found while going through a bucket of dirt with his grandfather. He was thrilled. What at first appeared to be a bucket of sand quickly turned into a little boy’s dream of buried treasure.
My husband didn’t plant the gems in the bucket, as God plants blessing for us but the analogy is still pretty sound. The gems are buried in literal dirt and when someone takes the time to unearth them the result is a feeling of delight.

Today, any day, may feel like a bucket of dirt. It may seem dreary, ugly, cold or difficult but our Father promises us that every day, even the very worst of days holds some gift, some treasure, some precious example of his love for us. All we have to do is pay attention and look for it. The best part is that most days hold many little bits of joy, many treasures, subtly but lovingly placed in our lives by the hand of the One who loves us beyond understanding.
It may be a cliché to stop and smell the roses but do it anyway, slow down, look around. God’s hand is in each of our lives. He rains blessings on us day after day after day. I hate to think how many I’ve missed because my focus was in the wrong place. Still I am so grateful that even when I miss or ignore his gifts, our loving Father just keeps giving.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Agendas



While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. Acts 10:44

 
Years ago while leading a Bible study with my husband, I became involved in a very animated conversation about loving our neighbor.  There were both men and women in the group and most of the people agreed that it is easy to love our neighbor when that neighbor is a bit removed from us. It seemed that the closer a person was in either proximity or relationship, the harder it was to love them.  At the time I agreed with that opinion.

This morning, reading this piece of Scripture I realized that in some ways my view has shifted. In my very close circle of family and friends, there are several who are just breaking my heart. They are aware of this and continue to do it with no regard for my feelings and yet, I have no trouble loving them.
Taken out farther, by watching TV, reading any sort of “news” and simply listening to conversations around me, I’ve begun to realize that there are groups of people that I just simply do not love. I don’t like them or understand them. To be completely frank some of them just make me angry.

Looking at those feelings in light of this Scripture I realized that there isn’t one single person I know, that I have actually met and spoken to, who is a part of any of those groups, who makes me feel that way. Hm… So do I love my neighbor? Yes, the actual person, yes.

In this passage the people closest to Peter are shocked that those Gentiles (read that word dripping with scorn and distaste) are being touched by the Holy Spirit. (To be fair the “astonishment” may have been at the crazy huge power of the Holy Spirit but that’s not how I saw it this morning and given some of the discussions between Paul and Peter I think my assessment holds a little water. ) Those Gentiles. Now you fill your those people word, those dog owners, those hunters, those vegans, etc. etc. Most people have some group that just gets on their nerves. Frankly I have a few but it’s the group mentality, the agenda that irritates me, not the people.
It makes me feel better to realize that my aggravation is ancient. I have brothers and sisters in Christ dating waaaaay back who turned their noses up at a whole group. It’s fine to turn our noses up at an offensive agenda. We are called to discernment, to avoiding things and even people who would invite us to sin. I used goofy examples on purpose so as not to illicit angry responses but the truth is the agendas I hate are all things that go against God’s plan and will for His people.

It’s a version of hate the sin and love the sinner. I want to love my neighbor and to be fair, I want my neighbor to love me. I do not want to invite hatred but my very love for my Savior is a huge red flag invitation for people to judge me and assume they know me and all of my opinions without ever having shaken my hand or spoken a word to me. The whole idea takes on a different look when we place ourselves in the position of neighbor, doesn’t it?
It’s okay, even important, to rage against the things, the agendas, beliefs that offend God but as for the individuals, those people, every single one is our neighbor and like it or not, we are called to love them.

 

 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Don’t Get “Hitch”ed


 

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Recently I had a conversation with friends about getting real with God. Many of us, I would dare to say most of us, want to put our best face on for God. We want to put our best foot forward, totally ignoring the fact that He has seen ever slip and fall we’ve ever taken. The saddest part is that the face we want God to see is often not our own face. We want to be like that person we see as “having it all together.” Big mistake!  Our Father knows us, inside, outside, upside down, while He certainly invites us to grow, to become more like Him, He loves us just as we are.

After thinking about that a bit I was reminded of a movie I really like. It’s called “Hitch.” I’ve seen it a couple of times and have a few favorite scenes. The one that comes to mind most often is the dance lesson scene. If you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I mean and my guess is that you are now smiling if not chuckling out loud. It’s hysterical. The premise of the scene, and in fact the whole movie, is that being who we are, the real person, is not ever going to get you what you want out of life. Of course that premise is proven to be wrong and is made glaringly apparent with the outcome of the dance lesson.

After having jumped through a hundred hoops to change it turns out the two main gentlemen in the movie were perfect for the women of their dreams only when they were being real, living from their true center. The very things those men disliked in themselves were the qualities the ladies they wanted found most endearing.

I can relate to those men. There are so many things in my personality, my approach to life that I want to change and improve. Too many days I’ve given into the lie that life would be much better if I could stop something or start something, change appears to be what is needed. And yet, time after time, I see God using the very things about me that I don’t like to help or bless someone around me.

Last year a group of ladies with whom I work did a little exercise to boost morale. We wrote one word, one positive word, descriptions of each other. The words I received followed a definite pattern. A friend looked at it and told me that she told agreed, going on to compliment the one thing I really struggle with and am constantly trying to change. Hm… dance lesson? (But way less funny.)

Our Father created us, not only in His image but also in a way that He knew would best suit us to His purpose. We don’t have to dance, talk, walk or behave like anyone else. We need to be who we were created to be, uniquely and distinctively made.

Much like the gentleman in “Hitch” we may see some success when we pretend to be other than what we were created to be but that will change quickly and for the worst.  We need to live according to God’s plan and when we do the successes may be a bit more subtle but they will certainly be more real and more enduring.

 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Always Invited


Always Invited

“All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned that king has but one law; that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend his royal scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” Esther 4:11

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 
The book of Esther is an amazing story of faith and courage. It is also a beautiful illustration of God’s love and protection for His people. Esther is chosen out of a large group of girls to be a replacement queen. She replaces a woman named Vashti who was foolish enough to defy her husband the king. Esther is well aware of how the king treats the people who don’t do exactly as he says. Still, her people, the Jews, are in deep trouble. They are about to annihilated if someone doesn’t do something. Guess who the someone is? Esther.
So she gets all excited, jumps up and runs to the king to talk him out of the plan, right? Not hardly! She fasts and prays. She asks her people to fast and pray and she listens to God. In complete obedience to her Lord she goes to speak to the king after telling her cousin Mordecai, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16b Wow! That’s faith.

Esther knows she is the only hope for the Jews. What we know by fact, she could only know by faith, God will not let His people be annihilated. But Esther didn’t know if she would survive. She knew only that no one was welcome in front of the king without an invitation.
Then there’s us. Our King is not some egocentric, image protecting tyrant who allows people with deep personal agendas to control him. Our King is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, God Most High. Do we need an invitation to approach His throne? Not anymore. Not since Jesus came and made Himself a perfect sacrifice for us.

Jesus is our invitation. We can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” because of Jesus’ love for us, a love that caused Him to give His life.
Esther was willing to risk her life. Jesus faced certain death and not the swift death Esther was risking. No, Jesus faced a prolonged, torturous death. Esther’s people were solidly behind her. They prayed and fasted for three days. Jesus’ friends, for the most part, ran. Some of them denied Him, one betrayed Him in a spectacular display of selfishness and cowardice. Jesus knew all of that was coming. Unlike Esther, He had no thought of reprieve. And look at the results.

By the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ we can go to our King whenever, wherever and however we want. There is no reason to fear, no condemnation to face. When we approach the throne, we head straight into the arms of love.

Esther was born to face that risk and save her people. We are saved by Jesus, by grace and by the unending love of our Father and we were born to bring honor and glory to His name.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where’s Waldo


 

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Have you seen those “Where’s Waldo” books? Little Waldo is the personification of a needle in a haystack. Somewhere in the pages of pictures, a sea of faces and crowded scenery there is an image of Waldo and the task is to find him. To do so you have to concentrate on the picture look at it so closely that every detail is discernible.
Last night I had a conversation with some lovely and amazing women I am blessed to know. We were talking about how easy, how painfully easy it is to get caught up in the world, to see and hear the negative. I shared a little of what I’ve learned about changing my focus, turning my thoughts back to God, back to the Word.

The world tells us that we are irresponsible if we don’t care about politics, government, the current news stories and the latest trends. Our innate desire to fit in encourages us to know who is who and what is what. Remember that the world is full of lies.

We are told that certain things are reality and that we have to deal with them. I find that in this world a lot of “reality” is transient and that it changes based on popular opinion and what is convenient. As the moral standards take a beating the “realities” of life get altered. We are admonished to tolerate abhorrent behavior in the name of progress. We are searching for peace while peering at the current state of the world and there is precious little peace to be found in the world.

I often quote my son Joseph, who as a teenager, sometimes caught in a lie would tell me, “Ma, you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story.” When we dwell on the problem, peer into the morass trying to find our personal “Waldo” we miss the Solution, the Savior, the One being who actually does have the answer and who can provide comfort.
It is the deep desire of our enemy that we focus on the wrong part of the story. While we cannot deny that the enemy wins battles, we can find our hope in the Truth that Satan loses the war. Ultimately, God wins. We give our enemy victory in battles when we accept defeat rather than fight. When we stare intently at a problem in our life we remember all the similar ones that have preceded it. We are quickly reminded of our inadequacies in facing the demons. We see the reality of our failures.
I can freely admit I have failed more than I like to think about. There are plenty of wounds in my life for the enemy to poke his fingers in and dig around. That’s reality but it isn’t the Truth.

John 8:32 says, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” That is lovely, pure, noble, isn’t it? I want to be free.
Next time the enemy wants to lead you down the rabbit hole of fear or self-condemnation remember Waldo. Think about how intently you have to look for him and how easy it is for your eyes to glaze over and your mind to feel overloaded in view of those pages. Then turn your mind and heart to the verse from Philippians and dwell in the Truth. Focus on the things that are praiseworthy and excellent. Know the Truth and let Him set you free.

Monday, September 30, 2013

God With Us


“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel---which means, God with us.” Matthew 1:21

This morning I read a devotional message about God’s majesty. It referenced remembering that God is mighty, sovereign, huge. It easy to get so comfortable with the idea of the constant Companion that God is to us and forget that He is also so far above us. He is such a dear and present friend that it is easy to forget that He is Almighty.
After reading that message, I sat with God. First I thanked Him for the closeness I can and do feel with Him. Then I asked to be more aware of His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesty.

For the last several weeks I’ve been experiencing a personal struggle. I haven’t wanted to ask for prayer from anyone. The struggle seemed to me, like a lack of faith. A few weeks in and I began to see this as something bigger. We hear and read about the battle for our souls. It is pictured as an actual physical battle that goes on while we are unaware. As I prayed the other morning I could actually picture that conflict. I’m pretty sure I know why it’s happening and I’m not willing to change. In fact I’m more determined than ever to stay the course. Still, I need to be victorious and I am well aware of where victory lives. Knowing I needed support I reached out to two people I love. They prayed and I believed that things would improve. I have God’s Word to stand on and two dear ones standing with me.

Back to this morning. I prayed, as I said, for a heightened awareness of God as God. His loving Father presence has been quite clear to me. I’ve leaned on Him, clung to Him and talked to Him incessantly. It was time for a glimpse of the side of Him that takes my breath away and renders me silent, awestruck.

He answered in spades!

Today was Sunday and shortly after praying for that glimpse, we headed to church. I love church but quite honestly I don’t often have my big God and me moments there. The worship I participate in at church is different from the more intimate moments of my quiet times. Today was different. The music, the message, the entire service spoke to the questions in my heart, the hesitation I’ve felt about asking for prayer support. That message and those songs were not chosen with me in mind, I barely know either of the pastors involved. This was not man ordained but it certainly was God ordained.

I asked to see His majesty and He showed me, in blazing glorious color with sound to match. Is my struggle over? That remains to be seen. If it is, if deliverance is immediate, praise God! If it’s a process with more to be learned and/or shared, praise God.
The important thing is that I know God is with me, Immanuel. He promises over and over in His Word that He will not leave or forsake us and we can believe that. He promises that no weapons formed against us will prosper and beyond that He sends us encouraging words, sights and even people to bolster our faith. We are not alone nor do we have reason to fear. Our God is an awesome God. Believe it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Lesson From the Not So Elderly*










I can everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

I live in a town where there is a grocery store whose advertising tagline is, “where shopping is a pleasure.” Years ago when my four children, all born in a five year span, were all very  young shopping was a pleasure. We had some great times running our errands.  Still with four small children, it was also an adventure.
When my second son started pre-school, I started doing some of the heavier shopping with just my two little ones, Jeffrey and Laura. The two of them were, and still are, quite colorful personalities. Suffice to say there is rarely a dull moment if either of them are around and never a dull moment when they’re together. Growing up they were best friends and they created alter egos, Mr. and Mrs. Biddy. I can only speculate as to where they got the name but they nailed the stereotype of “old couple.” He would wear his dad’s cap and a vest from an old suit and she would wear the hat I wore for my wedding and a crocheted shawl. Try to get the image, two fairly chubby, absolutely adorable little kids, four and a half and three years old, with their cute little kid outfits, covered over in the best “old” people style they could find. At home the outfits got much more elaborate but for public consumption we kept it to the hats, vest and shawl.

Mr. and Mrs. Biddy loved the grocery store, in particular, they loved the one with the toy shopping carts. When we went there, the Biddies would get their own cart and I would send subtle hints for things they could “buy.” “Oh look, this cereal is on sale. Do the Biddies like this cereal?” After a brief consultation, in halting, wavering, “old” voices, they would chose to buy or not buy whatever I was suggesting.

One day I was shopping for more than our family. We had company coming to stay so my focus was a bit off the couple shopping with me. I didn’t make many suggestions which left room in their cart. When we got to the checkout I put my things on the belt and the Biddies put theirs on right behind me as usual. The young woman at the checkout smiled at them and spoke to them as if they were truly a separate entity from me. Then she turned to me and asked, “Are you paying for the elderly couple’s groceries?” Something in her tone alerted me and I realized that I had no idea what those sweet “old” people had purchased.

I looked at the belt and saw six bags of egg noodles, his favorite and six bags of marshmallows, her favorite. Did we need those things? No. Did I want to find room in my pantry for them? No. But there they were my two precious gifts, hunched over, leaning into each other, as I suppose they believed all old people to do, discussing their lunch options because of course after a long morning of shopping old people need a nice lunch and a bit of a rest. “Of course,” I answered the clerk. “Those are my favorite old people in the world.” She grinned at me and they, secure then in the knowledge that their purchases were not going back on the shelf, giggled like the children they truly were and gave me quick hugs before dropping right back into character.
“Well, thank you, young lady.” I was told by Mr. Biddy, gruffly with an accompanying throat clearing.

“Isn’t she sweet?” His wife added, in her reed thin, watery older lady voice. 
That is a precious, precious memory for me. I can see them as clearly as if it were yesterday. Thinking of it I have to remind myself that he is now well over six feet tall, a handsome, responsible father of three. She is a beautiful young lady, all grown up whose own daughter, the second of three, has inherited her marshmallow addiction.

Recently I’ve realized it’s more than a great memory. It is a perfect illustration of how our Father loves us. The Biddies placed items in their cart for which they had no money. They did it in the hope that I, their mama, would come through for them. Every day I go to work, love my family and friends and in general live my life on a strength I do not personally possess.
Mr. and Mrs. Biddy did their shopping based on the knowledge of my love for them.  Friends we can live our lives with a much higher level of expectation. The expectation that all of our needs and many of our wants are provided for us by a loving Father.

Give him some praise today. Thank him for his providence, mercy and grace. And hey, if it suits you, eat some noodles and marshmallows.  
*I dedicate this message to two of my favorite people, two of my very best blessings, Jeffrey and Laura. Thanks for the laughs and the love.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

God Is Good


 

For God did not send his son to condemn the world but to save the world through him.  John 3:17

There is an expression that has been around for several years now, I think it may have started as a slogan for something but it is everywhere now. The expression is Life is Good. It’s on hats, shirts and bumper stickers.  My husband and I even have two DVD players that inform us of this when we turn them on, the company logo flashes and is followed by the words “Life is good.”  Some days I agree. Other days it makes me want to scoff. Oh really?
The truth is life is good. And it’s hard, annoying, difficult, wonderful, scary, exhilarating, boring, amazing, painful, beautiful…. Do you feel a bit like you’re on a merry go ‘round? Life is life. Read the Psalms. David would agree with my list of what life is and then some.

Life is a mixed bag. God is good. When life is wonderful, fun, happy, etcetera God is good.  When life is hard, awful, mundane, etcetera God is still good.
As I write I’m sitting at my desk. Above my head on a shelf is a picture of my husband and me at an amusement park. We are kissing. It’s one of those, “Give her a kiss, look like you’re having fun” poses that when the photographer prompts you to do you’re thinking, “Corny, I’m never buying this picture.” Obviously we did buy it because oddly enough, it’s really a sweet picture. And you know what that picture says to me? God is good.  

The husband I’m kissing in the picture is a complete and wonderful gift from God. That picture reminds me of the trip where it was taken and many more. It reminds me of that kiss and many more. It makes me smile because that dear man is my husband, the father of my children (four children, not his by birth but who he adopted out of love for them and for me), the grandfather of my grandchildren, my closest and dearest friend. He makes me feel happy, protected, loved, secure, appreciated, aggravated, annoyed, impatient and disappointed. Granted, the negatives are outweighed by far by the positives but still, my precious husband is human. God is not.
God never disappoints, humiliates, hurts or abandons. God is good all the time and all the time God is good. Life is good, for certain, there are amazing wonderful moments in life. There are also days that while not special are just good. Life is also incredibly hard. Regardless of the day or the circumstances, God is good. Trust Him and life, even on the worst days won’t be quite as hard.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Friends


 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13


Who is your best friend? Is that an easy question for you? For me it is and it isn’t. I have two friends that are so dear to me that honestly I don’t know what I would do without either of them. The one has been my friend for many, many years, since we were ten years old. We live far apart now but that doesn’t stop us from sharing our lives, the ups, downs and quite frankly mundane and ridiculous as well. There is nothing that isn’t conversation fodder for us.

The other friend, I’ve known for about ten years but she is such a part of my daily life, such a blessing. I look forward to seeing her. We share things from the sublime to the ridiculous as well and like my other friend, she makes me smile, okay, laugh and just generally warms my heart.

Both of these ladies are constant, loving, loyal friends. I feel comfortable with them in any situation. I know that my heart is safe with them and I hope I offer them the same security.  In both cases I am quick and happy to pursue time to chat, to spend time together. I am blessed by their presence in my life. Truly there aren’t words to convey how important each of them is to me.

Who is your best friend? I just told you about my top two and I do dearly love them. The answer to who is truly my very dearest and best friend is Jesus. Even above my worldly top two girlfriends, even above my husband. But reading a message today about the kind of friend Jesus is to me, to you, to anyone who will accept him, I was taken back.
In our worldly friendship we tend to gravitate toward people who are good to us, who give us the things we want. (While I have received wonderful, sentimental and practical, expensive and not so much so, gifts from both of my dear ladies, that isn’t what I’m talking about.) We look for people who are like minded, who will give us support, love, encouragement. Sadly, some people look for friends who can give material gifts, opportunities, things of that nature.

Look at Jesus. He can give and does give us, any and every thing we need. And who pursues whom most of the time? He pursues us! Crazy right? If I knew a king in this world, a king who would happily supply all my needs and things I didn’t even know I wanted, I’d be on the phone, at his door, writing him sweet notes every single day. Not even to get more, but simply to acknowledge what had already been given.
It occurs to me that the emphasis in too many lives is on the wrong aspect. We, even those of us who are close, reverent and grateful, see God as a means to an end. He is but far, far, far more than that he is the end, the Alpha Omega.

Praise should flow from us without our even having to give it a thought. Friendship needs to be nurtured and appreciated. If it isn’t, it will fade away. In my two most important friendship I feel that I give almost as well as I get. It’s hard to say because they are so good to me that I wonder sometimes if I bless their lives as well.  In my relationship with Jesus I can never even begin to give in a measure that even vaguely resembles what he’s done for me. With Jesus there isn’t any gift that originates with me, as everything I have comes from him. (James 1:17)
Who is your best friend? Whatever your answer, be grateful for her/him but remember there is a friendship that surpasses all others and don’t neglect it.

 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Not Home


 
But our citizenship is in have. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord, Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

Have you ever driven by a church and seen the sign that tells you how many people were saved at the last service? I have seen those signs numerous times and frankly, I’m a bit skeptical. Just as frankly, it’s none of my business. Those decisions, real or not, are between God and the people making them. But, that is one way that churches assess their value, measure their effectiveness, weigh their fruit.
My husband and I have been visiting/attending the same church for about seven months now. We like it but still have some questions about whether or not it is home. Everyone has a different idea of what is important in a church. For some it’s size, for some the children’s or youth opportunities. For my husband it’s the teaching and for me it’s equal parts teaching and music.

I’m not sure what criteria the leadership of this church uses to assess the success of their ministry but there is no sign out front denoting the number of souls saved. There is occasionally a mention of the number of baptisms that have taken place and such numbers are mentioned with great joy. That’s a good thing. We should feel joy when souls chose Jesus.
This Sunday something occurred at church that I hope brought enormous joy to both Shane, the pastor and Dave the music pastor. The message was on Revelation, always a complex topic and Shane handled it well. He walked that tightrope between too little and too much information (for the time frame) with simple but effective grace. He opened doors and made a gentle invitation for all of us to take a closer, more personal look at that particular book of the Bible.

As I said, the music is just as important to me as the message and Dave and his group of talented musicians, has never disappointed me. Some weeks I am less excited about the song choices but no matter what they choose the music is always exceptional. This week the music was a mix for me, until the last song.
Just before the close of the service a young man, normally just one more critter in God/Dave’s choir, took center stage.  I suppose he was expected to have a verse or two to himself before we joined in but I’m guessing he was okay with what actually happened. That precious young man began to sing a song titled, “Where I Belong” and within a very few bars the entire congregation was standing, singing along.

Maybe I’m alone in my thinking but that far outweighs any sign of any kind. The spontaneous response to a song that reminds us that this earth is not our real home, which speaks to our longing for heaven, is real fruit to me. Somewhere in Shane’s messages and Dave’s music the truth that there is something far better waiting and that the way to get there is the Way, Jesus, has gotten out.
I have no idea how many of the saved souls we see advertised are truly committed to Christ and again it’s not my business. What I saw Sunday was a church full of people who long for home. Today I remain uncertain as to whether this will become “our” church or not but I do know that something wonderful and right is happening there.

We are temporary residents of earth and if we know the truth then the words that young man led us in singing, “all I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong” should ring loud and strong in our hearts.

 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Maturity


If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead. Luke 16:31

We hear a lot of talk about spiritual maturity and what that looks like. It’s one of those things that cause division within the Christian community. Some people think that a mature Christian always says yes. This is the person who is part of every ministry, every committee and is in involved up to and over his/her head in the lives of the people closest to them. There is the school of thought that says Christian maturity limits behaviors. A mature Christian doesn’t_____________.  Fill in the blank with anything because the details vary.

Personally I have struggled with this concept. After thirty plus years of a serious, deep relationship with Jesus Christ I would hope to be a mature Christian but then I meet that person who condemns something that I do and I wonder. That is my own insecurity talking of course but what does it mean to be mature in Christ? That is not to say that the work our Father is doing in us is finished but to suppose that we have reached a certain level of commitment.

Today I read a message that included this line, “I fill the emptiness within you with my love. I supply your yearning for answers with My Word.” Your yearning for answers…. Ah, perhaps Christian maturity is about trust. When one can stop asking why, why, why like a three year old and simply accept God’s will, that seems like a huge indicator of maturity.

We’re human and we’re going to have doubts but when we can say, “not my will but Yours” and mean it. When we can say it without searching for a reason why, then we may be a bit mature.

Reading that line I had a quick flash of the myriad times I have supposed I knew what God was doing. Faced with something unfathomable we try to put a spin on it that makes it easier to digest. When bad things happen we scramble to find a reason why God would allow it. Conversely when good things happen we call them miracles and move on. Why did God give us a miracle? Easy, He loves us.

So, why did he allow that awful thing? I don’t know and all the speculation in the world does not make me feel better. Perhaps letting go of my need for understanding and simply saying, “He loves me” is sufficient.

Maturity is incremental and I don’t know where I am on that spectrum. I do know this, it is much, much more peaceful to let God be God and trust His actions than it is to scramble around for answers.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Praise and Pray


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 118:29

You do not have because you do not ask. James 4:2b

My dear friend Bella and I were talking about gratitude, about having a grateful attitude and I told her that for years I have kept a gratitude journal. I explained how and why I do it and she adopted the idea for herself.
The other day we were talking about it and she told me how much she has learned from it. Then she made a point that has stayed with me and I hope will continue with me for a long while.
She said that she also keeps a prayer request journal. While I don’t do that as frequently or specifically as I do the thanksgivings I certainly have a few places where my requests or pleas are written down.

Bella pointed out how much easier it is for her to write those requests than the thanks. That surprised me as she is easily the most gracious and truly appreciative person I know. But as we talked I knew exactly what she meant.

We see so easily what we don’t have or the challenges in front of us. We see them so easily that often they obscure our view of the blessings. We can’t see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes.
As we walked down the hall together, both walking, no wheelchairs, canes or other aids necessary, we spoke easily, no trouble breathing and we both acknowledge how many, many blessings we take for granted.

God invites us to ask, (James 4:2, see also Matthew 7:7) and he encourages us to give thanks. (Psalm 118:29, Thessalonians 5:18 and a host of other Scriptures) He wants us to bring our every need to Him but He also wants us to see what He is already doing in our lives.
Walking with Bella another thought occurred to me. In dealing with people, I have a huge problem with asking for help. I have no problem being the helper but I loathe asking for help. On the other hand, I am pretty grateful. I am aware of the blessings given to me by the people around me and through God’s grace, I’m quick to thank them and show appreciation for them.

Far from feeling condemned by that I realized that my Father has given me the gift of gratitude, toward others and more and more toward Him. Like Bella, I want to see my gratitude journal grow and my request page shrink but that’s a human reaction. God just covets our prayers, our need for Him. Whether we are praising and thanking or asking and seeking He is available and so happy to speak with us.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Scars



 
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

 

Years ago before I knew him, years before I would ever meet him, my husband had his appendix removed. He still has a scar, a very small, very faint scar. I hate it. It really is faded and small but every now and then I notice it and it makes me feel a flash of sadness, a little flicker of nausea at the thought of the pain he went through. He’s told me the story and it was a bit of an ordeal. Still, it was years ago when he was a teenager and as I said, I didn’t know him but because I love him and hate the idea of anything painful or even uncomfortable happening to him, I hate that scar.

I was reminded of that today while I was watching a worship music video. To illustrate God’s deep love for us the maker of the video used an image of Jesus on the cross. His head is dropping forward. He is covered in blood and of course his arms are stretched beyond what seems humanly possible. I felt no small flash of sadness, no tiny flicker of nausea, instead my stomach rolled over and my eyes immediately filled with tears.

Certainly it isn’t the first time I’ve seen an image like that. It was the juxtaposition of the words describing the huge, eternal, amazing love of Jesus and the image of what that cost him that just broke my heart. In an instant I was overwhelmed with equal measures of gratitude and grief.  The idea that Jesus literally laid down his life for us is beyond my ability to appreciate and at the same time there is the truth of the matter, which is, I put him there.

This is all very hard for me because at heart, I’m a fixer. If someone I love is hurting I want to make it better. Just hearing about my husband’s pain for so many years ago makes me want to do something to comfort him. While logically I know he isn’t in pain now, it’s just the way I react.

Looking at the Cross, at Jesus on that cross, I cannot stand it I cannot fix it. The hardest part is that we all still cause him pain. We reject him. We choose other things, much lesser things instead of him. We hear his name thrown about as if it’s worthless and we don’t defend him. That is not fixing or comforting and when I saw the image of perfect love pierced and broken, accompanied by words saying how much he loves us I just felt ill.

We know that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins.  The scars on his body may have been put there by the people of his day but we are just as responsible for them as they are. My husband scar serves no purpose in my life but Jesus’ scars are a reminder of how much was given for me, of how safe, secure and blessed I am, we all are because of the love of Jesus Christ. I hate them but I am so grateful for all that they represent, the long, wide, high deep, truly unfathomable love of God.