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NOV 28 Making Room

Posted on November 27, 2021 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (1)

Here we go! We’re officially entering into the Christmas season. No sooner had the Thanksgiving leftovers been stowed in the fridge than I started decorating. I hauled out my old tree, which is being retired this year (nothing a little duct tape can’t mend for the season), the many ornaments from years gone by, so MANY lights, and all the little bits of foil and ribbon that have somehow managed to get stashed into the Christmas storage boxes.

I don’t know what it is about opening those totes filled with holiday stuff, but it makes me happy. The mix of pine needles, gingerbread cookies, peppermint candles and great memories wafts into the room and I am transported through time in flashbacks and moments that mix together in my heart. The added poignancy of why we celebrate and what we’re acknowledging, washes over me, and fills my soul with childlike wonder.

Make no mistake, there have been years that Christmas didn’t immediately fill me with anticipation. Some holidays were brutally hard, whether because of the loss of a loved one, financial strain, or separation from family and friends. Sometimes the joy of those around us can make us feel the pain more intensely, and it can be difficult to avoid resentment that the world is celebrating while we are in mourning. If that is your circumstance this year, let me just tell you I understand, and so do millions of people across the globe. That doesn’t change the pain, but perhaps it can open a little room in your heart.

Because at the end of the day, it comes down to making room. Luke 2:7 records that when Mary, the mother of Jesus, gave birth “she wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Herod, the king of that day, when confronted with Jesus’ birth, sent his soldiers to kill every male child over the age of two years. He decided there was no room for another King, and Christ was certainly that – child or no.

And the end of the Messiah’s earthly time came because Satan was convinced there was no room for him and the perfection of Christ in this earthly realm. And God allowed the sacrifice of His Son to orchestrate our redemption. By allowing man to reject Jesus, He knew He was giving us our only permanent opportunity to make room for Him in our hearts, and so share eternity with the Father.

But then it’s up to us. The space is opened up, but we must decide what we fill it with. This season we can load it with presents to each other, holiday parties, decorations and celebrations – and I don’t believe God has any problem with that at all -- but we also have to focus on the real ‘reason for the season.’

While we’re shopping for each other and preparing huge meals, dressing up our houses and wrapping gifts, we must not lose sight of why these celebrations were initiated. Does it matter that Jesus was likely born in Spring, not Winter? Is it important whether we get together on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve - or not at all? What is important is that we are bringing to our minds the very reason we exist – to celebrate the room that was made in our lives for salvation.

And beyond Christmas, we should be making room for Jesus every single day. The Messiah’s name was called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The Bible tells us that “even when we walk through the darkest valley, He is still with us [Psalm 23:4]. In Isaiah 41:13 we’re promised “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right and hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” He is here, but we must make room. Unlike the intrusive push of the world, God will never force Himself on us, but wait patiently for an invite into our hearts and our circumstance.

So, whether we’re feeling the holidays this year or not, let’s be sure and focus on the beautiful gift we were given, and make space for His love in our hearts.

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

NOV 21 Thanksgiving

Posted on November 21, 2021 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Thanksgiving is upon us! What are you most thankful for… beyond the grace and love of God? I am so grateful for my family, both biological and spiritual, a warm and beautiful home that God gifted me with, my health which is pretty robust for a nearly 65-year-old grandma, and the ability to recognize all the amazing things and people God has placed in my life.

Being part of our big, noisy, malfunctioning (sometimes) family is both an enormous blessing and a huge responsibility – but never a curse. In the day-to-day business of trying to get through life it’s easy to become complacent about our relationships and annoyed at the recurring irritations that go with them. That is, until we stop and think what life would be like if they were suddenly absent. The old saying “absence makes the heart go fonder” is really very true. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

The Apostle Paul knew how to prioritize the balance between thankfulness and annoyance. He embraced the one and accepted the second for what it was – a temporary and fleeting issue that could be, with the appropriate work and correction, turned into a teaching moment. I wish we had half his common sense, and all his ability to love folks despite whatever they were going through.

I think his graciousness of spirit came because he realized how to love people through their imperfections. Maybe because of who he was prior to his ‘Damascus Road experience’ where God literally blinded him in order to give him true insight [Acts 22]. He was quite a mix of grit and grace.

In 1 Corinthians 1:4 he says, “I always thank my God for you…,” meaning the first thing he was grateful for was the very presence of the people in his life. He didn’t qualify it with anything by adding a ‘but’ to the end of that statement, he just thanked God for them – with all their idiosyncrasies, freckles and warts.

And then Paul finished the thought by stating his gratitude for “the gracious gifts He [God] has given you…” Primary was the person, secondary was what they would bring to the table. And that pretty much sums up what real thankfulness is all about.

We need to develop a mindset of gratitude at all times, and in all circumstances. That doesn’t sound easy, and it is not! But Paul even covered that, and perhaps gave his own formula for demonstrating the attitude he worked so hard to develop. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 he tells us to “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” All means all – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

While we need to continually express our thankfulness to God for His other gifts, including grace and salvation, we must also learn to thank Him for the many dysfunctional, flawed, perfect, unexpected people He has placed in our lives. Because, trust me, they will be thinking the same about us. Being grateful for even the hard moments in our relationships puts it all in perspective.

Learning to express true gratitude to God is good for us and serves to remind that every good gift is from Him (James 1:17), including those we think we don’t really want. And it also helps us keep focused on the very real truth that we are all broken in one way or another. I embrace your blemishes and you embrace mine, and we give God the glory for putting us together in one strong well-knit unit.

So, this year at Thanksgiving and every day after that, whether I remember to tell you or don’t “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

NOV 7, 2021 MY GIANTS

Posted on November 14, 2021 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

This morning my devotions brought me to 1 Peter 2:15-16. Because I had been working on a sermon, my bible app was open to the Message bible, a translation of scripture that I use from time to time because the language is so down to earth. It read: “Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.”

I’m not sure why that hit my heart so hard, except that I’ve tried to be a little more aware of what’s going on in the world lately. During the past election, and the with all the hate being spewed around the world, I had started ignoring the news – instead choosing programing that lifted me up rather than planting fear or anger.

But like David with Goliath, we can’t slay our giants unless we acknowledge and confront them, so I’ve made a resolution to watch an hour of news every morning. Starting my day like that was daunting at first, but I’ve come to appreciate that it gives me something to pray over beyond my own personal needs. More importantly, I’ve learned that just because I am aware of something, doesn’t give it power or authority over me. That is something only I can grant.

This scripture was likely written during the bloody reign of Nero, who took the persecution of Christians in Rome as his personal mission. In fact, Peter was brutally martyred during this history making time. Surprisingly, the Apostle wasn’t calling for God’s people to hide or be silent, but to model good behavior. The NKJV says “by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…”. Submission to our governmental leaders and laws doesn’t mean we can be denied our Christian freedom, because our freedom isn’t determined by any man. But it is an act of truly free people to recognize what needs to be changed and to work toward that goal without causing even more chaos.

Romans 6:22 tells us that having been set free from sin we become slaves of God, and that our continued pursuit should be holiness. We are not under the rule of our circumstances or a failing government. We are in the total control of God whom we need never question. It can feel like our lives are in the hands of a faltering administration, economic structure or deteriorating planet, but those are just giants and nothing to the Father of lights from whom every good gift and every perfect gift comes… and with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning [James 1:17].

If we shift our thinking from believing that the circumstances and chaos around us can affect us in any meaningful way, to the knowledge that our only Master is God – and that He alone is in charge of our destiny, it is easier to adopt an attitude of humbleness and to break the bondage of fear.

With God’s help, we can silence the ignorant talk, or as Peter said, “cure the ignorance of fools,” by acting in a way that demonstrates holiness rather than anger. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to happen all at once, but our true freedom depends on total trust in God.

Of course if we’re asked to choose between God’s law and the governing authorities, we choose submission to God. But we need to take care and understand that genuine freedom, as defined scripturally, means it is exercised under the law not outside of it. Liberty is not a free pass to do anything we please. Jesus taught with love, showing His righteous anger sparingly and only when appropriate, and so should we.

So yes, we acknowledge the giant. But we also rest in the knowledge that God is our final authority and that there is nothing He can’t tear down. He doesn’t need rioting, angry mobs or fire in the streets. Just a tiny stone and a faith-filled heart.

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

OCT 17 HELP MY UNBELIEF

Posted on October 17, 2021 at 12:00 AM

In Mark 9 we read about a man who came to Jesus to ask for healing for his son who, as scripture describes it, “has a mute spirit.” Later, Jesus says the boy is possessed by an “unclean” spirit. We know from other scripture passages that an unclean spirit can affect its host in many physical and emotional ways.

It’s more than just the Hollywood portrayal we’ve seen. There is true warfare going on around us right now – both on earth and in the heavenlies -- and Satan is vying for our attention in any way he can. More than anything the Enemy would like to make us deaf and mute. Deaf so we can’t even hear God’s voice, and mute so that if we do happen to catch a whisper we can’t speak it out and infect those around us with hope.

We are looking at an unprecedented time in our world. Hate and distrust has spread like a wildfire – not just through our neighborhood, city or state – but through the entire planet. The battle is heating up, and we’re not the only ones armoring up for the fight.

It’s so easy to resort to anger when we view the state of our world. The anger really comes because it’s more manageable than fear, and the truth is we are terrified on many levels. Let me encourage you, that feeling of helpless rage is not an ungodly emotion and it’s certainly not an indicator of a lack of faith in God. It’s simply a human response to a very real threat.

What we must fight is allowing our emotion to become a consuming spirit within us – and one that causes us to become deaf to the direction that God is telling us we need to take. While the anger may not be possessing us, it can certainly control us if we give it that authority. And that makes it a spiritual stronghold that has to be broken.

Argentinian evangelist and author Ed Silvoso defines a spiritual stronghold as “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable, situations we know are contrary to the will of God.” Isn’t that a perfect description of what is happening to us today? We are so overcome with fear, something we manifest as anger, that we are becoming hopeless and unable to hear God’s calming voice telling us that He is still in control of the situation.

But let’s go back to the angry and fearful father we read about in Mark 9. The disciples had done everything they could to try and rid the boy of the unclean spirit but had not had any success. Just picture this youngster and his frantic dad. The boy was likely covered in burns and scars from throwing himself into fires and water, probably disfigured and close to death, he’d been shunned by everyone around him (again a response to fear), and since it had been going on from early childhood, stripped of hope for a life or a future.

Jesus steps onto the scene and this bereft man tries one last time to get help for his child. The Savior tells the man “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” I can’t help but wonder what this dad’s thought process was. Perhaps, as we sometimes get, he was weary from begging God for the same thing over and over. It’s even possible he was starting to doubt whether God existed or even cared about him and his son. Certainly, the disciples who were Jesus’ emissaries, had been incapable of providing any relief.

So the man, in a fit of complete desperation and honesty says “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Instead of responding in anger because the father had admitted he had doubt, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, and reaches out a hand to the boy who has collapsed at His feet.

You see, God isn’t angry at our unbelief. He doesn’t punish us for our ‘lack of faith,’ as some would imply. He doesn’t even stop working on our behalf when we are feeling disbelieving, angry or afraid. If we think that miracles won’t happen simply because we are uncertain, then we really have no idea where our deliverance is coming from. And we surely don’t understand the incredible love that God has for us, let alone His limitless power.

So it’s okay to let the Lord know when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But let’s not forget to allow that little sliver of hope into our hearts and ask God to deliver us from our circumstance and our doubts. It’s a great big scary and overwhelming world we live in, full of so much chaos and strife. Satan wants to use every bit of that to keep us bound up and unable to hear God through the clamor. But even he has no real idea of the vast and unmatched power of the God we serve, and who calls us His child. He will help us, and He will even help our unbelief.

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne!

 

OCT 9: Freedom

Posted on October 9, 2021 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (3)

I’m so grateful for my salvation. I’m proud to call myself a Christian, and while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I can say for sure that I am not unaware of the price that was paid so that I could claim myself a child of God.

I think we conceptually understand what it means to be saved, and are forever changed by what this gift gives to us. It opens a door that offers freedom from our past, strength to get through our present, and the security of knowing that we have eternal life to look forward to. Literally, the chain of death is broken the minute we accept Christ as our Savior. Maybe not for our physical bodies, but certainly for our souls.

But even for mature Christians, maybe even more so, we need to shake ourselves up from time to time and be reminded of what that really means. Because, let’s face it, we still question why life must still be so hard even after we’ve gotten ourselves “right.” Age doesn’t necessarily bring acceptance or understanding, and once the initial giddiness wears off it’s easy to become complacent about the gift that was given, and resentful when it doesn’t turn out just as we’d mapped in our mind.

Give your heart to the Lord, we thought. It will be perfect, we thought. We made this huge life change, this incredible commitment, and here we are… still slogging through the same old mess. So apparently it’s not the ‘get out of jail free’ card we had hoped for. If we’re not careful, the weight in our thinking can shift, and we begin to wonder more about what we’re missing than what we’ve been given. And eventually it leads to us behaving like we’re the ones who made the sacrifice.

Make no mistake -- we are getting out of jail free. We’re just not getting out of jail innocent. Our salvation doesn’t ‘wipe the slate clean’ as much as we’d like it to. There was a penalty – it was just paid by One who was completely innocent of any crime.

It’s much easier to hold onto the thought that we’ve been granted innocence, than that we’re guilty but been given a pardon. But there is a huge difference. The reason we’re relieved of our death sentence is because it was paid long ago by Jesus. If that doesn’t make us humble, I’m not sure what will.

But here’s the thing. God unlocked the jail cell that we very rightly had earned. But then He stepped back because the next move is ours. We can stand there in the confines of those prison walls, complacently get our three squares a day, and enjoy our freedom from eternal death, but still not live in the joy and freedom that God intended. Because we will forever be restricted by the size of the cell we refuse to vacate.

Once we accept Christ, our next step will take courage. We have to let go of the disfunction that we’ve been living in and step into the freedom that He offers. But no matter how painful our sin-filled lives were, at least we knew what to expect. To step into something completely different – that’s where faith comes in.

And not only do we have to walk out of the prison, but we also have to keep moving! Because if we stop, we can start to rebuild those walls without even realizing it. We may use a different kind of brick – relationships, material possessions, the need for perfection or stability (as we view it), even the desire to be seen as righteous in the eyes of man. But walls are walls, and anything that comes between us and God is just another stone in our personal lockup.

Galatians 5:1 tells us “Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” The writer, the Apostle Paul, was simply saying ‘don’t let religion (rules) get in the way of relationship.’

Salvation is more than just existing forgiven, because it doesn’t turn us into automatons. God doesn’t strip us of our freedom of choice and slap a rule book in our hand. He offered the pardon simply because He loved us – no strings attached. As scripture tells us, God gave up His only Son’s very life so that anyone that believes in Him would have eternal life. But He does yearn for an ongoing relationship with us, through the good times and the bad. And, if we want to be successful in any meaningful way, we have to accept that will require some molding and shaping on our part. And change doesn’t come without discomfort.

So, as we move through our day-to-day existence here, let’s keep our eyes forward, and our perspective on what our freedom really cost. Let’s live in the fullness that God planned for us and focus on the promise found in John 8:36: “If the Son set you free, you are truly free!”

Be blessed, my Friend.  God is on the throne!

 

OCT 2 USED UP

Posted on October 2, 2021 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I know I talk a lot about my family. You’ll just have to bear with me as they are my corner of life, and the little microcosm that form the building blocks of my day-to-day existence. Who I am is, in great part, who they see me as. Now I know that God is the one who really has the real authority, and I know who He says I am. But let’s be honest – a lot of our identities are wrapped up in the lives we build during our stay here on earth.

As we age, we find the little puzzle of this life we’ve built is shifting, sometimes in ways that are not particularly comfortable for us. One goes off to start his own new life, and we can’t imagine how we’ll ever fill the hole that is left. A new chapter begins for another, and our thread is not as prevalent in the storyline. So, we wonder if we’re becoming less important. Big decisions are being made, and we don’t have the same voice in the process. And we ask ourselves if our usefulness – and relevance - is slipping away.

On one level, we realize that all these shifts are filled with blessings. New daughters or sons in law, perhaps a grandbaby or two, fresh celebrations and traditions – but they are all wrapped up in a pretty package called ‘change.’ The new guard is moving into the captain’s seat, and we’re being given the opportunity to rest a bit. So why doesn’t that feel particularly restful?

Our hearts dread the coming adjustments if we’re completely honest. As much as we want the ones around us to flourish on their own and become independent and strong, it’s painful to face the reality that we may not be quite as needed anymore. And even though we’re still young and vital in our minds, our own bodies begin to tell a different story.

On one hand, we celebrate their success and watch with joy as lives begin to bloom – and are truly proud that others have learned from the example that we tried to set. But we can’t help but grieve because they will soon look to someone besides us for direction and guidance. As much as it was wearying to be the one everyone looked to and depended on, that feeling of worth is like a drug that we aren’t ready to break the habit of.

I’ve watched my own dad, who is now almost 94, come to a place where he doesn’t feel necessary. I can see the confusion and sadness in his eyes as he quietly watches life go by – no longer an active participant, but more a silent spectator. And though we try and reassure him of our love, and I know he feels it, it is true that we’ve had to move on and start chapters that don’t revolve around him.

Seasons. Without them there would be no healthy growth, but that doesn’t make them any easier to bear. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…” That passage surely sums of life, but it doesn’t tell the whole of it. Because while the world around us may be changing, one thing that stays the same is God. Hebrews 13:8 says He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And more than that we know that His love for us never shifts. So, while the house itself may be settling a bit, if God is our foundation it will stand forever.

While we might question our own validity in the changing landscape of our lives, we can rest in the sure knowledge that God will forever be God. When it seems like the world doesn’t see us anymore or put any particular value on our contribution, He is forever and always El Roi – the God who sees. The God who sees US.

We may sometimes feel like we’re losing control over our own lives, but the fact is that God was really in control from the beginning. Daniel 2:21 says “He changes the times and season; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

So, we can celebrate the change, even while it’s perfectly understandable that we mourn them a little too. Because El Roi sees the entirety of us. He was there at our beginning, and He will hold us until our end.

Be blessed, my friend. God is on the throne.

 

Sept. 18: Just Go!

Posted on September 18, 2021 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

     Have you heard the term “overbuilding the neighborhood?” If you’ve ever bought a home, you’ve likely been in a situation where you found the perfect house in the completely wrong location. You spy this beautiful structure that you can imagine living in – everything in pristine condition and ready for occupancy and it makes you wonder why anyone would even considering selling it. But then you look beyond the boundaries of the property it’s on and you begin to pick up on the neglect.

     Practically speaking, we know to stay away from those places because no matter how attractive they might seem on the outside, the conditions of the surroundings will always affect how comfortable our life will be, and maybe even how safe. And beyond that, everything around the perfect house changes the actual monetary value of the home we want to buy. After all, if it were in the perfect neighborhood where everything was healthy and beautiful, we could never afford it.

     That’s a pretty good analogy for our whole life. We spend so much time trying to make our physical structure comfortable and perfect, we lose sight of the fact that this is really just a camping spot for us – a temporary abode that, in the grand scheme of things, we will occupy for a pretty short amount of time.

     But the world programs us to crave more… bigger… better. We’re taught from a very young age to never be satisfied with what we have. Even worse, we come to understand that it’s a ‘me first’ age. Selfishness is fostered in the form of being competitive, and we even feel like our identity and success is tied to the material possessions we manage to amass. Those of us who acknowledge that God is the Provider of all things can even begin to slip into a mindset that makes us believe what we have is a measure of how good He is.

     But God’s yardstick is so different from ours. He shows us that we need to change our thinking – our inner man, if you will. Jesus very presence on earth, as well as His profound teachings, proved that our Father was looking beyond gestures and material possessions to capture the hearts of His children. It’s not that He doesn’t want us to have nice things or be physically content, but He is trying to teach us that it only brings temporary satisfaction and not eternal blessing. And what we have is not a measure of who we are.

     Jesus said “follow Me” thirteen times throughout the Gospels. In Matthew 4:18-22 we’re told of how He called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. Jesus told them “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And in verse 20 we see their response when they “immediately left their nets and followed Him.” What could they have thought of this stranger that was telling them to change their lives and give up everything precious to them to serve a population of people that could seemingly care less about their mission.

     Scripture goes on to tell us that Jesus saw two more brothers, James and John, fishing with their father. In the same way He called to them and they “immediately left their boat and their father and followed Him.” He wasn’t just encouraging them to take a risk, and the words ‘follow me’ went far beyond leaving everything comfortable behind. Jesus was saying ‘come and learn from me. Help me to help this lost world.’ And they didn’t question the call, they just followed.

     We’re slow to answer the call because we’re so accustomed to putting ourselves in front of everyone around us. We seem to be much more concerned with getting ahead and storing up our possessions here, thinking it will provide safety and happiness. We’ve put so much emphasis on this life – our temporary tent as it’s called in 1 Corinthians 5:1 – that we’ve lost sight of how intangible the material is.

     Instead of spending so much time trying to make our homes perfect – overbuilding the neighborhood - what if we spent more time trying to make the homes of those around us more livable? Jesus told His disciples to leave their livelihoods, homes, and everything they had amassed and follow Him to find peace and completion. Because the answer wasn’t in themselves as individuals, but in us as a family. Let’s bring everyone in, Jesus said. Go out and tell the good news! Be fishers of men.

     God demands it, Jesus modeled it and it is the only way to ever find that complete and total peace we all crave. Because whatever hole we’re trying to fill up with more ‘stuff’ will only truly be satisfied when we recognize it can only be made replete by God.

 

Be blessed my Friend, God is on the throne!

 

Sept 11, 2021; Trust

Posted on September 11, 2021 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

My youngest grandson, who is inexplicably approaching his 18th birthday, has made the decision to enter the military. The Marines to be exact. While I have a mix of emotions running through me, the most prevalent is dread. The political situation of our world couldn’t be more unstable so who knows what the coming years might bring. And this is a young man who has never been away from home, and one that I still must remind to brush his teeth and make his bed. How I can possibly trust him to strangers, or even to his own devices?

But as the time approaches and I must look my fear straight in the face, I also must acknowledge that this is where the faith I’ve preached about for decades will have to have some teeth. No messing around now, I either trust in God’s sovereign will or I don’t. And if I search myself thoroughly, I need to also acknowledge that I’m not being asked to trust my grandson to strangers, I’m allowing God to work His will in my grandson’s life. And there is no precious cargo that He is not capable of carrying.

The world would like to call us naive to have such innate hope in a God we can’t (for the most part) physically touch or speak to, let alone plead our case. We’ve learned that life isn’t fair, and that inexplicable things happen with regularity. How then can we blindly put “faith over fear” as some are fond of saying.

If we had our choice, no one would ever have to learn about life the ‘hard way,’ have a broken heart (let alone a broken bone), and we would never be faced with watching them be sick or perhaps even leave us before we think it’s time. I know if I had my way, I’d be sending my grandson off to a college – one not too far away – where I could grumble about him bringing home a gigantic bag of dirty laundry every week or so, and I could see for myself that he’s eating right. But that isn’t part of the human condition, and that kind of insulation is certainly not guaranteed no matter how devout a Christian you are.

The mistake we make is in thinking that faith exists without fear. I think there is a healthy bit of both in every situation, or no balance exists. It is our human nature that wants us to believe that to feel afraid will cripple us, and the exact opposite of showing trust in the Father. Fear can certainly weaken if we allow it to consume us. But, as the Apostle Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 12 “when we are weak, then we are strong.” He had clearly petitioned to Lord to take something painful from him – a ‘thorn in his flesh’ – but God said to him “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Of course, we wish we could keep out loved ones wrapped in a cocoon of safety, but that’s simply not possible. Particularly with our children, all we can do is armor them with prayer, inoculate them with good scripture teaching and show them how to use their own moral compass. Sometimes we recognize that we haven’t done a particularly good job of some of those things through the years, so perhaps part of our misgivings are based on our own insecurity. But despite our shortcomings God will move through the lives and hearts of our young people and our prayers will not go unheard.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to trying every tactic I know to dissuade my grandson from this path, and even as he approaches the day where he will face all the required testing to make sure he’s fit for active duty, it’s been a conscious battle to pray for God to have His will, and not to plead for mine.

The very words I pray have changed because I remember that he doesn’t really belong to me. He is young, but he is a man of God who has given his heart to the Lord. All the preparation has been done, as best we could do in our own human weakness. We dedicated him back to God when he was an infant and it isn’t our job to try and ordain his future now. That will be between him and God. That doesn’t make me an award winning Christian, it makes me a woman who has learned that even in pain there is victory.

Psalm 37:23 tells us that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord. Sadly, for a family sending their youngest into the unknown, we can only cling to the promise of that scripture, know that God always has a watchful eye on our children – even when they are grown adults trying to find their own way. God’s path may not be smooth and easy. In fact, there is no guarantee that it won’t be gut wrenchingly difficult -- but when they are walking in the will of God there is no safer place they can be.

That may not always look like the bubble of safety we long for, but God is listening to our passionate pleadings on behalf of our young people. 1 Peter 3:12 tells us that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears attentive to their prayers. Attentive doesn’t always mean His answer will be what we want to hear. And that’s where our faith kicks in. Not without fear, but certainly with the comfort that can come from know that God is in control of every situation and every outcome.

We must trust that God’s will is always the best way, even when we can’t quite see it. He already proved His love by sending His Son – as a sacrifice for ours. So, despite our fear for their future, we know that He understands our misgivings and, even more than that, He loves our children more than we ever could.

Be blessed, my friend.  God is on the throne!

 

September 4 The Beauty of the Beatitudes

Posted on September 4, 2021 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

f you are someone like me who grew up in the church, you’re familiar with Jesus words as recorded in Matthew 5. We call these teachings the “Sermon on the Mount,” with some specific passages called the “Beatitudes.”

 

The word Beatitude comes from the Latin ‘beati,’ which translates to happy or fortunate. The word in Greek has largely the same meaning. What Jesus was teaching us is that we need to look beyond the current condition or circumstance of our lives and understand that we will always be blessed – even in hard times – because we know of the ultimate reward the Father is preparing for us.

 

In Matthew 5:3-10 we told “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

But even while we know heaven is our ultimate destination, during troubled waters it’s hard to find the “blessing” part when thinking of mourning, or responding to a situation with meekness, or being hungry or persecuted. We all yearn for the blessing, but we want it without all the bother.

 

But along with the promise of our ultimate reward at the end of our lives is the implicit assurance that God has us on His mind and that He will always be fighting for us. We know that because He’s looking to a future time and place where we will live together and will have nothing but blessing and happiness.

 

Sadly, we can’t expect a perfect ‘heaven here on earth’ simply because we accept the gift of salvation. Our perfection cannot come while we’re in these flawed human bodies, and so we must struggle with the problems and heartbreaks of our existence. That will include loss, pain, illness and all the other conditions we are subject to in our “earthly tents,” as 2 Corinthians 5:1 describes us.

 

I’ve heard the Sermon on the Mount described as King Jesus’ inaugural address. He was declaring to His people the ethical and moral standards that are expected. The Jews of the day (not unlike us today), were so flesh-focused that they thought the bar was being set too high. They were all about the old laws of “thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, lie….” But to change their very responses to a cruel and oppressive world – that was simply asking too much. Jesus was saying ‘shift your focus from the religious and let’s start working on relationship.’ Not just with God – but with each other.

 

Jesus never once said it would be easy. But He gave us these standards realizing that He would be leaving us with the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and teach us as we journey (struggle) here in this very broken world. The word for that day – and for this – is that if we change how our hearts and attitudes respond to our situations, blessing will be the result.

 

And even more importantly, Jesus taught that we are chartered with the responsibility to bring everyone else into this protected family circle. He explains why our very attitudes and responses are critical. In Verse 13 Jesus says “you are the salt of the earth.” In other words, you are the life-giving sustaining substance that everyone around you needs.

 

So while we may not look at our trouble and suffering as a good thing, without that testing of our faith and endurance how can we really speak with any authority on goodness and provision of God? And when I say testing, I don’t mean that God is testing us so much as our situations give us an opportunity to reinforce and recognize His faithfulness. So maybe the better word would be proving. Our situations prove His love. Now that makes the beatitudes take on a whole new meaning.

 

Jesus tells us in Acts 1:7-8 “it is not for us to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” So when you’re feeling tested, remember that life isn’t about a grade for this response or that. We have guidelines and we have help – and we are not fighting through on our own. The Holy Spirit has been left with us here to comfort and guide through the pain of our human condition. And despite the trouble, we are surely loved.

 

Be blessed my friend, God is on the throne!

August 29; Relationships

Posted on August 28, 2021 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Relationships are a complex thing. The very word has many meanings, even in the English language which is generally pretty straight forward in its approach to words. I think the most descriptive definition is the first one that good old Webster gives us: “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.”

Sometimes the relationship with people is one that is created by marriage or by blood, or by a common struggle, belief, fear, attraction or some other thread we may not even understand. We tell ourselves that the only healthy one is when the other person accepts us for who we are – but the truth is we spend much of our time trying to reinforce the idea that we can fit into another’s pre-conceived notion of who we really are. And, if we’re honest, trying to fit someone into our vision of them.

Early on, when growing into a relationship with someone, whether it’s romantic or some other type of connection, we tell ourselves that the differences are what make us fit. We think of the idiosyncrasies of the other person as quirky and cute. We tell ourselves that we love the uniqueness of that person and that they love our little eccentricities. It isn’t until later, when difficult situations arise to test that link, that we start to wonder if our differences are so great that will never fit. Eventually we get to the place where we can’t wait to break the tie because it starts to feel more like a noose. What we once adored becomes a burden and an annoyance.

In marriage (and often in other situations), we offer up the “you can’t change me” excuse as a reason for leaving the tattered link. And if that doesn’t work, we tell ourselves it must not have been a good fit in the first place if we had to change to make it right. That’s why we can be in a crowded room and still feel lonely. Because that feeling of isolation is borne out of the sure belief that we are not heard, understood or have value. I know for sure it’s much more heartbreaking to be in a relationship with someone and feel alone, than it is to actually be alone.

It is only in our relationship with God that we expect to be changed. Lord knows We might be a bit afraid of it, resist it on some level (maybe MANY levels), try and tell ourselves we don’t need it – but deep down we know that He is going to re-wire us in a way that will rock our world. We expect it, and eventually we accept it. And when we do let go, we always see the life-changing peace and incredible freedom it brings.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.” Salvation is the beginning of a relationship that will have us evolving from the moment it starts to the last breath we draw here in our earthly bodies. That giving up of ourselves, the very thing we resist with our human connections, is the key to a perfect and healthy walk with God.

We must remember that we are the ones changing, not Him. Hebrews 13:8 tells us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” While our relationship with our spouses, or anyone for that matter, will always involve change by both people that is only because we humans are all imperfect – and God is not. When you put our flawed nature up against His perfect presence, we must do the molding in order to reach that place of complete and total perfection.

So, in terms of the relationships in our lives, if we want them to work for the long run we must make them completely God-centric. If we’re joining with another individual, we must both accept that we will be changing - but as God designs, not as we have decided.

And beyond that, we can’t judge or measure the other’s evolution. That is always between an individual and God. Paul said it succinctly in Philippians 2:12 when he said we must ‘work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” And that is why we need to let God do the picking for us. Whether that means a business partner, a best friend or a spouse – who we engage with has to be the person He says we are to be yoked with. And ‘yoked’ doesn’t just mean marriage. Every relationship in our life should be pre-ordained by God.

And when we find ourselves in relationships that seem to be a complete mess that God didn’t ordain (and be honest, we all have those) – let’s remember that, when necessary, He can change those around us just as He can change us. We don’t get to walk away from people just because things get messy. Once we get placed (or place ourselves) in the middle of a bond, we have a responsibility to stick it out. The time to move is only when He says, because we can’t possibly know why we’ve been placed in someone else’s life. God uses every single situation in our lives to make us better – and to help those around us. We are called to be His imager, which means we never ever give up. And if we are told to move on, the connection remains because we can affect someone simply by keeping them in prayer.

And that’s why relationships are a complex thing. But the one thing that is simple is that God is always working for us and that, as we’re told in Romans 8, all things work together for good to them that love God, and to them who are called according to His purpose. Put Him in the middle, and all the stuff on the outside just finds a way to fit together.

 


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