Getting into the Christmas Spirit- November 30, 2015

My family and I got in the Christmas spirit last night after we got home from our relatives’ house after a busy and fun Thanksgiving weekend.  The kids wanted to put up the Christmas tree, which in the common tradition we typically put up right after Thanksgiving.  My son wanted to listen to some Christmas music, and we had fun picking out songs, everything from the Transiberian Orchestra to Wham’s “Last Christmas,” and the old favorite “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

My new favorite Christmas song over the past couple of years though is one by a group called Cloverton, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” but with the verses written to reflect the Christmas theme.

The last verse gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes, as it captures the enormity of what Christmas really means.  It goes like this:

“I know You came to rescue me;

This baby boy would grow to be

a man who’d one day die for me and you.

My sins would drive the nails in You

That rugged cross was my cross too.

Still every breath You drew was “Hallelujah!”

Today, I just want to share this song with you and encourage you to think about what Christmas means to you.  I hope you are as touched and encouraged by it as I am.  We can be thankful that because He did come down to rescue us and pay for our sins in full, we can also say, “Hallelujah (which means ‘Praise the Lord’)!”

“But God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8 (NKJV)

“Thank You Lord, for the enormity of Your gift to us.  Help us to reflect on this more as we near closer to Christmas time.  I thank You that because of Your great love and mercy, You took my cross upon Yourself, and carried the burden of my sin, and willingly laid down Your life for me.  I also thank You that the story doesn’t end there, but that You won the victory for us forever.  Help me to live today saying “Hallelujah” with every breath I take, for You are worthy, and I can’t thank You enough.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 

Just As I Am – November 28, 2015

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me

I love this old hymn.   When I hear it, I typically think about how Jesus calls us to come “just as we are” and surrender ourselves to Him. How we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up in order to accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation – we can come to Him warts and all. But in reading Ephesians chapter 1, this song took on a whole new meaning for me.

I accepted Christ into my heart when I was 14 years old, yet I often struggle with anxiety in social situations, afraid that I’ll say something stupid or I find myself feeling awkward and at a loss for words, which makes me seem like I am being standoffish or snobbish, when in fact it’s just me being nervous. Then I walk away thinking, “I hope they didn’t think I was being rude.”

I think too often as believers we accept the gift of salvation, but because we still struggle with insecurities and the failings of being human, we struggle with prayer because we’re afraid we’ll sound stupid, or telling others about Jesus because we’re afraid it’ll come out wrong. Or we struggle with legalism because we think we have to do everything “right” in order to be accepted by God. Or with service because we feel that we don’t have the gifts necessary to participate in ministry. I have at different times with all of the above. Thank God He gives me His Word to remind me that not only can I come to Him just as I am, I am permanently accepted and love just as I am also.

Beginning in verse 3 of Ephesians 1, the apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise and glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV).”

He’s telling us here that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, God sees us as sons and daughters and made us “accepted in the Beloved [Jesus]” “to the praise and glory of His grace.” That’s the awesome thing about grace. We didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it, and because of that fact, we can’t do anything to lose it either. There’s no points or merit system. It’s all because He loved us enough to pay the price so that we don’t ever have to worry about not being accepted or loved.

Verse 13 and 14 tell us that, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

This tells us that once we are saved, we are promised an inheritance in Heaven. Where the Word says, “you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” I think of when my husband and I took our wedding vows. We made a promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, etc. until death do us part. Even more glorious here, is that God not only promises that we are accepted in the here and now, He has promised us a permanent residence in the Promised Land in our life to come.

We know that the Lord always keeps His promises; that’s why this is such a comfort when we struggle with anxiety, or with insecurities, or when we simply have days where we feel clumsy and out-of-sorts. We don’t have to worry about making a fool out of ourselves or whether or not our prayers are grammatically correct- He loves and accepts us just as we are.

“Father, I thank You for your unconditional love and acceptance of me, warts and all. Where sometimes all I can see is where I need to improve, Your grace abounds and reminds me that You are my ever-present help. I have nothing to fear from what people think, because I know that I am perfectly loved by a perfect Father. Please help me to love others like You love me, and not to be afraid to dedicate my efforts to Your service, no matter how feeble I think they are. Help me to remember that You are the one capable of taking five loaves and two fishes and feeding five-thousand, or a widow’s mite and multiplying it for Your glory. I love and I thank You, Father. Help us to give You all of the praise, honor and glory and to relax and enjoy life as it comes, for You came to give us life abundantly. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

 

Deliver Us From Evil…And Holiday Traffic – November 27, 2015

I must say,  we had quite a ride getting to my husband’s parents’ home last night.  We were already excited to spend time with our out-of-state family, but the four-and-a-half hour drive turned out to be a nail-biter in more ways than one.

First, we ended up leaving just as a torrential rainstorm began, which resembled more a typhoon than anything.   Then, as we headed south, more rain, and at one point we narrowly dodged hydroplaning when we hit a puddle that looked to be two feet deep.  Every so often, we would pass a car that had landed in the ditch, or that had had a fender bender with the retaining wall and think, “This could be us up around the next corner.”

Thankfully, I wasn’t the one driving.  The last thing any of the poor souls stuck in rainy, Thanksgiving Day traffic need is a sleep-deprived woman, bordering on delirious actually, from working the overnight shift, behind the wheel of the car on the freeway next to them. Especially one who is close to foaming at the mouth after everyone, including three kids and a husband, has finally managed to get crammed, along with all of the luggage, into a small double cab truck which has seemingly morphed into a smart car with no leg room.

I began praying for God to please get us to our destination safely through the storms and in one piece (and without killing one another), and to help me to snap out of the crabby mood I was in.  It is, after all, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  I just wasn’t feeling it at the moment. How I wish at those times that there were some kind of divine teleportation mechanism to lift us up and carry us out of the storms, the long lines of traffic, etc.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus teaches the disciples (and us) how to pray.  He says:

“In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. (NKJV)”

What does deliverance from temptation and the evil one look like (and yes, I think holiday traffic is the work of the evil one!)?  When I think of being delivered from something, I think of God lowering down a rope or a safety net and rescuing me right then and there.  Or like the way that He helped Moses to part the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of the Egyptians in Exodus.

But sometimes I fail to see that deliverance might not be what I think. Deliverance might mean protection. I think sometimes our plans go awry because God might be keeping us from harm.

And then, sometimes, I think deliverance means walking with us through whatever we are going through, and helping us to come out safely the other side.  I’ve heard a saying that sometimes the only way out is through, and I believe that.  Even if whatever it is means emerging from this side of life into Heaven on the other side, God will get us through it, and He will walk with us all the way.

The Apostle Paul had some kind of “thorn in the side”.  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what it was.  Perhaps a physical illness or disability, perhaps anxiety or depression, or some kind of temptation that he struggled with. No one can really be sure.  Whatever it was, it was troubling enough to Paul that He asked the Lord to remove it three times.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (NKJV):  “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'”

The Lord was telling him that He was choosing not to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh, as He would be able to use Paul’s weakness to demonstrate His strength.  In other words, He was going to be able to take something that Satan was using to bother Paul (v.7) and use it as part of Paul’s ministry for His glory.

So then, we can be encouraged when the trials and storms come, and know that though God has different ways of delivering us from storms,  He promises to be with us every step of the way.

Our Thanksgiving story has a happy ending.  We arrived safely in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with most of the relatives.  A good time was had by all of us.  A few had left, but we have the rest of the weekend to be able to catch up and visit with everyone before we head back home Sunday.  The Lord reminded me of all that I have to be thankful for – most especially, His grace that is sufficient for my every need.

“Father, thank You for all that You are, and for You grace that sustains me daily.  Please forgive me for the times when I forget to be grateful, and help me to give thanks in all circumstances, for You are able, and You are mighty to deliver us from anything the evil one tries to throw our way.  I’m grateful for family, fellowship and that we get to spend this time together for the holiday weekend.  Please be with those reading this and bless their homes and their families, Lord, and give them safe travels.  May we all draw closer to You today and always.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Slow Down, You Crazy Child – November 25, 2015

Ok, I know.  The title for this post is actually part of the chorus from the song, “Vienna” by Billy Joel, but I thought it was apropos for what I was thinking about today.

We all know tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and the official holiday season is upon us.  I emphasize that because we don’t just have Thanksgiving or Christmas Day.  We have the 45 shopping days left till Christmas, or whenever you start counting, and Thanksgiving eve (still time to buy those turkeys and anything else you might have forgotten on your last trip to the grocery store!) and then Black Friday, which now lasts from part of the evening Thursday to sometime Friday afternoon or evening in some places.

So, in the frenzy of all of this activity, I thought about the story of Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha in Luke 10:38-42 (not to be confused with Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, who are also Biblical characters.  Apparently, just about everyone named their girl children Mary back then).

It says, “Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Therefore tell her to help me.’

And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'(NKJV)”

So, I ask myself, “Am I a Martha or Mary?”

Well, I do have some days where I say who cares if the kids pick up their socks out of the floor, and we can worry about the bills, the trash, the dishes and dinner tomorrow.  I just want to read the new Joyce Meyer book and eat chocolate.  Does that count as being a Mary?  And maybe sometimes, I’m half-Mary and half-Martha, where I’m making mental lists of things I must do before the shopping days are over, but the Mary part of me wants to sit down and eat a bag of chips and say, “C’est la vie.”

But a lot of the time I think I lean solely toward being a Martha.  “Lord, do You not care that my kids don’t know where the trash can is, or that these dogs have left pee on my carpet and no one knows who forgot to let them outside?  Do You not know that my house is a wreck because I have three children, two of them teenagers?!  And that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and we have to find someone to babysit the dogs??”

At those times, He reminds me through His Word that He does care.  And He gives us His strength when we’re tired to help us get through these hectic times.  But the enemy would have me believe that He has left me all alone to deal with the hectic pace of this life and all of its responsibilities.  And that’s simply not true.  It’s just that God doesn’t get all bent out of shape about the condition of my kitchen, or about whether the presents are perfectly wrapped, etc. like I do.  He sees from an eternal perspective, and knows that I won’t remember what our kitchen looked like 20 years from now, most likely, but I’ll remember how blessed I was to see the smiles on my kids’ faces as we share what we’re grateful for this year and celebrate together as a family.

It’s not that He doesn’t care about our concerns over the adult responsibilities that we all have though.  In fact, He’s called us to be good stewards of quite a lot- and that’s why His help and His strength are always available for the asking.  He knows he is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV).

He’s telling us in the passage above to choose “the good part,” which is taking time to sit at His feet and learn from Him.  He’s telling me that to be a Mary, I need to turn off the tv, unplug from the Internet, take off the superior sound-system headphones and forget about the messy house for a minute and just spend some time with Him.

When Jesus tells Martha that “one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part,” I believe He is telling us we need Him most of all, and that if we put Him first, we won’t be as “worried and troubled about many things.”  We’ll be able to relax, knowing that He’s right there with us, in whatever we have to do today.

“Lord, today I ask that You help me to be more like a Mary, and just make it a point to spend time with You, rather than worrying and getting all nervous about this or that.  Help me to be still and know that You are God.  Show me what You would have me to learn today, and what You would have me to do.  Help us as Christians to look for ways in which we can help others as well, that we may shine Your light into the dark places in the world.  I pray that we may be deeply aware of Your love this holiday season and that we will be reminded that we have a great Lord, who is our Redeemer and Provider.  Thank You Lord, for who You are.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

God’s Strength When You’re Tired – November 24, 2015

Some days, it seems, I just wake up tired and dragging.  This morning was one of those times.  I stayed up late last night reading and surfing the net, not exactly the best thing to do when my busy mind is already in gear from a full day.  Nevertheless, I did, and was definitely feeling the effects this morning, when the alarm went off (way too early it seemed!) and it was time to get the kids up for school.

I saw a cartoon once that showed Jesus talking to a man and showing him the footprints in the sand.  It said, “You see these footprints over here?  That was when I carried you.  But, you see this long groove in the sand over there?  That was when I dragged you for a little while.”

That always makes me chuckle, because how true it is.  Some days, I feel like the Lord has to drag me around because I just don’t have the strength it seems to get everything done that I need to do in the twenty-four hours I’ve been given, yet my self-sufficiency (i.e. pride) tells me that I don’t need to be carried, I can do things just fine on my own, thank you very much.  I tell myself I’ll ask for help when I really need it.

I’ll bet God smiles when He sees my pathetic attempts at dragging myself around and trying to carry everything on my own little shoulders, and thinking that I am so strong and so big, not realizing that He is holding the load up so that it’s bearable and doesn’t break me.

Can you relate?  I smile now even as I write this because I think of my fourteen-year old son who says that he can’t wait to move out when he’s eighteen.  I tell him that as an adult there are bills and rent, cleaning the house,  forty-hour workweeks and things like paying taxes that aren’t as fun as playing Xbox live and hanging out with friends most of the time.  He’s sure that when he’s eighteen he’s got it made, not really understanding the concept that his parents are paying the utilities, providing for his shelter, and making sure that there is food in the house.

Don’t we often do that same thing though when we relate to God?  We say, “I got this,” not realizing that we are only breathing and our heart is still beating because He has given us another day to live.

The good thing is, we don’t have to come to the end of our rope to ask God for help and for strength.  I’ve done that far too many times- when I am sick, or when there’s a crisis, I finally say, “Lord, I can’t do this alone!”  But He is there to give us strength in every situation.  That’s why I love Matthew 11:28-30.  Here, Jesus says:

“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (NKJV).”

Isaiah 40:28-29 says, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.  His understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.”

I’m praying for His strength for today and over the next couple of days, as I have to work a graveyard shift tomorrow night, and then we head to my in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving, so I will need His, because my body will probably be ready to sleep for about two days straight before we even get on the road Thanksgiving morning for the four and a half hour drive to my in-laws’ house.

Matthew 28-30 also promises that when we call upon Him, we will receive rest.  How lovely is that word, especially when I stop to think of all that it entails.  Not just rest as in sleep (though naps are nice too!) but rest from worry, from all of the hectic goings-on and the noise around us, rest from strain and struggle and toil.  Just resting in His arms and knowing that He is awake, even when we sleep.

“Thank You Lord, that You are our strength, that You are our refuge from the worries, the cares, the fatigue and the daily stresses in our lives.  When we are tired, I pray that we might run into Your arms and let You hold and carry us.  Forgive us when we try to go it alone, Lord, and forget that we need You.  Help us to desire to walk close with You each and every day.  I’m thankful that You’re right beside us always, and that You have been where we are so You understand, and that You’re with us in each tomorrow as well.  Help us to be living testimonies of Your strength and Your peace in our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Loved by Our Maker – November 23, 2015

Do you know how much God loves you?  I mean, I know you’ve probably heard a preacher or someone tell you that, or have heard the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” but do you really know, deep down in your heart how loved you are?

I’m still amazed whenever I read or think about or realize how much God loves me.  Even after all of the times I’ve messed up, or gotten angry and turned my back on Him, or the years when I lived in addiction – He never stopped loving me, or thought of me as less than anyone else.

I grew up being taught the notion that I was “lucky” if I could find a man who would help me out with the kids or the house, and that it was my job to take care of my husband.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some hardcore feminazi or anything like that, and my husband and I love each other dearly.  I am, by the way, blessed with a husband who is a good father, and we make a great team helping one another out.

But, why was I expected to take care of my husband, when and if I got married, but I was supposed to consider myself “lucky” if he helped take care of me and the kids?  I guess the notion I walked away with was that as a woman I was lower on the priority list.  My family didn’t attend church, or speak much about Biblical principles, so when I came to know Christ, and began studying His Word, I was amazed and continue to be amazed at how much He loves us.  All of us.

The more I read the Word, the more I realize I’m not alone in the way I felt back then.  Women in the Jewish culture were regarded much the same way.  This wasn’t the way God intended, but was how the culture viewed women in society at that time.  I think of many other cultures today around the world where women or minorities in that society are treated as second-class citizens based solely on their gender or ethnicity.

Yet, when we come to the story of the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

The story continues in verse 9:  “Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink”, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

He is telling her that He is not looking at gender or race, but that He is able to refresh and revive her soul.  He breaks down those racial and gender barriers to look at who she is as a person.  He knows that she is missing something in her life, as later in the exchange, as they get to talking more, He acknowledges that she has had five husbands, and that the man she is currently living with is not her husband.

He doesn’t say this to condemn her, but to point out her need for salvation.  He also comes right out and tells her at the end of the chapter that He is the Messiah she has been looking for.  How many of us indeed have tried to fill a void in our lives, with food, alcohol, drugs, relationships, work, things, etc.?  Do you know that Jesus can fill the God-shaped void in your heart?

Even after I became a Christian, it was easy for me to fall back on tangible things and people rather than putting my full trust in God.  For a long time, I didn’t.  I trusted alcohol to take away the pain, or the boredom, or for confidence to mask my insecurities.  But I found that after awhile, it turned on me and became my worst enemy, threatening to destroy all that I held dear.  I realized that only God could give me the joy, the sense of purpose, the security and the comfort that I was always looking for.

We see again God’s great love and mercy in John 21.  Peter had not too long ago denied Jesus three times, and was probably still feeling guilty, even though by this time Jesus has risen from the dead and is again spending time with His disciples.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’

He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’

He said to Him, ‘Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15).”

Jesus goes on to ask Peter this question two more times, responding each time with “Tend my sheep,” or “Feed my sheep.”  At one point in the passage (v 17), it states that Peter is “grieved” because the Lord keeps asking him this question.  It’s hard for us to know what he was thinking here, but I’d guess that Peter was probably feeling ashamed, thinking that the Lord had a good reason to believe Peter didn’t love Him.

I think this passage is a good example of the Lord’s mercy.  I believe that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, He is giving Peter the chance three times to tell Him that He loves Him.  And He is letting Peter know that He still wants Peter to preach His Word, that He still wants to use him in ministry.

I just love this story, because it shows that God wants to use us too, no matter how badly we may have blown it in the past.  In His hands, even our most embarrassing mistakes can be a great testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives.

Jesus loved all of us enough to die for us – men, women, old, young, every race and nationality.  He simply says to all of us, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”

“Father, I thank You today that You loved me enough to die for me, and that You’ve promised You’ll never leave me or give up on me.  I thank You that You still want to use me and my life for Your glory.  Please be with each person reading this, and help him or her to know just how much You love them too.  Help me to be a good steward of the time and blessings that You have given me.  Help me to be a good wife and mom, too, Lord, that I won’t be selfish with my time or love toward my family, but that I will be the woman You created me to be, and that I will serve those I love out of a pure heart.  I thank You that Your love for me doesn’t depend on how well I perform, and that I’m not graded on a curve.  You know me inside and out, and because of Your faithfulness, I can always depend on You.  Show me the way in which I should walk today, and may I give You the glory.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Strength and Joy in Numbers – November 22, 2015

I didn’t grow up in church.  So when I started going as a teenager, I was very shy and apprehensive.  I didn’t think I’d like it.  When I rode the church van for the first time, and walked through the doors, I wanted to see what was going on.  See, I had a cousin who started going, and she seemed to really be having fun.

The pastor and his wife there had a profound influence on my life. They loved, accepted and made me feel welcome.  The pastor’s wife heard that I could carry a tune and of my musical training in the school marching band, and encouraged me to sing.  Eventually, she believed that I could sing a solo in front of the church.  I wasn’t so sure and was scared that I wouldn’t hit the higher notes.  Yet, she nurtured my love of music and told me to use it for God’s glory.  Though I don’t sing professionally, and spent many years of my life in karaoke bars not singing for the Lord (which is a part of my life where I had walked away from God like the prodigal son – by His grace I came back), I love singing in church today because of her.  Mostly I just sing from my pew and give thanks.  My daughter loves to sing too, and she plans on majoring in Worship Arts when she goes off to college next year.  I believe God was able to help me pass on my love of music because of the woman at church who made the difference in my life.

I’m so grateful that God give us fellowship.  I’ve been able to lean on my church family during times of struggle and heartache.  I heard a phrase once that pain shared is pain divided.  I believe that is definitely true.

Now, I’m definitely not saying that going to church is what saves us, or makes us Christian.  No, the Bible says that in order to be saved, we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that he died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected on the third day, and that our sins are paid in full because of Him.  He is faithful to forgive us and save us if we ask Him to forgive us and come into our hearts.  But I learned about the love of Christ through having people like my pastor, his wife, and kind believers that I met at a youth camp that summer explain it to me.

The Word says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.”  In our church family, we as believers lift one another up and hold one another accountable.  We help keep one another faithful to our Lord.

My church family also brings me joy and makes me laugh, and I love that families can share with others the good things that God is doing in our lives too, like when we give praises at our church on Wednesdays during a time right before service where we also take prayer requests.

I’ll never forget one of the first times that I went to youth camp as a teen with my church.  I had a friend my age, and she and I were ornery.  At the camp, you could buy postcards to send home, and they also had a “mail call” and would call names of anyone that had received a postcard or letter.  Campers could also “send” postcards to one another.

Well, my friend and I had this bright idea that we were going to play a joke on our pastor.  We bought a postcard and addressed it to him, and then covered it with bright pink lipstick prints.  We howled with laughter as his face turned bright red as they called him up to the podium and the person calling his name said, “Brother, it looks like you have an admirer.”  We still stay in touch with that pastor and his family, and he laughs whenever he remembers that story.

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

I encourage you to be a part of your local church services today.  Sometimes it takes a little while to find the church that is the right fit for you, but you will find that being a part of a family of believers who meet together regularly is fun, and many churches have lots of activities and volunteer opportunities.  I know most of us like to eat, and many churches have fellowship luncheons/dinners occasionally.

Plus, if you’ve never heard a large group of people singing “Amazing Grace” or “My Chains Are Gone,” it will give you goosebumps.  That’s what it’s all about after all.  Christ set us free from shame and condemnation, so that we can enjoy worship and give thanks to Him with all of our hearts.

“Lord, I thank You today for our church families.  I know for me I have learned what genuine family love is through my church family.  Thank You for the opportunity today and every week to gather in worship, to sing and hear of all of the ways in which You bless us.  Help us as believers to reach out and encourage someone in the Lord today, and if there are any reading this that don’t know of Your grace, I pray that You will speak to their hearts so they can understand how much they are loved by You.  Let us tell of Your great love and mercy, and be examples in how we live.  I pray that You will get the honor and the glory in all that we do.  Thank You Lord for your love.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

To Be Understood – November 21, 2015

Have you ever felt misunderstood?  I have many times.  Perhaps you struggle to get your parents, or your child, or your spouse to understand where you’re coming from.  Or maybe you and a co-worker have different ideas of how to accomplish the same task, and just can’t make those ideas mesh.  Or you have a stained past and you feel that people can’t look past that to see what God is doing in your life right now.  Maybe someone in your life has caused you pain or anguish, and they wish to avoid discussion on the matter or minimize your feelings rather than take responsibility for their actions.

Sometimes you just throw your hands up and say, “No one gets it!  No one understands!”  Ah, but there’s good news.  God’s Word is full of stories of hope and redemption, and yes, stories of complicated relationships, probably the most complicated of which is the one between God and His people, us.

Beginning in John 6:60, right after Jesus has finished explaining that He is the Bread of Life, the disciples are confused. In verse 57-58, Jesus says, “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven, not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever.”

I can’t say I blame the disciples for being confused at this point.  After all, I bet they were thinking, “Surely He can’t really be talking about eating His flesh?  What?!”  Yet, let’s not forget that they’d already seen Him feed the crowd of five-thousand people by multiplying just five loaves of bread and two-fishes, and walk on water while commanding the wind and the waves to die down (and the wind and the waves listened!).  They’d been around Jesus enough to know that He often spoke using parables and using phrases which alluded to the spiritual rather than just the material.

The passage continues, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.’

For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.  And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’  From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’

But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’  He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. (John 6:60-71 NKJV).”

Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to feel misunderstood.  All that time that His disciples had been with Him, listening to His teachings, witnessing all of the miracles that had been performed, and still they didn’t understand that He was the Bread and Blood of Life – the One who would pour out His flesh and blood on the cross to offer humanity the gift of salvation and atonement one and for all for their sins.  Some understood and believed that He was the Messiah, but verse 66 says that many of them walked away.  In verse 67, He is speaking just to the twelve – and even one of them was destined to betray Him!

As you read on in John 7:5, the Word says, “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

Because He knows what it’s like to feel abandoned, misunderstood, hurt, betrayed by family, friends, enemies, acquaintances, and all of the above, we can be confident that we’re not alone or unique when we feel that way. Because of who He is and because He’s walked in our shoes, He is able to provide immeasurable comfort to us during those times.

As I stated earlier, I think the most complicated relationship that the Bible speaks of (and it talks about some real doozies!) is between God and His people as a whole.  It’s because even today we often fail to understand that God is good.  The enemy would have us believe that God has abandoned us when we feel misunderstood, that we’re all alone, that nothing good can possibly come out of our current situation, or he would have us curse God, or walk away, just as those multitudes of disciples did.

Sometimes we even start thinking that God doesn’t understand us, but passages like this one prove that He does.

There have been times in my life where I’ve felt let down, or like I couldn’t depend on people to do what they said they would do, even those close to me.  (And I know at various times in my life I’ve also been the unreliable one!).  Later in Jesus’ story, while He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that He is about to be arrested and then crucified, Jesus asked His faithful disciples to watch and pray with Him.  I know those guys had the best of intentions (don’t we usually, too??), but all of them, all of them!, fell asleep.  Jesus came back and said in essence, “You guys couldn’t watch with me for just one hour?”

This reminds me of times when I ask my kids to do a simple task, say, something like, “Before you leave for school, please turn on the dishwasher.”  Or when I ask my husband, “Can you please take out the trash before you go to bed?”  And then they forget, and I’m thinking, “Couldn’t you just do one simple thing that I asked?!”

Of course, I know they feel the same when they say things like, “Mom, can you sign this before I leave for school?” or, “Sweetie, don’t forget to _____ (pay the bill, get milk from the store, throw the laundry from the washer into the dryer, etc.) and then I turn around and forget too.

It’s comforting to know that Jesus understands.  And that He offers grace even when we do forget, or mess up, or behave childishly.  It’s quite an example for us to follow, and one that we can’t follow without His help.  Yet, with Him and through Him all things are possible.

You see, by offering us comfort in the times where we feel misunderstood, and giving us grace, He enables (and empowers) us to extend grace and forgiveness to others.  Then, when we are truly able to offer those things to others, we find peace.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your grace, understanding and forgiveness.  I’m so glad that there is nothing I could possibly go through that You can’t understand and identify with.  You not only created us, but You lived and walked this earth too, and had the same struggles we do.  Help us to find comfort in knowing this, and knowing that we are always understood by You.  Help us to understand Your purposes for our lives, and to rely upon Your strength and power to do Your will.  Help us also to extend grace and forgiveness to others when we feel that they have misunderstood or wronged us, Lord, and show us through Your word what that looks like.  I pray that we will seek to understand more about others, and that we will be emboldened to share the good news of Your salvation with them.  Thank You for Your precious love – may we give You the honor and glory in our lives in all that we do.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

By His Grace – November 20, 2015

Today it seems that we are inundated with a lot of craziness going on in the world, and we ask, “Why?” and struggle to understand for sure.  I’ve also found myself reading or watching a news story and asking, “How in the world can people be so mean to each other?” and then thinking to myself, “I’d never do something like that, that’s terrible!”  Uh, oh.  Here’s where pride subtly begins to creep in.

In studying this morning, I was reading in John 14:36-38 about an exchange between Jesus and the apostle Peter:

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’  Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’

Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now?  I will lay down my life for Your sake.’  Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down Your life for My sake?  Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.'”

Can you identify with Peter here?  I know I can.  There have been times in my life where I’ve said, “God, here I am.  Wherever You want me to go, and whatever You want me do, I’m willing to surrender all to You.”

And then life starts to happen, and maybe I lose a loved one, or lose a job, or things don’t work out in my family relationships that way that I want them to, or I have a wayward child who walks away from the faith, or a miscarriage.  Then what?  I’m saying, “No, no, no!  Lord, wait a minute!  Now, you know I love You, but anything but this!  I want a refund – this is not what I signed up for when I said wherever and whatever.  I was thinking more along the lines of doing missionary work overseas somewhere, I think I can do that.  Or maybe helping the poor or the homeless.  Or helping clean the church toilets.  But not this!

Reading this passage between Jesus and Peter is comforting in a way, because it lets me know that I’m not the only one who has overestimated my faith and underestimated my, well, my humanness and my tendency to be a big baby about any type of pain.  And my tendency to be proud of my efforts and to look with scorn at everything that is going on and in my pride think, “I’ll never be like one of those people!”

What I’m learning to say, and this is after a lot of things that I have done in my life that I said I’d never do, and then seeing how my actions at those times hurt the people I love, is to say, like the apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…(1 Corinthians 15:10 NKJV).”

So how, then, do we follow Jesus, knowing that it is our human nature to want to chicken out?  (See Romans 7:19)

Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

Then Paul goes on to say that “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NKJV).

I believe in essence what Paul is saying here is, “Yes, you [we] are weak, in and of ourselves and we don’t even know how to pray like we should, but we have the Holy Spirit helping us at all times.”

And for us as believers, God’s word tells us that He is able to bring about some good in every situation.  Not that all things that happen are good, by any means, but that God can bring good out of a bad situation somehow, someway.

Paul is telling us, “Yes, we will chicken out, we will get fed up, we will get discouraged trying to do things on our own, but by the Grace of God, we don’t have to!  When we become believers we are never alone anymore – ever!”

This has been encouraging to me to study and write this morning.  I needed to read and ponder these truths today.  Nothing can separate me from His love!  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phillipians 4:13 NKJV).”  I think that’s a reason to rejoice today!

“Father, I thank You for Your unending love, and Your amazing Grace.  I pray that everyone will know Your free gift of salvation and that the Truth shall set them free, Father.  I pray that we as believers may walk courageously and be free from fear, doubt, bitterness, and anything that would weigh us down and keep us from running a good race and finishing strong, Lord.  Help us through Your Holy Spirit not to be afraid to follow You, and not to turn our backs on You when trials come, but instead draw near to You and know that You are faithful to Your promises, and that You will walk with us through whatever we face, and can bring us peace and comfort during the hard times.  Help us to continue giving thanks and looking for the good, Lord, and draw us close to You, that by our lives You may be glorified.  In Jesus name I ask these things, Amen.”

Looking for the Good – November 19, 2015

As Wednesday night church service began last night, I was feeling irritable.  My day at that moment felt overpowered by the negativity of one individual who insists every time she sees me on sharing her woe-is-me stories about how terrible her life is,  and turning everything positive I say into something negative.  I’m not talking about someone who has experienced a recent tragedy; I mean someone who even if she won a million dollars would still find something wrong with it in some form or fashion.

We usually take a few minutes before the message to share prayer requests, or share reports of how God has answered prayers that week.  During our prayer, I remember saying to God, “Okay, I know you want me to love this woman.  I really do.  But I’m sorry, I just don’t have it in me.  I need Your help because in and of myself I can’t do it.”  I also asked Him to help me focus on the service, so livid and annoyed was I still.

When the pastor began to speak, he asked us to open up our Bibles to one of the Psalms.  I can’t remember which book we were in, but I remember it was something similar to Psalm 111:1, “Praise the Lord!  I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.”  We talked about the importance of talking about the good things, and being grateful for the blessings God has given us, even in the midst of turmoil.

Then the pastor said, “Do you have anyone in your life that is just negative all the time?   That no matter what, they’ll find something  to complain about?  I do.  I just call them my ‘Negative Person’.”

I smiled, and then started to laugh.  It’s clear to me that God has a sense of humor.  Not only did the message get my mind off of being irritated, I was able to laugh and thank Him for lightening things up for me in that moment.

Even today, I’m still thinking about that message, and wondering if sometimes I come across as a complainer.  What am I talking about?  I started today’s post out by complaining about a chronic complainer, didn’t I?  I am by and large an optimist, but I do catch myself griping about the weather, griping about the messes my kids make, grumbling about the traffic or the people on the road who need to learn how to use turn signals.  (Especially during a certain time of the month, because during those times I will bite your head off – just give me Reese’s though and we’re all good).

Yet for all of that and even when people drive me bonkers and even in the midst of tragedy, and even with all of the negative news, God is still faithful and He is still good.  Many things I don’t understand, but I believe that.

I’ll tell you another story that my husband told me the other day.  He said that he went to lunch at a fast food place, and while waiting for his order, realized they gave him back too much change.  We’ve been on somewhat of a tight budget lately, with Christmas and our son’s birthday coming up, so he thought for a moment about keeping the money, but knew the right thing to do was to give it back.  So he did give it back, and didn’t think much more about it.  When he got home that evening, he went to the garage to look for a tool and found an old envelope.  Inside was a form letter for one of those Nielsen surveys we used to get in the mail dated November 16, 2007.  Also inside was $30.

God is still, and always faithful.  Today, I’m going to strive to look for ways that I can be thankful.  The Word says, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2 NKJV).

Thank You, Lord for the many, many ways in which You’ve blessed us.  They are too numerous to name.  Thank You for always being faithful, even when we don’t understand the “whys” of things, and that we can trust that You are still good and that You love us and will never leave us.  Thank You most of all for Your salvation that paid for our sins on the cross to set us free and make us right with You.  I pray that the whole world will know how much You love us all.  Help me to be an encourager rather than a complainer.  At the same time, help me to be honest about my feelings and seek help and comfort through my church family when I need it; but no matter what I’m going through, help me to remember to be grateful for the good things.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”