Holy Assignments: Grace to Accept & *Run* with God’s Mission for Your Life!

November 1, 2010

Assignments.

Homework.

Tests.

School.

No, not just “school”, but “life”.

The dog ate my paper.  Seriously!  I crumpled it up and tossed it on the floor because I just couldn’t “get” it.  Then our dog jumped up and tore it apart, eating the pieces…  (Note:  No dog ever died from eating anyone’s Algebra homework, thankfully. 🙂  )

It blew out the bus window.  Really!  On the way to school– this morning. 

My friend took it home yesterday to figure it out, but then forgot to bring it back! 

*          *          *

If you’re smiling while reading those honest-to-goodness student excuses for not having an assignment ready to hand in, then join the club!  And these examples aren’t made-up examples at all; they’re totally real, having been freshly gathered from classrooms over the last few weeks.

Here’s an interesting definition of an assignment:

  • something assigned to you
  • given to you by someone higher in authority than you
  • from someone who knows that you are capable of doing the assignment (whether or not you believe that you are capable)
  • something having a specific period of time in which it must be accomplished
  • something that will help move you to the next level of understanding

Unlike some of the assignments students in school receive, many of us who are not presently enrolled in any classes may not recognize that each of us has some “assignments” – these are things that are…

  • assigned to us (some are general assignments for all Jesus-followers, and others are assignments specific to us, or to our individual situation)
  • given to us by God Himself (Who is definitely an Authority above all authorities)
  • within our capabilities (He knows that each of us is capable of doing the assignment that He’s given)
  • to be completed within a specific period of time (even though some assignments are long-term, and appear to have no “due date”)
  • necessary to be completed before we receive our next assignment (without working through the challenges of the present assignment, we will not be able to move to the next level of understanding that God has planned for us) 

What are some of the holy “assignments” that God has given you?

  • Caring for those who are physically dying
  • Being a friend to a fellow believer (who is actually in rebellion toward God)
  • Serving as either a pastor or another one of the spiritual leaders in a zzz-ing congregation
  • Fulfilling the calling of your marital status with joy
  • Being God’s “hands and feet” to spiritual “rejects” (rejected by the church)
  • Living with an “unchangeable” (a serious illness for which a cure has not yet been discovered, a traumatic experience from the past, chronic pain or debilitating illness, a physical deformity)
  • Using your spiritual gifts/abilities in a place where God can multiply your influence beyond your lifetime (this place to serve may not necessarily be the closest to home, the handiest for your schedule, or a place/an ethnic culture that is “familiar” to you!)
  • Depending entirely on God (Who is “unseen”) in a world of the “seen”

*                      *                      * 

None of these assignments is impossible, but each of these assignments may require much additional “homework” of prayer, searching the Scriptures, pondering God’s heart, and asking the Holy Spirit (the One Whom Jesus told His disciples was their ‘Teacher’) for spiritual insight/discernment into the most challenging aspects of the assignment.

Each of these assignments may require much additional “homework” of prayer.

Class Note:  Nearly each of the assignment “examples” are of the independent study variety.  Although you may consult with fellow “students” from time to time, the responsibility for completing the assignment in a timely manner is entirely up to you.

Additional Note for All Students:  Extra credit will be given to each student who completes his/her assignment with joy!

Bonus Points:  Will be awarded to those students who, while working diligently on their own “homework” take time to assist fellow students:

  • by serving as a good listener, thereby helping your classmate to “unravel” a part of their assignment
  • by sharing personal insights gained while working on a similar assignment
  • by gifting fellow students with the most valuable homework assistance of all:  intercessory prayer

Note:  Students who feel especially challenged by their assignment may request to have the assignment withdrawn, and replaced with a new assignment, but there is no guarantee that such a request will be granted:

So I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations.  Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.  No danger then of walking around high and mighty!  At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it.  Three times I did that, and then He told me, 

            My grace is enough; it’s all you need.

            My strength comes into its own in your weakness. 

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen.  I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.  It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.  Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks.  I just let Christ take over!  And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.  – The Message, 2 Cor. 12:7b-10

*                      *                      *

I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God’s master plan…  — The Message, Col. 1:1

I, Peter, am an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds.  Not one is missing, not one forgotten… — The Message, 1 Peter 1:1

*          *          *

Perhaps your “assignment” is like that of Paul, of Peter, of Esther, of Mary, of Job, of Nehemiah, of Elijah, of Jeremiah:  that you, in fact, in your present situation, are on assignment.  Right now.  Right where you are.  Doing your present work.  Living at the address where you live.  In the neighborhood where you live.  Right there, in the middle of “life”, as it swirls around you every day.

Is yours an “easy” assignment?  Probably not.  Is it a “piece-of-cake” assignment?  Doubtful.  Is yours an assignment that is specifically your assignment?  Absolutely!

Then go for itWork the problemsExamine the situationAsk the Teacher for help.  Here – have a seat at this “desk”, taking time for some quiet thought as you consider various possibilities as you work on this “homework”.  (Don’t bother looking at another student’s paper – chances are that their assignment is quite different from yours, and requires an entirely different set of answers.  The principles, however, are all the same.)

*          *          *

Class Memo:  The Answer Key is available 24/7, and across all time zones, no matter where in the world you’re working on your assignment.  The Holy Spirit – the One Who will guide Jesus-followers into all Truth – He is the Teacher, and is available 24/7, and more than willing to come alongside you!

*          *          *          *          *

Not long ago, a girl came over to the teacher’s desk.  She leaned against the desk, lifted her head up as if looking at the ceiling, then out of her mouth came a long, whining voice: “Ewwwwww!  It’s too hard!  Why does homework always have to be so hard?”

Together we looked at the very problem that she said was so difficult – so seemingly impossible – and she ended up understanding it and walking back to her desk with a smile, even offering to help any fellow classmates who still might not “get” how to do it!  If you’re reading this and thinking (a bit smugly) to yourself, Well, I’m doing just great on my assignment!  It’s easy-as-pie!, then may I gently suggest to you that perhaps you have chosen to work on a super-easy set of “homework” when, in reality, God has given you something considerably more challenging to work on – and you (ever the independent student) have decided to pick’n’choose your own assignments and completion schedule!

Perhaps you have chosen to work on a super-easy set of “homework” when, in reality, God has given you something considerably more challenging.

How long will God have you working on 2 + 2, when the homework He may have in mind for you this week is of the 2 x 2 variety?

So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. – Hebrews 6:1, The Message

Whatever your “holy assignment” from God, will you graciously accept the assignment — then run with it?  Keep your eyes on your own paper!  Ask the Teacher if you don’t understand the basic principles of the assignment.  This is an assignment that is specifically yours, and no one else’s — fulfill your life’s mission with great joy, thereby turning all attention to the God Who designed you with these giftings, skills, and abilities!  And — run for it!

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Grace to attract songbirds! (God’s “granola”-promises!)

June 16, 2010

Just this morning I was loving the symphony in the backyard!  There are at least two blue jays, four cardinals, several finches, a pair of mourning doves, five or six robins, grackles — two, a red-headed woodpecker, a squirrel, and “Grandpa Bunny” (he has grey around his muzzle, and by his front legs!).  Oh, did I mention that of all these singers, Grandpa Bunny probably is the quietest among them!

As I refilled the birdfeeder this morning, I thought about what life was like “before-the-songbirds”:  Mostly silent.

So though it seems obvious, sometimes it’s quite easy to miss the “big picture”.  In the case of my backyard “symphony members”, the missing ingredient was… Songbird seed!!!

If you want songbirds, then put out songbird food!

If you want joy, then put into your life the things that encourage and bring great joy.  (Putting out songbird food is much easier!)  Here are a few things I’ve learned seem to “attract” joy into the “backyard garden” of my life — and you may not be excited at every item on the list — which is certainly not exhaustive:

  • suffering
  • Words from the Book
  • serving others
  • looking beyond “today” to see God’s “big picture”
  • enjoying God’s created beauty:  colors of the sky, the clouds, the birds’ feathers, the coloration of flowers, leaves, ornamental grasses, the sound of others’ voices, the texture of fresh fruit, the rumble of thunder, the starry skies overhead, a double rainbow stretched across a gray-black sky, the evening star, the startling colors of the sky at sunrise!
  • listening to hope-filled music
  • creating ~ whatever it is, whether cookies in the kitchen, a short e-mail to let someone know you’re thinking of them, putting a few bright flowers into a pot by the front door (artificial ones work, too!), making a pot of homemade soup, thinking up silly words to a new song, imagining a different coat of paint on a white wall that needs to be brightened up… 
  • Looking back at how God “came through” for you, for your friend, for your family, and in such personalized ways!

There are so many possibilities!

If you want joy, then put into your life the things that encourage and bring great joy.

But… back to songbird food:  I’ve found that I must put it out in the morning — that’s when they love to come feed!  While they’re feeding, and after they eat, crowding in “hovering” pattern near the feeder, they make all kinds of glorious “music”!

If you want joy first thing in the morning, then you’ll want to be sure to “feed” your joy first thing in the day, too — like filling up the bird feeder with songbird seed, you’ll want to fill your soul with the good Seed of God’s Word that will make you “sing” throughout the long, hot day ahead!

If you want joy first thing in the morning, then you’ll want to be sure to “feed” your joy first thing in the day, too!

***Hint:  If you’d like to “sing” the sweetest songs, then be sure to add the sweet Seed of God’s promises to your morning “Seed”!  Here are a few I like to “munch” on:

  • “I’ll never leave you, or ever abandon you!”
  • “I am the LORD; I never change.”
  • “Your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him.”
  • “My God shall supply all your need, according to His abundant riches in Glory.”
  • “As long as Earth lasts, planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never stop.”
  • “If we believe not, yet He remains faithful; He cannot go back on His Word.”

To “sing” the sweetest songs, be sure to add the sweet Seed of God’s promises to your morning “Seed”! 

Yum!  Talk about God’s “granola” for us, His beloved children!  Are we not of more value, of greater worth to Him than “many sparrows”?

One other thing:  Not only should you be sure to put out the songbird food to attract songbirds, and to be sure to load the feeder first thing in the morning:  Be sure to re-fill it around twilight, too!  That’s when so many of the songbirds come back for a “bedtime snack”!  If you keep the feeder filled late in the day, you’ll be amazed at the sweet music you’ll hear all around your yard, just as twilight approaches, and the skies take on the gorgeous hues of lavenders, pinks, and crimsons.  Seeing — and hearing (or singing!) — God’s lovingkindness, all day long — is a virtually guaranteed way to “attract” His songbirds of joy to your life!

This would-be “songbird” needs a “bedtime snack” of God’s “granola”-promises, too!  Those promises can fill your heart with satisfying hope, keep your “wings” beating regularly, and give you the “lift” you need to get you through some of life’s stormiest winds!

Be sure to re-fill the “feeder” around twilight, too!

May your hearts be blessed with great joy, and overflowing with the music of a contented spirit — far better than even the loveliest melodies of my backyard feathered songsters!

“Let not your hearts be troubled…”

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“He hath put gladness in my heart, more than in the time when their corn and their wine increased…”

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“Now may the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” — Romans 15:13 (MSG)

Too poor for GRACE… yet an “heir of the Kingdom”?

February 12, 2010

Where in Scripture is it acceptable to be picky-choosy about to whom we will minister?

Not too many years ago, through a most unforeseen set of circumstances, I became… homeless.  I lived in my car.  You did…what?  Yes, you read it right.  Save that, for just a minute, to your mental hard-drive…

It was the dead of winter, and I was becoming numb with cold, even while gathering multiple blankets around me in the car (which I would only turn on once every hour or so, just to get warm for a few minutes, then would turn it off again).  So I would sometimes go to a convenience store parking lot (this was a relatively safe neighborhood ~ or so I thought when I first arrived there), get the smallest cup of coffee possible to warm my hands, walk around the store to warm up 3-4 minutes, then head back to my car.  My locked car.  Once it became daylight, I headed somewhere I could wash up, brush my teeth, change clothes, then re-locate to a public building (a local library was my best bet at the time) to hang out during the day, since I needed somewhere warm to stay between going to job interviews, and it was the perfect place to read the job classifieds in the newspaper.

Not a soul at the library could have imagined that I was any different than they — nothing from my dress, demeanor, or cleanliness would have led anyone to think otherwise.

About two weeks into this experience (and thankfully, it was not a lengthy experience, since I am such a “wimp” that I could not have lasted too much longer; thank GOD for His provisions), I visited a church several towns away on a Sunday morning, and saw in that morning’s church bulletin that the church would be having a weekend event for women on the following weekend.  After the morning service was over, I went out to the church lobby to sign up for the event.  Small problem:  The event registration card required that I give my “address”…  How do you tell a well-dressed person who has probably never even imagined a day in her life not having an address — a place to call h-o-m-e — that you have no address?  It felt utterly shameful.  But still, I tried, without trying to put guilt or any sense of obligation on her:

Well, uh, I don’t actually have an address right now.

How could you not have an address?  Everyone has one!  Everyone has to live somewhere!  She laughed cheerfully as I tried to think of my next line…

She’s so sheltered!  Has no CLUE of what a person in pain (of whatever type that pain is) looks like!  Is in her own little “bubble”… a ‘Christian’ “bubble”.  Do I really want to be the one to break through to her?  NO!  I could be dying, for all she knows!!!

She continued:  “So if you’ll just go ahead and fill out the rest of this form, we’ll be glad to sign you up!”  She gave me this, um, professional smile, that meant I don’t really want to be involved with your life!  Can’t you see?  I’m just doing my job, getting these registration forms filled out.   And I’m about to go to my warm home, to my husband and kids, enjoy lunch together…

I took the form, added my last name, wrote down a cell phone number, and left the “address” section blank.  I tucked it into my Bible.

We’ll need that back to get you registered!  Her eyes met mine as I looked at her there, seated there at the table.

I’m going to think about this for a few minutes, I said, not wanting to give the form to her.  My plan was to leave the form on the table near where another lady had been seated, and who was now gone.

I walked over to the coat rack, put on my insulated vest, scarf,and  jacket, along with gloves.  I couldn’t believe how terrible I felt.  While it was true that I wasn’t in my home-town, this was still a church, a place where people preached, read, even talked about the Bible constantly.  Yet here I was, no better off leaving than when I first came in.

Was I expecting them to give me a place to stay overnight?  No.  Or was I expecting money, or even food from them?  No, and no.   But the fact that a person (the registration lady, in this case) could be so detached troubled me greatly.

This is “the Church”, I thought to myself as I headed out to my car (my “home” for the time being).  And they would rather not know anything, than to know another’s pain, and then be “stuck”, having to do anything about it!  Forgive us, Lord!  Forgive me, for having “breezed by” so many people — hurting people — in the churches I’ve attended over the years.  Give me new eyes, to see what You see, I prayed silently.

This is a part of my life not too many people know about.  But at this time of year, when the weather outdoors becomes frightfully cold, I cannot not remember my library-by-day, sleeping-in-my-car-by-night existence.

If you do it to one of the least of these, you’ve done it as if to Me, Jesus said.

How could that have been — that I (“an heir of the Kingdom”) — was, in fact, too poor for grace.  Words fail.  Stop my falling tears.

Listen, my beloved brothers & sisters!  Hasn’t God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which He has promised to them that love Him?  But you have despised the poor… — James 2:5-6b

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Thank You, God, for those in the Family who have opened their lives to Your royal rule of love, and who even now are opening their hearts, their lives so freely — never once pausing to consider whether or not a person “measures up” (economically, intellectually, with the right “words or phrases” — not using any ‘Christian-speak’)…  They are living out their identities as Your royal princes and princesses, and I, a fellow heir, am a beneficiary!  How beautiful to know that whether it is a “cup of cold water”, or a “cup of hot chocolate”, or perhaps the gift of a listening ear, or their sharing an unexpected bag of meat from their freezers, these dear ones are bringing Your Kingdom to earth, here and NOW.  Let me pass on to others the blessings they have so generously given to me…  THANK You, God, for letting the words of Scripture leap off the pages of their lives, these “Living Letters” You write so beautifully.  Through these dear ones You remind me that I, too, am “royalty”, and an “heir of the Kingdom”.  Amen.

 

Grace & Suffering — Are they connected?

January 25, 2010

Two “big” words — at least in the realm of theology:  Grace.  Suffering.  Are they even related?  Or are they merely extremes in the spectrum of life’s experiences?

I’ve been pondering this very question, and fairly often, even in my own lifetime.  That is not to say that I have ever experienced great suffering — some suffering, yes, but “great”?  I think not.  My little afflictions (which are so fleeting) are but “small potatoes” when compared with life’s “big picture”.  At least that’s how Eugene Peterson phrases it in The Message:

These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us.  There’s far more here than meets the eye.  The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow.  But the things we can’t see now will last forever. — 2 Cor. 4:17-18, MSG (bold added by me for emphasis)

Before answering the first question, Are suffering and grace even related?, I would like to make a flying leap, so to speak, and attempt to answer the second question:  Are suffering and grace merely extremes in the spectrum of life’s experiences?

Suffering.  It’s a part of the whole “package” of being human.  Have you ever met a person — here I’m thinking of someone with at least several decades of life behind them —  who has not endured some kind of suffering in life, whether public, or so very, very private?  Have you not come across some hurting, aching soul who has endured beyond “enduring”?

Oh, the thought of trying to define “suffering”!  It’s absolutely impossible!  While yes, suffering is definitely a part of the human experience, our Creator — the God of the Bible — has designed each member of the human race so distinctly from every other human who has ever lived, ever walked on this planet that it would be foolishness for me to attempt to give definition to what “suffering” means, for each person alive already knows full well what tears at their soul, what torments their thoughts, what keeps them awake at night, what makes their tears flow like the heavy rains of Japan’s early-summer rainy season.

And grace… What a concept!  Grace is a high-frequency word in hymns of the last hundred years.  It’s a statistically-probable word in theological writings of the last five hundred years.  “Grace” is a word well-known to theologians and all who love the study of the Biblical Scriptures.  “Grace” is a word imbued with the sweetness of honey to any person who has ever experienced the acidity — and the definite pain– of life’s stings, and “grace” is the warming comfort of a handmade quilt near the fireside to anyone who has been frozen-out by the chilling gusts of legalism.

Oops!  I’ve let the cat out of the bag in the preceding paragraph!  You can already tell which way we’re headed here:  A definite and a resounding “YES!”, that suffering and grace are very much related, and an equally and resounding “NO!” — that suffering and grace are not simply extremes at opposite ends of life’s experiences, but rather, they are as intermingled as the invisible strands that make up the genetic code, the DNA, for each one of us.

Now you may be thinking, “Well, I know so-and-so, and she/he is having the time of their life these days!”  Maybe so.  But I guarantee you that if that person is a member of the human race, sooner or later they will encounter suffering, pain, misery, and heartache.  Or you may be pondering, “Oh, there’s someone I know, and their life seems to be, or to have been, nothing but sadness and loss, year after year…”  And there are truly individuals whose lives have been marked with a depth of sorrow that few of us have ever known.

Grace and suffering are inextricably linked.  And there is a great comfort, a great hope, and the greatest of consolations, in particular for those whose lives have, up to this moment, been overwhelmed with the tidal waves of suffering.  Listen to these beautiful words, and let their truth serve as an anchor for your soul, to keep you from feeling washed away from God and from His hope at this very deepest point of your pain:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, Who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. — I Peter 5:10 (ESV)

Yes, there is suffering in this life.  But look closely at the promise:  “after you have suffered a little while…”  Oh, you say, but how long is “after”?  How much longer must I endure this situation, this sadness in my soul, this weight on my spirit, this unspeakable hardship known to no one but God?  And to these difficult questions, I offer this life-line of hope, a word whose meaning is a life-jacket of the greatest comfort:  “after”.  I cannot say how long your personal “after” will be, following this season of suffering.  I cannot begin to guess, nor even to closely estimate at what time the clouds will begin to lift for you, nor can I predict when the present life-sized storm will finally and completely blow over, that you would again see blue skies, and know God’s calm in your soul.  But this I do know:  This is a promise, and the God of the Bible keeps His promises!  His promises are better currency than money in the bank, and will provide a smoother bed for sleeping than the highest quality of mattresses!

Think about it:  The words of this promise were written in approximately 63 AD, less than ten years after Nero became emperor of Rome in 54 AD.  The great sufferings of the early Christian believers are well-known.  Nero was no friend to grace.  Yet in the midst of some of the most brutal of sufferings ever known to human beings, and out of the darkness of such deep trials, the Holy Spirit — the Comforter, the One Who came alongside these suffering saints, and Who now comes alongside each one who is suffering — wrote these sweet words, through the Apostle Peter:

after you have suffered a little while…

The rest of the promise is equally sweet, and rich with encouragement:

…the God of all grace, Who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Note the connection:  In one brief verse, God downloads so much hope to us:  Yes, there is suffering, yet there is the God of all grace.  There is darkness, yet there is glorious light ahead!  There is the temporary nature of the suffering (though while enduring the trial, it feels anything but “temporary”), yet there is the God Who has called us to His eternal glory!  There is the broken, torn-apart state in which all of us who suffer find ourselves, yet this God of all grace has big plans:  He will Himself restore us!  We who in  our suffering have faltered and felt weakened will, in fact, be confirmed and strengthened.  And those of us who have felt uprooted and nearly swept away due to the intensity of the trials can anticipate being established and settled by none other than God Himself!

Grace and suffering.  We can make a choice in how we suffer, no matter what circumstances our God allows into our lives through His sovereign hand.  We can suffer with grace, or we can suffer without grace…  But that is a topic for another post!

*****

Psst!  I must tell you:  This promise from I Peter 5:10 is for those who are believers in the God of the Bible!  It’s a piece of the “family silver” that our Father, God, has left out on the “kitchen table” — a place convenient for all Family members — to use, and not merely to keep tucked away in a glassed-in display cabinet!  Here I refer to the Family of believers in Jesus Christ.  If you would like to become a member of God’s family, please check out this link for further information:

www.needhim.org,

or if you’re in the States and would like to speak with someone directly, please call 1.888.NEED.HIM.

Grace to Light the “Joy” Candle!

December 18, 2012

Okay, so I have a confession for you, my readers:  I grew up in a family where, despite lacking expensive toys, gifts, brand-name items, we still had a certain constant at home.

And what, you well may be asking, might that “constant” have been, Gracie?  Was it, um, sitting around after a meal reading the Bible together?

Um, I would say with some hesitation, not wanting you to feel like your answer was totally incorrect, no, that would not be the ‘constant’.  That would have been nice, but it was not quite the way our family operated.

Was it going to visit your grandparents every year at Thanksgiving or Christmas, Gracie?  You just might be asking that, as your guess at the “constant’ in our family.  That would be a good and lovely guess, but it would still not come close.  Wish that our grandparents had lived that close so that we could have visited, and gotten to know them — but, unfortunately, not!  So as not to prolong your curiosity, I will “nudge” you, offering a simple hint:  My mother said that, no matter what happened, everyone had to be at dinner.  Every night.  No exceptions.  It did not matter that you had a friend who wanted you to call them, that you had a youth activity at church, a musical rehearsal, or just about anything else going on:  You had to nearly be ill with a highly contagious plague (and sometimes a bad case of the flu qualified) to miss dinner with the family.  Period.

There!  Did that make your guessing easier?  I’ll bet it did!

No, you say, I give up!  What beyond eating meals together — or something seemingly “spiritual” — could be a large part of the “glue” that held your family together when you were growing up?

Well, now that you’ve exhausted your ideas (even though I’ve given you a huge hint!) — It was the simplest thing in the world, but something we all looked forward to, night after night:  It was…  It was… Okay!  I’ll tell you!  It was… lighting the candles on the dinner table, and seeing the light reflected off family members’ faces as we gathered around the table.  About the only reason the candles were not lit would be the unbearable heat and humidity on a summer’s evening (we had no air-conditioning).

Now did anyone actually say that they looked forward to lighting the candles at dinner each night?  Oh, good gravy, no!  But — were the candles, and was the lighting of them, all that important to each of us?  Heavens, yes!  Of course, you would probably never believe such a thing (peaceful soul that you are, quietly reading this with your cup of herbal tea near at hand), but in our family, people actually…fought over who got to “light the candles”! 

Listen in for a minute:

No!  It’s my turn!  You lit them last night!

Uh-uh!  You lit ’em a few nights ago!  Let’s ask Mother!  (last “stop on the bus” when it came to resolving matters involving food, guests, or issues connected to the dining room table)

I will light them tonight, children.  (Now that was our mother’s voice from the kitchen, as she entered the dining room to break things up.)  And we shall figure out who lit them most recently.  There is to be no fighting over the candles!!!  (candle-lighting matter resolved ;-).)

The years came and went.  Little by little, we began to grow up (some of us more quickly than others; some of us not quickly enough for others’ satisfaction).  But still, the tradition of the candles at the table remained.  Guests came over for dinner — often on weekend evenings — and no matter whether we had simple food or elegant food, joy or sadness, still, each evening, the candles were lit.

One weekend I visited my parents’ house, long after I had been away from the area, and off living on my own.  On that particular Saturday afternoon my mother and I were in the kitchen together, working on two different culinary projects that our family and our guests would be enjoying later that day.  It was one of those mother-daughter moments when we could talk frankly.  And of course, the topic of “the candles” came up, initiated by my mother, as was often the case before guests came for a meal:

Well, what color should we use this evening?  (My mother was all about trying to coordinate the candles to the season, and to whatever flowers or homemade centerpiece would be gracing the table.)

Well, what colors do we have on hand?  (I was never sure of which colors most recently caught my mother’s fancy.)

We have two new burgundy candles (we tried to use new candles when visitors came for dinner).  Some forest-green.  Oh — and also some pink — but maybe that’s too spring-like for this time of year…  My mother’s voice trailed off, lost in thought.

Why not use the pink?  (This, by the way, was before pink had become a “popular” color in Western culture.)  I waited to hear my mother’s reply.

When I was growing up, one rarely saw pink — except at Easter, and then on young girls’ dresses!  But now, it seems to be gaining in popularity, doesn’t it?  There was something else pink was well known for, I think at church —-.  The electric mixer whirred into action under my mother’s capable hand, and our conversation was temporarily suspended.

As if the mixer had never been switched on during our conversation, my mother continued right on:  It was… Pink!  Used during… Advent!  Though I never quite understood why they had two purple candles, then a pink one, then concluded with another purple one!  I always thought they all looked so pretty as I watched the minister lighting the candles at church, when I was a little girl.   My mother was caught in her reverie.  I, too, was caught in my own thoughts, just down the longish counter, and on the other side of our deep, two-basin kitchen sink.

So then pink’s okay for tonight?

Yes!  It will brighten up the winter evening!  Our guests will love it!  And with that, we “girls” made our “executive decision” on candle color from the most powerful room in the house:  the kitchen! 🙂

No matter what the occasion, we had our dinner-table candles:  Holidays.  Birthdays.  And other special days to celebrate:  passing a test, receiving an award, getting a license…  Sometimes, even with the warm glow of candlelight on our faces, one – or many – of us might still be feeling a sense of sadness, loss, or bitterness due to situations over which they, or we, had absolutely no control.  But the candles were still there, bringing warmth to our table, reminding us without words that we were connected, on both good days and bad, during times of great joy or times of deep sadness.

So why talk about candles on a day like today, when one small town is reeling from the tragic actions of a mentally unstable person?  Are we talking today about the candles used by those holding vigils to remember the victims of Friday’s violence?  No.  The particular candle of which we speak, and write, today is the third candle among the four outer candles placed on the circle of a traditional Advent wreath.

During each of the four weeks of the Advent season, we light one of these four candles, lighting an additional candle each week.  Finally, on Christmas Day itself, we light the tall center candle – the “Christ candle” – in celebration of the One Who came as the Light of the World, and we add its bright light to the light and warmth of the four outer candles.

Today, Sunday, December 16th, marks the third Sunday in Advent.  It is the day that many (though not all) of those who use an Advent wreath light a pink candle.  Why pink, you well may be asking.  Good question!  The pink is the color of joy.  It is the color to say “Let’s celebrate that Christ is returning!”  He came once to earth.  But the greatest news is that He is coming back!  Despite the sadness around us, personal or public, God Himself reminds us that He is with us; He is not just some absent and unknown deity who does not care about our lives!

So on this third Sunday of Advent ~ or perhaps we might add, especially on this third Sunday of Advent, when so many are feeling so weighted down with deep sadness over the loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut this last Friday morning, would you take a moment to ponder that God has not walked out.  He has not “left the room”; He is here.  He is “God with us”.  Immanuel.

What is your sadness, your loss that today is causing you to doubt God’s Presence, His love, and His deep compassion in your life?  Maybe it is your first Christmas to celebrate (or to try to celebrate) without a dear loved one.  Perhaps you or someone you love is trying to make sense of a tough diagnosis… “Cancer”.  Could it be that this year, you have lost your employment – that regular source of income from which you made your house payment, paid for your utilities, and even paid for your food?  Along with the loss of your job, far deeper than losing your daily workplace, you have been struggling wondering about the loss of your own worth, or value!  Depression keeps trying to attack you, and you are feeling weak and without hope.  Unemployment (and underemployment) is a loss that many who do have full-time workdo not know, and therefore, they have a hard time identifying with you, and with the anguish that you now feel at this time of loss.

On an even more personal level, someone reading this is aching over the loss of personal respect, whether that loss was due to having experienced abuse, verbally or sexually.  It does not matter whether it happened one time, or many times; the sense of loss can sometimes overwhelm us, and we feel as if we have nowhere to go, no place for refuge, and no person to whom we can confide.

For others, there are many who are grieving the loss of their homes and possessions because of Hurricane Sandy.

When we urge you to “light the joy candle”, are we “singing songs to a heavy heart” (a practice that the writer of Proverbs admonishes us to avoid)?  Are we saying that you should find/buy/borrow/make a pink candle, and that in the lighting of that candle, all of your sorrow, all of your loss, will somehow magically disappear?  Is that what we are saying here?

Hardly.

Dear one, tempest-tossed and storm-driven by the ups and downs of life, you are precious, you are greatly loved, amazingly valued, and of unfathomable worth to God.  He sees where you are right now – not only your physical location, but your emotional health.  Heis for you, not “against” you!  He is with you, not leaving you!  He is intent on getting our attention – mine and yours – all so that each of us would look Him in the face, even as a loving parent makes eye contact with their child.  He does not hate you!  He does not despise you!  He so loves you!  Even though you find yourself now in the midst of the most challenging of situations, He is with you.

Lighting the “joy” candle is not so much about the candle itself; it is, however, about what the candle represents:  Hope!  Future joy!  Say to yourself, even now as you are reading this:

This day, this situation, shall not always feel like it does today.  One day, even though I shall always feel a strong sense of loss, I will be able to look back to today, and see how I have grown as a person, deepened my compassion for others, learned to give of myself and my resources, and… turned to look God eye-to-eye, even in my deepest pain…

This day, like no other day in my life, I am making a brand-new start to trust God totally!  I am throwing my full weight on Him!  Even though it is but a teeny-tiny “flicker”, today I am lighting the “joy candle” in my life!  I can’t see ahead of me, and it’s all darkness behind me, but today, right now, I have this light of hope, this light of future joy, of God’s new work inside of me!  Nothing and no one can snuff it out!  He is my Joy!  He is my life!  He is my Light!

Will you do it?  Will you take up the challenge? You do not have to light an actual candle (though for me, an actual candle is a great reminder of the change that is going on inside of me).  Maybe over these next few weeks or months of winter, you will keep a candle handy – say, on top of your kitchen stove, on the dinner table, or in a safe place in the living room where you can enjoy its fragrance.  Each day – or perhaps each evening as you wind down for the day – take a moment to light the candle, enjoying its light and warmth for a few moments, and while enjoying it, speak these words of grace, of new hope, and of future joy, into your soul: 

  • God is for me, not against me!
  • God has not been caught “off-guard”, or “taken by surprise” by the events in my life:  He saw me and knew me in my mother’s womb, before I was ever born, and knew the “days that were ordained for me…” (Ps. 139.13ff).
  • God is busy, right now, working all things out for my good, and for His glory!

It does take grace to “light the joy candle”. Give yourself that gift; offer yourself that grace.  Let God spread His light and warmth into your life, and may every nook and cranny of your soul find new life and new hope…   Jesus Himself is working out His “future” joy in me, and in you, even now.  Amen.

 

In Memory of the 26 Teachers and Students Of Sandy Hook Elementary School Who Left Us on December 14, 2012

Oh, yes, You shaped me first inside, then out;

You formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank You, High God — You’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration — what a creation!

You know me inside and out,

You know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,

How I was sculpted from nothing into something.

 

Like an open book,

You watched me grow from conception to birth;

All the stages of my life were spread out before You,

The days of my life all prepared

Before I’d even lived one day.

 

Your thoughts — how rare, how beautiful!

God, I’ll never comprehend them!

 

I couldn’t even begin to count them–

Any more than I could count the sand of the sea.

 

Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with You!

And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!

 

from The Message, Psalm 139:13ff (italics added for emphasis)

December 18, 2012

(or, How to Avoid Waves of Flying Tomatoes and Old Sandals)

“He pulled us out of there so He could bring us here…” – Deut. 6:20-24ff

How often after God has moved and removed us from one location to another we have wondered,

What on earth is God ‘up to’?  Why did He have us/me move…here?

Well, if you have ever wondered such a thing (or had a friend plagued with such questions), perhaps mulling over one of God’s past “wonders”*** will bring you (or your friend or family member) a fresh perspective as He is doing a brand-new “wonder”:  Think of the 21st-century nuisance of hauling your family just half-way across the country (most moves in the States are work-related, followed by relocations in order to be nearer to family members, often caregivers or care-receivers making such a major move).  Now imagine were such a move not simply (as if one could even employ such a word as “simply”!) moving you and your family, but moving you, your family, and your entire church family, again, half-way across the country.  Uck, I can hear you saying, that would be truly awful!  And you would be right.

Mulling over one of God’s past “wonders” will bring you a fresh perspective on what He’s doing now.

Now expand your imaginings ever so slightly to imagine that you, your family, and 2-3 million of your very “extended” family were moving with you ~and again, half-way across the country.  That’s what the scene was like for God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, at the time these words from Deuteronomy 6 were written.

But God hasn’t moved to the mountains; His holy address hasn’t changed. He’s in charge, as always, his eyes taking everything in… — Psalm 11:4a, The Message

About how many miles would you think the entire caravan would have moved before one person – yes, just one – began asking one of the following questions – just one of these questions would suffice:

What on earth is God ‘up to’?

Why did He have us move…here?

Why is He having us move now?

By now you are no doubt smiling to yourself, knowing that such a “simple” question – immediately after all the hassle of packing up for a cross-country move – would likely merit not just one or two old tomatoes, but probably waves  of flying tomatoes and whatever old sandals were handy – all in the direction of the unsuspecting questioner.

This day, this morning, this evening as you’re reading this, let me ask you the question that perhaps you’ve been hearing all around you – from your spouse, your family, your friends, relatives, or even perhaps from your new neighbors:

Why did God move us…here?  Why is He having us move…now?

Got your answer ready?  Don’t stew too long over this question – there’s already a Wow! answer in the Book:

“He pulled us out of there so He could bring us here…” – Deut. 6:20-24ff

Do you need to fire off exact details of God’s “why”?  Heavens, no!  Must you philosophize aloud to that questioning, frustrated person in your life by giving them a “short list” of every “pro” and “con” you can think of – all to “help out” God?  Probably not.  As simple as it sounds (and on the surface, it does, indeed, seem too simple), you’ve already got your answer ready to go (though we wouldn’t suggest you just fling your answer to the wind):

“He pulled [you] out of there so He could bring [you] here…”

Do you need to fire off exact details of God’s “why”?  Heavens, no!

Is He “God”, or isn’t He?  Is He the Sovereign One, or not?  Does He hold together the very particles – the quarks — of every electron in the universe (the Creator of all things visible and invisible, as one of the creeds goes) – or… when it comes to your life, your family’s life, your friend’s life, has God just temporarily “forgotten” to keep an eye on things?  Has our planet somehow slipped off His holy to-do list?

When it comes to your life, your family’s life, your friend’s life, has God just temporarily “forgotten” to keep an eye on things?

Has God’s hand “slipped” on the steering wheel of your life, or on the lives of some dear friends of yours that He has chosen to move to a distant location?  Has it?  Is God “God” – or…not?

Is He “God”, or isn’t He?

Is this the same God Who spins planets in their orbits, Who pre-programmed the stars in their courses, and Who tracks the pathless oceans?  Is this the God Who (you, or your friend, or your family member are wondering) has totally lost track of you?  Little ol’ you?  Did He misplace the “remote” for your life???

Fat chance.

There is a million-gizillion times greater possibility of Google, Inc’s and every electronic “cloud”‘s simultaneously crashing (not impossible, but highly remote — no pun intended), than there is that your God could ever have “forgotten” — or “lost track of” — you!

Did He misplace the “remote” for your life???

Check out what Isaiah, God’s servant who was speaking God’s truth, said to God’s dearly-loved people (it’s good “medicine” for you/your friend or family member to take, too — 3x/day during this time of hope-lessness in your life, or in your friend or family member’s life, too — morning, afternoon, and evening, just before shutting one’s eyes to go to sleep…  Ponder the blackest night sky you have ever experienced — perhaps on a camping trip out West in the mountains, or maybe in your own far-from-city-lights backyard — then imagine a starry night filled with more twinkling stars than even a double batch of chocolate chip cookies made with triple the amount of chocolate chips, and you’ll be a fraction of the way to imagining the stars God has placed in the night skies!  As you drift off, don’t forget to ponder what kinds of names He has given to every single star in the sky…  He has a special name for you/for them, too — probably a name that showcases the special way that He’s designed you, with your abilities, interests, spiritual gifts, and the refining fires that He’s allowed into your life):

Isaiah 40:25-31

The Message

 25-26So—who is like Me?
   Who holds a candle to Me?” says The Holy.
Look at the night skies: 
   Who do you think made all this?
Who marches this army of stars out each night,
   counts them off, calls each by name
so magnificent! so powerful!—
   and never overlooks a single one?

 27-31Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
   or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
   He doesn’t care what happens to me“?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
   He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch His breath.
   And He knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
   gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
   young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
   They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
   they walk and don’t lag behind.

May each of us have the grace to say, I don’t know  — but what I do know is…this:

“He pulled [you] out of there so He could bring [you] here…”

Or… perhaps to your spouse, to your parents, to your children you might say this:

“He pulled [us] out of there so He could bring [us] here…”

Maybe it’s a variation – simple to read, but harder yet to say through your tears:

“He pulled [you] out of here so He could bring [you] there…”

Oh, that God would infuse each of us with His compassionate grace, enabling us to speak hope to those feeling hope-less!  Oh, to speak always with grace, our words seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that I, so that you, so that we may know how we should respond to each person!

Oh, that God would infuse each of us with His compassionate grace!

Let your words be always with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, that you may know how to answer everyone. — Col. 4:6 (NIV/NASB)

*                  *                  *

p.s.  God’s past “wonders”***:  If you/your friend or family member could use some extra encouragement, then read Psalm 77 — the whole business, verse 1 to the end (it’s a short chapter).  Take out a colored pencil and mark every time you find the word “recall”, “remember”, or any word having the idea of “reviewing” or “recollecting”.  Done?  Now grab a piece of paper — scratch paper — an old envelope will do here — and write down every time God’s “shown up” in your life in the last year.  The last five years.  The last ten years.  You get the idea.

p.p.s. As one of my punning friends might say, “Don’t get quarked off at God – the One Who designs each quark, and Who determines each quark’s location!”

December 18, 2012

It’s a glorious day to say Thank You, GOD!

It’s been the most gorgeous THANKS-giving Day possible – sunshiny, but still very cold, with blue, blue skies overhead, and trees mostly brown, save for a few trees trying to hold on to their leaves, as if already starting to shiver in anticipation of the Old Farmer’s Almanac’s prediction for the Midwest of “cooler, but with plenty of wet stuff”.  Yet it’s a glorious day to say Thank You, GOD!

Thank You for life!  Thank You for health!  Thank You for Your faithful love, never changing so much as a nano-second in the way You guide the planets, tilt the earth to precisely catch the rays of the sun, constantly bringing dawn and dusk, sunrise and sunset, while orchestrating details that would spin our minds into orbits far beyond the Hubble Space Telescope ever ventured, were we to have the faintest idea of just how wondrously You’re taking such good care of us… of each of us! 

Thank You, God, for food.  Food on our tables, in our cupboards, and in our stomachs.  Better yet, thank You for the lasting “food” of Your Word, so sweet, so tasty, and so satisfying that we keep coming back for more!  Thank You!

Thank You for the lasting “food” of Your Word, so sweet, so tasty, and so satisfying that we keep coming back for more!

Thank You, God, for providing for all that we need for “life and Godliness” – You’ve never missed a beat throughout our entire existence!  Thank You for giving us our “daily bread” – not bread-for-the-next-five-years, or bread-for-the-next-five-weeks, but daily bread.  Thank You for places we can stay, beds where we can sleep – yet we ache because we know there are some who have no bed, no roof over their head save that of a large cardboard box…  Thank You that You are taking care of us…  Show us how we can be Your hands and feet in reaching out to those whose existence is so uncertain.  Forgive us for our greediness for “stuff”, Lord, and let us long to know You more than we know the balance in our bank account.

 Show us how we can be Your hands and feet in reaching out to those whose existence is so uncertain. 

Thank You, God, for eyes to see – to see the pinks and purples of the sunrise, and the peaches and crimsons of the sunset!  Thank You that You let us see Your one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted constellations etched into the midnight-blue canvas high overhead, as the starry hosts shout Your faithfulness night after night from their assigned position.  O, God, if the heavens can praise You like this, how can we not praise You with our lives?

You let us see Your one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted constellations etched into the midnight-blue canvas high overhead, as the starry hosts shout Your faithfulness night after night…

How can I not offer You my breath every morning at daybreak, and every word that floats on that breath as a gift from You to be shared with others?  Who am I, and what are we, that You – that You, the God of the Universe – are mindful of us, and that You have visited us in the Person of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ?

Let us long to know You more than we know the balance in our bank account. 

Thank You, God, for ears to hear… may we always have ears to hear You, and in hearing You, instantly do whatever it is that You’ve asked of us!  Thank You for the gift of sound!  Of sight!  Of flavors!  Colors!  Touch, texture, and fragrance!  You are “God” alone, the Creator, the One and the Only.  There is none like You! 

O, God, if the heavens can praise You like this, how can we not praise You with our lives?

He fathers-forth Whose beauty is past change.

Praise Him.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889

 *          *          *          *          *

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (The Message)

 1-5 Keep and live out the entire commandment that I’m commanding you today so that you’ll live and prosper and enter and own the land that God promised to your ancestors. Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.

 6-9 So it’s paramount that you keep the commandments of God, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him. God is about to bring you into a good land, a land with brooks and rivers, springs and lakes, streams out of the hills and through the valleys. It’s a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, of olives, oil, and honey. It’s land where you’ll never go hungry—always food on the table and a roof over your head. It’s a land where you’ll get iron out of rocks and mine copper from the hills.

 10 After a meal, satisfied, bless God, your God, for the good land He has given you.

*          *          *

Psalm 65 (The Message)

A David Psalm

 1-2 Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God,
   And also obedience
      You hear the prayer in it all.

 2-8 We all arrive at your doorstep sooner
      or later, loaded with guilt,
   Our sins too much for us—
      but you get rid of them once and for all. 
   Blessed are the chosen! Blessed the guest
      at home in your place!
   We expect our fill of good things
      in your house, your heavenly manse. 
   All your salvation wonders
      are on display in your trophy room. 
   Earth-Tamer, Ocean-Pourer,
      Mountain-Maker, Hill-Dresser,
   Muzzler of sea storm and wave crash,
      of mobs in noisy riot
   Far and wide they’ll come to a stop,
      they’ll stare in awe, in wonder.
   Dawn and dusk take turns
      calling, “Come and worship.”

 9-13 Oh, visit the earth,
      ask her to join the dance!
   Deck her out in spring showers,
      fill the God-River with living water.
   Paint the wheat fields golden.
      Creation was made for this!
   Drench the plowed fields,
      soak the dirt clods
   With rainfall as harrow and rake
      bring her to blossom and fruit.
   Snow-crown the peaks with splendor,
      scatter rose petals down your paths,
   All through the wild meadows, rose petals.
      Set the hills to dancing,
   Dress the canyon walls with live sheep,
      a drape of flax across the valleys.
   Let them shout, and shout, and shout!
      Oh, oh, let them sing!

 

*          *          *

Psalm 150 (KJV)

 1Praise ye the LORD.  Praise God in His sanctuary: praise Him in the firmament of His power.

 2Praise Him for His mighty acts:  praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

 3Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet:  praise Him with the psaltery and harp.

 4Praise Him with the timbrel and dance:  praise Him with stringed instruments and organs.

 5Praise Him upon the loud cymbals:  praise Him upon the high sounding cymbals.

 6Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD.  Praise ye the LORD.

Grace to… *doubt*; Grace to… K-N-O-W!

April 8, 2012

He is risen!

He is risen INDEED!

That’s the word from the disciples who didn’t make it out of bed to go check out the Tomb – though they made it in time to get Easter breakfast, and to mosey in to a later service, considerably later that day! 

“…the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away.  ‘It’s really happened!  The Master has been raised up – Simon saw Him!’  Then the two [who had met the Stranger on the Emmaus Road] went over everything that happened on the road, and how they recognized Him when He broke the bread. 

“While they were saying all this, Jesus appeared to them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ [‘Don’t be so shook up!’ – that’s my version!]  They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death.  He continued with them, ‘Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over.  Look at my hands, look at my feet – it’s really meTouch me.  Look me over from head to toe.  A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.’  As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet.  They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  It was too much; it seemed too good to be true.” – Luke 24:33-40, The Message

The DOOR ignored the man-made doors!

When they got there, they were totally blown away:  the DEAD ONE was now very much the ALIVE ONE, and had made His entrance without bothering to use any doors.  Ha!  The DOOR ignored the man-made doors!  There, before those fearful and puzzled young men who were huddled together in that locked-tight room, the One Who IS the Gate – the Gate, the Way, to Heaven – appeared!  Showed the holes in His hands and His side to the “engineers”, the “scientists”, the “detail people”, the “thinkers”…

Or… was that the nature of the group before whom He stood?

It.was.not.

They knew what it meant to ask God to “give [them] day by day their daily bread…”

They were the blue-collar workers of their day.  They were the custodians, the car-wash re-setters, the “hourly” workers.  They didn’t earn “salaries” as many 21st-century workers in more advanced countries earn; no, they knew what it meant to ask God to “give [them] day by day their daily bread…”  No “direct deposits” of wages for them!  What they caught in their nets that day would have to do!  They were coming to know the One Who could fill their nets to overflowing – and, if that weren’t enough, that same One could keep their nets from ripping, enabling them to keep their catch of the day.

They were the blue-collar workers of their day. 

They were hard workers all right.  And hard thinkers, too.  (Just because a person works an hourly job doesn’t mean that their mind goes “on vacation” while their hands are busy!  Many of the most profound conversations I’ve had have been those with hourly employees, arriving at a building just after most of the salaried workers have left for the day.  Conversely, when I’ve worked as an hourly employee, I’ve been amazed at how otherwise “nice” people (who are paid considerably more for their work) sometimes turn downright mean, bossy, even speaking demeaning words to lesser-paid individuals.)  But back to the disciples, gathered there in that room…

What were they thinking?  What if you had been there, huddled around the table with the rest of ‘em?  Would you have been puzzled, had you missed the early-morning “meeting” at the Tomb?  Would you have simply “instantly” believed?  Or… perhaps you, as did Thomas-the-Twin, would have started throwing questions out to Jesus, demanding “evidence”:  Show me, then… I’ll believe!

What if you had been there?

And Jesus…  Upon hearing Tom’s question, were the first words out of His mouth, “Go fly a kite!  You’re not gettin’ ‘evidence’!”?  Were they?

Noop.  Not at all.

If anything, to the contrary:  He offered for Tom (the “doubting one”) to actually look at His hands, to touch them, for Tom to put his fingers directly into the holes in Jesus’ hands — holes that had been left by the Roman nails, just a few days earlier.

*                      *                      *                      * 

So much about that private meeting is compacted into that one short paragraph in Luke’s Gospel!

A few thoughts:

Does everyone make it to an Easter sunrise service?  (You already know the answer to that one!)

Does every person in… a church, a small group, a workplace, or (God forbid!) a “Christian college” all “get” what God is “up to” equally?  At the same speed?  In the same way?  With the same audio/video clips, the same reasoning, the same “A-ha!” moments?  (This is far too easy…  You know the answer to this, also!)

Does everyone… doubt?  Or…does everyone know that God extends His grace to everyone who wants to believe, including to the “doubters”?

I hope that you know that it’s okay to doubt.  What is not such a good thing, though, is doubting indefinitely.

God extends His grace to everyone who wants to believe, including to the “doubters”.

And why?  (The answer to that is “easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy”, as my elementary students sometimes say.)  Doubting indefinitely is not good, since God promises that we can know that we have eternal life.  That we can know for sure – not just “maybe-maybe”:

John, who was one of the three early disciples closest to Jesus, wrote,

“These things I have written to you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have [note:  not “hope to have”, “wish to have”, “try to have”] eternal life.”  (I John 5:13)

So what if someone has “grown up in a Christian home”… and… has… doubtsAre they a genuine Jesus-follower?  Hmm.  Good question.  Only they – and God – know the answer to that one.  Sometimes it’s tough for parents and teachers who have tried their very best – human and fallible though they are – to instruct their children, their students, and to encourage them by providing many opportunities for those same kids to truly know God (for to know God is to love Him), only to have those same young people act like “Tom-with-all-the-questions” of the Easter-Evening story.

What if someone has “grown up in a Christian home”…        and… has… doubts? 

“And how should you know?” you well may be asking, even as you’re reading this.  Good question.  I did, in fact, grow up in a “Christian” home (though it was definitely not the “picture-perfect” home that some Jesus-followers might imagine would be “great”).

Did the “stuff”.

Went to Sunday School (yup, that’s what they called it then;-)).

Went to youth group.

Knew many “right answers”.

Looked pretty good – at least, on the “outside”!  (And for those of you checking, I was not an axe-murderer, bank robber, etc., etc.  Good thing that Jesus didn’t “just” die for them, or my goose would have been cooked a long time ago!)

But I did have my doubts

While on a trip with other kids from the youth group – including a few visiting kids from other youth groups – late one night while chatting, two high school students who were visiting asked when I had “become a Christian”.

(“Insider” note:  Here’s what was going on in my head:  Scary!  These two could seriously blow my cover!  I’m from a ‘Christian home’!  A ‘good kid’!  Other than occasional disrespect [which is, in God’s eyes, equivalent to “witchcraft” – check it out in I Samuel 15:22-23], I’m pretty decent.)

“Fitting in” had worked for me.

“I’ve been pretty good all.my.life.”  Okay.  It was lame.  But hey!  “Fitting in” had worked for me since elementary school, so… why wouldn’t it work just as well now? (Surely you’re aghast, just reading those words!  Since when did God ever say “pretty good” was “good enough”?)

Those two never batted an eye.  Asked me what I had ever done “wrong”.

Inside my head, I was thinking, I will be ‘busted’ if they figure out I’m a ‘phony’!

“Pretty much… nothing!”, I murmured.  (Spoiler alert:  That was a big.fat.LIE!)

I had that ugly disrespect thing (but kept it at home, so kids from church wouldn’t know about it).  And a willful spirit (some just call it “quiet rebellion”, but they’re “cousins”).  And I was not always ready to share with my siblings (can anyone say “selfishness”?).  So I was definitely not “perfect” – and I knew it!

I had that ugly disrespect thing (but kept it at home)…

So there, scrunched partly-in, partly-out of our sleeping bags, those visiting high school kids asked if I wouldn’t mind going through the 3 or 4 basic steps of my understanding of God’s gift (operative word) of Heaven, and God’s promise of living forever – with Him.  Inside my head, I was thinking, I will be ‘busted’ if they figure out I’m a ‘phony’!  But… GodHe had “other plans” for me that night – and how thankful I am that He did!

As I began reading aloud the phrase, “All have sinned, and come up short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23), God zinged me:  Psst!  That’s you!  Grace!  Ugh!  Something seemed to catch in my throat as I read those words, causing me to get choked-up.

Again, a zing!  Right my way!

You!  Nice, church-kid, you!  Without Me in your life, you are one hollowed-out, empty person.  Admit it!  Right now!

For those of you who may not know, that “super-quiet voice” inside of me was… God!  That was His Holy Spirit, working to get my attention, to show me how urgently I needed God’s gift of Jesus!  Perhaps you’re reading this now, and you’re hearing God’s quiet voice, even this moment.

               Like all good friendships, listen to Him when   God “talks” to you!

Maybe He’s using different words or phrases, but the idea’s the same:  You.need.Him.  and Now!  Please do not delay!

In your heart, or in a quiet room, say to God,

I do need You, God!  I do finally see that I am in urgent need of Someone Who can rescue me from my selfishness, my pride, my ____ (fill in whatever it is – only you and God know)I choose this moment to turn my back on my old ways, and to turn toward You, God, as You make a new way for me, starting today.  Thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die in my place on the Cross.  Though it was 2000-some years ago, the Cross-work that Jesus did paid the price of my sin of rejecting You, and I now accept Your promise of Resurrection life.  Help me to read Your Word, the Bible, and every day teach me more and more of You and of Your ways.  In Jesus’ Name.

My “new life” began in early April of 1973.  But the date itself, though special to me, is not the “big” thing.

“Knowing stuff” (about God) is not the “big” thing.

“Doing church” every weekend is not even the “big” thing.

Knowing Him is the “big” thing.  (Many people confuse knowing Him with knowing stuff about Him, but the two are night-and-day different.)

Knowing Him is the “big” thing.

The best way to know Him more?  Read His Book, the Bible!  Talk to Him!  And — like all good friendships, listen to Him when He “talks” to you!

Grace to… *doubt*; Grace to… K-N-O-W:

He is risen!  He is risen:  Indeed! 

p. s.  Check out www.Biblegateway.com – it’s a great, handy resource for reading the Book (you can access it 24/7)!  There are many versions available to read, or to listen to – whichever you wish.  And – there are daily reading plans available there, too, as well as a way you can search for keywords, chapters, or books of the Bible.  Someone reading this post right now would love to find the Bible in another language .  Good news:  the “Good News” is available, free, in many languages on the Bible Gateway website.

Grace to Plant Bulbs (on January 10th in the Midwest)!

January 10, 2012

Grace to Plant Bulbs – um, that would be like planting “hope” — on January 10th!

Anyone who knows the slightest thing about the Midwestern United States knows that the month of January is no time for a picnic.  Not, that is, unless it’s a picnic of the indoor variety, accompanied by deep bowls of chili, freshly baked bread, and mugs of steaming hot chocolate topped with whipped cream – better yet, if such “picnic” takes place near a fire in a fireplace.

January in the Midwest is no time for a picnic.

One of my earliest memories of growing up in the Midwest is that of a massive lake-effect snowstorm hitting in the early ‘60s (that would be the 1960s, rather than the decade of the War Between the States, for some of our younger readers).  We were completely snowed-in.  Cars were not permitted on the streets.  And… why?  Well, because the streets were full-to-the-gills with sled and toboggan traffic.  Store shelves were empty, and what’s more, once stores did finally open, one could only go during daylight hours, and limited hours at that, since all of the electricity was out, too.  My dad said that we should take along a flashlight when we made our trip running errands via toboggan that day, for, as he said, We won’t be able to see what’s on the shelves!  

The streets were full-to-the-gills with sled and toboggan traffic.

One of the few photos from that winter (that somehow survived various family moves and sticky young fingers) was a picture of all of us bundled up like Eskimos, my dad pulling the toboggan with a huge drum of heating oil on it, and with a few of us running alongside of it in a rather clumpy fashion, wearing snow boots for “deep snow”, whisps of flying snow stretched from one side to the other in the old black-and-white picture.  That flying snow was clear evidence of the depth of the snow through which the toboggan had to move – as well as evidence that we were having a blast throwing snowballs at each other even as we ran, our conversations punctuated by frosty air — and all of that was also captured in the photograph.   We were wearing the “deep snow” boots that didn’t normally see much action, and we were thrilled to finally get to wear them!

Today’s January weather, on the other hand, in the year of our Lord 2012, was completely different:  Today was a day to go for a walk!  To go for a quick bicycle ride!  To meet a friend for a walk in the nearly-60-degree temperatures!  Oh, yes – and to… plant a few bulbs!  Seriously.

Today’s January weather, was completely different:  It was a great day to plant bulbs!

So down on my knees I went, right next to the flowerbed, with sunlight flooding my backyard, and birds chattering about this unusual turn of weather in our area.  I moved some old dry leaves, pushed aside the long, ornamental grass (which has been left there expressly for Grandpa Bunny to use with some soft fur-fluffs for his winter quarters), and dug into the almost-warm soil.

Did I mention that snow is on the way for tomorrow?

I laughed aloud!  And with no one but God and the goldfinches listening in, we talked a bit about how today’s unseasonably warm weather was a wonderful reminder to “plant bulbs”.  Oh, not just flower-type bulbs, but bulbs of a different kind:  bulbs of hope.

Tomorrow’s forecast?  They’re calling for “light snow”!

Someone is reading these words right now thinking, I can hardly bring myself to do anything, Gracie!  It’s as if life as I have known it has completely changed.  Ever since…

  • We moved to our new location.
  • My family member was called up for active duty overseas.
  • We lost our pastor.
  • My husband/wife lost their job.
  • Our grandchild was incarcerated.
  • My spouse found she’s at Stage four with cancer.
  • The economy went “south”.

And the list could go on, couldn’t it?  I can’t imagine minimizing or making light of even one of these situations – though I know many people (obviously individuals who are not in the middle of experiencing them) who do carry on as if these are just more things to poke fun at.  First, may I remind you that there are people who do care – and those few who have no sense of propriety now will one of these days be wishing for someone with compassion, for them!

There is no set time to grieve.  Period.  Grief is work.  Oh, yes.  It is work unlike other work you may have ever done.  But it is still work, in that it requires all of the energy – emotional, physical, spiritual – that you can muster.  And often, when a person is “between” times of grieving, there is a “hollowness” – an emptiness, for there is something, someone, some situation that is missing, or has changed, or that will never be the same again – or perhaps will not be the same for a long time, as in the case of those whose loved ones are living/working overseas, whatever their line of work.

Grief is work — unlike any other work you may have ever done. 

Today, from my knees, and next to the dirt, I remembered a sequence of two or three days just ten years ago, when I was planting my first bulbs ever.  But first, I must tell you that I wasn’t born liking to “play in the dirt”.  “Green thumb”?  Nada.  In fact, once as a high school student, when trying to be helpful, I offered to weed some huge, adjacent flower beds that my mother had carefully tended, and over many seasons.  On a lovely summer morning, I offered what at that time was, to me, the ultimate “sacrifice”:  Spending time pulling weeds, neatening up my mom’s beautiful terraces.

While in high school, I once offered my mom the gift of weeding on a lovely summer Saturday morning…

She had to take a sibling to music lessons.  I started about 8 a.m.  By 8:15, I had already dashed into the house to fetch a few paper grocery bags – to hold all of the weeds I was finding, there in the terraces.  It was something else, really, to think that for all the years of my mom’s yardwork, there were so many weeds.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  By 9:30 or so, I had three – count ‘em! – large grocery bags, loaded with weeds.  All from the terraces.  The weeds weren’t like ordinary weeds (or so I thought), in that they mostly had little “bumps” at the bottom.  Yes.  In fact, there seemed to be three distinct varieties of weeds that morning, so it seemed my mother, too, would be intrigued to have a look at them.  We did, after all, live in an area well-known for its wildflowers, and – for all I knew, we had a ton of native wildflowers right there in our own flower beds!

For all the years of my mom’s yardwork, there were so many weeds.

When my mother pulled in the driveway, I ran out to see her, and to “show off” my hard work.  A-hem.  My mother, not at all used to seeing her youngest take an interest in gardening, opened one of the sacks to look…  My bulbs!  What on earth…?  But…I thought you said you had found… weeds!  Where are they?  I shrugged.  “Right here!  In these three bags.”

For all I knew, we had a ton of native wildflowers right there in our own flower beds!

After my mother parked the car, she just sat there for what seemed an awfully long time.  Long to me, anyway.  (Now, of course, I believe that she was praying for great grace not to verbally explode at me…  In that sense, my mother was a saint, for not doing what she surely must have felt like doing.)

And that, my dear reader, was nearly the end of my gardening career.  Until, that is, about ten years ago.  Quite unexpectedly, my life as I knew it, had moved into “winter”:  my mother was dying, and for all practical purposes, I was suddenly immobilized.

My life as I knew it, had moved into “winter”.

After having driven hundreds of miles to specialists, oncologists, and to clinical trials, surely something of these possibilities would be “the cure”.  I had sat listening as my normally quiet mother shared her private thoughts with me:  Gracie, what do you suppose death is like?  Where do you suppose Heaven is?  Will we get new bodies?  If so, that would be wonderful – my hair is starting to show some silver!  I wonder if we’ll get to see what’s going on back here?  But as I searched the Book of Books with my dear mother for answers, I discovered along with her that the Bible often is silent about many of these questions.  I figured that my mother was just “talking”, and that surely she would beat the cancer, and live at least another ten years – or more:  There was longevity in her family!

Where do you suppose Heaven is?

Back to my musings that fall…  What would life be like?  How would I – could  I – survive?  This was not supposed to happen this way.  She was so healthy.  So active.  Such a kind, compassionate person.  Someone who gave of herself to others, as well as in the community.

You can’t garden, much less, plant anything!

One day in the midst of my private grief, and after there had been a frost, the weather seemed to change back to late-summer/early-fall weather – I was thrilled!  We were going to have an “Indian summer”!  As I stopped at a large retailer to purchase some note cards, I saw a neatly-written sign with an arrow:  BIG SALE!  BULBS 50% and 75% OFF!   Just reading those words temporarily lifted me up out of my sadness, and caused me to laugh.  Loudly!  I was, after all, recalling my great “weeding” skills of many years earlier, when as a high school student, I had “helped out” my mother that summer morning.  How silly!  But…soon it will be winter…  Why not…why not… plant bulbs, so that in the spring, I will have some tangible way to remember Mother?  What a ridiculous thought, Gracie!  You can’t garden, much less, plant anything!  And… bulbs?!!

Nevertheless, I took a quick look at the beautiful flower pictures on the bulb packages all around me, there where the bins of marked-down bulbs were, and began tossing packages into my basket.  I will learn to plant bulbs!  And – maybe – Mother will… see them, with her own eyes!  Then even she will laugh!  From… Heaven!   My eyes watered, just thinking of the silliness of it all:  me, a gardener!  And… again, I laughed.  With tears, sneaking out the sides of my eyes, gently spilling onto my October jacket, and to the tile floor below.  (I know, for I saw them fall as I kept my head down so that other customers wouldn’t see me, as I searched for a tissue in my jacket pocket.)

I will learn to plant bulbs!

I pulled in my driveway – not my parents’ place, but my own place, with no flowers, no bulbs, and — not even any flower beds, and as I unloaded my car that 60s-ish autumn day, I began by carrying a new shovel, a simple trowel, huge bags of potting soil, peat moss, and clay soil conditioner over to the front of the house, piling them on the grass.  In the next day and a half, I had planted nearly two hundred bulbs.  (Yes, I ended up with blisters – but for such a good reason!)  There as I planted, hour after hour, watching the light overhead changing as the sun moved across the sky, sifting new soil and mulch through my fingers, I began to discover why my mother so loved gardening:  It would be exciting to see the bulbs in that first spring!  But there was something therapeutic for me, too, in those countless hours of creating flower beds where none had existed, amending the super clay-impacted soil to be useful and rich with nutrients, and pondering (of all things!) how on earth could life come out of these brown bulbs that seem so dead?

So I’ve shared a bit with you just now – not only about today’s gorgeous, unseasonably warm weather, but about how my afternoon bulb-planting (and only a few dozen at that – no “couple hundred” today!) refreshed my spirit as I reflected on the significance of planting bulbs in winter – in a “winter” season of one’s life.

How on earth could life come out of these brown bulbs that seem so dead?

Okay, so you’re not about to zip out and buy up all the old bulbs at your neighborhood garden center.  Which is totally fine!  But – let me ask you this:  How are you planning today – even in the midst of your grieving (and grieving, as you know, is not only about losing a person – which is a deeply painful wound to one’s very soul, but grieving can also be about any loss) – for a way to see out of, and beyond this present grief?

How are you planning today for a way to see out of, and beyond this present grief?

And maybe today is not the day that you’re heading out to buy bulbs!  I get that.  But – and here’s something that only you would know – maybe you might start thinking about how to celebrate something of who that person is, even now, while you are presently enjoying their company.  Or how to share with others something of that loved one’s character.  Of how you will be choosing to remember – and to enjoy the memory – of a situation, a time, that one day – perhaps not so long from now – of who, and of what you have enjoyed — not all that long ago, or what you are enjoying today.  Go for it!  Plant bulbs!  Take pictures of your family and friends!  Write your memories!  Paint a picture!  Send a letter!  Laugh aloud, and share your joy!  Enjoy these gifts from God, and the memories of His good and gracious gifts, too!

Go for it!  Plant bulbsEven in the middle of winter in the Midwest Accept God’s mercies!  Take His grace!  Plan for a “spring” after “winter”!  See what “resurrection” God will bring to pass, even though right now you very well may be walking through the “valley of the shadow of death…”

Plan for a “spring” after “winter“!

Ways to “Plant Bulbs”

  • Plant actual flower bulbs!  Pick a place where you can see them as they start to come up!
  • “Write” your bulb-planting:  Write a journal — of your recollections and thoughts that, like planted bulbs, a year from now will seem to “burst the soil” and bring the joy of life and color, and along with the life and color,a  new joy in living.
  • Leave various memory-building items on your desk, or in a place you can frequently see them and, like bulbs’ dependable arrival in the spring, in your very act of viewing those items, you will be able to regularly see reminders of life!
  • Find another way to create:  perhaps creating photographs, simple sketches, imaginative writing, quilting, painting, woodworking, or via a craft you enjoy that brings life into being!

 

Grace to Give Thanks to God — Even during un(der)employment!

November 24, 2011

And a wonderful day of giving thanks to GOD — “Thanks-giving” — to you, my readers!  Whether you are someone who lives in the country that the Pilgrims came to in the early 1600s, in search of religious liberty, or whether you are someone who lives in the daily hope that God will soon grant you and your fellow citizens in another country such religious liberty — to worship the God of the Bible, and to follow His ways, my prayer today for you is that you would be coming to know God as The Provider.  Your provider.  Of everything.

Someone reading this now is filled with sadness, even grief, for you or your loved one have been unemployed for a “loong” time — longer than you (or they) ever imagined.  Your heart is linked to theirs — whether the unemployed is a good friend, your spouse, a co-worker from a former company, a neighbor, or perhaps someone you know from volunteering, or from a small group at church.  You have prayed, and so have many of your friends and family, that you (or “they”) would have a full-time job by now, and… for reasons known only to God, you (“they”) are still job-searching.

Would you be willing, even now as you’re reading this, to pause in your heart, and — overwhelmed as you may be at the loss of income, food, “stuff” (like cash) — to tell God exactly what’s tearing away at your soul, and at your friend or family member’s heart, this very moment, and during this time of financial uncertainty?  Make it simple…  God!  We (or “I”) need (or “he/she needs”) Your help.  And…urgentlyEverything that we/I have is Yours, and we/I offer it again to You, to use, to do with as You see fit, and that will best accomplish Your purposes.  Thank You, God, for providing everything we/I/they need, and in Your precise timing.  Thank You, God, that You have promised that Your children will not starve (Ps. 37:25).  Let my words today, tomorrow, and every day this week be filled with gratefulness at Your outrageous kindnesses to me, to us, to those we know!  In Jesus’ Name we’re coming to You now.  Amen.

As you continue praying in your heart, and in your thoughts, for yourself, or for that person/those persons who are job-searching, would you please take a moment to read of God’s spectacular answers to another job-searcher?  May these stories encourage your heart, renew your spirit, and strengthen your faith in our God, our beloved “Papa”! — gracie

p.s.  I look forward to hearing — via your comments — how God “showed up” for you!  For your friend!  For your family member!  His promises are still good!  They are for “right now“!  Don’t for a moment let the enemy deceive you into thinking that God “stopped” answering the prayers of His children!  That God “stopped” listening to their cries!  That God, our beloved Papa, has “forgotten” where you live, or what bills you have coming due!  That, my dear reader, is nothing less than “spiritual baloney“…  Don’t even get close to it!  Words like those are “fightin’ words”:  They’re the enemy’s direct assault on God’s character.  Speak the Truth of Who God is — He is our Provider.  He is “for” you, and not against you!  He does care!  Grab hold of God’s promises, and with both hands!  Don’t you dare let go!

The following post was first published January 1, 2011.  Updated November 24, 2011.

——–

Dear blog-readers, this evening (here in the Western hemisphere;-)), as many are celebrating New Year’s Eve, I want to thank you for taking time to visit!  As many of you know, this weekend – specifically this evening — marks the one-year anniversary of this blog – and I appreciate your coming here to read, to think, and to ponder what God may be “up to” in your own life in 2011.  This blog post is the first of several posts to let you know of some of God’s “behind-the-scenes” activities in the past year; these words are offered in the spirit of worship of the one and only true God – the One Who keeps His promises!  May He use these words to encourage you, to challenge you to throw the entire weight of your concerns completely on Him.  I am still in “kindergarten” in this area – just so you know!  This has been an amazing – though sometimes difficult – year of learning to rely entirely upon Him.  He is the One Who satisfies our thirsts in the desert (Ps. 63), and Who fills our mouths with good things (Ps. 103:5-6ff)!  May you find our God to be the “last stop”, and “all you will ever need” this new year.  He’s “the One”!  The One-and-Only! — gracie;-) 

*          *          * 

God is not a man, that He should lie, neither the son of a man that He should repent.  Hath He said, and shall He not do it?  Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good? – Numbers 23:19

MY 13-YEAR OLD EARS perked up at these words, spoken gently by my camp counselor to a group of about a dozen of us one evening just before “lights out”.  I had never heard of such a verse… was this really in the Bible?  Oh, sure, I had read the Old Testament – well, I had read Genesis, the first chapter or two of Exodus, the book of Proverbs two or three summers ago during a week of Christian camp, and selected chapters from the book of Psalms.  But…this?  The Bible actually says that God does not lie?  That if He made a promise, He would, in fact, make good on that promise?  Wow… I turned my head toward the darkened wall of our cabin, and pondered what that could mean in my life.  Earlier, on this same day, I had heard words that left me troubled, worried, afraid of what next week would hold – actually, the approaching weekend, when I returned to the church parking lot after camp was over. 

Was this really in the Bible? 

*          *          *          *          * 

My mother had driven me to the church parking lot to ride the old church bus up to camp with the other kids, and as I reached to open the door handle, my arms loaded with my blanket roll, pillow, and a small overnight bag, she spoke quietly, and at the same time, reached out and patted my arm.  “Wait!  Just a minute!”  I wasn’t expecting anything other than a simple good-bye.  “Please – pray!  Your father and I will be going to see someone while you’re away this week at camp; we may be getting a divorce!”  A what?  The words hit my consciousness like a flame touches ammunition, and with the same effect – but the explosion was deep in my soul.  No one saw or knew a thing.  Nothing, that is, until Wednesday evening after the evening service at camp, my counselor asked if I wanted to talk about anything.  “No, I’m fine!” I reassured her.  What did she think?  That I would spill my guts – and my family’s “guts” – to her?  Someone I didn’t know from Eve?  But she left the door open by offering a few other times in the next few days when other kids in our cabin would be at swimming, having free time, or doing other activities.  How I thank God for that counselor, even today.  She didn’t just know “stuff” about God; she fervently prayed for my parents to change their minds, and to come to an agreement, before camp was over.  God did answer her prayers.  He thwarted the enemy’s plans to destroy our family.  And during that short time away – just five days –  

That counselor…didn’t just know “stuff” about God; she fervently prayed…  God did answer her prayers. 

*          *          * 

THIS PAST YEAR has been among the most difficult, ever.  You see, this time a year ago, I knew only that the unemployment funds I had received would soon be over.  Done.  Nada.  I also knew that, despite having sent my resume and a tailor-made cover letter out to numerous employers, and in response to positions for which I was well qualified, no job had surfaced.  Nothing.  I had heard well-meaning people say things that showed that they plainly had no idea what it was like to live by faith – they had families who would lend them money!  They had a spouse who could cover the bills while they job-searched.  They had “connections”, some of them, including a broad network that even stretched to distant friends and family out of state. 

The unemployment funds I had received would soon be over.  DoneNada. 

Well, God, if You really are Who You say You are, and if You really do keep Your promises —-.  I tried again to put it into words last New Year’s Eve, as I poured out my heart to God, and to Him aloneThen…I accept this challenge to depend entirely upon You.  I choose to view this as a special opportunity to see just how amazingly You’ll keep Your promises…but God!  I’m afraid!  I’ve never been in exactly this situation before!  And – by the way, God – there are all kinds of people who say that they know You and love You, and… God!  They just.  Don’t.  Know.  Silence.  No thunder claps.  No earthquakes.  If you had been a fly on the wall exactly a year ago tonight, you would have heard the quiet weeping of a desperate person, desperate to see God “in action”.  Filled with fear at all of the impossibilities that lay ahead.  You —  if you had been here in the room – kind soul that you are, likely would have said all the kinds of things I had already been hearing for the previous eleven and a half months: 

  • Don’t worry!  Everything will be all right.
  • Why on earth are you upset?  You still have unemployment funds for another month!
  •  Don’t you have family?  Someone who could float you a loan?
  • Why not cash in your savings?  You know you can do that – when things are tight… 

Added to all of this, I had recently seen “The Blessed Life” — five or six short teaching DVDs by Robert Morris that had confirmed that God was offering me a “personalized” chance to know Him better.  These short teaching videos definitely had “zing” to them – a Holy Spirit “zing”.  It is frankly impossible to watch these videos, and to not have your life changed.  (Check out www.theblessedlife.com.  Now there’s a New Year’s challenge for every person reading this blog:  Get these DVDs, and see what God will do in your life!) 

*          *          * 

There is so much that I could share, but I am trying hard to “whittle it down” to just a few things.  Yes, I continue to job-search, and to work as a “temp” (in a manner of speaking) while continuing to ask God to clearly show me the workplace where He would most be pleased to use my skills and experience.  But it has also been a most amazing year of seeing God’s provision. 

First, you need to know that when I realized this would be God’s plan – though I had no idea how long the process might last – I made a distinct decision:  I will only go to GOD with my needs.  If He does not provide for them, then He must have some other way to take care of me.  For all that I had been around many fine Christian people over the years, and around many, many believers in Jesus who knew their Bibles and God’s promises to take care of His children, I began finding out a frightening thing: 

Almost none of the people who knew I was job-searching had ever totally depended on God for everythingAlmost none.  There were a few – perhaps three or four individuals or couples – but among hundreds of believers? 

Some of my requests you may find unusual.  Or – perhaps you can relate to them.  Some of my requests are the kinds of things you will identify with instantly.  In every case – no exceptions – God provided, without my ever asking/hinting/suggesting/begging/pleading. 

I made a distinct decision:  I will only go to GOD with my needs. 

One day, after examining and re-examining my checkbook balance, I put the checkbook on the table near the calculator where I had been running some numbers. 

God!  There will never be enough to pay the mortgage!  I’ll be out in the street!  I just know it!  Yet… I know that You’re a God Who keeps Your promises!  I know that!  I have tried to give you at least the portion for which You ask – and I have given that portion with great joy, knowing that You keep Your promises.  And I know how those who don’t believe that You are a promise-keeping God hate that You ask for that relatively small amount to take care of Your Bride, the Church.  But… Papa!  Now I’m stuck!  No human being knows!  And I am banking on Your character as being that of One Who feeds His children… 

I got up from my knees, wiped my eyes, and before returning to my job-searching, checked to see if my hi-tech piano keyboard – up for sale on the Internet – had any inquiries from buyers.  Nothing.  Not even one inquiry.  I was aching.  I had made a list of things I could sell.  My car was a used vehicle, and I would need it to get to work when the job finally came.  I didn’t have a lot of “gadgets” or “toys” to sell or to barter.  I only had God’s promises.

I am banking on Your character as being that of One Who feeds His children…  

Just after signing off the Internet, the telephone rang.  Hi, Gracie?  I didn’t recognize the person’s voice.  How are things going?  I pulled the telephone away, swallowed quietly, returned to the telephone, and said, Okay!  The caller gave their identity, and then continued, now with a barrage of questions:  Did you make your house payment last month?  How about your utilities?  Have you paid your electric/gas?  Your telephone?  Do you – do you have – foodI pulled the telephone partly away from my ear, for now tears were going down my cheeks, and I was determined not to reveal anything.  Yes! I responded jubilantly, God provided for me, and I paid my mortgage last month, and the utilities as well!  The caller seemed to pause for a moment, as if pondering whether I really needed financial help.  Well, the caller said, I have a check here for you, and I need to get it to you right away – preferably in the next few hours…  I thanked the caller, then we set up a time and place to meet several hours later. 

I only had God’s promises. 

Scarcely had I returned to my place of prayer, excited that God was, in fact, keeping His promise to provide for me, one of His children, and while I was there thanking Him, and confessing my doubts of His provision, the telephone rang.  I jumped up, dashed to the other room to get the call, and on the other end I heard a somewhat familiar voice.  Grace!  How are you?  The caller was pleased to reach me, and not my answering machine; we both laughed.  I’m doing well, and God is taking care of me, I said – He’s given me everything that I need for “life and Godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).  Well, said the caller, I think that’s fine, but you’ll probably be needing to pay your mortgage soon – won’t you?  Wow – that question caught me off-guard.  Well, um, He’s already got that covered for me, so I’m good, thanks!  The caller would not be deterred.  But – I was thinking that your unemployment must have finished some time ago…  This second caller waited to hear me confirm Yes or No.  After a few seconds of silence – which felt like an hour or more – I responded, It did end.  And now God —  my Papa! – is taking care of me!  Good care!  Not to worry!  The caller seemed puzzled for a moment, then said, Well, we thought that God was speaking to us to cover your mortgage, but now that you say it’s all taken care of —-.  I confirmed that yes, indeed, the mortgage last month, and now the one due in a few days, was all covered by God.  The call ended with my thanking the person for calling and for their concern.  Once I heard the “click” of the receiver, I dashed back to the place of prayer…

While I was there… confessing my doubts of His provision, the telephone rang. 

Papa!  That was wild!  You nudged not just one person, but…two!  Um… or maybe I should say ‘At least two’…  Oh, God, I’m coming to learn in a brand-new way how important it is to do what You ask, the moment that You talk to me – not putting You off, nor waiting to see ‘what else’ might transpire first.  God!  Give me ears to hear You always, and a willingness to instantly obey You, whatever it is that You’re asking… And thank You for Your kindnesses in providing for me, even today.  Forgive my lack of faith that You were, and are, totally capable of providing for my needs.  I’m asking for great discernment from You, that You would help me to understand what is truly a need, and what is more a desire or an “extra”.  Help me to be a good steward of Your resources – the abundant riches in Christ Jesus!  (Phil. 4:19) 

Not many hours later, I met the first caller in a public parking lot.  My eyes filled with tears, and I thanked the giver, handing them a thank-you note even as I received the envelope with the check inside.  But this isn’t from me!, the check-giver said, I’m just the messenger!   I laughed, Well, I won’t ‘shoot the messenger’! and we both laughed.  I understand that – this is a thank-you for you to give to them, if you would, please.  Thanks!  Just as I turned to go back to my car, the person called, Oh, wait!  I have something else, too!  I couldn’t imagine another thing – I was so overwhelmed with God’s kindnesses – and in just a few days before the bills were coming due.  Here!  And with that, the giver proceeded to hand me two massive bags – industrial-sized trash bags, double-bagged for extra strength – full of…food!  Cleaning supplies!  Tissue and toilet paper!  How on earth could this person have any idea… that in my cupboard back home, right at that very moment, I had but two cans of vegetables, and half a small bag of rice?  I had decided that if God does not provide food, then it must be His plan to satisfy me with more of Himself.  It will be a special time of seeking God more than eating food.  Now here I stood, with food, tissues, and cleaning supplies to carry me a few months into the future!  I was rich!  I thanked the messenger again, then got into my car, drove home, and dashed into my place of prayer – even before unloading the groceries… 

If God does not provide food, then it must be His plan to satisfy me with more of HimselfIt will be a special time of seeking God more than eating food. 

Papa!  How You have just done a massive “dump” of food, of supplies, of money to pay the bills!  Who – Who? – Who on earth is like You?  Who on earth is even close?  There is no one!  No person can possibly provide, hear my heart, know my fears – and the exact contents of my cupboards! – like You! Truly, You, and You alone are God!  I worship You!  Not the direct-deposit from any employer, nor even from the unemployment office.  You!  Thank You!!! 

I brought in the groceries, putting them away, and as I put each item on the shelf, I could only say, Thank You!  God!  How You must love me!  Thank You for the people who were so listening to You in providing these things, and these funds.  Please, God, give me ears to hear You always, and then to instantly do Your bidding… 

Who? – Who on earth is like You?  Who on earth is even close?  There is no one!  No person can possibly provide, hear my heart, know my fears – and the exact contents of my cupboards!  

*          *          * 

A year earlier, it was summertime.  The bills were paid, and I was thankful.  Little did I know what God had planned for me in the year to come… 

I HAPPEN TO LIKE TURKEY.  Yes.  It’s one of the few things I can really say is a “favorite” food!  I like a lot of foods, but turkey…it’s the best!  So one day, during my quiet time, I had just been reading in the book of Psalms… 

No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.  (Ps. 84:11)

God, this is a totally ridiculous request…  You and you alone know that I have probably eaten meat – of any kind – only once or twice in the last few months.  It’s just been out of the question even to think about buying meat.  May I ask something… really… dumb?

Here, I paused, reflecting on just how “dumb” my request was – or wasn’t – to God.  He was, after all, my “Papa”.  If I couldn’t tell Him my heart, then… there was no one to whom I could go.  Why not?  So?  I did:  Papa, may I please have… a turkey?  Yes.  Right then.  In the midst of one of the hottest, most humid summers we’d had in a long time – in fact, it was only mid-July, and already it was as hot and humid as it normally gets in August.  I reconsidered my request.  Should I take that back?  Maybe I should also ask for… cool weather, so that I can roast the turkey without making the house even hotter…  I had purposely kept off my air conditioner so that my electric bill would not go up, and finally when it got to be in the mid-80s outside, I broke down, turning the air-conditioner to 80 degrees.  Oh, well, what a dumb request, huh, Papa?  But… You know everything, my dumb requests included. 

Papa, may I please have… a turkey? 

The following day, while checking e-mail, an e-mail popped into my in-box, just before I logged off.

Hi, Grace, just catching up with you!  Isn’t this hot weather something else?  Say, I meant to let you know that there’s a bag of frozen food with your name on it in the church freezer.  Just let one of the church staff know that you’ll be dropping over to get it.  By the way, would you be interested in a turkey?  That’s probably silly to ask, since it’s so hot outside, and who wants to roast a turkey when it’s so humid?  But — if you are interested, e-mail back.

 What did I just read?  Like a lightning bolt from heaven, I realized that God had just answered my exact request of the day before – “dumb” or not.  I fell on my face in worship…  Who is a God like this?  Who?  I ask you, is there any other god – little-g god – even close?  There is none! 

In the next hour, I left to go pick up the bag of frozen food.  When I reached into the freezer, I was shocked:  It was…a bag of…meatFrozen meat.  I had assumed it would be bags of frozen veggies, or…  I really had no idea.  But… meat?  Someone was listening to my prayers – and very closely, at that.  I saw a second bag with my name on it – I was more than blown away by receiving one bag, and now… a second bag?  “Meat – for Grace”, someone had written in a thick black marker.  Crouching down to the lower shelf by the second bag, I looked, checking to be sure that it was for me.  It was double-bagged.  And that’s when I realized I was looking right at a label that said, “Frozen turkey, 15 lbs., 4 oz.”  You could have touched me with a feather (a turkey feather, of course!), and I would have fallen immediately to the floor right there by the freezer, so stunned was I.

God!  What kind of a sense of humor, of fun, do You have, anyway?  I’m…I’m all WOWed at You!  At Your work!  At people who are not just listening to You, but doing exactly what You ask, no matter how silly it sounds, nor how out-of-season it may seem to some…  Thank You, Papa!  There is nothing You cannot do – even to the point of providing a frozen turkey in the middle of a Midwest summer! 

It was…a bag of…meat.  Frozen meat.

I stood up, lifting a heavy meat-filled bag with each hand, nearly staggering because of the weight of the meat, yet staggering even more for my doubt-filled heart, not believing that my beloved God could – or would – provide my silly request, and then act so quickly, too.  As I drove home, I turned on the radio to the local AM news station.  The announcer was giving the weather: 

This evening will begin a three or four-day streak of unseasonably cool weather – the temps will drop to the fifties overnight, and it will be no warmer than upper fifties/low sixties during the day! 

I could not stop weeping as I drove the rest of the way home – God had even taken care of providing cool weather for roasting the turkey!  Who is a God like this, I ask you?  Is there any other god?  There is NONE! 

God does know.  God knows exactly where you live.  He knows how to reach you!

*          *          * 

Perhaps you’ve just read this and you’re thinking, Noop!  Not me!  Not us!  God has never done anything like that in my life, in our lives!  Or maybe you have a good friend, a family member, or someone you know in ministry who is in urgent need of these words of encouragement: 

God does know.  God knows exactly where you live.  He knows how to reach you!  He has not “fallen asleep” at your prayers, at your tears, at your heartaches; He is listening, and He’s listening closely! 

Oh, that God would pour out His grace – in as many forms as He thinks fit – and oh, that He would drench your life – yes, even your doubting life – this very moment, as you’re reading this.  He is alive!  He is real!  He is eager to demonstrate His great power and to “make good” on His promises to take care of you, His beloved son, His dearly-loved daughter. 

He is listening, and He’s listening closely! 

Would you pause a moment, right where you are reading this, and say

God!  Forgive my doubting!  Forgive my fears!  I am eager and willing to instantly obey You, whatever You ask.  I acknowledge that You have brought me to this place in my life for Your purposes.  I want my life to worship You.  Use me, God, and use the situations and even the tough circumstances in which I find myself now, all that others would easily be able to taste and to see that the LORD is good (Ps. 34:8).

Hath He said, and shall He not do it?  Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good? 

*          *          *          *          *

Grace to *look* down one path, yet to *choose* another: Contentment!

November 8, 2011

“The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, 1874-1963

*          *          *          *          *

“Two roads”, one “yellow wood”.  Two (or more) possibilities, one choice.  As I look back over the various “branches” of my life — branches I could have taken, but did not take — I am… content.  For I have come to find that those who are perpetually second-guessing their life-sized decisions are often second-guessing decisions that are not so “life-sized” (What toppings shall we have on tonight’s pizza?, or What if…?  — you can fill in the blank here, for most of us have been around someone who has continually looked back.)

Is it wrong to look back?  Hardly.  Looking back (aka:  “reflecting”) is a great way to learn from one’s past experiences, and to benefit from the many situations (not all entirely pleasant) that one has encountered in one’s life.

Contentment is a grace.

Can one get “stuck in a rut” looking back?  Absolutely!  I once had a college roommate who seemed to be perpetually wishing that she could go “back to the future” and undo various decisions that she had made.  Finally, after having listened to nearly a month’s worth of “If only…” statements, another one of our roommates laid it on the line to the frequent-regretter:  If I could only get you to stop looking backwards at “yesterday”, you’d have a heap more contentment “today“!  Whew!  That truth-speaking roommate knew how to “speak the truth” without tearing out the other roommate’s heart (no small gift, that!).

Contentment is a grace.  Being contented does not mean that one necessarily loves all of one’s past decisions, or relishes all of one’s life’s experiences, but rather, that one can trust (which is a bit different than blaming) the Sovereign hand of God through every path — whether that path leads through a gorgeous “yellow wood” (as Robert Frost described in the poem at the beginning of this post), or that path seems to lead one’s life through a Narnia-like “winter of the soul”, bleak with black-and-white situations, and void of the springtime colors of hope.

You do not know, Gracie, but… my life seems more “winter” now, than “springtime”…

Ah, my dear reader, whether you are now reading this in front of a toasty fireplace with scarcely a care in the world, or whether you are now reading this on a borrowed computer, in a place not familiar to you, and with not so much as a clue where your next food will come from, would you allow me the privilege of reminding you of but one simple thing?  That after “winter”, there is always a “spring”.  That after the black “midnight of the soul”, there is always the daystar, rising in the east.  That after the night, there is always the dawn…  Right now, wherever you are, whatever your situation as you now sit reading these words, you may be struggling to find meaning.  Meaning in life.  Meaning in your present situation.  Meaning following a cataclysmic event.  That search for meaning is a natural response, and a part of the way that God has made and designed each of us — so do not criticize yourself for that desire to “make sense” of a difficult situation.

 Will you let God be “God”?

To change images, consider a large, multi-paneled mural, one panel showing nothing but the blackest blackness, another panel showing a person at the opposite end of a long telescope, intent on peering into the heavens.  If you were to only see the blackest-blackness panel, you might be thinking that there is nothing else to see!  But if you were shown the person captivated by the images visible through the telescope, you would know with certainty that there was more to the mural than simply a black “nothingness”.

And you — a person having a hard time seeing anything right now but the blackest panel of your life right now — you may be having a hard time even imagining that there is anything else to see!  That there is any other part of the “mural” but darkness.  Loss.  Tragedy.  Unfulfilled expectations.

After “winter“, there is always a “spring“.

May I gently encourage you to… “wait with hope” in your situation?  May I encourage you to “hold on to hope”?  And may I urge you to step. back.  Step back — if only in your imagination, for this moment — long enough to see that there is more to the “mural” of your life! 

Changing images again, may I remind you that ripping open the butterfly’s chrysalis will not bring forth a butterfly?  That such a destructive act will destroy the butterfly?  Before you reach for a pair of scissors, or a simple knife to cut open the “chrysalis” that God has placed before your very eyes, will you… wait?  Will you wait with hope, knowing that the evidence is yet unseen that will bridge your hope to your healing?  In the darkness, the confusion, the loss of your present situation, will you reach, with a simple, childlike faith, to the God Whom you right now cannot see?  Will you let Him walk with you through these moments, through the countless unknown, never-before-travelled situations?  Will you let God be “God”?  Will you let Him “see through the dark” for you?

Will you reach, with a simple, childlike faith, to the God Whom you right now cannot see?

Not now, but one day…    One day you will look back to today, to this week, this month, to this time in your life when all seemed hopeless, and life seemed to have lost all meaning, all color.  On that day, you will see color.  Again!  You will know hope.  Again!  And you will know that, even through the darkest of paths, One was walking with you.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me.  Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me…

God of All Comfort: His GRACE Is My Comfort…

October 12, 2011

Late last evening I saw that I had a voicemail from an unfamiliar area code.  Figuring that it was probably from yet “another” political poll researcher, I nearly deleted it, but my curiosity got the best of me, so I dialed up my voice-messaging system, and these are the words that I heard:

Hello, Gracie, you don’t know me, but our family is friends with (here the caller gave the family’s name), and I understand that you are also a friend of theirs.  We know them from church…

I squished the telephone next to my ear, trying to catch every word, since there seemed to be a weak connection, or perhaps my cell phone battery was running low.  The caller continued,

There is something I need to share with you, and it is sad news…

The next thing I heard caused me to drop to my knees in prayer for the family that the caller and I both shared as common friends:  the husband had just taken his own life…  Yes, of course, my heart is aching for his wife and for their children, for their own extended family, and for their church friends, in addition to the caller who so gently left such a difficult message.

Would you join with me in prayer for this grieving family, I wonder, whether you are reading this soon after it has been posted, or whether you find this post a week, two weeks, a month or even several months or a year later?  It is difficult to fully wrap one’s mind around the darkness-of-soul that surely must have enveloped my friend’s husband that would cause him to finally give in to that black darkness… 

Would you join with me in prayer for this grieving family?

Do I judge him for doing what he did?  Most certainly not!  Rather, I ache for him, that he was not able to find any consolation for himself in God’s deep comfort, so driven was he to despair of life itself.  All of our prayers and tears will not bring him back to his heartbroken family, will not return him to his now-grieving friends.

Does news of this nature cause me to look around to see who is similarly in despair among my acquaintances and friends?  Without a doubt.  Perhaps he did not feel that he could share his darkness with a good and a compassionate, caring listener — I can’t say.

It is not for nothing that The Book calls the enemy the Accuser of the Brethren.

How many who hear of his passing might be tempted to throw stones (or perhaps, God forbid, even “boulders”) of condemnation that one who knew God and His Word so well was thus driven to the point of no hope?  But may we never throw stones at an individual upon hearing such sad news — even flinging attacks at such aching souls in our own minds — for we ourselves do not know the hundreds, yea, thousands of accusations that the enemy spoke in most convincing tones to our brother who is now gone.  It is not for nothing that The Book calls the enemy “the Accuser of the Brethren”.

Rather, let us who remain turn our hearts to God Who knows all hearts. He alone knows the situation completely — and may such deeply sad news cause each one of us to ask ourselves,

  • Who do I know who is in such a state of despair?
  • How have I taken time to reach out to them?
  • Have I given them the time of day, or have I ignored them in their darkness?
  • Do I even know what I might say to such a person — Have I at least pondered words that could help point the way to God’s hope?
  • Have I considered in what way I might be a person who could help to lift one above despair by breaking that person’s isolation, by doing a kind, yet simple deed, or have I left such words and deeds for the “experts”?
  • Am I a person of compassion, or do hurting people view me as a granite wall, incapable of expressing gentleness?
  • Am I willing to go outside of my own “comfort zone” to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus in practical ways to others?

May God be pleased to use our prayers and kindnesses to help deliver His compassion– in Jesus’ Name.

May God’s deep, abiding comfort surround and enfold this Christian brother’s family and friends, and may He be pleased to use our prayers and kindnesses to help deliver that compassion in Jesus’ Name.

*          *          *          *          *

Have you ever longed for traditional sacred instrumental music that is associated with the comforting words of God’s promises?  If so, here is a link to an album of acoustical piano music just released a few months ago, entitled God of All Comforthttps://www.cdbaby.com/cd/anneregnier.

This is music that gently reminds listeners of the grace of God’s comfort and healing.  You’ll hear the greatly-loved hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness, the Gospel songs What A Friend We Have in Jesus, and It Is Well With My Soul, and the title song, You Are the God of All Comfort — an original song Anne wrote as she reflected on a period of grief in her own life.  Here is a verse from the title track:

You are the “God of All Comfort”!
You’re the One Who’s strong when I am weak:
You will illumine my darkness!
You are the One I long to seek!
When pain and sorrow overwhelm me
Your arms of love open wide:
You are the “God of All Comfort”:
Never will I leave Your side!

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows– II Cor. 1:3-5 (NIV) 

Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 1996 by Zondervan

Full of Grace — AND Truth (a literal Heaven; literal Hell)

March 18, 2011

Note:  This post could be sub-titled, “Why some 21st-century Christ-followers’ view of a changing, whimsical God is confusing the rest of the world into doubting that Hell and Heaven are literal places.”  Your thoughts?

Yup.  That was one of the Apostle John’s up-front takes on Jesus.  John, who hung out with Jesus.  John, who had as his “AKA” the beloved disciple.  John, who was part of the “inner circle” of Peter, James, and John, the three of whom got to actually be present on the mountain when Jesus conducted one of the most amazing meetings, ever, with Moses and Elijah (two Old Testament prophets through whom God spoke and also showcased His miraculous power) — but that’s a topic for a completely different post!

Jesus was 100% God, 100% man.  Don’t ask me how the math works on this — it “looks” like those numbers should add up to 200%, doesn’t it?  Human explanations fail here.  So I turn to the Book:

In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Col. 2:9)

Jesus embodied the only-time-in-all-of-world-history perfect Deity/ perfect humanity combination.  Jesus was completely balanced:  Never did He get too “mushy” (though sometimes His own disciples worried He might be too “soft” — they didn’t want Him to give the time of day to young children, nor to the woman who wept as she dumped a most extravagant perfume on His feet).  Never was He too judgmental (yet the religious leaders of the day often zinged accusation after accusation His way, castigating Jesus for not fitting in to their own religious standards, rather than to God’s law as given by Moses).

God is not only grace, mercy, and love; God is truth. 

When Jesus spoke, He spoke in everyday words to everyday people, using everyday images (His teaching style itself would make an awesome post — but that,too, is for another time).  No wonder that Jesus’ teaching — including both His directness and His skillful use of imagery — caught the writer John’s attention right away.  Jesus spoke truthfully with grace.  Jesus spoke graciously the truth.

When Jesus spoke, He spoke in everyday words to everyday people, using everyday images.

As other bloggers have noted, there is a “trending topic” these days:  Hell.  (Please check out the following link:  http://eyes2cross.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/facebook-answers-whos-afraid-of-hell/.)  For God to give each of us a choice to love Him or to reject Him — that’s grace.  For God to wait patiently while people stomp on His Name, spit on His character, trash His beauty, denigrate His holiness — even more grace.

But true to that perfect balance that exemplifies God’s character, God is not only grace, mercy, and love; God is truth.  Jesus did not merely speak truth; Jesus was the Truth:

I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.  No person comes to the Father but by Me. (Jn. 14:6)

Jesus did not merely speak truth; Jesus was the Truth.

In His truth-speaking, Jesus spoke of a place of literal torment (not “just a trash heap”).  In plain language He spoke words that now seem to have (pardon the expression) fired-up many who would prefer to wimpify God:

If your hand or foot gets in God’s way, chop it off and throw it away.  You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire.  And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away.  You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell. — Mark 9:43-48, The Message

The New Century Version (NCV) puts verses 44 and 48 like this:

It is better for you to lose part of your body and live forever than to have two hands and go to hell, where the fire never goes out. (v. 44)

In hell the worm does not die; the fire is never put out. (v. 48)

To say there is no hell is to attempt to “rub out the edges” — to neutralize the Gospel that speaks of a literal Heaven (a street of gold, and a place of reward for those who choose God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ) and a literal Hell (a place of real fire that even now is burning forever, with no possibility of escape, and of punishment for those who choose to reject God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ).

To say that there is no Hell is an attempt to neutralize the Gospel.

If there were no such thing as a literal, burning hell, why, then, would the apostle Paul write with such fervency, Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade people… (2 Cor. 5:11a)  The writer of Hebrews said, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:31)

If hell were simply just a “place of isolation” only in one’s mind, why would Paul’s readers get goose bumps reading of such “terror”?

Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade people…

If hell were simply a place in one’s imagination, then why would the author of Hebrews speak of falling into God’s hand of judgment as a “fearful” matter?  Could it be that we in the enlightened 21st century have willingly accepted a dichotomy of belief?

Do we have a dichotomy of belief?

We somehow “get” that in the Old Testament God punished those who scorned Him and held His Word in contempt with a terrifying alacrity.  Even those living in New Testament times “got” the concept of God rewarding the just (those who clung earnestly to God’s commandments) and the fact of God’s judgment toward those who mocked Him, or who even were inhospitable toward Jesus (think of the disciples’ request to Jesus in Luke 9:54, Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?).

But when it comes to the God of the Old Testament, the God of the New Testament, and the God of the future-to-come being the same God, we collectively shake our heads and say a resounding, Uh-UH!  NO!  He’s only a God of love and mercy!  He would never think of punishing any person!

How awful, that we should attempt to squish God into our box!  He has not changed!  His character is consistent!  He is the same yesterday, today, yes, and unto the ages!  (Heb. 13:8)  Because we know that God is perfectly “balanced” (for want of a better word), we also know that He is complete Grace and complete Truth.

God has not changed!  His character is consistent!

He has given us innumerable opportunities to accept His way of salvation through Jesus Christ, Who took every sin of every person in the world upon Himself on Calvary’s cross.  That cross, dear one, is more than just the name of a quaint old song that your grandmother or your wacky Christian friend loves; that cross on which Jesus died is the place where Jesus Himself said, It is finished.  Paid in full!  Jesus Who knew no sin, took on our every sin-debt and wrongdoing as His own, offering Himself as our Payment to a righteous God Who required the Ultimate Payment for our every misdeed.  Rejecting Jesus is rejecting God’s “rescue plan” — His only “rescue plan” —  from a literal, burning hell.

Rejecting Jesus is rejecting God’s “rescue plan”.

While many people do choose Jesus only to be rescued from hell, the more they come to know God’s unspeakable generosity and love in making such a “way of escape”, the more they grow to love God.

The more a Jesus-follower lives a life of gratitude and love toward God, the less legalistic that person is.

The more a Jesus-follower lives a life of gratitude and love toward God, the less legalistic that person is, not simply living as a recipient of a get-out-of-Hell-free ticket, but as a person continually overwhelmed by God’s grace.

Have we been squishing God into a box of our own making?

You’ve heard the old one-liner, I’ve got good news and bad news; which do you want to hear first?, haven’t you?  If you’re like me, you always want to get the bad news out of the way first, so that you can get to the good news.  Here it is then:  The bad news is this:  that Hell is real — as real and as hot as the gas burner on your kitchen stove, or on your grill, that it’s forever, and it’s God’s punishment for those who say, NO, God!  I neither need nor want You in my life!  Forget Your Son’s dreadful death!  I am good enough on my own; thanks-but-NO-thanks, God!

The bad news is this:  Hell is real.

But…Wait!  You cannot have only bad news!  Here then is the wildly Good newsHeaven, too, is real.  If we could even catch a glimpse of Heaven, the vast throng of tens — hundreds? — of thousands of those who have taken God’s Gift of Jesus, if we could have but a nano-second “peek” at the joys God has been preparing there in Heaven for us, if we could see that great crowd of every nation, tribe, people group, and language this very moment as together they’re worshipping God, and the total agreement there without so much as a hint of disunity!

We would be treasuring Him above all other “treasures”!

Oh, my dear reader, you and I would be filled with such hope, such anticipation, that we would start seeing the things in our lives here on this earth as God sees them!  We would be making much of God!  We would be treasuring Him above all other “treasures”!  Being forever with Him is our ultimate destination!  We would not be so caught up with the “stuff” that is around us…  Yes, heaven is real — not just a “great place in my imagination”.  There are angels, a sea as smooth as glass, a street of pure gold, the Light of Jesus’ own Presence, and surprises the likes of which we can not “only imagine”!

Here then is the wildly Good news:  Heaven, too, is real.

Let’s face it.  Today’s believers in the God of the Bible live and speak as if the God of the Old and New Testaments is a different God from the God Who is alive and real now.  No wonder, then, that those who don’t name the Name — the one and only Name under heaven by which any person can be eternally saved from God’s judgment — are mightily confused!

This same Jesus…  The God of the Bible is the same today as He was when He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden, the same as when He talked with Moses from the burning bush while Moses was herding sheep, the same as when He walked on water and came to the disciples in the boat, and is the same God Who has done amazing things in my own life (check out the “Sneak Peeks” posts of the last few months) — truly, He is the same “yesterday, today, and…forever” (Heb. 13:8).  Our God is “balanced”:  a God full of grace; a God full of truth.

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Perhaps you have just read this post, and you would love to learn more of this God!  May I invite you to click here to begin reading John’s first-person account of Jesus for yourself:  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1&version=MSG

As you read, ask God to reveal His grace and truth to you — He will!

Ancient “headlines”! Up-to-the-minute Grace to catch God’s “right-*now*” messages!

March 2, 2011

Not long ago, I was asked to share some thoughts with a women’s group regarding New Year’s, and/or change.  (Guys, please don’t think that because these thoughts were first shared with gals, that you’re “off the hook” when it comes to God’s “changing up” your life!)  Oh, that God might use these words to encourage someone, even today!  May He clearly remind you that He is “in control” — no matter what “life” seems to be throwing at you! — gracie;-)

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We’re moving!  But… do we know anyone at the new place?  A baby’s on the way!  But… is there anyone in our lives who would be willing and available to walk us through this brand-new adventure as we are plunged into parenting?  Our parents are no longer nearby, and getting advice-by-e-mail and telephone calls is just not the same as “in-person”.  Down-sized from my job!  But…unless you have been through the identical situation yourself (not simply through the eyes of another person), you probably don’t fully understand the endless changes that are a part of any of that change — whether it’s the “change” of moving, of becoming a parent, of grieving the loss of someone close to you, or even of grieving the loss of a job to do, a workplace to go to each day, or perhaps the sense of “change” in not making a contribution to society in the broadest sense of the word.  These are just a few of the examples of “change” that bombard us on an “ordinary” day.

Did you know:  The only “constant” about “life” seems to be…change!  It happens to everyone – no matter a person’s family, educational background, economic situation, closeness to or distance from God.  Does the Bible actually address “change”, or is this one of those murky, gray areas God expects me to figure out on my own?  What a great question!  The answer is a hearty Yes, for the Bible does address “change”, and No, this is not something God expects you, me, or any of us to “figure out” on our own…

The only “constant” about “life” seems to be…change!

Imagine for a moment that you are scrolling through news-flashes on your i-Phone, or another device you use to access the Internet.  Now imagine that you are able to access archives of some of the best, hot-off-the-press news stories of Bible times — as if you were catching the latest news-flashes of the 21st century.  Ever wonder what that might look like?  I have.  If you’re at all like me when you read the paper, you often imagine what would be going through your own mind if you were in a similar situation as the “news-makers”.  Here — look over my shoulder at just a few that seem to stay on the “most-read” list…   Listen in on the internal conversations:

Unexpected Visitors Predict Pregnancy for 90-Something Couple

Genesis 18:10-15, The Message

 10 One of them said, “I’m coming back about this time next year. When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent opening, just behind the man.

 11-12 Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband?”

 13-14 God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Me? Have a baby? An old woman like me?’ Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back about this time next year and Sarah will have a baby.”

 15 Sarah lied. She said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid.

   But he said, “Yes you did; you laughed.” 

 

Genesis 21:1-6, The Message

 1-4God visited Sarah exactly as he said he would; God did to Sarah what he promised: Sarah became pregnant and gave Abraham a son in his old age, and at the very time God had set. Abraham named him Isaac. When his son was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him just as God had commanded.

 5-6 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born.

   Sarah said, God has blessed me with laughter and all who get the news will laugh with me!

In your retirement or “empty-nest” years, has God dropped by to see you, leaving you in laughter and shock at His Plan for your life at this time ?  (Remember what the name “Isaac” means:  “laughter”!)  Have you laughed?  At God?  At what He’s “up to” at this stage in your journey?  This is a great example — a real “headliner”! — of some famous “faith heroes” who were caught off-guard by God’s power to change a situation!  Though probably not with a birth announcement when you’re 90, God can, in a matter of seconds, change your situation, too!

In a matter of seconds, God can change your situation, too!

  

Unknown Refugee Orphan Girl Becomes Queen 

Esther 4:16b, The Message

I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.

We all know the story of Esther’s life, and God’s miraculous “change” of plans, leaving Haman on his own gallows, and bringing God’s people into favor even in the least likely situation. 

Do you feel like you’re a “nobody”, living in the middle of a strange culture?  Scripture says that through God’s grace, no matter who a person is, an individual can become God’s “somebody”!  Through God’s sovereign plan, the last person on the planet became God’s hand-picked choice to become queen of the most powerful country of the ancient world:  Persia!  Through an “ordinary” person, Esther, God changed the course of history, rescuing the Jewish people from obliteration.  To this very day, every year in the month of April, Jewish people around the world celebrate the orphan-turned-queen, Esther, and the details of God’s mighty activities that transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of captives. 

Through God’s grace, no matter who a person is, an individual can become God’s “somebody”! 

So, you say, I’m not a queen – not unless I’m at home!  But — do you realize?  Esther was one among thousands of young women going through the 12-month “beauty process” to be introduced to the king as a potential queen!  While you may not become queen of a nation, please don’t miss the fact of Esther’s influence.  Whose life, whose lives, are you influencing?  Whose life, or lives, have you already influenced?  And – in whose life does God still want to use your influence, even today?  Perhaps your influence is less by word, and more by daily example.  Maybe God has given you a great heart to pray fervently for each of your adult children and your children’s spouses, as well as for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren – even those yet to be born.

Whose life, whose lives, are you influencing? 

Are you influencing future generations from your prayer closet?  From around your diningroom table as you share God’s gift of hospitality?  From the backyard as neighbor kids drop by on a summer day for a popsicle, or an ice cream sandwich?  Through you – you – a person whose name may not hit The Chicago Tribune’s website, may never reach the front page of cnn.com – God may effect mind-boggling changes among missionaries, future politicians, housewives, school teachers, and business people all over this country, and around the world, shaking up spiritual strongholds and rattling the enemy’s chains.  In a matter of seconds, God can change your situation, too!

In whose life does God still want to use your influence, even today? 

Woman Touches Famous Robe; Instantly Healed

Mark 5:25-34, The Message

25-29A woman who had suffered a condition of hemorrhaging for twelve years—a long succession of physicians had treated her, and treated her badly, taking all her money and leaving her worse off than before—had heard about Jesus. She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” The moment she did it, the flow of blood dried up. She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with.

 30At the same moment, Jesus felt energy discharging from him. He turned around to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

 31His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!”

 32-33But he went on asking, looking around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened, knowing she was the one, stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story.

 34Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.”

Are you suffering from a seemingly incurable ailment, and the only option for cure is a stupid-sounding remedy?  Going to endless doctors’ and specialists’ offices, spending far more than any old “co-pay”?

Will you reach out, “touching” Jesus via prayer?

Are you ready to simply approach Jesus in faith – as simply as did the lady who Mark tells us about in the fifth chapter of his gospel?  “She reached out…and felt the change.”  Jesus, too, felt “energy leave Him”.  Had she waited for “just the right moment”, for “no one else to be around”, for some special set of conditions, she might never have been healed – and after twelve years of hemorrhaging.  All it took was this lady’s willingness to do what others had not done – to do the culturally unacceptable thing:  A woman in a male-oriented culture (and no doubt surrounded by many men in the crowd), reaching out to touch just the fabric of Jesus’ robe… and…that was it!  

Will you be intimidated by the people around you? 

What will it take for you to simply reach out as did this woman?  She was physically worn out from having lost so much blood!  How can you, how can I, believe ourselves to be any stronger – though we have been “losing blood”/losing energy due to various severe injuries to our souls?  Will you reach out, “touching” Jesus via prayer?  Will you do it?  Will you be intimidated by the people around you?  By the people you’re worried about who you think are watching?  By the traditional view you may have grown up with that women “never speak publicly of religion…”

All it took was this lady’s willingness to do what others had not done.

Who can know the healing —  physical, emotional, relational — that God wants to bring to you, a person who normally just “blends in” with the crowd?  In nano-seconds, God gave this woman all of the faith she needed, then He changed her life, literally healing her from the “inside-out”.  He can change your situation, too!

Who can know the healing —  physical, emotional, relational –that God wants to bring to you?

Sphinx and Pyramids in Millions’ Rear-View Mirrors; Sea Bed Seriously Dries Up for Select Traffic

Ever felt royally “stuck” in a situation?  Ever thought things looked hopeless beyond belief?  Though you would never say so publicly, does it feel as if God’s forgotten you?  That He’s backed out on His promises?  That He’s forgotten your address?  Can’t recall your e-mail address or cell phone number?  Doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in your life?  That based on all outward appearances, God seems to have “gone to sleep”, and left you “hanging”, and with… no hope?  If that’s how you feel, then you’re in great company with millions of people.

Think of it!  Not only were these people making bricks in the middle of the desert; they and all of their family, relatives, friends, and relations had been doing the very same thing for years!  No relief in sight!  And now… this:  The leader who gets “insider conversations” with God has been making State visits to the evil ruler, the Pharoah.  If you’d have been there, by now you already would have heard of frogs in people’s kitchens, the water supply turning to blood, and… now…this “just in”:  Blood – blood! – was to be brushed over each family’s front door frame –last night! (Would you have done it?  Crazy and wild though it sounds?)

Does it feel as if God’s forgotten you?  That He’s backed out on His promises? 

You were told to prepare bread for “the journey” – whatever that could possibly mean! – and late last evening, every family and every person in your neighborhood had to roast a young lamb, and eat it…You and your family, your friends, relatives have all just left Egypt – for good! – and on foot have crossed the Red Sea – which was amazingly and mysteriously dry – a distance of miles.  Word has it that the Egyptians (whose armies on horseback caused the ground to rrRrrumble, even from a distance) have all been drowned in deep water that flowed back over the entire sea bed!  This – just after you and your friends, family, and hundreds of thousands of animals all crossed the exact same sea bed!  Last night marked the exact anniversary since your ancestors first came to Egypt four hundred and thirty years ago! 

 

Exodus 14:10-13, The Message

 10-12 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them— Egyptians! Coming at them!

They were totally afraid.  They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.'”

 13 Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.

Continuing through that same chapter, we read:

 29-30 But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the leftGod delivered Israel that day…

Now you and everyone with you, though physically exhausted, are still on the most “Wow, GOD!!!” moment of your lives!  God has just rescued every single one of you – MILLIONS

Hmm…  Sounds like quite a tale, doesn’t it?  But may I ask a simple question:  Are you – you (who are feeling royally “stuck”, who feel like God has given you an impossible hand to play) – are you willing to let God “show off”?  Will you let Him effect such a change in your life, in your situation, that it is frankly impossible for anyone who sees, who hears, or who knows about it to doubt that these things have been done by anyone but by GOD?  Will you, in your moment of splashing-out joy at God’s work, sing, dance, and laugh aloud after all of the darkness, death, and despair of your life, letting everyone know that God is the One – the Only One — Who can change “impossible-looking” situations in an instant?  That though you have not understood what He was, and is, “up to”, you can still TRUST Him? 

We’ve taken a few pages from “The Ultimate Book-of-Change”.  Maybe I did not mention the exact situation that you, a family member, or a friend is facing.  Yet God has been speaking to you, even in these familiar stories, reminding you gently that He is “at work in your life” – even right now, during this tough time – “both to will, and to do of His good pleasure…” (Phil. 2:13)

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God!  We’re in awe at the way You can change things in just a matter of seconds,  turning darkness to light, sorrow to joy, despair to hope, and do a midnight rescue for an entire nation of millions– even though the ones in the middle of each situation were so not expecting anything unusual!  THANK You that You “specialize” in bringing about “change” in each of our lives – and that You are working out Your plan, weaving Your glorious gold threads of promise and hopefulness across the black velvet tapestries of each of our lives. 

We ask for Your comfort and hope for each person reading this who is grieving, whose heart is broken, and whose hope seems shattered to smithereens.  Would You rescue those taken captive by the enemy, would You bring Your supernatural healing to the broken-hearted, and would You demonstrate Your power to transform even the most “impossible”-looking situation?  Thank You, God, that we can count on You, and that there is not even the slightest “shifting shadow” of doubt as to Who You are, and What You can do!  Thank You that You never change!  We love that about You, and thank You for Your Word and its “live promises” for each of us, and for the men and women who through faith believed Your promises, helping us to know You better by their examples of trusting You for the “impossible”.  In Jesus’ Name we pray, and with great anticipation at the “changes” yet to come…