Monthly Archives: December 2014

Abiding

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.  John 3:36

John 3 offers such a contrast.  On one hand we see a towering majestic love for mankind that offers eternal life to those who believe.

On the other hand, we see wrath and condemnation for those who do not believe.  Men love darkness.  Their deeds are evil.

It is a scary thing to think that the wrath of God remains, literally “abides,” for those who do not believe.  It infers that the wrath of God is there to stay, and will continue to be there for all time.

And the same Greek word for remain is used in John 15:  “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”  John goes on to illustrate what remaining in Christ looks like: “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  We can be integrally connected to God, close to Him.

God offers us a chance to change our state forever, from being in the wrath, to being in His arms, enveloped in His love.

And we need this perspective.  We need this comfort.  This abiding is what will get us through when life gets hard.

In the book “Yawning at Tigers,” the author, Drew Dyck, talks about the late Romanian minister Richard Wurmbrand, who endured 14 years of torture and imprisonment under a communist regime.  He said that it wasn’t Bible verses that helped him through this time.  “When you  pass through suffering you realize that it was never meant by God that Psalm 23 should strengthen you.  It is the Lord who can strengthen you.”

Dyck also relates how Mama Maggie, an older woman who spent life giving to others in the mission field, dealt with her struggles: “In the fire you are either burned or become pure.  God’s love is fire.  It consumes or purifies.  Everyone who carries the fragrance of eternity has to experience the dark valley of death.”

We WILL suffer, and it will change us, for good or ill.  It can put us in closer contact with God.  It can refine us.  Or it can shipwreck our faith.

Note what happened after Jesus was tempted in the desert:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.  (Luke 4:14)  Jesus found spiritual strength through his trials.

In the book “Triumphs of Experience,” George Vallant notes that men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships”  earned significantly more at their workplace.  Men who had warm relationships with their mothers had a better sense of well being in life.  Those who had positive childhood memories had a lifelong source of strength.

I believe that Jesus’ relationship with God helped sustain him in his trials.  Having a warm relationship with our God, and a memory bank of all He has done for us, can sustain us as well.

We abide in Christ, and He abides in us.

Yesterday afternoon I was tired.  I ran errands and the efforts seemed empty.  I thought I would swing by the bookstore and try to pick up a copy of “One Thousand Gifts” as a belated Christmas present for my friend.  I looked all over the Christian section and couldn’t find a copy.  I left feeling more empty.

Then I remembered yesterday’s blog about redeeming the time.  It was like the Spirit energized me, and prompted me to go back in the store and ask for help locating the book.  I did, and the store clerk found one last copy sitting on the shelf!

Later, I looked at the chili I was cooking for dinner, and saw the layers of red tomatoes and chopped green peppers.  It was made with grass fed Georgia beef I’d bought at half price that very day.  It was a find!  In fact I bought several packages of the meat on sale.  I realized I had an abundance.

And then as I was with my friends, we prayed and thanked God for how blessed we all were to have such good friends to share our lives with.

God is continually blessing me.  Through trials, or even the most normal of days, I have an unending source of strength.

It is up to me to believe, draw upon the strength, hold fast, be refined.  It is up to me to abide.

In closing, here is one more verse that uses the Greek word for abide:   “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love…” I Cor 13:13

It is sobering to think that God’s wrath can remain.  It is comforting to know what is good will last even more.  Evil cannot defeat it.  The gates of Hades cannot overcome it.

In abiding, I will be carried along on the current into eternity with God and His victorious good.

 

 

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Redeeming Time

(Video of my family, joyful in the moment.)

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.  Eph 5:15-16

Redeeming the time.

This has also been translated, “make the most of every opportunity.”

Each moment contains an opportunity – an opportunity to be righteous, to serve, to believe, to love, to use our gifts.

That opportunity is lost, unless we redeem it.

But each moment also contains meaning.  Each time we slow down and thank God, we proclaim the truth: He is there!  Each seemingly empty moment is revealed to have beauty and value.

As Ann Voscamp wrote in One Thousand Gifts, “I want to slow down and taste life, give thanks, and SEE God.”

Time is redeemed.

Voscamp realized, “This day is not a sieve, losing time.  With each passing minute, each passing year, there’s this deepening awareness that I am filling, gaining time.”

Each time we redeem a moment, it is gained. It becomes solid.  It resonates into the future.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Each time we redeem a moment we steal it from Satan. We negate his lie that life is meaningless.

We declare the reality that the goodness of God all around us, and He gives to us ceaselessly, abundantly.   We receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. (Hebrews 12:28)

We maintain that even our struggles have purpose: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” II Cor 4:17

Day by day, the worldly veil fades away, and our spiritual self becomes manifest.

Redeeming the time.

Overflowing with thanksgiving. Savoring experience. Being wholly present.

Defining each moment as a parcel of God, full  with meaning and opportunity.

Taking hold of the life that is truly life.

(A serendipity — we came across this moving version of “By Our Love.”  Ken translated it into beautiful guitar chords that we all sang at house church yesterday.  So wonderful. )

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That God’s Soul is Well Pleased

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Ken and I just celebrated our 34th anniversary.  We went and saw “The Hobbit” in the new Big 3D theater.   We went and picked out together a nice pair of earrings for an anniversary gift.  We had a nice dinner out.

I couldn’t be more thankful for my husband, and his wonderful character, and the wonderful other half of me that he is.

But our marriage wasn’t always like that.  The first 15 years or so were extremely challenging.  If I just went by how things felt, I would have given up, because it didn’t feel like we were on the same sheet of music.  It didn’t feel like there was any hope for us to have a good future.  But I didn’t believe in divorce, and I persevered, and my marriage has now turned into one that is immeasurably more wonderful than I could have asked or imagined.

From that I learned that just because something feels like it going wrong, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work out.  I learned the very important principle of trust and perseverance.  I’ve used that principle often over the years.  The church seemed to fall apart.  My family seemed to fall apart.  But as I wrestled with those situations, I came back to trusting and perseverance, and things worked out in the end.

Now I’ve realized that I’ve forgotten this during the past year.  I’ve sinned by not trusting enough when things don’t FEEL right.

I was cut to the heart when I read this passage from I Cor. 10 — “God was not pleased with most of them (our ancestors); their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”

Why was God not pleased?  I Corinthians goes on to explain through admonition —

We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”

They grumbled.  In the past six months, when things didn’t go as I thought they should, when things didn’t feel right, I grumbled in my heart.  It wasn’t that some of my complaints weren’t legitimate, my sin was that I didn’t deeply TRUST that God was still working.

I was even more convicted when I read in Numbers 16 one of the situations in which the Israelites complained.  They said to Moses concerning him and Aaron,  “Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” 

They questioned the leadership.

Moses responded, “you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.

They thought they should be leading, instead of Moses and Aaron.

Now I am not saying we need to blindly follow our leaders, even if they do what is wrong.  But I am saying that we make it more about God, and less about our opinions.  We could be fighting God and what He is trying to do, just as the Israelites were.

I would hate for it to be said about me, “God was not pleased with her,” because I did not meet my challenges with a deep trust.  The Bible even goes so far to say, “If he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” Heb 10:38

By my faith, I can bring pleasure or displeasure to the very soul of God.

Let me quote something that Jack Frederick said as he defined what a disciple is, “Most of all being a disciple of Jesus is about relationship; that you know him and want to grow closer to him all your life, that you will make all your decisions based on pleasing him.”

It hits home that I need to be much more focused on pleasing God.

It’s Christmas, and we think about the little infant Jesus.  I realized that if I were in charge, I would have sent baby Jesus to a powerful, accomplished family.  They would have so much respect.  They would be able to influence others with the good news.

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It’s a good thing that God doesn’t do what I FEEL would be the best solution.  God knew that Jesus had to come as an ordinary person, to an ordinary person.  Because if he came to someone with any kind of worldly accomplishment, people would be tempted to value that.  They would see that as the ideal.  But instead Jesus came to an ordinary young girl, who would marry an ordinary working class man.  And from that day on, people have had to deal with the implications of having a humble savior.  Confronted with the circumstances of the birth of Jesus, we have to throw away our pride and esteem for worldly things.

The one thing that Mary did have was FAITH, a deep trust of what God was doing, even when it seemed like things were going wrong, even when she was pregnant out of wedlock.

The one thing that saved my marriage was faith, trusting and sticking to God.

Whatever I do in the new year, let it be in faith.  Even if it is only a single hesitant step, may it be like walking on the water, hand in hand with Christ.

Let me reflect gratitude, because gratitude is a profound expression of trust.

And may God, in His very soul, be well pleased.

“Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”  John 1:50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fear of the “Hard Man”

As I get ready to start a new year, I keep wondering if I should try and find part time work.  It would be great to use my talents to contribute towards an achievement.

But I worry about the chaos this would cause in my life.  Things wouldn’t be as neat and tidy.  I have a very civilized life where I have time for my ministry, friends and family.  The house, the bills, the errands — all is taken care of.  I can cook healthy meals.  And so on.

As Ken and I listened to the audio Bible while we were on our way to Christmas vacation, I listened to the parable of the talents in Luke.  I was really convicted by the way the servant who had been given one talent defended himself when he hid the talent and didn’t try to increase it.

I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.

He was afraid.

Fear taints our decisions about what action to take.

Whatever I decide, I can’t let fear govern my decision.  I do need to be rational, and weigh the outcomes.  But I also need to remember that God will be with me, helping me, setting me up to win!!   I need to make choices for my future based on faith.

And then I looked at the reason the one talent servant was afraid.  He thought the master was a hard man, who took things that didn’t belong to him.

He didn’t believe the master was good.

And it struck me how much we also don’t really believe that God is good.  When it comes down to it, and making a decision with our lives, we don’t believe He’s going to bless us personally — maybe someone else, but not us.  We’re scared things won’t work out.

I always got tripped up on this parable before because it sounds like the master admits he is a hard man —

He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?

But the master never agrees that these words describe him.  He just asserts that if he is a man to be feared, then at least the servant should have done something.  Instead the servant let his fears rule him.

We have to start seeing God as good, and not as the hard man.  And if our faith in this is weak, then at least our fear of God should motivate us to push ourselves to live righteously, instead of living a tame, comfortable, retreating life.

God LOVES faith. There are so many stories — David and Goliath, Jonathan and his armor bearer, Peter walking on water, the centurion.

God does NOT like it when we allow our fear to paralyze us:  but if he withdraw himself, he shall not please my soul.”  Heb 10:38

It’s not so much making the right choice with my life, as it is stepping out each day with confidence and faith, even boldness, knowing that God is good.  I can’t hoard my life.  I have been given much.  Yes, my actions may cause challenges.  I may make mistakes.  But God will be with me, helping me, and working for good.

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  I Tim 1:7

…since we have such a hope, we are very bold.  II Cor 3:12

 

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Awake on Christmas Eve

Childhood Christmas

Too excited for sleep

Watching the night sky through the window by my bed

Trying to glimpse the twinkle of sleigh lights

Every sound magnified, every moment an hour

Dozing and on and off dreaming of Christmas morning

Finally enough time passes. My brother and I sneak down and get our stockings

Tiptoeing through the shadows

Giggling, hearts beating loud, when we bump and make a noise

Bringing the stockings back to our room

Pouring them out on our bed, immeasurable riches of candy and trinkets.

 

Other Christmases visiting family

Driving through a night so dark and bright with stars it embodies Christmas

Coming to a porch light on the prairie

Loved ones spilling out the door, enveloping us with hugs

 

Nights of Christmas caroling

Arm in arm in the frozen air

Hearts bursting with togetherness

Then gathering around the piano

Singing song after song while my mother played

Eating cookies, mounds of chocolate, nuts and marshmallows, indescribably good

Never wanting the moment to stop, just one more carol.

 

Then married, still not sleeping on Christmas Eve.

Still getting a stocking

Anticipation still keeping me awake.

At the in-laws’, walking through the neighborhood in the balmy Florida night to see the lights

Santa driving around in a golf cart, bringing candy for the children

Talking late by the fire, drinking boiled custard

It’s still magical.

 

Children come

And after we put them to bed in their Christmas pajamas,

Leaving cookies for Santa

My mother and I stay up late

Assembling toys and stuffing stockings

There’s a special feeling in the air we share

 

And then she’s gone

And it’s become work

Baking, shopping, wrapping, attending parties and programs

Trying to recreate the magic for my children

Finding that it can never be made, only experienced

In blissful unexpected moments

I fall asleep on the Eve more easily now.

 

The children grow up and leave

For years, I can’t bring myself to get out the decorations

But today, I put out the little houses that were my mother-in-law’s

Hope shining from their windows as I light them

I arrange the memory laden things throughout the house

The elves wink at me as they’re frozen in play

The mantle sparkles

The figures from Rudolph look like they might come alive when we go to bed

And the child in me awakes

The magic lives on

And maybe this year on Christmas Eve

I won’t be able to sleep.

 

 

 

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The Lord is My Helper

Some of the gifts to deliver.

Some of the gifts to deliver.

Yesterday was such a crazy day.  I woke up at 5:30 and ran through the cool grey of dawn, watching pink smears of clouds illuminate  the winter sky.  I prayed as I ran, then came back and wrote a poem entitled, “Peace.”

What irony, because almost as soon as I wrote it, my peace was disrupted.  I was supposed to deliver Christmas presents to an underprivileged family in Tuskegee almost thirty minutes away, and part of the delivery was bikes.  I had switched cars with my husband so I could load the bikes in his hatchback.  Then I got busy, and forgot to move the rest of the presents from my car to his car.  He drove off to work in Columbus, 45 minutes away in the other direction.  The presents were gone.

When I realized this I felt terrible.  It stinks growing older and more forgetful!  I had carefully made an appointment with several people involved in the gift drop-off, and I hated to move the appointment.  So I decided to deliver the bikes anyway, and set up another time to get the rest of the presents there.

As I drove my husband’s beat up old rattling Hyundai Accent, I prayed to God, “How can I feel better when I mess up?”  In time, it came to me that God can make all things better.  He can take what goes wrong, and work it for good.

And that is what happened.  When I delivered the bikes, it turned out that one was too small.  I would have to take it back and get a larger one.  Another trip would need to be made anyway.  And then one of the young men in our Tuskegee ministry who was going to help me with the delivery volunteered to take the presents to the family later this week!  And then when I went to Walmart to exchange the bike, I ran into a young woman I had shared my faith with when I bought the bikes, and she gave me her phone number, and I connected her with a sister who lives near her!

Here are some Biblical examples of God working in situations that seem like things go wrong —

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people.”  Genesis 50:19-20

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”  Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  . . . He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed.”  Mark 5

Lazarus now lay sick. . . So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”  When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

1.  NO FEAR – In reading these examples, it struck me how much fear was involved when things went wrong.  That has been my battle lately, to unclench the tight fist of fear in my heart, to acknowledge it and deal with it.  I have been repeating over and over to myself the words of Ps 45, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way…”

Even in trouble, even in situations when we mess up, we do not need to fear.  God can ALWAYS help.

However, when we do make mistakes, we do need to take ownership of them.  Fear is counterproductive.  It makes us close in on ourselves, try to hide, instead of opening up and facing what we have done. We need to work it out through our relationship with God.  “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight..”  Ps 51:3-4

2. FOR GOD’S GLORY – in each of these situations, God intended to be glorified.  God works things out not just because He cares about us (which he does — he wept as Mary wept), but because that is who He is.  God is always working good amazing purposes.  This was true with story of Joseph, and how the nation of Israel would survive and be built in Egypt.  It is true with the story of Lazarus, which caused many to have faith, and allowed some of the most famous teachings of Jesus to come forth —

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die”  John 11:25-26

The raising of Lazarus was also pivotal in bringing about the persecution and death of Jesus, which in turn opened the way to his resurrection.  It furthered God’s plan

3.  GOD HEARS – Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.”  John 11:41  God is close to us, listening, caring.  We can talk to him as we would talk to someone standing next to us.  We can work it out with Him.  His hearing results in action.  (Think of Ps 18)

So yesterday was a roller coaster of things not going as expected.  At Walmart, when I returned the bike I decided to get some of my other shopping done as long as I was there, and it took my whole morning and put a crimp in my schedule.  People emailed me and added unexpected tasks to my day.  My discipling group time got cancelled.  But I also got so much done — a budget for church, scripts for Challenger films, shopping accomplished, butternut squash soup for dinner, even working out at Pure Barre and seeing Merike!  When I look back on the day, it was great, full, blessed.

As I list the things I am thankful for, I see God’s hand so clearly.  I also see that His hand will be in every day going forward.  It makes me feel strong and capable.

Let me face the day without fear, knowing God hears.  He is my HELPER always, even in my weakness and failure.  Let me go so far as to THANK HIM that He is working good!  His exciting purposes are being accomplished.

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”  Heb 13:6

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me  Ps 54:4

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Peace

Snowy path

Walking in Your grace

With assurance, all’s in place.

Bowing, on my face

Breathe the stillness, cease the chase.

Dancing to Your pace

Beauty seen makes my heart race.

Thanking for each trace

Signs of goodness fill my space.

Lifting up Your case

Seek to please You, Your embrace.

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