DO YOU HAVE A GARDEN?

The days are getting longer and warming up a bit here in Michigan.  This is a celebration for those who like to be outside in a flower or vegetable garden.  You know who you are.  You enjoy being on your knees with your hands in the dirt.  It can be relaxing for you but for others it’s a chore.  I would venture to say that even if you enjoy gardening, it is still hard work.  My Dad loved to garden.  He had a vegetable garden every year until he was 93.  His pride and joy were his roses and his tomato plants.  Even in his old age, he would scoot around on his bottom to weed.  He knew the value of cultivating in his gardens.  The time spent preparing them for planting and then pulling weeds was so valuable to the outcome of the plant.  I think that as members of the body of Christ, we have a garden of people.  We need to take the time to cultivate our relationships.  What does that look like?

  • Giving of our time for other’s best interests.

When you have a garden, you have to put aside time to cultivate the soil, plant the seeds, pull the weeds, and water them regularly.  Without this time the plants will not grow to their potential.  I think of how Jesus gave of his time with the Samaritan Woman at the well.  Although the Jewish people didn’t go through Samaria, Jesus did on purpose.  I love how the KJV says in John 4:4, “And he must NEEDS go through Samaria.”  To give of his time for this woman was a need.  He needed to do it for her and for so many others who believed on him that day.  Do you see time spent with others as a need for their best interest?

  • Giving of our ears for the other’s best interests.

What does listening have to do with a garden?  You can’t hear the plants as they stretch and grow.  You can listen and learn about gardening and how to do it better.  My dad never missed listening to Jerry Baker on the radio to get gardening tips.  We will do better in our relationships if we listen.  If we listen to others well, we will learn more about them and how to love them well.  Conversations can only go forward if we listen.  Take Jesus’ example again with the Samaritan Woman.  He spoke to her and then he listened to everything she had to say.  He never talked over her and dismissed her words.  Jesus was after her heart. “…If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  John 4:10  Do you take the time to listen to others in order to understand their needs?

  • Giving truth for the other’s best interests.

In a garden, you need to fertilize, water, and weed in order for good growth to take place.  There was a time when my Dad gave me three of his tomato plants for my yard.  I wanted to make him proud so I was determined to care for them well.  The holes were dug, but before I put the plants in the holes, I poured in a generous amount of manure.  I was sure they would thrive on all that nourishment.  Two days later, the plants were shriveled up and brown.  I over fertilized them.  Those were the last tomato plants my Dad gave to me.  Can this happen in relationships?  Absolutely.  We can say truths that are hurtful because they are said at the wrong time.  In Romans 8:28, it tells us all things work out for good to them who love the Lord.  This is truth but is not the best truth to tell someone whose husband just died.  We must learn from Jesus on how to speak the truth at the right time and in the right way.  It needs to be helpful.  The Samaritan Woman told Jesus that the Messiah was coming.  It was at this point when Jesus gave her truth, “…I who speak to you am he.” John 4:26  This was the perfect time and she believed him and then went to call others to see the Messiah.  Do you use the truth to harm or to help others?  Do you use the truth to smother someone who is hurting?  Will you use the truth for other’s best interests?

These are only three ways we can cultivate our relationships within the body of Christ.  We can learn from Jesus and his encounter with the Samaritan Woman.  Take some time and read the account from John 4:1-45.  You will see how Jesus works at cultivating a relationship with this woman.  Remember this…we don’t have to wait for warm weather to cultivate relationships.  Every moment of every day is a great time to cultivate within the body of Christ.  What is holding you back?  Move toward someone today for their good and God’s glory.

TIME FLIES…MEMORIES

Do you remember how long the years were between 6 and 10 years of age?  I do.  I couldn’t wait to be 10.  Those four years were an eternity to me.  Then I replaced 10 years old with 16 years old.  There was always an age I couldn’t wait be and time moved so slow.  If you’re out of school, I’m sure you feel like the time goes too fast.  I think that’s when it started for me.  I was no longer waiting for things to happen.  In fact, I felt like I was barely keeping up with life.  When I was in elementary school the months before Christmas dragged by, but now I feel like next Christmas has arrived right after this Christmas. We all know that time is still the same with 60 minutes in an hour.  Time doesn’t change, but we do.  We have memories, good and bad.  These memories can be very old, but because we can remember them, it seems like yesterday!  I wonder why God made us with memories.  There are some very important reasons for memories.

  1.  God remembered.

“He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.” Psalm 105:8

God made a promise to Satan, Adam, and Eve in Genesis 3:15, as a part of the curse on Satan.  He promised a Savior who would defeat Satan.  For this to come to pass, he chose Abraham and made a covenant with him.  Abraham would become a great nation of people, too many to count.  God didn’t forget this covenant.  Jesus came to the earth to fulfill this covenant and become the Savior of the world.  God remembered.

2. God’s children are to remember his deeds.

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” Psalm 77:11

We are to remember God and all the works he has done.  God gave us this memory so that we could bring him glory.  How?  As we remember, then we are grateful to him for all he has accomplished. Also, we are to tell others about what God has done for us.  We remember so that we can share the good news of God’s work in our lives.

3. God’s children are to remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

“…This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24b, 25b

God remembered his covenant to Abraham, Moses, David, and the children of Israel.  He sent his son, Jesus, to be a man, like us and yet God.  He lived a perfect life for us and died the death that paid the payment for our sins.  Before Jesus was arrested, he had a last meal with his disciples and he instituted this remembrance of him.  We have communion together to remember Jesus and his sacrifice on our behalf.  We thank God for what was done on our behalf.  This memory helps us focus on what was done for us that we didn’t deserve. 

These are three very good reasons for memory.  God, our creator, gave us a brain that is really beyond our understanding.  We remember so many things that are trivial and not really of any importance.  There are those memories which cause us to laugh, others cause us to cry, and still others can pull us into anger in a moment.  FACEBOOK memories can be very painful when you see pictures of others pop up who are no longer a in relationship with you.  But, still, memory is a good thing given to us by God for his purposes.

I began this by talking about how fast time flies by as we age.  I think it has to do with memories.  We have life behind us which we remember as if it just happened.  The memories are vivid, real, and in the front of our mind.  An example of this is my grandson turning 20 years old.  My memory goes to myself at 20 years old standing in a courthouse being married.  It seems like yesterday.  That’s’s how time speeds up.  Where did the 20 years go from the time I saw my grandson in the hospital until now?  Yet, my mind can see me 49 years ago in a courthouse. 

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Psalm 39:4

Enjoy your memories!  Let the time fly!  As a child of God, eternity awaits us!  The memories we have in eternity will not cause pain or tears but will all be gloriously good!!

FAMILY…WHO KNEW?

Families can be messy!  Aunt Susie doesn’t speak to cousin Mary because, truth is, no one knows why.  Time goes by and they don’t know either.  There was a time when there was a funeral dinner in my basement and I had to make sure to put the two great aunts who were coming at different tables.  They didn’t speak to one another or associate with one another.  However, at dinner there were words exchanged of sarcasm and hostility between the two of them.  Keeping them at separate tables didn’t do anything to change their hearts.  How can we process this behavior in our families?  Where do we turn?  It’s important to understand how God has used the terminology of family to refer to his followers.  What does he mean? 

  1.  Christ died so that we could be united in him as sons.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5

When we trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior accepting his payment for our sins, then we are adopted by God.  He becomes our Father.

2. God becomes our Father.

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’.  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:6-7

If we have a father, then we are part of a family. Notice how God gives us what we need to be close to him, His Spirit.  This family we are a part of is the body of believers.  All who believe in Christ are related to us through Christ’s blood.

3. The family of God should want what is best for each other.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part if working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16

As part of the family of God we should strive to be a conduit to Christ to every member.  We do this by following the Word of the Lord.  If we follow it, then we put it into practice.  We are to be loving and kind to one another in order to build each other up in Christ.

God’s family can be messy!  It becomes that way when we choose to follow our own desires and not his.  There are so many verses in the Scriptures which use the words, “one another”.  These words follow an instruction to us in order that we may follow it in order to be a benefit to our brother or sister.  We are family and we need to remember that we are to grow together.  Spiritual maturity happens when we look more like Christ.  Here are a few examples of how the family of God displays unity, love, and kindness.  The results are always growth for everyone involved.

Someone is coming to church for the first time after the death of someone very close to her.  She feels alone and misses her friend.  As she is standing in the pew, she feels someone on one side of her and then there is someone on the other side of her.  She knows she is not alone as her friends are there to comfort her in her time of grief.  GROWTH!

Life is so hard in the face of on-going health issues.  The everyday things of life still need to be taken care of like meals, laundry, work, and school.  Life doesn’t pause because of the health issues.  In fact, there is so much more that is added to the plate of responsibility with doctor’s visits, pharmacy pick-ups, treatments, and rehab.  Help comes from individuals in the family of God.  There are rides, pick-ups, meals, grocery shopping, and so much more that people come along side and do.  GROWTH!

The greatest contribution we can make to our family is prayer.  There are people who say, “I guess all I can do is pray.”  That is not an accurate reflection of what prayer accomplishes.  Prayer is the best we can do because we are connecting with our Father about a member of his family.  “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:11 Paul is encouraging prayer for each other.  The result of these prayers is praise to God for his work in each situation.  Praying for others equals GROWTH!

Yes, families are messy but God can make every mess we face beneficial for ourselves and others.  We need to look to our own hearts and seek to grow to be more like our elder brother, Jesus.

JESUS TURNS

My mouth can get me in trouble.  At least I blame my mouth, but I know that I thought it before I said it.  It’s interesting that Jesus says our words come from the overflow of our hearts. (Matthew 12:34)  It’s not really my mouth that gets me in trouble, but it’s my sinful heart being revealed.  We try to hide so much in our hearts, but those things are really not hidden.  In fact, the Scriptures tell us that we don’t really know our hearts because we’re deceived by them, but God knows them. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)  What is the answer to this dilemma?  I believe that the Lord showed me an answer as I was reading the other morning.  The following passage is what I read.  Please read it through to the end.

“Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the lights and looking closely at him, said, ‘This man also was with him.’  But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ And a little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not.’ And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, ‘Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:54-62

The account of Peter denying Jesus is so sad and we may be tempted to think, “I would never do that”, or “How could he do that after living with Jesus?”, or “Shame on Peter!  I just don’t get it!”.  The truth is, we are all capable of this sin. Have you ever been in a crowd who were speaking badly about Jesus, or the church?  How did you respond?  It’s a lot easier to be quiet in these situations, isn’t it?  By our silence, we are denying Jesus and are just as guilty as Peter.  So, what really struck me was how Jesus turned and looked at Peter after his third denial.  Their eyes met.  As I read this, my mind began to make pictures of the eyes of both Jesus and Peter.  Our eyes can say a lot without us speaking a word.  What did their eyes say that day?

PETER

His eyes were full of shame.  Can you see it?  Can you feel it?  He may have had tears in his eyes and a downcast look.  Although Peter and Jesus looked at each other, Peter may have looked away quickly in shame.  We don’t know these things, but as we think about sin in our own lives, we can certainly identify with shame.  The shameful eyes are devoid of hope.  Shame has taken over and hope is a distant thought.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  He could feel the guilt and shame of denying his Savior.  If I were Peter, I would never forget that look from Jesus as the rooster crowed.

JESUS

His eyes were full of love, compassion, and sadness.  Can you see it?  Can you feel it?  Jesus always responds out of his love and compassion.  Earlier in Luke, Jesus spoke with Peter telling him about his denial.  The most important part of this exchange is, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32  Jesus had already prayed for Peter to not fail but also let him know that after repentance, he would be of great help to other believers.  Jesus’ eyes were reminding Peter of his love and his prayer for him.  Jesus has caring eyes.

Our Lord is the same today as then.  He never changes.  He knows our hearts and loves us still.  When we sin against him, he causes us to feel guilt that leads to repentance. The biggest thing I take away from this is Jesus turns, not away from us but toward us.  Sin doesn’t keep him from turning.  He always lives to intercede for us. (Romans 8:34) When my mouth (really my heart) gets me in trouble, I can be sure that Jesus turns toward me and gives me the look to drive me to repentance.  “And the Lord turned and looked…” Luke 22:61a  That’s how much he cares for his children!

UP, UP, AND AWAY!!

I had the joy of going on a vacation in the Hocking Hills of Ohio.  What beautiful scenery!  The hiking was good and not too strenuous.  I stayed in a cabin and it was clean and comfortable.  There were many deer in the area and I was greeted me in the front yard by one.  Can you picture all of this?  It is the scene of a nice quiet, peaceful, relaxing vacation.  But I guess I wanted more so I called and reserved a place on the Hocking Hills Canopy Tour.  So, at 69 years old I was outfitted with helmet, harness, and cable for zip lining.  We traveled at least 8 zip lines in the tree tops.  The longest one was over 500 feet and the rider went 35 miles an hour.  I was the rider and I was traveling that fast.  Zip lines weren’t the only things to get us from one tree to another.  There were also cable bridges which would swing back and forth.  Yikes, what was I thinking?

While on this tour, I was always thinking about placing my hands in the right position.  There were thoughts of the beauty of woods from the treetops as well.  The tour guides told us to look around while traveling on the zip line but I kept my eyes ahead to see the landing place.  Landing was important to me.  I didn’t really look until I felt safe on the platform.  The tour guide made sure to catch me if I was going too fast to land.  It brought me joy to see his smiling face at the end of the line each and every time.  Would I do this again?  Probably.  Why?  I don’t know. 

Life, for the follower of Christ, is like traveling the zip line.  There are many things to see along the way but the finish line is the important focus.  In fact, we read in the Scriptures about where our focus should be.

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:2

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Our lives are to be lived now with eternity in view.  We need to keep our eyes on the finish line.  Jesus has already zipped through this life on our behalf. I think of my tour guide who zipped before us.  He made sure to be ready to catch us as we came to the end of the line.  He got there first, which showed that it was possible and safe.  That’s what Jesus has done.  He has gone before us in this life and lived it perfectly because we aren’t able to.  He is now interceding on our behalf to the Father.  We can keep our eyes on him and trust him because he knows the line we will be zipping on in this life.  Our eyes, at all times, need to be on our guide and the eternity waiting for us.

I’m also reminded of the tour guide who stayed behind to help us step off the platform.  He made sure we were securely fastened and then waited for the one who had gone before to let him know it was safe for us.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ are represented by him.  We are to encourage one another by making sure we have what we need to live life reflecting God.  Is there someone who needs to be harnessed to the Word of God?  We can help her to see her need by pointing her to the Word.  Our lovingkindness in helping others take hard steps in life will go a long way.  Life is hard and we need others to help us who have their eyes on Jesus.

Those swinging bridges were harder for me to cross than the zip line.  I didn’t like the swinging and I was tempted to keep looking down as I crossed.  It was actually better for me when I put my eyes up and looked at the destination.  Satan loves when we keep our eyes on the circumstances in our lives.  As we focus on the situation, we can lose sight of the finish line.  We need to look up and see Jesus, who has suffered for us.  He’s at the finish line waiting for us.  The temptation to look to the right, left, or down is one we have to fight as we seek to keep our eyes looking up to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Was zip lining on my bucket list?  Not really, because I don’t have a bucket list.  I do have a finish line and only God knows when I’ll cross it.  What I do know for sure is, that when I cross that finish line, my Savior will catch me and usher me into eternity with him.  Let’s encourage one another to keep our eyes on him as we live the life he has given us! 

WHAT’S IN A NAME? I AM! – PART 2

Two words we use very often are “I am.”  These words are usually followed by other words describing our role in life or our position in our job or our family heritage.  We say these things so that others will understand us better as they get to know more about us.  There is an identification we make with our roles, jobs, or family when we add the words, “I am.”  Sometimes we just say our name, “I am Laurie Denise” by way of introduction.  Our name doesn’t really say too much about our character, which is one of the reasons we follow up the introduction with the other “I am” mentioned above.  There is one who says, “I AM” is his name, his character, and all that he is.  This one is God!

Our God is I AM which means he’s the self-existent one!  He is the Great I AM!  He is singular, existing without anyone or anything else.  He lives; He remains; He continues.  He came to Moses and introduced himself as I AM WHO I AM!  God told Moses to go to the children of Israel and to tell them, “I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14b) God gave himself this name.  There will never be a time when he will need someone or something other than himself to exist.  His name is forever. 

“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”  Isaiah 42:8

The word LORD is used as Yahweh, I AM, or the self-existent one.  His glory is for him alone, not us.  He is to receive all the glory, praise, and adoration we can give to him.  There is no carved idol or idol of our heart that even comes close to being self-existent!   All idols will fail but I AM will never fail, never change, and will fulfill all his promises and purposes.  He is all sufficient for his children.

What about Jesus?  He is God and his name is also I AM.  John records a couple of times when Jesus says his name as I AM.  The first is found in John 8:48-58.  The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of having a demon.  He spoke to them concerning those who keep his work, never seeing death.  They were very upset by this and began to speak of their father, Abraham.  Jesus ends this exchange with the following,

            “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was I AM!”  John 8:58

Jesus honors the Father and seeks God’s glory, not his own.  He keeps the Word of God and loves others well.  He is not about himself but about others.  Jesus declares that he is I AM, the self-existent one!  He is the all sufficient Savior.

The second instance John records Jesus declaring to be I AM is in John 18:1-11.  This is the account of the arrest of Jesus in the garden.  He asked whom they were seeking and they said Jesus of Nazareth.  He answered, “I am he.” (John 18:5b)  John then gives us more information in the following verse,

“When Jesus said to them, I AM he, they drew back and fell to the ground.” John 18:6

When those who were going to arrest Jesus had come face to face with who he really was, KA-BOOM, they fell down.  This is awe and reverence for who Jesus really is.  This brings about humility in those who realize the truth which leads to a recognition of sin in the presence of the Great I AM!  We, too, need to be in awe and reverence of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  He is all sufficient for every area of our lives.

God doesn’t need to follow his I AM with anything because he’s everything.  We need to fall back and recognize who he really is and the benefits of knowing him as his child. 

Let’s marvel together how the Great I AM chose to humble himself by becoming a man who died a gruesome death alone for us.  There is none GREATER!

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10

What’s in a name? – Part one

We were all given a name when we were born by our parents.  They searched and discussed names until they came to an agreement of what to call you.  If you’re like me, then you’ve wondered what made your parents name you what they did.  I asked my mother many years ago the reason I’m named Laurie Denise and yet she called me Denise.  Her answer was that she named me after a singer-actress from the late 40s, Denise Lor.  The reason she didn’t name me Denise Laurie is that she didn’t like the way it sounded.  Parents have opinions about names and those influence the resulting moniker for you.  When my husband and I named our children, I remember rejecting the name he liked for our daughter because I knew someone with that name.  I didn’t consider her a very nice person and didn’t want that reminder around me.  Parents have reasons for the names they choose.  The names given to Jesus throughout the scriptures have reasons as well.  In this series we will seek to understand some of the names given to Jesus and how that should affect our lives. 

There may be some of us who have suffered teasing or ridicule from others because of our name.  Sometimes the effort to make the name of the child be unique causes others to respond with finger pointing and bullying.  You have probably suffered this yourself or know of someone who has.  I remember how in my high school the last name of one particular student became the putdown for others.  The name was used as a description of not measuring up to the crowd’s opinion.  This is hard.  It hurts.  Jesus suffered for his name.  In fact, as followers of Christ we have the privilege of suffering for the name of Jesus. 

“…they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  Then they left the presence of the counsel rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Acts 5:40b-41

These verses are describing what Peter and the apostles were going through after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.  Here’s what it teaches us.

  1. The name of Jesus is cause for joy in the midst of suffering.  Reminding ourselves of Jesus’ name and who he is can bring us joy.  It doesn’t take the suffering away but the reminder of why Jesus suffered for us will bring about joy.
  2. The name of Jesus is cause to choose right even when told to do wrong.  The apostles were told by the governing body to no longer speak the name of Jesus but they didn’t obey!  They spoke the name of Jesus and called others to follow him.  Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the gospel.  This can’t be done without speaking his name. 
  3. The name of Jesus may mean we’ll have to be dishonored so that he isn’t.   The jokes, sarcasm, slander, gossip, bullying, and laughing may be things we must endure for the name of Jesus.  We know Jesus, who he is, what he’s done, and what he continues to do on our behalf.  We can persevere for his name.

“But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16

This is said to Ananias concerning Paul.  The Lord had chosen Paul to reach others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He is our example.  We learn…

  1. We are to carry the name of Jesus.  As followers of Christ, his name is our identity.  Jesus lives through each of us as we follow him and obey his command to love.  Not only is he our identity but we are called to carry his name to others.  We wear it and we share it!
  2. We will suffer for his name.  This may not be uplifting to us because no one likes to suffer, but as we’ve seen in the previous verses, it is a privilege to suffer for him.  His name deserves honor and we are not to forsake it.

“Then Paul answered, What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13

Paul had been pulled aside by those who loved him in order that they might convince him to protect himself and not go to Jerusalem.  They knew he would be arrested but Paul was willing to do what God had called him to do. He’s our example.

  1. We can’t always protect others from suffering.  We want to especially protect the vulnerable.  The idea of a child going to a remote part of the world to spread the gospel can be a hard one.  Suffering will most certainly be a part of a choice like that.  The name of Jesus is worth the suffering and our efforts to protect will be fruitless.
  2. We need to be willing to suffer for Christ and allow others to do so as well.  The willingness of Paul to go to Jerusalem when he knew prison awaited him was all about the name of Jesus.  He wanted to spread his name.  The suffering was not considered as something from which to run away.  It takes prayer and dependence on Christ to be willing to suffer for his name’s sake.

Our name is important to us but there is no name more important than Jesus.  His name means Savior, something we can never achieve.  Because he is Savior, we can suffer for his name with confidence.  One day, and maybe soon, this will happen,

“so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  Philippians 2:10

I’VE FALLEN AND I’VE GOTTEN UP!

Embarrassment is so much a part of our thinking, isn’t it?  We want others to think the best of us and certainly don’t want them to see us do something stupid!  However, there are times in our lives when we do things by accident that still cause us embarrassment.  Last night was that night for me.  I was scheduled to do the closing interview for my current intern in front of the those who attended our Summer Fun Night!  That’s no big deal to me. I’ve talked in front of many people on many occasions.  I’ve said some embarrassing things in some of those times. Actually, I didn’t even realize what I said at the time I was saying it!  There are those who do remember those times and now it causes us to laugh a great deal.  My embarrassment has become a source of fun! But then there’s last night!

I looked at the schedule of events and then looked at our emcee for the evening, it was time for me to go up to the front of the gym.  I stood up and began my first step and my foot caught on the purse strap hanging out from under my chair.  I started to fall and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  I landed all my weight on my left knee with my head in the lap of one of the ladies sitting across from me.  I sat up for a moment then moved my knee. It moved, so I got up to continue on my trek to the front.  At that moment there were people all around me wanting to know how they could help.  One particular person said to me that I fell gracefully.  I’ll take that as a compliment.  I was just relieved that I didn’t rip my pants.  The more people who came to my rescue, the more embarrassed I was.  How could I have fallen like that in a crowd of people?  People saw me!!

People see us.  We can’t get away from that fact!  They see us in many different situations and make conclusions from what they see.  I was sure many were thinking some of the following:

            “Boy, is she ever clumsy!”

            “You know she’s over 60, brittle bones!”

            “How stupid was that to put your purse under your chair!”

Our minds can run away with us when we’re embarrassed.  We begin to make scripts of what is going on in the minds of others.  Even though we don’t know what they’re thinking, we’re pretty sure we do.  Then we judge others by what we think they are thinking!  The result is embarrassment about who we are and what we did rather than thoughts of good toward others.  This is not how the Lord wants us to respond.

Accidents happen to all of us.  We fall, hit a car with our car, drop a glass, or spill our milk.  Our lives are filled with opportunities for embarrassment.  The Lord looks at us and wants to see how we handle each one.  Do we begin to think negative thoughts about others?  Do we just want to withdraw from life?  Do we get angry and allow it to spill out in to every aspect of our lives?  We have choices on how to handle it when we’re not measuring up to what we think we ought to be.  The choices are as follows:

  1.  God has not left the building.  As I fell to the floor, God was there!  He hadn’t left me alone so I would fall.  He promises that, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b In our most embarrassing moments we have to remember God.  We get so large in our thinking that we crowd out thoughts of God.  We MUST be aware that he MEANS what he says.  He is with us!
  2.  I’m not perfect.  I can say that I know I’m not perfect, but I don’t really mean it.  When I do something like fall in front of people, my mind tells me that I should have been able to walk without falling.  I’m strong and agile.  I’m healthy for my age.  I shouldn’t fall! This is not truth.  The truth is I’m older and not as steady on my feet as I used to be.  The truth is, “So we do not lose heart.   Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16 My body is wasting away which puts me closer to eternity!  I need to rejoice in the eternity to come for me because Jesus, who was perfect, lived and died in my place.
  3.  Gratitude is crucial!  When I fell, I allowed my embarrassment to miss all the people who wanted to help and ease my pain.  I said “thank you” but my embarrassment was overruling my gratitude in my mind.  We need to always be looking for what God is doing through others on our behalf.  He gives us so many people to be grateful for in our lives.  We can’t allow embarrassment to overrule gratitude.

Today I’m grateful for all those who came to my rescue.  They wanted to help me and that is so encouraging.  The body of Christ is to rub shoulders together, helping and lifting others up.  I got up but if I hadn’t been able to, there were many who would have picked me up.  I heard three times last night that I fell with grace.  I know that it was the grace of God given to me as I fell. May we each allow God’s grace to override our embarrassment as we look forward to that day of no more shame!

THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE -SUFFERING AND SATAN’S DEVICES – Part four

THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD HELPS

It always amazes me at how quickly I can forget God is with me.  When life’s winds blow in my face, I feel those more than I think of God.  Let’s face it, we are all infallible!  We are not perfect and it shows up the most in the trials of this life. Our desire for comfort, relief, and happiness seems to overrule the truth we know about God.  How do we prepare for this battle against truth when we suffer?  Our preparation takes place in everyday life.  This has been a season of strong winds for me.  This season has brought about many changes in my life and many opportunities. As we face the strong winds of disappointment, discouragement, pain, and sorrow, God sees opportunities for us to grow in him.  We can be preparing each and every day for strong winds that may come our way.  Here’s how we do it!  WE PURSUE A KNOWLEDGE OF GOD!

  1.  The Word of God is our food!

We must feed our belief. It’s easy to say “I believe”, but when the winds of the life hit us in the face, we’re empty.  The way we feed our belief is to be in God’s Word each day seeking to learn who God is.  It’s this pursuit that helps us when suffering comes.  Satan wants us to curse God and forget about his presence.  We must fight Satan with what we know to be true about God.  The problem is we won’t know these things if we are not in his Word seeking him.  Sometimes we focus on God’s Word as words for us to live by, all about us.  The truth is, the Word of God is all about him.  “…seek, and you will find…” Matthew 7:7b Jesus reminds us to seek him.  Don’t wait until life is hard, seek him now in preparation for what is to come!

2. Knowing God is HOPE!

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:21-23

This is a portion of scripture written by Jeremiah, who was struggling with rejection from his own people.  He had been through much suffering and yet, in the middle of it, he preaches to himself about God.  He could do this because he knew God’s character. Bringing to mind who God is when we are suffering can help us to have hope.  As I was sitting in the hallway of the hospital after my husband had been rushed back into the operating room to have fluid from his heart drained, I needed to preach to myself.  I was so grateful for the character of God.  The sermon I was preaching was God’s sovereignty and goodness.  He knew, and He is good!  Those two things sustained me as I sat in ignorance of what was happening.  What was worse is they forgot I was there and didn’t come and tell me anything!  This made the time seem slow and full of anticipation.  But God is good and sovereign. He wanted me to learn to wait, and rely fully on him.  Know God’s character and believe; that’s hope!

3. Knowing God is TRUTH!

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal.” 1 John 5:20

Our God is the one and only true God!  There is none like him!  When suffering comes upon us, Satan wants us to doubt our true God.  The biggest thought is that God doesn’t really care or is not involved in my life.  But God is true to his word and we know he will never “leave or forsake” his children.  When I was in the hallway alone, the truth was, I was not alone.  Did I have to remind myself of that?  Absolutely!  Knowing that God is truth and all he says is true encompasses what we have to believe.  As followers of Christ we must know the truth and be set free from the lies being thrown at us by our enemy.  I’ve thought about this since my husband’s heart attack.  It would have pleased Satan for me to throw in the towel and allow the changes in our circumstances to weigh me down.  This could have become my life as a victim of the winds of life.  I know God is truth and I can trust all he has said about himself and about me.  That’s what I hold onto each and every day.  Jesus said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32  How do we know the truth?  We eat the food of the Word daily, which is truth and will give us hope!

The winds of life may blow in our faces but we can withstand them as we pursue knowing God.  In fact, these winds may turn into a tornado or hurricane in your life but knowing God will remind you how he is greater than even that!  Our calling is to get fat on the Word of God so that we will know the hope and truth that will guide us in this life.  Pass the chapter and verse, please!

THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE -SUFFERING AND SATAN’S DEVICES – Part three

PREPARATION FOR THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE

How do we prepare for the battle we don’t know is coming?  How do we know what to expect in the midst of suffering?  What are we to do when suffering hits, and Satan tempts us to give up or be angry?  We have established in this series that God is sovereign and good.  I’ve had the opportunity to preach this to myself recently.  About three weeks ago, my husband had a major heart attack.  Once again, suffering is brought into my life as I’m teaching and writing about the subject. When it happened, it was like the phone call that changes your life in an instant.  My life was changed and everything was put on hold.  This part three had to wait for four weeks to be written, but I’m glad for it.  The whole armor of God is our preparation as we realize we have it and need to rely on the strength it provides.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10-11

  1.  Our strength comes from the Lord’s might!

We are not invincible!  We are not superhuman!  The truth is, we are frail individuals who need direction and strength from our creator.  This is not something we always agree with because, “hey, I got this!”  As I watched my husband struggling with the pain of a heart attack, I felt strong.  This was not my strength, but God’s.  I knew it was bad but I could actually feel the Lord’s presence as I called 911.  The strength of the Lord was with me at this desperate time.  Now, as I look back, I recognize it.  There were times in the days ahead when I had to remind myself of his strength in order to move forward.   We never learn to the point of completion while on this earth.  This was obvious to me in the days ahead.

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:14-15

  • Our stand is in the truth and righteousness of the gospel!

Standing, for a long period of time, can be difficult.  We begin to look for a chair in which we can sit.  We want relief for our legs and feet as they have been in one place too long.  When suffering comes, we are called to stand in the midst of it, even when it’s long and hard. This standing has a firm foundation: the gospel.  As followers of Christ we have the righteousness of Christ to help us to stand when we really want to fall down. When my husband was in the hospital, there was one night in which I spent a few hours in prayer and praise to the Lord.  It was in the middle of the night and I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to stand so I sought the Lord in prayer.  He led me to the Psalms where I spent time reading.  It was just what I needed.  God never leaves us to stand alone.  He gives us his truth and his righteousness to stand on!

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”  Ephesians 16-18a

  • Our hope is in the Word of God and God, Himself.

So many times we think like the world thinks in that we wish and hope for what we want or think is best.  When it doesn’t happen we respond in disappointment, anger, or sadness.  The truth is our hope needs to be in God himself.  To know how much we can be confident in our hope in him, we must seek to find out more about him from his word.  It was so tempting in the hospital to put my hope in the doctors or the nurses or the medicine.  So much is happening so fast with medical issues that our focus can be on those in front of us.  It was easy to forget the bigger picture.  But God reminded me to hope in him alone when there was an emergency procedure taking place on my husband’s heart.  It was a whirlwind of activity in the room but God gave me peace in himself.  I had to acknowledge him, placing all my hope and trust in his care of my husband.  He is the hope in all circumstances on which we can depend. 

As followers of Christ, we have the armor of God.  We have to utilize what we’ve been given.  We have been given all we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3) Our problem is we allow our suffering to overshadow what we’ve been given.  The suffering becomes greater than the armor of God. There is a spiritual battle we face each day.  Satan wants to use our suffering to tempt us away from the Lord.  Don’t let him do that!  Remember you have the armor and God!  Satan doesn’t have a hold on you, God does!