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.

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

HOW DO I HANDLE DREAD?

The experience of dread is one we have all tasted.  If we were to compare it to an actual taste in our mouth, it would be bitter.  What makes dread so bitter is revealed to us in the definition of the word.  Dread is “to fear greatly, be reluctant to do something, or apprehension of something in the future” (Dictionary.com). The association of fear and reluctance to do something, go somewhere, or make changes in our lives is dread.  It can be associated with anxiety as we rehearse the dread over and over in our minds. The result of these thoughts will be bitterness toward the reasons we have dread.  If we are thinking about making a job change because the company is closing, we may be bitter toward the company as we dread the change. We may become bitter against a person who we see as the instrument of the change we dread.  How can I handle these thoughts of dread?  What is causing me to fear?  What are the thoughts I keep having that fuel this dread?  Does the Scripture have anything to say about dread?  Let’s look at a couple of examples.

The Egyptians

“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.  And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.  So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field.  In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”  Exodus 1:12-14

Remember the sons of Jacob who sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery.  He ended up in Egypt and became the right-hand man of Pharaoh.  Eventually the brothers needed food and had to go to Egypt to get it.  After that, there is a family reunion when Jacob and all his household go to Egypt to live with Joseph.  God had orchestrated this in Joseph’s life in order to save many people.  The King of Egypt loved Joseph and welcomed his family.  After Joseph died, his family continued to grow in number, but a new king began to rule over Egypt.  This king didn’t know Joseph.  He had no idea about Joseph being instrumental in saving the people of Egypt during a famine.  All he could see was that the people of Israel continued to multiply, and he was afraid.  He dreaded the possible takeover by these people.  He chose to handle his dread himself.  Here’s what he did.

  1. He became ruthless with the people.
  2. He made them his slaves.
  3. He made them work at hard labor in all areas.

So what we see is that the king of Egypt dealt with his dread by becoming a mean taskmaster.  He thought he could control the Israelites this way.  However, this didn’t really relieve his dread because the people continued to multiply.  He had to change what he was doing and became more ruthless and even killed their young sons.  This is not the way to handle dread!

You may be saying but I would never enslave or murder anyone because of my fear and dread. Maybe not, but our goal is the same as Pharaoh’s, we want to control the situation.  In trying to control we’ll choose to manipulate, avoid, or fret about our circumstance.  All of these choices will lead us to bitterness when the circumstance doesn’t change.  Our way doesn’t work!

Jesus

“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”                   Luke 22:40-44

Jesus is our example of how to handle dread.  He was full of dread before the crucifixion.  He was going to become sin for us and bear all of God’s wrath against our sins.  The Father was going to turn away from him because of our sin.  These were very grievous conditions for Jesus.  He didn’t want to do it and was looking for another way.  We can learn from him as we look at what he did do.

  1. He prayed.  The Son of God, part of the Trinity, got down on his face and he prayed.  When was the last time you got down on your face and petitioned God?  There are a few times I have done this in my life and from that humble position, the Lord revealed things to me in a different light.  When Jesus prayed, it was not just a “God bless” prayer, he prayed from his heart of dread and anguish.  We need to pray earnestly and humbly.
  2. He prayed three times. Our dread needs to be something we pray about more than once.  We can’t lift it to God and then walk away.  As we bring it before God and share our emotions with him, he begins to work even through that.  God wants us to present all of our concerns to him.  If it’s still a concern, then present it again.  Talk it out with your Father who loves you as many times as you need.
  3. He yielded to God’s will. Jesus prayed concerning his dread but he always spoke of his awareness of God’s will.  He was aware of God’s will and he was desirous to do God’s will and not his own.  When we dread, our first instinct is to just change the situation, but that really isn’t the answer.  Jesus knew the answer, and that’s always God’s will.  God has a purpose for the something you are dreading.  He will see that purpose through, and we can follow kicking and screaming or yielding.  Jesus shows us yielding is the answer.
  4. He was obedient. After Jesus prayed this prayer, he was arrested.  He knew he was headed for death on the cross to redeem those who would follow him.  He walked the road to Calvary.  We must be obedient to follow Christ in the midst of our dread.  What do we need to change in order to be obedient?  Maybe just our outlook which should be trust in the Lord, rather than dread and fear.  Jesus was obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Egyptians or Jesus??  What example will we follow today?  The road Jesus took was hard and ours may be too. We know we don’t walk the road alone.  Jesus has gone before us, walks alongside of us, and protects our backs.

 

 

 

CHURCH FAMILY – PART THREE – PRESSING ON TOWARD MATURITY

Paul to the Philippian church: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Philippians 3:14-16

As the smoke clears, the battlefield comes into view.  It’s littered with shell casings, rifles, barbed wire, and dead bodies.  As we walk around this battlefield, we see two men who died together.  We know this because the one is holding the other’s head to his chest.  They fought together and died together.  These men were brothers in arms, fighting side by side for a common cause.  Their goal was not to die together but to celebrate a victory together.  It’s a sad thing to see, but it gives us a glimpse into the seriousness of war.  The other thing we see is the devotion these soldiers had for each other.  My mind now wanders to the church family and the devotion we are to have for one another. I’m reminded that we are in a battle daily against the devil’s schemes and our own evil desires.  The third verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers” addresses the church. This verse puts into perspective the devotion we are to have for one another.

Like a mighty army, moves the Church of God:

Brothers, we are treading, where the saints have trod;

We are not divided, all one Body we—

One in faith and Spirit, One eternally.

Onward, Christian soldiers!  Marching as to war,

With the cross of Jesus, going on before.

(Lyrics:  Sabine Baring-Gould  Music:  Arthur Seymour Sullivan)

As Paul writes to the Philippian church and to us, he calls us to press on together.  In thinking about the battle we are in on a daily basis, we need to come to an understanding of what exactly it means to “press on” toward the goal.  Let’s look at some synonyms of “press on.”

  1. To proceed – As followers of Christ, we are to move forward in our lives toward Christ-likeness. We can’t allow the circumstances of life to stop us from moving on toward the calling God has given us.  This means we are to continue to be faithful in obedience to God’s Word by keeping our eye on the finish line, eternity.  The church family is called to help one another to move forward in their lives.  This means we have to enter into the life of another to encourage them when it’s hard for them to “press on.”
  2. To endure – There’s probably not one person who wants to have to endure the suffering this life has to offer. However, we are called to endure in suffering.  Sometimes we think it may be better to suffer alone, but that’s not church.  We are to share in the sufferings of others by weeping with them, comforting them, and providing practical needs.  Once again, it’s about entering into someone else’s suffering.
  3. To hold on – The ups and downs of this life and the relationships that come with it are hard to face. If we are to “press on” then we have to face them by proceeding and enduring, but how?  We hold on to our God and what we know about him.  Understanding God’s promises and his character needs to be what we grab onto when life is hard.  If we don’t know where to turn, we can remind ourselves of the truth we know about God.  Church, we are to help others to remember the truth about God.  The one who is suffering may need to hold on to you as you point her to the truth.  What a wonderful thing that God gave us the church, the body of Christ, to hold on to.  Be willing to be held by someone or even to carry someone in the effort to “press on.”
  4. To stand firm – Paul reminds us that we are to stand firm in what is the truth. As we “press on” in this life, we are to stand firm in the truth knowing that the truth doesn’t falter.  An important thing we need to do is to be sure of what we believe and walk in that belief.  We can stand firm because Jesus went before us and gave an example of standing in the midst of suffering and conflict.  We can look to his life for help to stand firm.  Remember the church is also a place to look for examples of those who are standing firm in the truth.  We can learn from them by watching how they stand firm and “press on” in the midst of adversity.

Church, we are a mighty army fighting the devil’s schemes and our own evil desires.  We need to be united in the battle.  One day the battle will be over, and we will enter eternity together.  Picture this:  as we leave this life, our head will be held by Jesus close to his chest.  We won’t die alone.  Then when we enter eternity, Jesus welcomes us with open arms.

PRESS ON, DEAR CHURCH—ETERNITY IS COMING!

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation 21:3-4

 

“I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD”

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

These words were said by Jesus to his disciples to prepare them for what was to come.  He was going to be arrested and crucified.  This was going to be very difficult for them, and Jesus wanted them to know peace in spite of the difficulty.  We, too, need to know the peace Jesus brings us in the face of difficulty.  These words can be a comfort to us.  Here are a few things to meditate on to give us hope in this troubled time.

  1. Peace is in Christ – Jesus doesn’t tell us to find our peace in health, wealth, or possessions.  Notice that he says, “that in me you may have peace.”  What does it mean to have peace in Christ?  Our peace is tied into what we believe.  What do you believe about Jesus?  Do you believe that he is the Son of God who came to the earth in human form to live a perfect life for you?  Do you believe his death on the cross was the perfect payment made in your place for the sins you’ve committed against a holy God?  Do you believe God accepted this payment, and that Jesus rose from the dead?  Do you believe Jesus is who he says he is?  If so, then you are a follower of Christ and are in Christ.  There is where the peace is!  You know that this life is temporary and eternity awaits you. You can have peace knowing that the Holy Spirit walks through these difficult days with you.  The internal is at peace when the external is in chaos.
  2. Tribulation in this world – Jesus always tells the truth. He tells us that we will have trouble in this world.  Sometimes it’s trouble with a capital “T.” We all face troubles in our lives, whether it be with our families, friends, neighborhoods, health, finances, or, at this time, the whole world.  The warning Jesus gives about trouble is to prepare us to face it.  He wants us to face it by exercising peace in him.  We can’t change the mandates that are being given to us all at this time, but we can certainly follow them in peace.  Our peace comes from the fact that our God is bigger.  We don’t have to complain or argue, but we do have to trust him as we walk through it.
  3. Take heart – Jesus tells us to “take heart.” This is an interesting phrase and we need to know what it means.  The literal meaning from Strong’s Concordance is to “have courage, to be of good cheer, take comfort.” This definition certainly does shed a little light on this, doesn’t it?  We must have courage in the face of troubles.  It’s not always easy to be courageous.  When the word courage is mentioned, we think of battlefields or great rescues of people.  In our current situation with the COVID-19 virus, we can also think of courage as being willing to trust God and persevere in the trouble.  Having the courage to homeschool your children, share your food, shop for the elderly, live meagerly, and encourage, encourage, encourage others who may be struggling with some fears.  Notice that the word courage is part of the word encourage.  You are helping others to have the courage to get through this with your encouragement.
  4. Jesus has overcome the world – These words are so comforting to us, especially now. There is victory in these words!  Victory over the world system, which is against God.  Victory over all the troubles we’ll face in this world.  We can raise our hands in victory because of what Christ has completed on the cross for us.  This was victory over Satan and all he can throw at us.  More importantly, it was victory over sin.  We, as followers of Christ, are no longer ruled by our sinful nature.  We are now free to live our lives in Christ without being in bondage to sin.  We are free to rejoice in Christ and what he has accomplished for us, regardless of the restrictions of the world around us.  We are free to follow the restrictions as we think of others and trust in Christ.

As we meditate on these things, the fears of this world dissipate in the light of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  Let’s focus on him today and all he’s accomplished for us, that we may live an abundant life.

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.”  John 10:10b-11a

READ THIS!…Life with Mom

Originally posted 1-10-2017

My mom lives with frontal lobe dementia disorder.  Sometimes I wonder what she thinks about her days.  They are pretty much the same for her.  She stays in bed for longer periods of time now even into the afternoon.  When I turn her over to get her up she always begins to count the blades on the fan with awe.  She counts a lot.  What’s that about?  It’s always a little different when I seek to interact with her.  Perhaps I shouldn’t call it interacting but more like entering her lack of reality.  God, how can I better love my mom?

Yesterday was no exception.  It was an odd day for her because she was up and busy.  What I mean by that is she was wandering around opening cupboards.  She said she was looking for something but didn’t know what because she didn’t find it.  It sometimes takes me a while to decipher what she is saying.  I watched her reach into the silverware drawer and pull out a spoon.  Then she walked to the back door with it and then she took it and handed it to my dad.  While he was still looking at the spoon, she came back into the kitchen and picked up a bowl of cashews.  She took the cashews to him.  He said, “These are nuts, I don’t need a spoon”.  I wanted him to just say thank you.  She was doing her best to give him something to eat.

After a while she settled down at the kitchen table with a can of Dr. Pepper.  There was a paper towel on the table with which she was playing.  When I came into the kitchen she shoved it over to me and said, “Here read this.  You’re not going to believe it”.  I picked it up and flipped it over a couple of times and assured her that she was right I didn’t believe it.  She shook her head in a knowing fashion as if we shared some secret.  This was hard for me.  There are things that happen which cause me to cry and this was one of them.  God, how can I better love my mom?

Her life is an existence every day.  She exists because God wants her to continue to live and breathe right now.  Some people might think there’s a lesson to be learned by me but really my mom’s life is not about me but about God.  We are all here for Him.  So a better question is, “What can I learn about God as I love and care for my mom?”  This incident with the paper towel brought to mind my forgiveness.  You see when Satan accuses me, I hand him the blank paper towel and say read this!  Jesus has taken all my sins and there is nothing there.  There is nothing to read!  There is nothing to bring about accusation.  That too brings tears to my eyes, tears of gratitude for a Savior who completely and utterly forgives me.

“In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace,”  Ephesians 1:7

You see I love my mom better when I understand my God and His love for me.  I want to see Him on this road.  I want to reflect Him.  I want to honor Him as I seek to honor my mom.  That’s what I want to learn in all of this.

So the next time you feel accused, pick up a paper towel and read it.  Then thank God that it says nothing because Jesus has washed you clean.