Unfinished yet Complete

13_19_4_web“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” 1 John 3:2.

There is something in us that longs for completeness. Donald Grey Barnhouse tells this story: “The children of the great composer, Bach, found that the easiest method of awakening their father was to play a few lines of music and leave off the last note. The musician would arise immediately and go to the piano to strike the final chord.”[1] For many years, a house in a near-by neighborhood stood framed, but incomplete because the owners did not have funds to finish the building. I have many craft projects started but shoved aside and unfinished. We have all started painting projects at home or gardening projects in the yard, a craft project, a book we want to read (or write, as I look in the mirror) and stopped before the task was done. We run out of time or funds or energy or motivation. We lose interest and give up. I am so thankful that God is not like me, He has never started anything He did not bring to completion.

Consider creation. God planned each day the project He would start, and at the end of every day the Scripture tells us God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). At the end of creation week, after the earth and the heavens, the sun, moon and stars, plants and animals and human beings were made and all things were set in order, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (1:31). He set out with a purpose, to create the universe and all that would inhabit it, and He worked until everything was done. Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose and the power to fulfill everything He puts His hand to. He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

The question then is, “What is His plan for our lives?” I don’t mean the details of where we live, who we marry, what job we take or how we serve Him, although they are encompassed in God’s full purpose. But Paul tells us that God’s perfect plan is to “conform us to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). His whole “project” is to make us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. To make us walk like Jesus and talk like Jesus and live like Jesus and love like Jesus. This work is done through the Holy Spirit that lives in the believer as, day-by-day, God chips away at our selves to reveal more and more of Christ is us.   It is not easy nor painless. It is not a quick process or a one-and-done. It is a life-long daily transformation, that will involve struggle and heartache and we will often become weary and restless – unless we remember God’s purpose.

I look at my own life sometimes, all my starts and stops of Christian growth, all the vows I made to change my life for good (only to have to make the same vow again the next day and the next) and wonder if God has given up on me. Has He finally decided that I am just more trouble than I’m worth? Has He become frustrated with me (as I do with myself) and moved on to someone who is more capable, more intelligent or more “spiritual” than me? Is He just going to leave me here in this unfinished state?

The Bible assures us that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). God never takes on a project without knowing the full cost, the time and effort involved, and – most importantly – a vision of the end result. You see, when God picks up his brush and approaches the canvas of our lives He sees a completed portrait and every stroke of light and dark that He applies is done with the image of His Son in mind. Our perspective is vastly limited, but His is perfection. God knows “the end from the beginning” and He has declared “My purpose will stand. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned that will I do” (Isaiah 45:10, 11).

I remember a song I taught to the children at church once that I think is just as appropriate for adults.

He’s still working on me

To make me what I need to be

It took him just a week to make the moon and stars

The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars

How loving and patient He must be

‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me[2]

If you are frustrated because you just can’t seem to “get it right,” don’t give up on yourself. God hasn’t.

Holy Father, I am so thankful that You never give up on anything You start. You started working in me the moment You saved me, and You won’t quit until all You see in me is Jesus. I am Yours to mold and fashion according to Your perfect design. Amen.

 

[1] Donald Grey Barnhouse, quoted by David Jeremiah, Agents of the Apocalypse: A Riveting Look at the Key Players of the End Times, (San Diego, Turning Point, 2014), 86.

[2] Joel Hemphill, He’s Still Working on Me, 1980, Hemphill Music Company/BMI

A Light in the Darkness

LightInDarknessGod is light; in Him there is not darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

It is only a brief memory, when the sky went black as night in the middle of the day. I was in school when the intercom in the classroom crackled to life and the principal’s calm but strained voice came through. Everyone was to immediately get into the interior hallways and sit against the wall with our heads tucked between our knees, arms covering the back of our necks. This was no drill – this was the real thing. As we trooped out of our classroom we saw through the windows – nothing. Blackness wrapped around our school as if someone had thrown a heavy blanket over the whole building. Several of us began to cry as our teacher tried her best to put on a brave face. We knew something very bad was happening – it wasn’t supposed to be dark in the middle of the day. Several tornadoes were reported in the area that day. Eventually the weather passed and we were relieved to see light coming in through the windows again. We even spotted a rainbow in the rain-washed sky.

What a blessing when light replaces darkness – in the sky and in our lives.

The name of God that reflects His character and His first act of creation is Yahweh Ori – the Lord my Light. Genesis tells us that “in the beginning . . . the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Gen. 1:1, 2). The first thing God did was “turn on the lights.” Genesis 1:3 tells us “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Interestingly, this was not the day God created the sun, moon and stars – that occurred on the fourth day of creation. No this light was called forth “from a fixed source outside the earth,”[1] The light came from God Himself.

What is light? Light can only be described as a contrast to darkness. In both Genesis 1:4 and 1:18, when God created the sun, moon and stars, the Bible says the light was created “to separate the light from the darkness.” They are two polar opposites – darkness is nothing but the absence of light. There was nothing, utter darkness – then God emanated light from Himself and that light dispelled the darkness.

Darkness happens every day when the sun sets; it happens when the skies turn black with a storm’s fury. Darkness happens in the world when evil and wickedness rule over men. That is why God sent “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 19) – His Son Jesus Christ. The hearts of men are darkened by sin, so Jesus came as “the Light of the world’ and He promised that “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The light that Jesus offers is a powerful light that nothing can extinguish. John 1:5 declares “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus quoted Isaiah 9:2 when He said of Himself “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Consider this – when Jesus died on the cross, Luke 23:44 tells us that “darkness came over the whole land.” For several hours the darkness was like that blanket that seemed to wrap around my school – total blackness – the evidence of the death of the Light of the World. But on resurrection morning, Jesus burst forth from the grave and the Light of Life broke the grip of darkness over the hearts of men. Jesus is the Light and He brings Light to the darkness of the world.

Darkness also occurs when our hearts and minds are gripped with sadness, grief, hurt, anger, bitterness or despair. This is darkness within our spirit and Yahweh Ori brings His light to bear in our sufferings too. David said in Psalm 139 “If I make my bed in the depths . . . if I say surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day for darkness is as light to you” (vs. 8, 11-12) When your circumstances are shrouded in darkness, when grief shakes your soul to the core, when defeat and discouragement threaten to snuff out the last rays of light in your life, you can be assured that God stands ready to bring His Light to your heart. His light encourages and strengthens us to take the next step, to get up the next morning, to draw the next breath. David also said “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Ps 18:28).

Jesus also tells us that when His Light shines in our lives, we become “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). We are bearers of His light and we have the power to shatter the darkness in the world around us. We live in His light and our lives shine that others may see. When we walk in the light of Christ we are “children of the light and children of the day” and we “shine like stars in the universe” (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Philippians 2:15). That is the kind of influence I want to have – to bring the light of love and truth into the darkness of sin and suffering.

As the creation account in Genesis shows us that God brought light into the darkness of the universe, Revelation tells us that there will be no source of light other than God and Jesus in heaven. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23). There will be no darkness, because the eternal light of the Lord will be always shining. Where there is Light, no darkness is found.

Perhaps today it is dark in your world, there may be gathering storm clouds that no one else sees but you. Maybe you have given darkness a foothold in your life through a sin that has you hiding from the light. You might be experiencing the darkness of sorrow or disappointment or hurt. Whatever the cause, know that when you invite in the Light of the World the darkness is overcome by the brightness of God’s love and goodness.

In the dark of night, in the dark night of the soul, in the darkness of evil in this world Yahweh Ori – The Lord my Light shatters darkness and illumines every shadowy corner.

Yahweh Ori – You are my Light and my salvation (Ps 27:1), You gave me eternal light when You saved me and You give me light in the dark times in my life. With You as the Light of my life I will never be overcome by the darkness.   Amen.

 

[1] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis, (Salem, Sheffield, 1975), 49.

Names of God Series: Yahweh Rohi – The Lord My Shepherd

shepherd-and-lamb-pic2“God has been my Shepherd all my life to this day” Genesis 48:15.

I remember a painting I saw in a church, a depiction of the Shepherd Psalm – “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want” Psalm 23:1. The scene was a rocky mountain-side and a little lamb was precariously tangled in a bush growing out of the side of the cliff.  A shepherd stood over him, reaching out to bring him back to safety.  What has stayed with me ever since I saw it was the expression on the face of the lamb  – it was a look of utter trust and confidence in the shepherd with not a trace of fear.  It was a look that said, “I’m glad you’re here. I know you will save me.”  This is the image of God that I love the most: Yahweh Rohi – The Lord my Shepherd.[1]

In describing the Lord as a Shepherd, David wrote out of his own experience because he had spent his early years caring for sheep.  Sheep are completely dependent on the shepherd for guidance, protection, and provision.  The welfare of the sheep depends solely on the care they get from their shepherd.  The better the shepherd, the healthier and happier the sheep.  When you see weak, sickly, or pest-infested sheep, you can be sure that their shepherd does not really care for or about them.

The shepherd guides the sheep by leading them to the good pasture.  The 23rd Psalm reveals God as our guiding Shepherd, and us as sheep who follow Him.  How does He guide us?  By His Word as we study the Bible every day, by His Spirit as we listen to Him speak to our hearts, and most importantly, by His example in Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ life on earth is our example of trust and obedience, the two most important attributes for a sheep. He always obeyed His Father in everything and because He trusted Him, Jesus’ life was marked by peace even in the face of the cross.   When we allow God to guide us, we have peace and contentment.  Our Shepherd knows where to find the green pastures that nourish us and the quiet waters that restore us.

The shepherd is also the protector of his flock.  Sheep are easy prey for predators.  They have no natural defensive abilities and are easily panicked.   The put their head to the ground and graze, never bothering to look up to see where they are or what is around them.  Sheep have been known to graze right off the edge of a cliff.  A sheep who strays from the protection of the shepherd is completely vulnerable.  The good shepherd knows where the sheep are at all times, calling them back to safety, and searching diligently for them when they stray too far.  The shepherd fights for his sheep – a hungry wolf is bold enough to attack the flock even with the shepherd nearby.  The shepherd must defend his sheep from these attacks even at the risk of his own life.   Jesus said “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  And He did – He gave His life for you and me, to save us from the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   The shepherd is always on duty, even at night.  In the evenings sheep were brought into a simple enclosure for the night, it might be stone or mud-packed walls if they were close to home, or just branches twisted and bound together in the open.  In order to keep them safe, the shepherd would sleep with his body across the opening of the sheep pen to keep his flock in and predators out.  This is what Jesus was describing when He said, “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7). He protects His sheep day and night.

The good shepherd also made sure his sheep were well-fed.  Sheep were completely dependent on the shepherd to provide good pastures in which to graze.  The shepherd constantly scouted out the best pastures and would lead his sheep to good land.  Because sheep eat continually, the shepherd always had to be prepared with the next pasture in mind.  Sheep couldn’t wander long looking for food – it needed to be available to them every day.  As the Good Shepherd Jesus meets the needs of His flock, both for physical food and for spiritual nourishment.  He fed multitudes of people in his earthly ministry, surely we can trust Him to provide for us as well.  He provides Himself as nourishment for our souls through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  As we partake of His Blood and Body, our souls are being fed and nurtured.  Jesus is our provider for body, soul and spirit.

The good shepherd has a special, tender relationship with his sheep.  He knows them by name and he talks with them so that they know his voice.  He laughs at their antics and comforts them when they are hurt.  Many a shepherd sings his sheep to sleep at night.  Theirs is an intimate relationship, like a father caring for his children.  Jesus, as the Good Shepherd knows each of us by name and He talks with us so we can learn to recognize His voice – if we’ll listen.   He draws us close just to be with us; He comforts us when we are hurting, binds up our wounds and applies His healing grace.  Not only that but He “will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Imagine that – drawn up in His embrace as His voice floats down on you with songs of delight.

No wonder the image of the shepherd is one of God’s favorite ways of expressing His care and love for us.  It captures the beautiful relationship of God and His people.  The Lord our Shepherd – Yahweh Rohi – will guide us to the green pastures and still waters, He will protect us and care for us with tenderness and love.  He will cover us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives; and when this life is done we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6).

Good Shepherd, how blessed I am to say “The Lord is my Shepherd – I am His little lamb.” Amen.

[1] Alternately: Yahweh/Jehovah Roi

Out of the Darkness and into Life

 

crying-eyes-wallpapers-31“I will exalt You, O Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths . . . O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me. O Lord, You brought me up from the grave; You spared me from going down into the pit” Psalm 30:1-3

Memory is a powerful thing. It can bring us delight in the thoughts of a loved one, or joy in the remembrance of a special day. It can take me back to the innocent days of childhood or allow you to recall again the arms of your daddy carrying you up to bed. Memories can also cause grief and pain to resurface, people whose absence haunts us, or situations that come rushing back from dark times we’ve tried to forget. I experience one of those painful memories in, of all things, a computer game. It was a game I played for mind-numbing hours when sleep escaped me and anxiety overwhelmed me. It was one of the deepest, darkest seasons of my life.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went in a day or so. Many times they were connected to disappointments, frustrations and hormones (every woman reading this just nodded her head).   But they didn’t prove to be debilitating so I just rode them out like waves at the beach. Until a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet with a force I’ve never felt before. There was no riding this one out. There was no jumping back to my feet. There was no shaking it off, no bootstraps to pull myself up by, this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Night after night I lay in the bed trying to sleep, racked with body aches and mental anguish. When I did manage to drift off, as soon as my body relaxed, my muscles would jerk me awake from the tension I held all day. The cycle repeated itself hour after hour, night after night. I drudged through my days in a sleep-deprived stupor.

As bad as the nights were, the days were even worse. The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me. I cannot describe in words the mental torment I experienced, but anyone who has endured that kind of hell knows exactly what I mean. While I don’t condone it, I came to understand how people suffering from severe depression might welcome the relief of death. At one point I stood in my kitchen contemplating which knife would do the job the quickest when my son came in for a drink, and I realized I couldn’t do that to him. I never thought about suicide again.

I had been writing in notebooks for years, before blogs were ever the thing to do, thinking someday there might be something to my words. But in the midst of this season, I believed I would never get my mind back, never be able to write anything that made sense, and I threw years of writings in the fireplace and watched my words curl up in the flames and turn to ashes. I couldn’t bear to be constantly reminded of what I had lost and would never get back. Besides, I reasoned, I won’t be able to take them with me into the mental institution I saw as my future.

So how is it that I am here, ten years later, writing these words to you now, pursuing my dream to study as a seminary student and finding joy in my life again? How did I go from the deepest pit to standing here with the sun shining on my face? In a word – God.  Even from the beginning, I sensed that if I had even the smallest chance of survival, it would only be if I clung to God like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. Somehow – no, not somehow, I know how – deep in my spirit I knew that God could rescue me. I knew that if I grabbed onto whatever I could of Him, I had a sliver of hope. The truth is, I wasn’t clinging to God because all along God had been holding on to me. The only solace I found was in my Bible, in the pages of the Psalms. They speak to every emotion man experiences, and they were the words I couldn’t find at three o’clock in the morning. I read the Psalms constantly, wrote them in my prayer journal, prayed them aloud and wrote my own. They were my lifeline to God. They were God’s gift to me.

And one more thing – one early morning as I was reading Psalm 19, I noticed how David called God “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (vs. 1-2). I sensed God speak to my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I said, “Who else could you be?” Again in my heart I heard “There’s so much more to me than you realize. Know me.” Those two words rang through my mind the entire day – “Know me.” I remembered a small book I had picked up several months earlier at a conference, Time Out: Planning a Personal Prayer Retreat, by Mary Kassian. It was published just for the retreat – I bought it for $5 – but it had listings of the names of God in Hebrew with scripture references. This book became my personal study manual as I poured over each of those names, looking up the Scriptures and writing each one out. I began to see God as I had never seen Him before. God was Yahweh Magen – the Lord my Shield, Yahweh Rophe – the Lord my Healer, El Emunah – the Faithful God, and the name that became most precious to me, El Hayyay – God of my life. Every name gave me renewed strength and hope and peace. In studying the names of God I felt like a parched, cracked desert suddenly graced with spring showers, drinking in liquid life.  That study continued for six years as I found more resources with more information. I began to study the original word terminologies in the Hebrew, a passion that has carried over in my studies and writing today. The God of the Bible literally saved my life. I will be sharing some of these names in a series of blog posts in the coming weeks. I pray you will find new facets of who God is and come to appreciate His multi-dimensional nature. I hope you will find a special name that becomes your personal, intimate connection to your Creator.

It was two very long years before I could sense a return to “normal” (whatever that is), and I still have bouts with depression from time-to-time. I learned later that I was experiencing a serious chemical imbalance that triggered the depressive episode. Medication is part of my self-care routine, but I always turn back to the Psalms and my studies of God’s names when I feel myself heading down into the pit again. I’ve learned through study and by experience that whatever I need – whether a Rescuer, Helper, Redeemer, Rock, Shield, Defender, Healer, or Comforter, God is always and forever El Shaddai – the Almighty Sufficient God. He is whatever I need.

El Hayyay – You are the God of my life, You saved me from my sins and you saved me from despair. You are Yahweh Shalom – the God of Peace, for only You could bring peace to my misery and pain. You will forever be Eli Maelekhi – God my King, and I will forever serve You. Amen.

Christians vs. America?

bible-american-flag“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.

There is a war raging against Christians throughout the world, as it has been for more than two thousand years. From the moment of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, Christians have been in the bulls-eye of unbelieving sharpshooters. The history of the church flows with the blood of the martyrs of the faith. From Stephen and James, the first to die because of the name of Jesus to today’s faithful believers around the world, being a Christian is at the very least “unpopular” and at its worst, deadly. The writer of Hebrews outlined some of the persecution that believers in Christ endured in the first century: torture, jeers, flogging, chains and prison, stoning, dismemberment, and destitution (Hebrews 11:35-37). The techniques may have changed, but the end result is the same. Terrorism and oppressive atheistic world leaders have murdered thousands of believers around the world. Christians can expect oppression, persecution and trouble in this world.

There is a war against Christians in America – though some would deny it. It is far more subtle than the battles that are being faced by believers in the Middle East, but it is there nonetheless. In the United States it is not persecution by terrorists, but by the legal system that is being swayed by society.   Christians are facing legal repercussions for taking a moral stand. And though recent events seem to have taken the church by surprise, the crumbling of morality in America began long before. Here are just two of many reasons.

The Scopes Trial in 1925 served as the hinge on which the United States began to turn from being a godly nation to a secular nation.   The trial centered on a law passed in Tennessee forbidding the teaching of any theory that denies the biblical account of creation – of course the theory in question was evolution. Scopes was the teacher who dared (upon the urging of the ACLU) to teach Darwin’s theory. Scopes was found guilty, but from that pivotal case, many of the moral standards of this country began to fall like dominoes.

Take the issue of school prayer. “School Prayer was removed from the U.S. public education system by slowly changing the meaning of the First Amendment through a number of court cases over several decades.” First in 1962 in the case of Engel v. Vitale, then in the 1963 case of Murray v. Curlett brought by militant left wing atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. This case was heard around the same time as Abington Township School District v. Schempp. It is interesting to note that in the Murry v. Curlett caseNot a single Christian organization filed a brief in support of school prayer. The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of abolishing school prayer and Bible reading in the public schools.” In the Abington Township School District v. Schempp “the court’s ruling stated that School Prayer and Bible reading were violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”[1]

By the way, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of” was written for 2 purposes: to prevent the establishment of a government sanctioned church (as England had done) and to ensure the right of every American to freely hold to whatever religious beliefs they chose and to freely practice those beliefs.   The first portion provides for the “separation of church and state” – not to demand that religion be stricken from all areas of government and public life, but to prevent the state’s restriction and control of religious practice.

In the ensuing years, America has taken its moral cues from a culture and society largely dominated by non-Christians and deeply influenced by the entertainment and finance industries. Challenges to every moral stance have been mounted and have sent traditional moral values crumbling to the ground. Many churches, in an effort to not lose footing in the modern culture began to turn away from solid biblical teaching and turn to immoral tolerance of every sort.

In recent years challenges have been brought on two fronts; the approval and legalizing of immorality and the criminalizing of moral conviction.   Business are being forced to close because their owners refused to offer services for certain activities that compromise their moral convictions. Laws are literally being passed to punish business owners who place their moral values ahead of profit-making.

So what are Christians to do? How do we fight in such an unfair battle? Does this spell the end of Christianity in America? Before we push the panic button, let’s see what God’s Word has to say.

We are not the first generation to face legal and political oppression for our faith. One excellent example is Daniel, a Hebrew brought by captivity to Babylon when he was only a teenager. If you know any of the Bible stories, you probably know the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den – but there is so much more to the story than we learned in Sunday School. Daniel was put in the Lion’s Den for disobeying a law of the land, a law that was intended to trap him. The full story is in Daniel 6. Daniel is a well-respected, high-ranking government official in what was then Median controlled Babylon, he is a man of integrity which is a direct result of his devotion to his Hebrew faith. Some of the other officials are very jealous and want to get rid of Daniel, but can find no fault in his work or character. However, they think if they put Daniel in a position of having to choose between his faith and his life, he will either abandon the one or lose the other. So they coerce the foolish King Darius to pass a law that if anyone prays to any god or man other than himself, they will be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel knows the law and the consequences, but he continues to follow his habit of praying to God three times a day. He was thrown into the lion’s den, but, as you probably know, survived the night unscathed. Daniel placed the commands of God ahead of the law of the king, and God protected him. A similar scenario plays out for Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow down before Nebuchadnezzar’s image and were thrown into a fiery furnace, where Jesus came to protect them and bring them through with “no smell of fire on them” (Dan. 3:27). The whole account is in Daniel 3.

The Apostles of Jesus Christ are perfect models for us as well. Peter and John were arrested and jailed by the Jewish religious leaders for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ. They were commanded not to speak in Jesus’ name any longer, by they answered by saying, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (Acts 4:19). Arrested again they replied “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). They were beaten for their “crimes” and rejoiced in sharing in Christ’s suffering.’

In these examples we see men of God standing strong in their convictions regardless of the mandates of the law. Don’t misunderstand me, we are told in the Bible to obey the law of our nation – however when the law is evil, God’s people must stand up against it. Daniel, his friends, Peter and John and the Apostles didn’t launch huge protests, circulate petitions or gather a legal team to defend them. They simply went about the business of being faithful to God. They obeyed the law until the law directed them to disobey God.   They knew that obeying God has far greater and more lasting benefits than eschewing God’s moral laws for man’s laws.

Again, I reiterate, I’m not advocating a Christian revolution against the government – but I am suggesting that when God’s people are confronted with laws that counter the Word of God, they are first subjects of Christ before they are subjects of a nation or ruler.

Is Christianity dying? Is the Christian church going to survive? Christianity is by no means dying and the church will survive because her Head is Jesus Christ, the ultimate and eternal Victor. But the church and her children will take some difficult blows. God protected Daniel and his friends, but the first generation of believers suffered great persecution and the centuries that followed were not kind to Christians for the most part. Jesus warned His followers that the world would hate those who love Him, He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). But He also said “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). When we become Christians, and live like Christians, we become offensive to the world, for no other reason than our identification with Christ.

So how do we fight the culture in which we live? By simply being faithful to God, walking in His Truth, refusing to compromise our faith and our message, and trusting Him to stand in our defense or stand to receive us into heaven.

Lord Jesus, You understand how deeply the world hates Your people, we offend them just because we are yours. Lord, help us to stop fighting and to simply live faithful lives trusting you with the outcome. You are our Victor, the Head of Your church, and You rule and reign over the affairs of man. May we be found faithful. Amen.

[1] “School Prayer” from All About History, http://www.allabouthistory.org/school-prayer.htm, (Accessed May 14, 2015)

A Mom Like Me

mother-and-child_1681173c“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him” (1 Samuel 1:27).

I think it’s very important to see the men and women of the Bible and the greats of the Christian faith as real flesh-and-blood people, not just bigger-than-life heroes. They endured many of the same difficulties we do in the 21st century and they have much to teach us from their lives so long ago. Human nature hasn’t changed and the human struggle will continue until Jesus comes back to set everything right. Through their stories we learn to stand strong against our enemies when all we have is a slingshot and a few stones. We learn to resist temptation when it beckons us day-after-day like Potiphar’s wife. We learn to trust God through the story of Abraham, and we can draw strength to endure persecution from the great martyrs of the faith.

I’ve found a real connection in some of the mothers in the Bible and in Christian history. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share my Mother-Heroines with you. Maybe you will find a connection of your own with them.

I’ve long had a special place in my heart for Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah’s story is found in 1 Samuel 1-2; she endured many years of barrenness – what I called infertility for seven years. Hannah prayed fervently for a child – and God granted her prayer and she gave birth to Samuel, who became a great leader of the Israelite nation. I, too prayed for many years for a child and God granted my desire as well. Hannah and I kept praying until God said yes – we both had sons after many years of waiting. Our key verse is her words to the priest Eli, when she and her husband presented baby Samuel at the Temple.

Bathsheba is an example to me of a mom who sinned greatly, yet God forgave her, blessed her and used her in His plan. Her story is told in 2 Samuel 11-12. Bathsheba was another’s man’s wife when King David initiated an affair with her, then murdered her husband to cover up his sin when she discovered she was pregnant. Though her child died, God forgave her and blessed Bathsheba with another son, Solomon, who followed his father on the throne of Israel and ruled with godly wisdom. I am a mom who messed up more than once, and, just as God forgave Bathsheba and redeemed her life, He has done the same for me.

There is a mom and grandmother I truly aspire to be like: Eunice and Lois, whose godly lives and teaching shaped young Timothy, who became the Apostle Paul’s “right-hand man” in ministry. Paul said of them: “I have been reminded of your [Timothy’s] sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). What a legacy! That’s the kind of mom I want to be, one who models a “sincere faith” that influences my child and someday, my grandchildren.

At this stage in my “parenting career” I most identify with a mother named Monica who lived in a.d. 300-400. Monica was a woman who loved God passionately and also loved her son deeply. Monica’s son was a young man with a – shall we say – “zest” for all the world had to offer. He pursued his own pleasures and made choices that broke his mother’s heart. He loved his mother, but he was determined to live his life on his terms. Monica prayed fervently and faithfully for her son. She wept and pleaded with God to bring her son out of the world and into His Kingdom. She sacrificed for her son and endured his misbehavior and the consequences that followed him around everywhere he went.   Her son later wrote these words about her, “I cannot adequately tell of the love she had for me, or how she continued to travail for me in the spirit with far more anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.”[1] Monica sought the help of a bishop to pray for and counsel with her son and try to lead him to Christ. He did, though her son refused his counsel, but his mother continued to cry and plead with him to keep trying. “Finally the bishop, a little vexed at her persistence, exclaimed, ‘Go your way; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.’”[2] Monica and God won the battle for her son’s soul and he came to salvation at the age of 32. Perhaps you’ve heard of him – Saint Augustine of Hippo – one of the greatest fathers of the Christian faith.

I love my son with all my heart, I pray continually for him to have an encounter with Jesus Christ that will change the course of his life and bring him into a deep and passionate relationship with the Lord. I have no doubt “pestered” God so that if He were a human, He would have lost patience with me long ago. But I am taking my cues from Monica and I will not let up – God knows my heart, He hears my prayers and He will turn my child from the world to the light of Christ. He loves my son more than I ever will, it is His desire as well as mine to bring him into the joy and light of his Kingdom.

Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is also the most rewarding and most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. My son is not “the perfect kid” – he’s way too much like his mother, but he is worth every prayer and every tear. Maybe this Mother’s Day the sun dawns on a broken heart, a longing unfulfilled, an unimaginable loss, a strained relationship, or a struggling child. If you are a mom like me – I want to encourage you to take a look at the mothers of the Bible and the Church. The one common denominator in every one of their stories is a mother on her knees for her child. Come join me in the Mother’s prayer room – we’re all in this together and best of all – God is in it with us too.

Dear Father, I think the heart of a mother comes closest to Your own heart than any other on earth. I pray for my son to know You and to love You with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. I pray for my fellow moms – give us endurance to stay on our knees and let us rejoice together when our children say “I belong to the Lord” (Isaiah 44:5). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine, Edited by Tom Gill. (Alachua, Bridge-Logos,2003),117.

[2] Augustine, 72.

Finding My Way Back

“In their distress they turned to the Lord and sought Him and He was found by them” 2 Chronicles 15:4.

Wrong wayI am notorious for getting lost on the road. Well, the truth is, I can get lost in the mall too and I’ve wandered the halls of many of hospital in bewilderment. So, I’m not very good at finding my way around. I was so thankful when my husband got me a GPS. Even if I don’t exactly know where I’m at, I just tell it where I want to go and my little friend sets a route right from where I am and leads me by the hand all the way.

I remember getting lost as I was coming home from a meeting at a church in a part of town I rarely go to. I had been to this same church when a friend drove who knew the area well and she had taken a backroad that bypassed all the heavy traffic. So I thought I would give it a try. Big mistake. I got out of the parking lot okay and onto the exit road, but from there – did she turn left or right? I decided she went left and so I did the same.   I knew there was a turn ahead, but I thought it was sooner than this. Still I kept on driving, looking for the turn and beginning to question myself. Ah, this must be it – blinker on and I turned and drove for a few blocks to find a dead end. Well that couldn’t be the right road so I turned back and kept driving. Eventually, I realized I was lost. I had no clue where I was or what to do – and now it was dark. Mind you, this was before I had a cell phone so I couldn’t call my husband who always knew his way around. Tears started falling as I drove and prayed. “God I’m scared. I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” And as I continued to drive, I followed this sense of “Turn here” and I began to see familiar things – I remember that house, I remember seeing that big oak tree and there’s the church again! Relief and thankfulness flooded my heart as the lights of the main road came into view and I knew I was safely on my way home.

Getting lost doesn’t just happen on the road – or in the mall. We can get lost spiritually too. We set off on our way and everything seems fine. Then we decide to turn left when we should have turned right. We think we know which way to go, but the truth is we’re headed in the wrong direction and we don’t even realize it. We keep getting farther and farther away from where we need to be, taking more wrong turns and going deeper into unknown territory. We hit one dead end after another, trying to turn ourselves around and get back where we belong, but nothing looks familiar, in fact it looks more and more foreboding as the light begins to wane and the night sets in around us. Darkness distorts everything, and fear begins to grip our hearts. We realize we have gone too far and have no idea how to get back to the safety of home.

At this point we have one of two choices – we can either keep going in our stubbornness and pride heading deeper and deeper into darkness, or we can cry out to God from wherever we are and He will come to us and lead us back home. Our God is the rescuer of the lost. His heart is attuned to His children as He strains His ears to hear even the faintest cry and searches us out with tenderness and love. That is the beautiful image we have as Jesus declared Himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11) – He is the one who “leaves the ninety-nine [sheep] in the open country and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). And He doesn’t stop looking until “he finds it and joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5-6). That is His mission, “The Son of Man came to seek and save [the] lost” (Luke 19:10).

Do you find yourself today far from the safety of home?

You may be a believer in Christ who has wandered away from your Shepherd and far from His good pasture. You may not be able to even see the Shepherd, but be assured, His eye has never left you. Stop where you are and call out to Him – “God, I am sorry, I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” Jesus will come to you and lead you back to safety.

Perhaps you have never placed yourself under the Shepherd’s care, but you realize that where you are is dark and lonely and foreboding. You want to be in the warmth and joy of God’s light and under the loving care of Jesus. Stop going the wrong way and tell Jesus, “I know that I am lost without You. I cannot find my way. You are the only one who can help me. I am turning to You Jesus, please come and save me.” He will seek you and find you. Luke 15: 6-7 says that He will rejoice over you and all of heaven will celebrate your coming to Jesus.

Today can be the day you go from wandering in the wilderness to the safety of home. Today can be the day you go from lost to found. Today can be a new beginning with a new life and a glorious new future. Please don’t wait another day, another moment. Come to Jesus. Come home.

Jesus, Savior, Good Shepherd, Finder of the lost and weary, we have wandered far from you and the way is hidden in darkness. We are helpless to find our way home without You. Please do what You came to do: seek us and find us and bring us safely home. Amen.

The King and I

for-a-moment-they-stood-looking-at-each-other-the-barefoot-beggar-girl-in-her-rags-and-the-king-in-his-jewelled-crown-king-cophetua-and-the-beggar-maid“Let us the approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

There have been several reports in the news lately of people scaling the fence or flying small aircraft into the restricted area of the White House in Washington D.C. sending security scrambling to apprehend the “visitor” and keep him from getting to the President of the United States. He is the most powerful person in the U.S., and one doesn’t just saunter across the White House lawn and step into the President’s kitchen for a cup of joe. Likewise the palace in London and the homes and offices of leaders around the world are equally secured.   For the everyday person with a problem, it is nearly impossible to go to the president or the king and ask for help, even if he or she is the only one who can offer aid. It seems the more powerful a person becomes, the less accessible they are to the ones who most need their help.

There is a great Old Testament account in the book of Esther that illustrates this point well. Esther was a Jewish girl living with her uncle in Susa, a province of Persia. The king of Susa had fallen in love with Esther and taken her to be his queen, but she hid her Jewish identity, as her people were not very popular in the region. In fact they were so disliked that one of the king’s aide’s decided all the Jews in Susa should be killed in a mass extermination. The king was not very bright and put his “stamp of approval” on this heinous plan. Esther’s uncle begged with her to go to the king and plead for the lives of her people. Esther’s reply is startling: Any person who approaches the king in his inner court will be put to death unless the king extends his scepter as a sign of acceptance. Even his wife.

Esther swallowed her fear and, dressed in her finest, she walked across the palace’s marble floors and stepped into the king’s line of vision as her heart hammered under her silk gown. Her life and the lives of her people hung on every breath she drew. Would it be death for Esther or would his love for his queen overrule the royal law and spare her life, and ultimately, the lives of the Jews in Susa? If you want to know how this ends, take a half-hour and read the short book of Esther. It’s an incredible story.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, not dressed in royal silk and robes, but in the torn, tattered clothes of the sinful woman I am. I come with a heavy burden, a desperate need that only the King of the universe can help me with, but I am so afraid of what His response to one such as me might be. My need is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness and I have the bruised and bloodied knees to prove it. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to today’s key verse, that is exactly what I am invited to do, and that acceptance comes because of the blood of Jesus. I see myself clothes in dirty rags, but God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from all my sin. I see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as a beloved daughter, His princess. I came across a saying by Timothy Keller that expresses this thought beautifully: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

As children of God, we approach our heavenly Father, not with hesitation and fear, but “with confidence, and boldness,” knowing we will receive the help – the “mercy and grace” – we need. Such confidence is ours not by our own merit or goodness or the list of things we have done, but only through our faith in Jesus Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). If you are in Christ, you are not only welcomed in the presence of God, but you are wanted. God delights to have you come to Him. He is never annoyed with you, never wishes you would take your woes elsewhere, and never tires of hearing from you. You will never come to him at “a bad time.” He is always ready to receive you.

Dear friend, whatever you need is today, lift your head up and step into your Father’s presence, He will not only “hold out the scepter to you,” but He will throw open His arms wide to you. Your Father will gladly receive the one He loves.

Holy Father, I come to you because You are the one I need. You receive me because I am the one You love. Thank you for answering my prayers, even if it’s only for a glass of water at 3 o’clock in the morning. Amen.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

Sam Carries Frodo

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2.

I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was much younger, but the Peter Jackson directed movies left a deep impression on me. One of my favorite scenes is in the third installment, The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have made their way to Mordor and are climbing up the side of Mount Doom to destroy the ring and free Middle Earth from Sauron’s control. Frodo is worn and weary, battered and beaten and falls nearly dead from the oppressive weight of this small ring with such evil power. His faithful friend comes to his side and tries to encourage Frodo by reminding him of how good and right life in the Shire will be when the ring is gone. But Frodo is completely spent and can no longer go on. Knowing that only his friend can destroy the ring, Samwise, with tears streaking his grimy face says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” With that he lifts Frodo across his shoulders and continues to climb the side of the mountain, carrying his friend while his friend carries his burden.

I’ve always thought that was the perfect picture of Christian friendship and beautifully fits our key verse. One of the sweetest blessings of being part of the Body of Christ is the relationships we share in the church. The best friendships I’ve ever had – and still have – were born in the church. There is a bond between brothers and sisters in Christ that is unique and special. It is the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us as believers and, like David and Jonathan “knits our souls together” (1 Samuel 18:1). I have laughed with my Christian friends and cried with them. I have studied the Word of God with fellow believers and mingled my voice with theirs in songs of praise and worship. I have shared the bread and wine of communion, then shared bread and a bowl of soup together after the service.

But the blessing of having someone help you carry your burden is the most precious of all. Like most people, my life has been a series of “ups and downs” – and some of those downs can swing pretty low. My Christian friends have come through for me time after time. There has been food when we faced illness or surgery, funds when the transmission went out on my car, notes and calls and cards of encouragement, even a roof over our heads for a season. There have been gallons of coffee and hundreds of prayers that have kept me going when, like Frodo I thought I could not take another step. I only pray I am as faithful to my precious friends as they have been to me.

Notice Paul said that helping carry one another’s burdens, “fulfills the law of Christ.” What does that mean? It is the command Jesus gave His disciples before His death on the cross when he said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In fact, He said that our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark of a believer, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And He showed His love for you and me and all of humanity by carrying our burden – our sin – all the way to Calvary. That love and devotion and caring for one another was the one of the hallmarks of the church in the first century.

There is an Old Testament story that I think also displays this idea of carrying one another’s burdens. It is found in Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped from Egypt and are making their way toward the Promised Land with two million plus people when they are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses tells Joshua to pull an army together and engage the battle, meanwhile he will stand atop the mountain and hold “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God is on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. When he dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand.   No one else could hold that staff up – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (v. 12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated. That is how the church works when it is at its best. Holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory.

Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy burden? You can come to their side and – while they bear the weight of their burden – you can bear the weight of love.

Holy Father, love means bearing one another’s burdens, even if it means carrying one another. Thank you for the many times my Christian friends have carried me through difficult times. Help me be a friend that loves like Christ loved me. Amen.

Beautiful Feet

jesus_feet2“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

On Holy Thursday I wrote about washing the feet of Jesus and I have not been able to shake that thought nor the image of Jesus’ feet since. I’ve thought of those feet carrying Him away from a quiet life in Nazareth and into a mission that would change the world for all time. I’ve envisioned His dusty feet on the streets of Jerusalem or wet from standing at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. In my mind’s eye I see Him with children gathered all around him, sitting on the grass beside His feet. I think of John the Baptist who said he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, and Mary of Bethany who anointed his feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair, later sitting at His feet to hear Him teach.

Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, and broken, sinful women, demon-possessed men, and to the grave of his dear friend Lazarus. At least seven times the gospels record people falling before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. Matthew 15:30 says that crowds of people came to Jesus, “bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them.” In every instance, Jesus responded with compassion and love. He never walked away from those who needed him.

His feet carried him to dine in fine homes and to break bread for thousands of hungry people. Countless times He walked the streets of Jerusalem to the temple that was built for his glory. His feet walked through the home of the high priest where He stood trial and through the halls of the palace of Pilate who sentenced Him to death. His feet carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body, those human feet carrying Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where the feet of Jesus are seen. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be spit in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth shaking, mountain breaking power.  And at His feet all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Have you invited Him to walk into your life?

Lord Jesus, Yours are the beautiful feet bringing good news of peace and salvation. You walked into my life and left Your footprints on my heart and I have never been the same. Amen.