Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution, Weakness and Power

It is that time of making resolutions once again. They come in all shapes and sizes. “I won’t eat as much; I’ll cut out sweets; I’ll exercise more; I’ll spend less; I’ll pay off my debts; I’ll spend more time with my children; I’ll learn something new.” Maybe you even throw in a couple of resolutions to pray more or read your bible more. Those are all good things, but trying to keep those promises in our own strength can lead to disappointment.

Once we are God’s through Christ, we have the Holy Spirit as a power, hopefully the power, in our lives, and anything we try to do in our own power is destined to, if not fail, then fall extremely short. And unfortunately, our minds somehow think that there is some kind of separation between the every day, practical things in our lives and spiritual things. We may ask God for the power to accomplish what we consider “spiritual,” but the smaller, more mundane things, we think we can tackle on our own. But when God has redeemed us, everything in our lives becomes spiritual. We are His, wholly and completely and God is the head of absolutely everything in our life.

If we need to learn to eat better, He wants to give us the power and wisdom to do it properly. After all, He did create our bodies, did He not? He knows what we each need for our bodies and minds to run as efficiently as they possibly can.

If we need to get on a budget and pay off some debt, God wants to give us the wisdom and strength to learn how to be proper stewards of our finances. After all, He has provided us with the jobs we have and the money is really His that He entrusts to us anyway, is it not?

Submitting every area of our lives to the Lord is as spiritual and holy as resolving to pray and read God’s word more. Even those promises to ourselves can leave us disappointed in our ability to keep them if we do not first seek God for the power and ability to remain faithful.

I think the apostle, Paul, had the best resolution - “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

Paul chose to keep Jesus as his focus. The only thing worth knowing was the One Who held the power needed for all things.

Paul continued, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:3-5)

Paul admitted his weaknesses. The great teacher, Paul, was afraid to the point of trembling. You wouldn’t know it by his writing, though. His letters are filled with unwavering boldness. But not only did Paul acknowledge his weaknesses to himself, he even humbled himself enough to admit them to those who would look up to him. And maybe that’s precisely why he admitted those weaknesses – he wanted people to know that the strength he had was not his own, but came from the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit Who indwelled those new Christians and the same Holy Spirit Who indwells us who have given our lives to Jesus Christ.

Paul knew that if he determined to fix his eyes and heart and mind on his Lord and on the power of the cross, that he could do all things that God called him to do. And so can we.

I pray our first resolution this year is to make the choice to know Jesus better and to realize His power in our lives through our relationship with Him to carry out anything we are called to do, whether it pertains to practical, every day living, or being involved in ministry, or whatever God will ask of us in the coming year. The practical and the spiritual really are one and the same because we are to do all things unto Christ.

Maybe the first step is admitting those weaknesses. They don’t have to stop us from serving God, just as they didn’t stop Paul. Admitting the weaknesses can propel us into an even firmer grip on our Lord so that His power may rest on us and He will always receive the glory.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Faith

Why is it so much easier to have faith for other people when they’re facing trials than it is to have faith for ourselves? Why does our spiritual vision seem so much clearer when looking into the unknown future of another than when we look ahead into our own darkened passageways?

I was forced recently to once again peer into a dark unknown, an uncertain future, that if left unchanged from the present would continue to bring pain and no answers. And the only thing I heard was a Voice asking, “Will you trust Me?”

As I was trolling through blogdom recently, I came across a quote from the movie, Miracle on 34th Street. Part of it, the line that gave me pause, was this:

“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

Of course the faith referred to in the movie was a belief in Kris Kringle and all that he stood for. But ol’ Saint Nick is only a cheap substitution for where the true faith of Christmas lies. The celebration is rooted in the birth of One Who would give us all reason to have faith.

So many times we try to co-mingle faith and common sense. But faith and common sense come clashing against one another when the human side of us, the part that has to see to believe, meets the spiritual side of us when we are asked to believe without seeing. Faith and common sense go together about as easily oil and vinegar. You can try to mix them together, but because they are antagonists, they will always separate.

The story of Christmas really is all about setting aside common sense in favor of faith. There is nothing common in the events that transpired, and without faith, they make no sense.

Long before the birth of Jesus, approximately 740 years before, Isaiah prophetically foretold to Israel that their God would do the unbelievable: He would be born in human flesh.

Luke tells of a man, Simeon, to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not see death before he would see the One Who would be the Consolation, or Comfort, of Israel. There is no telling how long this man waited to see the fulfillment of this promise. Common sense would have ruled out any chance of believing in something so great. But Simeon did not walk with God by common sense, but rather by faith.

And then there was Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. She was well advanced in years and yet had not been able to conceive a child. But an angel appeared to her husband, Zacharias, and told him that his wife would bear a child, which was beyond all common sense. And Zacharias, though he was a priest, did not believe. In that moment he faced whether or not to believe a miracle, he tried to mix the oil and vinegar, and the vinegar rose to the top. But, of course, his wife did conceive, and not only did she bear a child who would announce the coming King, but her child was blessed with a miracle of his own and he was filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb.

And Mary. A simple, young, teenage girl, living in obscurity, having no important reputation or anything that would have caused her to believe that she was anyone who would be chosen by God Himself for this exceedingly great gift. She was faced with perhaps the greatest test of faith: to believe that, though she was a virgin, she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and would conceive a child, and no ordinary child, but a Child among men. A Child sent from God who would be the Savior of the world.

Joseph was asked to set aside his common sense, too, and believe that his dearly betrothed had not been unfaithful, but was indeed bearing the Christ child, fathered by God.

They could have peered into the future and relied on their common sense, fleeing for their safety lest Mary be stoned to death. But they stayed and submitted all their common sense to the Lord. They lived by faith, not knowing the future, but knowing their God was righteous and holy and He would see them through.

The shepherds, too, believed in the angel’s words, “Do not fear. For behold, I give to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger.”

They believed that their Savior had come in the humble form of a baby, not in a warm inn lying on a feather bed fit for a king, but rather enclosed by a stable lying in a trough fashioned for animals.

And the wise men wisely set aside their common sense to follow a star. For perhaps months they traveled with their eyes looking heavenward to find and worship at the feet of a Child who had left His throne in heaven to come down and serve us.

There is no common sense in this true story of faith. But God was greatly glorified in the lives of so many who chose to put their faith in God rather than rely on what they could see. So the next time God asks you, or me, to set aside our common sense in favor of faith, remember the Christmas story. If you find yourself peering into what may seem to be a bleak future and God asks you trust Him, remember Simeon, who waited perhaps most of his life, believing in a promise, trusting in His God, even when he saw no evidence, perhaps walking alone in his faith. And in trusting and waiting on the Lord, he did indeed lay his eyes upon the Promised Salvation given to the whole world.

Next year, dare to set aside common sense in your walk with the Lord. Take a leap of faith into the darkness and believe. Believe the words of Jesus when He said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

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Speaking of Christmas...

“How do you know Santa has to be a man? No woman is going to wear the same outfit year after year.”
~Unknown

"My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?"
~ Bob Hope, American film actor and comedian.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."
~ Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English author. From 'A Christmas Carol'.

“One Christmas, Joe and Peter built a skating rink in the middle of a field. A shepherd leading his flock decided to take a shortcut across the rink. The sheep, however, were afraid of the ice and wouldn't cross it. Desperate, the shepherd began tugging them to the other side. 'Look at that, 'remarked Peter to Joe, 'That guy is trying to pull the wool over our ice!'”
~Unknown

"'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more.'"
~ Dr. Seuss (1904-1991), American author of children's books. From 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'.

“Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.”
~ Dave Barry

"Christmas, my child, is love in action."
~ Dale Evans (1912-2001), American film actress, singer and songwriter. Wife of Roy Rogers.

"The spirit of Christmas needs to superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world."
~Stuart Briscoe

"The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world."
~Anonymous

"It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart."
~ Marjorie Holmes, American writer.

“I never realized God's birth before, how He grew likest God in being born...such ever love's way--to rise, it stoops.”
~Robert Browning

“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”
~Taylor Caldwell

"Eternal God, this holy night is radiant with the brilliance of your one true light. May that light illuminate our hearts and shine in our words and deeds. May the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love represented by the birth in Bethlehem this night fill our lives and become part of all that we say and do. May we share the divine life of your son Jesus Christ, even as he humbled himself to share our humanity. Amen."
~Rev. Richard J. Fairchild

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pecan Snowballs

1 cup butter flavor Crisco
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoon milk or water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup oats
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon salt
sifted powdered suger

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Beat first four ingredients until creamy. Add combined flour, oats, pecans, and salt; mix well. Shape rounded teaspoonfuls into balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 15 to 18 minutes or until bottoms are light golden brown. Roll in sifted powdered sugar while warm. Cool completely on a wire rack. Reroll in powdered sugar. About 4 dozen.


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Photo courtesy of Sean Harris

Crossroads

So the other day I was on my way home from our annual Women’s Christmas Tea. Well, it’s usually a Brunch, but this year it was a very delightful Tea. Along with all kinds of tea and coffee with flavored creamers, there was a beautiful spread of sandwiches and too many sweets to choose from. Somehow I managed to choose anyway. A lovely gift of a little booklet was also given to each of us and I was planning on reading through it when I got home. All I saw was the name Billy Graham on the front cover.

I stopped by Starbucks and grabbed myself a venti decaf iced mocha and was headed out the door to the parking lot with thoughts of getting my house in order. I looked up and blocking my way to my car was a small, very old, very beat up car. I saw the driver, a haggard-looking woman, who started to say something to me that I couldn’t quite catch. My ears finally began to tune in to what she was saying: she didn’t have any money and needed some food for her and her children, who I saw out of the corner of my eye sitting in the back seat. She muttered something about praying for me as a thank you if I could help her out.

Now, I’ve been faced with situations like this before. Unfortunately, my past experiences have made me quite cynical about handing out money to strangers who confront me like that.

The scene usually goes something like this:

(In the parking lot of a gas station) “I don’t have any money and my car is out of gas. I have to get to *insert some far-away location*, could you please give me some money?”

“Where’s your car?”

“It’s around the corner”

“Well, if you’ll pull your car up to a gas pump I’ll pay inside to put so you can put some gas in your car.”

Waiting, waiting, waiting…No car in sight.

So as I stood there staring at this woman in the beat up car with my $4 coffee in my hand, I finally manage to grunt out a “huh,” trying to bide my time while I decide whether or not I should help this woman and her nearly grown children. There’s a grocery store in sight and I figure if I say I’ll meet her in the store she’ll turn me down or simply won’t show up.

“Wanna meet me at Safeway?” I say.

“Sure,” she says.

That immediately throws me for a loop. She drives off while I get in my car, look around and see that she’s nowhere in sight. I have a clean get-away if I want. But something inside says, “No, you told her you would meet her there, you should follow through.”

So I drive over, park, walk to the front of the store, and sure enough, she’s standing there with a cart in her hands. As I’m walking toward her and her son I’m thinking, “How am I going to do this? Am I going to shop with her? I have no cash. How much should I allow her to get?” I meet up with her and we walk inside. She tells me she hasn’t gotten her food stamps and thanks me profusely. I tell her just to think of it as a gift from the Lord and she says, “Are you a Christian?” and I say, “Yes.”

“Praise the Lord!” she responds. I still can’t tell if she’s genuine or if it’s an act. She tells me I can shop with her or I can purchase a store gift card for her. I tell her that’s a good idea and she moves right to the aisle of an empty lane and spots one immediately. She’s done this before. I purchase the card, and begin to look for her. One full lap around the store and I finally see her walking toward me. I give her the card and pull the Billy Graham booklet from my purse and give it to her. We exchange hugs and I leave her to her shopping.

For a day or two I mull over in my mind whether or not I should have helped her. Is she a drug addict or an alcoholic who uses her government assistance to fund her addiction instead of feeding herself and her family? Is she somehow going to use the gift card for something other than food? The mom in me didn’t want to enable a bad habit.

I will probably never know the truth, but God does. I do know that I walked into that parking lot at the exact moment she drove through. I know that for an inexplicable (okay, maybe not so inexplicable) reason, I drove to the grocery store instead of heading home. I know that I had tucked away a Billy Graham booklet in my purse just that morning and it was on my heart to give it to her. I know that I have prayed for her and her children more than once since that Saturday.

And I know that there was a time when I was beat up from sin and my heart had been anything but genuine. But I asked God for help and He didn’t judge me. I was guilty, yes, but God had sent His Son to be born as a babe in a humble stable, to grow up and die on a cross. He had already paid the price of the judgment for my sin. Instead of judging me guilty, He showed me mercy and gave me new life.

Our God is a benevolent and merciful Father and He loves to see His children show mercy, too, at Christmastime, and always.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Doh!

Okay, nobody kill me. :) I am going to do my very best not to change the look of the blog again. Unless I see something I like...

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Lord, Hide Me

Lord, hide me in the bend of your wing.
Let me take flight with you now
Far above the suffering.

Lord, hide me in the bend of your wing.
Carry me above the darkness
Where your love is all I'm seeing.

Lord, hide me in the bend of your wing.
Enfold me as we soar above
Where we can rejoice together and laugh and smile and sing.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

The "Be-Attitudes" Part 6

Pure in Heart

Okay, back to our walk through the Beatitudes. Last time we saw that as we share the mercy that God shows us with others, we will then be shown mercy. And as God pours out His mercy upon us and wipes away the guilt of our sins, our hearts are purified of all unrighteousness.

“Blessed are the pure in heart! For they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Our God is spirit and can be known only by spirit. He is a God who indwells us, yes, but He also dwells on the Holy Hill and only a pure and upright spirit can climb that Holy Hill.

“Who shall go up into the hill of Jehovah? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart; who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, and has not sworn deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4)

And even though God, through Jesus Christ, has removed the guilt of our sin, our hearts are still full of sinful attitudes and ways. If we remain in spiritual infancy, our focus will continue to be on ourselves rather than an increasing vision of a holy God.

So, we need our hearts to be continually purified of our sinful thoughts and attitudes if we are to know our God on an ever-deepening and intimate level. If the purification process stops, the level of our relationship with God will at the very least be halted, and at the most regress. There are (at least) two ways that this continual purification process occurs.

1. God purifies our hearts through trials.

Just like the refining process for gold, God uses heat in our lives to melt our hearts, then the dross of selfishness and pride and fear, and on and on, rises to the surface, Jesus removes it from our hearts as we repent of it, and the process starts all over again.

So that’s why we’re not to be surprised at the trials facing us. Every believer faces trials and if we remember that their purpose is to be a purifier for our hearts and allow God to do that work in our lives, we will begin to see purpose in them. Our attitudes will be more humble throughout the trials and we will have our eyes open to what God is trying to say to us about what ungodly attitude or trait He is trying to purify from us and we will more quickly repent of those sins.

2. We need to keep our minds out of the gutter.

A dirty mind makes for a dirty heart. Though Jesus Christ imparts to us mercy and cleanses our hearts of unrighteousness when we bow before Him, and God continues to cleanse our hearts through trials, we are responsible to keep our minds from entering into that which would sully them. It is cheap grace, indeed, when a person continues in sin with the twisted thought that, “God has to forgive me.”

“..neither be partaker of the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” (1 John 5:22)

I have never in my life been so keenly aware of the infiltration of sexual images and sexual discussion into just about every place I turn as I have been lately. Something that was meant to be a personal and intimate form of love between two married people, a man and a woman, by the way, has been exploited in every way possible. It takes a concerted effort to not allow our minds to dwell on these images or get pulled into an irreverent discussion on t.v. or even the “news” about who did what to whom.

When we allow our minds to wander in those areas, or any area that is not glorifying to God, we are living by our flesh and not by our spirit and our vision of God becomes cloudy. But when we walk by the spirit and live in obedience to our God, our spiritual vision begins to clear and we are able to see God in a way we never had before.

In our verse in Matthew 5:8, the word “see” does not refer to a casual glancing or even an observation, but rather to gaze at with wide open eyes, as at something remarkable.

When our hearts our pure we will see a pure God with a jaw-dropping, eye-popping awe that is meant only for Him. His love will so encapsulate us that we will not be able to take our eyes off Him. We will know Him as a loving, dependent child knows a protective parent; as a bride looks upon her bridegroom with adoration and expectation. We will begin to know His voice, even the slightest whisper. His ways will become familiar to us and they will become our ways as we walk with Him day and night.

So, the question is, how well do you want to see and know God? Do you want to know Him so well that you feel as if you drew your arm up beside you you would touch Him? Do you want to hear Him whisper promises and even give you visions for the life He has in store for you? Do you want to be able to trust Him with your very breath no matter what happens?

The extent to which you answered “yes” is the extent to which you will embrace your trials and sufferings as a means to that end. And compromise will never enter your mind, but only thoughts of “things that are true, honest, right, pure, lovely, of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things.” (from Philippians 4:8)

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Tips - Cooking and Otherwise

1. If you’ve purchased your celery, wrap it in foil to keep it crisp and crunchy.

2. For goodness sake, please do not purchase a pre-made pie crust, unless it’s an emergency. It is painfully easy to make and infinitely better. And you can make it a few days ahead of time and store in the fridge to roll out when you bake the pie. I’ve put the recipe down below, along with the recipe for my favorite turkey-leftover salad sandwich.

3. Plan on 2 lbs. of turkey per adult if you want to have leftovers. Unless you’re masochists like us, then plan on 3.

4. That’s a bag of giblets in there, not pre-mixed stuffing.

5. If you want your turkey to be extra juicy, put it in a bowl (or in a cooler with some ice if it’s too big for the fridge) filled with water to cover and 1 1/2 cups of table salt, rubbed into the turkey until the salt is dissolved. Leave it overnight in the fridge and rinse thoroughly, inside and out, before roasting.

5. Do not roast your turkey below 325 degrees and cook it all day. That creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to set up their own Thanksgiving right on the surface of your perfect-looking bird. You don’t want to see your dinner again once you’ve eaten it.

6. A 10-18 lb. turkey, unstuffed, will only take about 3-3 ½ hours to roast at 325 degrees; stuffed – 3 ¾ to 4 ½ hours.

7. As tempting as it may be, do not discuss politics or religion or that thing that your brother did to you when you were 8.

8. Pray before your meal, and give thanks to God, Who is the giver of the enormous bounty on your dining table. Many in the world could only dream of such a blessing.

9. Go for a walk after you eat. Then have another piece of pie.

10. The rules for the day after Thanksgiving are no cooking and wear your p.j.’s all day. That day is quite possibly my favorite day of the year. After working up a sweat the entire day before only to see the meal last 15 minutes, I love to walk into the kitchen in the morning, open the fridge and see at least a day’s worth of leftovers. That means no cooking. I recover with a peppermint mocha to ring in the Christmas season and piece of pumpkin pie for breakfast – with whipped cream.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Pie Crust

1. If your pie crust needs to be prebaked (some pies require the crust to be unbaked), line the inside of a 9” or 10” pie plate with a double thickness of foil, making the inside diameter a little smaller than the plate, but the edges should be long enough to hang over the top. Take it out and set it aside. You’ll see why in the minute.

2. Put 4 ice cubes in a 1-cup measuring cup and fill it with water. Set aside.

3. Put 2 ½ cups flour in a bowl. Add 1 cup (8 oz.) cold butter that has been cut into ½ inch cubes. Rub the flour and butter together with your fingers until the butter has been broken up into 1/8 inch pieces.

4. Remove the ice cubes from the water and pour all BUT ½ cup water out of the measuring cup. Pour the remaining ½ cup water into the dough. Toss the dough lightly with a fork JUST UNTIL the dough is moistened. The secret to a light, flaky crust is simply to work it as little as possible. The dough should look flaky and course and not quite hold together.

5. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently push it together with your hands. If the dough looks smooth, it has been overworked.

6. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and gently shape the pieces into flat, round discs. Cover each disc with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 15 minutes if you’re going to roll it out now, or for 3 days or you can freeze it for up to 2 weeks. If it is frozen, let it thaw overnight in the fridge before rolling it out.

7. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it set at room temperature for 10 minutes. Roll each piece out to be about 1” in diameter larger than the pie plate. Roll gently, from the middle to the outside. Take your rolling pin and starting at one end of the pie crust, roll the pie crust up and around your rolling pin, then unroll it from one end of the pie plate to the other. Do not stretch the dough as you lift it to make sure it is set inside the plate. Fold up the edges and then pinch with your thumb and forefinger all the way around.

8. If prebaking, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prick bottom and sides of crust with fork, including where bottom and sides meet. Gently set the foil inside the pie crust. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 5 or 6 more minutes, or till golden, but not brown. Cool.


Thanksgiving Turkey Salad Sandwich

3 cups cubed, cooked turkey
1 cup sliced celery
½ cup chopped red onion
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup toasted, sliced almonds ½ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients, spread on your favorite bread (or a leftover roll) and enjoy.



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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Are You a Criminal?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the persecuted church lately. There are people all over the world who, at this moment, are imprisoned for simply putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Men, women and children are being tortured and killed for owning a bible or preaching the gospel.

There’s a story on The Voice of the Martyrs website that talks about a woman, a Christian-aid worker who was a South African-British national living in Kabul working with disabled Afghans. She was shot and killed by Taliban gunmen for “spreading her religion.” You can read the full story here.

If you or I lived in a country where Christianity was persecuted, would we be gunned down for “spreading our religion”? Would we be hated because people we didn’t even know identified us with our Lord?

You’ve probably heard the question, “if being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence for you to be convicted?” How evident is it to all those around us that you or I are believers? What “crimes” could we be charged with?

I believe the time is coming when Christians in America will be more and more persecuted for our faith. Will we ever be imprisoned or killed? I don’t know.

But I do know that in America a little kid who chose to dress up as Jesus for Halloween was sent home from school because his costume was deemed inappropriate. I do know that students are told all the time they are not allowed to bring their bibles to school. And many times employees are not allowed to bring them to work, even to read during their own lunchtime. Even wearing Christian jewelry in the workplace has been seen as a threat.

And I do know that Christians are the only group of people who can be mocked anywhere from real life to television to the printed media and it is acceptable. If any other group were belied as we are, it would be considered a hate crime.

The time is coming. And now is not the time to grow quiet, but rather to be ready in our faith, stand up and boldly proclaim the Truth. People are dying in their sin and we know the cure: Jesus Himself. Let’s pray and ask the Lord how He would have each of us share the gospel. And if we are found guilty, so be it.

“And calling the apostles, beating them, they commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then indeed they departed from the presence of the sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be shamed for His name. And every day in the temple, and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching the gospel: Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Giving Thanks

I find it rather telling that our world spends weeks looking forward to Halloween and celebrates it every year like there will never be another one, and then immediately moves into the buying frenzy and the decking of halls that is the world’s Christmas on November 1st. Thanksgiving is celebrated as little more than a day when we stuff ourselves silly with poultry, sweet potatoes and marshmallows and watch football.

But we need to stop…and be thankful. We have much for which to thank God.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Thanksgiving comes just before Christmas. Before we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus and before we exchange gifts, let us pause for a moment and thank God for giving His only Son to us. Let us thank God for blessing us enough to be able to present that special gift to someone we love, even if that gift is a hug and a prayer (which is all I need this year, in case you were wondering.)

Let us spend the weeks before Thanksgiving praising God for all He has done in and through our lives this past year and for all He will do in the coming year. This year may Thanksgiving be a day of true celebration as we search our hearts and give thanks and glory to the One from Whom all our blessings flow.

A friend sent the following to me. I think it will help to refocus our hearts that may have become a little grinchy.

I AM THANKFUL:

FOR THE WIFE WHO SAYS IT'S HOT DOGS TONIGHT, BECAUSE SHE IS HOME WITH ME, AND NOT OUT WITH SOMEONE ELSE.

FOR THE HUSBAND WHO IS ON THE SOFA BEING A COUCH POTATO, BECAUSE HE IS HOME WITH ME AND NOT OUT AT THE BARS.

FOR THE TEENAGER WHO IS COMPLAINING ABOUT DOING DISHES BECAUSE IT MEANS SHE IS AT HOME, NOT ON THE STREETS.

FOR THE TAXES I PAY BECAUSE IT MEANS I AM EMPLOYED.

FOR THE MESS TO CLEAN AFTER A PARTY BECAUSE IT MEANS I HAVE BEEN SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS.

FOR THE CLOTHES THAT FIT A LITTLE TOO SNUG BECAUSE IT MEANS I HAVE ENOUGH TO EAT.

FOR MY SHADOW THAT WATCHES ME WORK BECAUSE IT MEANS I AM OUT IN THE SUNSHINE FOR A LAWN THAT NEEDS MOWING, WINDOWS THAT NEED CLEANING, AND GUTTERS THAT NEED FIXING BECAUSE IT MEANS I HAVE A HOME.

FOR ALL THE COMPLAINING I HEAR ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT BECAUSE IT MEANS WE HAVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

FOR THE PARKING SPOT I FIND AT THE FAR END OF THE PARKING LOT BECAUSE IT MEANS I AM CAPABLE OF WALKING AND I HAVE BEEN BLESSED WITH TRANSPORTATION.

FOR MY HUGE HEATING BILL BECAUSE IT MEANS I AM WARM.

FOR THE LADY BEHIND ME IN CHURCH WHO SINGS OFF KEY BECAUSE IT MEANS I CAN HEAR.

FOR THE PILE OF LAUNDRY AND IRONING BECAUSE IT MEANS I HAVE CLOTHES TO WEAR.

FOR WEARINESS AND ACHING MUSCLES AT THE END OF THE DAY BECAUSE IT MEANS I HAVE BEEN CAPABLE OF WORKING HARD.

FOR THE ALARM THAT GOES OFF IN THE EARLY MORNING HOURS BECAUSE IT MEANS I AM ALIVE.

AND FINALLY, FOR TOO MUCH E-MAIL BECAUSE IT MEANS I HAVE FRIENDS WHO ARE THINKING OF ME.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Roots

I was thinking the other day, praying really, about the roots of bitterness. I have always thought that the roots of bitterness were the very beginnings of unforgiveness. But as I was praying the other day, a thought occurred to me. What causes the unforgiveness? Unforgiveness may be weed seed from which the stalk of bitterness grows, but what burrows that weed deep into the soil is pride.

We all have people to forgive at one time or another. That’s no sin. But what allows that unforgiveness to hang around too long and to eventually take root is pride. Pride keeps us from forgiving. Pride is the root of all bitterness. It is the character weakness that precedes the unforgiveness that allows it to linger in our lives like a stinkweed.

Pride is an ugly, haughty, vengeful belief in one’s own superiority that spreads its tentacles and grabs a hold of our hearts and doesn’t let go without a fight. Pride convinces us that that person is not deserving of our forgiveness. That we should hold onto our unforgiveness like some prize after a fight. But what pride forgets is that we don’t deserve forgiveness, either.

But God, (those precious words that interrupt someone’s existence to give them life) showed us true humility when He sent His only Son to be the bridge between us and Him; but Jesus was born a poor child and died a sinner’s death to grant us forgiveness; but the Holy Spirit allows Himself to be contained within us to ever so patiently and gently teach us and shape us, and pull out roots….

“Follow peace with all, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord; looking diligently lest any fail of the grace of God, or lest any root of bitterness springing up disturb you, and by it many are defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14-15)

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

The "Be-Attitudes" Part 5

Merciful

Last time we saw that once we have obtained righteousness through Jesus Christ, we then live out that righteousness which inherently means loving God and loving others. That is, we choose to show a sacrificial form of love regardless of feelings or circumstance.

Most would reserve that type of sacrifice for those whom they deem to be deserving. But God, of course, has other ideas.

“Blessed are the merciful! For they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Mercy by its very nature is given to those who do not deserve it. And truthfully, none of us deserve it. We are sinners saved only by the grace of God. God loved us while we were still sinners by sending His own Son to die in our place. Jesus was the supreme example of sacrificial love. He was merciful. Now we can take the mercy that has been given to us and let it be poured out to those around us. So, how do we do that?

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who despitefully use you. And to him who strikes you on the one cheek, also offer the other. And to him who takes away your garment, do not forbid your tunic also. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from him who takes away your goods, do not ask them again. And as you desire that men should do to you, you do also to them likewise.

For if you love those who love you, what thanks do you have? For sinners also love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks do you have? For sinners also do the same. And if you lend to those of whom you hope to receive, what thanks do you have? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return. And your reward shall be great, and you shall be the sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Luke 6:27-36

Those can be some very hard words to hear and even more difficult to live out. I think many times we read that and think, metaphorically, Christians should do that. Or we may even try to turn the meaning of those words into something a little bit more palatable. But they are what they are. And God means for us to live them out. When was the last time you showed love to someone you considered an enemy? Not our “western” type of “feeling” love, but God’s sacrificial, putting-actions-to-our-beliefs type of love.

When was the last time someone used you and you prayed for them? Or someone took something of yours and you didn’t become indignant and demand it back? Our knee-jerk reaction is usually to plead our rights. Again, I take you back to the cross.

Jesus could have claimed His right to lord over all of us, and indeed He is Lord and had that right. But He chose to waive that right for something He regarded as greater: purchasing our freedom from sin and redeeming our souls back from a path to hell solely for an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. He died so that we could live.

And as the Lord is our example, we, too, are to give up our rights. As Christians who have died to the flesh, there is no seeking a life that seems “fair.” There are no rights for a dead man or woman. If we have hidden our lives in Jesus Christ, then we will do as He did: show mercy. We will love the unloving. We will do good for those who hate us because of Jesus Christ. We will bless those who curse us. We will treat all persons as we, ourselves, would want to be treated - the Golden Rule.

But don’t mistake that for foolishness. As a perfect Father, God would never give something to someone that would harm him. And that can include things that would otherwise be good gifts, if someone is living rebelliously and would use the gift poorly.

Liken that to a parent showing wisdom in not giving a teenage son or daughter a car if the child has shown a careless or irresponsible attitude towards driving. A car in that case could be a fatal gift. In that situation, showing mercy would mean not giving a car until perhaps the teenager has grown up and grown more responsible.

Mercy is shown in many ways and we need to always be in prayer seeking God to give us wisdom about the best way to show mercy in every circumstance.

And God promises that as we show mercy to others, it will be turned around to us, and we will be shown that mercy. I don’t know exactly how that works in God’s economy, but I do know that in order for someone to show God’s mercy, that person has to remain abiding in the Vine. There is no strength, no wisdom, no sacrificial love given to others without the One Who has exampled it and Who imparts it to us so that we can turn around and impart it to others. And when a person spends that much time kneeling before their Savior, there is bound to be a heart full of love and repentance from their own sins. And a heart that is contrite is a heart that will receive the full measure of God’s mercy.

So fall at your Master’s feet and receive mercy once again. Then take that mercy and purpose to pour it out on others for a greater purpose than desiring a life that is "fair" or seeing that we ensure our rights: to show the love of God here on this earth. And that love carries with it blessings that will follow us into eternity, something our "rights" will not do. God's love can win hearts into the kingdom of God; it can show compassion to those who have walked away from their faith and see them come back; it can help others grow in their faith as they see that though they have faults or weaknesses or struggles, God loves them and they can be useful to the Lord as they are strengthened and encouraged in Him.

Experiencing joy now and treasures in heaven are better than rights anyway.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The "Be-Attitudes" Part 4

Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness

Last time we were reminded that it is the meek who will inherit the earth. At the moment it looks as though it’s not the humble but the rich and powerful who own the world. Kings rule kingdoms, rich men and women own corporations and the millions and even billions of dollars that flow into them. Celebrities own our attention and garner the praise of millions of people all over the world. People hunger and seek after wealth and fame and a place in the halls of history. But they are not satisfied. There is no quenching their thirst for more. An emptiness continues to gnaw at their souls that nothing, it seems, can fill.

But the meek who have been filled with the Holy Spirit have been given a new appetite.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness! For they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6

Believers in Christ Jesus have been given an appetite for righteousness. Our spirits have been given life through the Holy Spirit and our new spiritual life hungers and thirsts for the food that will nourish it: righteousness.

Don’t get tripped up by the word righteousness, though. We may tend to think that means living a perfect life, but that’s not it. It is only in Jesus Christ that we are made righteous. The sacrifice made for us on the cross and then received into our hearts and minds has granted to us the righteousness of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit now within us craves to live out that righteous life through us.

What can trip us up, though, is the fact that we now have competing appetites – the one we had before our lives in Christ, the fleshly appetite, and our new spiritual appetite.

We fed our flesh, or our own physical and emotional desires, before Christ, by basically doing what we wanted. We lived lives that were against the will of God. We were selfish. We found pleasure in sinful ways. We lusted after things that were not ours. We walked through each day without consulting God, the Creator of our very own lives.

Even though we now have a new appetite for spiritual things, a desire to live pleasing to the Lord, to walk with Him and to do His will, we still have a choice. We can choose to continue to feed our flesh, or we can hunger and thirst after righteousness. Those who choose to continue to try to fill the void in their souls with the things of the world: money, sex outside of marriage, drugs or alcohol, materialism, or anything else that is not of God, will continue to be empty. Their spirits will starve. But those who choose to live by the Spirit and allow God to feed them will be fulfilled.

Feeding our spirits the food of righteousness entails two things:

1. The first is simply being in a right relationship with the Lord.

Even after we’re saved we will still sin and though that sin can’t steal our salvation, it will begin to cause separation between God and us if we aren’t careful to acknowledge the sin and ask for forgiveness. But we must crave the relationship with God more than we desire the sin. And when we do we will continue to be filled with the power and strength and love that can only come from God.

2. The second is living out that righteousness in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Jesus said, “‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.’” (John 4:34)

So, what is God’s will for us? People ask that question all the time and we have but to open God’s Word to see the answers.

Some examples are:

The first and greatest one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)

The second greatest follows it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39)

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1Thess. 5:18)

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22)

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it..” (Eph. 5:25)

Do your own word study in the bible of the will of God and see what you find.

A Christian who feels empty is a Christian who is continuing to feed their flesh with the things of the world. The world never satisfied us before, why would it now?

God saved us for a purpose: to worship Him, to carry out His plan for our lives and to further the kingdom of God. It is only as we nourish our spirits that we will be filled with the righteousness and holiness that make us able to know God, to trust Him, to praise Him, to worship Him, to be led by Him, to serve Him, to be a witness for Him and to love Him with all our hearts.

If we will choose to hunger and thirst after righteousness, God will fill us in a way that no worldly thing can. And when we finally meet our Lord in heaven, we will hear those long-awaited words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21, 23)


Monday, October 13, 2008

The "Be-Attitudes" Part 3

Meek
Last time we saw that those who mourned over their sin would be comforted as they drew near to the Lord. Now we will look at the hearts of those who kneel before God as they mourn.

There are no proud hearts at the foot of the cross.

We crawl there broken and contrite and begging for mercy. When we recognize the depth of our sin there is no room for conceit or ego. We are altogether humbled. Our confessed sin is nailed to the cross. Our hearts have been emptied of ourselves and now we have need for God to fill our hearts with Himself. And though we have nothing to offer and no right to ask anything of God, Jesus invites us to ask. He is now the beggar as He pleads, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”

And so in our humble state, we receive God’s gift of forgiveness and ask for God’s grace to be poured out on us. And indeed it is.

“Blessed are the meek! For they shall inherit the earth.”
(Matt. 5:5)

It is there at the cross that we receive salvation – the greatest gift known to mankind. Our empty heart that has longed to be filled is filled with the Holy Spirit. And our lives are changed forever.

We were once destitute, but now we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. But what do we inherit?

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
(Titus 3:4-7)

We were once dead in our sins, but now we have been given life eternal – forever with God in a home prepared just for us. And one day all as we know it will be rolled up and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. And it will be ours.

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And the sea no longer is. And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband. And I heard a great voice out of Heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
(Rev. 21:1-3)

* * *

One of God’s great joys is to bless His children. He has planned blessings for us and He desires to pour out as many of those blessings as He can. And He is the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. There is nothing that exists that He does not own.

But a proud heart is so full of itself that it has no room for God. That is as true after salvation as it is before. Continued and unconfessed sin will keep us in bondage and a certain distance from God. If there is something in your life that you know God has repeatedly told you to get rid of, or something He has told you to do, stop running from Him. Whatever it is is not worth giving up the blessings of God.

If you will humble yourself and crawl again to the cross, not for salvation if you’ve already received it, but for repentance and forgiveness of your sin, God will be as faithful as always to forgive you. He longs and waits to forgive you and to bless you.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

The "Be-Attitudes" Part 2

Mourn

As we look through the “blesseds,” we’re going to see a progression. Last time we saw that we first had to acknowledge that in spirit we are paupers before we would ever begin to look to God to pour out His riches of grace and mercy upon us.

When we do recognize our spiritual poverty, we see that we are poor because our sins have separated us from God. We have sinned against our Creator and have caused pain to come to Him and to those whom we love. We see a deep, dark chasm of sin all around us and on the other side is Jesus, nailed to a cross with those very sins. Every stabbing pain he feels is the sting of our own depraved acts. Lies we told, hatred we held toward another, bitterness we’ve harbored in our hearts, and other thoughts and words and deeds that we dare not speak – those are the trespasses which held Him there. And we fall down at His feet in utter grief. Our souls come undone before Him because we know that without Him we are destined to exist in the lost and lonely place across the chasm.

The Lord has mourned our sins since the cross. No, since the thought of the cross, which was forever ago. And He has waited through all time until that longed-for, precious moment when our spiritual eyes begin to come into focus, and we, too, begin to mourn over the sins we have committed and the pain we have caused.

“Blessed are they that mourn! For they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

This word for comforted in the Greek means, “to call near, that is, invite, invoke, beseech, call for.


When we are in this state of grief, the Lord promises to call out to us. He invites us to come to Him, across the dark chasm to join Him at the foot of the cross where you will grieve together. It is a place of death to be sure, but only in death can new life come.


* * *

Do we still mourn when we have sinned? Even once we have been saved and we know our sins have been forgiven, we can never forget that we are still imperfect creatures who sin, and that sin should still bring us to our knees in grief. And even moreso, knowing full well the high price that was paid for our sins on Calvary. And God still calls out to us to draw near to Him and to confess our sins to Him.

How many times have I fallen right back into that pit of despair, having sinned against my Lord? But time after time He calls out to me and I raise my hand up to Him and let Him draw me back out again.

The mistake that so many Christians make is failing to let God draw them back up and out of their pit of sin. We may weep over our sin, we may grieve over it, but how long do we choose to stay in the pit rather than leave the sin behind? How much time have we wasted in the pit when we could be living our lives in the light, free to run with joy and victory?

When God calls out to us, I hope we answer quickly and decisively. I hope we are anxious to leave the pit behind and walk and talk with Jesus again.

“Jehovah is near to the broken-hearted; and saves those who are of a contrite spirit.”
Psalm 34:18



Monday, September 22, 2008

The "Be-Attitudes" Part 1

Poor in Spirit

“And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain. And when He had sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying,

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.’”
(Matt. 5:1-3)

Blessed.

Jesus begins his infamous Sermon on the Mount by telling us nine times how we can be blessed. I don’t know about you, but I want to be blessed. I want my life on this earth (and even moreso my life after this life) to be one that is fully enriched with God’s blessings. In the Greek language, this word blessed translates as fortunate or happy.

Happy are the poor in spirit. Literally that means happy are those whose spirit begs.

Begs for what?

Remember the day you gave your life to Jesus? Remember the emptiness you felt the day before you made that decision?

You were as a beggar on the street - blind, dumb, lame, naked and destitute. You had nowhere else to turn. And then a rich Man came and offered you everything - your sight, your speech, strength, royal robes and a place in His kingdom.

Did you tell Him, “No, I’ll keep on begging, thank you very much”? The sad thing is, many do.

But perhaps you were one who saw, maybe for the first time, just how very poor you were without Him. And your spirit begged for a new life. And so you let Him lift you up out of your spiritual poverty and now you have the promise of a life in heaven with the King.

Happy are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Without acknowledging your poverty, you would not have eternal riches.

Happy also are those who continue to acknowledge their spiritual poverty apart from a walking, talking, working, breathing, loving, daily relationship with the King. Without Him, our spirits will return to a state of lacking, though we are King’s kids.

But with Him, we will know joy unceasing; peace in the midst of warring; glory in our suffering; grace and mercy where before there was only bitterness; and love that rises up in victory from the ashes of pain to triumph over all its enemies and live on forever.

Blessed.

(If you are one who has yet to give your life to Jesus Christ, but your spirit begs for that new life in Him where your sins are forgiven and eternity with Him is promised to you, please read Jesus, the Christ in the sidebar. And if you pray that prayer to receive Him as your Lord and Savior, let me know!)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sink or Swim

So we have this little Evergreen Pear Tree in our front yard, which is neither evergreen nor does it produce pears. We've had it since shortly after we moved into our house nine years ago. Fully mature it will only be about twenty feet tall, so the growth has been excruciatingly slow, but, as you can see, it’s hanging in there.

In my desert town where we rarely see a good rain, we have been surprisingly hit with a couple of wild storms in the last week or so. The strength of the wind was said to be so high that it was considered hurricane strength. The storm the other night blew through so hard that as I peeked out the front window I saw our city garbage can topple over (thank goodness it was empty) and watch the wind and rain carry it down the street.

I also watched as our humble, little tree was stretched beyond what I thought it could bear. Its slender trunk bent against the harsh wind, but in the morning it was still intact, upright and proud.

Later that morning I drove to the grocery store and saw all around the surrounding areas trees that were much larger than ours that had either broken off right at the trunk or had been uprooted altogether. And I wondered at how our little tree had been able to survive. And I think the answers can give us some insight as to how we can weather the storms of life, too, rather than becoming casualties of them.

The first thing I noticed was that most of the trees that had been uprooted had shallow root systems. What we could see above ground was beautiful, but the roots had not grown deep and the storm had been able to fell them easily.

Likewise, to look only at the surface of our lives to determine our spiritual health could be deceiving. The health is in the roots. Are the roots of your relationship with Christ only superficial or do they run deep and strong?

Trees’ roots grow deep when two things have occurred:

1. When there has been sufficient deep watering.

For us that means the watering of our souls through spending meaningful time studying God’s word and in intimate prayer time so that God can purify our hearts with His truth.

“..just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25a-27)

2. When storms have tossed a tree and caused the roots to dig in deeper for survival.

You know what that means. The storms of life have a purpose. And in order for our faith to be strengthened we will have to go through them. Our hope can only be in Christ alone and trials have a way of weeding out any false hope we have erroneously placed in anything or anyone else.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

When James says that we will be “perfect,” it means mature or complete.

If my little tree had succumbed to the storm, it would not have been able to grow to maturity. But it has experienced smaller storms and so it was prepared with the strength it needed to weather this bigger storm. So we are strengthened by each subsequent trial and the strength of our faith grows and prepares us for the next.

The second thing I noticed that allowed my tree to survive was that the direction of the wind was coming from the opposite side of the house and because the house is bigger than the tree, it was able to buffer the tree against the wind.

I don’t know about you, but I have this terrible tendency when hard times come to want to hide, even from God. But when we take shelter in the Lord when trials and tribulations are raining down on us, He is able to be our Protector, our Shield and our Shelter in the storms. He provides us with comfort, wisdom, love and His peace that surpasses all understanding.

“And he said, ‘Jehovah is my Rock, and my Fortress, and my Deliverer. The God who is my Rock, in Him will I trust. He is my Shield, and the Horn of my salvation, my High Tower, and my Refuge, my Savior. You save me from violence.’” 2 Samuel 22:2-3

There is no sign that trials will let up anytime in the future. And I suspect that the closer that we get to the Lord’s return, the harder and faster those trials will come. And the enemy of God would love nothing more than to weaken our faith and cause us to become of little or no use to the Lord. So snuggle up to the Lord. Hide beneath the shadow of His wings and He will carry you. Dig into His word so that the roots of your faith will burrow deeply and nothing will be able uproot you.

If we will focus our eyes on Jesus instead of the storms, not only will we not succumb to them, but we will walk on the waves of the storms with Him in victory.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rest for the Weary

For several weeks now I have had trouble sleeping. No, I don’t mean I toss and turn for an hour. Or two. Or three. Sometimes I will see the time digitally illuminated on my cell phone as I anxiously pry it open and see 2:30 am. And then 3:30. And just as my mind and body somehow find that nowhere place among the temporarily comatose, the alarm on my cell phone rudely interrupts my slumber at 6:30 am. Time for work.

It would be easy to allow Anxiety to set up house within my heart after such a long time without the needed rest. And believe me, there are points in time that it has.

And it would be easy for Anxiety to summon his friends, Frustration and Worry and even Desperation when I allow my mind to wander into the future and wonder when I will again be granted the sleep I need for my body to function well and for my mind to remember what I had for breakfast that morning.

And I could be consumed as I try to unlock the mystery of what kind of havoc is wreaking within my body to keep me awake at hours that should never be seen with human eyes.

Or, instead, I can choose to be obedient to God’s Word.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)

Huh. Don’t be anxious. About anything? Really? How am I supposed to do that? I have to get up in 3 or 4 hours and work. And then take my son to the orthodontist. And go grocery shopping. And do it all with a smile on my face even though all I can is do relate to Snow White’s friend, Grumpy, and I just want to crawl back in bed. Not to mention the rest of the bizarreness going on in my body.

Ooooh. I see, Lord. There’s that word that interrupts everything. It screeches to a halt all that we have previously done or thought or felt.

But.

But we are to stop and bring EVERYTHING before the throne of grace and mercy, with a heart that remembers and is thankful for all that God has done for us before.

Remember that time when I thought we would have no Christmas gifts for our son BUT God provided them? Remember the time when my husband was laid off from four jobs in one year…while we were in the middle of buying a new house…BUT God provided a much better job and allowed us to still get the house?

Yes, Lord. I remember. I remember your goodness and faithfulness and mercy. You showed them then, and I know you will show them now. Thank you.

Ahhh. Peace is kicking out anxiety and his cohorts, frustration, worry and desperation.

I don’t understand why I’m going through this, but my Lord does. And that’s all that really matters. He gives me a peace that does not need understanding in order to have it; a supernatural peace that can come from only Him.

“Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true (Jesus), whatever things are honest (Jesus), whatever things are right (Jesus), whatever things are pure (Jesus), whatever things are lovely (Jesus), whatever things are of good report (Jesus); if there is any virtue (Jesus) and if there is any praise (Jesus), think on these things (Jesus).” (Phil. 4:8) (Not-so subliminal message mine.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Nothing can separate us...

Jesus enters in to the sorrow of His people.


"Then when Mary had come where Jesus was, seeing Him, Mary fell down at His feet, saying to Him, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'

Then when He saw her weeping, and also the Jews who came with her weeping, Jesus groaned in the spirit and troubled Himself. And He said, 'Where have you laid him?'

They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see.'

Jesus wept."

John 11:32-35


Thursday, July 31, 2008

"You don't have to be afraid."

Those are the words that pierced my heart as I watched Pastor Greg Laurie speak during a taping of last Sunday’s service at his church, Harvest Christian Fellowship. It was the first Sunday since Pastor Greg and Cathe's oldest son, Christopher, was taken home to be with the Lord as a result of a car accident.

It has to be a nightmare for a parent to lose a child. And yet, our brother in the Lord stood strong as he delivered a message of hope and faith in the midst of his grief.

We may never have to face that kind of trial, but we all find ourselves groping our way through our own shades of darkness at times and Pastor Greg’s encouraging words, because they are words that are true, can help light our way. We really can retain our belief in a good and faithful and holy God even in the face of very difficult trials.

Greg’s strength gave me strength. I pray that his words serve to uphold you when your waves of pain come crashing down, too. I pray that your faith remains no matter what. I pray that you stand strong in our Lord Jesus. I pray that the world sees His light shine through our darkesses and that His light calls to them and tells them that there is a joy and a peace that can only be had in Jesus Christ.

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under the grain-measure, but on a lampstand. And it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Who is God? Part 4

The Rightness of God

The last attribute of God listed in Jeremiah 9:23-24 that we will now look at is His righteousness.

"but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the Lord."
(Jeremiah 9:24)

God tells us in that verse that in this earth, in this world in which we live, in our lives, in each day and through each circumstance we face, He exercises righteousness. And what is righteousness? Simply, He is right.

All the time.

There is nothing that we face, no disappointment, no heartache, no darkness, that He is not, and was not prior to it, aware of it, in control of it and fully right for allowing it to happen.

I hear some gasps. I hear some of you say, “but…but you don’t know what I’ve been through!” Maybe I don’t. And yet I do. We all do in one way or another. We all have faced our dark times and wondered why. We’ve wondered where God was. Was He there at all? Does He know that I’m suffering? Doesn’t He see me?

Oh, yes. He sees you. But make no mistake, He doesn’t see you from afar. He is right next to you. In those moments when you feel most alone, the Lord is sitting with you, weeping with you, sharing in your pain.

It is fully within His power to end the trial at any moment. Or to even have never allowed it to happen at all. But sometimes, instead, He allows it to happen. And He sits with us.

Why?

The short of it: I don’t know. The specific reasons most times are on a need to know basis, and it seems that we just don’t need to know.

The long story to the question of why is a grand one. And we each have our own story. But the basic story line goes like this: it is of a righteous God pursuing one who is lost with a love and a fervor that is unmatched. He woos each of us until we are His children. And then the avenue has been opened for Him to speak to our hearts. And so He lovingly teaches us and takes us from immaturity to maturity, from childish and undisciplined to understanding and teachable and usable. He makes us fit to serve in the kingdom of God as we adopt our Father’s attributes of loving kindness, justice and righteousness.

And sometimes we are only quiet enough to hear Him speak to our hearts when we are in the valley.

Alone. Save One.

As you are on your journey with the Lord in this life and you face those hard times and you remember that God is a righteous God, don’t forget that He is not only righteous. He does not exercise that attribute independently from the others. They are always used in conjunction with one another. Along with His righteousness He also shows His lovingkindness and His judgment along with the rest of His eternally-faceted nature that is always good, always faithful and always purposeful and set on our best.

So. There we are. The very tip of beginning to understand Who our God is. We now have the rest of our lives, one day at a time, to try to get to know Him better, to love Him and to serve Him and to glory in our Lord. Will you use this life to glory in things that won’t last, or will you glory in the One Who was, and is, and is to come?

“For they who are according to the flesh mind the things of flesh, but they who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace..”
(Romans 8:5-6)

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days..."
(Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a)


"Jesus said to him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.."
(John 14:6a)

I so pray that you choose Life.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Precious Time

Well, my boys are off to camp and I am feeling melancholy. It was only about 15 years ago that the picture of them to the right (the profile picture) was taken. Weren’t they adorable? And now my oldest is going to camp as a counselor and the youngest is half way through high school. Where did the time go?

As I pondered that question, I remembered a poem that I had heard back in those days of diapers and tantrums. It helped to put a perspective on the exhaustion I felt at the time. Maybe it will do the same for you.

Wet Oatmeal Kisses by Erma Bombeck

One of these days you'll explode and shout to all the kids, "Why don't you just grow up and act your age!" And they will...

Or, "You guys get outside and find something to do -- without hurting each other and don't slam the door!" And they don't.

You'll straighten their bedrooms until it's all neat and tidy, toys displayed on the shelf, hangers in the closet, animals caged. You'll yell, "Now I want it to stay this way!" And it will...

You will prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn't had all the olives picked out and a cake with no finger traces in the icing and you'll say, "Now this is a meal for company." And you will eat it alone...

You'll yell, "I want complete privacy on the phone. No screaming, Do you hear me?" And no one will answer.

No more plastic tablecloths stained. No more dandelion bouquets. No more iron-on patches. No more wet, knotted shoelaces, muddy boots or rubber bands for ponytails. Imagine.... a lipstick with a point, no babysitters for New Years Eve, washing clothes only once a week, no PTA meetings or silly school plays where your child is a tree, no car pools, blaring stereos or forgotten lunch money. No more Christmas presents made of library paste and toothpicks, no wet oatmeal kisses, no more tooth fairy, no more giggles in the dark, scraped knees to kiss or sticky fingers to clean. Only a voice asking, "Why don't you grow up?" And the silence echoes: "I did".

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Freedom Day

"If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
2 Chronicles 7:14

My hope is that we, as a nation, would celebrate today by giving thanks for our freedom to the One Who gave it to us.

First, God gave us His Son so that we could have spiritual freedom in Christ. Then God gaves us this land so that we could freely worship Him.

Let us continue to worship Him in all that we do and repent of those things that do not glorify Him.

One person at a time, one day at a time, one prayer of repentance at a time, let's give our hearts back to our Heavenly Father, our Abba Daddy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's a Dog's Life (Or At Least It Should Be)

We have a couple of the cutest, hairiest Lhasa Apsos you’ve ever seen. Actually, we consider them our furry children. The mom, Angel, is about 14 years old, and her son, Jake, is about 12. There is a distinct difference in their temperaments and it is obvious by their behavior which is the boy and which is the girl.

Jake is rough, always filthy from rolling around in the dirt outside, frequently comes in the house with a mouth full of dirt or grass, and when we see the roll of toilet paper unfurled into the hallway with half chewed-up pieces nearby, we know Jake’s had a snack.

Angel, on the other hand, is always clean despite the fact that her hair is mostly white. And she is very timid. Sometimes I'll catch her sitting quietly in a corner or under a table. It is only when she hears someone coming in the door that her guard dog instincts kick in and she’ll start barking until she knows it’s just one of us. And if someone laughs too loud, runs in the house or even pretends to attack me, the mama in her takes over and she tells everyone, “woofbehavewoof!”

She is very sweet, though. She follows me around throughout the day and lays in the same room where I am. And if she hasn’t seen me leave the room, my husband says he watches her as she methodically walks around the house, poking her head into each room looking for me until she finds me. She lazily wags her tail as she walks over to me and we are together again. She knows I love her and I take care of her.

The other day, Angel and I were in the bathroom as I was getting ready to go out. She was getting a drink of water from the dish we keep for them in the room and I was about to turn on the hair dryer. As I did, I looked over at her and thought for sure that her skittish nature would cause her to run from the loud noise.

But she didn’t. I ran the hair dryer while she continued to contentedly drink from her ceramic water dish. The scene immediately brought to my mind a part of Psalm 23.

“Jehovah is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” Psalm 23:1-2

Just as Angel was able to be relaxed enough to stay in the room and drink her water despite the loud noise because she knew I was near and she trusts me to take care of her, so we are able to relax even in the midst of noise and chaos and even deep trials when we are comforted in the full understanding that our Shepherd is near and we can trust Him to take care of us.

The more we know and trust the faithfulness of our Lord, the more we will be able to rest even while we traverse in the dark shadows of the valley. With confidence and peace we can drink deeply of His refreshing presence no matter what enemies may lurk because we know that the caretaker of our souls keeps watch over us and promises to lead us in the way everlasting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life Song

I get my share of junk email. Spam, as they call it. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that something so bothersome and distasteful shares its name with the barely distinguishable foodesque product that comes in a can.)

Anyway, I received an email with an invitation to the Navy, of all things. Actually it was directed at my son as he is registered with scholarships.com. But there was an interesting quote at the top of that email that caught my eye: “If your life had a soundtrack, would people listen?”




Huh. “Well I don’t know,” I thought. Then it got me to thinking, well, what is the soundtrack of my life? If my life had a theme song, what would it be? Then I had to laugh at the running joke I have with myself, that my life reminds me a lot of the Grateful Dead song, Truckin’ and the words of its refrain, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

But seriously. What song would seem to most accurately represent my life now that it is in Christ? I mentally scrolled through worship and praise songs, so many of which I love and understand on a very deep, core level. I’m sure there are many I could choose, but as I prayed, one song came to my mind: I Will Lift My Eyes by Bebo Norman.

Every time we sing that song in church I can feel my heart catch in my throat as the words pass from my lips and all of my being understands the meaning of each line enough that I feel I could have written the song myself.

What is the song of your life?








Monday, June 23, 2008

Hope That Never Fails

"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.
Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”
Psalm 27:10-14


A verse the Lord has brought to my attentionat least a couple of times in the last few weeks or so is verse 10 of Psalm 27: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

If you don’t know my life, or even if you do, you may not know how little of my parents I saw while I was growing up. My dad was often not home, sometimes for days at a time. And though my mother was there physically, emotionally and mentally she was not. I was basically left to fend for myself most of the time. I still feel the loneliness of it to this day. And my God knows my heart and He is gently and compassionately reminding me that I am not alone. He is always with me and I take comfort in that.

In verse 10 where it says, “then Jehovah will take me up,” the words “take me up” mean to gather for any purpose. God gathers His children to Himself for His divine purposes. I need not fear that I am left to fend for myself ever again, for I have the Lord God Himself as my mother and my father. He will look after me and will take care of me. He has a divine purpose for my life and though I seem to lack the foresight of what those purposes are, I know He is weaving together something that will be beautiful in His perfect timing.

Perhaps you, too, need to be reminded that you are not alone. That if you are a child of God through His Son Jesus Christ, then God is your parent, your spouse, your caretaker, your brother, your friend. Everything we have need of is found in our Heavenly Father. And the events of your life are being skillfully woven together, as well, and God is making of them something beautiful to behold.

And He goes on to give us still more hope when He says, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, (this means to hold onto, as to the Lord) and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

No matter what the day may bring, we can hope in the Lord. We will see the goodness of the Lord as long as our eyes are focused on Him. Do not look around for hope elsewhere, for it will always fail. But God will never fail.