A Photograph and a Poem

I was weary and discouraged. A couple of very difficult appointments with clients at the pregnancy center where I work had left me questioning my abilities and doubting my adequacy. I felt like a failure. I wanted to quit.

But I had a Bible study to prepare for that evening. Flipping through the pages of my workbook, I spotted the photograph. Thoughtful Geraldine had excitedly given it to me before the start of our study the previous week. It was a picture of a sunset over the Sea of Galilee in Israel, with a short poem printed below. She knew I had traveled to the Holy Land and thought of me when she saw it. I didn’t have time to look closely at it just then, so I tucked it between the pages of my workbook and promptly forgot about it.

Until now.

I picked up the photograph and slipped on my reading glasses to examine it more carefully. The sun, setting behind the Galilean hills, was in the shape of a Star of David.

This was the text of the simple poem that followed:

Star of David on Galilee
Jesus walked on this very sea
He called to Peter, step out and believe
Our eyes on Him and we receive.
He calls us now through Holy Spirit
For those with hearts and ears to hear it.
God Almighty, Creator of all
No prayer too big, no prayer too small.
So step out of your boat, you're not alone
Your miracle awaits, sent from the throne.*

Geraldine didn’t know that the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus was special to me. But God knew. He had used this very story to lead me to accept the very position I had taken at work. Geraldine had no idea that a week later I would need confirmation that the Lord was still with me in the midst of a storm. But God knew.

It was as if He had sent this photograph into the future for me to find at the exact moment I needed it.

He knew I would recognize His voice speaking through this little poem, reminding me that HE was the One who called me out upon the water, that great unknown where feet may fail. (He had also used these very lyrics, from the song “Oceans,” to confirm His call when I took the job.) He knew I would see Him in this beautiful photograph of the very waters upon which Peter walked, and the shores upon which I had stood.

The truth is, I had actually begun to enjoy being out on the water with Jesus, preferring my exhilarating adventures with Him to the safe confines of the boat. Until like Peter, I took my eyes off of Him and placed them on myself–my inabilities, my inadequacies–and on the cresting waves around me. Next thing you know I’m panicking, thrashing, and coughing up sea water.

He came for me that morning in a poem and a photograph, and pulled me close, dripping and sputtering. He gently informed me that it was never about me. He pointed out that the storm didn’t actually stop until He and Peter returned to the boat.** And He patiently instructed me that He alone will determine when our walk on the water is over and it’s time to step back into the boat.

Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him? Who exists outside of time, sees our future needs and makes preparation for them? Who defies the laws of nature, walks on water and invites us to do the same? Who comes to our merciful rescue when we forget that apart from Him we can do nothing?

Jesus.

Amazing Jesus.


For Reflection: Where are you in your journey with Jesus? In the boat? Out on the water? Going under? Wherever you find yourself today, He is there too. He knows exactly what you need. Just “step out and believe.”

Watch this video of “Oceans,” filmed on the Sea of Galilee, and be encouraged!

*Photo and poem by Anthony R. Torres, Hand of God Photography.

**See Matthew 14:22-33 for the account of Peter walking on the water.

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Cleaning House

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17, NAS)

Jesus was at home in the temple, teaching, healing, worshiping. A Son, in His Father’s house, going about His Father’s business.

But on this day? It was time for a little housecleaning.

The outer court of the temple was more like a bustling marketplace than a peaceful sanctuary. Tables had been set up for the convenience of visitors who needed to exchange money or purchase a sacrificial animal before proceeding to the inner courts of the temple. Upon entering the courtyard, one’s senses would have been assaulted with the sights, sounds, and smells of this carnival-like atmosphere. Regular temple worshipers had probably become somewhat desensitized, accepting the scene as normal.

Not Jesus. He had had enough of this bizarre bazaar. Fashioning a whip, he drove the sellers and money changers out in a rare display of angry passion.

Zeal for His Father’s house, we’re later told by His disciples, had simply overcome Him.

That temple is long gone, reduced to Roman rubble in 70 A.D. But now there is a new temple. One erected in every heart where Jesus dwells.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NAS)

And just like the days of old, “money changers” come and set up their tables in the temple courtyards of our hearts. Some have occupied space there for years. The Bible calls them “strongholds.”

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 10:4-5, NIV) 

A stronghold can take many forms. It could be a persistent sin, struggle, or addiction. It’s something that “sets itself up” in our lives to keep us from intimacy with God. It is anything that consistently robs us of what is rightfully ours.

Strongholds were never meant to be tolerated. Yet we grow accustomed to their presence and accepting of their chaos. We even start to “own” them, personalizing them…my anxiety, my insecurity, my anger. Strongholds are thieves masquerading as friends.

I allowed a long-standing stronghold of Fear to set up camp in my heart. It was a familiar presence, one I had learned to put up with and had begun to call my own. But according to 2 Corinthians 10:4, strongholds are meant to be demolished. Destroyed.

Thankfully, Jesus is on the scene. And He is still passionate about His Father’s house. He possesses the power to clear the temple courts with a whip and a word.

That word is our weapon.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV)

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword… (Hebrews 4:12a, NLT)

His word is the gleaming sword that pierces, the swinging hammer that crushes, and the raging fire that can consume all of our strongholds.

Regarding “my” stronghold of fear, He placed this particular weapon from His word in my trembling hand:

Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18, NIV)

His word IS alive. And amazing. I doubt it’s coincidence that the Greek word for “drives out” in 1 John 4:18 is the same root used in John 2:15, when Jesus “drove out” the money changers.

I decided that Fear had littered my temple ground long enough. Perfect Love swept in and swept it away.

Does this mean I’ll never battle with fears again? No. But when I do, I’ll take them captive, rather than the other way around. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.)

What strongholds have staked a claim in your life? Are you tired of paying their exorbitant fees? Do you long for peace in the sacred spaces of your heart?

Jesus is here. He is ready to clean house, overturn some tables, and drive the money changers out.

Just say the word. Then take Him at His word.

He is zealous for you, lovely temple of His Holy Spirit.

“My house shall be called a house of prayer…” Jesus (From Matthew 21:13) 

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Images and Imaginings

Cruz Ultrasound ii

I have become an ultrasound nerd.

I realized this last week when some friends announced their pregnancy on Facebook by posting this early ultrasound picture. Yep, there’s the yolk sac, I thought to myself. I was actually kind of obsessed with it.

Official nerd status = confirmed.

At the local pregnancy center where I work we provide free ultrasounds to help determine a viable pregnancy or estimate the gestational age. As the Client Advocate, one of my responsibilities/ privileges is to chaperon these ultrasounds. It never gets old, peering through this window into God’s workshop, the womb.

With the advent of modern ultrasound technology, we’ve been granted unprecedented access to the heretofore hidden world of the unborn. As early as four weeks post-conception, we can visualize and measure a miniature beating heart! And I’ll never forget the time I witnessed a tiny six-week-old embryo move. MOVE. I had no idea.

But as amazing as this technology is, it has its limitations. Sometimes the image is fuzzy and undefined. Our eyes strain to identify the structures on the screen, in varying shades of gray. It’s an inexact science, an imperfect medium.

Much like our Christian life. Jesus has come and opened our eyes to an unseen spiritual realm we never knew existed. We now have some understanding of His activity. We get glimpses of His glory. But they are limited and incomplete. Like hazy pewter images pixelating on a distant screen.

The apostle Paul, despite the glorious revelations he received,* experienced this obscurity in his own spiritual journey. Listen to how he described the struggle in these different translations of 1 Corinthians 13:12:

…we see only an indistinct image in a mirror…what I know is incomplete…(ISV)

…we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror..all that I know now is partial and incomplete…(NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. (MSG)

Life on this side of heaven is like that. We strain to bring focus to our spiritual vision. We long for a clear and unobstructed view.

This past month, two clients graciously returned to our center to introduce us to their newborn babies. I had “met” these babies on the ultrasound screen some months ago, as they waved and kicked in grainy gray. But to see the color and definition of their perfect features, and to feel their warm bodies breathing on my chest was to know them in another realm entirely.

A day is coming when we will see Jesus face to face. Now we trace His image in black and white on the pages of His Word; some day we will touch the Living Word Himself. Now we “squint in a fog”; soon we will behold the Son in vibrant color, in all of His radiant glory. Now we sense His Spirit moving mysteriously in our midst; then we will feel the very breath of God on our faces as we melt into His enveloping embrace.

YES.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul also shared the certainty of this hope:

Now we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ISV)

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (NLT)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (MSG)

One day our faith will be made sight. The mist will clear and clarity will reign. This earthly womb we call “home” will give birth to a heavenly reality so beautiful we cannot even conceive of it.

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9, NLT)

So squint if you must. Imagine if you can. But hope always.

And remember, anything good in this life is just a faint echo, an imperfect image of unimaginably wonderful things to come.

*See 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 for more of Paul’s story.

**This song by Hillsong Worship, “Transfiguration,” has resonated with me lately along these lines:

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An Act of Christmas Kindness

Kindness star

I knew my favorite little post office closed at 1pm. I also knew I wouldn’t make it in time when I left the house a few minutes before 1pm on Tuesday.  But I piled the gifts I had wrapped and boxed up that morning in the back seat of the car and, hoping against hope, drove there anyway. The desire to avoid the long lines at the other two, more popular post office locations fed my denial.

Sure enough, when I climbed the wooden stairs of the historic building that houses the post office, juggled my packages and jiggled the door knob, it was locked. Of course it was locked. It was now ten after one.

I trudged back down the stairs, accepting the sad reality that I would spend the next hour or two of my life in a slow-moving queue with all of the other holiday procrastinators. When out from the post office there arose such a clatter, I swiveled my head to see what was the matter. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic.) But there in the window was the postman, rapping on the glass, motioning me to return. Had I just awakened from a long winter’s nap? Or was I dreaming?

My New Favorite Postal Worker unlocked the door and invited me in. He then proceeded to weigh my parcels, efficiently calculating the cheapest way to get them to their intended destinations on time. I kept apologizing for my tardiness and thanking him for his kindness. Less than ten minutes later, I was sailing out the door, mission accomplished.

“Thank you for making my life easier today,” were my parting words to him as I headed down the stairs for the second time that afternoon. Only this time my hands were free. My step, lighter. My heart, warmed.

It was an unexpected act of Christmas kindness.

In the process of mailing my gifts, I was given gifts:  He gave me back an hour (or two or three) of my time. He helped alleviate my stress. He lifted my burdens, literally and figuratively.

He didn’t have to do it. The post office was closed. But he did it anyway.

He reminded me of Someone Else who orchestrated the Ultimate Act of Christmas Kindness many years ago. This act of kindness was anything but random. It had been planned for centuries. And the time to unveil it had finally arrived.

…when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared… (Titus 3:4a, NAS)

I picture God a bit like the postman in the window, rapping to get our attention. Seeking us out and beckoning us to come in. Unlocking heaven’s door. Humbly and graciously serving us, though we had done nothing to deserve such kindness.

He did it anyway.

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. (Ephesians 1:7, NLT)

Yes, Jesus came to bear the weight of our sin, to shoulder the burden of our salvation. When we come to Him, we too receive unexpected gifts:  Redemption. Peace. Joy. Freedom. Forgiveness. Grace.  And that’s just the start.

We leave His presence warmed. Light in spirit, full in heart.

This Christmas, if you hear Him knocking, might I urge you to turn around? Accept His invitation. Let Jesus escort you home and help you with that heavy load you’ve been carrying. He is more than capable.

And ever so kind.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7, The Message)

Come, let us adore Him.

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Not-So Special Delivery

Early Tuesday morning I opened the front door to be greeted by a small pile of this, right smack dab in the middle of my “Welcome” mat:

Poop emoji

Only it wasn’t smiling. And neither was I.

(And in case you’re wondering, this is NOT the soft-serve chocolate ice cream emoji.)

Talk about a rude awakening.

I have no idea what deposited this lovely gift on my front porch.

But I’m pretty sure I know who was behind it.

You see, it was a statement.

From the enemy.

Let me explain.

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been leading a Bible study on Thursday nights with a wonderful group of gals. The topic? “Women Encountering Jesus.” We’ve eavesdropped on a conversation at a Samaritan well, witnessed the mock trial of an adulterous woman and looked on, wide-eyed, at a sinner’s public display of affection at a dinner party.*

We’ve fallen more deeply in love with the Man who met each one with matchless mercy.

The last few passages we’ve studied, however, have involved Jesus demonstrating His power over forces in the spiritual realm. We’ve sympathized with the desperate mother begging for relief for her demon-possessed daughter, and cheered as a dear crippled woman was released from bondage after nearly two decades of demonic oppression.

We’ve been awed by this One who exercised unparalleled authority over it all.

Over the years I have gained some firsthand knowledge of spiritual battle. (So have you, no doubt, if you’ve walked with the Lord for any length of time.) I’ve learned to identify the enemy’s activity and recognize his calling card. I fully expected to meet with resistance as we tackled the subject of Satan and his partners in crime. So frankly I was a little surprised when all remained quiet on the western front.

And then the Special Delivery showed up on my doorstep.

Along with a “note,” signed by the accuser himself.

I’m out here, prowling around, just waiting for an opportunity.

(I should also mention that my husband had just left town. Coincidence? I think not.)

But GOD also had a message for me.

This is as close as the enemy can get to a believer in Christ. He cannot cross the threshold. His garbage must stay outside and he knows it. Nothing can touch you unless I say so.

Wow.

It was quite the visual.

Yes, the lion still prowls and threatens.

We see his tracks and evidence of his presence.

I’ll admit I was a bit rattled by his public display of “affection.”

But

I. Refuse. To. Be. Intimidated.

Because the Lion of Judah guards my life.

And greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world!

Hallelujah!

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)
 
Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. (Revelation 5:5b, NLT)
 
He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
(1 John 5:18b, NAS)
 
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4, NIV)

 

*See previous blog post for more on the story of “The Sinful Woman.”

 

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To Love Him

I’ll be honest.  There are some passages in the Bible that I’ve never really liked.  Luke 7:36-50 is one of them.  Guess what last night’s Bible study was on?

You guessed it.

In case you’re not familiar with Luke 7:36-50, it’s the story of a woman-with-a-less-than-stellar-reputation who very passionately anointed Jesus.  She was a “sinner.”  A prostitute.

It’s also the story of a man-with-an-impressive-spiritual-resume who very passively stood by.  He was a “saint.”  A Pharisee.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. (Luke 7:36-38*)
 

Luke 7

If I had been one of the dinner guests around the table that evening, I no doubt would have squirmed in my chair and looked away, cringing.  What she does is Awkward.  Embarrassing.  Inappropriate.

Simon, the host of the dinner, was also displeased with this uninvited guest, the party crasher.  Jesus told him a story:

“A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. (Luke 7:41b-43)
 

Here’s the point:

Some sinners are greater debtors; but whether our debt be more or less, it is more than we are able to pay.” (Matthew Henry)

Let that sink in.

Now imagine Simon’s surprise when Jesus goes on to commend her and correct him:

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. (Luke 7:44b-46)
 

This gal “got it.”  She understood that Jesus was a very special Guest of Honor.  Worthy of honor.  The ultimate V.I.P.  Suddenly she had my respect.  Her actions were actually the more “appropriate” response.  Because GOD was in the house!

Who can forgive sins but God only, and in Simon’s house God was present in the person of His Son.” (All the Women of the Bible)

She alone fell at His feet and worshiped.

Jesus continues:

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7:47-48)
 

This is the place in the passage where I’d always get hung up.  My problem was that I identified more with the “good” Pharisee than with the “bad” woman.  It seemed “unfair” to me that the one who had sinned more got to love more.

But really, aren’t we all “the woman” in the story?  We’ve each been forgiven MUCH.  So much more than we’ll ever know.  The woman shows us the only “proper” response as she gives Jesus the one thing He’s really after:  OUR LOVE.

The woman was, at least in Simon’s mind, a greater sinner. The woman was, as Jesus pointed out, the greater lover as well.” (Bob Deffinbaugh)

Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)
 

Isn’t it interesting, that:

Of all those who went to the dinner, only this woman is said to have left forgiven”? (Bob Deffinbaugh)

And at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?  The question is not “What have you done?” but “What has Jesus done for you?”  The issue is not where you’ve been, but where He wants to take you.  I have no doubt that her life radically changed that day, and that many other lives were changed through her testimony.

My grandfather, at nearly 70 years of age, came to know Christ through a former prostitute.  He had been invited to hear her story at a church service one evening.  As she spoke, he realized, “If God can forgive her, then he can forgive me.”  He lived another decade, a forgiven, changed man.  I loved him and his story.

I now love the woman of Luke 7 and her story, too.

But most of all, I love “this man (who) goes around forgiving sins.” (Luke 7:49)

To know Him – to be forgiven by Him – is to love Him.

*All Scriptures are from the New Living Translation of the Bible.

(Quotes from Bob Deffinbaugh are excerpted from an article called “Wordless Worship of an Unnamed Woman” at www.bible.org.)

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The Star in Our Faults

Star painting

I am weak;
Sinner, still.
Faults exposed,
Heartsick, ill.
 
Head bowed low,
Hand raised high.
Who will free me?
This, my cry.
 
Mercy dawns,
Purest light.
Heaven to earth,
Shattering night.
 
Perfect Life,
Violent death.
Faultless Lamb,
Final breath.
 
Veil now torn,
Victory won.
It is finished!
Love’s work, done!
 
Grace sufficient,
Covers scar.
Faults, forgiven!
Hero!  Star!

 

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25, NIV)

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Into the Storm

Gray clouds

There’s a new tornado disaster movie in theaters called “Into the Storm.”  I’m not sure I want to go see it.  I’m still recovering from my own brief, but traumatizing tornado “encounter.”  No pun intended, but here’s how it went down…

I was out shopping on a Sunday afternoon last month when, for the second time this summer, my cell phone vibrated with this ominous message:

“Emergency Alert. Tornado Warning in this area til 2:00 PM MDT. Take shelter now.”

Yikes.

I hastily abandoned my cart with its contents and hurried to a neighboring store to collect Laurel and her two friends.  Outside in the parking lot, we scanned the horizon in search of a funnel cloud.  Seeing nothing but dark clouds and gray skies, I decided to make a run for home, reasoning that our full basement was a safer location than a one-story strip mall.

I was fairly confident I could make it there in time.

Within moments I was fairly confident I was wrong.

Warning sirens began blaring as our van rounded the back of the building.  The girls continued to monitor the clouds through the back seat windows.  The wind picked up.  Rain, mixed with hail, started to pelt.  My pounding heart echoed the staccato sound.

Soon we were engulfed in Gray.  For all I knew we were driving straight into the tornado.  And believe me when I say I’m no storm chaser.

At this point I instructed Laurel to call home to see if we could get some idea of where the funnel cloud had been spotted and which direction it was moving.  Emily answered and informed us that “it” was “by the church.”  “We” were several blocks directly east of the church.

Gulp.

This was beginning to get real.

My heart now kept time with the windshield wipers set to their highest speed.  I pressed harder on the accelerator, my leg trembling involuntarily as we sped north towards the house.  At times visibility became so poor I feared I would drive right off the road.  Seeing no other cars around, it seemed that everyone had gotten the memo about the tornado’s location but me.

I began to pray.  Nonstop.  Out loud.  I’m not sure if my prayers were a welcome comfort to my three wide-eyed passengers, or an unsettling sign that a meeting with our Maker was imminent.  (I’m guessing the latter.)

Seconds felt like minutes felt like hours.  I just kept driving (read: speeding).  And praying (read: crying out to my Maker).

We finally skidded around the corner onto the dirt road that leads up the steep hill to our home.  I scaled that hill in record time, fishtailing as I floored it down (read: up) the homestretch.  We lurched to a stop in our driveway, flung open the car doors and bolted through the heavy rain into the house.  We were breathless and drenched.

But we were safe.

We later learned that a tornado did touch down east of town not long after our crazy storm chase.  Emily had witnessed some scary looking cloud rotation in the church parking lot.  It was all part of the same strong storm system that cut diagonally across the city that afternoon.  But as far as we know there never was an actual funnel cloud bearing down on us, despite how frighteningly real it felt at the time.

After the fact, a friend jokingly remarked that those moments of sheer terror were a great time to make sure one was “good with God.”

“Oh, I’m good,” I replied without hesitation.

You see, that’s the thing.  A tornado could have swept us up and into eternity that afternoon.  All of our days are numbered.  As Christian author and teacher Beth Moore once said:

“You gotta get home somehow.” *

Be it via tornado or illness or accident.  One day we will depart from this place we now call home.

It is vital to know that we are “good with God.”

I am.  I don’t base my confidence upon my own performance, but upon the perfection of the One I call Savior.  I love how Tullian Tchividjian put this in his excellent book One Way Love:

In other words, the older I get, the more smitten I become by the fact that God’s love for me, His approval and commitment to me, does not ride on my transformation but on Jesus’ substitution.  Jesus is infallibly devoted to us in spite of our inconsistent devotion to him.  The Gospel is not a command to hang on to Jesus.  It’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith and how unsuccessful your efforts may be, God is always holding on to you.”

Amen.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus, then as far as He’s concerned, you’re good with Him.  Not because you are good or even just good enough.  But because HE was!

Storms will come.  They are unpredictable, unavoidable, and inevitable.

In those moments of fear and uncertainty, you can be completely sure of this:

He is with you.

He will hold on to you.

He will deliver you safely Home.

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” –Jesus (John 6:39-40, NIV)

*From her teaching on Daniel 3.

 

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Let the Parents Come Unto Me

Hermann_Clementz_Christ_Blessing_the_Children_525

Jesus loves the little children.

And the big kids.

And their moms and dads.

I recently read a familiar passage in the Bible, the one in Mark 10 where Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me.”  Only this time I approached it from the perspective of a parent.  I was greatly encouraged by this glimpse into God’s heart for children AND their parents.  (I pray you will be too.)

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. (Mark 10:13, NLT)

Parenting is rewarding, challenging and humbling.  As a mother of three, I am constantly reminded of my need for divine assistance.  I’ve spent a good portion of the last two decades on my knees in prayer, “bringing my children to Jesus.”  My deepest desire, like those parents of old, is that each of my children would receive a life-changing touch from Him.  I come to Him because I believe He is the only source of true blessing.

But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Unlike the disciples, Jesus never gets tired of parents who approach Him on behalf of their children.  He is not irritated by our persistence.  He never scolds or turns us away.  We are not bothering Him.

Everyone knows it’s not wise to get between a mama bear and her cubs. Well, apparently it’s also not a good idea to get between the Lord and a God-fearing parent.  The well-meaning, but misguided disciples learned this the hard way…

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. (Mark 10:14b, NLT)

Jesus was ticked. (My paraphrase.) This is one of the few instances in the Gospels where we are plainly told that Jesus was angry. The Greek word for “angry” is aganakteo, which means “to be indignant, moved with indignation, be very displeased.”*  The scolders got their own little scolding.

I love the fact that Jesus is passionate about our kids, that He is moved by our requests.  I am touched that He has an emotional reaction to anyone or anything that tries to come between Him and them.  And us.

(He) saw what was happening. (Mark 10:14a, NLT)

Jesus was fully aware of what was going on.  He saw the obstacles impeding their intimacy with Him, just as He sees them now.  He is never oblivious to our situation.

And He does something about it.

Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:16, NLT)

When our daughters were each a few months old, we dedicated them to the Lord in a simple, but meaningful church ceremony.  We promised to “bring them to Jesus” and teach them His ways.  Our pastor laid his hands on them and blessed them.  Two of those babies are now all grown up.  Their younger sister is not far behind.

The same Jesus who heard our prayers then, hears our prayers now.  They remain His children, just as they will always remain ours.  He still longs to hold them.  Bless them.  Be close to them.

No matter how old they are.

Regardless of what blocks their path.

Dear parent, God knows it’s tough sometimes.  It’s trying and tiring.  Just keep trusting, praying and bringing them to Jesus.  He’ll clear the way.

You may be their parent, but you are also His child.

Let Him hold and bless you too.

*From The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

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Free for the Taking

Last night I chaperoned my first (and, Lord willing, last) junior high promotion dance.  Seeing as how I’m not a huge fan of junior high dances, and seeing as how misery loves company, I roped my good friend Julie into joining me in the Concessions Booth for the three-hour duration of the dance.  (Julie is not only a good friend–she’s a good sport.  She’s even still talking to me today.)

It turned out to be quite the entertaining evening!  While minding the cookies and cotton candy, we were treated to a bonus fashion show  featuring a variety of hemlines (Hello, high-low!) and hues (Mint green and coral were both well represented).  Our booth was strategically located near the girls’ bathroom, so we also witnessed our fair share of wardrobe malfunctions and tears.  Every now and then we’d sneak into the gym to spy.  It was just how I remembered it from my own junior high days–awkward slow dances, wallflowers, and all.

I was reminded of all the reasons one’s promotion to high school is indeed cause for celebration.

The most memorable moments for me, however, came whenever a group of kids would approach the Concessions Booth to inquire about the cost of a particular food item.

“It’s FREE,” we’d reply.

Their reactions were priceless.  All seemed surprised.  Some doubted.  A few hesitated.

“Help yourselves,” we’d encourage.

Most would then eagerly grab a bottle of water and a candy bar (or two or ten) and return with their entourage to the gym, scattered sequins sparkling in their wake.

I enjoyed being the bearer of the good news that, thanks to some generous donors, it was all free for the taking.  It was fun seeing the looks on their faces as they absorbed the fact that they really could help themselves to whatever they wanted, without charge.

The spiritual parallel was not lost on me.

Because Salvation is not For Sale.

It cannot be purchased with good works.  It cannot be obtained through church affiliation.  It cannot be earned by living a good life.

It’s FREE.  A gift.

 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT) 

Thanks to God’s generous heart and Jesus’ perfect life, eternal life is ours for the taking.  It’s not just about Heaven.  It’s about a simple, honest, real relationship with Jesus.  Right here, right now.

Surprised?  Hesitating?  Wondering what the catch might be?

Yes, it IS free.  But it may also “cost” you…your pride, your popularity, your plans.  You must humble yourself.  Surrender yourself.

HE’s worth it.

I think life without Jesus is a bit like a junior high dance–big on glitz and drama, small on meaning and substance.  Isn’t it time we graduated to something better?

If you haven’t yet received the free gift He is offering you, might I encourage you to do so?  I’m delighted to be the bearer of this Good News:

“It’s Free!  Help yourselves!”

Just reach out and take it.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12, NIV)

Laurel and Friends dancing in the park before the Dance.

Laurel and friends dancing in the park before the dance.

(Photo Credit:  Rugged Grace Photography)

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