Monthly Archives: March 2013

All Embracing Forgiveness and a Clean Slate

Life stories are fascinating.  I especially love hearing the stories of how greatness became possible because of the adversity someone travailed through in order to gather the strength or courage needed to address the difficult circumstance in their life.  It is inspiring.  I’ve never heard of a story of true greatness that started any other way.  There is always a difficult mountain to climb.

Sometimes that difficult mountain to climb is in the area of forgiveness.  We all need God’s forgiveness, for we all do things that hurt the heart of God and hurt others.  No exemptions.  When we are faced with our own sins it can be hard to imagine that we could rise out of the rut we have dug for ourselves.  We may even consider the thought that God could forgive us, but we can’t see ourselves as anything other than someone who did such bad things that we are stuck in that rut forever.  Perhaps, we have not really sensed the complete forgiveness that Christ offers.

Jesus had a life story that shed light on these thoughts:

“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?  Luke 7:41-42

Most obviously the one who loved more was the one who was forgiven of the greater sins.  We run toward the person who offers us complete acceptance and grace after we have blown it really big.  Great forgiveness makes great love possible.

That’s why Easter is the cause for the greatest celebration!  We, no matter what we have done or who we have become can come running to Jesus because He died on the cross to allow complete forgiveness with God.  And it didn’t stop there.  He rose from the dead on Easter morning demonstrating His power over death, over sin, over everything that makes us think that God can’t truly forgive whatever we have done.  He kindly offers all-embracing forgiveness and the complete cancelling of our debt.  He truly offers us a clean slate.

In response, our love for Jesus can give us strength, courage and confidence to face whatever situation causes adversity in our lives.  When we know we are forgiven and loved much, great and amazing life stories are possible!

 

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Accepting Changes in the Seasons of Life

What time is it?  How would you label this season of your life?

When I was on staff at a large church one of the many aspects to my work was to interview people who had taken a “Spiritual Gifts” class to see their best fit for service in ministry.  Spiritual gifts fascinate me and I was continually in awe of how the God of the universe would create such unique individuals each with a one-of-a kind mix of life experiences, gifts, talents and heart for serving others.

One of the questions I would ask had to do with how one approaches life in terms of either being spontaneous or rather structured – consistent and preferring routines.  I would be the latter being a ‘creature of routine’ and having some form of equilibrium in the consistency of how I approach life.  For those of you like me, change is probably especially against our grain.  But I am reminded of this amazing section of Scripture and the profound truth in each statement:

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under hearven.
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Are you feeling a bit unsettled by some recent changes?  There is a breath of fresh air in knowing that God designs our life with seasons and they are different – and that is o.k.  We would always prefer the seasons of laughter and dancing to the times of crying and grieving, but they are all components of a healthy life.  I believe that one can laugh with greater veracity and dance joyfully with all out abandonment having traveled through times of heart-rendering grief with tear-stained pillows.  Knowing the depths of sorrow gives release to the times of happiness.

Recently I shared this portion of Scripture as we buried a friend.  Hers was a long good life and she knew the Lord personally – there was peace about her eternal security.  Yet, with the release of everyone we love there is that grief, albeit with hope, until we reach heaven ourselves.  There the seasons will change.  When we reach heaven there is something new in store:

Look, God’s home in now among His people.  God Himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever.

Revelation 21:3b-4

This is a great hope to which we can look forward.  Until then we learn to accept the seasons of change.  Ultimately, as believers we can look forward to that eternal party, where the ebb and flow of seasons melt into rapturous times of joy.  There is hope ahead for the one who has placed his or her faith in Christ.

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Insomnia, Yet Singing for Joy

Do your problems keep you up at night?  There is something about troubles that send us running to God.  Oh, we’d like to think that if our lives were peaceful and all our prayer requests were granted immediately (and in the way we would like) that we would be so thankful to God that we would stay ever close to Him.  But that is not human nature.  Rare is the person who would seek out God when life is going really well.  We lean toward  the myth of self-sufficiency, and when life is going smooth, it feeds our thought that we can do it all on our own.  Blessed is the person who knows that God alone is the source of our help and security, even if it has taken trouble and heart ache to realize this truth.

David, the writer of many Psalms, was often on the run from trouble.  While in the wilderness of Judah he penned these words:

I lie awake thinking of You,

meditating on You through the night.

Because You are my helper,

I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.

I cling to You

Your strong right hand holds me securely.

Psalm 63:6-8 (NLT)

David’s problems were not small when he wrote this.  People were lying about him, plotting to destroy him and kill him.  Big stuff.  Yet, David sang for joy in the midst of his problems.  David, instead of fretting through the night, made a conscious effort to think about the Lord and meditate on Him through the night.

If your problems keep you up at night, I too have been a fellow night-fretter.  I have laid awake trying mentally to control dilemmas that were uncontrollable in my own power.  Those worries caused me insomnia.  Many times I allowed troubling issues to rob me from sleep.  I am learning, however, that our sense of security is rooted in our attitude of trust in the Lord.  That solid foundation of trust in God’s ways allow an indescribable peace that doesn’t make sense to our logical sense, and grants sleep in times of anxiety.  One of my nightly rituals has become reading a Bible story to a five-year old.  How blessed am I to have this time of focusing on the truths of God’s Word before I lay down my head to sleep.  There is so much peace wrapped up in God’s Word!

Like David, we can choose to turn to the Lord during the watches of the night, and if we lie awake, to make a conscious decision to meditate on the good He has done.  We grow in trust by clinging to Him, especially in times of concern.

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A Story, An Allegory, A Life Transformed

“O God, if there is a God anywhere, you must make yourself real to me.  If you exist and are really what people describe you to be, you can’t leave me like this,”

cried out a nineteen-year old Hannah Hurnard who was suffering both mental and physical anguish.

Hannah’s life was changed in that moment of crisis from someone who was contemplating suicide into someone who would develop the hope, faith and strength to help change many people’s lives through her writing.  A sweet friend gave me a copy of Hannah’s book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, a powerful allegory of her life journey.  It is a story of a echoed theme of those who have  faced unbearable pain, in some form, and in their time of agony have turned to God and found that times of suffering become the foundation of understanding to their life’s meaning and the means of creating compassion for other people.

Hanna’s moment of crisis is not too far removed from David of the Bible when in Psalm 25:16-18 he writes,

“Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress.  My problems go from bad to worse.  Oh, save me from them all!  Feel my pain and see my trouble.  Forgive all my sins.”

The thoughts and feelings are so common that at countless memorials with which I was involved chose Psalm 23 which declares:

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4

The good news that changed Hannah Hurnard’s life and the lives of countless others is that God listens and God cares and makes Himself real.  When in doubt of God’s love for us, we need look no further than the cross of Christ where Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice to save us both from those things which we suffer through on earth, and for life forever with Him in heaven.  Psalm 23 ends with:

Surely goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23:6

Lives are saved, restored and given new meaning and purpose when in that moment of crisis we turn in faith to God and cry out like Hannah did, “you must make yourself real to me.”  In the quietness of our hearts and the sincerity of our motives, God is faithful to not only make Himself real, but to turn our lives around, and give us the gifts of joy despite circumstances and peace of heart and mind.

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Loving the Prodigal(s) in Your Life – Part 1

There is a prodigal in your life.  It may be a son, a daughter, an adult grandchild, a brother, a sister, a husband, a wife or even your parent.  It may be another significant relationship.  You love this person tremendously.  This person knows wrong from right, or at least you thought they did at one time.  This person has chosen through a long series of decisions to move away from their former way of life which included things that you once admired about this person.  You worry about this person.  You have pleaded with him or her.  Nothing you have said seems to have had an impact.  You have prayed for this person daily.   It is very possible that this person once acknowledged a relationship with God and may have even accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.  However, at this time, talk of spiritual things make your prodigal bristle.  And one more thing about your prodigal.  They have broken your heart.

Author Jeff Lucas in Will Your Prodigal Come Home?  relates,

“A prodigal – someone who walks away from intimacy with God – doesn’t always become a drug or alcohol abuser, or a star player on the party circuit.  But probably every Christian on earth knows and grieves for someone whose life choices make a bleak declaration:  the good news of the gospel has not been good enough for them.”

The string of events in the life of your prodigal which have impacted you can become a personal litany of pain.  However, chances are that the life choices your prodigal has made has little to do with you.  There are things one cannot change in another person that one has to accept.  Forgiveness toward your prodigal is part of the journey of your healing.  A significant roadmark in forgiving is to develop compassion for that person who is so utterly lost.  They may not be lost eternally, but they most certainly have lost their way here on planet earth.  If we can feel a tenderheartedness towards that person, while they are yet still in their state of rebellion, we have begun to experience how God feels toward us.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Ways to pray for your prodigal:

  • Find a Bible verse that exemplifies your prodigal.  Repeat and pray that verse inserting your prodigal’s name into the verse.
  • Consider the potential in your prodigal if he or she surrendered their life to Christ.  What could that person be like and what kind of impact could they have on other people?  Pray toward that end.  Pray for what you know would please the heart of God.
  • Pray for yourself.  As God has allowed this painful chapter in your life, pray that God would mould your heart into someone that loves others as He does, and that He would give you both strength and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in dealing with your prodigal.

 

 

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Adoption and a Decision to Love

I came from a large family  and am the baby of six siblings.  My parents always communicated to us that it was a tremendous blessing to have a large family.  Another great attribute of growing up in our home was the appreciation of ethnic diversity.  My older brothers brought home exchange students from the college for family dinners and we developed friendships with people from all over the world.  I particularly remember Si Van, a Cambodian, who was very kind to me.  He brought me little gifts and I later understood that I reminded him of his little daughter he had left back home when he came to the United States to obtain his education.   Another friend was from Nigeria, and my brother pointed out how much nicer his dark skin looked next to the white turtle neck shirt he wore than our pale skin would look.  Another of my brothers sponsored a child from Hong Kong and he and I wrote to each other for many years.  This same brother read me chapters of Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl before I went to sleep at night.  Anne Frank gave me an appreciation of what it was like to be a young Jewish girl in hiding during the Nazi regime.

When I was a little girl and dreamed of the family I might have someday the many children in my home of dreams had all variations of white, brown and black skin.  They came from varied ethnic backgrounds.  Evidently way back then I thought about adoption as a great way to have a family.  The years came and went and although I did not have a large family, I was blessed to become a mother by adoption.

Adoption teaches me in many ways about the love God has for us as His children.  Adoption is referred to in the Scriptures in Romans 8: 15b-17a (NLT)

Instead, your received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children.  Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.”  For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.  And since we are His children, we are His heirs.  In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.”

In adoption it matters not whether our child looks like us or has a similar personality.  Looks and personality are not prerequisites for my love.  Looking at our world it is evident that God loves diversity.  Our adopted children are loved for the very same reason a biological child is loved.  They are loved because they belong to us – they are our very own.  The bonding of our spirits start as a decision to love, and God completes the bond in  our heart.

I can say with absolute certainty that I was bonded to my adopted daughter the night I learned about her existence.  My first prayers for her were for her own well-being.  I did not want to put my desires to be a mother ahead of what she needed most.  Only after these first prayers about her alone did I put in my request with God for the honor of being her mother.  Exactly three months later she was lovingly placed in my arms.  Just like all parents my husband and I exclaimed together, “she’s beautiful!”

There is a famous cartoon in which one child says to another, “most kids are born from their mommies tummies, but since I was adopted, I was born from my mommies heart.”

If God adopts us as His children, adoption is a good, loving and blessed way to add children to our own family.

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Broken Dreams and Soft Hearts

When I was in Bible school studying Wisdom Literature, one of the assignments was to read the book of Job in three different versions of the Bible.  For my devotional times I am enjoying the New Living Translation which speaks pretty much like we do – with a certain casual cadence.

When we think of Job we think of broken dreams, and he had many.  The worst of course was the loss of his children.  It is said to be a parent is to forever have your heart walking around in someone else’s body.  We can’t control what happens to our children nor control what they do – but our hearts are so intertwined with their lives.  Job had a long list of things in his life to grieve.  Broken dreams can top most of our lists when it comes to grieving our losses.  It’s the “what could have been” in life that often sets us to plains of sadness.  What resolution is there for broken dreams?

Well, the last seven verses in the book of Job shed some light and give us hope.  After his time of great suffering Job found relief from his troubles.  It is important to remember our times of crisis have beginnings AND endings.  It won’t always feel so bad as it may feel today.  God directed Job to pray for his so-called friends.  They were the people who were great friends and grievers for seven days and then they started talking, which was their downfall.  All their advice was just salt in the wound of a hurting friend.  When Job was down his friends verbally beat him up.  But at the end, as part of His restoration of Job, God tells Job pray for his friends.  And as Job prays (it’s hard to be unforgiving when praying for someone) God restores Job’s fortunes.

The end of Job tells of the goodness that comes his way.  His life was blessed more than at the beginning.  There is an end to the story.  If Job had harbored any ill will against his friends, even though they were in the wrong, the happy ending could not have been accomplished.

As Job journeyed through his season of broken dreams he kept his heart soft, as difficult as it was, and lived to see great things.  In our season of broken dreams, keeping our hearts soft is sometimes the hardest thing.  It’s much easier to default to anger, depression or bitterness.  But this is not what God wants for us – He wants to “restore our fortunes” and heal our hearts.  The end can be better than the beginning, and the key to this is the condition of our hearts as we travel through some of life’s broken dreams.

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Eeyore and the Psalms

I had two friends that both underwent a similar medical procedure.  Afterward they both described their experience to me in detail, with one important difference.  One, who viewed life with an optimistic flare accentuated her report of her medical experience with “it was cool!”  The other, whose life outlook relates to Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Eeyore, kept saying, “it was terrible.”  Same procedure, different perception.  One approached the situation with a sense of wonder, the other thought the sky was falling.

“Storms of life” come to all of us.  My pastor has often said, we are either going into a storm, in the middle of the storm, or coming out of a storm.  In reading through the Psalms we see this truth in the life of David.  And sometimes David was like my optimistic friend and other times he had his “Eeyore” moments.  But what I like about David is though at times he starts a Psalm with an Eeyore voice, he interrupts himself, reminds himself of God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and ends the Psalm with hope and trust in God.

From Psalm 61:1-4 (NLT):  “O God, listen to my cry!  Hear my prayer!  From the ends of the earth, I cry to You when my heart is overwhelmed.  Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.  Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of Your wings!”

Lord, if my mind starts going down a negative road today, please interrupt my thoughts and help me to remember that You are the rock of my life and help me to cling to Your promise that You are working out all things in my life for good.  Amen.

 

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Why I Loved the Addicts

Why you ask?…in a word, honesty.  The answer seems so opposite of what one would expect.  Addiction by its nature involves lying.  Typically when caught up  in an addiction one becomes a good actor.  Some would say we are caught up in denial.  In the book of Jeremiah we are told, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things…Who really knows how bad it is?”

But my experience with the addicts came about through prayer meetings where a small group of people who were formerly enslaved to chemical addictions came together and said, “we want to start a Celebrate Recovery.”  Through the next few months we prayed together and I found myself sharing at a level with this group things I haven’t shared with any other Bible Study group.  Why?  Because this group of people had come to a place in their sobriety and more significantly in their relationship with Jesus that they had confessed it all to Him and at least another person.  In that confession and honesty they experienced a freedom they never knew before and an ability to share the real story of their lives.  We are all human, and we all struggle.  There were no “church faces” in this group.  Christianity was real and raw and very attractive because Christ met each person in this group at the point of their deepest need.  When they said “I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ,” they meant it, and it showed.

With that level of honesty came acceptance, understanding, encouragement, and a lot of support.  I never forgot the experience, and doubt I will ever “recover” from it either.

We tried to launch a Celebrate Recovery, and it ran for ten months.  In that time we saw many people come through our doors.  There were a variety of issues.  Someone was suicidal, another definitely under the influence, many newly clean and off alcohol, prescription drugs and meth, some that struggled with porn,  and some from broken marriages.  There were victims of domestic and sexual abuse and those who struggled with gambling and some who were just plain hurting.  We ate together.  We worshiped together.  Someone would share their life story, called a testimony.  We prayed, we confessed our sins and we talked about how Jesus was helping us and we shared real life together.

Once one experiences this kind of fellowship it leaves a lasting impression.  And so, I loved the addicts in that group.  They taught me some valuable soul lessons.  It is in the brokenness of life that we find the humility to admit, no, I don’t have it all together.  But I’m much better than I used to be because Jesus has rescued me from myself.  And I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with…change.

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