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From Why? to What?

Lessons from Cherith

He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Luke 24:38

During the time in my own land of Cherith, a place where I was separated from my home, my regular way of life and exposed to great sadness, I so needed to rely on the vast promises of God.  Yet each day I battled the “why” of it all.  Why didn’t the cancer doctors see and recognize the increased cancer markers in my beloved mother-in-law’s blood tests?  Why did each visit to the emergency room end without answers?  But more importantly, why would this woman, a shining light for God, an inspiring gift to everyone around her, a woman, as her pastor reflected at her funeral with a beautiful aura surrounding her, be stricken with cancer and taken so soon? Why God, oh why?

How often have we lamented that why question in our lives?  Why are we suffering financially?  Why is my child rebelling?  Why is my marriage on the rocks?  Why did I suffer that abuse?  It seems as Christians we are expected to answer those questions.  I believe many of us avoid speaking the Gospel to our friends, family and neighbors out of fear of being asked those why’s of life.  In fact, as a young college student who was approached one day on my campus by two religious folks, I too asked the big why – why is there suffering?  You see I believed in God but didn’t really know anything about Him.  Unfortunately, neither did these two young proselytizers.

I recently heard the statement: “If we view the world as a Christian, it all makes sense.”  On the surface that’s a real head scratcher since this world seems so upside down especially now.  Broken families, broken lives, so much pain and death abound.  But take a step back, way back to Genesis 3.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17-18

And that’s just a taste of what man’s rebellion wrought.  Creation is currently at odds with God.  And just as cells divide and life moves without our intervention, our world around us is no longer under our full dominion.  So yes, there’s floods and fire and famine and cancer.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether we are a good person or not.  In addition to this result of The Fall, we became separated from God, always seemingly looking for ways to buck His system.  And we face the consequences for our actions, both individually and collectively.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  Exodus 5:1-2

And we know how well that went for Pharoah.  But what was Moses’ first reaction after Pharoah knuckled down and made the Israelites work harder?  “Why?”  He asked God why did He have to make things worse and why did Moses have to be the brunt of everything?  From a Christian point of view, we should say, “There’s consequences in this world when anyone chooses to not submit – whether you choose to believe in God or not.”  This is not “Karma,” it’s simply a cause and effect of acting outside God’s desires for us.  

And while we may cry out, “why?!” in the moment whether in situations of our own making or of those in which we have no power, we need to remember the “what.”  What is God doing in me or even in the world?  What is God expecting of me as a believer? What is the promise I can hold on to?  The early Israelites had a decent excuse.  They didn’t know God as well as we do now.  They didn’t have all the stories of how He has rescued and protected His people.  They didn’t have Jesus’ brother James telling them there will be trials and in them they need to seek the lessons of God.  They didn’t have Jesus come to earth and die for their sins.  They didn’t have the Book of Revelation.  But we do.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So, each day as I sat beside Bev’s bed as her body succumbed not to cancer but to an infection, I battled the “why” demon. I wanted someone punished.  I wanted someone to suffer like I was now suffering.  Then I heard a whisper, “She gets to come home to me.  And you need to see what I am teaching you.”

You see even in her suffering, on her death bed, this Christian called Bev was a conduit for Jesus.  A teacher and a comforter.  I finally realized it didn’t matter the “why.”  For one, there really were no answers that fully satisfied.  At times like that we just need to submit to God’s sovereignty and say, “I don’t know but He does.”  The only real answers that I continued to come back to were the “what.”

What did I truly believe about God?  And what was He trying to teach me?

Christian Friend, if you earnestly believe the Bible, believe that God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all it’s inhabitants, if you believe He is sovereign and He sent His Son to die for our sins, if you believe that there is a place greater than Eden awaiting us then you could understand why Bev wasn’t worried.  Why she could make us all laugh at her darkest hour.  Why, in the middle of a conversation she looked over my shoulder, waved and with a child-like voice exclaimed in joy, “Hi Jesus!”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? John 14:2

You see I didn’t need to know the answers to my worldly questions and I definitely didn’t need retribution.  I needed to remember that Jesus hates death because it’s a sign of our broken world.  And He is right now preparing a room more beautiful than I can imagine for even me.  When He comes back we will all be raised up to live forever in a beautiful place that has no suffering, no death, no pain, no war, no hate, no fear.  And that is just what I needed to learn.

Are you asking “why” in your difficult time when you should be asking “what?”

What is the Lord teaching or asking you right now?  

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Written Word

Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments.  Exodus 34:28

As a college student, I majored in journalism with a minor in English.  You could surmise I enjoy the written word so much I wanted to make a living at a job that required a lot of writing.  I dreamed of one day writing a novel or even a regular column in a magazine.  And although neither of those has happened (yet!) my eventual career path in public relations saw me using those skills in abundance. 

The degradation of the written and spoken word these days drives people like me a bit batty.  Not only do people rarely speak face to face but they also don’t write much.  Text messaging has broken all the basic rules of the written word with shortcuts such as “lol” and “brb.”  But I suppose it’s just another step in the evolution of God’s gift to us of language and the written word.

Write them (the Commands) on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,” Deuteronomy 11:20

There are currently around 6,000 different languages spoken around the world. It’s been estimated that it would have taken at least 100,000 years for a single language to have diversified that much. That would take us back to the middle of the Stone Age according to BBC Science Focus magazine.  But archeologists have found languages written in Mesopotamia dating back to the 8th millennium BC.  God has been at work helping us communicate with each other for a very long time!

When we think about Moses writing the Bible about 1500 years before Jesus’ birth, we should sit in awe at the beauty of it all.  The poetry, symbolism, logic, history and storytelling have guided millions upon millions of believers.  I’ve marveled with my Bible study ladies at the sophistication level of the apostle’s letters to the churches.  Their ability to use the written word to educate, admonish and encourage people for thousands of years must be the envy of any author.

God has always provided what we, as humans, need to survive and thrive in this world.  His gift of language and the written word has catapulted us ahead of all the biological life on Earth.  I thank Him not only for the Bible but for all the poetry, novels, history books, songs, letters, phone calls, conversations and yes, text messages that have been made possible because of His love for us.

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Fiery Trials

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12

There’s a famous line in the movie Animal House, “Thank you, Sir!  May I have another!” which the college students must say as they receive a paddling in order to become members of the fraternity house.  This scene always comes to mind when I read about the trials and tribulations we most certainly will face as followers of Jesus.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

James especially brings this message home – not only will we endure trials but we should enjoy them!  Of all the lessons and directives in the Bible I think I find this one of the most difficult.  In my more “infant” Christian stage it could take me months or years to see the blessings from a fiery trial.  But as I have progressed in my faith journey I’m working to shorten that time span.  My goal? To be in the moment of trials asking God to show me the lesson and blessing.  And not only that, to try and be a blessing to others while things aren’t going so well for me.

The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.  

Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles

I  don’t know about you but I’m taking this to heart these days.  I want to accept the lesson as quickly as possible.  And while I’m not begging for trials, I know for certain they will come.  I’m so thankful He has given us opportunities to improve our hearts and minds, our relationships with other people, and with the Creator Himself.  I heard Joyce Meyer say the other day, “When we are in the midst of a trial we get thrown at God.”  And I’m thankful when we are thrown into the midst of the fire He is right there reaching for us.

Faith

Night & Day

God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:5

For about six months one year I barely slept.  I had terrible sinus issues and when I laid down they were exacerbated.  What little sleep I got was sitting up and in short bursts.  Eventually, the lack of sleep caught up to me.  I was so irritable and quick to cry.  After a successful surgery I, thankfully, found myself back in blissful dreamland.  That time  showed me how important God’s structure for us truly is.  

When you think about our lives, we have many structures God created for us.  Besides night and day, we have our years mapped out.  For many, our days are also broken up in going to work or school and coming home, hopefully with a bit of rest in between.  We count our days in school until we graduate then we take a brief rest and head off to college or jobs.  Our gardens are planted for Spring and Summer harvests and take a rest while we plan and prepare for Winter.  Each year we mark the end of 365 days and make a plan for something new in the next.  Our birthdays mark a time to evaluate what we’ve accomplished and dream big for the future.  Today, marks Sunday, the first day of the new week.  It also is a day of rest and time to honor God.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: Ecclesiastes 3:1

We’ve heard the saying, “the only thing guaranteed in life is death and  taxes.”  But  that’s not really true.  We know when we lay down our head at night the morning will come.  We know the cold of winter will give way to the beauty of spring.  We know that each day we will get older, not younger.   God’s plan, His structure for us, is like so many of His gifts to us – a comfort.  And it’s a reflection of who He is  —  the  Lord of this marvelous creation that can be counted on to be with us forever and ever. 

 

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Friendship

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;  Matthew 11:11

It’s been quite a few years but the period of time where I felt I had zero friends still brings a bit of sadness.  I was in the midst of mild depression, hormonal changes, medical issues and family changes.  As I evaluated the relationships I had outside my family I realized I lacked any true friends.  Many acquaintances, but no friends I could solidly rely upon.   There’s many of us that have gone through or are currently in that lonely place.   God, from the beginning, decided we shouldn’t be alone and when we are we feel that sense of incompleteness.

What I love about the quote from Jesus today is how He showed the world how much He loved and valued friendship.  Imagine a friend elevating you to such heights! When my youngest daughter went off to college she discovered this type of friendship.  I still remember the phone call when she told me she had finally realized what true, loving friendship means. 

“When she introduces me she starts out saying what an amazing writer I am and how talented I am.  She is so proud of me and excited to walk alongside me in life without jealousy or competition,” my daughter explained about her friend.  Isn’t that the type of friendship we all need?  Ones where we lift each other up and comfort each other when we are down?  People who jump at the chance to help us and just live life with us?  

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:10

I’ve come a long way from that sad time in my life.  I turned to God and the Holy Spirit for help.  I asked for good women to come into my life and they have.  I’ve had to do a lot of work on my end – as God has revealed the reasons I was in that place to begin with.  I needed to learn to be the friend I desired to have.

Let’s thank God for giving us the yearning for friendship.  Let’s thank God for helping fill that yearning.  And although we are never truly alone because of our fellowship with the Almighty, He wants us in Christian fellowship to guide us in our sanctification journey.  Our first step is to ask Him to fulfill this need.  And then we need to go to work.

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Walking The Talk

The living, the living—they praise you, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about your faithfulness. Isaiah 38:19

I have a confession to make.  I wasn’t an intentional Christian parent.  Church was often relegated to the backseat during softball season (which pretty much lasts 9 months).  I didn’t make sure my kids were involved in Christian youth groups.  When we did pray at dinner we prayed the same prayer each time until it became almost meaningless.  We didn’t talk about the Bible, we didn’t talk about our faith.  I don’t think I’m alone in this confession.  And I’m sure I’m not alone in saying there was a price paid for our “Christian-lite” stance.

I am thankful that, when my younger daughter went off to college, she was drawn to a Christian athlete organization and then a local church.  Through that program she learned what we had failed to teach – the truth about our Savior and how much God loves us.   My older daughter?  She’s probably like a lot of our twenty-somethings.  She believes in God but beyond that it gets murky.  

“The single most important factor of shaping children’s religious lives is their parents – not society, not youth leaders, but their parents.”

Christian Smith, Handing Down the Faith

In other words, if you model faithfulness, if you live out what you say you believe on Sunday, the chances of your child being a devoted follower of Christ is increased exponentially.  And if, like I did, you lead a lukewarm faith life you’ll most likely create the same fruit. Even worse, if you act or speak hypocritically you may get no fruit at all.

A few weeks ago, our pastor taught on Genesis 18:16-19:29.  An overarching theme in these verses is the concept of being or having an advocate.  Someone who will hold us up and speak for us to God.  Abraham wrangled with God to save just a few people from the sin-filled cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In the end, his pleas saved his nephew, Lot, and Lot’s daughters.  It’s a beautiful foreshadowing of the ultimate Advocate – Jesus.  As you can see in these two verses.

Then he (Abraham) said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”  He (God) answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  Genesis 18:32
Jesus: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. John 17:15

How many of us, as parents or grandparents or even aunts and uncles, see ourselves as “advocates” for our children?  See being in that role as possibly one of the most important ones we will ever have?  How many of us have prioritized our faith over the sparkling lights of “after school activities?” Their very souls are what we are talking about here.  I’ve heard so many parents grieve their adult children’s faith.  And so we pray as their advocate.  How about we also live as one too?

Abraham was able to plead directly with God.  A back and forth conversation.  How?  From the beginning of his relationship with God, Abraham obeyed and worked to be a faithful servant – with a few hiccups along the way.  What does that look like as modern parents today?  How can we be resolute in not compromising our children’s eternity?

In my next post I’ll talk about opening our eyes as parents to our everyday decisions.  Are they of the world of the flesh or of God’s will?  I recently listened to author Christian Smith about the research he has done in the area of youth and faith.  His current book is titled, Handing Down the Faith.  Here’s few great nuggets from the book.

  1. Teens are actually paying attention to you.  That might come as a shock to many.  He found that even into their 20s our kids are actively noticing how we live and what we “preach.”
  2. Just saying you are a Christian (Buddhist, Jew, etc) isn’t enough.  Kids are learning both positive and negative faith examples.
  3. We aren’t just counteracting world views but some church ones as well.  Many Christian youth programs teach what he termed, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – act morally, be a nice person, and don’t judge.   That’s great when life is easy.  But as our kids age and the world comes crashing down it causes them to fall away.
  4. Be authoritative – demand expectations, standards, with an abundance of warmth and support.  Note: not “authoritarian.”
  5. Talk routinely about religion.  While your faith doesn’t need to be the subject of each discussion your faith should be woven in and used for handling conflict and decision making.
  6. Walk the talk.  If you live a life of service, humility, forgiveness and worship your kids will have the best example they will ever need.
  7. Channel “internalization.”  Or in other words place your child in situations where they will be influenced positively in your faith by others such as youth groups, religious schools, etc.
  8. Know the Word.  A good teacher is only as good as how well they know their topic!
  9. Play the long game.  None of us are wholly responsible for anyone’s faith and salvation.  But the building blocks you instill are certainly a great cornerstone!
  10. Pray.  And pray some more.  Pray for knowledge, pray for discernment, pray for your children and your spouse. Pray for doors to open for conversations and then walk through them!

I may have missed the opportunity when my kids were younger to instill Jesus into their lives.  But to be fair, He wasn’t deeply rooted in mine either.  Thankfully, how I’ve allowed Jesus to change me and use me is also a great lesson for my adult children.  Until this Age of Grace is over, it is never too late for God to work in our familys’ lives.  As a changed follower I’m asking for His help, so that I can stand resolutely and faithfully in being my kids’ advocate.  

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A Steady Stream of Helpers

The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. Psalms 118:7

When I was in college I took a speech class.  Each week we were given a different topic and had to write and deliver a speech on that topic.  At the time I was not a Christian.  I had a belief in a God but that’s as far as it went.  In my class was a young man who said he wanted to become a pastor.  Each week he took the assigned topic and made his speech into more of a sermon.  It really annoyed me at the time.  I felt like he was always discussing the same topic – God.  It seemed like a “cheat.”

What I didn’t expect (and the young man probably would never have assumed either) was that 40 years later I would clearly remember one of his sermons, I mean speeches.  I have since heard variations of the same theme.  A man takes ill and as a steady stream of people come to help him in various ways he turns them away, waiting for God to intervene.  And when he dies, he asks the angel in heaven why God never came.  And, of course, the angel answers, “I sent you a lot of help but you turned them all away.”

Today I praise God that even when I feel He isn’t present in my trials I can know He truly is. He is my helper. I know, because in retrospect I’ve been able to see more clearly when He has sent help my way.  When He has placed people in my life that showed up with the right message at just the right time.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”  Hebrews 13:6

Even when we seem so far away from God He sends us help – like the aspiring pastor in my junior college speech class.  And during the last few years I’ve made it my goal to shrink the timeframe gap from when I need His help to when I recognize He is working actively in my life.  In the past it has taken me years to see how He was with me during difficult trials.  But because I have embraced the truth of His promises, I now try to find God in every situation I face.

A couple years ago my husband and I were set to spend Thanksgiving in Colorado.  We were to meet up with both our daughters and my husband’s family.  We hadn’t all spent Thanksgiving together in years.  At the time I was going through a lengthy process of diagnosing a parathyroid problem.  The Thursday before Thanksgiving I underwent what I was told would be a simple office procedure to take a sample from my parathyroid. 

The next day I was having trouble swallowing.  Two days later my neck had swollen to almost twice its size.  By Sunday afternoon I was in the emergency room.  They called in surgical specialists so I could undergo emergency surgery for a bleed in my neck, caused by the “simple” procedure.  And Monday afternoon, the day before we were to leave for Colorado, I sat in my hospital bed listening to my doctor tell me we needed to perform another surgery to remove my parathyroid.  In other words, I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.

I was missing my daughters terribly.  They were both living away from home for schooling.  And I had imagined all the hugs and kisses I wanted to dole out.  And now I sat in that hospital bed knowing those hugs and kisses would have to wait.  In years past I would’ve sat sobbing.  Crying out in anger to God.  But my faith progression – knowing about those promises and believing in them – had brought me too far.  Instead, I praised Him and thanked Him for getting me to the emergency room that day.  For the quick work and able hands of the nurses and doctors.  For the funny surgeon that got called in to fix the bleed.  For the outpouring of love my family bestowed on me.  For the first doctor, who months prior, was suspicious about my symptoms in an urgent care clinic visit and requested an unusual blood test that led to my initial diagnosis.  For the view from my room.  For the steady stream of God’s helpers.  

He is with me.  He is with you.  It may be hard to see Him right now.  But that kind smile when you need it, the annoying person who leaves you with a message in your memory, the open or closed door – it’s all Him.  Look for His work and you will find it.


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Be A Heart Changer & Soul Saver

Life Lesson #9: Christians are in the job of changing hearts and saving souls.

Perhaps this is the reason he was 
separated from you for a while, 
so that you might have him back 
forever, no longer as a slave but 
more than a slave, a beloved 
brother—especially to me but how 
much more to you, both in the 
flesh and in the Lord. 
Philemon 1:15-16

When I was in college, I was approached by two missionaries on campus.  I believed in God, to an extent, but didn’t know anything about Him or Jesus.   I asked the typical questions – “Why does God allow bad things to happen to people” and “Why did He give us free will instead of just making us all good people?” I’m sorry to say they couldn’t give me even a best guess.  I wonder if you were tasked with talking to a friend about Jesus would you be ready with passable answers to these questions?

I heard a talk by Joyce Meyer the other day where she took up the question of why evil things continuously happen in the world.  She’s seen some pretty bad situations in all of her world-wide missionary work.  She prayed this question one day.  The answer she got back was, “I’m waiting on my people to obey me and take care of each other.”

The righteous know the rights of 
the poor; the wicked have no such 
understanding. 
Proverb 29:7

I’m currently doing a study that takes me through the entire Bible.  It’s fascinating to see in Leviticus how sin offerings are adjusted for the poor.  Even thousands of years ago God was making sure the downtrodden were taken care of.  But notice you won’t find in the Bible that the Israelites or Christians are told to take up arms to eliminate poverty.  Verse after verse we are tasked to do one thing with the poor – to help them.

In Joppa there was a disciple named 
Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); 
she was always doing good and 
helping the poor. 
Acts 9:36

As social justice issues go, the poor are always on the lips of “social justice warriors.”  Their desire appears to be to eliminate poverty and all social injustice via legislation, protests or even through violence.  But as Christians we are shown a different approach.  Take the issue of slavery, as discussed in the letter from Paul to Philemon.  The subject is the slave Onesimus.  Notice in the introductory verse that Paul does not chastise or demand of Philemon the release of his slave.  Paul, instead, appeals to faith principles.  He reminds Philemon that as a faithful follower of Jesus our hearts and therefore, our minds are changed.

“To me, a follower of Jesus means a friend of man.  A Christian is a philanthropist by profession, and generous by force of grace; wide as the reign of sorrow is the stretch of his love, and where he cannot help he pities still.”  

Charles Spurgeon

By teaching slave owners about the power and love and salvation found in following Jesus, the disciples were slowly changing the hearts and then minds of people who, not only owned slaves, but behaved in any number of sinful ways.  The new Christian is tasked with living in a new loving and giving nature.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, 
the new creation has come: The old 
has gone, the new is here! 
2 Corinthians 5:17

Had the disciples come into new cities preaching about abolishing slavery (let’s remember too that slavery in that time was mostly more like indentured servitude) they certainly would’ve been met with resistance.  Slaves were costly commodities – just as they were in the early years of the United States.  To preach that people had to give up much of their wealth in order to follow Jesus would not have been as successful as first telling of the Good News.

Last year, I watched as protests and violence broke out in cities across the United States by self-professed social justice warriors.  To be honest, at times I wasn’t even sure what some of it was about.  In Portland, Oregon, the young people rioting just seemed to hate everyone.  It was a perfect time for the church to rise up and do what we should do best – show love and help change hearts.  I hoped and prayed that in communities hit by violence that God’s people would come together and form prayer chains around the cities – enveloping it in God’s love.  Instead, I watched as pastors led more protests and took to microphones and megaphones yelling about injustice, pointing fingers at different races.

“It is easier to make laws than to make Christians, but the business of the church is to produce Christians and everything else is a by-product of that new creation.”

Vance Havner

The people of Jesus’ time expected a Messiah to come and bring justice.  They wanted punishment of those who had wronged them.  They wanted to see governments and whole groups of people destroyed.  But Jesus was not that kind of social justice warrior.  From town-to-town He cared about one thing – changing people’s hearts.  He did out-of-the-box things like sit with sinners, touch the leper, heal on the Sabbath, talk with the outcasts.  He brought the bread of life and the refreshing water of the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks 
this water will be thirsty again, but 
whoever drinks the water I give them 
will never thirst. Indeed, the water 
I give them will become in them a 
spring of water welling up to eternal 
life.” 
John 4:13-14

How amazing would it have been if, when our churches closed down in March 2020, they instead remained open.  Not just open but open 24 hours a day with a sign out on the street that said, “Need someone to talk to? We’re always open and ready to listen.”  I know this idea is radical.  And you’re probably thinking of all the reasons why your church can’t do this. But the work of Jesus and His apostles was radical.  So is the work of every Christian you probably admire.

“Behave at them.”

Ken Blanchard

As Christians we are not tasked to be worldly “social justice warriors.”  We are commissioned to be God’s soldiers.  When we are tempted to join a protest march and carry a sign we should first think how we can directly help those for whom we are marching. God’s plan for the world will only be accomplished through our active showing of love, grace, charity, and forgiveness of others — while espousing His truth. The spreading of the message of Jesus brings the changes we so long for – maybe just not as fast as we like.   He designed us this way.  

I do get outraged by many things going on in the world.  And then I remember to pray to God for peace in my heart so that I can listen for my marching orders.  When I feel overwhelmed by the problems we face, I remember that God works out-of-the-box in radical ways.  It’s up to me and it’s up to you to be in the heart changing business when God puts opportunities right in front of us.  We will always find ourselves on the right side of “He who is most important” when we obey God.

The Apostle Paul worked on one rich, slave owner at a time.  And over time, our Christian faith has led to a world-wide abolishment of sanctioned slavery.  What small step can you do today to help change one heart?

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

Love+Mercy=Deeds


When my youngest daughter began her college search 6 years ago she was determined to go somewhere far away from home.  Her preference was to play field hockey on the east coast.  After visiting six states and six colleges in the course of five days we still didn’t land on the perfect place.  And then out of the blue she got a call from a school in Missouri who wanted to recruit her.  Her reaction, “no way am I going to school in the Midwest.”  After a solo visit to the school and the team she changed her mind.  She loved it.  Set on the banks of the Missouri river, just 20 minutes from St. Louis is St. Charles.  It’s a quaint town mostly known for being the starting point for Lewis and Clark.  The school, Lindenwood University, fit all our requirements.  It also was a Presbyterian founded school.  Sitting on the board was the pastor for the large, local Presbyterian church.

The weekend she moved in I took a trip over to that local Presbyterian church.  It shared a fence with the university.  I asked to speak with the pastor and see what programs they had in conjunction with the school.  As I spoke with his secretary, he could see me from his open office door.  He could hear me speaking to her.  He never got up from his desk.  In fact, the answer to my question about the partnership with the university students brought a blank stare.  I asked what mission projects they do in St. Louis, and again I got a blank stare.  My heart broke.  Here was a large church, founded in 1818, and 1952 it formed a partnership with the college.  About 68 years later it has failed the thousands of students that pass through the college each year.

Lindenwood University was my daughter’s home away from home for 3 1/2 years

Why tell this tale?  James admonishes us to love our neighbors, not pass judgement without mercy, and to show our faith with deeds.  And yet this large church found it difficult to do all of these.  They were stuck in the success they already had and lost focus on their purpose – to always be bringing new people to Christ.  Like so many churches they waited to see who would show up for church.  The secretary told me they had once tried a Sunday evening worship designed for the students but hardly anyone came.  So, they gave up.  I asked her, “Did you try going to them?”  Another blank stare.

James 1 and 2 are all about shaking us awake.  Pleading with us to be “doing Christians” rather than pew-sitting Christians.  Real justification – a saved life – leads to a changed life.  He reminds us that serving our Lord may make us uncomfortable when we invite the poor or unknown to sit next to us.  He also points out that the rich or those we show favoritism to frequently are the ones that treat us the worst.

“Is it not the rich that are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him whom you belong”

James 2:6

A poor, lonely college student would jump at the chance for a free meal at a campus BBQ or an invite to dinner into someone’s home. They don’t have much to offer us, except their company.  They might not look like us, talk like us, or believe exactly like us.  They probably won’t find their way to a church by themselves.  The mere act of reaching outward and being a friendly face to those who don’t feel comfortable walking into our church doors shows them mercy.  Think about the last time you were at a social gathering and didn’t know anyone.  Finally, someone comes up to you and strikes up a conversation.  You are filled with relief that you are no longer alone. 

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

1 Peter 4:10

When we stand in front of the gates of heaven, expressing our thankfulness for the gift of salvation we will be judged.  Jesus may stand there smiling that gentle smile back at us.  And then say with sadness, “Why didn’t you ever open and use my gift?”  We beg for God’s grace, mercy, love and forgiveness.  And when we are bestowed all those, do we open them up for all the world to see?  I once asked my husband for a fancy mixer.  It could whip, grind, shred and all manner of cooking/baking related activities.  But if he had given me exactly what I wanted and I thanked him profusely yet never opened the box and used that mixer, wouldn’t my husband think I didn’t truly appreciate it?

Open, open, open

When we don’t judge people for their age, what they wear, how they talk, what their background is, their politics, etc., and just accept people as we encounter them, they are open to our love and our message of God’s love.  Imagine that church in St. Charles holding a first weekend BBQ for anyone who wanted a free hotdog and an invite to a worship service.  Or,  a helpful church team assisting parents and students moving into the dorms along with a care package with a card welcoming them.  A contact number to call if they need help.   And each month having an outreach event to just say, “we are here and we love you.”

You see, when we accept the challenge of loving our neighbors and showing them mercy, God opens the doors to all the best deeds.  And even if just one person responds, that’s one more person on God’s side of the ledger.  We should all be praying regularly for opportunities like this to be placed in front of us.  When you become God’s co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9) you lose count of all the blessings that unfold.   As for my daughter, the Christ-centered group Athletes In Action met regularly on campus and another student invited her to come.  It saved her in so many ways.  She eventually become a leader and a speaker who told her testimony to many other student-athletes.  She also met her future husband through the organization.  As a parent living almost 2,000 miles away, I still remain ever thankful there were Christians who took up James’ challenge.

If you know a Christian athlete who is in college, encourage them to look up Athletes In Action

Will you take up James’ challenge this weekend?  Pray for your eyes to be opened to opportunities to show your faith by your deeds, love and mercy. Click on the photo and listen to this song by Danny Gokey and Mandisa called “Tell Somebody.” It’s a great song about opening up that gift!