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Knowing Me, Knowing You

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house.  And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.”  Hebrews 3:6

“Jesus, you know every single thing about me.  I cringe at times that you know the parts I try to keep hidden.  When I realize you still love me and want the best for me it brings me great joy.  I know your thoughts are higher than mine and your ways can be mysterious but I want to know you as best I can to bring up my end of this relationship.  Help me to get as close to you as I possibly can so that when I am faced with standing for your Name, I can fully glorify You. Amen”

I asked them what they would do if an acquaintance or stranger told them something horrible about another member of our little Bible study group.  That this sweet, kind woman we know from meeting with her each week had been terribly unkind to a child.  And without hesitation they all were willing to stop this gossiper in their tracks.  “That doesn’t sound like her.”  “That’s not the friend I know.”  “Are you sure you have the right person?”  They responded.  I asked how they knew their friend would never be unkind to a child.  And they all said because they know her character from spending time with her.

And then I said to them, “Now, a family member or friend comes up and says to you, ‘Jesus would be ok with an abortion.’  What would you say? “  Some hemmed and hawed a bit.  Another said firmly, “No He wouldn’t.”  For the former I asked them why they wouldn’t be so sure.  They didn’t want conflict.  They were a bit unsure if scripture was thrown at them what to do or say.

For the later, I asked how she could be so sure.  And her response was perfect.  “Because I know Jesus.”

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"  Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus recognized that there will be plenty of people who call themselves followers.  Who attend church and appear to be in a relationship with Him.  But He knows who is making a real effort to know Him as much as He knows us.  For my friends who struggled a bit with my question they work hard at knowing who God is and His character.  They KNOW the answer to probably every false statement said about Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it just takes practice being able to stand up for what we know to be true and good.  And that’s exactly why we meet weekly to talk about God – who He is, what He has done and will do and how much He loves His creation.

Friends, the next time you are at church take a moment to look around.  Is your church one that encourages everyone to bring their Bibles, open them up and take notes?  One that makes Bible study a priority?  A church whose focus is squarely on getting to know God – not being your personal counselor?  Because I don’t know about you but when I was in college and even high school, that’s how I learned the subjects well.  I studied, diligently.  And when we are given the gift of having someone either ask us a question about God or the chance to correct a falsehood about Jesus we need to be prepared so that we can speak of the glory of God, of how He knows us and loves us.  

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Hope Eternal

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests."  Luke 2:14

“Glory to you oh, God, for through you I have hope and peace!  The world cannot give me peace but only unfulfilled desires and longings.  The world relies on the seen and external for their hope but faith is through the unseen and eternal! Today as the world spins out of control I place my peace and hope in you, God. Amen”

I promise myself each day that I won’t check in with the chaos of the world and yet time and again I find my fingers creeping over my keyboard to read the latest news.  As a Christian and a citizen of this world it’s been difficult to find the balance of my responsibility as a “not yet.”  By that I mean I’ve been saved but not yet home with God.  I long for the day to see Jesus’ face and be free of this chaos.  But Jesus clearly wants us doing God’s good works while here on earth.

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:12

So that means we have a responsibility to be good citizens of our communities.  Spreading God’s Word through deeds and words.  It means we need to know what stresses and pains our world is experiencing so we can be God’s message of hope and therefore glorify Him.  

In the book of Jude he admonishes to take steps to help those who are new believers and not yet believers.  It’s important to note the danger he warns of by getting too close to the fiery chaos of the world.  

“…save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Jude 23

Mixed with fear.  I think sometimes we Christians like to dabble in the world of chaos thinking a little bit is ok.  But each time we turn on the news or start discussing politics we should first give thanks to God for where our eternal hope lies and then proceed with a bit of Jesus’ Teflon surrounding us.  He let the Pharisees ignorance and at times evil ways bounce off Him.  Because He knew who He belonged to.  And He consistently gave glory to God when speaking back into the chaos.

Friends, it’s not wrong to be actively informed or involved with the goings-on of the world.  Jesus and the apostles jumped in with both feet to tell the world about the Father.  They didn’t turn away from the troubles of the world, they came to spread hope and glorify God.  But we must always remember the Kingdom awaiting us. 

 

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Save The Date

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 1 Corinthians 15:12-13

Among your friends and family there’s probably an atheist, fence-sitter, and a fog dweller.  While you might understand the first of these two, let me explain the “fog dweller.”  Someone who goes about their life not seeking answers to the big questions, not thinking about creation or death, not pondering if there is a heaven. Just getting by day to day.  And if you don’t have some of each of these in your life, you might want to take up Jesus’ admonition to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Because when you do your own faith will be tested, honed and hewed.

Each of the letters in the Bible by the disciples gives us examples of believers struggling to define their faith and the true meaning of the gospel.  The planted churches all were in places hostile to the message of Jesus – whether by Jews or pagans.  So, developing believers that understood and stood firm in their faith was crucial. 

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 1 Cor 15:14

Ouch!  That’s a pretty bold statement.  And Paul had the experience to back it up.  He himself saw the risen Jesus!  And while the members of the church in Corinth believed in Jesus’ resurrection, they were surrounded by a culture that almost celebrated death.  The Greeks of that time saw the body as a prison and welcomed death to escape from it.  They laughed at the idea of resurrection. And friends, there’s people around you that believe the same thing today.

While sitting bedside of my quickly waning mother-in-law who was on hospice, I had to ask myself, do I really, I mean really believe in, not only Jesus’ resurrection, but the resurrection of the entire body of the church?  Do I believe that Bev will be resurrected one day?  And therefore, I should only mourn this time “in between” and find joy in the “not yet.”

A friend of mine shared with me once how her son came to her with horrible news about an acquaintance of his.  Their newborn baby had unexpectantly died.  Her son, of course, was distraught for his friend.  And although the death of any loved one can bring so much pain, the death of a child seems doubly so.  My friend contemplated how hard it must be to experience so much pain without a belief in God.  Her son, a non-believer, was apoplectic.  “How could a god do such a thing?”  The great “why?”  He doesn’t believe the promised hope for the future and therefore doesn’t enjoy any of the comfort God can provide.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Cor 15:19-20

You see friends, if I don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead then what’s really the point of ever quoting in John 3:16?   True belief in a resurrection redemption is what brings true comfort.  And times of great pain, especially death, are the ultimate opportunities to show the world we live as saved and redeemed people trusting wholly in the stated promises by Jesus.

I realized while in my Cherith I was a fog dweller when it came to the resurrection.  I hadn’t thought a lot about it, mostly because I haven’t had many people around me pass away.  But as God has fed me the solid food of His Holy Word, I’m coming to understand the whole picture.  The beauty of living in the “between” of Jesus has come and is reigning and the “not yet” of the promised resurrection and the new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). And while Elijah didn’t have the comfort of knowing the risen Christ he surely contemplated his death during those two years in the ravine. Thank God we have more than just the Old Testament prophets to lean on! We have the truth, the proven, historical truth of a risen King!

I recently was listening to an episode of The White Horse Inn podcast — which for those of you interested in getting some solid Christian food I highly recommend it.  They’ve been discussing what “the good life” means to Christians.  They describe us as living in the “here and not yet.”  I love the analogy by one pastor as like the marriage steps.  We once were single, now we are engaged but not yet married.  We shouldn’t act like single people because we have a commitment to Christ.  But the marriage isn’t yet consummated and we need to stay in the preparation stage until the date arrives.  So, we work with our Holy Spirit wedding planner in inviting friends and family to this holy event.  The guest list is expansive but yes, limited to those willing to come. We live for our betrothed, His thoughts and ways becoming our ways. And we dream of the day we are sure will arrive.  When all those friends are gathered up and Jesus is waiting at the altar for us.

As the hours wound down to when I knew my last goodbyes to Bev were near, I found I could look at her with sadness and with joy in knowing not only was she going to a place far more glorious than here, but that one day we would be reunited at a party for all the ages.  A party that is to come.  A party that I want you all to be at – so will you RSVP today and yes, you can bring a friend or two.

Do you truly believe in the resurrection of the dead?

Are you living a life preparing for the New Eden, living a life of a bride in waiting – excitedly planning, preparing, inviting? 

Speaking of heaven — please enjoy this beautiful poem my daughter, Madison Dooley, wrote and spoke at her grandmother’s funeral.

To See What She Sees

For Grandma Bev

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees

To see you face-to-face, shining with glory.
To grab your hand and feel it wrapped around mine. 

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To be clothed in robes of white. To be completely whole, totally fulfilled. To be without sorrow, want, or pain.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To feel roads of gold under my feet and see angels above.
To look ahead and see you seated on the throne, pointing at the open seat next to you, for me. 

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the mountaintops glistening with glory. To hear the angels and the saints singing Your praise, oh what a melodious sound it must be.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the faces of those who have gone before me, shining with glory.
To see the colors in all their vibrancy, the flowers in all their brilliance.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the brokenhearted, the disabled, the outcasted – healed and totally restored. To feel anew again.
To dance freely to the songs of heaven.
To know the true meaning of Paradise.
To look upon life on Earth and finally see the masterpiece you are sewing.
To feel your presence wrapped around me like a tight hug.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the river of life flowing from your throne, glowing like a crystal.
To see the tree of life towering over me, boasting its healing fruits.

To have no need for the sun, or even a lamp, because darkness is no more, there is no night.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the mysteries of heaven unfolded before my eyes.
To look down and see cosmos swirling beneath my feet, looking small compared to You. To experience the love of the Father for all that it was, it is, and is to come.

To be without sin.
To be exactly who You created me to be.

Oh, to see what she sees.

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The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Lessons from Cherith

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21

He’d been a drug addict and alcoholic for at least the 35 years I knew him.  In fact, this lost uncle was my husband’s main reason for why he never touched drugs in his college days.  My husband saw the path of destruction his uncle created throughout their family.  This uncle, my mother-in-law’s youngest sibling, took the road so many addicts follow.  They demand help, make others feel guilty for not rescuing them, promise to do better then start the cycle over and over again.

In my visits to my husband’s hometown, we’d have infrequent contact with his uncle.  But we would hear of his begging his own mother for money and complaining of how “lucky” and “privileged” everyone else in the family were because they weren’t always so down on their luck.  To be fair, this man bore the brunt of being the youngest child of an alcoholic philanderer.  As for my in-laws, they gave money, moral support, food, and more for much of his life.  But after a number of run-ins with the law and intolerable behavior toward my husband’s grandmother, the uncle found himself eventually with backs turned.  Enough was enough.

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22

Let’s face it, we are only human.  We get our feelings hurt.  We often seek to protect ourselves from harmful relationships.  We don’t want to be taken advantage of and have our kindness thrown back at us with vitriol.  Like many of Jesus’ expectations of us the concept of forgiveness is not so easy for us sinful humans.  We get to the end of our rope.  We have no more tears to shed.  

I remember when my loving, caring mother-in-law said to me one day a few years ago, “I’m done.  I’m tired of being blamed for his problems.  I’m tired of being taken for granted that we will always help.  I’m angry how he treats our mother.”  And really, could anyone fault her?  But the thing is, I knew deep down she didn’t mean any of it.  I knew if her brother came again with hat in hand she would help.  Because she knew that Jesus would do the same for her.

25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:28

We can be thankful we haven’t been assigned the task of God’s prophets to administer final judgements like Elijah had to (although one day two of us will be called to do just that). In the Old Testament, we see time after time the people turning their backs on God after so many warnings. And he sent his prophets to speak truth and judgement. His final truth-speaker was His Son, Jesus. But this prophet came to tell us when we seek forgiveness and to forgive we receive eternal forgiveness from God, even when we mess up over and over. You see, Jesus doesn’t just want the one who needs forgiveness healed, he wants us, the forgiver to be healed.  Because when we place our own lives under God’s microscope, we each have a heck of a lot that needs forgiving.  We each are blessed with the incredible gift of coming with our own hat in hand to the Lord and asking, “One more time, please Lord.  Forgive me.” And He does.  

I’ve been fortunate to witness the healing power of forgiveness in a few people’s lives.  My friend Andrea will forever be changed simply by forgiving a family member for past hurts and asking for forgiveness for how she has hurt others.  My own relationship with my parents has required me to forgive them.  And although the situation can still be painful, I now have the healing strength which forgiveness affords to help me pray for them each day.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

I started this message about a man so broken from addiction.  A man who most would say was without hope, without the peace from God.  But God is a miracle worker as we all know.  So, after another stint in prison about a year ago, my husband’s uncle finally said, “Enough is enough.”  He turned to God for forgiveness and healing.  When he got the news that his oldest sister was now riddled with cancer he came immediately to be by her side.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the same opportunity to watch such a beautiful miracle unfold before my eyes.  To see God’s hands work like no other.  To experience the full promise of God’s grace and love descend upon a room.  We met in the lobby of the hospital, just the uncle and I.  His mind and eyes were clear. He looked so healthy!  His demeanor was clearly different.  I took him up to his sister’s room and we sat and chatted.  I felt like I should leave the room and give them some alone time when suddenly he took her by the hand and with tears streaming down his face he asked for forgiveness.  He asked to be forgiven for the destruction he caused, the pain, and for all the lost years that could’ve been different.

My mother-in-law thanked him immediately.  She said, “I needed to hear this.  It hurt so much when you blamed me for your troubles.”  And they wept.  For the next two weeks I witnessed this man stand guard outside her room, praying and participating in her last days.  I listened as he asked the rest of the family for forgiveness.  And saw them weep from the healing love of God.  I watched as he helped lift his sister’s lifeless body onto the gurney for her final road toward home.  He was in pain but was healed.  He was washed in sorrow but cleansed from forgiveness.  And he knew he was loved.

Who do you need to forgive right now?

Who do you need to ask for forgiveness?  

It’s time for healing.

PS: Happy Birthday to my amazing, handsome, loving, forgiving husband 🙂

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How Dare You?

This is a short story about a little girl.  A girl without a name.  A Jewish slave girl, taken captive by the Syrians 1000’s of years ago.  But first, let me tell you about another little girl, one who few have heard of yet recently saved so many.

In 2004, 10-year-old Tilly Smith was vacationing on a beach in Phuket, Thailand. At some point during the beautiful, sunny day the sea began bubbling “like on the top of beer.” As others watched out of curiosity, Tilly remembered her recent lesson on tsunamis in her geography class.  An early warning sign? That the water would froth and suddenly recede.  

Tilly pleaded with her family to escape the beach. Her father took her warning seriously and went back to the hotel to bring it to the attention of the staff.  Her mom, however didn’t believe her.  Out of fright and frustration she announced,  

“Right, mum, I’m going. I’m definitely going. There is definitely going to be a tsunami.”

Tilly’s father, impressed by his daughter’s conviction, alerted an on-duty security guard, and the authorities quickly evacuated the beach. The Smith family and all the beach goers sought refuge at their hotel, just minutes before the tsunami hit.

Throughout that day, tsunamis in Southeast Asia killed nearly 230,000 people.  But Tilly’s persistence saved the lives of every person on that beach.

She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5:3

This was the pleading voice of the little Jewish girl.  Her new beginning began in a strange land as a slave.  Taken captive by King Aram, living in the house of Naaman, commander of the army.    Naaman, although an impressive warrior and highly regarded by the king, was stricken with leprosy.  And this little girl, far from home, was urged to tell her mistress about the healing powers of the prophet Elisha, the man of God.

Without fear, without thought of not being believed because of her youthfulness or gender or race or faith, this no named child saved a man both physically and spiritually.  She doesn’t appear to harbor malice toward her captor.  She shows the love and mercy of God.

As for Naaman, he was urged to take this little child’s advice and travel to a far off land in search for a cure.  With the prophet Elisha’s help, Naaman became a follower of the one true God.  He too took this gift and quietly weaved it into his surroundings, eventually converting the royal household.  

“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” Luke 4:27

When Jesus spoke these words in the Nazareth synagogue he was thrown out.  How dare he speak of saving gentiles!  How dare he encourage the saving of their enemies – ones who had taken them as slaves?  Yes, how dare He?  How dare Tilly think she knew something that could save so many?  How dare this Jewish slave girl share her God’s love for everyone?

I can only imagine how grateful Naaman must have been toward this little slave girl.  I can only imagine because she’s never mentioned again.  Her new beginning, as her master’s first guide in his steps toward salvation, had to have brought that household so much joy.  Just like Tilly will always know how much of a difference one person can make.  

How dare we all direct just one person toward the loving grace of our Savior?  Who are we to give others the gift of a new beginning?  To have our own beginning as a servant of Christ? How dare I, a person of lowly origins, share in the hope and salvation of someone?  How dare you?

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I’m Fine, It’s Fine

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. Esther 4:13

In a way, I hope you’ve never heard of Annie Lobert.  But, if you or someone dear to you has ever found themselves trapped in the world of sex-trafficking and drug abuse I pray that God would lead you to Annie.  She started out as an ordinary girl from Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She became a prostitute, exotic dancer and drug addict.  To make more money she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with her then boyfriend who soon took her ID, her cell phone and every penny she earned, in effect turning her into a sex slave.  After five years of physical abuse she escaped her pimp.  In 2003, Ms. Lobert found herself in a hospital, the result of a cocaine overdose.  As she tells her story this was the moment she finally took a true stock of her life and turned to God.

With the support of a former customer who had fallen in love with her, and her new found faith, Ms. Lobert left prostitution behind and started a new life.  The former customer trained her in estimates and service reviews in order to work with him at his auto body and design firm.

A wonderful, true story of God’s intervention into the lives of a non-believer, a sinner for certain.  To some, a “throw-away,” a person so entrenched with the devil that a changed life seemed impossible.  And by all accounts her story, if it ended there, would sound admirable and a great testimony to God’s love for all people.  But that wasn’t His plan.  In fact, if you read all the stories in the Bible, God’s gift of pulling us from the fiery furnace is never the end of the story.  It’s never the end of His expectations of us.  It’s always a new beginning.

“the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Esther 2:17

The story of Queen Esther has some disturbing parallels to Annie Lobert’s.  After becoming an orphan, Esther (a Jewess originally named Hadassah) was raised, by all accounts, by a good and decent Jewish cousin named Mordecai.  However, when King Xerxes decided he needed a new queen he called for all the most beautiful young women to be brought (kidnapped) into his harem.  Night after night these very young virgins were raped by the King.  They were then placed amongst his concubines.  Stripped of their names, their families, their everything, they became sex slaves.  

And Esther, who was eventually selected as the new queen, could end her story at reaching such a high status.  She had received wisdom and help from the right people – pagans and Jews.  She had attendants, great food, a comfortable life.  In fact, when palace intrigued resulted in a decree to kill the 15 million Jews scattered throughout King Xerxes’ dominion she was insulated from the information.  When word came via a messenger that her cousin, a palace official, was at the gates in torn sackcloth crying in despair her response was simply to send him new clothes.  She didn’t want to know what caused him so much grief.  Her life was good.  I’m fine.  Everything’s fine.

“Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people.” Esther 4:8

It was not known by the king and his people that Esther or even Mordecai were Jews.  But Mordecai’s very public reaction to the decree made their background known.  And therefore, he implored Queen Esther to act on the Jew’s behalf.  She was uniquely positioned to petition the king for relief.  But she initially refused out of fear.  She refused because the king still didn’t know she was a Jew so why not just leave it that way?  Why rock the boat?  I’m fine.  It’s fine.  

She had decided when her God-given new beginning would stop.  For some of us that’s where we stop.  God has rescued us over and over and over.  He has placed us just where He wants us and we stop.  We thank Him for the past with our words and don’t plan on thanking Him with our works.   I’m fine.  It’s fine.  

But you can see by today’s first Bible verse Mordecai reminds Esther that she too will be swept away eventually.  That the decree will come to all of them.  She finds herself at a crossroads of sorts.  To speak to the king without being called by him might mean death.  To not speak up for the Jews will probably also mean death. For some of us we get stuck here.  Fretting about what to do.  And Esther finally decides to show the Lord her commitment to Him — to continue on her new beginning.

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:15-16

She, in effect, prays.  And she trusts.  God had placed her with Mordecai, who himself had good standing in the government.  He placed her with Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem with whom she found favor.  Hegai imparted wisdom on how to act and speak around the king.  God placed her as Queen.  God put all the players in place for Queen Esther to bring about the removal of an evil man from the court and overturn the death sentence for the Jews.  And the new edict which she helped the king craft elevated the Jews to such a place that “many people of other nationalities became Jews.” (Esther 8:17) And to this day, the Jews celebrate Purim in her honor.

God is preparing His heroes and when the opportunity comes He can fit them in to their places in a moment and the world will wonder where they came from.  

AB Simpson

You and I are being prepared to be ordinary heroes.  You and I have been rescued by God already so many times and placed here, right now for these times.  But too many of us say I’m fine, it’s fine.  We say it by telling ourselves, our Christian friends, our pastors, that we aren’t needed by God or we don’t have enough time.  We’ve retired and now want to coast. We say we are happy where we are and don’t need to send God a “thank you note” by obeying His Great Commission.  We say we feel uncomfortable feeding His sheep.  We say we don’t need a new beginning.

Warren Wiersbe issues this warning in his commentary on Esther: God will accomplish His purposes even if his servants refuse to obey.  Esther could’ve been the loser in this story.  We either miss out in participating in His full glory like Moses did when he told God not to ask so much of him or we get disciplined like Balaam when he refused to do God’s bidding.

If we love God, love the fact that He loved us before we were even out of the womb, we must be compelled to be His servants instituting His plans.  I heard a pastor today say we need to “Get in, Get out, or Get Run Over!”  Complacency in faith, complacency with the gifts God has given us is no faith at all, truly.  And it certainly isn’t God’s plan for our new beginning.

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” John 21:16

As for Annie Lobert?  She came to a crossroads too.  She could’ve been like so many Christians and said, “Thanks for saving me Lord” and gone about her life.  Instead in 2005, she established Hookers for Jesus, a safe house program in Las Vegas with the mission to Hook (outreach), Hope (Jesus), Help (housing) and Heal (restoration). 

Annie Lobert is an ordinary person committed to God’s plan to rescue others from evil.  We may not all be in the position to save as many people as she will but if we can at least commit to not being “fine where we are” and to ask God every morning to place us in positions to share His Word and do His good works we are well on the way to being an ordinary hero. We would be well on our way to our new beginning.

There are such calls in the Bible as “Universal Calls,”  ones which every follower of Jesus is called to.  One of these is 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

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Contend for the Faith

Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  Hebrews 10:33-35

Our country has become a virtual cafeteria of different religions, cults, and non-Christian world views that are all vying for supremacy on America’s religious landscape.  Our country is also currently confronted by many tough domestic and global issues.  We need Christian wisdom and biblical discernment as never before.  

Ron Rhodes, 5 Minute Apologetics for Today

That phone call that dreary night will never be forgotten, at least by me.  And I wasn’t even the person in trouble.  I wasn’t the one who desperately needed to hear the right words to save a life.  But I was in need of knowing the right words to say.  And because I didn’t have the wisdom, the strength of faith I have now, I must take part of the blame for ending a life that night.  

My friend’s voice was filled with desperation.  She was pregnant.  She was also just 19, a college student far from home, a woman who was having an affair with a married man (who had also gotten another woman pregnant).  I had counseled her before, over and over, trying to get her to stop seeing this man.  He was slimy and untrustworthy.  But of course, he was oh so different with her – a genuine prince apparently.  And so, a life of unwanted, unprepared motherhood was staring at her in the face.  What would she tell her parents?  How could she show her face?  My immediate response? “You must get an abortion of course.”  

This young woman who dreamed of being married one day and having many children was looking for a way to erase her mistakes.  To reboot her dream of becoming a nurse first then having a family.  And I helped her take what seemed to be the easy path.  We washed our hands of it all and moved forward with both our lives.  But I have never forgotten what I did.  And I doubt she has either.

I wasn’t a Christian at the time but I was a member of the human race.  A person that valued fairness and justice.  A person who for the most part thought she was a “good person.”  I had no one in my life telling me different, showing me a different way.  It wasn’t until I drew closer to Jesus that I realized how far from the truth I was really living.  

The problem was I then swung too far in the other direction.  I took up the mantle of “truth” and forgot about the Royal Commandment – to love one another.  And I think when we Christians get ourselves mired in political and social issues we can forget about that place of balance that God seeks for us.  We can forget about what we are really needing to accomplish in God’s name.

In the United States, the Republican/conservative/right leaning parties are automatically associated with Christians.  And yes, there are many of the same values involved.  But to assign our faith to one political party’s platform is a mistake in so many ways.  For one, it politicizes the message of Jesus. For another it assumes that all party stances are within the biblical realm.  It also assumes there aren’t people in other parties that profess their Christian faith.  

And so, when we come personally up against a faith/biblical/moral issue we may frequently pull back from our commission of helping others out of a sin-filled life because we don’t want to be labeled a “right winger,” a “bigot,” a “nut job” or any other derogatory statements.

To be fair, too many of our churches have either abdicated their responsibility to teach their flock about so many hot button issues such as homosexuality and abortion and how to respond correctly.  While others have so politicized their churches you can’t tell the difference on a Sunday between a patriot rally and a sermon.

A new friend of mine told me how she was visiting various churches trying to find a new church home.  One visit took place on the 4th of July – the U.S. Day of Independence.  As she stood for the beginning worship, she noticed all the songs were patriotic ones.  And when the US flag was marched in by worshippers, she got up to leave.  At the door the pastor stopped her and asked why she was leaving.  Her response?  “I came to worship God, not the United States.”  She loves her country but her love of God doesn’t have anything to do with her country.

And so, like the women in my Bible study groups we ask questions that our churches fail to address or in the way they need to be addressed.  We feel safe to dig deep into what the Bible truly says about homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, and more.  But we aren’t theologians – that’s why we go to church.   To hear the Word of God taught to us in ways we can turn around and use them out in the world.  It’s sad, to be honest, to hear Christians desperate for knowledge and yet left unfed week after week.

One of the ladies in my study group recently had a profound breakthrough related to this topic.  She is very sweet and prides herself on creating good relationships.  But she realizes her desire to not “rock any boat” has also been an excuse for not speaking the truth + love when it is needed most.  “I’ve realized that in the past I had the excuse of being naïve as to the expectation of what God wants from me.  But I can’t use that excuse anymore.  I know he wants me to contend for the faith.  I know what is truly at stake.  I’m now struggling to see what that looks like for me,” she said.

I’m not going to take each major issue facing our world today because I am not a theologian with lots of important degrees to back up my words.  But I will direct you to the steps you might take to be better prepared when your friend tells you their daughter wants to start hormone treatments to become a man.   Or, when your co-worker tells you that having a nice house in a nice neighborhood is white privilege and you should be ashamed.  We also need to be prepared to step back and know when a political issue maybe doesn’t have any biblical connection at all and just must be looked at from a “good citizen” point of view.  Because yes, not everything we deal with is a faith hill to die on – but how we deal with those issues is.

You’ll remember at the beginning of this post I referenced the book 5 Minute Apologetics for Today.  It was written in 2010.  But you’ll find most of the issues we face currently.  It’s a great, easy read for giving us biblical perspectives.  In addition, here are 4 steps that were recently explained in my current Bible study on Jude.  

As background, Jude (Jesus’ brother) was writing to a church that was infiltrated by false teachers.  Teachers who were leading lives and encouraging believers to give themselves over to sexual immorality and more.  Towards the end of his letter, before he tells the believers how to confront the false teachers, he gives them these four pieces of advice:

  1. Build up your knowledge and confidence in the Word.  Learn about and study the Bible, God’s character, His promises and the judgment to come.  Be immersed by also finding a good biblical teaching church – not one that just tells you some good stories each week.  Join Bible studies and do the work! Jude 20/Eph 2:19
  2. Pray not in the flesh but in the Spirit.  Go to the Holy Spirit and ask for help in what to pray.  By doing so you’ll show God your dependence on Him.  Ask for help in knowing what issues you should be concerned about and which you should just leave alone. Jude 20/Rom 8:26-27
  3. Keep yourself in the love of God.  Fight to resist your own passions and doctrine that keeps you separated from God.  Lean into God for His promises and His direction. Jude 21/John 15:9
  4. Stay in the hope of the mercy that is waiting for you.  As Jackie Hill Perry says about this, “We have been saved from God’s wrath for God.”  The knowledge and hope of what is to come when Jesus returns should feel like a protection.   We have something better in store for us than man’s approval.  We need to keep our sights on this so the persecution we might face doesn’t silence us. Jude 21/Heb 11:25-26

On a final note, I want to encourage you to do a study on Revelation.  It helps to do it with others.  Don’t just read Revelation.  It’s probably too confusing to be honest.  A good study with people you trust will reveal to you what so many of our churches seem to fail to remind us each and every week – that judgment is coming to all.  We have a greater commission than just being “nice Christians.”  We are commissioned to help God save souls.  We might want to start in our own households.

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Our Quarrelsome World

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

There’s certainly been a lot of “quarreling” the last 20 years in the United States and the world in general.  These last few years have seen a steady rise in conflicts.  Conflicts used to be among countries.  The most troublesome trend seems to be that now more than ever they are among neighbors.  

We live in a world where all bets are off when it comes to social niceties.  One article I read reminds us of some of the following “old fashioned etiquette rules”:

  1. Don’t point
  2. Don’t curse
  3. Dress to impress
  4. Stick to tasteful topics
  5. Cover your mouth when you cough
  6. Avoid private conversations in public

All of those, plus the others I haven’t listed, are to allow for a calm and peaceful and respectful social environment.  But a cell phone video I saw the other day is just one example of how we’ve thrown so many of these out the window.  

The video, taken by a woman shopping at Target, shows an older man following her and pointing at her.   He has a mask on and a sticker stating, “I’m vaccinated.”   His issue with her? She isn’t wearing a mask.  Now, this post is not about the pros and cons of mask wearing. And in this instance wearing a mask was not mandated in that store.  It’s about his approach and her response.  This man had many choices prior to harassing this woman.  If he was really worried about getting sick he could 1) stay home and order on line or 2) avoided being near the woman.  Interestingly enough he didn’t seem to be doing any of his own shopping.  It appeared he was there to “catch” people without a mask.  

What does this have to do with being a Christian?  What does it have to do with being resolute in Christ?  Our choices each and every minute of the day define what type of Christian we have chosen to be.

In our verse today we are reminded to be kind to everyone.  To teach gently without resentment.  We are all most likely familiar with the term being a “Karen.”  That’s someone who is a tattle tell, a modern day Pharisee.  This man was being a Karen.  And he certainly wasn’t succeeding in teaching anyone anything positive.  Yet the new social norms say this is ok.  We are to vilify those with whom we disagree.  We may not all be Westboro Baptist Church members standing outside the funerals of homosexuals with messages of hatred but how many of us in the last year have made disparaging remarks about people who 1) don’t wear a mask or do wear a mask, 2) aren’t vaccinated, 3) voted for a different candidate, 4) don’t like shutdowns or do like shutdowns, and on and on. I’m not talking about private conversations with friends or family members.  I’m talking about in public and social media.  I’ve clicked on people’s profiles who have written horrible things and they proudly state they are Christians.

And the woman?  She wasn’t successful either.  She just kept arguing with the man.  She could’ve 1) smiled and moved on since he wasn’t physically threatening her 2) put a mask on to make him feel better 3) left the store and come back later 4) called security 5) invited him over to talk.   So many choices for both.  But they chose the least peaceful route.

I, myself, have gotten wrapped up in issues and have deleted comments I realized were not in keeping with my desire to walk well in my faith.   And so, I reflect back on that cell phone video taken in Target.  I ask myself which person in that video am I?  The Harasser?  The Victim?  The Bystander?  In fact, I’ve been all three.  But as a follower of Christ, I’m learning He wants something completely different of us.  He wants us to be the peacemaker.  He wants us to do things so different that it shocks people.  Our Jesus–directed actions in this quarrelsome world need to be set apart.

When we get annoyed, outraged, hurt, abused, Jesus tells us to respond differently.   He first wants us to be responsible for our own words and actions (James 3:6).  He then wants us to be gentle, not angry and resentful.  Truth doled out without love will never be received how we intended.  

I picture myself the subtle Karen, rolling my eyes at people wearing two masks as they walk outside at a park and I need to stop and have compassion for their fears.  I imagine myself in a store being spoken to harshly by a customer for not wearing a mask and instead of responding in kind, draw on the Holy Spirit asking for peace.  This isn’t just about these current large issues.  It’s how we respond in all life’s situations.  Do we lash out, with uncontrolled emotions, seeking to justify how we feel?  Or do we use wisdom and compassion to guide us?

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  James 1:19-20

The temptation is so great to join this new quarrelsome social environment.  It’s easy to blast a comment at someone.  The devil loves an angry Believer.  But if we remember that Jesus stands by our side, we can be resolute in living the Christian life He expects of us.

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The God of Hope

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

When you hear people argue about God being a man-made construct I always wonder what they think about the concept of hope.  Hope, in general, is experienced by other animals in simplistic forms.  My dog hopes that a piece of my dinner will fall off my plate in to his mouth.  And given his level of whining and drooling his hopefulness can get pretty intense.  But if my dog were to say, get cancer, would he understand the hopefulness of being cured?  When my previous dog, Molly was old and ill we called in a woman who does home euthanasia.  As the drugs were administered into Molly’s body we gave her a feast of her favorite treats.  She resisted succumbing in her desire for one more treat.  But was she able to hope to not die?  To hope that something better awaited her after death?

It seems throughout God’s animal kingdom creatures were gifted with just enough mental capacity to meet their basic needs.  It’s obviously so or else we’d see them building super computers and skyscrapers.  The animal kingdom doesn’t concern themselves with their fellow animals’ living conditions in far off lands, much less those in the house next door.  As humans, God instill in us something that no man can truly explain.  A sense of the past, the present, and a hope for the future.

It’s that hope, that “looking forward to God’s good work” in our situation that is so uniquely human.  And I praise God for it.  

Like love, hope is found in many forms.  We can hope it doesn’t rain out the baseball game.  We hope we get the job.  We hope our vacation turns out the way we dream.  We can hope for a better life.  Hope for a cure.  Hope for a child.  But the hope God really wants us to rely on is the hope based on trusting that what He has in store for you and I is for good.  

We can have hope that the trials we currently are going through will teach us something important and will leave us with something good.  We can have hope that God has a good plan for not only ourselves but for our families who believe in him. We can place our hope in a future beyond this place more glorious than we can imagine.

I’m so thankful God gifted us with this unique brand of hope.  Without it we have hopelessness and despair.  We would be left only with anger and disappointment and confusion.  

When I look around these days, I can see the destructiveness from lacking in God’s hope.  The aching and yearning for answers.  It leads people to depression, violence, and self- harm.  But that’s because deep in each of us is the knowledge that brokenness is not the state God wants for us.  Its foreign in our bodies and therefore makes us uncomfortable and unhappy with life.  We desire to be hopeful.  Some of us just haven’t accepted the prescribed method – God.


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She Counsels with Truth + Love

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

“We are pretty much the only hope that God has for reaching people who need him.”

Joyce Meyer

On a recent visit with my daughter back in St. Louis, Missouri, she invited me to her friend’s 50th birthday gathering.  It was to be just a small group as her larger party had already taken place.  My daughter, who is 23, is blessed to have a number of women in her life who are not only mature in their marriages and in life in general, but in their faith.  As I sat listening to them, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God.  He, once again, put me right where I needed to be.

I listened as these Christian women of varied ages shared memories of shared events and the joy of being disciples to younger women.  You see, their church encourages all ages to seek being discipled by more experienced Christians – something I haven’t experienced in the 20 years I’ve been an active Christian.  

The birthday girl’s good friend suddenly announced we were to all take turns expressing what we loved about the newly christened 50 year old.  She turned to me and said, “You don’t know Renee well so you don’t need to say anything.”  I disagreed.  I definitely had much to love about this woman that I had just met.

As each woman spoke, I felt the love flow throughout the group.  It was sweet and brave and authentic.  And at my turn I’m sure they all wondered what I would have to say.  

“As a mother I miss my daughter terribly.  She’s so far away.  She has no family for hundreds of miles.  And now with a baby on the way it grieves me that she is alone out here.  But I realize she isn’t.  I am so thankful she has Renee as her friend and godly counsel.  A mother couldn’t ask for anything better besides being here herself,” I said.

You see my daughter’s friend, Renee, has taken her under her beautiful wings.  She provides wise counsel about marriage, faith, motherhood and more.  I could be jealous when I hear my daughter talk about her relationship with Renee.  But my faith progression has brought me instead to a place of thankfulness.  My daughter is incredibly blessed to be surrounded by Christian women who are prepared and ready to offer Biblical counsel.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" Luke 4:18

That’s Jesus in the above verse.  Jesus our wise counselor setting us free from our prisons.  And He trained up His disciples to spread His message of salvation and freedom.  Like the old shampoo commercial goes, “and they told two friends and so on and so on.”  Which brings us thousands of years later to this little group at a café in Missouri. 

Here’s what I noticed about those six women I sat with that night.  1) They didn’t gossip 2) They lifted each other up with genuine compliments 3) They showed love and concern for each other 4) They were confident in expressing their faith and 5) They were eager and willing to take up being disciples.

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

These women are living the Great Commission.  Teaching and guiding and loving Jesus’ flock.  I sat there like a fan-girl marveling at being in the midst of ordinary women who were so extraordinary.  Yes, ordinary women.  They aren’t pastors or scholars although one is in fact a trained Christian counselor.  They are students of Jesus.  It gave me hope of what I could achieve with faith and the blessings of God.

I took the opportunity to ask a few of them a Christian counseling question.  

“If I find myself in a situation with a fellow Christian who is struggling with an issue, what’s your best advice?” I inquired.

Without hesitation three of the women, including my daughter who herself disciples young women, said: “You need to really get to know the person.  There needs to be a sense of trust that you come from a place of love.”   And the birthday girl?  She emphasized my old favorite, truth plus love.  Not being afraid to speak God’s truth into someone from a loving perspective.   Remember that Jesus trait of having a warrior spirit?  Renee takes it to heart.  She knows the end game – saving a soul. 

“As you being the process of bringing correction into someone’s life, put yourself in his shoes.  If you were the one sitting there, would it be easy or difficult for you to hear what is about to be said?  If the person you are correcting acts closed at first it may be that he’s just embarrassed or reacting out of insecurity.  Therefore don’t stop the conversation unless you can see that he’s just being combative.  You need to be patient and slow in judging their reaction to your correction.”  

Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek

Isn’t this the reaction we worry about the most when we need to speak truth to our Christian friends or family members?  A fear of making someone angry or embarrassed?  But here lies the reason why “Wise Counselor” sits at the end of our faith progression.  Without love, without a sense of serving God, without courage, without knowledge of the Lord’s will, we will probably fail at being what our friend, child, sibling, co-worker, or sister in Christ truly needs.  

So, when Jesus asks us to “follow” He isn’t just offering Himself up to save us from eternal damnation which by itself is a pretty amazing gift.  He’s saying “join me in a journey.”  He’s saying, “we’ve got work to do together.”  And if we stop partway on the journey and decide we are “fine” where we are at, we miss the opportunities He wants to put in front of us to free more captives.

I don’t know about you but I need wise Christian counselors in my life.  And if I could be like Renee and be a blessing in other’s lives, I know it’d make Jesus smile.  My imperfect progress, as my friend Betsy likes to say, is still progress.  I want to know and live out having the mind of Christ.  I’m not where I was when I started and I still have a ways to go.  Thankfully, I can trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are my guides and cheerleaders.

When we started this journey, I invited you to say a prayer of confession I found in Sparkling Gems from the Greek.  And true to God’s ways He put another in front of me to close out this series.  Please join me in this prayer and confession.  I pray that you seek love, humbleness, courage, and wisdom on your journey.

“Lord, I ask you to help be kind and patient when it is essential for me to bring correction.  Help me to not be offended if the person I’m trying to help doesn’t respond at first the way I wished he would have.  Help me put myself in that person’s shoes and to sympathize with how he might feel.  I ask You to give me wisdom to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.  I also ask that You give the other person the grace to hear what I am telling him so he might see that I have his best interest at heart and that I am only trying to help him.  I pray this in Jesus’ name!”

“I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ!  When it is needful to me to speak correction to someone else I do it with love, kindness and patience.  I refrain from allowing anger to rise up inside me.  I am careful about the words that come out of my mouth, and I refuse to participate in vain arguing.  I remain in control of myself as the Holy Spirit works mightily inside me.  My words bring life to all who hear and receive them! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”