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Our Father

“ In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen

Awhile back I was listening to a podcast that broke down how and what to pray.  They started with what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” (Luke 6:9-16) the beginning of which was my prayer for today.  They looked at the use of the word “Father.”  Our Christian faith is so unique in this view of our most Holy God.  We don’t pray to some mysterious, unattached, non-relational being.  In fact, one of Jesus’ missions while on earth was to show believers this new relationship – that of a loving father.  

I have read other people change the word “Father” to “Daddy,” and that seems to go a bit far as the pastors on the podcast also agreed.  It’s almost too familiar, without the reverence God deserves.  While others who have been terribly hurt by fathers or father figures may go to great lengths to dismiss even using a father reference at all.  But God is always seeking to realign us with His kingdom – not the world of sin.  Jesus draws us into this new relationship showing us what God’s glorious Eden will look like when we arrive.  And it is full of love, kindness, grace and forgiveness.

20 “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

I’m not sure if there’s any better story in the Bible to describe God’s role as “father” to His adopted children than the one told of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When I heard a pastor speak on it, especially verse 20, it transformed me.  You see, the father didn’t meet his son halfway, he didn’t make him come all the way to the house.  He didn’t even first require repentance or repayment.  “While he (the son) was a long way off…”  When word came, probably from people on the outskirts of town, that this wayward son was coming home, his father lifted up his tunic so he could run. He ran to his son – filled with compassion and love.  

God seeks us.  He yearns for us to believe – without needing us at all.  How beautiful and glorious is that?  I recently read in a study that we aren’t all God’s children.  Yes, you read that right.  We are all made in the image of God; but can’t all call Him “Father.”   We must at least start that journey back to Him as the prodigal son did.  He realized he needed the protection and blessings of his father. 

Friend, the day we told God, “I believe in you and I believe you sent your Son to free me of my sins” we received our adoption papers.  He wrote us into the will for the inheritance.  Whatever type of father you’ve had on the earth pales in comparison to the one who has adopted you into His heavenly kingdom.  I, for one, count that the most glorious blessing of all.

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Everyday Glory

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11

Holy Spirit, whatever decisions and choices I make today help them to be in service and glorification of God. Amen

I read an Instagram post the other day that asked this question: “Are you doing what makes you happy or what glorifies God?”  I would venture to say on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis we probably lean toward what makes us happy.  Sure, when it comes to bigger more difficult decisions, we may seek God’s counsel.  But how often when we are choosing what to eat, what to do with our free time, when we go about our chores and errands, before we open the door to enter work or school do we think, what’s God say about this? What could I do in this very situation that would make God happy?  What could I say to my spouse/friend/adult child that would sound like a word from the Lord?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

We can take this piece of scripture and use it as a sort of “out” when it comes to our everyday lives being aligned with God.  We can never know all that God is thinking so we just go about our lives as best we can, right?  That may be true if we never study scripture or pray for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom.  Because when we do those two things, God will constantly be on our minds and lips.  He may even want that mundane day you have planned turned into something that glorifies Him.

We will never be fully satisfied with making our own choices about our lives.  It may appear that some people who have fame and fortune without God “have it all.”  As Christ followers we know true satisfaction, however, comes from the only constant thing in the world – God.  He knows what’s best for us.  He knows what will work in our lives to glorify the kingdom.  

Friend, when we change our daily thinking to God’s plan, not ours, we will also enjoy the fruits of the spirit – peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. And that sounds a lot better than anything I might’ve planned for my day.

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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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A Useful Servant

If you ever talk to a non-Christian and they give you the line, “The Bible is just some old book written thousands of years ago and society has evolved since then,” you might want to share the story of a slave named Onesimus, which means “Useful.”  Not the Onesimus in the book of Philemon – we’ll get to him later.  No, the Onesimus of 1716.  It shows God’s total sovereignty over this world and how He weaves His way throughout all time.  He works through all of us to complete His plan – whether a believer or not.  The story of the black slave Onesimus shares striking parallels to the Bible’s slave written of in the New Testament.  

Puritan minister Cotton Mather of Boston was gifted a slave by a parishioner in 1711. It’s believed Mather changed the slave’s name to Onesimus. And like Philemon’s slave, Onesimus was considered a liar and a thief by his master.  But in 1716, Onesimus told Mr. Mather something he did believe: That he knew how to prevent smallpox. He shared with his master how in his home country people would rub pus from an infected person into an open wound on the arm.  This would cause mild symptoms and would inoculate the person against smallpox.

Mather was fascinated. He verified Onesimus’ story with that of other enslaved people.  Mather, while attempting to spread this great news during the smallpox epidemic, was vilified.  How dare he take the word of a slave? A black slave at that? But Mather pressed on. Combining efforts with physician Zabdiel Boylston, the two inoculated their children and enslaved workers.  They then began inoculating other willing Bostonians.  Of the 242 people they inoculated, only six died—one in 40, as opposed to one in seven deaths among the population of Boston who didn’t undergo the procedure.

While history doesn’t give much credit for Onesimus being a key part of the development of immunizations, he can be found in the story.  Like Naamans’ Jewish slave girl, his desire to be useful and seeking a better relationship with his master saw him sharing a cure for so many.  

"It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me." Philemon 1:9-11

How useful are we to God?  How are our new beginnings lived out for the world to see the glory and gifts of God?  For the Boston slave Onesimus, he appeared to never have accepted his master’s Christian religion.  He did, however, buy his own earthly freedom by giving Mather enough money to purchase a different slave.  But for the Bible’s Onesimus, who stole from his master and ran away to Rome, his freedom was purchased for him.  Once by Jesus, when he, after being discipled by both Philemon and Paul, accepted the Lord as his savior.  And his earthly freedom was paid for by Paul who stated, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”  (v 18)

Paul exhibited a great lesson of our faith in Jesus, to stand for those who cannot stand on their own.  And in doing so, lived out an example for Philemon to follow.  If Philemon believed in what Jesus taught, not just believed “in” Jesus, he knew he must live out the fruits of the spirit – kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, etc.  This was no small feat.  Just as in the world of the 1700s, slaves were a valued commodity.  And allowing a slave to run away without punishment was bad enough, but to allow a thieving slave (like both were) to do so was unheard of.   Mather suffered public humiliation by accepting his slave as an equal partner in curing a deadly disease.  Philemon was certain to suffer the same fate from other slave owners if he accepted Onesimus back as an equal in Christ.

But what about the Bible’s Onesimus?  Where does he fit in God’s plan?  Notice that our worldly sins and crimes are not erased without any repercussions.  Paul did not say Philemon should just welcome Onesimus back with all debts forgiven.  A crime had been committed and it needed to be repaid by someone.  

Onesimus took a number of steps in his life to become useful to God.  He first sought out Paul in Rome when his life had become a mess.  He accepted Jesus as his savior.  And like the first 3,000 Christians, he sat at the feet of a great teacher to learn about Christ and his expectations of us.  He then, apparently, asked to go home and face Philemon, his old master.  

15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. Philemon 1: 15-16

We can only imagine the scene of Onesimus and his fellow travelers arriving at Philemon’s door.  Hat in hand.  A posture of humility most likely.  Asking for forgiveness.  He became God’s instrument to help others learn how to forgive, how to love, and how being a Christ follower transforms us.  My friend Andrea has been the person in my life to model forgiveness.  I’ve watched how she has forgiven well-trod hurts and has been eternally grateful for receiving forgiveness.  By seeing her transformation, it has helped to transform my heart.  She has been very useful to God!

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps are well known by many.  And placed in a Christian context may help some of us to follow in Onesimus’ footsteps to being fully available for God’s purposes.  To be “useful” in our new beginning.  With a few minor edits, those 12 steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over (sin)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that (God) is greater than ourselves and can restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God (forgive) all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove(/forgive) our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to (all sinners), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Jesus paid the price to be our intercessor, our kinsman redeemer.  We are accepted by Him in full.  But it’s now up to us to do the work to live out being acceptable to Christ each and every day with our new beginning.  

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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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Healers

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[a] drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8

I sat in my car after having just left yet another doctor’s appointment and announced out loud, “I hate doctors!”  One more doctor who treated me with some level of impatience all the while acknowledging I needed surgery.  But then I took a step back from my prideful emotions and realized this person – a man of flesh and blood – was gifted by God the ability to heal me.  I didn’t need him as a friend, I need him as a healer.  And I gave thanks for his able hands and depth of knowledge concerning my medical issue.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”  John 5:8

I was reminded of the scene by the healing pool when Jesus encountered the invalid who had been laying by the pool for 38 years.  Jesus simply asked, “Do you want to be healed?”  And then told him to get moving.  And I realized how much I expect my doctors to be the tender, compassionate Jesus.  But even Jesus himself was a no nonsense healer.  

My own daughter is a doctor of physical therapy.  She’s a pretty no nonsense kind of person.  She’s also very good at her job.   When her patients are done with treatments, or during the holidays, they shower her with loving, thoughtful gifts.  It’s because, while she is good at listening to their needs, what they truly want is healing and she delivers.

I’ve had kind doctors, rude doctors, dismissive doctors, attentive ones.  I have to admit that just about all of them have done what I needed them for – healing.  Doing something for me that I could never do myself.  So, while I may not like every doctor’s bedside manner, I can say a prayer while sitting in the “big chair” thanking God for their skill and for the healing that is to come.  And I pray for me to have patience and kindness in between. 

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We Say Yes

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

A few years ago, God put my faith listening ears and my trust in Him to the test.  He asked me to step outside my well-built comfort zone based on the pride of working.  For an unknown period of time, He directed me to feed the homeless with 100 lunches once a week.  He told me what to make and where to take the food.  He tested and challenged me week after week to put my complete faith in Him.  To stand resolutely with Him.  For almost a year I experienced a relationship with God like no other.  

As I wrote the other day, sometimes God asks us to stay silent.  Other times, like during His 100 Lunches Project, God asks us to step up and say, “Yes!”  And if we aren’t paying attention, aren’t tuned in to His character, aren’t sure that He is directing us, then we miss out on great gifts of intimacy with Him. 

The actual making of the first few weeks of lunches wasn’t so far out of my comfort zone.  I had enthusiastic helpers and a husband who supported my venture.  But as time passed and God kept calling, I was faced with having to be resolute in following Him.  For one, my husband thought this would be sort of a “one and done” activity.  Not a financial investment and something that would take up room in our already full garage.  He also was concerned for my safety as I ventured into potentially dangerous areas, at times alone.  I could have easily agreed with him on all counts and shut the program down.  But I knew God wanted me to stand firm.  So, as I explained to my husband, God was directing this project, not me, he relented with a few requests.  One being that if I didn’t go with someone that I would regularly check in via text.

And then there was my work schedule.  At the time I was a long term substitute in a school office.  I prided myself on always being on the schedule to work at one school or another.  It was my source of “happiness” that people needed me.  The direction I was getting from God was to give out lunches in the middle of the week.  Doing that would require me to tell the school I currently worked I couldn’t be there that day for an unknown period of time.  My fear was they would let me go.  And so, I prayed to God.  Asking Him to guide me and bolster me.  The day I spoke to the office secretary I told her, “I’m doing this lunch project, directed by God.  And I can’t work Wednesdays anymore.”  A weird thing to say,  for sure.  Especially in the more liberal area that I live.  The response?  “Sounds good.  We will take you any day you can work for us.”

That’s how the year went.  Door after door opened.  And some closed as needed.  I watched and listened for His Word.  And I did His work in His name.  It was glorious!

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

The greatest lesson I learned that year was about trust.  Trusting in that when God speaks to us and gives us a challenge He will provide.  And any obstacle that is put in front of you, you can stand firm in who has your back.  That year I had many people scoff at what I was doing.  Family, friends, policemen, strangers.  But when you know that your mission is God-sent nothing should stop you.  You can be resolute.

So many of us Christians are sitting and waiting for God to call us to something special and yet we haven’t taken up the directions already laid out before us in God’s Holy Word.  We don’t need another whisper to tell us to be kind or forgiving.  We don’t need a tap on the shoulder to know how dangerous our gossiping tongue can be.  It’s all there in the Good Book waiting to be lived out.  We just need to take a stand for God.

The process of sanctification starts with the basics and moves on toward more and more challenges of trust.  When He sees we are obeying the small things He places more of His banquet in front of us.  But like the process of knowing when to stay silent we must be able to discern it is God, not our flesh, directing us.  I knew it was God asking me to embark on this grand project because it asked me to do things so in opposite of my own desires and yet followed perfectly His.

When you act for God you will have detractors.  You will have people that call you crazy.  You might even have people who get angry with you.  You might have to ask God to confirm you are on the right path.  And I’ll tell you, brothers and sisters, when you are on that path, the work you do for Him will be seen by people who need to see it.  You just may never realize it.  

There were so many lessons for me in that year of 100 Lunches (which grew to about 300 per week!).  And one day in December of that year God said to me, “You are done. It’s time for something else.”  He closed that door and told me to stop.  Even then I needed to be resolute.  People chastised me for not continuing.  Someone got quite angry with me.  My response?  “This wasn’t my project to begin with, it was God’s.  He told me to be done so I am done.  But you are free to serve in my place.”

I mentioned in my last post about the story from Sparkling Gems from the Greek and listening to God’s voice.  I’d like to share with you the prayer from that day.

Lord, help me follow the Holy Spirit’s leading whenever He impresses me to do something.  I know there have been moments in my life when the Spirit was leading me to do something.  But because I didn’t understand it, I didn’t obey – and later I was always sorry.   Please help me become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to trust Him when He speaks to my heart.   I want to be obedient and to experience the supernatural life that He wants to give me!  I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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Slow to Speak

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 
But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.  Mark 14:61

I sat in that meeting surrounded by men.  I was the only woman on the coaching staff and that alone put me at a disadvantage.  But I never have had an issue with being “the only one.”  I frequently have found myself in the position of being the youngest, the woman, the questioning, the sober, the only one to say “no.”  So that evening was no exception.  What was uncomfortable was the man in front of the room threatening me.  He also threatened to have the softball program thrown out of the community center if I remained a coach.  

Something inside my head told me to do something I rarely do – keep silent.  I typically will speak up and defend myself but it was almost as though tape were placed over my mouth.  Partially out of a sense of shock and fear that this man might physically attack me and partially because of that voice I remained quiet as he ranted and raved.

When the ranter was out of steam, the president of the league stood up and with his large physical presence made it clear the man was done and needed to leave.  A vote was taken and I stayed part of the coaching staff.  When the meeting came to an end I was shocked again when the other men, many who had rarely given me the time of day, approached me and congratulated me on standing strong and being so “tough.”  As I walked to my car that night my legs turned to jelly and I collapsed in my car in tears.  The ranter’s words were painful but the words of congratulations also overwhelmed me.  I had finally done something they could all respect.  And it was all because I listened to that small voice to keep quiet.

Even though I experienced success that evening with my silence it can drive me bonkers reading how Jesus took the abuse from the Pharisees.  Of course, unlike Him, I couldn’t rain hellfire down on my accuser and work a miracle.  But Jesus knew exactly when to speak and when to stay silent.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry... James 1:19

And that’s my topic this week on being resolute in Christ – when to act or speak and when to rest or be silent.  Because frequently doing the exact opposite of what the world expects is exactly what we need to do to serve God righteously.

But how do we know?  It can be difficult to discern between our wants, needs and fears and the Word of God. I have found over the last few years, however, that God does make things clear when it is important.  Plus, knowing the character of God and Jesus and what is expected of us is tantamount in making good decisions.  God never speaks to our fleshly desires, encouraging us to indulge.  He is prudent, loving, kind, careful with resources, seeks justice and forgiveness, and above all He is holy.

Study the three main traits of Christ (justice, goodness, holiness) for thirty days, begin to practice them in your daily life, and see what God does…you won’t be disappointed.

Joyce Meyer, God’s Character

I’ve found it fascinating that people who want clear answers from God aren’t willing to actually know the character of the “person” from whom they are seeking answers.  Yet, I won’t go to a friend who clearly has difficulty with their finances and ask them for financial advice!  And I won’t seek fashion advice from someone that looks like they’ve just rolled out of bed every day.  

So much of obeying God’s and His Holy Spirit nudgings must start with knowing the road signs to even look for.  And then when we have accomplished that we must start paying attention and actually acting on those directives.

I love reading Sparkling Gems from the Greek each morning.  It’s a yearly devotional that takes scripture and studies it in the original Greek meaning.  Recently, the author wrote of how he was to attend a gathering of fellow pastors whom he hadn’t seen in awhile. He and his wife travelled to the city where the event was to take place.  As they were about to the leave the hotel a clear word came to him to not attend.  He first told his wife he felt the need to stay in the hotel.  But he went anyways not wanting to miss out on the fun.  Each step along the way he was told over and over to not go.  While at the event the message became almost overwhelming.  He left his wife to keep visiting and he returned to his hotel.  Upon entering his room, he realized they had been burgled.  All their passports, computers, important papers, jewelry and more were gone.  And he realized his fleshly desires overtook that warning voice.

How often have we stood in the midst of a situation that calls us to be an outsider, a dissenter, the weird one, the one to step out of line and answer the call of His voice?   And how often have we brushed it aside thinking we know better?  When we don’t know the character of God that will happen frequently.  But when we do know the character of God there’s no excuse.  We repent and tell God to give us another chance to serve Him rightly.

God will frequently call us in our everyday lives to do something that may help us or help others.  That cashier you want to be rude to because she is talking to another co-worker about her personal life? Ya, God might be telling you to say something incredibly kind to her or just keep silent.  That neighbor who yells at you because he doesn’t like where you put your trashcan?  God might be telling you to keep your mouth shut.  That trip you are about to take? He may be saying, “cancel it.” You won’t know if it’s your own worries or desires unless you know Him and His ways.

“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears.They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
“‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty.  Zachariah 7: 11-13

God calls us to action and He calls us to inaction.  He calls us to speak and calls us to stay silent.  But if we worry too much about the world and what they will think if we obey those words, then we are sure to be judged.  We must stand resolutely when we hear that voice and through knowing His mind we will be assured He has our backs.

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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 Power In Us

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:13

How glorious would it have been to live when Jesus was physically here on Earth?  To sit at the Sermon on the Mount and hear His words directly from His mouth?  To be in a busy marketplace and bump into Him – turning to see directly into His face?  Isn’t it amazing how He spent so little time here with us yet the impact has been so astounding that even our days are marked by when He arrived?  And when He ascended, the gift He left behind is something for which we can never be thankful enough.

“If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  John 14: 15-17

When you study the Bible you see how Jesus and the Holy Spirit touched lives even before the time we say God became fully human.  Their presence is woven throughout the Old Testament.  So it’s not as though they were created suddenly.  God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all spoke the world into creation and have placed their holy hands on our lives throughout history.

So, today specifically I praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit and for being our constant intercessor, our inner voice, our God whisperer.  

It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to pray when we don’t know what to pray – because the situation has gotten so dire.  It is the Holy Spirit who whispers to us to get up and do God’s work.  It is the Holy Spirit who partners with us when we need rescue.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  Romans 8:26

I shared with my BSGs in the past that when I’m really stressed or worried I have a difficult time praying.  My mind is so jumbled and full of negative thoughts I can’t seem to quiet it down.  One of my BSGs responded saying, “I’ve just cried out, “help me!” when I don’t know what to say.”  That’s great advice.  It says it right there in Romans 8.  The Holy Spirit will help us pray.  Will give us the words to speak to God. 

Friends, God is so beautiful and loving that He didn’t leave us orphans.  He didn’t leave us grieving because He left us with a piece of Him inside of each of us.  I once heard a Christian teacher say that we don’t need to attain patience, kindness, love, etc.  We already have all those imputed through the Holy Spirit that lives in us because we believe.   We just need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us release those gifts.  To help us pray the words to fight back against the devil.  To whisper to us “love this person right now.”

We need to believe that God has given us the access to this awesome power.  And once we do that, we should pray to unleash it with all its glorious might.