Monday, August 22, 2016

Little Extraordinary Blessings

Did you ever look back on your week and say you couldn’t see God in it? It’s something I used to say quite often. People all around me were being blessed with parting-the-red-sea type miraculous answers to prayer or transfiguration-type mountaintop experiences and when asked about my “God sightings” for the week, all I could boast about was the love of family and friends or a good day at the office. Then God helped me see how ridiculous I sounded – “all” I could boast about were the normal everyday blessings – blessings that I was taking for granted which so many other people in the world would consider miraculous. The more I started appreciating the regular occurrences of these everyday miracles, the more God moments I began to see.

So today I want to share with you some of those God sightings I was blessed to recognize from this past week. First of all, at work I am so very blessed to have a solid friendship with my coworkers. Chad, Linda and I work so well together because we really do care about it other and want to help each other succeed. Not only do we share our careers, but we share our lives and I am blessed to know both of them. I am so very blessed to have pictures and knickknacks in my office (today’s blog photos) that honor God and help center my attention on him. In many places, even in this country where my religious freedom is guaranteed, I would not be able to display such obvious Christian d├ęcor.

I saw God in my personal life too. My father was in the hospital last week with a severe infection. He is now home and doing much better. God healed and is healing my father through the work and care of doctors, nurses, and modern medicine. Last week, while I was vacuuming my home, I expressed my gratitude to God for giving me a mother who frustrated me to no end when I was a kid with questions like:  Did you move the couch and vacuum under the chair? Did you take the cushions off the couch and sweep up all the crumbs? And statements like:  You didn’t move the lamp—dust the table again and this time, move the lamp. If I look in your closet, am I going to find everything that was under your bed? Why was I grateful for that? Because I had a mother who taught me how to clean my home properly and a clean home is healthy and helps make me happy and content.

And speaking of blessings of humility—God blessed me with a friend who cared enough and loved me enough to remind me that it’s not the quantity but the quality of what I do that matters. Sometimes, we can get caught up in the numbers and forget that how we do something, whether it is a golf swing, a work project, or anything we do in life. I am so grateful for the smack down I got last week reminding me of that.

At church yesterday, God blessed me again. In a congregation full of strangers, I turned around to see two familiar faces smiling at me and two other people who introduced themselves to me on the way out of the building after worship.

These may seem like every day ordinary things to anyone else but for me, they are what made the last seven days extraordinary. These moments reminded me that God is thinking about me and wanted to give me these little moments to show it. I couldn’t be any more blessed than that!
I hope you go into this week looking for the little blessings because if you look, you can’t help but see them. Don’t ask God where he is in a given moment in desperation but in expectation and you will see those little extraordinary miracles he is blessing you with all the time. That’s my plan for the week.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Do I Have to Go to Church?

About a year and a half ago, I made the decision to leave the church that God brought me to when I first became a Christian. It is a good church with good people but I felt that my ministry passion just didn’t coincide with theirs anymore and knew it was time to find a new church home. God had led me right to the doorstep and through the front doors of that place more than a decade earlier. While I was positive that God was calling me away from there, he didn’t really give me any clue as to where to go from there and that was a problem. At the same time one of my coworkers announced his plan to retire in six months’ time. Our staff had all been together for 10-12 years which is highly unusual in this day and age, even among churches. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with these dear friends while we were all still together as a staff so I started attending worship services at the church I work for. In my mind it was always a temporary respite from looking for my new church home and circumstances kept me there a year longer than I had planned but here I am again looking for that place where God wants me to invest my Sunday mornings and my ministry passion.

I’m a non-conformist woman of faith who has a difficult time with large gatherings and little use for religion. These days, it seems like churches concentrate their efforts in attracting families. Ministries are developed for children, youth and families because families give the impression of growth and a solid foundation for the future.  As a single person with no immediate family within my religious tradition, I feel like I am unimportant and unwanted before I even walk in the door. I walk alone into a roomful of people who are all sitting with their families. I sit alone. I worship alone. I walk out alone. I’d rather just stay at home and worship on my own because being alone in a crowd is the deepest kind of loneliness there is. But that isn’t what God wants. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” God made us to be in relationship with him and with others and that includes as a community of believers who gather together in worship.

So all last week, I was trying to psych myself up to attend a worship gathering on Sunday morning but couldn’t manage even a little enthusiasm or desire. So Saturday night I turned it over to God. After all, he’s the one who convinced me to go the first time. I asked him to give me the enthusiasm and desire I couldn’t create on my own. I'd like to share with you a small part of the internal dialog I had with myself as I prayed about it.

“God wants me to go to worship because I need to go.”

“I need to go because spending time with him in this way with others is a great privilege and honor and besides, God deserves my worship and attention!”

“Maybe God wants to bless me by speaking to me through someone else’s voice today and I need to go there to hear it.”

“What if I go there and I worship God with all my heart alone in a crowd and there is no blessing?”

That's when God brought to mind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s answer to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17-18: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  And it hit me—God is glorious and he is worthy of praise. Going to a worship service isn’t about me, it’s about him. My God will bless me because that’s who he is, not because I worship him. But even if he doesn’t, I will still worship him and I will do it in a community because that’s his desire. With this new mindset in place, I set the alarm and went to bed determined to attend a community worship service in the morning.

Sunday morning came and the alarm went off. I never once thought about staying home but got myself ready and went to worship. And for the record, God did bless me and touched my heart in a most profound way. He brought an unexpected friend to the seat next to me. Someone to sing and pray with. Someone to hear the word of God with and share with in our worship of the Lord together. What a great blessing that was!

None of this is going to make next week and the weeks ahead any easier, but I've got a good foundation to build on and I know that where ever I roam, God will be there to receive my adoration. And someday, I will find myself at home in a new church community and be able to thank him for bringing me through the challenging time I'm going through now to get there.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Week After...What God Did

Last Sunday as I preparing to “preach” the message that the Holy Spirit shared with me at the New Wilmington Mission Conference, a rather mind-blowing, life altering realization came to me. Anyone who knows me knows that getting up in front of a large group of people is way out of my comfort zone. Over the years, God has given me some truly amazing revelations to share with you in my writing, but taking those revelations from the paper, through my introvert brain and out my mouth is a difficult task indeed.

If I was going to present this message in a somewhat intelligible manner, I was going to have to keep the anxiety and self-doubt at bay which unfortunately is like trying to hold the ocean back with a spoon. As I was going through my morning routine of getting ready and out the door, God and I had a frank conversation about this. Then came a moment when I was able to perfectly articulate exactly why I was feeling so anxious—God had given me beautiful words and I so desperately wanted them to be beautiful when they came out of my mouth and I just didn’t see that being possible. God’s reply—these words can only be beautiful when you speak them because I gave them to you in your own voice. (Like I said….mind-blowing!!!!)

Instantly, the anxiety and self-doubt evaporated and God’s peace and confidence filled my being. I arrived at the church a half hour early and was so calm and collected that a friend who knows me well was puzzled at my very obvious lack of anxiety and insecurity. The morning went well and the Holy Spirit did indeed share beautiful words of hope and discipleship with those in attendance.

The peace and confidence God filled me with continued throughout the day. Instead of anguishing over whether or not I did a good enough job or analyzing every moment of the morning to find the faults or thinking of things I should have said, I left it all behind at the Sanctuary door and enjoyed the rest of my day. I even forgot about it by evening. (That’s never happened!)

On Monday I received the following bible verse in my email: 
I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.  1 Corinthians 1:4-5 (NLT)

I smiled and thanked God for the affirmation.

On Tuesday, I had some devotion time in the morning. I had just started reading 1 Corinthians and opened my bible to pick up where I left off—with chapter 2.

1  When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5  so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 (NIV)

I read the first five verses and realized why I didn’t need to worry about whether or not my words made a difference two days earlier because it was never my words or my delivery that were going to touch the hearts of those in attendance but God’s power, and he never fails.

I love how Peterson says it in The Message:  3-5 I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else.

When I got to work that morning, I found a gift left for me in the door from a friend who “saw it and thought of me.” It’s a colorful little word portrait that says:

God’s Promises
He will make you a Blessing!
He will LOVE YOU forever!
He will TAKE CARE of you!
He will Never Leave you!

Did my friend give this to me because this is what I needed to hear and know in my heart? After all, this is the very thing my friend ends us having to remind me of often. Or is it that this is the message God brings to those around me through the example of my life and faith. God has made me a blessing to family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and the occasional stranger. I have no doubt that God’s love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice and in the presence of his Holy Spirit in my heart and my life are all the proof I need of his never ending love for me. When my whole life is turned upside down or just thrown a little off kilter, my confidence in the fact that God will take care of me is the rock I stand on and the peace in my heart that sees me through all the uncertainty. Through it all my experience is that God has never nor will he ever leave me. Even when I leave him, in my disobedience and pride, I can’t turn around without finding him right there with me.

Maybe the one thing we are supposed to teach others about God is the one thing we need to learn over and over again in our own lives. Maybe that’s the message God wants to share through us in our own voice. Every failure, every fear, every heartbreak is the start of a wonderful parable in which God shares with me and those around me the wonderful mystery of his grace and power. I don’t need to worry about what I will say or how I will say it because he is specifically speaking through me and my life to share his incredible message of love and redemption in a way that can only come from me. What an awesome thought! 

Monday, August 1, 2016

You Want Me to Do What? Part 2

As promised last week, here is the message the Spirit gave me to preach in worship yesterday. It's a little longer than my normal post and I pray you will be blessed in the reading of it. Enjoy!


You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

When we hear this familiar verse, this Great Commission, what is it we really hear? Think about it for a moment. What stands out?  If you’re like me, you heard “YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES.” You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Wow! What an awesome responsibility.

Let’s just agree to skip past that initial hesitation that seizes all of us at one time or another when someone starts talking about our responsibility as it pertains to the Great Commission. We’re going to skip over the reasons that this verse “doesn’t apply to me” and how “my schedule is already overloaded.” In fact, we’re just going to skip right over the big guns, the ultimate conversation-ending responses – “This was only for the apostles” or “this is just for professional missionaries and ministers.” We’re also going to ignore the flip side of that coin—“that’s just not my spiritual gift.” “That’s not my calling.” Let’s assume for today that as the children and servants of a missionary God whose only objective since the fall was and is to reconcile the lost souls of the world to himself, it is our responsibility and our joy, each and every one of us, to bring hope to a broken and hurting world by sharing the Good News of the Gospel.

So all we need to do now is ask God to help us discern what our Jerusalem is? Is it our neighborhood? Our workplace? Our group of friends? Where is our Judea and Samaria? Does “the ends of the earth” mean the ethnic community down the road or perhaps it is the thousands of foreign students who come to our city to earn their degrees at one of Pittsburgh’s universities. Or maybe it means a change in culture is in store for someone.

Let’s stop here for a minute and rewind. There was a whole phrase of this verse that we skimmed past without even looking at which might make a big difference in how we understand it so let’s look at it again. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” That seems like a really important piece of information. Maybe one we need to consider before we start asking all those “where” questions.

Before I continue, I want to tell you the story of how I came to be speaking to you this morning. As you probably know, our former pastor introduced me to the New Wilmington Mission Conference many years ago. It is the highlight of my year. The worship is amazing. Digging deep into scripture and hearing firsthand from mission coworkers from around the world what God is doing in the Middle East and in South Sudan and Central Asia, for example, is informative and uplifting. I learned more about the history of the Muslim-Christian conflict in one hour last Monday than I had in all the rest of my life. As a result, I now know better how to pray for them and what to look for as God brings more and more people of Muslim background to himself in those nations. I heard about organizations that mobilize mission efforts both in aid and sharing the Good News. In one week, I was able to converse, pray, and worship with Christian brothers and sisters from 35 states and 23 different countries.
Anyway, thirty-six hours before I left for Westminster College where the Conference is held, I received an email from the Worship Committee Chair. She knew I was leaving for vacation soon but wondered if I would be able to give today’s message.  I thought about it but didn’t feel that one day would be enough time to prepare. Reluctantly, I felt I had to decline.

I arrived at the Conference early last Saturday morning even though registration wasn’t until 3pm because I was invited to join in the Concert of Prayer and Worship that the Conference Staff participates in before the delegates arrive. It was a wonderful time of worship and prayer where we pretty much prayed for everything and everybody. At one point we formed groups of six and, laying hands on each other, prayed for the Holy Spirit to come upon each and every one of us. It was a beautiful experience of prayer, peace, power, and praise.

I thought I’d put the few hours between lunch and registration to good use by writing my weekly blog which I was going to need to post soon. Something that was said in the earlier worship time had caught my attention and my fingers flew over my computer keyboard as I explored the implications on my faith and my life this new discovery made. It was as if God was speaking and I was just typing what I heard. (I am a secretary. That’s what we do.) As I began to edit, I was excited about the great insight God has shared with me and said something out loud, to myself, that I’d heard a thousand times from a pastor friend of mine. I said, “That will preach!” I paused; shook my head and muttered, “Oh.” And that’s when I email the Worship Committee Chair and told her I would be happy give today’s message.

Why did I tell you that? Because I think it speaks directly to the great pearl God revealed to me last Saturday—you will receive power WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES UPON YOU! When I received the request from Dana, I didn’t ask the Holy Spirit if he was going to share his wisdom with you today through me. I asked myself, can I possibly put something together in one day and decided that I’m just not that talented. So I said no. What I didn’t take into consideration is that the Lord had already decided who he was going to share this message through and I probably should have asked him first before putting Dana through two more days of worry and frustration in trying to find someone else to speak to you today.

I’ve been attending this Mission Conference for seven years. I earned a certificate in a graduate level course—Perspectives on the World Christian Movement which is an in-depth study of Scripture and the history of God’s people in their role and purpose in the redemptive and restorative plan of our Missional God. I did a specialized word study on the Holy Spirit for several years and yet…this is the first time I ever saw this all important beginning phrase, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

Whatever follows, we must first recognize and comprehend that the Holy Spirit is the instigator, the One with the plan, the Person in charge. The One with the authority and the power to accomplish whatever comes next. He is the actor in this verse and his action is the catalyst for what follows. If this were a spiritual grammar lesson, the Holy Spirit would be the subject of the sentence and his “coming upon us” the main verb. All the rest is a modifier, the adjectives and adverbs, if you will, that describe who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and how he does it.

In our first reading today (John 14:8-20) just before Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father,” Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away to prepare a place for them in God’s house and that he will return for his followers to bring them back with him. I think what Philip is really saying is that if Jesus could just leave something behind to help him not feel so alone, if Jesus would leave someone in charge whom he and the disciples could look to for direction, if they had some way to focus their full attention on living their lives in a way that was pleasing to God, they would feel more secure in his leaving. Jesus reminds them and us that when we know and love him we are knowing and loving the Father. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to step into that role of Holy Companion, Compass and Focal Point.

Then Jesus leaves some last minute instructions. He tells them that they know how to live a life pleasing to God. They just need to continue on doing what they’ve seen him do. And because he won’t be confined in his earthly condition, he will be available in a way he cannot be in person to enable them and us to do even more and greater things now. He gives us permission to use his authority in prayer to seek God’s provision and power in carrying on what Jesus has started. And the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in our hearts and lives will be the tangible substance of our hope and faith. When the Spirit comes upon us, the very nature of God will be in us and with us in the same inexplicable way he and the Father are in and with each other. So the Spirit who dwells in and with us will be for us a Companion and Counselor. He is the connective tissue that hold us together with a Holy God and with our brothers and sisters. He is the mind, the will, and the power of God in us and in our lives. For someone like me, that’s great news because I really don’t have confidence in my own power and abilities in this life to imitate Jesus’ example let alone do greater things in the world, my country, my state, my city or even my neighborhood.
In fact for much of my life, I have felt powerless. I tried to control everything around me to make sense of things and to avoid getting blind-sighted and hurt. But I learned that I never had control and pretending that I did only made me a fool out of control who didn’t even know it. However, the bible tells us that God IS in control. The power is his. And he is gracing us with that power in the Holy Spirit’s presence upon and within us. The kind of power the Spirit brings is revealed in a great variety of ways: the power of forgiveness, the power to heal, the power to defeat demons, and the power to speak in tongues. The power of prophecy, of prayer, and of service. His power is manifest in miracles, in dreams and visions, in reconciliation and in cooperation. The bible is full of examples of God’s limitless power and how he uses it often through the faith, words, and actions of his people.

Last week, when I saw this verse again for the first time, I began to see and understand the many ways in which I have already experienced his power as he has witnessed to the grace and redemption available in Jesus through my life and my interactions with those in my community. I’d like to share a few of those personal insights with you now.

First, prayer. Prayer is power. There is no greater power on earth. Prayer brings me (and you) into the presence of the Almighty. It lifts us up into his waiting arms. Prayer can move mountains, turn a stone heart to flesh, heal wounds, vanquish Satan and overcome temptation. Prayer changes the pray-er. Prayer is my part of God’s work in the world around me. Prayer is a privilege and it is my joy!

Service is power. Humbling myself, serving another, is my way to show God I love him. It is the means by which I can bring, in my own flawed way, God’s love and grace to others. When I do what he has equipped me to do in his name for others, amazing things happen both in those I serve and in me. God doesn’t need me to bring him food or drink but someone does—someone whom God created and whom he went to the cross for. In serving the ones he loves, I am pleasing him and making him smile.

Hope is power. Hope is a formidable weapon against the enemy. He wants us to feel hopeless because without hope, we cannot live into the new life, the clean heart, the obedient spirit that Jesus has birth in us and is nurturing to completion. Hope see victory when only defeat is evident. Hope is a bright tomorrow when today is so bleak. Hope is the restoration of our relationship with God even though we do not deserve and cannot earn it.

Love is power. Love overcomes everything—hate, frustration, fear, misunderstanding, radically differing opinions, annoying habits, quarrels, painful pasts, uncertain futures… It’s our greatest desire and yet sometimes so elusive in this world. There is no end to what love can change or conquer. Love is a heavy and often painful burden. It’s hard to perfect and even harder to ignore. Love disarms and embraces. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is that love has already won.

The Spirit is upon me and he is upon you, working through each of us individually and collectively to bring his message of grace everywhere we find ourselves to a world that desperately needs it. He’s got the power and has granted unlimited access to that power through prayer and in service, with the hope and love that comes from knowing the Risen Savior and being reconciled through him to our God.

Now that we understand that, we can ask the Spirit:  Where is our Jerusalem? Our Judea, our Samaria? How far to the ends of the earth is he going to take us to touch and restore this broken world? 

Monday, July 25, 2016

You Want Me to Do What? Part 1

It’s been a very busy week for me as I worked as far ahead as I possibly could in just two days to prepare for my vacation time this week and attending a family funeral the other two days. Friday was my day to run errands, pack, and load up the car so that I could leave early Saturday morning to attend the New Wilmington Mission Conference. My last afternoon in the office, I received an email from a woman on the Worship committee at the church that I work for asking if I would consider preaching the message the day after I return from Conference and while I was honored to be asked, I really didn’t see how I could possibly put together a message worthy of the congregation I serve with no time to prepare. So I politely declined.

The church where I work as an Administrative Assistant is in a state of flux right now as we are between pastors. My boss and good friend Larry with whom I worked for and with for 13 years retired and in good Presbyterian fashion we are prayerfully searching for the Interim Pastor who will help us unite with the person God is preparing to shepherd us into the future. Because of this, our worship committee must find people to fill in every Sunday until our Interim Pastor arrives. That’s why the opportunity to share God’s message became available to me…or so I thought. What happened is God decided he was going to share a particular message through me and this is the way he went about doing it. I just didn't see it at the time.

I arrived early Saturday morning at Conference to participate in the Staff prayer and worship time and after lunch had a few hours to kill before registration so I found a quiet place on campus to write today’s blog. Something that was said during the earlier prayer and worship time sparked a passionate response that made my fingers fly about the keyboard. Later that evening, I picked up where I had left off and again the words continued to fill the page at lightning speed. It was as if God were dictating a letter and I was just typing what I heard. As I reread what “we” wrote, I said to myself a phrase I’d heard a thousand times from my friend Larry—“That will preach!” I paused; shook my head and muttered to myself, “Oh.” Now on board with what God had planned all along, I contacted my friend on the worship committee and told her that I would be happy to share with the congregation the amazing message I was receiving here at Conference this coming Sunday. I said, “I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to prepare but I didn’t take into account what God had planned for the week.”

I’m not a great public speaker, but I do love God and when I’m talking about something or someone I love, it’s as if my apprehension and fear dissipates. I guess perfect love does cast out fear. Why am I telling you all this? Because I need and ask for your prayers as I listen closely to the message God has for me this week and for those I will be sharing with on Sunday.

Sneak preview: The theme verse is Acts 1:8:  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. I'm learning to understand it in a whole new way this week and the impact of this new understanding will change me forever. Join me this Sunday, July 31st in worship or next week in this blog to see the amazing thing God reveals to us together.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Good Bye for Now

My family will be gathering this week to celebrate the life of an extraordinary woman, my Aunt Mary Therese. Her passing has left a hole in our lives filled with a lake of sadness that will eventually diminish as we learn to live our lives without her. As I combed through Scripture inviting the Spirit to speak words of healing to me, I was brought to some I’d like to share with you today.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7) My aunt did not have an easy life. She always seemed to be facing challenging times or illnesses but never once did I see her waver or give up living the best life she could for her and others. My aunt was a woman full of life and love. When I read Romans 12:9-15, I can’t help but picture Aunt Therese. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:9-15) It’s the way she lived her life. She was a kind woman of deep faith who loved everyone and helped out in any way she could. She could never be said to be lacking in zeal for her God, her family, or her friends. Her smile invited you into her space and her laugh was infectious. Her empathy for all was part of who she was rather than what she did and so her good works weren’t always blatantly apparent to anyone but the one she was consoling.

If Aunt Therese could tell us anything right now I believe it would be that the God who saw her through life, who blessed her mightily and whom she dearly loves is there for us just as it says in the Psalms and in Isaiah:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Aunt Therese knew that these days would come. She had been sick for a very long time. But instead of facing them in dread, she faced them with courage and joy, knowing that this is not the end, but just an intermission in our life together.

When telling his disciples that he would be leaving them soon for a while and then he would be back, Jesus explained:  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:22) So it will be with my aunt and the family she leaves behind. This is only a temporary situation. The bible tells us this. Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) And in that new life with Christ—He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4) Nothing but joy in the Lord and Aunt Therese’s laugh to keep us company in the time to come.

But for now we must live in this slightly more diminished world with only our memories of her. Our world may be a little less vivid today but we are not facing this alone. We have each other and we have the God who loves us all, those with us in this life and those who have gone on ahead of us. Let us remember that he who created us, loves us, died for us and bestows his righteousness on us is with us in this moment of grief.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  (Matthew 5:4)

Whether we live on this side of heaven or the other, Jesus is our Lord and we are all serving him together. We may not be walking side by side with her in this life but we are working side by side in our praise, worship and service of the Lord God. That’s the legacy she leaves us with to carry on. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Corinthians 5:6-9)

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Kingdom of God in This Troubled World

It’s so easy to get discouraged when I think about the state of the world—everyday, people are being killed for their race or the uniform they wear here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Children are being used and abused in atrocious ways. In many countries, women are considered property and have no legal or social avenue to look out for their own interests or to receive justice. National and cultural leaders who are nothing more than bullies have ultimate power to rain their terror down on others and they hold nothing back in pursuit of their own pride and agendas. It’s easy to lose hope by watching the evening news or scrolling through your social media page. When I think about these things, I turn to Revelations 21:1-6. It reminds me that one day Jesus is coming back and he is bringing with him a new world—one that is as it was meant to be before mankind turned to sin. A world where God walks with us in the garden and human beings love each other in a godly way. My hope is rekindled and the joy of the Lord returns to my heart in anticipation of that day.

1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
5  He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
6  He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:1-7 (NIV)

But that can’t be where I stop because God’s Word demands my involvement—my response to his grace—when God’s Word goes out, it does not return to him empty, but accomplishes his purpose.

10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:10-12 (NIV)

So how am I to respond? What can I possibly do that would fulfill God purpose?  Jesus ministry had one message—The kingdom of God is here. That kingdom that God speaks about Revelation 21 is already here? How? Where? The Bible tells me that when I give a drink of water to a thirsty man, the kingdom is here. When I feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and the refuge, when I comfort the sick and the mourning, the kingdom of God is here! So how am I to respond? By being available and reaching out to all people, doing what I can do to ease their pain and grief. In this way they might see the love of God and take hold of the promise of his grace and redemption giving way to a great celebration in heaven and in the kingdom of God here on earth.