Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Light of Christmas

When the world is filled with darkness, it is sometimes difficult to see the Light. But it is only by the Light, that we can truly see.  That was the reason Immanuel, God With Us, came to be born in a stable to a virgin over 2000 years ago.

“Behold people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”—Isaiah 9:2

It is fitting then that the Light of the world would be heralded this way when the angels appeared to the shepherds in the Judean hills near the town of Bethlehem:

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. For I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.’” Luke 2: 9-11

So when life seems its darkest, remember the words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem which he wrote during the American Civil War:

And in despair I bowed my head
 “There is no peace on earth,” I said,
 “For hate is strong and mocks the song
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
 “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
 The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
 With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Out of balance

My Chinese friends emphasize balance in all things in life. Mom used to emphasize it in medical terms; in fact, one of her favorite words was homeostasis—the attempt by the body to maintain internal stability. Experts tell us how important balance is to our well-being. But despite these admonitions about balance, we’re also told the only thing constant in life is change.

In reality, the only true constant thing in life is God and I maintain He is not all about balance. At least I don’t think His love is.  The contemporary Christian group Downhere captures the essence of God’s unparalleled love in their song “How Many Kings?”

“How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only One did that for me…all for you, all for me.”

God’s love can’t be balanced because it is extravagant, unconditional, and incomprehensible. There is no god like ours for only our God would dream of going to such lengths just because He loves us.  So this Christmas let me encourage you to get out of balance. Not in spending. Not in eating or drinking. But in loving.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Blaze of Glory

John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Six weeks ago, I went to Birmingham to see my Dad who was in the hospital ICU in serious condition.  It was not a fun reason to go out of town, but during the four and a half hour trip, I could feel God’s presence in a special way. As only He can, God turned my gloomy road trip into a wonderful time of prayer, praise and worship and it all started with leaves.

When I left for Birmingham the leaves had not begun to turn in Mobile. Each fall, I relish seeing the leaves change colors, but living on the Gulf Coast, the autumn is not quite as spectacular as it is a little north from here. So as I traveled nearly 300 miles to see Dad, I enjoyed the strands of trees bejeweled in gold, red, crimson and plum. As I rounded curves in the road and saw more and more eye candy from God, the sight was enough to make me gasp. I may seem quaint but I love the splendor God put into nature and I think He likes it when we show our appreciation for His gifts, no matter how ordinary they may seem. Yet for me, there’s nothing ordinary about seeing the sun shining through gold and orange leaves making them look as if the tree has caught fire without being consumed by the flames. It reminds me of the burning bush Moses observed on Mt. Horeb.  

And that reminds me of God describing Himself to Moses as “I am.” He is the God who is with us; He is the God who sees; and He is the God of love. And on a lovely fall day, He quieted my spirit with His love and His presence. And then He did a miracle and Daddy went home less than a week later in much better health. Like John, I can say I have seen God’s glory, the glory of the one and only Son.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I Thank You God

i thank You God for this most amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything                                                                                  
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
So begins one of my favorite works by E.E. Cummings—a short little poem filled with praise for the Creator and His magnificent works.  I thought of it as Thanksgiving approached and I began to focus on being grateful for all God has done this year.  Thanksgiving has always been a hallmark of God’s people. Thousands of years before the Pilgrims came to Plymouth and shared a momentous feast with the Native Americans or Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation during the Civil War, God explained to the Israelites the importance of offering praises for His blessings to them.
The Psalmist admonishes us in Psalm 100:4 “to Enter His gates with thanksgiving, And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.” God wants us to praise Him not to stroke His ego, but because it helps us focus on our dependence on Him as well as His overwhelming grace and goodness. Praise recognizes God’s attributes—His goodness, love and mercy. Remember He described Himself to Moses as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
Thanksgiving declares our awareness of His benefits. “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation" (Ps. 40:9-10)
In my church’s communion service called “The Great Thanksgiving,” the responsive reading says: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”
It is always right to praise our God who is so good and kind and to offer thanks for His many gifts.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Here Comes the Son

“There cannot be a dark cloud where Jesus is.”   Pastor John Prince

The other day while I was at the lake, the sky was covered with dark clouds and the wind was stirring up the lake waters. It was somewhat cool and there wasn’t even a hint of sunshine. Then suddenly, the clouds parted and the sun shone so brightly I was immediately warmed and had to relocate to the shade. The water became so still it looked like a liquid mirror and everything was quiet. Even the butterflies which I love but had not yet seen began to flutter around me.  It was as if God had torn apart those dark clouds to shine His light and love directly onto me and I felt like I was standing in a celestial spotlight.

I paused in my prayers and just enjoyed that special time with God. There are some struggles about which I’ve been praying for days to which God has simply responded  ”wait.” The break in the dark clouds did nothing to change my circumstances or lighten the cares which are weighing me down, but in that holy moment God reminded me that He can shine His grace into anything in my world and my life and it will change instantly.  He gave me a much-needed shift in focus, redirecting me back to Him, the One whose face shone like the sun (Matt. 17:2) on the mount of transfiguration which was the basis of Pastor Prince’s sermon.
The same picture of Jesus is echoed in John’s words in Revelation 1:16 where he describes Jesus’ face as “like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” When we turn our eyes toward the Son, His bright countenance will eclipse all of the dark clouds of our griefs, our pain, and our doubt. Even though it’s now fall and the weather is cooler, go out today and bask in the sun. While you’re there, bask in the Son, too!

“I believe in Christ, like I believe in the sun, not because I can see it, but by it I can see everything else.” – C. S. Lewis

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Well-loved Life

God has had me meditate on love a LOT over the last six months. Specifically, He has had me ponder the verses in 1 Cor. 13 in which He tells us how to love. This shouldn't surprise me because for many years I have told some of my closest friends that I have received more love in my life than most people ever do and I believe it’s true. I am not certain why God has poured out His grace on me in this way, but I can remember even as a very young child people showing kindness and gentleness and generosity to me. People have always had a need to take care of me, even when I became an adult. They often treat me with kid gloves as if I am a fragile, delicate figurine and even strangers come up and hug me.

Please don’t misunderstand. None of this makes me prideful; in fact, it humbles me. I have done nothing to deserve all this love, but it is such an overwhelming display of the grace of God who loves us without measure and without making demands on us and who expects us to love people the same way. Years ago I was awestruck when I discovered Jesus’ words in John 13:35:  “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”  Jesus could have said they'll know you’re My disciples by your martyrdom; by your piety; by your obedience; by your faith. But instead He chose to emphasize love. Why? Because love puts the focus where it belongs…on Him. He loved us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8) and loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for us (John 3:16).
God tells us frequently of His love for us. It is the overriding theme of scripture. God did not and does not do anything out of obligation, rather all of His decisions and actions are motivated by love.  When we truly understand this and experience God’s great redeeming love for us, we can’t help but overflow and pour that love on others. Our daily prayer should probably include this idea: “Father, today fill my heart so full of Your love that I cannot keep it to myself. Make me a willing vessel to share Your great love with everyone I encounter this day. Thank You for Your infinite, inexhaustible love.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Lost Jewel

“A family that has an old person in it has a jewel.”  Chinese proverb
Not long after I met Aunt Ella she decided to call me Chris. It’s a nickname I've only allowed a few people to call me and then only those closest to me ever used it. I was glad she made that decision; it made me feel like we had a real kinship even though we were no relation. But that’s how Aunt Ella was—strong-minded and decisive.  She also had a good sense of humor and a warm, affectionate manner. Friends and family noted she enjoyed dressing like a fashion plate who at about age 100 on the day she broke her hip tried to insist she still keep Friday hair appointment.  
But what really stands out about Aunt Ella is her faith. And last week her faith became sight when at age 105, Aunt Ella left this earth for heaven.  She had led a good life and set a godly example for all who knew her. Aunt Ella spent her days serving the church and others. Well into her 90s she still baked cakes and pies which she kept in her freezer to take to grieving families or share at a church function.  For her, faith was a way of life that sustained her through difficult days and brightened days of joy.  She was a tenacious woman who persevered through many trials and Aunt Ella quietly and openly shared her faith with everyone she encountered but mostly she shared her faith in leading by example.

With her departure to heaven comes a great loss for all who knew her: a loss of terrific stories that made us laugh or inspired us to live a better life and the loss of more than a century of experience and wisdom.  We have all indeed lost a precious jewel. But thankfully, for those of us who know the Lord, we can rest assured we will see Aunt Ella again and she will rejoice at our homecoming.

Proverbs 16:31: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” ESV

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why I Love Turtles

Each morning that I go to the lake, I greet my turtle friends. Aloud. In Spanish. Ok, it’s eccentric, but I’ve always had an affinity for turtles, ever since I was five and screamed in the car causing my dad to slam on the brakes so he wouldn’t massacre a tiny box turtle I had spotted in the middle of the road. Needless to say, we hopped out of the car, rescued Hermie, and he became my pet.

For years I’ve wondered why I have such a kinship with turtles. Sure, as an introvert, sometimes I can duck my head inside my shell withdrawing from the world when I sense danger and then stay hidden until I think it has passed. Then I tentatively peer out of my shell, ready to retreat at a moment’s notice.  But last Tuesday as I eyed my little reptile friend placidly swimming through calm waters, I noted another of his qualities. Turtles know how to persevere. They may be slow and their wrinkled faces resemble the dried-apple dolls you make as an elementary school craft project. But despite their seeming weaknesses, they keep trudging along. I always thought they were fearful creatures, but they trek out into the middle of roads oblivious to oncoming traffic. And they keep on sticking their necks out time and time again no matter what giant speeding SUV comes barreling down on them.
Turtles remind me of the men in the parables of Matt. 13:44-46. Stay with me here. Turtles risk it all to get what they want even if that’s only traveling from point A to point B. The men in the parable risk all financially in an effort to gain the kingdom of heaven.

So what others may see as recklessness, I prefer to see as deliberate risk-taking and perseverance. And risk-taking and perseverance are two lessons God has been trying to teach me this year. When you really examine faith, it’s a risky proposition to follow a God you cannot see or touch and trust His words are true in a world saturated with lies and half-truths. Faith demands we risk it all and then persevere in our walk with God despite obstacles and opposition.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Resisting Change

Earlier this week while I was exercising at the lake, I saw a crepe myrtle tree that seemed to be having a difficult time deciding what the current season is. Most of its spindly branches were loaded with dull round green berries, smaller russet ones, and red-tipped olive green leaves.  But there were two branches crowned with bright purple blossoms with the beginning of autumn only days away.

Observing that confused crepe myrtle made me wonder what changes still lie ahead for me in a year overflowing with changes. And it also made me reflect on how resistant I am to change. Out of all of my friends I have only one, ok maybe one and a half, who really embrace change.  How I envy them! I am like the proverbial Biblical sheep that wallows in a rut and has to be lifted out by the Shepherd’s crook.
Like the crepe myrtle, my resistance to change sometimes produces confusion. It is so important to know what season you are in for a variety of reasons. For instance, you cannot reap when it is sowing season and vice-versa.  Spiritually, it is important to know the season so you can know how to pray.  It is also important so you will know the work God has for you to do. Some seasons are fallow ones where you wait on the Lord to move or to provide wisdom and insight. Some are busier where you work on multiple projects or ministries simultaneously. But to be effective, you need to know the Shepherd’s voice and observe the signs of changing seasons.  So as summer gives way to fall, watch the changing leaves and ask the Lord to open your heart to the changes He wishes to make in your life.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stormy Weather

Every June, officials warn us to prepare for the start of hurricane season here on the Gulf Coast. Even when no hurricane hovers on the horizon, we have to guard against daily thunderstorms like the one that fried my computer modem a month ago. But after eight months of much worse storms, a fried modem seemed quite a little thing. Annoying? Sure. But when you endure a health crisis and daily fight spiritual battles designed to steal your faith and break your heart, even a hurricane seems less daunting.

Sometimes the Lord dispels the physical and spiritual storms of life before we even have to face them. Other times, He allows us a taste of their force but blunts their destruction. Then there are storms we must endure, but during them He keeps His promise:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Remember in Mark 4:37-41 when the disciples faced a storm in a boat on the Sea of Galilee?  “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t You care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do still have so little faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him?’”

God also spoke to Elijah in the midst of a storm after the prophet hid himself in a cave while the force of nature displayed God’s power. Then out of the storm, Elijah heard the still, small voice of God calling to him.  1 Kings 19:11-12: “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Storms are inevitable. So the next time one threatens your dreams, your health, your financial security or any other area of your life, remember the One who can calm the wind and rain can say the word and end the storms in your life, restoring peace. The greater challenge, though, is to rely on His peace when He chooses not to calm the storm.
“My peace I leave you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not be troubled or afraid.”  John 14:27

Monday, August 27, 2012

Truth and Dare

Casting Crowns has an excellent song entitled “Love Them Like Jesus.” It encourages us how to comfort others during their trials just as Jesus would do. But do we, the Body of Christ, really understand what it means to “love people like Jesus”?  People who hate us just because we love Him? Or people who lash out at us because they trust we’ll forgive them?  Read 1 Cor. 13:4-8 where Paul says: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

We do okay with some of it and we do very well with other parts, but then there are places where we stumble and scrape our toes on a rock of truth.  For me, it’s often: “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” We like to say we forgive others; we know it’s our Christian duty. But do we really let go of the ways in which others wrong us or do we secretly hold it in our hearts, reminding ourselves of their past transgressions every time they commit a new one?

Maybe you’ve got forgiveness down pat and you never throw up to someone their past mistakes. How about this one: “Love is not selfish.” The KJV says: “Love does not seek its own.” Somehow that translation resonates with me more. Maybe it’s because saying “seek its own” sounds like the phrase should be followed by the word will or way. That hits closer to home to me to hear those words because they remind me of Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer: “Not My will, but Yours.” It’s hard not to demand our rights, not to insist people treat us a certain way simply because we’re a person created in the image of God. But don’t forget:  Jesus set the example as He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).
So today, I dare you to live out the love of 1 Cor. 13. But before you take that dare, you better know the truth.  Loving like Jesus is a difficult thing to ask of us limited creatures, who were formed of dust.  And frankly, it’s risky. If you love like Jesus, you will get hurt, sometimes deeply.  Look where His love got Him…tortured, slandered, nailed to a cross. Now look where His love got us… because of His death and resurrection, we get to spend eternity with Him and the Father in heaven.  So ask yourself, are you willing to swallow your pride, are you willing to let your heart be torn, and are you willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to “love them like Jesus”?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Remembering Momma

Special: adj. unique, prized, valued, treasured. (Lovvorn’s Modern English Dictionary)

On Aug. 15, 2008, Momma went home to be with the Lord. I am filled with sadness each year as the anniversary approaches. But on the actual day, I try to celebrate Mom’s life; it’s what she would’ve wanted. Momma’s motto came from the movie Mame: “Live! Live! Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Flamboyant? Sure. But that was Momma and they were not just words she espoused. They were words she lived by, right up until the time the Lord called her home.

Momma was larger than life. I tell people she was a force of nature. How else could she have survived 15 years of serious illnesses and multiple near-death experiences? Well, that and God’s infinite grace. Momma would want Him to receive credit for she always taught us that God said, “I’ll share my glory with no other.”  (Isaiah 42:8)

There were lots and lots of things Momma taught. She was a natural-born teacher, but one of the most important lessons I learned was simply by observing her. Momma had this extraordinary ability to make everyone she met feel special. Whether she was speaking with a renowned French physician or a movie star whose son she was treating or a critically ill pediatric patient she was caring for or the lady cleaning her room when she was a patient, Momma had the ability to make each one feel as though he or she was the most important person in the world and there was nothing Momma would rather be doing at that moment than talking to him or her.

Momma was known for talking and she could go on and on with lengthy explanations. But what people who really spent time with her learned was she was also a very good listener with a contemplative mind, a deep faith, and heart full of sympathy. I try hard to live out this lesson- how to be a good listener and how to make people feel special. I hope I’m successful and that Momma is proud of me for striving to follow in her footsteps.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Armed and Dangerous

One friend recently shared this anecdote:
            A grandmother traveled to Chicago with her middle-aged daughter and when they arrived at the hotel, the elderly woman pulled out her Bible and a pistol.
            “Mama, why’d you bring that?” the daughter was shocked that her mother came packing heat.
            “I figured if one doesn’t work, the other one will.”
            While I greatly admire her spunk, for spiritual battles you can’t bring a gun to a swordfight. You can only bring a sword and the one God has provided is His word. In Ephesians 6:17, Paul calls Scripture the “sword of the spirit.” In Hebrews 4:12, he tells us it is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
            But like all swords, ours can become rusty with disuse so it’s very important to keep your sword sharp and in good repair. How do you do it? “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)  The more Scripture you know and understand, the sharper your sword. It’s a good idea to take a Bible with you often and to even keep cards or notes with verses on them in your car and purse or wallet. But ultimately, you need Scripture written in a place where it can’t be lost or destroyed—you need it written on your heart.
            “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33
            “I’ve hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11)
            When you hide God’s word in your heart, it can’t be taken from you and the Holy Spirit will bring it to mind at just the time you need it. Don’t be discouraged, though, if it’s been a while since you’ve picked up your sword and it’s sitting in a corner rusty and dusty. You can start today to sharpen your sword, even if you simply go back to basics to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” There’s really no better place to start.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Invisible War

Jesus’ admonition “Pray for your enemies” sounds appropriate for a rag-tag group of believers facing persecution as they built the fledgling church.  But ask Christians today if they have enemies and many will respond with a blank stare.  Yet Paul tells us with certainty we have an unseen enemy.  And this is an enemy you cannot pray for, but must pray against.  The enemy to which Paul refers is Satan and his army of fallen angels.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)  Fortunately, Paul then tells us how God has equipped us for these battles.  He describes the armor God has supplied, beginning with the belt of truth which helps us rightly discern what battle we are facing. 

Next is the breastplate of righteousness which covers our sinful heart with the righteousness of Christ.  Our feet are “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” because the Great Commission tells us to go into all the world and share The Good News.  Hold up the shield of faith because it is our steadfast faith in the goodness of God that helps us overcome the enemy.  Finally, Paul tells us to take the helmet of salvation- bought by the blood of Christ that covers our mind- with the sword of the Spirit which divides between marrow and bone, soul and spirit. 
In any war, there comes a point where things stall. You seem to gain no ground and you are tired. Paul says having done all of this-- putting on the armor and praying-- to simply stand. I think of those scenes in movies where someone stands still and you see blurred images pass by at light-speed on either side. Psalm 91: 5-8 tells us: “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” Remember that promise of protection the next time you fight the invisible war and remember, too, that with His death and resurrection, Jesus has already won the victory for us.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Are You Dressed Yet?

On Sunday mornings when I was a teenager, I was always the last one to leave the house, jumping in the car, mascara in hand, to finish primping as Dad drove us to church.  Often, I still seem to be putting on jewelry or lipstick as I dash to my car every day.  But there’s one lesson about getting dressed that I have never forgotten.

Growing up or even as an adult, whenever I faced a challenge or crisis, Mom used to ask:  “Have you put on your armor?”  She was referring to the protective spiritual armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17.  “God has provided a piece for everything except your back,” she’d say.  “That’s because He doesn’t expect you to retreat.”  Then she’d remind me of God’s promise in Isaiah 52:12:  “The God of Israel will be your rear guard.”

As I have faced many trials the last six months, I’m daily reminded of Mom’s words and Paul’s words and the dire importance of putting on my spiritual armor.  I would no more go out without it on than leave without my signature bright lipstick.

So, the next time you leave home, as you hop in the car, check yourself in the rearview mirror and ask yourself, “Are you dressed yet?”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Insta-Heal, On Sale Now

Take one part Scripture. Add one part holy water.  Stir gently or vigorously-you pick.  And instantly, you're healed.  If only it was that easy.  Often, the healings recorded in Scripture appear to be instant.  That's what I've wanted:  for Jesus to do for me what He did for the centurion who told Him, "If You just send the word, my servant will be healed." (Matt. 8:5-13).

I've prayed many times the last couple of months, "Lord, just send Your word and the discs in my neck will be healed."  Obviously, this wasn't His plan for me.  So, I began to meditate on some of the healings in Scripture.

While each person's change from sickness to health occurred in the blink of an eye, many of these folks suffered quite a while before meeting Jesus.  Take the woman with the issue of blood who suffered for 12 years and had spent all she had on doctors in a vain effort to get well (Mark 5:25-34).  Or the paralytic man who lay for 38 years at the pool of Bethesda wishing someone would help him (John 5:1-18). Then there's the man who was born blind about whom the disciples asked, "Who sinned-this man or his parents?" (John 9:1-12).

So, while the transformation to wholeness happens in a nanosecond, suffering may last a lifetime.  Some Christians will tell you suffering is your fault; that either you have a secret sin or too little faith to be healed.  That's a painful lie that only adds more pain and undue guilt.  God's manifestation of healing is complicated and mysterious and while it may not unfold according to our plans, it is just as real as it was when Jesus walked on the earth.  You can trust in the promise of Isaiah 53:5:  "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Let's take a trip

All aboard, folks. Take your seats, please. Before we depart for Humility, I need to warn you. This is a one-way trip and the train won’t stop until it arrives at its final destination, Glory. There will be rest stops along the way and you can hop off and turn back if you like, but I wouldn’t advise it. The towns we pass- Prideville, Arragancetown, and Full-of-Myself-Burg- aren’t nice places to visit. Oh, they look lovely from the train, but some pretty rough folks live there.

Now, the stops we will make in Humbleville, Meektown, and Hang-onto-God-for-dear-life-Burg look pretty dull by comparison.  But the kindest folks you could ever want to meet live there.  I just stopped off in Humbleville today for some rehab exercises. The instructor was kind but my face flushed red at all my missteps and I hung my head as I climbed back on the train. 

I asked God: "Am I not humble enough already?" Then I realized that Humility is not a destination. Rather, it is a state of being and one that even the godliest people cannot sustain in every area of life long-term. So, I will keep trying to humble myself before the Lord until I meet Him face to face.

As you get ready to travel to Humility, I would encourage you to meditate on these verses:  

Isaiah 66:2: “ …This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word.”

Matt. 11:29-30: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matt. 18:4: “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He Is Risen

He Is Risen. Those three words hold so much hope. Without Jesus' resurrection neither His first disciples nor us would have any reason to hope. But God keeps His promises and He assured us He would send a Savior to reconcile us to Him. That reconciliation was bought with Jesus' blood and accomplished while we were still sinners. On a cruel Roman cross, God offered hope through the death of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Through the empty tomb, He offered life eternal and abundant life for us here on earth.

Jesus' resurrection proves He is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who will one day make all things right. Until He establishes His earthly kingdom, He offers us a foretaste through the peace and joy that can only come from having a relationship with Him and the Father. In the personhood of Christ and in His fulfilled promises, we find all the hope we could ever need. It is that hope which continues to sustain me as I go through this year's health crisis.

Listen to the angel as he speaks to the women on that first Easter morning: "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here." (Mark 16:6). Go and take this hope to a dying world: Jesus is risen, just as He said.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Peace in the Storm

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
 When sorrows like sea billows roll,
 Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
 It is well, it is well with my soul.”

I have no idea when I first learned that hymn; I’ve been singing it for as long as I can remember.  It was a staple in our house and Mom would sing it to comfort me during difficult times.  While I have been sick this year, Jesus has taught me again that if I turn to Him, I can experience peace even during the fiercest of storms.  He made the following promise recorded in John 14:27:  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” In Phil. 4:7, Paul calls the Lord’s peace, “peace that surpasses all understanding,” and he promises this peace will guard our hearts and minds. Isaiah 26:3 tells us: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”

In 1873, Horatio G. Spafford wrote the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” after losing his four young daughters when the ship on which they were traveling foundered in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife was one of the 226 survivors and is reported to have sent him a telegram that read: “Saved alone.” When you’re in pain or sick or facing a crisis, it can be hard to remember Jesus’ promise of peace.  But if you will turn to Him and ask in faith for His peace, He will grant it to you. And like Horatio Spafford, you too, can proclaim, “It is well with my soul.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Pain of Perseverance

Perseverance hurts.  It’s not a quality that is easily acquired.  Romans 5:3-5 tells us:  “….but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”  Perseverance is forged in the crucible of life’s difficulties. 

My tribulation began in January with what I thought was a pulled shoulder muscle.  Ever since, I have endured excruciating pain in my neck, shoulder and arm.  For me for now, perseverance often means just getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve prayed for God to take away the pain and sometimes He has.  One day the pain felt like a boa constrictor was wrapped around my upper arm crushing it.  Exhausted from weeks of little sleep, I lay down to rest and pray.  God didn’t take away the pain but gave me His strength to supernaturally bear it while experiencing His peace and rest.

Paul asked God three times to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you….” (2 Cor. 12:8-9).  Previously I had told God I didn’t want that answer; I wanted to quit hurting.  But that day, as I had a fresh encounter with the lavish grace of God, I was grateful for His words to Paul and thankful He gave me that same grace.

Like Paul, James 1:2-3 tells us of the importance of perseverance.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”As you face life’s challenges, remember God’s grace; cling to Him and learn how to press on and go through.  In the end, God has promised to mold your character to reflect His and to give you a hope that will not disappoint.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Winter Come Lately

Winter Come Lately

Winter has yet to arrive on the Gulf Coast this year. And we’re not alone. Apparently winter is late in coming all across the country. Folks who have to dig their cars out from snow day after day are probably rejoicing. Even my local friends who savor summer’s heat are thrilled. I, on the other hand, am not. I like cold weather. It brings back good memories of snowball fights with my sister, making snow ice cream, and sledding on heavy-duty garbage bags down hills in Birmingham. (No one in Birmingham bothered to buy a real sled since it only snowed two or three days a year there.) Since it snowed so infrequently, though, we often got early dismissal from school when a substantial snowfall or ice storm was predicted. Sometimes we didn’t even have to go to school. We relished those days just as we relished the beef stew or homemade soup Mom fed us on cold winter nights.

My memories of winter are cozy ones. But my memories of spiritual winters are not so fond. What spiritual season are you in right now? Spiritual winter can be as harsh and unrelenting as a blizzard or as dry as a desert. If you listen and allow God to work, He can provide joy even in the winter and He can provide lessons that can only be learned when the green leaves of summer, the red leaves of fall, and the beautiful spring blossoms are stripped away, leaving stark, naked trees and a gray landscape. Winter reminds us of our dependence on God for everything.

Winter can also be a time of rest and waiting. We wait for the warmer weather, the pretty flowers, the sunshine, and we are reminded to appreciate them and not to take them for granted. We rest and wait on God to renew our strength (Isaiah 40:31) and our spirit. If you are not in spiritual winter, count your blessings. If you are, ask God what He wants you to learn. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us in ch. 3 v. 1: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” In every season, be grateful and seek God’s counsel and remember that seasons change.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Junk-free January

I’m late. This is no surprise to those who know me well as I am notoriously tardy, despite my best efforts to improve. But this time I am late for something very specific. Not a class, a program or a meeting. But a cleaning.

Most folks of a certain generation would give their homes an overhaul in both fall and spring. My great grandmother, Granny Waid, passed this tradition on to my mom who passed it on to me. I still do this, but I also do a cleaning every January. I can’t seem to help myself. It seems as innate as the migration of monarch butterflies. Maybe it’s the combination of my January birthday and the start of the new year, but I have this need to de-clutter, throw out and re-organize. I get a cheap thrill from rummaging through junk drawers and purging medicine cabinets, spice racks and closets.

But there’s more to my January makeover madness than simply weeding out unnecessary items that have accumulated during the previous twelve months. I also like to do a spiritual housecleaning. I root around in the junk drawers and closets of my heart to see if they are harboring any dustbunnies in the form of bad attitudes, bigotry, and bitterness.

In Luke 6:45, Jesus tells us: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” We can only bring good things out of our heart if we purge our hearts of  hidden sins and fill them with the good things of God.  For some, we need to eliminate bigotry and not just the racial kind. Maybe you are bigoted toward others who do not dress the way you do or speak the way you do. Or maybe those who have less money or education than you. Bigotry can take many insidious forms.

Maybe you have a bad attitude. Don’t minimize this. The Israelites got a 40-year sentence of wandering in the desert because they grumbled. God doesn’t take ingratitude lightly. Or perhaps the cobweb in your spiritual closet is bitterness. Bitterness often has its roots in jealousy, anger, or unforgiveness. Are those plaguing you? If so, sweep them out with God’s help. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Call on the Lord as David did in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Spiritual housecleaning can take time and I guarantee you it is a lot harder than cleaning your home, even including powerwashing the windows. So this year, go to God and ask Him for help to make your spirit brighter and cleaner so others might see the love of Christ in you and desire to know Him better.

Here’s to a junk-free January! Now that January is ending, here's to a junk-free year!