GENERATIONS

For weeks the song, “The Blessing,”  has captivated me.  I keep listening to it over and over, and when I am not listening, the song goes on in my head.  If you haven’t heard it (and you might be living under a rock if you haven’t), you can listen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9VL7AhXBKY

 

For the last few days I have been especially riveted to the lyrics about generations:

 

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children, and their children

 

God has richly blessed Jerry and me with a large and active family.  We have three daughters, nine grandchildren, and we are about to welcome our second great grand, a little baby boy, in a few days.  Jerry’s 98-year old mother has been visiting so we had a family dinner the other night.  Five generations together!  My mother-in-law was a little overwhelmed by all the activity.  “There are so many of them!  And they all came at once!”  Yes, Mimi, that is how our family dinners go.  Loud and active.  Jerry and I pray the Lord’s blessing for all of them every morning, as well as future generations.

 

So I was thinking about a thousand generations.  I looked up several definitions of the length of a generation and found most sources accept 20-30 years as a generation.  If I accept 25 as a benchmark, a thousand generations would be 25,000 years!  Somebody check my math, but I think that is accurate.  Many Biblical scholars believe a generation is longer, say 30-35 years.  Genealogists have used the number 30 to estimate how many ancestors we would have if we go back 1000 generations.  In theory (and it can only be theoretical) I would have over a billion people in my family tree.  It is an interesting concept to research, but warning, you can fall down the rabbit hole!  And so much math!  And then there is the whole young earth/old earth debate.  Either way, I don’t think it would be possible to actually have over a billion people in my family tree.

 

Over the years my siblings and I have had the conversation, “Who prayed?”  You see, we were not raised in church, or even in a Bible-teaching household.  There was a period of about two years or so when we went to church, but that collapsed along with my parents’ marriage.  And yet, all of us are Bible-believing, born again, evangelical Christians.  Someone, in a previous generation, received the blessing and passed it on through prayer.

 

That doesn’t mean coming to Christ happens automatically, like a bequest in a will.  One has to have a personal encounter with the Lord and make a decision to receive Him as Lord and Savior.  Scripture teaches us that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and because of that sin we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  However, God loves us so much that He sent His Son to take on our sins and die in our place (John 3:16).  If we truly believe this in our hearts and confess it with our mouths, we are saved (Romans 10:9-10).  This is what I did when I was 18-years old, and Christ came to live in me and has never left me.

 

Now fast forward to my old age (And the years did go by so fast!).  I now have the privilege of praying for my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  I also pray for the generations to come, those I will never meet.  I pray for their health and prosperity, for their future mates, and for a life of purpose.  But the most important thing I pray for is their salvation.

 

Now as I write these words I pray for baby Brodie Alexander who surprised us all by deciding to be born yesterday.  Lord, I ask your blessing upon this child.  I pray for him, as I pray for all my children, these words from Ephesians 3:14-19

 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

Lord, please extend the blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

 

We all have seen or experienced the ripple effect.  In the simplest example, think of a stone dropped into a pond, how it spreads concentric circles of waves of decreasing intensity as they move out from the center.  It works inversely also, as sometimes a small action (or inaction) can create a big ripple.  I’m thinking about Rosa Parks here.  But this morning I am thinking about a big event that has created many ripples in all of our lives.

 

The coronavirus is the enormous boulder that dropped in our pond earlier this year.  The virus alone has been catastrophic, but consider the ripples that have followed: the lockdown, businesses closed, jobs lost, bills that go unpaid, and we could go on and on about the ripples.  It is a very small micro-ripple that has tugged at my heart since yesterday.  My 10-year old granddaughter, Olivia asked her mother when they would get to shop for back to school clothes.  My daughter told her they were waiting until they knew for certain that school would actually have in person classes.  The district has a plan to reopen, but things are very fluid in every district right now.  Then Olivia asked if they could at least go shop for a new backpack.  My daughter had to explain that there would be no backpacks allowed at school this year.  That made me so sad for little Olivia.  One of the biggest days in the Kid Year is the first day of school with a new outfit, new backpack, and new school supplies.  And the obligatory snapshot on the front porch.

 

This has been one ripple too many for me, and yet I know more will come.  There are the things we don’t think about.  This same daughter needs a new washing machine because her old one broke down.  Did you know that you can’t go into a store and buy a washer right now?  There are none.  It’s a supply chain issue.  When factories shut down, supply stops.  My teen grands will not have lockers this year, or be allowed to carry a purse.  Our college grands have been instructed to come with emergency COVID bags packed.  If a fever is detected they will be immediately whisked away to some undetermined location (infirmary? gulag?), and will need to have a bag packed and ready to go.  Our college freshman will be allowed only one parent to help her move into the dorm.  And sorority rush will be mostly virtual.  Our pregnant granddaughter can only have her husband at the hospital with her.  We will have to wait until she comes home to meet the new baby.

 

These are minor inconveniences, but they are cumulative.  When they are piled atop the larger ripples mentioned above, life becomes even more stressful, wearing.  Many of us are walking around with sub-clinical depression (or maybe full blown) because of all the ripples.

 

Psychologists have studied the ripple affect as it pertains to emotions.  That is, how the emotions of one person in a group can trigger the emotions of the entire group, like a row of falling dominos.  It even has a name: emotional contagion.  You have probably noticed it, maybe how one person’s anxiety in an office can set off everyone else, or one family member in a bad mood can set the tone for the entire household.

 

But it can work the opposite way also, with a kind word, an act of consideration, or an expression of love.  I would like to be a carrier of hope during these trying days.  I would like to be, but some days are hard for me too.  That is when I need to go to the source of hope, God’s Word.  Honestly, I can barely make it through the day without my morning dose of hope.  Hebrews 6 tells us that when we turn to God and take hold of the hope he offers, that hope acts as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  That same passage tells us that God cannot lie, that His words are truth.  I can spread hope with confidence because I am sharing the truth, and truth is a hard commodity to find in 2020.  I can be an encourager, one who inspires hope and courage.  I need to be mindful of my words because I want to create positive ripples, contagions of hope.

 

Lord, help me to be a carrier of your hope today.

Lessons from Obedience School, Part 2

 

We had our second obedience class with Max and Ruby last week, and Jerry and I are learning as much as the doggies are.  As we have been discussing our lessons, we have realized a large part of getting our dogs to obey lies in giving clear commands.  They are really quick to respond when we use the commands and techniques our trainer Merit has instructed us to use.

 

When we pulled up to Top Dog Ranch last week, Max and Ruby jumped out of the car and ran eagerly to the door.  “Oh good,” I thought.  “They like it here.”  Well the fun stopped right at the front door.  I have to preface the explanation by describing the facility.  It’s really big, nice, and new, and it is built something like a gym, with high ceilings, a large open space, and hard flat walls and floor surfaces.  Perfect conditions for loud, reverberating noise.  Our dogs are having private lessons so we didn’t notice the sound much on our first visit.  But this time Merit was finishing a lesson with a large dog with a BIG bark that ricocheted off the walls and had the effect of stopping our dogs (especially Max) in their tracks.  They put on the brakes and did an about face towards the car.  So that fear set the stage for the rest of the session, but it was very instructive for us to observe.  Max immediately wanted to jump in my lap, but following Merit’s instructions from our previous lesson I told him, “off!”

 

Sidebar here: In full disclosure if we had been on our own, I would have let Max stay in my lap and would have cuddled him to sooth him.  I misunderstood something Merit told us in our first lesson, so I addressed it with her.  I thought she was telling us we loved on our dogs too much.  After all, I told her, they were “hired” to be lap dogs, and that is one thing they do really well.  She clarified that we can love on them as much as we want, but while we are doing training (at home or at Top Dog) they need to be obedient and we need to be the leaders.  So Max and Ruby have to keep four paws on the floor at Top Dog.

 

We worked on two things during our lesson: walking without pulling and sitting on command.  We have always used retractable leashes because we thought it would be a good chance to let our dogs run.  We have a very small yard so there is not a lot of opportunity for exercise except for treeing squirrels.  Car rides do not count as exercise.  Max is the worst at pulling and lunging on the leash, and when he does, he invariably gags and hacks.  I am afraid he will someday hurt himself, and he has never made the connection, “When I lunge at the leash it chokes me.”  Or sometimes they lag behind and we have to tug at them.  So at Merit’s instruction we bought six foot mesh leads, and oh my gosh, do the four of us get tangled doing it that way!  Hence, the need for lessons.  The idea is for the dogs to walk with a loose leash at our sides.  In order to facilitate this Merit had us buy anti-pull harnesses that squeeze their chests when they try to pull ahead of us.  When that happens, we are to stop, creating an anchor.  When they realize we are not going forward they will turn and look at us.  At that point we praise them for looking at us (‘Good look!), and walk a few steps forward before giving a treat.  We are introducing the command, “Easy,” and the goal is, as they improve, we will only need to say “easy” to remind them to stay by our sides.  (Well, at least that is the theory.)  If they lag behind, we stop and use the “Let’s go” command.

 

This lesson is packed with spiritual implications.  How much easier life is when I walk with Jesus, at His side.  Not lagging behind, being stubborn, or wanting to go off in my own direction.  And not getting ahead of Him.  That command, “easy,” really spoke to me.  I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 11:30 where Jesus tells His yoke is easy and that His burden is light.  I’m thinking a yoke must be a little like that no-pull harness.  It won’t squeeze as long as I am staying by His side.  The previous verse speaks to me as well:

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soulsMatthew 11:29

 

We are to accept His yoke and to learn from Him.  He is not harnessing us to hurt us or to make life more difficult; quite the contrary.  He wants to make our walk with Him easy.  Not easy in the way the world would define easy.  But when we stay close to His side, and keep our eyes on Him, even the hard places become easier, and we can find rest.

 

I noticed that when Merit would take Ruby by herself, Max became anxious and kept looking for her.  That reinforced Merit’s conclusion that Ruby is the alpha dog.  I used the commands we learned last week, “settle” and “look,” to get him to relax.  And remember, the stage was already set for anxiety by the big barking dog.  “Just look at me, Max.  I’ve got this.  You are safe.”  Isn’t that what Jesus says to us?  “I’ve got this.  Just settle and keep your eyes on Me.”

 

After walking, we worked for a while on “sit.”  Again, part of the lesson is getting them to keep their eyes on us.  When they look at us and sit, they get a treat.  Ruby caught on really quickly, but Max not so much.  He kept standing.  Merit explained that when a dog is anxious he wants to stand, to be ready for action.  And she said when he is anxious and standing, it is difficult for him to hear our commands.

 

Wow.  When I am anxious it is harder to hear from Jesus.  Because my own anxious thoughts keep filling the airway.  And even though I may be sitting, I am standing on the inside.  I am plotting my next move to get me out of the situation that is causing the anxiety or discomfort.  And my ideas are not the best at these times, because I am in fight or flight mode.  But I have learned that if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and wait for Him to speak, I then know what to do.  He will lead me to the place I need to be.  I love Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation.  Look at verse 2:

 

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.

 

This is what He wants for me.  He doesn’t want to hammer me with a bunch of commands and rules.  He just wants me to walk easily beside Him and keep my eyes on Him.  Life would be so much simpler if I would just learn to obey.  I wonder what I will learn in our next class.

 

Lessons from Obedience School

 

Last week Jerry and I began something we should have undertaken a long time ago.  We started a series of obedience lessons with Max and Ruby, our two rescue dogs.  Now just look at those little faces for a minute?  Do they look like trouble?  While we love these dogs dearly, they have some bad habits.  Habits that have gotten worse during the quarantine.  As a psychologist, I was curious to see if causation is at work.  Are others noticing behavior changes during this time?  Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed that I am not alone.  Animal behavioral specialists are taking a good look at what is going on with our animal friends.  So we decided that we needed to enroll in obedience school.  Even if Max and Ruby don’t get trained, WE can learn some new things to do.

 

Let me give you a little background information on Max and Ruby to add context.  When the last of our Shih-Tzus died, we decided that we would not have any more dogs.  We knew it would be hard because we have always had dogs in our home, and most have been Shih-Tzus.  And actually, having no pets turned out to be a blessing in disguise because about six or eight months later Jerry became very ill with necrotizing pancreatitis and was in the hospital for months, mostly in intensive care.  I spent hours and hours with him and having a pet that needed care waiting at home would have been an additional burden.  Finally, Jerry was able to return home and gradually began to heal.  After he had been home for a while, he was well enough to take some doctor-prescribed walks.  It was then that we thought maybe a dog that also needed walks might be good motivation.  We decided that this time we would rescue rather than buy from a breeder.  That turned out to be a great decision because in spite of these behavior issues, Max and Ruby have been wonderful dogs.

 

We knew two things going in: we wanted an older dog and we did NOT want a male.  We ended up with not one but two puppies, a female and a male.  We knew that the mother dog was a Shih-Tzu and we are thinking dad must be some type of terrier.  We wondered if they might be a little intimidated coming from living in a crate at a vet’s office to our house, but no, they trotted in like they were finally home!  It was like, “What took you so long, Mom and Dad?”  It’s like they think they chose us.

 

In the beginning we thought Ruby was the alpha dog.  She was bigger, although Max soon passed her in weight and height.  She also seemed to be bossier.  But after a few months we decided Max was the alpha dog.  From the beginning they have been barkers and jumpers.  And we haven’t been able to curb those behaviors at all.   Barking at the windows, barking at the front door.  If a leaf blows by we have to bark at it.  Evidently yelling at them to shut up and quit barking only exacerbates the problem, because they think, “Oh good, now we are all barking!”

 

Over time Ruby became fearful of almost everything, especially men.  And especially men carrying equipment.  Our yard guys and any type of service men send her into a barking frenzy, with Max joining in.  She will NOT go out in the back yard without us, because she was once dive-bombed by a hawk.  So anything with wings (bird, housefly, butterfly) scares her.  Max loves the back yard but wants us to keep the door cracked so he can come in at will.  But Ruby won’t have it.  Don’t we know a giant condor might fly in and kill us all?  She also hates the vacuum cleaner, thunderstorms, and well any kind of loud noise.  Don’t even say the word “squirrel” out loud; in fact, don’t even spell it.  And she gets very anxious if we leave her for a trip.

 

These are the behaviors and traits we described to our trainer, Merit Day, on our first visit.  She had some interesting observations after listening to us and watching them.  First surprise: although Ruby is the most anxious, she is actually the leader.  And according to Merit, some of her anxiety is due to her need to protect us.  She feels like most of the burden is on her to alert Max, and then us, to danger.  So Merit gave us some new rules and I have to say, we are already getting results.

 

We worked on getting them to look at our eyes, even while we were holding a treat.  She wants them to respond to the command “Look.”  They are to keep their eyes on us and not be distracted by the treat.  The next command was “Settle.”  This was said in a gentle, but decisive voice while we pressed firmly on their shoulders.  We are to stand between them and whatever stimulus is bothering them.  This is best done with outstretched arms while telling them to settle.  We are to provide direction and demonstrate that we are in control, especially when they perceive danger.  They need to know that we understand the situation and that we’ve got it covered.  She also instructed us to provide daily times when they are to physically follow us.  It’s amazing how quickly Max and Ruby are responding to these new commands.

 

I was sharing all of this with my daughters when Kristie said, “That’s just how we are to be with God.”  Bam!  Why didn’t I see that right away, but of course she is correct.  God doesn’t want us to live in fear and anxiety.  I have heard it said that “fear not” appears 365 times in the Bible.  That’s one for every day of the year.  And He expects us to follow Him.  God will stand between me and danger.  Deuteronomy 31:8 instruct us this way:

 

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

                

 

There are many passages about keeping our eyes on the Lord.  But a famous example occurs in the gospels relating a time when the disciples were caught in a nighttime storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The see Jesus in the distance, walking on the water, and in a bold move Peter asks Jesus to tell him to come to Him.  As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was doing well.  But when he began looking at the waves he began to sink.  In Hebrews 12:2 we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus as we run our earthly race.  In the original Greek that word “fix” means to look away from something else and look distinctly at Jesus.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that God chose me, not the other way around.  By the power of the Holy Spirit I was able to respond to his call to me.  And He didn’t just choose me; he rescued me.  He saved me from spiritual death and gave me eternal life.  He placed me in a new family, gave me a new home.  All I had to do was accept His payment for my sin.    

 

As I think about these things I have decided that the Christian life is one long obedience lesson.  In these frightening times of coronavirus, riots, and uncertainty, I will do better if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and let Him lead the way.  Stay tuned for next week!           

THOUGHTS FROM MY GARDEN

It has been a beautiful day here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It was so chilly when I came out with my morning coffee that I thought about going back in for a blanket.  But it has quickly warmed up, and I believe the weatherman when he said this is the beginning of our summer.  I can already feel the heat, as well as those pesky biting flies and the no-see-ums.  I decided that this would be a good day to tackle some gardening chores I have been putting off.

I love our garden.  We purposely bought a house with a tiny lot, and my husband has turned it into a little slice of heaven.  I have to give him the credit, because he does all the heavy lifting.  I’m just on clean up.  Our subdivision was built on what was at one time a pasture.  It was almost completely devoid of trees, but thanks to our deed restrictions we now have many.  When we first moved in we could barely sit on our patio because of the wind.  Like the song says, Oklahoma is where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, and our backyard was like a wind tunnel for about five years until our landscaping matured.  Now it is a very pleasant place to sit and we have even installed some ceiling fans to stir up a breeze.  Time changes things.

My primary task this morning was to pull up some of the weeds that have begun to pop up.  While flowers and shrubs need a good bit of care, the weeds need no encouragement, even in a manicured garden such as ours.  It takes constant vigilance or they will take over.  Weeds are the default, landscaping takes care.

It occurred to me that our hearts are a lot like a garden.  It takes constant vigilance.  Those little sins can pop up almost unnoticed and take over if we are not careful.  We have a natural bent towards sin.  It is our default.  Those of us who are Christians have two competing natures: the old sinful nature (or the old man) and the new nature that is controlled by the Holy Spirit (new man). 

At the moment of conversion, the Christian receives a new nature. It happens instantly.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. However, sanctification is a continual process that lasts a lifetime.  It is the process of becoming holy, more like Jesus, and over the lifespan there will be many victories and defeats.  But the good news is our new nature has the capacity to resist sin, something we did not have before we were saved.

This new nature takes cultivation, just like my garden.  Although I have walked with God for many years, I still feel a bent towards sin.  Even the apostle Paul felt it.  In Romans 7 he writes about the battle that takes place within him.  He doesn’t do the good he wants to do, but instead he does the very evil he hates.  This battle is one that we will fight as long as we are here on earth.  It is a lot like fighting weeds.  That is why we are told to “get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language, (Colossians 3:8).”  We have to pull these sins up by their roots, and still they come back.  

I have learned that filling my garden with “good” plants is one way to choke out weeds.  But I can’t just plant them and forget them.  They must be watered and fertilized in order to grow and flourish.  Similarly, I must cultivate my new nature with Bible study, prayer, and worship.  When I neglect those things, the weeds (sins) pop up.  The old nature wins the battle.  

As believers we are encouraged to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), to put to death those things that make a Christian sin (Colossians 3:5).  Even though we still have two natures, the old and the new, the new nature needs continual renewing (Colossians 3:5). This renewing is a lifetime process, but we are no longer under the control of sin (Romans 6:6).  And ultimately Christ will rescue us from “this body that is dominated by sin and death (Romans 7: 24).  The weeds will be permanently gone.  Thank you, Jesus!

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Our church (First Baptist Jenks) has been doing a series called “Who’s Your One?”  It is a focus on personal evangelism, and was born out of our pastor’s heart to reach those who don’t know Christ as Savior and Lord. He is equipping us to share our personal story with that “one” person God lays on our heart.

Why are we so reluctant to share our spiritual journey when we are so eager to share every other aspect of our lives?  Just take a look at social media!  We share EVERTHING!  In fact we sometimes over share.  I confess to being one of the guilty ones.  I love sharing both my random and more profound thoughts.  I like sharing pictures of my family, beautiful vacation spots, and even my dogs.  And, by the way, I love seeing what you post.  And we share in our conversations.  We share where to get the best deals, the best service, the best food or the best workout.  So with all this sharing going on, why is it so hard to talk about God?  What are we afraid of?

We are afraid we won’t do it right, that we will mess it up somehow.  If I am just telling my unique story, how am I going to do it wrong?  I just tell a few details about my life before I became a Christian, how I came to know Jesus, and a little about what life has been like since.  Or if I am talking with someone going through a trial, I may talk about how the Lord walked with me through something similar.  Jesus told us to share as we go (Matt 10:7).  As we are going about our daily business we are to share the gospel. We sometimes think it has to be a formal presentation.  It doesn’t have to be a knock-on-the-door-hit-them-on-the-head-with-a-King-James-Bible thing.  In fact, I think that is where we often get it wrong.  Just share as you go.  That requires stepping out of my own life and actually noticing people.

We are afraid of offending someone.  Or we are afraid of looking foolish.  Guess what? Those things will happen.  The message of the cross is offensive to those who do not believe.  “How can you say there is only one way to God?”  Because Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  And to the intellectuals, the simplicity of the gospel sounds senseless.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).  Yes, some will be offended, and some will think we are just plain dumb.  But we must share anyway.

We are afraid we don’t know enough about the Bible.  One of my favorite quotes is from D. T. Niles: “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”  You don’t have to understand everything involved in bread making to show someone where to get bread.  You just share your own hunger, how you found it, and where they can get it.  Just share what you know.  You need to be able to have some scriptures ready to share, but it doesn’t have to be a lot.  When I share my story, I quote the verses that moved me, that led me to salvation.

Maybe we are afraid of revealing too much about ourselves, afraid of being vulnerable.  Listen; if you are a Christian, someone took a risk with you.  It could be the neighbor who took notice of you, the friend who invited you to coffee, or the pastor who took the risk of setting his life course in the direction of winning lost souls.  When you share your story, it strengthens you.  Our speaker yesterday said, “Your story should overwhelm you.”  I wish I could tell my story without choking up, but when I think of what God has done in my life I am blown away.  Maybe you think your story is not dramatic enough.  Perhaps you were brought up in a Christian home, came to Christ as a child, and have lived a pretty good life.  The drama is what God saved you from! You were saved from the wrong turns in life, from the damage of sin, and most of all, from the fires of hell. 

So in our church, we have been encouraged to ask God to give us One.  Give us one person to be burdened for, to pray for, and to share with. I know who my One is.  I have told him where the bread is.  The rest is up to God.     

Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.  

The Power and Privilege of Prayer

A friend is very ill today. I pray that God will touch his body and heal him, but if that is not God’s will, I pray for a sweet and peaceful home going.  This man has been a lifelong student and teacher of the Word, and I can imagine Jesus standing at Heaven’s gate eagerly waiting for him. But standing on earth is a wife, family, and friends who don’t want to lose him.  I am praying for his wife, his sweetheart, and his partner in life.  I understand the anguish she is feeling because I was at a similar place five years ago.  And I pray for his family…his siblings, children, and grandchildren.

I hope you will pray for this man (God knows his name), but I’m not writing to talk specifically about him.  I want to talk about the mighty power of prayer and the privilege we have to partner with God by means of prayer.  When Jerry was sick, our family experienced first hand the power of prayer.  Five years later, we are still running into strangers who heard about his illness and prayed for him.  I know that God in His great wisdom does not always say, “yes” to our prayers, but I’m so grateful that He allowed us to keep Jerry a while longer.  I also know that each of us has an appointment with death, and that our life on earth is like a vapor.  God’s “no” is no less loving that His “yes.”

After Jerry recovered, I wanted to learn more about prayer, and I learned a new word: importunate. Importunate prayers are the prayers that please God.  They are the prayers that plead and beg God for a request to be granted.  They are the prayers that pound on Heaven’s door, and will not give up.  The illustration that is used most frequently used to describe importunate prayers is the story in Luke 18 of the unjust judge and the persistent widow.  This woman just would not give up!  The judge finally granted her petition because he was tired of dealing with her. He was annoyed by her pleas.  But God is not annoyed by importunity; He is moved by it.  Importunity is Jacob wrestling all night with God.  It is Daniel, fasting and praying, in sackcloth and ashes.  It is Jesus in Gethsemane.  All through the Old Testament and into the New, we see people of God begging and pleading with Him.  John R. Rice says, “There are some blessings that a Christian will never have without pleading, importunate waiting on God!”  

Today is Good Friday, an appropriate day for us to think about prayer.  Because on this day, God gave all believers access to the throne of Heaven.  The veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  Before this day, only the high priest could enter the holy place, and he could only do it once a year.  That veil was a constant reminder that sinful man could not enter into the presence of Holy God.  But now, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we believers can go directly to God with our prayers, any time we want.  And even more wonderful, because of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit now dwells in us. Emmanuel.  God with us.

What a privilege is prayer. My hope is we will all take time on this holy day to partake of this great gift.  

LIGHT: MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW

We’ve had days and days of cold, dreary weather.  Gray days that drain you of energy and motivation.  At least that is what they are doing to me.  Maybe sometime this summer I will think that I could have spent this time cleaning out closets and organizing photos, but mostly I have just sat in my chair and read.  Where is the sunlight?

 

In the Bible study I attend, we have been studying the book of 1 John.  Maybe it is because I am so light deprived, but I seem to be drawn to John’s description of God as light.  He uses this reference in his epistles as well as the Gospel of John.  “God is light,” (1 John 1:5); “I am the light of the World,” John 8:12.  John also uses light and darkness to contrast truth and lies, good and evil.  On the surface these seem to be pretty elementary truths, but God has been taking me deeper, teaching me about light.

 

I left Bible study the other day thinking about how light can travel, but darkness cannot.  When it is dark in my house, but light outside I can open the shutters and a dark room becomes light.  But the opposite is not true.  If it is dark outside and light inside, opening the shutters will not make the room dark.  It won’t even dilute the light that is there.  So there was my first truth: light can travel into the darkness, but darkness cannot travel to the light.  The rest of that verse in 1 John says that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”  God is pure and holy, and the darkness of sin cannot change or corrupt His holiness. But His light can travel and penetrate the darkness of sin.  Remember, dark cannot travel.  When I was in the darkness of sin I had no way to get to the Light on my own.  The Light had to come to me.  And He did that by dying on a cross, bridging that chasm that separated me from the Light.  The Light came and rescued me from the darkness.

 

I’m told I have a weird brain and I guess it is true.  I became more curious about light and did a little research, and if you are not into a lot of technical stuff you might not want to finish reading.  Whew, there is a LOT of information about light available. It is at once simple and complex, obvious and mysterious.  I will try not to put you to sleep.

 

The world “light” appears over 200 times in the Bible, so I’m thinking God wants us to know about it. I found my second truth right away: Light is necessary to sustain life.  I guess you could say I had a light bulb moment (pun intended), because it hit me right away.  God’s first recorded words were, “Let there be light.”  Duh!  As creator and sustainer of life, He knew light was necessary for creation.  Light provides the energy for life to grow and thrive.  When plants are deprived of light they don’t do well and may even die.  Light, by way of photosynthesis, provides the very oxygen we need to breathe.  Many humans become depressed when they go for days without light.  Light is our source of vitamin D and regulates our circadian rhythms.  When I don’t get enough spiritual light, I notice the difference.  I don’t grow and thrive spiritually.  One resource noted that light increases fertility and eases pain. The light of the Lord makes me a more fertile Christian.  When I am getting my daily dose of Light I am more likely to share with others.  And oh how Light eases the pain of living in a fallen world.  I often wonder how non Believers survive.

 

Third truth: Light helps us see.  There is a good deal of neurobiology involving light and vision, but the simple truth is we cannot see without light.  One of my favorite hymns is Be Thou My Vision.  God as Light helps me see things from His perspective.  The Light helps me see people through His eyes. It reveals dangers that are hidden in the darkness and it keeps me from stumbling, from sinning.  Light directs my feet and keeps me on the right path and takes me in the direction He has for my life.

 

Fourth truth: Light purifies.  Light, especially the ultraviolet component, sterilizes. It kills germs and keeps things free from microbes.  The Light (Jesus) cleanses me from the contamination of sin.  Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

 

Fifth truth: Light allows us to see color.  In darkness we can see no colors because we need light in order to perceive color.  This gets into biophysics, which is a lot of blah, blah, blah to me, but colors have spectra.  Some spectra are absorbed and others are reflected.  The reflected color falls on our eyeballs and sends a signal to the brain, where we perceive color.  I knew there had to be a spiritual application here so I thought about all the colors of God.  If you ever want to do a study on this, a good place to begin is Exodus, where God gives instructions for the tabernacle and the priestly garments.  He instructs the use of specific colors, representing the deity of Christ…gold for His glory and holiness, red for His redeeming blood, purple for His kingship, and silver for redemption.  Once we have the Light (Jesus), we can begin to see God in His fullness.  The Light allows us to see more of who He is.

 

I guess I could go on and on about light, but this is probably enough for now.  If I studied for the rest of my life I could never learn every spiritual truth about light.  That’s because God’s Word is inexhaustible.  When Jesus referred to himself as the Light of the World there was so much truth and power packed into that declaration!  Thank you, Father for sending the Light into our dark world.

 

Light of the world, illumine me.

 

 

IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

 

It is well with my soul. There are some days…some seasons in life, when that is that is all you can say.  But it is also the best you can say.

 

It Is Well With My Soulhas long been one of my favorite hymns.  It was written in 1873 by Horatio Spaffordfollowing the drowning deaths of his four daughters that occurred when the ship they were on sank.  That is really all I knew of his story, but after doing a little research I discovered that he had one traumatic event after another throughout his life.  Yet he could write this beautiful hymn that has helped sustain so many of us in dark days. I love the theology of this song…that no matter what happens in this world, I can know for certain that this is not my home.  I am just passing through, and one day I will live with Jesus in Heaven.

 

When you are stripped of everything in this material world.  When life slams you in the face and you didn’t see it coming.  When you have endured months and even years of a trial that seems to have no end, when life seems hopeless, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Because really, that is all that really matters.  It is the most important thing you can ever say.  When the 6:00 news alternately makes you scratch your head or shudder in fear, when the only voice you have is your one little vote, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  When the doctor gives you a dreaded diagnosis, when you have run out of treatment options, when the miracle you prayed for seems like it is not going to happen, is it still well with your soul?   When you feel forgotten, rejected, and alone, do you know all is well with your soul?

 

When life is good, when you have the world by the tail, when you have love, health, and prosperity, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”  Sometime I think it is harder when things are going well.  I remember a friend I used to have when we lived in another city.  I have lost touch with her, but occasionally I wonder how she is doing.  When I knew her she was happily married, had great kids, lived in a big house, and had a job she loved.  One day I tried to talk to her about Jesus.  About her soul.  She told me that her life was good and she didn’t want to rock her boat.  Somehow she had the idea that if she let God into her life she was signing on for trials.  I’ve thought a lot about that and in all honesty she may have been right. God doesn’t just save us and leave us where we are.  He wants to refine us, to make us more Christ-like,  But she would have walked through any future trials with a God who loves her and has a plan for good for her.

 

I can tell you in my life, my biggest growth spurts have occurred as a result of trials.  That is where my faith has grown.  I haven’t had a Horatio Spafford life.  In fact, over all I would say life has been good.  But there have been days, seasons, when I had to come right up to a hard truth: I am not in control!  There have been times when I have had to say, “Not my will, but thine.”  And then I’ve had to let go and trust in God’s goodness.  Even in those dark, scary moments, I could say, “It is well with my soul.”  If life gives me the very worst it has (Oh and I hope it never does!  The mind can conjure up some horrible situations,) even if I am stripped of everything, I know it is well with my soul.  This is not the end.  I have a home in Heaven with Jesus, who will make all things right.

 

Can you say those words? It is well with my soul?  If not, I hope you will consider what the Bible has to say.   God loves you and has a plan for your life, but there is one thing that separates you from God and that is sin.  Welcome to the human race, for the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  And to make bad news worse, the Bible tells us that the price for our sins is death.  That is what we deserve; but God has given us the free gift (we didn’t earn it) of eternal life because our sin debt was paid by the death of Jesus.  Horatio Spafford said it well:

 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

 

If you are not sure that all is well with your soul, I urge you to settle that matter today.  Payment for your sins has already been taken care of.  Just talk to God from your heart.  You might pray something like this, although the words are not as important as the intent of your heart:

 

“Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to make me a new creation and to prepare me to dwell in your presence forever. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.”

 

If you have prayed that prayer, then you can sing along with Horatio Spafford and millions of other Believers: It is well with my soul.

 

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