Friday, March 24, 2017

Onion Skin Faith

I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” 1 Co 2:4-5.

Have you ever been presented with a situation which would require you to stretch yourself ‘onion skin thin’ in an effort to serve another in need?  Paul certainly did when he dealt with the Corinthians of the early church.  We can determine from this passage that he didn’t feel up for the job, and he was scared to the point of shaking.  But Paul knew something that we must consider when walking out a tough journey.  Paul knew that when he relied on his own abilities he would miss out on the power of God.  He understood well that any task for which he was called would be met with the power of God’s Spirit to accomplish that task.  He believed his own message of the power of the gospel as providing our lack for everything. God’s power neither weakens nor changes through time.  It is the same power that was exerted into the lifeless body of Jesus, raising Him from the dead.  It is the same power that got my family through the terminal illnesses of our loved ones.  It is the same power that got me and Bruce through times with no work.  It is the same power who raised my daughter back to life after drug addiction.  It is the same power that will fulfill good and perfect promises to me up ahead.

Many of us face these trembling times this morning as we look up ahead to the tasks for which we are called.  What will we do?  Will we focus on our weaknesses?  Will we elevate fear over faith?  Or will we slip on the garment of the Spirit’s power and walk in confidence through our situation?  The garment of the Spirit offers so much more than the frailty of onion skin faith.  We are called to a life of courage as we make our way to ‘the city not made by human hands.’ (2 Co 5:1) Those watching our walk are so desperate for a demonstration of a mighty power.  ‘What people are longing for is to meet someone with abiding spiritual wisdom and knowledge about what truly matters.  Someone to tell them the wisdom of God that rescues us from loneliness, satiates our longings, obliterates the strongholds that keeps us addicted, and washes our consciences clean!  This secret wisdom is cultivated by time in God’s word.  It’s quickened in prayer.  It’s deepened by fellowship with other believers.  It’s revealed in greater degrees when we’re obedient.  You can’t buy the secret things of God, but He’s pleased to give them to the ones who seek Him.’ All Things New, Kelly Minter, p. 167.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” Jeremiah 21:13

Thursday, March 23, 2017

And So She Walks....

Happy heavenly 8th birthday, Beth! Today's ELM is dedicated to our sister, Beth who now resides in Heaven.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to be silent and a time to speak, He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Eccl 3:1-11 (NIV)

During the last two weeks of my sister, Beth’s life, her constant smile was replaced with a distant stare. Previously, she would fight her worn out body by willing herself out of bed, as if showing both cancer and death who was boss. But now, both her mind and body were emptied of any fight and both were surrendered. Our bedside interaction was replaced with silence and subtle acknowledgements. God had led me to begin considering music for her funeral.

Beth’s funeral…how heart-wrenching that thought was as it traveled from my head to my heart. Never had I imagined that our little community of four sisters would lose one of its residents at such an early age. Yet, isn’t every experience of life only a season as King Solomon penned?

During those silent visits, I began remembering my conversation with Beth a few months earlier which brought tears to my eyes, but a smile to my face. Due to the extreme pain from her cancer, she was on an unbelievably high dose of several pain blocking narcotics. She seemed on any given day to drift between reality and fantasy. One day as we sitting together in the Hospice House, she patted her bed with her fragile little hand signaling for me to join her. I had bought her a decorative box in which she could store her pens, pads, paper, Bible and books. She reached over and grabbed a pad and pen and the fantasy of planning her wedding unfolded. I was painfully aware that even in her deep confusion, the reality of death and her funeral was never far away. I so appreciated the grace of God painting this picture with the beautiful colors of a wedding instead of the dark charcoals of a funeral. Her questions warmed my heart as she would record my answers by drawing little bubbles on the page, much like a stenographer would record every important word. I still smile when I consider the questions coming from her place in fantasy met with God’s grace. She asked, ‘Now should we serve hors d’oeuvres in the front of the church? Will there be a celebration afterwards? What kind of music shall we play?’

Many days were spent planning this wedding with questions and answers that never changed, and the same plans ‘bubbled on the pages of her wedding planner.’ Never in a million years could I have predicted that this wedding day would occur on the same day 14 years previously when she gave her heart and life to her husband, Paul. As our family worked together to come up with the beautiful music, I burned the cd that would be played in the waiting moments before for our guests before the funeral began.

During the last ten days of her life, I brought my laptop to her room and would play these beautiful songs, more for my own heart and spirit. I can’t help but wonder what she was experiencing in those quiet, unreachable days when she was finally bed bound and did not walk. Was this in between living holy ground for which no one could enter? She must have rehearsed this walk a million times much like a bride imagines the day she walks down her aisle. I cannot help to feel that as she could no longer walk on earth, she was preparing to walk to heaven. So, in the spirit of all of our planning, our talks and the bubbles on the page, I share my version of her experience in those last days when she couldn’t be reached between death on earth and birth into eternity.

“She must be nervous for off in the distance she hears the echo of music playing and soft murmurs of familiar voices. She has considered this walk a million times in her mind, but this time was different…no anxiety…no turning back. She could finally see what was up ahead of her and it was grander than anything behind her. No turning around this time for she was embracing this wedding day, and would kneel on the altar of eternal commitment – the surrender of total body and spirit to the One.

She treasures in her heart that for the second time March 14th offers the day she offers her love completely to another whom she adores. She lovingly remembers how her earthly father offered his arm the first time. But, this time it will be her heavenly Father that offers His arm to walk her down the aisle. The Director comes to her and whispers that it is time and she hears the music swell. She nervously steps out into the aisle with a pounding in her heart and a radiance surrounding her. Her radiance is met with the radiance of her Father as He offers His arm to her. How beautiful she looks to Him!

She carries a bouquet with the fragrance of her courageous walk during her suffering. She is dressed in a white linen robe instead of sequins and lace. Her hair is held back with ribbons of righteousness as she is being made perfect and pure. Her earthly knowledge is being replaced with pearls of wisdom as everything is becoming more clearly seen in the spiritual realm. Her vision is still slightly blurred by the thin veil of her earthly inhabitation of flesh. How excited she must be at the thought of her veil soon to be lifted by the One whom she loves. It will be the perfect timing of God that will determine when her veil is lifted and their eyes meet each other’s gaze. The delicate petals of her faith are scattered along the aisle from earth to heaven. The petals are seen from both sides, the view from the earth as petals of inspiration while the view from heaven as petals of fulfilled purposes.

She trustingly reaches out her tiny arm and joyfully slides it into her heavenly Father’s arm. The music builds in intensity, the processional begins, and so they walk. As she walks she hears sobs of those she loves who must give away the bride. The further she walks down that divine aisle, the sobs are replaced by the anticipation and joy of her new family as they welcome her into their eternal family. While her heart is burdened for the temporary separation of her earthly family, her new wisdom reminds her that one by one they will join her someday.

And so she walks…"

The Irony of Progressives

“‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it…you will be like God…’ Gen 3:4-5. “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may some-how be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Co. 11:3-4.

It is so important to understand the danger of allowing our minds to accept versions of God’s truths. Versions are nothing different than opinions and perspectives offered by Satan to create pleasures and attitudes that lure us away from God. No wonder our culture accepts everything, all in the name of progress. The ironic thing about people claiming to be progressives is that they are doing the same old thing Eve did in the beginning of time. Being duped by the devil into thinking they know better than what God has stated. Their thinking is no different…no more progressive than the first people who walked this earth. Satan first paints pictures for our mind, then the more we think on those lies the more we rationalize our behavior. And before we know it, we’ve also been kicked out of the Garden. ‘When the enemy comes to deceive us he does so cunningly. Remember, the serpent in the garden of Eden…He must have seemed believable, his arguments buyable, and his promises desirable for Eve to be deceived. This is why we must continually immerse ourselves in the Word.’ All Things New, Kelly Minter, p. 162.

But we are welcome to return to His beautiful place…the garden of forgiveness and fellowship. The garden where we walk with Him in the coolness of the day and He continues to share both love and wisdom with us. We must protect our mind with everything in us as if our life depends on it…it does! We must guard our heart as if they can be ensnared…it can! We must read the Word as if it speaks truth to us…it will! Without renewing our minds, guarding our hearts and understanding what God says about everything we, too, may be led away by our desires.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fighting With Weakness

God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are…” 1 Co. 1:27b-28.

We’ve all heard it and we probably have all looked like it no matter which gender we are… ‘You fight like a girl.’  Whether it is a physical fight, an emotional fight or a mental argument, the sentiment is the same, ‘You are the weaker one.’  Well there is great news is this statement!  When someone boasts that they are superior in an area, we must just thank them for that.  We can take comfort in the truth that when we are weak in any area, our weakness unleashes God’s mighty strength.  When people tell us we lack in something, we can be thankful that through our lack God flings open the storehouse of provisions.  When foolish attitudes are marching across our landscapes, we can have confidence that the wisdom of God will always trump foolishness.  When lies pepper the things we know are not true, we have a Judge who sits on the throne and declares the real truth and justice in our situations.

What does ‘fighting like a girl’ mean?  It means we don’t accept what the doctor says until God determines the outcome.  It means we allow God to fight our battles against the bullies of the world.  It means we might look crazy for things we stand up for but we leave the consequences to God.  ‘Fighting like a girl’ means no matter what our bank account shows, having complete confidence that God will provide. 

Personally, 2016 will go down in my history as one of the weakest years I have ever had in my life.  But weakness had a companion who held my hand the entire journey.  His name is Jesus among other names.  God was never so strong and mighty during my year of greatest weakness. 

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there.  Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war.” Rev. 19:11.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Life As An Only Child

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” 2 Co 10:18.

Growing up in a family of 4 daughters, it was easy to constantly compare myself to them.  I always wondered what it would be like to be the only daughter, or the only child.  My constant comparison had little to do with the love of my parents for they treated us each equally in love, acceptance and support.  It was more about the desire to be someone special…someone unique…someone important.  As I grew I expanded my measuring stick to include my friends, other school mates and other church friends.  As I became an adult the search for approval and acceptance as it measured against the standards of the world became a full-frontal attack on my psyche.  It wasn’t until 45 years of age that I finally shifted my ruler to the Creator who knew my value, my heart and my purpose.  It was at that point I realized that He was the only one who could have billions of children but able to make me feel like an only child. 

When we measure anything against man, we are measuring ghosts.  Someone will also be smarter, richer, better looking, more talented, more successful…and list goes on and on.  But God has assigned our areas of worth, and when we align with that assignment we strike gold.  We live and move within our God-given talents and strengths, understanding that He delights in seeing us succeed in what He has given us.   Once we embrace our value through God’s eyes, He continues to expand our areas of influence and work.  We cannot measure up to the next level God desires for us, until we master the assignment He has given us in this season.  God did not create us to remain stagnant in life.  He created us to embrace…to be courageous…to climb mountains and conquer valleys.  A life standing still spiritually is a life without a pulse.  Pray that the Father will reveal those beautiful areas He has assigned you, and then sit back and enjoy being an only child.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming…See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ 1 John 2:28-3:1.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Grief, Another Word for Love

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

The wonderful thing about this beatitude is that the blessing comes before we must face the loss. God places us on the road of preparation before we ever experience the individual grief. Grief comes in many forms as we live our lives. Obviously, the most severe form of grief is the death of a loved one.

Personally speaking, this beatitude has been put to the test and has proven it's worth in gold! The comfort that God has brought me in the loss of my loved ones has been unparalleled and ‘beyond understanding.’ Don’t get me wrong – I have felt the sting of salty tears in my eyes, more tears than I would ever wish to shed. But the comfort that has been mine has held back the flood of uncontrolled emotions much like the waters being held back for the crossing of the Jordan. God laid on my heart the truth that He called my loved ones home and they found eternal life free from all pain and suffering. God’s nature is always love which is His motivation for everything. Grief places our focus on our pain - not on our loved one’s gain. We approach our loved one’s death as me-first, then them instead of them-first, then us. It is our humanity crying out.

Psalm 139:16 states my highest form of comfort. ‘You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.’ “The concept is that God has a departure date for us. He knows the exact time we will enter eternity. God does not see time the way we see time. God measures one’s success not in terms of longevity but rather as fulfillment of one’s God-given purpose in life.” Zig Ziglar

Success is finishing what God gave you to do. From the world’s viewpoint, these things are great tragedies. But from the divine perspective, this was an incredible triumph, for each of our losses has represented them having finished well the appointed tasks they had been given to do by the Lord before their births.” Rev Harold Cook

My grandmother told of an afternoon when she had visited my grandfather’s grave 4 weeks after his death. She stated that for one moment in time she felt that God allowed her to feel the full extent of her grief at his gravesite. She couldn’t believe the amount of comfort that God had lavished upon her days since Granddaddy’s death. It was at that moment that she realized the full extent of this beatitude. She laid her mourning on the lap of Jesus and came in for the blessing. The other blessing I have realized in my mourning is the fact that my deep grief is a result from being blessed with a deep love. If I grieve it is only because I have loved!

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Our Echo

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” 2 Co 8:9.

This morning as I was doing my Bible Study the question was asked, ‘What Christ-like quality have you been inspired to pursue because you first saw it in someone else?  My parents immediately came to my mind.  Their sacrificial giving whether in time or money was an example they continually set.  They would assess the need of the person and not their balance in the bank.  They would serve according to need, instead of the demands of their calendar.  They gave when they didn’t have it, and I’m sure sometimes they served when they didn’t feel like it.  Their generosity in many forms displayed a quality that I feel Jesus displayed while on this earth.  God stepped off His throne, laid down His power, took on the poor form of man and chose to die in poverty so that we could live in grace.  We can never give back to Him the equivalence that He gave to us.  But, we can certainly recognize how His poverty made us rich.

‘It made us rich in peace that doesn’t cut and run in the face of uncertainty.  Rich in contentment that knows how to ride both the waves of abundance and slim pickings.  Rich in intimacy with Him that oddly enough grows deeper and more precious in suffering’s soil.  Rich in joy whether by the gifts of material blessings that bring us a measure of happiness, or the joy that comes with giving our lives away.  Rich in life – abundant and eternal.All Things New, Kelly Minter, p. 113.

This is not just about signing a check that calculates 10% of anything coming in.  It is about praying for God to show a need, and then trusting Him to write whatever that amount is without considering our bank balance.  It is about pouring ourselves into service that will encourage another, even if it messes up our calendars.  It is about looking to the interest of others and having a generous spirit.  My parents had it right, and I pray for the generosity of heart to live the same way.  We all have something to give to others to bless them, whether it is money, time, prayer or fellowship.  We just need to show up and be there.  We are to echo the heart of Jesus.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.’ 2 Co 5:20