Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thanks for the No

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 NKJV

Prayer is powerful - and God always hears when we petition Him. But He doesn't always answer - at least not the way we want Him to. 

And this can be frustrating. Confusing. Aggravating. Discouraging. And a blessing.

Have you ever thanked the Lord for saying "no" to a heartfelt prayer? No? Well, maybe you should. Because His desires are are so very much better than your own. Because what He wants for you is so very much better than what you want for yourself.

What if the Lord had taken the Israelites straight to the Promised Land because of their prayers, instead of having them wander in the wilderness? They wouldn't have learned the lessons they did - and we wouldn't have a powerful, meaningful portion of the Old Testament. Those forty years may not have been their desire, but they were for their good.

What if Jesus had gone away when Peter asked him to leave in Luke 5:8? Who might have written 1 and 2 Peter? Brought thousands to Jesus? Visited and converted Cornelius? God ALWAYS knows what is best.

And what if God had said "yes" to His Son's petition that the cup be taken from him? If our Savior had not died on the cross for our sins? I think you know the devestating answer.

We pray selfishly. We pray for things that will help only in worldly ways. We pray for our will, rather than His. We pray to get out of our trials, when He knows we need them - to purge us of sin, to serve Him, to prepare us for what to come.

If we want to pray effectively, we need to pray in His will. His desires must be ours. We must be willing to experience trials - for they can be God's will for us. But no matter the trial, we know He is in it, and with us. 

If His answer is no - embrace what He has for you, for it is His will, and for your good.

Thank You, Lord, for denying my selfish prayers, for giving me the wilderness when I ask for Egypt. Take away every desire of mine that is not yours. No trial is as painful as that of sin. Help me to embrace what You give me, whether I believe it is for my best or not. In Jesus' precious name I pray. Amen

Graphics courtesy of Christiansunite

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christ Arose

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." John 11:24 NKJV

When I realized that my post would fall on Easter, I was thrilled. My mind overflowed with wonderful associations of that day. Which one could I write about? The first thing that came to mind was the old hymn “Christ Arose.” I remember singing this hymn on Easter Day at church and getting excited every time we came to the refrain:

 Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

At times, sadness overwhelms me when I think of family and friends who have passed away. The resurrection of Jesus has the power to change that sadness to hope. Though these precious people are no longer with me here on earth, they await my arrival in their heavenly home. And this is all made possible by the death Jesus Christ faced on the cross, His resurrection and ascension to heaven. He took the keys of hell and death and rose a Victor. He lives forever with His saints and reigns over all.

So songs of the resurrection bring a smile to my face and birth hope in my heart. For one day, I will see them again and see Jesus face to face. Enjoy the song below…

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Wonder of it All


”Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.
Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth springs from the earth,
And righteousness looks down from heaven.
Indeed, the Lord will give what is good,
 And our land will yield its produce.
Righteousness will go before Him
And will make His footsteps into a way.”
(Psalm 85:9-13, NASB)

     God’s salvation rests in the heart of each believer assuring us of His presence with every beat. His glory is magnified by the goodness we see and overshadows every challenge we face, every scheme the enemy places in our path.
     God's desire for us is knitted into a garment of love. One we can wrap ourselves in while we extend the warmth to those around us and invite them into His cloak of eternal goodness.
     We see the reality of Him in every living thing: The tenderness of new grass and fresh flowers beneath our feet, and the wings of joy flying beneath His protective gaze.
     God’s word also tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father. His provisions successfully push through the doubt and denial of others, as we acknowledge that He alone is our Source. 
     The unimaginable love of God prepared the way for the redemption of man that leads us back to him. The trail left by the footsteps of Jesus and the imprint of the base of the cross he dragged on his bloodied back toward Calvary, where He willingly gave His life to save His people, is our thoroughfare to Heaven.
     The psalmist paints such a beautiful scene through these verses. From creation to redemption through Jesus Christ, we can see God’s plan unfold. May this Easter season, this long-awaited spring, fill you with the wonder of creation and the peace of His free gift of salvation.
     Jesus is coming soon. If you have not yet done so, accept His invitation; it will be delivered to you straight from the Father. You’ll recognize His voice through drawing of the Holy Spirit. This will be your time to reserve your place at His table for eternity. The invitation is time-sensitive...

Don’t delay.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish,
but have eternal life.” 
(John 3:16 NASB)



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Whole Broken Heart

The BeeGees asked an important question back in 1971. Or maybe it was Al Green. In any case, do you remember the tune?

“I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do.
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.
And how can you mend a broken heart?”

I’ll give that earworm a moment to settle in.

The BeeGees asked a series of questions after the song title, including various diddies about stopping the inevitable. Apparently their answer remained elusive.

It may be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid the experience of heartbreak. It happens to all of us on different levels, at different stages of life and in numerous ways. Kind of like breaking a bone—there are umpteen number of ways it can be done and each break is unique.

But we’re discussing the mending process. If we all experience heartbreak, wouldn’t it be grand to understand how to mend our broken hearts?
Some say that it depends on the break. On the scope of injury or the state of your heart-health at the time. Perhaps.

The Creator of our hearts and Sustainer of our souls has a lot to say about hearts. David hints at things in Psalms 51—

“…a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

So the first revelation while searching for our mending miracle? God sees your broken heart and does NOT turn away.

He does not turn away when our hearts are cracked, worn, shattered, burst, shrivelled or torn apart. He does not despise our hearts, despite the sins and darkness that may have caused it.

Again we come across God dealing with broken hearts in the Psalms.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalms 147:3

I can get behind that. God doesn’t just acknowledge our broken hearts; He also heals and binds up our wounds. Should someone let the BeeGees know that we have the sought after answer?

But mending is about more than healing, more than simply binding something together. Mended clothing is meant to be worn again. It wasn’t simply hung up to create a sense of vintage décor.

And mended hearts must trust again. They must be strong enough to withstand the pressures of love, yet soft enough to offer a cushion of grace. Mended hearts must recognize the footfalls of love and relationships, not to circumvent future cracks of their own, but to avoid breaking the hearts of others.

So mending a broken heart must go beyond seeing it, healing it and binding the wounds.

We find a hint of an answer just past Psalms, in Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, 
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will direct your paths.”

So I can take all the jagged pieces of my heart, the bent and frayed bits, the dust, and trust in the LORD? We know that He sees our hearts, and offers healing for the wounds. But how can our souls function again? How can we move past the pain, crawl out from under the crushing weight?

The balance of this verse provides the keys to mending.

  • Do not lean on our own understanding (Because, seriously. How’d that work out last time?)
  • Acknowledge Him (Some versions say submit to Him, but all mean make Him Lord of our lives in the true meaning)
  • Look for His direction

That last part hit home for me. Living with a broken heart creates a lot of cloudy confusion. You don’t want to move forward and add to the pain, and you can’t move backward into the pit. So you wallow around for a time, waving your arms and hoping the edge isn’t looming steps away.

But God promises to direct us when we trust in Him with our whole broken heart. And from that point we can begin to live again, our hearts having been seen, healed, bound and mended.

Humming the BeeGees All Day,

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Little Transparency … A LOT of Freedom

Oftentimes we don’t recognize our own brokenness until one day we hear someone else’s words escape our own lips. Oddly, the voice may even sound like the one we know who is broken.

This was the case for me over the past months. Someone close to me had fought hard and lost her battle with cancer. We know she is now walking and talking with Jesus, but my heart aches at the thought that until her final day she wondered whether anyone cared, or even loved her.

Throughout my life, I’d spent countless hours trying to prove my devotion. I’d exhausted myself, strained relationships outside our little circle, and ended up on the wrong side of her beliefs regarding love and devotion. I lived in fear that I'd make her unhappy regardless of my efforts.

When her focus wasn’t my lack of concern for her, she’d point out others who couldn’t love her well enough.

And yet, we did.

Everyone who came into contact with her either thought she was an incredibly strong woman, or someone whom they simply enjoyed having lunch (or coffee) with. She had a gorgeous smile and a witty sense of humor to go with it. She had a knack for immersing her hands in many projects, and then dispersing them among friends, family, and anyone else who might cast an admiring glance towards one of her creations.

But it was never enough. She believed herself unloved, unwanted, and a failure.

I’d known for quite a while that I suffered similar traits, but it wasn’t until shortly after her passing that I’d begun speaking the same doubts about everyone. If my church loved me enough … If my family cared … If my "friends" would just …

I’m sure you get the idea.

A friend said to me, one day, “You are listening to the enemy right now.”

“No. That’s not possible. I believe God. I trust Him. I wouldn’t listen to the enemy’s lies,” I countered.

The trouble is, whenever a person believes something to be true, it is true to them. And there is no convincing them otherwise. Only God can peel back the scales so the person can see clearly. Only God can shed light into a darkened heart. Only God can make a blind man see. Our job is to believe Him.

And that is what happened. One day, I can’t put my finger on the specifics, other than to say that “suddenly” I realized that what I’d been hearing all these years were indeed lies; that God is my affirmation, my wholeness, and the one who—regardless of the selfless acts of others—loves me better and more fiercely than anyone.

And that, dear friends, is the truth that is more sure than anyone’s exhaustive attempts at proving that we were born for a purpose, destined for greatness, or that people enjoy having us around. 

It is freeing, not only to me, but to those who’ve been burdened with the need to prove their selves.

Isn’t that what we all want, to be free of bondages whether self-imposed or loaded on us by another?

It is definitely what Jesus came to do:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed;
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
(Luke 4: 18,19 NKJV)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I Am A Penguin

About two months ago (as I’m writing this), my pastor asked me if I’d be willing to help him with some English classes he’s holding for several Spanish-speaking residents of our little village. I was reluctant to do so; I’m not much of an extrovert, and I had no Spanish whatsoever beyond nachos and guacamole.

He was persuasive, though—he assigned me to work with a few young women with intermediate English skills, while he worked with the beginner students for whom he could translate and explain en español.

These lovely women quickly put me to shame, for their self-taught English was indicative of their strong desire to become productive members of society—mothers who could provide for their children, hard workers, responsible residents. And they were so friendly and sweet, their beautiful brown eyes sparkling as they laughed at their own efforts to figure out irregular English verbs.

On the very first evening that we worked together, Maria offered to make a meal for my family. I was stunned by her offer, humbled that she wanted to perform this gracious service for a near stranger. The only thing I could do to try to meet her graciousness was to attempt what she and Lupita had already done—I would learn to speak with them in their own language, as they were learning to speak mine.

Thus began my journey into the world of computer-taught Spanish. I’ve been working at it for at least an hour every day—some days even more than that—and I have baggies of flash cards to show for it. Close to 1000 words now: I know how to write “I am a penguin” (Soy un pingüino) and “This ugly orange skirt is too small for me” (Esta falda naranja feo es demasiado pequeño para mí.). I’m far better at writing Spanish and reading it than I am at speaking it, though—the week when I finally got bold enough to actually say something to Maria in Spanish, I introduced Ben to her as mi esposa—my wife.

I’ve got to the point now when I need to expand beyond my computer program, so not long ago I downloaded a few intermediate Spanish children’s books to my Kindle. The first one was Pinocchio—I figured that between my 1000 flashcards and my familiarity with the story, I’d be able to read most of it, and it would give me some practice in figuring out words from context.

I’m telling you—Pinocchio is hard.

I’ve always been a very good reader; I was reading so well as a kindergartner that I skipped first grade altogether, and reading is as easy as breathing for me. I spent my entire life as a teacher of learning disabled students who read with great difficulty. Now, trying to read Pinocchio in Spanish¸ I understand a little, I think, of how hard reading was for my students. If I don’t know a word, it will not make itself known to me, no matter how long I stare at its unintelligible sequence of letters.

My babyish understanding of Spanish must be a little bit like our spirits’ understanding of the language of God. We get glimpses, every now and then, of something that makes sense to us, of letters in God’s spiritual alphabet that combine with other letters to make beautiful words that make us draw in our breath  with a yes. Other times we stare at the strange language and we have no context in which it makes sense. We struggle to read—to understand—only to find out that we have understood nothing, and that the word we thought meant now actually means no. But a little while later, in another flash of insight, we see that God has rearranged His letters and words, and what we thought was I am leaving for a while really was I have been here all along.

The woman who lives in my computer and speaks Spanish has a pleasant voice, but when I first heard her speak a complete sentence (I think it was “the boy drinks milk”-- El niño bebe leche), I thought, I will never be able to understand that. Two months later, I understand that and much, much more—because I have earnestly applied myself to understanding her. But my understanding of the beautiful language of Maria and Lupita will never be perfect, just as my understanding of the language of God will never be perfect—this side of paraíso.

Image source

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Being Selfless Selfishly

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 

We are often told to put God before everything, and others before ourselves. You've probably seen the acronym JOY: Jesus, Others, You.

But what you do - or what you don't do - isn't what is important. What really matters, my friends, is your attitude. WHY you are doing (or not doing) it.

Perhaps you decided to give something up - chocolate, maybe, or meat - for Lent. If you succeed - make it another ten days (yes, we're 3/4 of the way through today!) -  you can count it as an accomplishment. But why did you choose that sacrifice? To be like your friends? To garner pity or accolades from others? To be seen as spiritual? To show that you could?  In all honesty, my friends, if you did it FOR ANY REASON OTHER THAN TO GLORIFY GOD, your selfless act was selfish.

When you give of your time for the praise, share Christ to add another good deed to your belt, fast because others need you as an example, you are not being selfless. If your offering comes from a sense of obligation, your service from a desire to be seen, you are serving God for the glory of yourself. The work may get done, but it is not pleasing to the Lord. It will not bring you joy.

Whatever you do - or don't do - doesn't matter. What matters is why you do (or don't do) it. And the only why that pleases Him is what you do it for His glory - not your own.

Just because the act is selfless doesn't mean you are. Do it ALL for the glory of God. He doesn't look at the outer appearance - he looks at the heart (1 Samuel 6:7).
Photo source
What does your heart look like?

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