Sunday, February 22, 2015

Am I prepared....enough?

Here in Michigan's Upper Peninsula ("U.P."), we like to think of ourselves as hardy people with a can-do spirit; tough, independent and prepared for whatever life brings.  After all, winter in this part of the world can bring mountains of snow, sub-zero temperatures and significant wind chills.

Within all of the above though, there is incredible beauty, a peacefulness and a sense of belonging to God's beautiful creation.  We have a park nearby with perfect sledding hills and it is pure joy to watch the children fly down the hills with whoops of joy and then watch them trudge back up so they can do it all over again.  Love those rosy cheeks and colorful snowsuits.

Many of us like to ice fish or head to the ski slopes or strap on the cross country skis; and then there is my personal favorite, snowshoeing.  My husband, in partnership with 2 others, owns a lovely piece of land in the middle of the woods, on which sits a log cabin.  (They built it from the wood off the land...like I said, inventive people we are!)  It is a "hunting camp" (hunting being a major deal up here in the U.P.) and Charlie's camp is very rugged.  It has no plumbing or electricity but does have an outhouse!  It is a very cozy place, with a wood-burning stove, gas stove and gas lights, and ample sleeping space for hunters.

A couple of weeks ago Charlie and I decided to spend some time at camp, just the 2 of us; it was something of a brief reprieve from a lot of things going on in our lives.  We strapped on the snowshoes and headed out.  My husband knows this land like the back of his hand and could almost ski, snowshoe and hike the trails blindfolded.

It was so peaceful with the snow gently falling.  We saw signs of life all around us....deer tracks, scat (a fancy word for animal "poop"), a squirrel leaping through the trees, and even an insect crawling on top of the snow!  (unusual, to say the least).  Charlie tutored me on the use of my compass and taught me how to pick out a spot to pitch a tent, should I ever need that information.  (Can you tell he was a Boy Scout leader for many years?)  I had a lesson on the use of a tiny camping stove...where to look for dry branches and how to use all of that equipment to melt snow.  PREPAREDNESS.  He was teaching me how to take care of myself in God's beautiful creation, how to be prepared out there in the woods.

It's really good to learn those skills.  It's good to know how to be prepared to handle a lot of life experiences.  We prepare for a new baby by getting a nursery ready and by learning about the birth process. We get ready for school by purchasing supplies. We get ready for marriage by getting a marriage license and planning a celebration.

However, to my mind, the MOST IMPORTNT PREPAREDNESS of all is our preparation for our eternal life. Eternal....that means forever!  We put energy into planning trips/vacations, right?  What about that final journey?  The one everyone will make.  How is it that some folks leave preparation to "chance" but will put major energy into planning experiences that are momentary and not lasting?

In John 14:3 Jesus says, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also."  Jesus is talking to His disciples and they are confused.  They are asking Jesus "How can we know the way?" (vs. 5)  Then Jesus tells them clearly how they will find their way.  He says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Jesus Himself says....faith in Him (Jesus) is THE ONLY WAY to know God, our heavenly Father, and to live in heaven with Him.  If we deny that statement, then we are assuming Jesus is a liar or is something of a lunatic.  Because I settled in my mind long ago that the Bible IS Truth, I believe Jesus' statement to mean exactly what it says.  There is no other way to "interpret" that statement, especially since there are many, many other scriptures throughout the Bible to support that Truth claim.

I don't know about you but I am really, really thankful that my God is not up there in the heavenly realms, keeping score of my "good" versus my "bad" behaviors.  I'm sure somewhere in my life, I have managed to break every one of those 10 commandments.  (No, I have never murdered anyone but I have certainly "murdered" a reputation through gossip.  How about #3...the one about having no other gods...I'm quite sure I have valued other things or people more than I have valued God...see what I'm saying here?)  Jesus says He has prepared the way for us!  When we follow and love Him, we are assured we are PREPARED for that final and best journey of all.  Since we don't know exactly when that journey begins, perhaps right now is a good time to give this some serious thought.  Are you ready?  Are you prepared?

It is not complicated.  No one needs to have perfect knowledge of all scripture; we don't need to jump through "hoops".  It is as simple as:  A) Admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior; B) Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died for you; C) Confess your desire to make Jesus Lord of your life and ask Him into your heart.  Not complicated. What God looks for is a truly repentant heart and an  authentic desire to embrace Him through His Son.

I would love to hear from anyone who has questions or who has prayed this prayer for the first time!  Through Jesus, life  has purpose in the here and now...and heaven awaits!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Experiencing Grace through a Traffic Stop

Have you ever experienced what looks like an everyday moment, only to realize you had just had a "God moment"?!  Sometimes God has to hit me over the head and I am so grateful when He does.  Let me explain...

Like many families, we have our ups and downs but recently we have had some pretty big challenges.  As much as I like to think I have this forgiveness thing figured out, I get yet another opportunity to go deeper into areas of my Christian walk where God has decided I still need some growth.  (You know what I mean?!)

I had come home from an experience that tested my ability to offer grace and forgiveness to someone I dearly love.  It's too personal and detailed to offer on this blog but trust me when I say I was in a struggle.  My heart was hurting and I felt betrayed... and within all that I was focusing wayyyy too much on self.

I headed to our local grocery store later in the afternoon to try to pull some dinner together.  As I pulled out of my street I was aware of someone across the street getting pulled over by law enforcement.  I got totally distracted, focusing on trying to see if it was someone I knew.  I sat at the corner in all that distraction while the car, now released, was across from me with a turn signal on.  I realized I needed to do something so I made a left turn.

With a brain that wasn't in full gear,  I proceeded to the next stop sign and turned right having no idea that the public safety officer (from the sheriff's dept. actually) was behind me the whole way.

Next thing I know, he is pulling me over. What?!!!  (I found out later he was the real deal....as in THE sheriff.)  This man was beyond kind.  He pulled me over because, not once, but twice I used no turn signal.  I apologized (sincerely) and agreed that I should use my signals.  He checked my license and registration and very gently told me he would not give me a ticket.  I believe his kindness was all I needed to prompt some unwelcome tears on my part because I suddenly felt that lump in my throat and the tears welling up behind my eyelids.

I mumbled something about how much I appreciated it and that it had been a very difficult day.  He walked away from my car  leaving behind a cheerful greeting.

Well don't you know, being honest here....my first thought was, "I did NOT need this today!"  Seriously. But just that quickly I had one of those "loud thoughts" (no, I don't hear voices!):  I call them promptings or convictions from the Holy Spirit.  (JUDY, THAT STOP WAS EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEEDED EXACTLY WHEN YOU NEEDED IT.)  That sheriff had every right to ticket me...but instead, offered me grace.  (And that was before the water works started!)  He let me off the hook and I did nothing to deserve that kindness.  I was "guilty as charged"!

Then I envisioned Christ suffering on the cross for my sins.  Who am I to withhold grace and forgiveness from my loved one?  (or anyone for that matter)  Who am I to judge?  It was a powerful moment and God's lesson/reminder was offered to me when I most needed it!

So thank you to that wonderful sheriff who allowed himself to be used by God. And, yes, I now use my turn signals at all times!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

When the power goes out....

Very early one recent morning, during the darkest part of the 24 hour cycle, I woke up sensing all was not well.  My husband said 2 words, "power out".  As I took in my surroundings I began to be aware of the dark clock face and the cold in our bedroom.

Charlie got up to do some investigating and observed that lights were out all over the neighborhood.  Because of iPhones and internet, we were able to get a sense of the bigger picture and the whole town was dark.  At the power plant, a substation had exploded; a couple of people actually caught it on film and it was pretty dramatic.

The Facebook entries began....some with concerns about warmth, many questions regarding the source, a few prayers for safety, etc.  A local TV station suggested the power may not come on anytime soon as this appeared to be a pretty major power source.  There were reports of a couple of business break-ins.

Soon after, our lights and heat came on and stayed on for a few hours.  However, not true everywhere and around 9:30am the power went out again.  Thankfully, it was not long before we had consistent power.  Through this experience, my husband renewed his commitment to getting our generator fixed.  It doesn't take much imagination to wonder about "next time".

The pastor of our church publicly posted an invite for anyone needing warmth and refuge, to "come on up" to Grace Church.  (My church is located in a neighboring community not affected by this power outage.)  I love how God works in and through His people.

It gets cold and dark when the power goes out!  Lack of electricity causes our food to spoil, our water heaters to go cold, our stoves to stop working, our electric garage doors to "freeze".  It's more than an inconvenience for hospitals; the frigid cold is life threatening.

Isn't it like that when we sin...when we erect barriers between us and God?  We have free will and thus we have the power to essentially shut ourselves off from the God Who desires good for each of us. Sin is a lot like that substation explosion; sin is messy and destructive.  Sin creates havoc in our  lives that cuts us off from our power source, God...the God Who is the Source of ALL power.  In fact, I believe, sin is (spiritually) "life threatening".

I once heard an interesting comment from a pastor friend: "sin thrives in the dark".  Just like we see people breaking into businesses under the cover of darkness, we humans are prone to sinful acts when we don't have the "God power source" in our lives.  This power outage has cause me to revisit my own heart...where are the dark places that need the light of Jesus Christ?

Years ago I heard Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daughter) tell a story about a time when her mother was preparing for a TV interview to be conducted in their home.  Days before the interview she dusted, wiped down surfaces, vacuumed...basically cleaned everywhere!  Then the TV cameras came in along with those powerful lights and when the lights were turned on....the cobwebs and dust motes were evident.  No matter how much Ruth Graham cleaned, she could not see it all until the big lights were on.

If you and I want to live well (according to God's plan) we desperately need the light of Christ, the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the Truth of Scripture to shine powerful light into our hearts.  I want God to root out and expose those dirty places in my life so I will stay connected to my life-giving Power Source.  I want His light to shine in and through me!

When the power goes on and off in my home, I adjust and know it's out of my control.  But praise God that I can choose to be empowered every day by God's strength, Jesus' sacrifice and by the Holy Spirit Who actually lives within me. What about  you?  I invite you to connect to the true source of power through the love and grace and shed blood of Jesus Christ.  If I can help you in any way, please contact me at jmvader45@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

God's GPS

Years ago, when my boys were quite young, we had moved to a new city and I was trying to find my way around.  At one point my oldest (about 5 years old) suggested we may be having a hard time finding where we were going and, in my most confident voice I said, "no sweat"!  That was followed by the same child saying "Mom, every time you say "no sweat", we are lost!" Well, we were never truly lost but....he was accurate in discerning that his mom didn't know exactly the best way home.  That, of course was before the GPS had made its way into our cars.

I have had a travel club membership for many years and I can remember when (during my single years particularly) I would be planning a trip and request a "trip tic".  I loved that multi paged booklet that guided me and helped me get to an important travel destination without getting lost.  It gave me more confidence on the road; it contained useful information about highway construction road conditions etc.

And then (drumroll here!) the GPS burst onto the scene! What an amazing device that dramatically enhanced the travel experience!  I remember Charlie and I experimenting with all the different voices...did we want "Tina"? (the name we gave to one of the pretend people...almost like having a woman hiding somewhere in our car!)....or maybe we wanted the one with the British accent?  When our daughter-in-law came to visit us she had a great time "playing" with the GPS and its settings; we turned it on later after she had been experimenting with it, and discovered our next trip was going to take days!!!  (It was still on the "hike/walk" setting!)  We had such a good laugh!

Traveling in and around unknown cities became much less intimidating and more of an adventure than past trips.  It took much of the guesswork out of looking ahead for a place to stay overnight.  We could pick a restaurant or find a shopping outlet and actually schedule and plan our time better.  And we were much less likely to inadvertently find ourselves in a threatening area of town.  It created more of a safety net.

I believe this is a wonderful picture of "God's GPS"; we know it as "His Word", the "Bible", the "Holy Scriptures", "His story" (both Old and New Testaments).  The letters, "GPS", stand for "Global Positioning System".  Isn't that exactly what the Bible is about?  What could be more "global" and all-encompassing than the Word of God?  What could be more "systematic" than the scriptures?  What could be a better source of instruction, teaching us how to "position" ourselves in all areas of life than the very words of God?

Last year I finished a totally comprehensive, book by book study of the Bible, beginning in Genesis and ending (3 years later) with the book of Revelation. 

"The Bible is compiled into 66 books, written over a period of 1600 years by more than forty authors living on three continents. Although the authors came from different backgrounds there is one message, one theme, one thread, that runs throughout the entire Bible from the first book Genesis, to the last book, Revelation.  That message is God's redeeming love for mankind - a message that is as relevant for us today as it was two thousand years ago." (quote by the writers of "The Amazing Collection".)
Old Testament stories gave life to New Testament teachings; God's grace and justice was demonstrated consistently no matter which book I was currently reading. God's overarching story of man was driven home as I dug into those pages and asked the Holy Spirit to teach and guide me.

The more I use "God's GPS", the safer I feel.  I am less likely to wander off into unsafe territory; I have more confidence in navigating life's highways; I can even look ahead and know, with certainty, that I will arrive at that "place" Jesus prepared for me at the end of life's journey.  (John 14: 2-4)  I can live adventurously as long as I follow His map/GPS when the road winds or narrows or I run into something unexpected.  God's voice, through the Bible, gives me all the direction I need.

When we set out on the road, we have to actually make the decision to bring the GPS, turn it on and use it.  It wouldn't do us much good if we left it in the box it came in and never plugged it in.  In the same way, the Bible does us no good if it sits on the shelf and never gets read.  The more we read, learn and apply God's Word, the better chance we have of reaching our destination AND enjoying the sights along the way.

So I invite you to travel with me on this extraordinary life journey using God's map/GPS, so that we might find THE WAY to the MOST wonderful destination, while relishing every moment.