Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fear Reigns, or Does It?

They sat huddled together in a locked room off the beaten path.  This handful of men usually moved with confidence through their world.  Along with a few women who were part of their inner circle, they were confused, possibly angry, without direction and frightened by recent events that tore their world apart.

These men and women were adrift and anchorless because their Jesus, the One Who was to deliver them from their enemies, had been brutally tortured, hanged on a cross, declared dead and was buried in a cave/tomb with what seemed to be an unmovable stone sealing the entrance.

My first thought was to be critical and shocked at their lack of understanding.  And then I was flooded with memories of the many times I also displayed a lack of trust in The One I proclaim as sovereign in my life.

There was that time I discovered a lump in my body where there shouldn’t be one.  I made an appointment to see my doctor but in the meantime…I worried.  I fretted.  I imagined the worst.  It turned out to be benign and life turned right side up again.  But, I had failed the test….the “trust test.”

Fear and anxiety indicate we have taken our eyes off Jesus.  It’s as though we have left Him in the tomb.  It’s a challenge to look beyond the moment.  Do we forget that the very next day the tomb was found EMPTY? 

Jesus had shared with them the entire plan.  Maybe the whole thing sounded so preposterous they couldn’t fathom it.  Or perhaps they just could not comprehend it all.  Undoubtedly a bit of disbelief crept in; after all they didn’t want Him to die – He was supposed to be their conquering King!

I’ve had my share of dark tunnel-like times:  multiple miscarriages, debilitating depression, divorce, unemployment.  I felt anchorless, as though God was nowhere to be found.  But that’s because I temporarily lost my spiritual compass and along with it, my hope.

I LOVE that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman!  Jesus had such a heart for the women of His time.  He treated them with respect, giving them a value the culture did not offer.  Mary Magdalene and Jesus had encountered one another often and she was bereft when He was killed.

The gospel of John tells us in chapter 20, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”  So what did she immediately do?  She ran to tell Peter and John.  No doubt she was beside herself because she is quoted as saying, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

It’s not enough that Jesus was dead – now His body was missing!  Peter and John checked it out and sure enough the tomb was empty.  No body.  No Jesus.  They returned home with hearts that were burdened beyond belief.

I am SO thankful the story did not end there.  If it did, we would all be doomed for eternity; lost without hope.  BUT, as Mary stood by the tomb, weeping, the scene changed.  (Trumpet roll here!)  Mary saw angels and then her eyes took in Jesus.  (In Luke’s gospel the story includes other women with Mary.)  It took her a moment to realize it really was her beloved Jesus.  What joy!

What drama!  It has been said that real life is much more exciting than fiction.  The details of all Jesus did after busting out of the tomb can be read in the 4 gospel accounts.  Some of those details include appearing out of nowhere to His disciples, showing them His nail pierced wrists and eating real food.  Jesus ministered with and to many folks for 40 days before rejoining His Father in heaven.

Did I tell you I LOVE EASTER?!  Jesus conquered death; that tomb could NOT hold Him!  No more fear; no more anxiety; no more sleepless nights.  Christ is alive!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

It's Friday....But Sunday IS Coming!

It was a scary time and confusion reigned.  When I gave birth to my precious firstborn, I sensed he had a special life mission.  Upon reaching adulthood, learning the family trade and satisfying family obligations, he headed out into the world.

His choice of friends was a bit perplexing, coming from such varied backgrounds.  But I trusted my son to choose well.  He served others, brought healing into many lives and encouraged us with stories of his heavenly Father.  Through all of that, the (unholy) religious establishment was challenged.  As he stood for Truth and stirred up the authorities, I became increasingly fearful and anxious. Many a night, I tossed and turned while praying for my son.

One terrible dark night, everything began to come apart, at least it appeared that way at the time.  The storm clouds gathered and my son was arrested on trumped up charges, accused of “misleading the people”.  He was ultimately sentenced to death!  It all happened so fast; it was a nightmare and I wondered when I would awaken.

His friends abandoned him.  I was there, along with a few of my women friends and relatives.  Also one of my son’s close friends stayed the course while we watched him suffer…miserably….for hours... before his traumatic death. This mama was shell shocked, broken hearted and I felt incredibly helpless. 

After my son died, his body was placed in a tomb.  Not only was that tomb a dark place but everything surrounding that time was dark and discouraging.  With his friends all scattered, I began a terrible, lonely grieving process.  But buried deep within my heart, under all of the layers of suffocating sadness, there was a flicker of hope. I knew God had a plan.  That plan began 30+ years ago when the angel came to me to announce that I would conceive and give birth to God’s Son.

These words could have been the words of Mary, mother of Jesus. Obviously this is my imagined version of what Mary thought and felt on that “Good Friday”.  The scriptures don’t tell us all of these details but we do know the saints of the Bible were real people with real thoughts and feelings.

My husband and I recently had the privilege of entertaining a young, newly married couple in our home.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship, a time of sharing our stories.  Ashley and I were already acquainted; in fact we were regularly meeting together during the time Marvin courted her.  It was great to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on!

But I also had heard Marvin’s testimony at the occasion of his baptism.  His life, before he surrendered to Christ, included a lot of pain and many missteps.  He was, by his own description, going on a path that did not lead to joy and Jesus.

As with many of us, God used a "chance encounter" with another Christian to introduce Marvin to Jesus.  That “chance encounter” lead to a developing friendship and little by little, Marvin’s heart opened up.  One beautiful Sunday, during worship, Marvin could no longer resist the love of Christ and he surrendered his heart.  This young man had surely lived through many “Fridays” but his “Sunday” had come!

Matthew 27:50, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”  Mark 15:37, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”  Luke 23: 46, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’”  John 19:30, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

That famous Friday It WAS finished but what His followers still didn’t understand…it was also the beginning!  The crucifixion of Friday means nothing without the resurrection on Sunday. AND, “Good Friday” leads the way to a full out celebration of Resurrection Sunday/Easter! 

If you live in my area, come join us Friday evening, 7pm, Grace Church in Gladstone, MI.  And remember, Sunday is coming! (Sunday services are 9:15am and 11am.)


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thin Ice

It is March and spring whispers in our ears, “I’m coming.  Be patient.”  We love the elevated temperatures, somewhat “balmy” breezes (at least compared to the cold north wind of winter) and bright sunshine!  

Here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the month of March might present us with anything from winter storms to rain to sunshine; it almost always means melting snow and huge puddles.  Twelve years ago, before getting married and moving back to this area, I spent the month of March in the U.P. caring for my mother who had just been through heart surgery.   It SNOWED EVERY DAY! 

Recently, Charlie and I decided a walk was just what we needed and, for the first time in months, we headed toward the lake where we could walk on the sand.  It was glorious and beautiful and there were promises in the air.  The sun was brilliant and the sky was blue, blue, blue!

If you have ever seen the movie, “Grumpy Old Men”, you have a picture of what our harbor looks like with all of the fishing shanties forming what resembles a mini town.  The lake ice was formed in ridges along the shoreline and waves were frozen in place.   People’s vehicles had been driven out onto the ice; apparently they all believed that part of the harbor ice was still thick and safe.

I must admit, it was difficult to believe the ice was still safe.  Last week a young girl went through the ice; praise God she was rescued.  It’s that time of year when the ice looks solid but is at different stages of melting.  It looks inviting but in some places, it isn’t safe.

Isn’t life a bit like that?  The world offers us alluring choices that look good but have danger (thin ice) lurking below the surface.  TV ads, newspaper articles, magazines and the internet offer glamour and excitement… or maybe it’s a “something for nothing” scheme. 

What tempts you to go out on “thin ice”?  Maybe you find yourself unexpectedly pregnant and an abortion seems to be the answer to the problem.  No one would have to know, you tell yourself. 

Maybe it’s telling a “little white lie” to someone because “I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings.”  Truth gets lost. 

To my mind, one of the biggest lies foisted on us is: “all religions are basically the same” or, “there are many paths to God”.  Those who do not really know the Truth of God’s Word insist if we are “good enough”…if our good deeds out-weigh the bad, we are good to go when we leave this earthly life. There are churches that tell us if we are baptized as babies, we have a free pass to heaven.

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the Truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”    In Matthew 7:13 Jesus tells us we have to enter through the narrow gate.  Narrow.  Seems to me we Christians are accused of being “narrow minded”.  Hmmmm.  Maybe “narrow” is a good thing?

We are fast approaching the celebration of the most amazing rescue job God did in all of history!  Easter, which follows the darkness of Good Friday, is pivotal to our faith.  We can never do enough “good deeds” to measure up to a perfectly holy God.  But the wonderful, fabulous fact is, Jesus (and only Jesus) is the key to a fulfilling life now and eternal life with God.

Thin ice and inconsistent thickness make for potential danger.  Yes, it can be measured and evaluated for safety.  Yes, there are places that are safe but….we need to be cautious.  We must use wisdom and discernment.  The best source we have to help us live a life pleasing to God is found in His Word, the Bible.  Let’s not be fooled by the glitter and empty promises of our culture.  Let’s learn and study and pray; let’s be world changers by living out God’s beautiful life plan!


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Physical AND Spirtual Workouts (3-6-2016)

I got on the scale today and the evidence of undisciplined eating habits stared me in the face.  A few years ago my husband and I decided (both of us having birthdays edging toward another decade, if you know what I mean!) it was time to get serious about what we put in our bodies. After doing research, we went full out gluten and sugar free.  If something had either of those two elements, it did not pass our lips!

With that disciplined approach came great rewards, not the least of which was significant weight loss for both of us.  We were vigilant and adamant about our new habits and likely a bit on the obnoxious side as we attempted to “evangelize” anyone who wanted to talk about food.

Fast forward a couple of years; our habits are becoming sloppy and less disciplined.  All too often we eat that sweet or bread thinking of it as an “occasional” treat.  Today the scale did not lie.  I could think of at least two occasions just yesterday when I consumed a significant amount of sugary food.  Time to get honest.

I do keep up my exercise pretty well so my YMCA visit today was part of my regular exercise routine.  Through the winter months I swim laps 2-3 times a week but this year I mixed it up a bit using the machines and treadmill.

Today, as I was straining my muscles, I took a look around.  I saw people of various ages, shapes and sizes working their bodies.  Some were sweating, others grimacing.  A few were plugged into their electronic devices, possibly listening to their favorite tunes.  Some of my fellow workout “partners” wore the latest in exercise apparel; others like me would not have made the grade if the exercise wardrobe fashionistas were present. 

What struck me though….it was pretty obvious which of those folks were disciplined about their workouts.  They had the best bodies!  They had the most stamina!

Let’s imagine what it would be like if we diligently did our spiritual “workouts”.  Do we set aside regular times of prayer?  Do our prayers have the fervor that leave us breathless and cause our hearts to engage?  Or maybe it’s time to spend more time…ramp up that part of our “spiritual workouts”.  Do we look forward to opening the Bible, mining it for wisdom and applying its lessons so we are better equipped for kingdom work? 

I have a phone app that measures my steps throughout the day; it’s a great way to encourage movement while doing ordinary tasks.  Our “spiritual workouts” can/should also be part of our daily routine.  I love listening to Christian music while driving or doing tasks around our home. We can pray anywhere, either out loud (I have received some strange looks from other drivers when they saw my lips moving and no one in the car!) or in our heads and hearts.

Last night I saw the movie, “War Room”, for the umpteenth time; talk about spiritual disciplines!  Wow!  Miss Clara set a wonderful standard for fighting for our homes, marriages, families using prayer and scripture.  (If you haven’t seen this movie, I would encourage you to do so.)

If we can easily identify people who are disciplined about physical exercise, can we also identify those in our community who are spiritually disciplined?  God’s Word has something to say on that topic.  Galatians 5:22 and 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The more disciplined we are in our “spiritual workouts”, the more we will develop a life that embodies the “fruit” described in this passage.

If I want to enjoy a fit and trim body, my exercise must be more than “occasional”.  If I want to experience a life ready to serve the King of Kings, I must be intentional.   

Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…”  Bible study/worship/fellowship/service/check, check, check, check!  Let’s ramp it up!  Let’s be “in shape” for God!