Saturday, April 26, 2014

Walking together

She wore a crimson red sweater, white ankle length pants and a perfectly white pair of Keds. To complete her look was a head of white, wavy hair that looked like she had just stepped out of the hair salon for her weekly set and style. She was the classic throwback to a better era when women decked themselves out in classy attire for every occasion, even a simple walk along the bay. Her look was nautical, timeless and oh-so sophisticated.
But what really stood out to me about this women was not her outfit or her perfect posture or her walk which gave her the other-worldly appearance of floating on air. No, what struck me most was who was next to her.
Attached to her arm was a man. He too had a head of white hair, freshly pressed khaki pants and a handsome sweater. The two walked along the path next to the bay at a comfortable pace, linked arm in arm, taking one step in perfect synchronized timing with each other.
Their walk was beautiful. One did not outpace the other. Their steps never looked labored or awkward. They were in perfect time with one another.
As I came up behind these companions I couldn't help but smile. How precious was their journey along the bay! Who knew that something so simple, just an afternoon stroll, could be such a glorious picture?
I don't know the names of that adorable couple, how long they've been married (assuming they are married) or how often they take their afternoon walks together. But I can't help but think that their love has been one spanning years, decades, perhaps even half a century. I can't help but think that they didn't always walk so perfectly in step together but that this ease has grown with time. I can't help but believe that their journey has become more beautiful with time,  just like a fine wine. It just keeps getting better with age.

In my journey through life I have yet to embark on an arm-in-arm walk with a companion. As I walk along the bay I do so alone. My arm is not linked to a faithful walking buddy and my pace is not influenced by a partner. Not yet, at least. But someday I hope and trust that will change. Someday I too would like to walk with my arm linked to my life partner, my husband.
 But until that day arrives,  I do not walk alone.  I am linked to a companion whom I long to follow in perfect step; my Savior. I am walking with God. His arm is around me and I am clinging tightly to Him. He sets my pace and guides my path. He chooses where we will explore on our walks and when we will take a rest.   He is walking me towards an earthly companion who will join us on the journey, so that as I am linked to Christ's left arm my husband will be linked to His right. We will walk arm-in-arm together along the path of God's design.

Like that adorable couple walking along the path by the bay, the journey and walk with God only gets better with time. My steps are more closely aligned with His with each stride forward. I become more comfortable with His pace as time passes. The rhythm He has set is becoming more my own with each new day spent walking with Him.
As I walk with God the peace of His presence becomes increasingly more real, more tangible and more overwhelming. When I "walk by faith and not by sight" I find that my walk has an ease that isn't found by walking alone. He is guiding me, protecting me, sustaining me and leading me in His path.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Heavenly Harmony

I think it is safe to say that everyone is looking for harmony. Just look around, doesn't it seem that everyone is looking for the balance and peace that harmony brings? Who doesn't enjoy smooth sailing and pleasant skies? Doesn't everyone appreciate suitable circumstances and ease of living? This, my friends, is harmony and I don't know a soul on earth who doesn't want a bit more of it in their life. Just look at We all want a little more harmony in our lives.
So, if we all want harmony so badly why does it seem to be so elusive? Harmony can be a challenge to obtain. Disharmony is found in political life, family life, work life, marital life... you name it and I'm sure disharmony can be found. There is no human relationship on earth that is free from disharmony. Yet, we are all yearning and striving to beat the odds and live in perfect harmony.
Good luck, right? Perfect harmony is as hard to come by as the perfect pair of jeans. You may find one pair of perfect jeans in your whole life but at some point those jeans will wear out, get lost or have a run in with a nasty beverage that leaves a ghastly stain. Even the perfect pair of jeans doesn't last forever.
Likewise, the relationship or circumstance in life that appears to be perfectly harmonious will not last. Reality will come busting in with unwelcome force and knock your harmony right out of the ballpark. Hello strife. Hello arguments. Hello tension and disagreement. Hello disharmony.
The life long pursuit of harmony, seen from this brutally honest viewpoint, can be depressing. The unattainable nature of this longing of the human heart can put a damper on the joyful spirit of the harmony seeker. So, why even try? Why continue to search for harmony and try to produce harmony in your life if it is never to be achieved?
Because, ultimately, the harmony we are striving for is not earthly harmony, but heavenly harmony.
On this earth we are in an inescapable predicament thanks to that nasty little human condition called sin. No matter where we go, who we know or who we avoid knowing, our lives are going to be surrounded by sin. Sometimes it will be our own sin and sometimes it will be the sin of others. Sin is unavoidable. Therefore, perfect harmony cannot be attained in a world marked by imperfection.
Yet, you and I, those that are living in light of the Kingdom of God, aren't caught up in the disharmony of this world and its lack of perfection. We are living for the perfect harmony of Heaven. Our home is there, our heart is there and our harmony is there, too. We can live in peace and balance because we have the harmony of eternity with Christ. We don't need the false, temporary, fleeting harmony of this world that is here today and gone in a moment. We have a harmonious Heaven to look forward to that cannot be shaken. There, in the presence of the Almighty God, sin, dysfunction, arguments and fighting are no more. The evil of this world that prohibits lifelong harmony is no longer a factor in Heaven. Perfection reigns. Harmony is achieved and sustained.
Knowing that you and I have the perfection of Heaven ahead and eternal harmony to look forward to, we can live with overflowing love and unity found only in Christ. This earth and its evils are temporal but Jesus and His Kingdom are eternal, forever, never-ending. It is because of Christ that you and I can heed the words of Romans 15:5, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus..." We can live in harmony here on earth because we have the promise of eternity in perfect harmony with our Savior. So, keep up your endurance and don't lose heart, because you are a citizen of Heaven where perfect harmony reigns victorious and it never ends.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Remember the cross

It happened in an instant. As I walked along the road with Pippy my ears were suddenly met with the unmistakable sound of wind chimes. The rest of the world seemed silent, as if it were listening to the playing of the wind on the high pitched metal rods of the chime. The sound of nature's musical arrangement was carried by the leaves on the trees and ran straight into me. Right there, in the blink of an eye, I was transported away from that street in Erie, Pennsylvania to the home I fell in love with back in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
It was not so long ago, only a couple of years, that I moved to Chagrin Falls believing that I was meant to be in that town, living my fantasy Gilmore Girls life. It all looked like a dream and I jumped at the opportunity to make it a reality. Actually, I pushed, shoved and fought to make it a reality. I wanted that little house, that little life and that little town.
Somehow, that dream did become a reality. There were a million roadblocks and slammed doors that could have stopped me from getting to Chagrin Falls, but despite all the odds, I did end up in that little house, in that little town.
And in that little house I heard chimes. Frequent, noisy, persistent chimes. My neighbor loved them. She had a variety of chimes in an array of pitches, playing harmonic melodies. Any time even the slightest breeze picked up, the chimes would start their refrain. Chimes became the soundtrack of my life in my little house in Chagrin Falls.
Now that I'm living back in Erie, away from the close quarters of village life and an abundant display of wind chimes, I rarely hear the sound of metal and wood clanging together. When I do happen upon such music I am immediately transported back to Chagrin Falls, back to that house and back to the dream that became a reality, and, in turn, ceased to be so dreamy.
Despite the fact that life in Chagrin Falls didn't pan out the way I had hoped and planned, I wouldn't take back those days on May Court. There were lessons to be learned by making that move. Lesson number one, don't be so hasty! And of course, the lesson of appreciating the family and the simplicity of home. These were all lessons I needed to learn and the sound of the chimes reminds me to never forget them.
I'm thankful for the chimes. They take me back to a different place and remind me that what God has revealed to me in the past is meant to be remembered today. I've left Chagrin Falls but I don't want to leave behind the lessons I learned from that town and that experience. Every time I hear a chime I have the opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs of my journey to Chagrin Falls and how God used that time in my life to refine me, teach me and hopefully make me more like Jesus.

We all have "chimes" in our life - sounds, sights and smells that take us back to a different time in our lives and a different place in our journey. Sometimes you and I don't want to go back to those past experiences. Maybe they are painful because they ended tragically or maybe they are uncomfortable because they are filled with regret. Our pasts can be messy.
Yet, even the dirtiest of messes and biggest mistakes can be used for good if we let God teach us, mold us and change us through them. Messes can be turned into blessings when God gets a hold of them.

Tomorrow is Easter and there is no greater reminder, no greater "chime," than the Cross of Calvary. Each year when Easter rolls around we are reminded of the greatest gift ever given and the greatest sacrifice ever made: Jesus Christ's death on the cross. The Son of Man bore the sins of the world in His very body, bleeding the blood of sinners and dying the death of a criminal, so that the guilty could go free. The image of the cross serves as a stark reminder of the price paid for the redemption of sinners like you and me. We were destined for eternal damnation and separation from God, but Christ went to the cross so that we could have the hope of eternity in heaven. Jesus carried our guilt and shame on His back up to Calvary and was nailed to the cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins. By His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
The cross looks messy. Jesus death wasn't pretty. Every romantic and artistic depiction fails to capture the reality of that cruel death. It was gruesome, tragic, and agonizing. The blood He spilled was real. The pain He felt was acute.
Yet, God did the most glorious work of all through that savage crucifixion. He redeemed the whole human race. Jesus went to the grave for sins and rose victorious, the conqueror over death itself. His work didn't end on the cross. The brutality of man couldn't end His reign. He rose again. He left the tomb. He overcame the grave.
Beloved, as you look upon the cross this Easter let it serve as a shining reminder of the life you have received through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died to save you. He rose to claim you. Sinners like you and like me have the promise of eternal life through the death of our perfect Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. The mess of the cross was the price Jesus had to pay for our redemption. God's masterful plan took the ugliness of that murderous cross and turned it into the most beautiful and precious gift. Through Jesus Christ, there is abundant blessing and eternal life when we turn to the cross and remember the price our Savior paid to set us free.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


My absolute favorite button on my cell phone is the "decline" button. A bit harsh, I know, but hear me out, I have legitimate rationale to support my enthusiasm for hitting decline.
Namely, solicitation phone calls. Are you plagued with these incessant automated callers who want to sell you a new insurance policy or inform you that you just won a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Tahiti? Ninety nine percent of the phone calls I receive are from these phone banks which are probably somewhere in India.
Before the decline button, I used to answer, get annoyed and then press end.
As a side not, hitting end on a touch phone just doesn't have the same stress-releasing benefits as hanging up the old phone with big round buttons and cumbersome wire. At the end of a frustrating call there was nothing better than smacking the receiver back onto the cradle with force and an exacerbated "humph." It made the annoyance of the call less acute.
Those days are no longer. Now you and I must settle for a weak little red "end" button that only responds to a light touch. Try hitting the end button with force and see what happens. The call doesn't end. It is as if the high tech screen can't register frustrated poking so it just remains on the line. So instead of easing frustration, the whole situation is aggravated further and that telecommunications caller from India is still on the line trying to convince you to upgrade your motorcycle insurance when you don't even own a motorcycle. "Humph" just doesn't cut it in this situation.
That brings me to the "decline" button. This whole situation and subsequent frustration can be avoided by employing a slight tap of the finger on the "decline" button when one of these unknown, blocked or obscure numbers pops up on the phone's screen. Numbers with 800, 866, or no numbers at all are immediately flagged in my mind. They all are met with a touch of decline. No answer, no frustration, no aggravated hang up. Just a simple little decline and the whole ordeal, sales pitch and cruise ship run around is avoided. Thank you, whoever thought up the decline button. You are a genius.
As much as I love hitting the decline button when I'm faced with another solicitation call, I can't stand the decline button when it is used against me. Being declined is only tolerable if your an automated machine but if you are a human being with feelings and no sales pitch, decline is more hurtful than helpful.
Sometimes the declining doesn't come in the form of a physical button. Sometimes the decline is administered with the silent treatment, being ignored or being avoided. Have you ever experienced this kind of decline? You reach out to someone and they decline you by denying your request for friendship or backing out on plans you've made. Maybe you extend an invitation to someone you'd like to get to know better and they respond with excuses for why Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the next three months won't fit into their absurdly busy schedule. Decline can come in the form of not receiving a call back or being down right stood up. No matter how the decline is issued, it hurts.
This side of heaven you and I are bound to be faced with our share of declines. For most of us they are probably too great in number to even count. I know because I've been there, over and over and over. And even if I could count all of my declines I'd rather not because it is embarrassing and downright depressing. So, I'll keep the tally to myself. Just take my word for it, this world loves to use the decline button on more than just solicitation calls.
Being the recipient of so many declines has taught me a valuable lesson. In this world I am going to face rejection. That is a given. It is to be expected. Jesus even warned His followers when He said in John 15:18-19,  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." 
Well, that about settles it, don't you think? If you and I are going to follow Christ we should expect to be on the receiving end of the decline button. He tells us upfront, no sugar coating or whitewashing, that we are to anticipate being declined, rejected and hated. The world did all of these things to Christ and they are sure to treat His followers in the same manner. 
There is no escaping rejection in this life as a Christ follower. By being in Christ you and I are out of this world and are no longer accepted and embraced by this world. That is the trade-off we make when we surrender our lives to God and enter into a union with Jesus. We give up this world and our place in it so that we can be one with Christ and spend eternity with Him. 
Is the trade-off worth it? Of course it is. I'd take a thousand years of relentless decline buttons for one day in the presence of my perfect Savior. His love is truly better than life and the promise of Heaven is greater than any acceptance you and I could ever attain here on earth. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Of great worth

Life lesson 101: never trust a talking cat.
You need look no further than Babe the pig for anecdotal evidence that cats aren't the most trustworthy of talking animals. One of my all time favorite movies is Babe. It is rated G, came out in 1995 and features a lovable "sheep pig" who, although fully pig, believes he is a sheep herder. Babe is the ultimate lover of all creation and the sweetest darn hairless farm animal that ever hit the big screen. This isn't a matter of opinion, it is fact. Babe is the kind of pig a movie goer can't help but fall in love with.
Which is what makes the cat in the movie all the more infuriating. The farm cat, beloved and spoiled rotten by the farmer's wife, doesn't share in my love for Babe. Actually, her feelings for Babe are quite the opposite. The cat has it out for Babe. One evening the cat employs a deceitful tactic to try to rid the farm of Babe, the beloved sheep pig who has captured a special place in the heart of the farmer and the other animals. 
In the dark of night, the cat, purring with an evil tone in her voice, says to Babe, "You know, I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm not sure if you realize how much the other animals are laughing at you for this sheep dog business."
Babe replied, "Why would they do that?"
Cat said, "Well, they say that you've forgotten that you're a pig. Isn't that silly? And they even said that you don't know what pigs are for."
After more questioning by Babe, the cat finally said with authority, "The fact is that pigs don't have a purpose, just like ducks don't have a purpose." Then the evil cat went on to say that the only purpose for a pig was to be eaten. Pigs were only good if they were made into pork. Or bacon. But pigs were useless if alive. 
Poor Babe was so shaken and upset by this news that he went running out of the house. He ran straight to his adopted dog mother, Fly, and asked her what happened to all the pigs that were carted off on big trucks, like his brothers, sisters and pig mom. Fly had to admit the truth, they probably became someone's dinner. Babe was devastated. He had no idea that his life was worthless, only valuable as a meal on a hungry diner's plate. 
But the truth is Babe wasn't worthless at all. He had so much value and worth that the farmer nursed Babe back to health when he was injured and went searching for him when he went missing in the fields. The farmer loved Babe and cared deeply for his safety and wellbeing. The farmer didn't want anything to do with Babe's possibility as dinner; he wanted Babe alive and healthy so he could be an asset in the field as a sheep pig. Babe's herding method wasn't conventional but it was of great worth and value to the farmer who saw great potential in his little pig. 
The cat had been lying to Babe. That sinister cat just wanted to get rid of Babe and cause the sweet pig harm. The cat probably wanted Babe to become dinner so she could have some pork! The cat knew that the farmer loved the pig but that didn't stop her from telling a lie to achieve her own means. She wanted Babe out of the picture, off of the farm and out of her living room. So she lied. She twisted facts, distorted reality and sent Babe off running for the hills far away from the beloved care of the farmer. 
In the end, the farmer went out looking for Babe and found the poor pig shivering in the bushes, fearing that he would become the next holiday's centerpiece on the dinner table. The farmer had no such plans for Babe. No, the farmer had grand schemes and ideas that included Babe herding as a sheep pig, not as a breakfast bacon or Christmas pork feast. 
Dear Reader, sometimes you and I are a lot like Babe. We listen to the lies of another evil scheming deceiver and believe his lies. We listen to the serpent, the devil, satan himself. He wants us to believe that we are worthless. Satan twists the facts, distorts our realities and plays with our weaknesses till we believe that we are of no value to our great Shepherd, the Farmer of all farmers, our Heavenly Father. The devil wants to drag us down into a pit, out into a bush away from our Savior, and he accomplishes this by telling us lies and selling it to us as truth. 
But, just like Babe, you and I aren't worthless. The lies of a talking cat or the devil himself are just that, lies. They are meant to deceive and destroy us. But they aren't reality. You and I are not useless and pointless. Just like the farmer saw great value in Babe, God sees great value and worth in you and me, His beloved children. 
Jesus reassured us of this in Luke 12:24 when He said, "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds." You and I, beloved, are more valuable than the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. We may look at them and wonder, what value do they have? What good are the flowers? What purpose does a bird fulfill? And yet God takes care of them. We may not see their value but God does and He watches over them and preserves them. 
God cares for you and me and sees great worth and incomprehensible value in our very lives. You and I are not purposeless. Even when the devil whispers lies and falsehoods, tempting you to believe that your life is worth nothing, don't buy into his deception. Remember the truth of God. You are valuable. You are of great worth. You have a purpose. God cares so much for you that He will take care of you and preserve your life. You are a precious treasure to the Lord. You are His beloved creation. 
Babe had to be reminded by his dog mother that he was a great sheep pig and very important to the farmer. He had a big job to do in the fields and a big prize to win at the sheep herding competition. The farmer needed Babe. Sometimes you and I need that same reminding. We are of great value to our Farmer, God. He is has big plans for us and a great future ahead. So don't go off running in fear, believing you are of no use. That line is all a big lie from the evil one. Turn back to your Farmer and see His smiling face shining down on you. Listen to the love and care in His voice as He says, "That'll do Pig, that'll do." 

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Upper

There are two kinds of people in this world. Type one: the downer. Type two: the upper.
The difference is as stark and as straightforward as that. Every person has either an up or down effect on the people they encounter.
This may seem too simplistic. Aren't some people neither uppers or downers? Don't some people just seem to fall into a middle ground of neutrality? I might have once had the same doubts and questions about this theory of the human personality. But that is no longer the case. I have come to truly believe that every person exudes an aura of either positivity or negativity. This, in turn, spills over into every relationship that person has. Those who exude positivity tend to pull people up while those that are plagued with a negative outlook can't help but share that in their everyday conversations and encounters.
Of course this is all a theory of my own design but it does seem to be quite accurate. Even the quietest of friends has either a positive or negative outlook on life. The most gregarious and the shiest all have an up or down effect on the lives of those around them. Maybe a study could be done that rates the positivity or negativity of thoughts in a person's mind. The people who scored a higher positive thought quotient would be deemed the uppers while the more negative thinkers would fall into the category of downers.
I would like to argue that there doesn't need to be a scientific study to prove my point. All it takes is one look around at the faces of friends, family members and, most importantly, the face in the mirror to make my point crystal clear and close enough to fact (in my humble opinion).
By thinking over the array of people I know and the countless people I encounter on a day to day basis, I am struck by the ease at which I can name a downer versus an upper. The spirit each gives is undeniable. The uppers tend to smile more. The uppers in my life usually have a kind word to say or at least a welcoming, "It's so nice to see you!" Even if the conversation doesn't go very far, the uppers in my life leave me feeling a little lighter and just plain happier.
On the other hand, downers bring with them a shadow to the room. Even if they don't say much, their mood is usually worn with a frown or blank stare. When they do make a point it often doesn't involve humor, kindness and certainly not lightness. There is an edge to the downer. There is a lack of ease and serenity.
Of course, there is only one thought that comes to mind when I think over this budding theory: which one am I? Am I an upper or am I a downer? Do I carry with me a spirit of positivity or am I known for my negativity?
There are plenty of circumstances that I can recount where I would label myself a downer. I've carried with me a spirit that isn't peaceful and jubilant. I haven't always worn a smile and I haven't always been quick to compliment or give a kind word. Sometimes I've been the first to point out the negative. At other times I've withheld pointing out the positive.
Am I stuck as a downer for life? Is there any hope for the person who doesn't naturally wear a big wide smile and sunny disposition?
Beloved, there is hope and it is found in the salvation of Jesus Christ. There is hope for the downer and negative thinker. Jesus can give new life to even the most downcast of spirits. Through the rebirth of salvation you and I can become joyful, peaceful, uppers who exude love and positivity. This transformation can't be done by our own power. It is only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the human heart can be made new.
Thankfully, Jesus stands ready and waiting to come into your heart and mine so that He can start His work of turning us from downers to uppers, sinners to the saved, negative Nancy's to positive Patsy's (if you will). Through Christ the redeemed can put away the spirit of the downer and be given a spirit that is overflowing with all that is beautiful and bright.
Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." When Jesus Christ dwells in us and lives through us we will be filled with these lovely, pure, right honorable and true things that are worthy of praise and are perpetual uppers. Jesus will give us this spirit when we ask.
There is no question about it, I want to be an upper. I want to walk into a room and bring with me a light of positivity. But not just positivity that I can muster up in that moment on my own steam. I want to bring with me the joyful and hopeful spirit of Jesus Christ. I want His spirit to be so alive in me that it lifts up my spirit to new heights that I could never reach, maybe even heights that I didn't know existed!
Jesus can make me the upper of all uppers. He can wipe away any ounce of negativity I've been holding onto in my heart and replace it with the positive outlook that comes from having an unshakable hope in the Lord. That is the upper I want to be. An upper by the power and indwelling of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Make me clean...

All it took was a word, a touch, a thought… and lives were changed, bodies healed, hearts were turned. All it took was Jesus.

"Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." were the words of a man covered with leprosy in Luke 5:12. A man ugly, disfigured, and ill, yet hopeful that with one touch from the Son of God his whole body could be made new. If only Jesus would be willing to do such a miraculous work on that man's ailing body.
Jesus didn't disappoint. He was willing. He reached out His hand, touched the man and made him clean. That was all it took. The leprosy was gone. The man was cleansed. The disease that had ravaged his body for so long was suddenly nothing but a memory. Jesus had all the power in the simple act of His touch to purify that man's body and He willingly displayed that power.

Such miracles are more than my mind can comprehend. I can't even imagine the excitement and pure joy that man experienced in that moment. There are no words that could ever contain the overwhelming marvel of such a miracle. To be shunned from society, an outcast because of your physical condition, and then in an instant, with the gentle touch of the perfect Son of God, your whole being is restored to a clean and pure state. All of your illness is gone. Every symptom and ailment disappears. Can your mind grasp that moment in time? My whole being overflows with boundless joy when I picture the look on his face when he surveyed his body and realized that it was completely, totally, wholly healed.

Jesus' power to heal is still alive and well. If He is willing, He can heal the broken bodies that are suffering on this earth today. All it takes is a touch. One single, gentle, divine touch from the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Jesus Christ has the power to cleanse and purify in His very hands.

Oh Jesus how I long for your healing touch. I know that if you are willing, you can make me clean. I believe in your power to heal and make new. In an instant, with a thought or word or stroke of your hand, you can infuse health into my body. There is nothing too big for you, no illness too daunting or sickness too severe. You know the intricacies of them all and you, the great Physician, have the power to heal them all in the blink of an eye.

My precious Savior, I trust in the power of your hand. I trust in your power to heal. By the breath on your lips you are transforming my body. By the touch of your hand you are restoring me from the inside out. Thank you for gift of miraculous healing. Thank you for showing that power to be mighty and willing in the story of the leper. Jesus, you have shown that you love me and all of your children and that you long to touch us with your hand of restoration to bring health to our bones and healing to our souls. You ask for my faith in your power and I put my faith entirely and completely in you. I know that you are able. I know that you are willing.
Thank you for healing me, dear Jesus. Thank you for being willing. Thank you for your touch. Thank you for making me clean.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Even when they know not

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34).
Really? They didn't know what they were doing? But Jesus, they were spitting on you and tearing your clothes and hitting you! They knew all of those actions would cause physical harm to your body, didn't they? How could they not have known that nailing you to a cross would kill you? How could they not have been aware of the blood as they watched it spill from your body? They had to have known what they were doing. They couldn't possibility have misunderstood what their brutality would cause. They killed you, cheering all the while. They shouted, "crucify him!" and celebrated your final breath. How could you say, "they do not know what they are doing"? Didn't they know precisely what they were doing?

I'm so quick to want to hold people in judgement for their actions. When someone does wrong I want them to get their justice…and quickly. I read the story of Jesus' crucifixion and I want a swift and severe penalty for the sin of all those who nailed Him to that cross.
But then I am stopped dead in my tracks, humbled by my blind ignorance and deceitful heart.
I nailed Him to that cross. My sin put Him there. Every disobedient action was my own cry of "crucify him!" Every step outside of God's will was my own moment to spit on Jesus as He passed by me on His way to Calvary. When my heart has been turned away from Jesus I have been busy casting lots for His clothes, helping to fashion the crown of thorns that would be placed on His head in an act of scorn. I put Jesus to death. The judgement I wish upon the mockers and pharisees in the New Testament is the same exact judgement that should fall upon me.
Jesus, the perfect One who didn't deserve to be killed, doesn't cry out for harsh and heavy-handed judgement to be taken against the guilty. He understood what I so often forget, they didn't know what they were doing because they didn't understand that He was truly the perfect Son of God sent to pay the price for the sins of the world. He had to endure the cross to fulfill His life-saving mission on earth. He did it so that He could redeem those who killed Him, not judge them.

When I stir inside with thoughts and desires of judgement for my fellow sinners I must come back to the foot of the cross and look up. It is there that I am reminded that I am one of those hateful sinners who put Jesus up there to hang, suffer and die. I am not apart from the voices on the ground throwing insults, spitting and cursing the Lord; I am one of them, I am in their company.
The only hope I have of stepping out of that crowd is to find forgiveness for my sins in the sacrifice of Jesus. He paid the price for my sin, disobedience and hate. Until I embrace His forgiveness in my own life I cannot step out of that crowd and pour out His forgiveness to others. Until my heart is overcome with Jesus' forgiveness, I am powerless to forgive others and I remain a hypocrite, filled with hatred in my heart.
As Jesus taught in His final hours on the cross, those who need forgiveness don't even know what hurtful and sinful actions they have taken that have led to their need for repentance. They don't know that they need forgiveness. But that lack of understanding on the part of the sinner doesn't change the need for the offer of forgiveness to be given on the part of the one hurt. Jesus, despite being brutally killed and beaten, offered forgiveness to those who never asked for it or even knew they so desperately needed it. His offer wasn't contingent on the request of the sinner, it was rooted in the will of the Father.

Oh Lord, how I need your help to be a forgiver, not a judge. Even when those that hurt me don't know what they are doing and don't ask for forgiveness I need your help and power in me to forgive. What profit is there to me if I forgive those who come seeking my forgiveness? That doesn't require your Spirit and power. But I want the forgiveness that is found only in You. The forgiveness I desire and need is the forgiveness that keeps forgiving regardless of any other human action.
Because "they know not what they do." But I know what you did. You forgave. Through your perfect gift of forgiveness I can be filled with that same power to forgive. By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit I am empowered to be a forgiver because you first forgave me, even when I knew not what I was doing.

The end of the obituary

Life is fleeting. Life is short. Life is like a wind storm - fierce and all consuming while it rages, but silent and soon a fading memory, once it passes.
This morning as I flipped through the pages of the local newspaper I was reminded of the fragility of life. The obituaries that cover page after page of the Pittsburgh paper were a stark reminder of how brief all of our lives are.  In the end, all of our days, all of problems, all of our accomplishments get whittled down to a paragraph printed in black and white. In the end, we each get a brief synopsis of our lives, a condensation within a few paragraphs of newsprint.
As I read through the obituaries this morning, I was struck by how greatly each person's life varied from one to another. One man had an obituary that listed every group he ever belonged to, accomplishments dating back fifty years, and an array of exotic travel locations to which he had traveled. And then, the very next obituary listed nothing but the woman's name, age and surviving loved ones.  Another tribute was for a twenty-one year old who died suddenly. Her family wrote about her artistic ability and her love of beauty. Each obituary was as unique as each individual.
When I finished reading I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sorrow.  Although natural to feel sadness and grief after reading about the deceased, there was something deeper causing my pain. My sorrow was over how each obituary ended.
They all ended with a grave. A burial. A goodbye forever.
But the story doesn't have to end there. The end doesn't have to come in the form of a memorial service and calling hours. The end of the obituary can actually be the beginning of the story.

At the end of our lives, when our bodies fail, the journey doesn't have to come to an end. Through the salvation of Jesus Christ the story can just be getting started. We can still have eternity ahead of us. This life, no matter how brief or how long, is really just an overture. When you and I find salvation in Jesus Christ we pass through this life into the real action, the grand opera, the main event. This is just the prelude to the true greatness to come.
Without becoming born again by the blood of Jesus Christ this life ends with the burial, with the final words of the obituary. There is no eternal life in heaven after death apart from Christ. He alone is the path to Heaven and eternity in God's kingdom. As Jesus clearly states in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." It is that simple and that straightforward. There are no back doors, alternate routes or exceptions. To experience eternity in Heaven you and I must come to Jesus on earth, accept His free gift of salvation and claim Him as our Lord and Savior.

Thanks to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ you and I can look forward to a life spent in eternity. After our life on earth ends we can spend eternity in Heaven among the angels of glory, singing unending praises to God our great Father. There will be no sin, destruction or pain. All of the world will be perfect and joy will be overflowing. There will be perpetual peace and overwhelming light.

So you see why I don't want my obituary to end with a service of burial? My life won't truly be ending when I am put in a grave. For me, life will just be getting started.
Can you look forward to the same eternal glory? The promise of Heaven can be yours to claim and anticipate. The gift of salvation is extended to you through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He died so that even as you take your last breath on earth, you will be stepping into Heaven, without sin or blemish. You will be justified and made new. Jesus Christ died so that you could be clean in the eyes of the perfect God. He paid the penalty for your sin and mine. Through Jesus Christ we have the security of eternity. Jesus, the way and the truth and the life, has paved the way for you and me to live a life of victory at the end of our obituary.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Just wait

Yesterday afternoon the birds were singing, the sun was shining and the temperature finally broke fifty degrees. Yes, spring finally sprung in Northern Pennsylvania.
I decided to celebrate the grand occasion with a run at the Peninsula along the no longer frozen bay. The parking lots were packed and the bike path filled with excited Erie-ites who were eager to emerge from their winter hibernation. Everyone seemed thrilled to be in the great outdoors without the need for Eskimo apparel. It truly was a wonderful day.
As I ran along my scenic route of trees and squirrels I listened to a sermon on my phone thanks to one of the many apps available from churches all across America. I love the ministry of sermons made available on phones, computers and iPads. No matter where I am I can listen to the word of God. I have my pick of what topic, scripture or speaker I’m in the mood to hear from on that particular day. The advent of technology has given birth to a whole new way to learn from God’s word and I love soaking in its benefits.
I chose to listen to the pastor from Mars Hills church in Seattle Washington. He was a guest speaker at Saddleback Church in California – a massive congregation with more parking lots than my church has people. The guest speaker’s sermon was on being born again and following Jesus. The first twenty minutes were promising but I can't tell you anything about the second half of the pastor's sermon. I never ended up hearing much past the introduction and first two points of the forty minute message because technology decided to take a nap. Or maybe God told it to go take a nap. Either way, the message was cut short.
Right before the speaker went silent he was telling a story about taking his kids out on a windy day to fly kites. Just as he was about to tell the congregation about what happened to the kite in the windstorm the app cut out. Normally I would stop, fix the malfunction and the continue on my run but at this particular moment I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t need to hear any more of what the speaker had to say. His message had already made its point to me. 
The last words before the audio cut out were precisely what I needed to hear. The pastor told his daughter just as he was about to let go of the kite to send it flying up and into the wind, "Just wait, this is going to be amazing." And that was it. Not another word was necessary. Those words were all the sermon my spirit desperately needed.
No matter where I am, what I’m going through or what my circumstances look like from the outside, I just need to wait. God has something amazing up ahead. Even when life is windy I can hold onto the promise that God has something great in store. 
Romans 8:28 assures me, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
There are amazing surprises up ahead. I must get ready and with great expectation, anticipate the wonder of what God is going to bring forth. Just like the pastor told his daughter when she was getting ready to watch her first kite fly into the sky, what God has on the horizon is going to be amazing.
Sometimes that’s all you and I need to hear. We don’t need to hear that our problems are small or to get over whatever difficulty we face today. We just need to be reminded that what God has in the future is amazing. Sometimes the one message that we need to hear is, "just wait." That simple truth makes the present difficulties and the fierce storms of life all the more tolerable. They are just temporary. Something amazing is right around the corner if we will just wait. 
So get ready and just wait. Because God is about to do something big. Beloved, hold onto your hat, because it’s going to be amazing.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Don't listen….to your heart

"Listen to your heart."
This might be the absolute worst advice ever given.
Sure, it sounds like a lovely romantic notion. Just look inside of yourself…. Chase your own star…. Listen to the small voice inside of you….
I just want to scream, "no!" Don't do any of that! That is horrible, terrible, twisted, faulty advice!
I know that the world is going to tell you that your heart knows the way, that your heart won't lead you wrong. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but actually your heart will lead you in a million wrong directions and cannot be trusted. All of the heart felt, intuition based advice that sounds mystical and sentimental is completely off base, dead wrong, faulty and dangerous.
If you are doubting my advice, just look at Eve in the Garden of Eden. She went wrong the moment she followed her heart. In her head she knew right from wrong. She even told the serpent what God had commanded in Genesis 3:3, "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." The knowledge was right there in her mind but she didn't listen to it. She followed her heart. 
The serpent told her that she would gain all of God's knowledge if she could eat from that one tree. He appealed to her fleshly desires and not her knowledge of true obedience. So she ate from that particular tree and the rest is history. Heart triumphed over head and sin entered into the whole human race.
And now I'm supposed to believe that by listening to my heart I will end up in the right direction, making the right decisions? I don't think so.
The actions and direction of my life should not be ordered by the longings of my heart but by the commands and directive of God. In Proverbs 23:26 the scripture teaches, "give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways."
Clearly this isn't feel-good, romanticism. The Bible doesn't promote that kind of living. The Bible gives clear instruction on how to make decisions and go through life. There are definite rights and absolute wrongs. Listening to the heart makes everything look like a sea of grey, it doesn't show the stark clear difference between God's commands and human disobedience. The heart wants to say that whatever it wants is best, end of story. But one look at the Bible and that theory is kaput.
By following my heart I am led down paths of destruction and confusion. I am led straight into sin disguised as desire. The heart blinds my eyes from seeing truth and drags me into disobedience. If I am relying on my heart to direct my life then I am in for a roller coaster ride of deep lows, false highs and devastating sin.
The heart is only good when it is completely surrendered to Christ. If my heart is nothing more than an instrument of my own flesh and a mouth piece for my own desires then it is tainted and impure. The best posture for my heart, the only worthwhile position for my heart, is one of praise and adoration to God. When my heart becomes my guide I am deceived. But when my heart is committed to obedient praise and worship it is pure, bringing glory God.
God doesn't desire a people who are all running around chasing their hearts. He wants people chasing Him, giving their hearts over to His care, trusting that He is the only trustworthy and flawless guide. I don't want to be run by my heart and I don't want to be running after my own heart.
I want to follow the commands of God, surrendering all of my heart and desires at His feet, following Christ alone. He is the defender of my heart, the One worthy of all my praise and adoration. By laying my heart and my life down at His feet I am under the care of the perfect guide who will guide me in paths of righteousness.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Walk of love

From a distance I could tell it was her, my childhood neighbor from the distant past. I hadn't seen her for years but the time hadn't erased the memory of her stride. Even from a block away I was sure that the girl out in the distance was the same girl I had known when I was young.
Each person has a distinctive walk. Have you ever noticed how every gait is unique to one particular individual? You can recognize a friend from behind, yards away and under the cover a dark sky just by the manner in which they take their steps. It is remarkable how many different ways in which a person an walk. The slight differences in stride seem minor until you realize how great an impact they have on how we identify each other.
It makes me wonder what my walk looks like to the outside world. I am a quick walker. I have been told in the past that I look like I'm a mission even when I'm simply strolling through the mall. Personally, I blame my mother. Growing up she was always speedy walker. To keep up I had to learn to move quickly. My best friend's mother was also a speed walker so I had to move quickly to keep up her, too. Overtime my own pace was upped and it has remained at a high rate ever since. I imagine that my quick, small strides are recognizable to those who know me best.
Maybe I have a distinctive way of moving my arms, too. Most everyone has their own flare when it comes to arm movement and walking style. Who can forget the classic Seinfeld episode where one of the guest characters, a woman in Elaine's office named Sam, laments that she isn't fitting in at work. Elaine points out that maybe the problem is that Sam never moves her arms when she walks. Elaine then proceeds to interpret a caveman. A cat fight ensues. Obviously, the way a person walks can be a sensitive issue.
Beyond the quick pace of my stride and the unique way in which I move my arms, I wonder how the rest of my walk is recognized to the outside world. Beyond the characteristics of my physical walk, I wonder what my spiritual walk looks like to those I encounter and those who know me best. What about my spiritual walk is recognizable? Are there features of my spiritual life that point back to Christ? Do people look at my spiritual walk and see a gracious, loving, kind and merciful God fearing woman? Can anyone recognize my spiritual life at all by my daily walk?
The greatest desire for my walk is to be known for Christ-like love. John 13:34-35 lays out the fundamental quality that is to characterize my walk. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The feature of my life that Jesus intends to stand out above all the rest, the one attribute that should be recognizable to the rest of the world is my love for others. By this all men and women should recognize my spiritual walk with Christ.
If I don't walk in love then my spiritual walk will be impossible to recognize. The onlooking world won't see that I'm walking with Christ. Without love I won't be known as a disciple of Christ and a follower of the Almighty God. It is love that characterizes me as a child of God and a member of His family.
Whether or not I swing my arms when I walk is of little importance in the kingdom of God. He isn't as concerned about the speed of my stride or the quirks unique to my gait. His desire is for me to have an upright walk with Him that is characterized by unconditional love that flows from the Lord Jesus Christ. By this all men will know that I am walking with the one and only Savior of the world. That is the walk God desires, the walk that brings glory to His name and a smile to His face.

Willing but weak

Moving day.
All of my furniture was loaded onto a big U-haul rental truck along with boxes of dishes, books, clothing and the random odds and ends that would soon fill the drawers of my new kitchen and bathroom drawers. I couldn't wait to unpack and get settled into my new home.
As I approached the U-haul and opened the big door on the back of the truck I was energetic and enthused, ready to tackle the challenge at hand. I immediately went to the first box and attempted to lift it up. The box didn't budge. Maybe I just needed to bend more from the knees and flex my muscles some more. With my new stance and mental muscle all ready, I tried again. No luck.
Suddenly I was struck with the reality of my moving situation: I could not physically move all of this stuff down from the truck and into the house. The boxes and furniture were far too heavy. The couch was too cumbersome. I was way over my head. I was way short on muscles! Although I was willing to do the moving, I simply couldn't. I was too weak.
With a U-haul packed with furniture I needed help...and fast. I needed some movers! Specifically some movers with big muscles and lots of strength.
To make a long story short, movers were called and within no time at all the truck was empty and the house was full. Without the help and strength of the movers that U-haul truck would still be parked in my driveway, full of my belongings with no hope of ever being unloaded.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? You wanted to perform a certain task, rise to a certain standard or avoid a particular pitfall, but no matter how hard you tried you came up short every time? Have you ever discovered that you aren't strong enough to fulfill all the willingness of your eager spirit?
Jesus warns us of this dilemma. In the Garden of Gethsemane before He was betrayed, Jesus took three of His disciples with Him up onto the mountain while He prayed. He wanted to go off alone to talk to God but before He went He told His disciples to stand watch. When He returned they were asleep, taking a nap instead of watching as they were told to do.
Jesus warned them“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).
Even with the best of intentions, the disciples weren't strong enough to remain awake by their own willingness. They fell into the temptation of a nap. They wanted to please Jesus, yet they were easily drawn into the comfort of a restful sleep in a quiet garden. Their flesh was weak, too weak to keep them awake.
When you and I fall into the same dilemma of a willing spirit but a weak body, what can we do? Are we helpless? Should we just take a nap?
Jesus tells us to pray. Our only hope is to pray and call on the strength of God to help us. When we call on the name of Jesus we turn to His strength to act in us. We aren't relying on our own weak flesh, we are relying on God's limitless strength!
Temptations will come. Some days we may be tempted to get angry and speak words that are mean and hurtful. Some days we may be tempted to disobey our parents or lie to our friends. How can we overcome the weakness of our flesh and live obediently to the commands of God? We must ask God for help.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ you and I have a Savior who has overcome our sin. He never sinned. He was and is perfect. Yet, He died on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven and removed. When we pray to Jesus and ask for His forgiveness we can overcome our weakness and be filled with His strength. God will give us the strength to obey His Word and do His will.
God's strength is only a prayer away. So stay awake, watch and pray. Remembering that the flesh is weak even as the spirit is willing. But thank the Lord that God is strong!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rotten bananas

There is nothing more unappealing than a black, mushy, spotted, decomposing, rotten banana. Such fruit is no longer appetizing. The once sweet and satisfying snack passes it's prime and becomes destined for the garbage can. Not even a hungry monkey would want this fruit.
Bananas go bad so quickly, don't you think? Seemingly overnight the once vibrant yellow of the banana's skin turns dull and before you know it brown specks abound. Banana buyer beware: the fruit you are about to purchase won't look tasty for long. So eat up...and fast!
When a banana goes bad in the summer, oh boy, watch out for the fruit fly invasion! When I told you there is nothing appealing about a rotten banana I wasn't speaking from a fruit fly's perspective. They are probably the only living organism on earth that find pleasure in a rotten banana. In fact, the more rotten bananas the better if you were to ask a fruit fly. Which would be challenging since they don't talk or even meow. You'll just have to take my word for it or watch fruit flies descend on a rotten banana. You'll see what I mean. All you have to do is leave a decomposing banana out on the counter for five minutes in the month of August and you'll see the little bugs appear. They have rotten banana radar.
Thankfully, I'm nothing like a fruit fly and therefore I want nothing to do with rotten bananas or any other rotten fruit for that matter. I want the good fruit, fresh off the vine. I want fruit that is so fresh it never even has to be transported on a truck or shipped across the state, country or county. I'd like apples right off the tree and berries plucked directly from the bush that grew the delicate beauty. The kind of fruit I crave is vibrant, colorful, flavorful and oh so fresh!
I want fresh fruit on more than just my plate, but in my spiritual life, too. My kitchen counter isn't the only place where fruit can go to rot. In my spiritual life I am constantly at risk of the slow decay and rot that comes from being detached from the vine. To remain fresh I must remain constantly attached to my vine, The Lord Jesus Christ.
The moment I detach from The Lord, my lifeline, my mighty Tree and Vine, I begin to rot. The process of perishing might be slow or, like a banana during a hot August, the process might come quickly. No matter the speed the result is the same: detached from the vine I go bad.
Bad spiritual fruit stinks as much as bad fruit purchased in the grocery store or your local 7/11. Rotten spiritual fruit is unappealing in the eyes of The Lord, only desirable to the fruit flies of this world. I don't want to produce fruit only attractive and appetizing for a fruit fly. I want the fruit that pleases The Lord. I want to produce the fragrant, bountiful, beautiful fruit that brings glory to my Savior.
To produce good fruit I must heed the command of Jesus given in John 15:5, "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit..." To produce fruit you and I must remain constantly attached to our vine, never separating, never losing our grip and connection. God is the root system, the vital lifeblood, producer of all good fruit and giver of life. He will produce the most beautiful and desirable fruit in us when we remain in Him.