Salvation

Privilege

Matthew 20: 9-12

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”

On this, the eve of my grandmother’s funeral, as many who knew her pray that she accepted God’s gift of salvation in her last days and moments here, it is not lost on me that there may be others who bear a certain resentment toward “deathbed conversions.” Like the workers hired first, we feel we have “borne the burden of the work…” Or, like the bitter other brother of the prodigal son, we might refuse to welcome him home because, ‘Look, all these years I have served you and never disobeyed a commandment of yours. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns from squandering your wealth with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15: 29-30). So we look to the thief on the cross with resentment and indignance, rather than with compassion and generosity.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize one reason for this. We are too busy seeing the sacrifices we’ve made for the Kingdom to recognize the many blessings that are ours in Christ. Think about it—the workers hired first thing in the morning and the responsible brother had one of the greatest privileges: security. They didn’t have to wonder if they would find work that day, or have food to eat, or a place to sleep. They were free from fear and uncertainty. Sure, they had to put in an honest day’s work, but even that is a privilege, is it not? Having faced unemployment and underemployment in my life, I can say that it is quite stressful, even if it’s just for a short time. And during that time, I worked as a day laborer, showing up at the temp agency as early as possible each morning, to try to beat the others to the line, so that I would have the best possible chance of being hired. I remember once when a one-day job turned into a week-long position, and I remember how relieved I was to know that I had work lined up for the rest of the week.

We have so many blessings as followers of Christ and as people who trust and rely on the One we know to be a good God. I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but as examples, consider the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), grace that is sufficient for every challenge and trial we face (2 Corinthians 12:9), mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23)…and on and on. Indeed, as the prodigal’s father stated, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15: 31). Following Him, and doing the work of the Kingdom, is not a burden, but a privilege. So when I think of the alternate reality in which I would have to fend for myself—rely on my own strength to save me, my own ability to provide for myself, and all the other burdens that accompany a life lived far from Him, I’m left with compassion and generosity for those who live that way. And the parable of the generous landowner tells us that God’s generosity knows no bounds—their blessing doesn’t diminish mine. Micah 7:18 tells us that God “delights to show mercy.” So let us go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

2017-04-15 18.22.25-2

 

Advertisements

Tough Questions from Kids #1: Followers of Jesus

Matthew 4:18-20

“Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers. They were Simon (his other name was Peter) and Andrew, his brother. They were putting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me. I will make you fish for men!’
At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

2017-12-20 12.18.07-1
One night recently, Tijge asked me, “How do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus?” Of course, after 3+ decades of being one, I know the answer. But I realized that I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it, as posed by a seven-year old. The reason is because, whatever our answer is, it places us somewhere along a precariously balanced continuum. On one end, we can find ourselves conveying a god who is consumed with judgment, to the exclusion of grace. “We know we are followers of Jesus if we obey His commands”—this seems simple, but perhaps too simple. Might it not leave a child (or anyone for that matter) always wondering, with each sin or failure, if they are really a follower of Jesus at all? On the other end of the spectrum, we might inadvertently portray a god whose grace altogether eclipses his sense of righteous judgment. “Say a prayer, accept Jesus as your savior, and that’s it!”—again, this may be too simple. Even Paul warned of the danger that can come when we manage to convince ourselves that we should sin all the more, so that God might have greater occasion to display His grace. In truth, the answer is somewhere between neither and both.

As I tried to think of how I might articulate this truth, I thought about how so many followers of God, and later Jesus, made a decision to follow—but then spent the rest of their lives learning how to do just that. A few examples from the Old Testament that come to mind are Gideon, David, and Jonah. In the Scriptures, we join the story of each at a place where they have pledged allegiance to the God of Israel. And yet, their lives are marked by ups and downs, failures and successes, sins and redemption.

The same can be said of many of our New Testament heroes, but one who holds a special place for me is Peter. Maybe that’s because he was headstrong and stubborn, as I tend to be—who knows? What I do know is this. Jesus called Peter to follow Him, and Peter immediately dropped what he was doing, and followed. But, if anyone was ever “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (thank you, Winston Churchill), it was Peter. I mean, watch what he does throughout the New Testament.

  • He freaks out in the storm, walks on the water, doubts Jesus, starts to sink, cries out to Jesus for rescue…and then, much later (in Acts 12:6-7), he sleeps soundly in the face of impending death.
  • He’s too proud to let Jesus wash his feet, too tired to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane—then cuts off a soldier’s ear, vows his allegiance, denies Christ three times, doubts his own ability to love Jesus sacrificially…then, much later (in 1 Peter 4:8), he tells fellow believers, “Above all, love each other deeply…” (aka, sacrificially!)
  • He starts out with brotherly (phileo) love for Jesus, and it gradually becomes an unconditional, sacrificial (agape) love. He starts out by accepting Christ as Savior, then accepting Him as Lord, and then becoming more and more like Him each day, ultimately giving his life for the sake of the Gospel.

It can all be summed up this way—Peter CHOSE to follow Jesus first, then learned HOW along the way. We will each do the same thing. We’ll walk on water, start to sink, call for help, grow in faith, walk on water for longer the next time…with the hope that eventually, we will sleep soundly in the face of death, knowing that an eternity with Jesus awaits us on the other side.

So how do you know if you’re a follower of Jesus? Well, it starts with a decision. But that decision ushers us into a lifelong journey of growing closer and closer to Jesus, ‘til He returns or calls us home.

Selah.

Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminded the believers in Thessalonica that we don’t mourn like those who have no hope, because we have the hope of heaven. Most funerals I attend do happen to be for believers, and I LOVE celebrating their lives, but even more so their “home-going.” So many happy tears, even in the midst of sorrow.

This celebratory feel is much more salient when we are (relatively) assured of our loved one’s salvation. But we don’t always have that luxury. Such is the case with my grandmother, who passed away on Friday, at the age of 88. Her quality of life had declined severely, due to complications of COPD and congestive heart failure. We all wanted to see her at rest and in peace, but saw her continued suffering as a gift from God, in his patience, mercy, and compassion. After all, He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Perhaps He was just giving her more time.

You see, Grandma was never much into Jesus. She spent her life in the pursuit of self-reliance. She was strong, independent, fiercely opinionated, and proud—and all of the other things that help a person to survive here on earth, but that make it hard to surrender to God, or to admit to needing Him. Nevertheless, her friends and family poured into her the truths of the gospel. She knew the “answers,” even though she staunchly resisted them.

To the best of our knowledge, she never confessed out loud the lordship of Christ, she never verbally acknowledged her sins, her need for forgiveness, or her acceptance of Christ as her savior. BUT…as Grandma’s days grew short—in fact, on the eve of her passing—her daughter sat with her, and prayed a sinner’s prayer over her in intercession. She closed, saying “Amen.” And Grandma, quite surprisingly, echoed a hearty, “Amen!” Could she have finally accepted? We won’t know until we get to heaven, but this moment gives us what we are promised—hope that we may see her again one day.

Interestingly, the next day, as the end drew nearer still, Grandma rolled onto her side, and seemed to be talking to herself—albeit unintelligibly. Could it be, though, that just as the thief on the cross did so long ago, she was looking to Jesus, asking Him to remember and forgive her? If so, His answer would have certainly been the same—“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Again, the gift of hope. Thank you Jesus!

In Memory  of Dolores E. Winget

2017-07-15 14.35.21-1

Fathoming Hope

Romans 5:2-5

“…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Today, I encountered a woman whose story painted for me a picture of hopelessness. She was desperate and alone, discontent with just about every aspect of her life, and seemingly helpless to do anything about it. Beyond that, she was haunted by her past experiences and memories. She had become so accustomed to loss and disappointment that she couldn’t imagine any other way.

I myself am no stranger to despair, having struggled with depression for many years. But there was something different about this woman. That something was God. No matter how hopeless I might have felt in any given moment, or even for entire seasons, I never lost sight of God. I knew He loved me. I knew He had a plan for me, and one that would give me hope and a future. I knew that He would work everything I felt and was going through together for good and for His glory. Granted, the hope I had was at times about as big as those mustard seeds of faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20. But as it turns out, hope works kind of like faith—it grows.

But for hope to grow, it has to exist. And then it has to survive some harsh conditions. This woman may have had hope at one time, but hope that was crushed by one too many harsh realities and rude awakenings. Or she may have never had any to begin with. One thing was and is clear to me. She needs the hope of salvation, the hope of redemption, the hope of restoration—in short, she needs Jesus. From the outside looking in, she seems so far from Him. But look at what Luke 15:20 says about the story of the prodigal son:

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

God will run to this woman, too. She needs only to start out in His direction.

Sovereign Lord,

I don’t even know the name of the woman I’m praying for—but you know.
You know her name, her story, her sorrow, her past, and her future.
And you know the plans you have for her, plans to prosper and not to harm her,
plans to give her hope and a future.
The impossible is possible with you, so a mustard seed of hope is something you can do.
I believe you for this hope, and I pray it in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen!

Lenten Blossoms

For Such a Time as This

Esther 4:14 (ESV)

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

If you read the last entry on my blog, you will have read my mom’s adoption story, from her perspective and in her words. This week, I’d like to add a bit of my own commentary, having watched her adoption story, even more as an outsider than I realized. I say this because I remember always feeling like it wasn’t fair that my mom was adopted, only to be relegated to housekeeping chores and other responsibilities beyond the purview of a child.

Adoption, in my mind, was supposed to be magical, joyous, and all the rest. But so often, as I looked on, I saw it as a burden for her. Granted, in seeing what was, I was unaware at the time of what might have been—mafia ties and the like, which appears now to have been the alternative.

Over the years, I think my mom found solace in her parents’ need for her, reasoning that their physical and tangible needs were the reason God placed her in their home. But in my view, that’s only part of the story. Ultimately, we all have physical needs, and we find ways of having them met. But I think that watching my mom’s selflessness, day in and day out for 35 years, made a lasting impression. How do I know this?

Just this past summer, I learned of the day when my grandparents were ageing and in failing health, and my mom sent her pastor to visit with them, and to tell them about Jesus. After the visit, the pastor told my mom that both Grandma and Grandpa had accepted God’s forgiveness and were now secure in their eternal salvation. It seems odd that a virtual stranger could walk into their home and find such accepting and receptive hosts.

And yet, in a way, it’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising because this stranger was sent by someone who had lived out the mission of Christ in their midst for all those years…she had served them sacrificially, loved them unconditionally, forgiven them repeatedly and undeservedly. Just. Like. Jesus. And I believe that with each act of selflessness, each load of laundry, each Sunday visit (and so much more), they were seeing Jesus. And if you ask me, it wasn’t each of those moments that were God’s purpose for placing her there. It was the moment when each of them said yes to God’s offer of salvation. And I believe that God was watching, thinking of my mom, and whispering to her soul, This. I placed you here for such a time as THIS.

And in truth, God continues to use her in times such as these…to serve a neighbor in need, to reach out to a disheartened coworker, to impact a school child in her care, and on and on. I know that the mundane of her day to day isn’t always glamorous, and that she often feels like she’s still waiting for her calling. But I believe she’s living it every day. So many times, God must be whispering to her soul, I placed you here for such a time as this…and this…and this. Oh, that we would all be willing to live our lives as a reflection of Jesus, and to recognize those times when He has divinely placed us here or there, and for such a time as this.

Garner State Park 12

Even the Swallows

Psalm 84:2-4 (NASB)

“My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Your altars,
O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You. Selah.”

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Many essentials in life can be gleaned from the Bible and from the Berenstain Bears. Today’s post is no exception. You see, in the story “God Bless Our Home,” Papa Bear reminds us all of the Biblical truth found in Psalm 84:3:

“…swallows built their nests of mud in the rafters of the garage. Papa had to duck when the swallows came swooping in to feed their babies. But he didn’t mind.
‘As the Good Book says,’ Papa explained, ‘Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself.’”

Well, God bless Papa Bear! He has much more patience than most of us! I can’t say I really appreciated this aspect of the story (or the Psalm) until we moved from town to the country—which is apparently where swallows live. And I have to say that those mud nests are DISGUSTING. Even worse is the bird poop EVERYWHERE! And to make matters worse, they dive bomb your head. I’m hesitant to even let visitors approach our front door, for fear that they will get attacked and then sue us over our angry birds. We’ve tried all kinds of tricks to encourage them to nest elsewhere, but they will have none of it.

I think that the Psalmist presents us with both a literal and a figurative illustration through the verses above. From a literal perspective, I’ve just realized after reading the surrounding context that the altars of God (in the Temple courts, perhaps) were the sites of swallows’ nests—and therefore their excrement! And yet, He welcomed them!

Turning to the figurative application of Psalm 84:3, there may be a reason that it is God’s care for the sparrow that often makes it into the songs and sayings of Christendom, rather than the swallow. You see, sparrows are small and insignificant, often going unnoticed. But I’ve never thought of them as pests or nuisances, and would never consider them gross or malicious.

And of course, God does see us and love us—no matter how small or insignificant we might be. He notices our plight. But do you know what else He does? He sees us, loves us, and offers His gift of salvation to us—not only when we feel small and insignificant, but also when we are disgusting, sinful, malicious, destructive, filthy, and rejected by all. We know this because of the thief on the cross, whom Jesus promised paradise with some of His last words. I’m convinced that, had Judas repented, God would have welcomed him home as well. Quite possibly, even Satan himself could have found forgiveness and redemption, if he’d only accepted it.

And that’s the Good News of Easter—that Jesus accepted the punishment for our sins, and rose from the dead to defeat death and hell on our behalf…even if we are but nasty little swallows!  May we all celebrate together today that He is risen indeed!

2017-04-15 20.07.07

Receipts

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Do you save receipts? I do, although not as religiously as I was raised to. But at some point, don’t we all purge those old receipts. Some we may keep longer than others, but none will last forever. Maybe some we’ll toss out once they’re past the store’s return policy date. Or maybe, if you have a warranty on something, you would save the receipt until the warranty runs out. Or, at the very least, when you do a deep cleaning of your house and you come across receipts that are so old there is literally no ink left on them. If that’s you, come on, it’s time to let go.

Do you know how long God keeps receipts? Try not at all. When God bought us, redeemed us, adopted us, that was it. No return policy, no 100% satisfaction guarantee, no extended warranty. He just paid for us outright, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. He ransomed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the law, and purchased our freedom. And adopted us as his very own children.

Imagine the most expensive, the most costly, thing you’ve ever purchased. Maybe it was an entertainment system, or a car, or a house. Now imagine shredding the receipt on the spot. I think most of us would be mortified at the thought—at least I know I would. But essentially, that’s exactly what God did for you and for me. His sacrifice, his purchase, his redemption is OURS to accept, to trust, to rest in, to be transformed by, to be grateful for, and to share with others. We don’t have to deserve it or earn it, indeed we never could. But if we do accept this gift, we belong to God, and he stamps us: “ALL SALES FINAL.”
 

Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

2016-10-04-10-13-00

No

What do you say to a friend who has just lost her son? Not sure, I decided to ask my daughter, who is 3 going on 13. Out of the mouths of babes, right? And she actually had a lot of insight to share—though not so much in what she said, as in what she didn’t say…

Me: “I might see my friend tonight—the one whose son died. What do you think I should say to her?”
Lj: “Well, is he gonna be died forever?”
Me: “Well, he’s not here anymore, but he’s in heaven—and when she dies, she’ll get to see him again.”
Lj: “So, he is gonna be died forever.”

And to that, she had nothing to say. And she was right. I mean, if he’s going to be dead forever, then what is there to say, besides a feeble “I’m sorry”? What is there to do but remember the good times and try to move on? What is there to think about, besides the seeming injustice of it all?

BUT, when we know—as we do—that he loved Jesus and had surrendered his life to Him, that somehow changes everything. We can grieve for our loss, while we rejoice with the hosts of heaven at the arrival of one more saint. We can take comfort in knowing that he is standing in God’s presence, glory raining down all around him, as he revels in those most precious of words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Along with our sorrow then, we embrace joy, relief, excitement, peace, hope, and faith. We may still not have the right words to say to someone who is suffering loss. But one thing we know. When we ask, from our brokenness and the vulnerability of a child, “Is he gonna be died forever?”, we know that God answers us in a voice that shakes the heavens. And the answer is a resounding, “NO!” Not only is he not going to be dead forever, he isn’t going to be dead at all. In the midst of our mourning, he is standing before the thrown, more alive than he EVER was on this side of eternity.

And we take a deep breath, and we let it out. And we find a moment’s rest in this blessed assurance: Jesus. Salvation. Heaven.

Garner State Park 12

Sold!

1 Corinthians 6:20a
“You were bought at a price…”

1 Peter 1:18-19
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

In this day and age, when people keep talking about having great hands, beautiful tax returns, and “the best words,” I have to admit, I have none of those. Well, to be honest, sometimes I actually do have the best words, but that’s only because I have such a love of the English language. But whenever anything like tact or diplomacy are called for, I can be almost guaranteed to NOT have the right words.

Not only that, but I often ask the wrong questions, I seldom have the right answers, I frequently make the wrong choices. And I’m not talking about morally wrong choices (although I’ve made my share of those, too). But I have been known to spend too much on a sweater, or to pass up a pair of pajamas that I absolutely LOVED over a $15 price tag (those Walrus pajamas will haunt me forever). I could go on and on. This may explain why I can spend 15 minutes in the meat aisle at the grocery store, deliberating on which is the right cut of beef for this week’s recipe.

In my shortcomings, though, I have this comfort: for every mistake or misstep I make, for every time I fail or fall short, GOD. NEVER. DOES. He never has. He never will. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was channeling a future Toby Keith—

I don’t want to die for you, but if dying’s asked of me,
I’ll bear that cross with honor, ‘cause freedom don’t come free—

He said yes, and He meant it. He knew everything about you—the good, the bad, the ugly—and He chose you. He bought you, purchased you, redeemed you. He paid the ultimate price for you, because you’re worth it. YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT…to the One who matters most. Don’t ever forget that.

Garner State Park 12