Salvation

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
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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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

Jesus Said, “Love.”

There, but by the grace of God, go I.

I don’t know a lot about world news. Let’s be honest, I don’t know much about national or local news either. Ever since I switched to Outlook as my e-mail platform, and no longer regularly see the Yahoo! News postings, I’m pretty much in the dark. And yet, it didn’t escape my attention that last Friday, Paris fell victim to multiple terrorist attacks. I knew because the media coverage of events was nonstop. I knew because Facebook friends near and far changed their profile pictures in solidarity, and posted prayer requests and sympathy notes. My first inkling that something had happened was actually a status update from a friend in Paris, letting us all know that she and her family were safe. Praise God!

But then, a bit later, I saw a post that convicted me (https://newmatilda.com/2015/11/14/paris-attacks-highlight-western-vulnerability-and-our-selective-grief-and-outrage/). In this post, Chris Graham accused the Western world of selective outrage, stating that, “Meanwhile, in a brown part of the world, as the attacks began in Paris, Lebanon was just emerging from a National Day of Mourning, after 43 people were killed and 200 more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Beirut.” He also highlighted an attack 11 months ago, in which “Boko Haram razed the town of Baja in Nigeria, killing more than 2,000 people.” He went on to tell about several other heinous crimes against humanity that received very little popular or media attention. And then he asked a poignant question: “How do we explain our indifference to the suffering of people we perceive as different, Lebanese, African, Hazara, Muslim…. Brown people?”

The sober answer is, “I don’t know.” But I know it’s wrong. Sure, France is an ally—a friend. Sure some of us have visited there, or have friends who live there. But are we justified in dismissing suffering just because it happens in a place we’ve never been before? Or in a war-torn country where it “happens every day”? You know, many of the people killed in these terrorist attacks in the non-Western world are innocent civilians, casualties of war. But even those who are not, even those whose hearts and actions are bent on malice, even those are among the fallen humanity that Jesus died to save. We should pray for redemption and salvation for ALL. And we should see and be heartbroken over ALL suffering. Period.

After all, “God so loved the WORLD, that He gave his only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him shall not parish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Draughts

1 Corinthians 10:16 (MSG)

When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life,
of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat?
Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ?

 Ephesians 5:19-20 (MSG)

Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to
God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.

This past Sunday, as I approached the communion table, I did what I always do. I pulled a piece of bread from the loaf and moved to dip it in the bowl of grape juice. But like always, I hesitated momentarily. Was it to reflect on the gravity of the moment? Or to thank God for his gift of salvation? No. Instead, I was calculating my ‘dipping depth’ in such a way that I would avoid a soggy, dripping piece of bread. Pure sacrilege, I know.

And in that moment, with songs of praise and worship playing around me, it hit me. This was a metaphor for the Christian life—at least the way many of us are prone to live it. Think about it. We want a taste of what God has to offer us, but we always seem to want just enough.

  • We sing along with the songs during worship, but we don’t let the lyrics really permeate our hearts.
  • We talk about God at church and at home—but not at work, not at the gym, not out with friends.
  • We wave to our neighbors in passing, but we don’t truly get to know them or let them get to know us (or our God).
  • We serve dinner at a homeless shelter once a year (or once EVER), but we don’t reach out to build relationships with the people there.
  • We pray for healing, but don’t accept the form of healing that God sometimes gives.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. And I think you could probably add a few more examples to this list yourself. We want to dip our toes into the waters of salvation, but we don’t want to dive in. But God doesn’t want us to dabble in our faith. He wants us to live it fully, proclaim it, and let it change us. Ephesians 5:19 instructs us to “drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him.” Do you know what that means? It means to drink of the Spirit in huge doses, gulps, or swallows.

How appropriate that this observation occurred to me on Baptism Sunday, when Christians of all ages and walks of life were making this declaration: “I’m all in for Jesus!” And I thought, What about me? Am I really living all in for Him?

Are you?

Bring Your Friends

Mark 2:2-5 

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Tijge’s Sunday school lesson last week focused on Mark 2:2-5, and the paralytic whose friends brought him to see Jesus. For days afterward, Tijge asked us questions about the story. Why couldn’t they use the door? Why did he have bad muscles? Why was the house crowded? Why did he need a mat? Over and over he would ask, trying to understand the story. He even built a diorama of the scene using various toys around the house. It was interesting to see how, even for a three and a half-year old, this story is compelling.

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When teachers speak on this passage, they typically speak of Jesus; or of the crowds; or of the paralytic. But once I heard a message that focused on the four friends that brought the paralytic to Jesus, and the teacher challenged audience members to be the kinds of friends that would do the same.

Awhile back, I considered this passage in light of Ecclesiastes 3:11. You see, sometimes I get so caught up in MY journey that I forget about those around me. But we should live not just with a focus on ourselves and our eternal destiny, but also on others. If God has set eternity in the hearts of ALL men, then we should seek to help others recognize and follow that longing in their own hearts; and in so doing, bring as many others with us as possible—to the cross, to Jesus, and to heaven.

And so I ask: Am I that kind of friend? Are you?