buildingbodies4christ

building on the foundation of Jesus Christ

Friends Matter

First off, it’s been a few months since I’ve written anything for this space. After the move and the chaos that this country has been in, I just haven’t been in the correct head space to sit down and write. I am trying to change my mindset so hopefully I will be a bit more consistent in the future.

A conversation yesterday helped me to think on a few things. The topic was on friendship. One of my weaknesses is I cannot think on my feet fast enough to have a comeback in a conversation. I am a great listener but terrible responder. The conversation had me thinking throughout the evening and began again upon waking this morning. I tend to think about things until I write them down. So here I am writing this down.

The conversation led to the final statement, “well, Jesus hung around sinners and we shouldn’t judge.” All true. First and foremost – we are all sinners. Nobody is without sin except Jesus. He proved He could withstand any sin. He told religious ones who were questioning Him He came for sinners – to save the lost. We’re all lost so who else was He going to hang around?

However, He had ones He poured into to give them an opportunity to change. He had twelve He made His disciples. They were to learn from Him and see what He did and how they were to carry on the message. Eleven got it, one didn’t.

Jesus also had an inner circle; they were the only ones who witnessed special moments. They were not to tell of those moments until a later date (after His resurrection). Jesus knew people’s hearts. He knew who was ready to hear His message and those who were looking for an excuse to take away His platform of change. The religious ones hated Him. Jesus’ message challenged them and they were not willing to listen.

Jesus always pointed His friends to God the Father. Those who turned away from their sins, sought God’s forgiveness, they changed and hung around Jesus more to learn from Him. Their sin pattern changed. They still sinned, but the conviction was there when they did. You see this in Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus when Jesus was arrested. Peter was one of the inner circle friends. Imagine the hurt Jesus felt even though He knew Peter would deny Him. Imagine Peter’s hurt when he realized what he had done. Peter wept bitterly because of what he had done.

From the beginning, Peter knew he was a sinner. Early on in Jesus’ ministry, Peter told Jesus after Jesus had performed a miracle – “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).But Jesus had chosen Peter, even with his faults, because Jesus knew Peter would have a change of heart. Peter would become a fisherman for men and would be successful at it. Peter left his livelihood and left everything behind to follow Jesus. And Peter did become very successful at drawing people to Jesus after he received the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost (see the story in Acts 2).

Jesus hung around sinners, yes. But He didn’t leave them that way. The ones who heard and responded to His message changed. Tax collectors changed how they did business. A woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus to be condemned. But Jesus didn’t condemn her. He said the first one without sin should throw the first stone. No one threw a stone at her because they had all sinned and fallen short of God’s Law – this Law was given so that the people who know when they sinned. God’s Law was put in place to give His people guardrails to stay within His boundaries. But it was impossible for God’s people to live that way in their sinful nature.

So Jesus – the one without sin – did not throw a stone either. He told the woman to go and sin no more. Yes, it’s impossible to live as God requires. It’s impossible to live without sin. However, Jesus came to give us a new life. He saves us from our sinful life. Our pattern of sins is broken. We are convicted when we sin and confess it to Him. He forgives our sins and we walk away cleansed. It’s a difference of consistency. We no longer are consistently committing the same sins. When we received God’s forgiveness, we are changed.

Back to the friend issue that started this blog posting.

I know when I gave my life to Jesus I could no longer hang out with the people I knew before. It wasn’t they were bad people; I enjoyed hanging out with them. But they wouldn’t lead me where I needed to go. I needed different people to help me on this walk that I’m on with Jesus. I needed a different set of inner circle friends who would encourage me on this journey with Jesus. I am still friends with some of those I hung out with, but it’s different than it was before. They are not my inner circle.

Friends matter. We need them. And we don’t leave our friends behind; they need Jesus too. One of our purposes when we give our lives to Jesus is to lead others to Him. If they are not willing or fill the need to change, then it’s not our responsibility to change them. But we are to love them and pray for them to have a heart change. We are to be near them when they are ready to hear about this Jesus we love. When the time is right and Jesus has touched them through us, then they will see their need for our friend Jesus and be changed.

The bottom line is to choose friends wisely. If they are not leading us toward Jesus, then they are leading us away. It matters who you hang with. First and foremost, stay connected with Jesus and He will lead you to the right people to be in your inner circle. The rest of our friends may not have as much of our time as before, but unless Jesus says to let them go, then stay close enough to influence them but far enough that they don’t influence you.

The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. Proverbs 12:26

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

Just Jesus

One year around Thanksgiving, I traveled overseas. When I came home, I decided to skip the Christmas decorations since it was later than I normally would have decorated. However, I realized while I was going through the season, I just couldn’t get into the Christmas spirit. I vowed to always put up something for Christmas. And since then I haven’t failed to decorate.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written in a while. I still have put out small newsletters for the last couple of months, but have failed to post here in this spot. I have had quite a bit of change in the last few months.

Since the virus has increased its hold on the world, it’s made me realize I need to be near my family. I was living alone in a large city (compared to my hometown) and things were not settling down as I would have hoped. I wrestled with the idea of moving from the city I had called home for the last twenty-one years. Finally, I made the decision to put the house on the market and it sold in a day. Things began to happen quickly and decisions needed to be made quickly. It’s a bit unsettling to be transitioning to a new place at this stage of my life. But I felt it was the right time and going home seemed like the best place for me.

After five weeks, I was moved into my new place. After another couple of weeks, I started working full time (which I haven’t done in ten years). It’s been an adjustment, but I love living here again. I love hanging out with my sisters. However, it’s different. One of my sisters told me at Thanksgiving, she didn’t know if she would consider it a holiday since I usually stayed with her during the holidays. During those holidays, we did things together like cooking, shopping, and just sitting around talking before going to bed. Now, it’s different. I sleep in my own bed at the end of the day. And I mess up my own kitchen when cooking my share of the Thanksgiving meal.

Christmas will bring another adjustment for me. I have never been alone on Christmas morning. I have always stayed with one of my sisters. It reminds me of that Christmas when I didn’t decorate – it’s going to be different. And this year maybe even more different because of these circumstances we now live in. Will we have family joining us in the celebration or will it just be the immediate family? This year is just different in every way!

In my quiet time this morning, I read a message from a book written by missionaries. One of the missionaries wrote that the first Christmas on the mission field had been difficult because of all the “stuff” that surrounded her normally at Christmas time wasn’t there. They had moved with very little of their belongings. They didn’t have the friendships or the family in that new place nor was it a cold place. She realized at one point, she just wasn’t in the Christmas spirit.

She asked the Lord to show her something new about the Christmas story to help her transition in her new place. She stated the Lord showed her the actual heart of the Christmas story and in turn changed her heart. Jesus is Christmas and He is enough. “When all the stuff – the lights, gifts, trees, food and even friends – was taken away, it came down to Jesus. He is the only reason to be celebrating.”

“I said to the LORD, ‘You are my LORD, apart from you I have no good thing.’” (Psalm 16:2)

Her message gave my own spirit a nudge. It’s not about the things or even when I wake up alone – I am never alone. Jesus is enough. One day, everything will be stripped away. We will all face Jesus. He has to be enough. I am reminded of the older people in my life who live with Jesus alone. My aunt is a great example. She still reads her Bible every day. It’s her lifeline – even when her mind fails her, she still has Jesus. He is enough for her. I want that to be my heart as well. I want Jesus to be enough.

If the world goes as it is recorded in Scripture, we need to cling to Jesus. He will be our lifeline. Now is the time to anchor ourselves in Him. We grow stronger in the crisis, but we can’t be certain of Him in the crisis without knowing Him fully in times of peace. Now is not the time to drift with uncertainty but be steadfast in Jesus.

Life will always have complications, but Jesus is our Rock. He is trustworthy and true. Jesus is Christmas. He is the heart of God’s story. If we can’t celebrate that fact alone – without the trees, lights, family or friends, then we have nothing. Jesus is enough. Let’s affirm that with Him today and remind ourselves when times get difficult – He is not fretting or indecisive. He knows what we need and when we need it. He’s got everything under His control. Remember, Jesus is enough.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:2-3

Oneness

Over the last few weeks, I have had a sense that God is using this time to purify the Church. I have said a few times over the last few years to friends and family the Church will need to go through a few things before Jesus returns. I believe we are seeing one of those “things” in order for the Church to be ready for Jesus’ return. He’s coming back for His Bride (the Church) one day – He said so (John 14:3)!

God’s Word tells us nothing impure or unholy will ever see His Kingdom. It’s impossible for us to live as we ought unless we are fully “in” with Christ. It’s sad to say, but the Church hasn’t lived in the Way of Jesus for quite some time (at least in the US branch of the Church). We have allowed the world to dictate how we live our lives and its counter to how Jesus would have us live. We have allowed the world to influence the Church instead of the Church influencing the world.

In Revelation, Jesus gave a message to John to give to the church at Laodicea. Jesus was not pleased with their attitude and had a few harsh words for their lukewarmness. It was detestable to Him. John wrote these words from Jesus (Revelation 3:17-18) “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

Experts tell us that the churches found in Revelation are the stages of the Church throughout the Church age. Laodicea is considered as the last Church stage before the Church age ends. After this chapter in Revelation, the Church is no longer mentioned. Experts tell us the Church will be taken from the earth and the enemy will have his way on earth for a season.

However, the enemy is not waiting for the Church to depart. His plan is to make the Church ineffective right now. There is a real spiritual war going on and the Church is at the center of it all. The Church has to keep the focus on Jesus – the Head of the Body. The Church should be the light in the community to drive away the darkness. The character of the Church should be like salt (Jesus’ message found in Matthew 5). However, the enemy is out to divide and conquer.

Division was also a concern for Jesus. In John 17:11 we find Jesus’ prayer for His disciples. Jesus prayed the disciples would be one as He and His Father were one. Jesus’ upmost heart was that the disciples represented Him well. He asked that they love one another. Love is the unifying force so that others would see Jesus’ disciples by how well they loved one another and others in the community.

The apostle Paul also wrote the Corinthian church to be aware of divisions in the Church. We find this directive in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:10 TPT) “I urge you, my brothers and sisters, for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree to live in unity with one another and put to rest any division that attempts to tear you apart. Be restored as one united body living in perfect harmony. Form a consistent choreography among yourselves, having a common perspective with shared values”.

The Church will continue to be in difficult times as the end of the Church age draws near. We will need each other more and more. We must encourage each other and stay focused on the mission – love God and love others – so that we will be a sweet fragrance to God our Father, but also be a good representation of Jesus to win others for the Kingdom. Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be afraid. God is still in control and His plan is still at work. Let’s be unified in our love – let’s be one and give God the glory!

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:19-22

Finding My Happy Place

How you feeling these days? I must admit, my head hasn’t been in a good place during these last couple of months. I have been going a bit stir crazy. I am also feeling a bit frustrated and ready for all this to be over. You too? I don’t know anyone who is enjoying these crazy times. I do like less traffic in the morning when I have to go to work. But if I am not careful about my thoughts, the loneliness and lack of social interaction can overwhelm me.

My happy place is with my family. I wrote about my family time at the beach back in June. I need to share a secret with you. Everyone who commented on the blog posting said it was a great tribute to my parents and I guess it was after all. However, the secret is my parents were not the focus as I wrote out my thoughts about the beach trip. I was actually thanking my family for an amazing time throughout the years. Yes, my parents were instrumental in the foundation of our annual beach trip set twenty-eight (?) years ago. But this year, the trip was so needed in my life. I was growing desperate for some type of normalcy and finding peace in the craziness. The trip came at the right time.

Human interactions are truly important to our emotional and physical health. We need it. We crave it. I most definitely need my family time. I’ve had a revelation about how much I need my family during a crisis. It’s made me rethink my future and where I need to be for the next season of life. My timetable for moving to my “retirement” place may be sooner rather than later.

Our emotional wellbeing is just as important as our physical wellbeing. So what do you do to get your head in the right space? Do you have hobbies you turn to for a “happy” hour or two? I love golf. I also enjoy walks and being outside. I noticed when I don’t get outside, I get a bit cranky. What makes you happy?  It really is essential to find a place to go when the craziness is too much.

I have also realized that I need my time with Jesus. Maybe the struggles we face are to bring us closer to Jesus. He is supposed to be our “happy” place. He is our comforter, our peace in troubling times, our rescuer, and our protector. Being in God’s Word, keeps me focused and keeps me from feeling isolated and lonely. I remember where Paul was when he wrote most of his letters to the churches and to his fellow missionaries. If not for prison, we might not have had these Scriptures. Think about that for a minute or two.

We need to stay focused on the things that are important to us. We are to make it a priority to gain some perspective of where we are in life and this season we’re in. God can use us in this season if we stay open to what He is doing around us. We might not be in prison but we have some available time right now. What is God calling you to do in this season? What is He showing you about this time we’re in right now?

This is not the end as we know it. It’s just a different season. God is still working on His plan and things may seem out of control. But I believe God is placing things in the right place for the next season. We may need to move into the right place. Or God may already have us in the right place for now. Keep your eyes and ears open and wait on the Lord. I believe we will see something greater if we just wait on Him to move.

Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7), he fought the good fight, he finished his race, he kept the faith. Just as Paul suffered in his season and came out on top, we too can have his focus and keep the faith even in our trying times. Find your happy place and hang on. Get your head in the right space. Endure through this time. Keep the faith as Paul did while he underwent his trials of separation.

The victory is ours even when it feels like the battle has been lost. God is still in control. Brace yourself for what may come next, but lean upon the only thing that cannot be shaken – Jesus. He is a sure foundation that cannot be moved. Be amazed in His presence for you cannot go wrong when you are with Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8

Standing Together

It’s been awhile since I sat down to write. One of the reasons is I just don’t know what to say about these times we are living in. Actually, I have a lot of thoughts on the matter, but it’s best to keep my thoughts to myself at times like this. We don’t need another opinion out there – we need truth written instead.

This morning, I woke up with the thoughts of a podcast I heard yesterday. The podcast was from the Duck Dynasty clan called Unashamed with Phil Robertson. It’s on YouTube if you want to check it out. Duck Dynasty was a fun show to watch (the shows are now on YouTube as well), but they were not able to give much spiritual applications as they wanted except for the prayer at the end.

The podcast is different. Jase, Alan and Phil sit down to give biblical applications and biblical truth on a weekly basis (or is it twice a week?). Anyway, it’s good and fun too.

The episode that impacted me yesterday was one from earlier in the year. Uncle Si was sitting in for Phil. Si spoke about a conversation he had with a young lady at a casino in Las Vegas. The lady spotted Si and after gathering her courage, she spoke to him. As they were talking, Si wanted to get Jesus into the conversation, but he didn’t see an opening until she asked him a question. “You must have met some really famous people, who is the most famous person you have met?” He chuckled and said I wondered how to mention Jesus and you opened the door for me.

They talked further but she had to leave since her husband was beckoning her to come. Si was disappointed that the conversation was cut short, however, he realized another lady had chair hopped until she was sitting next to him. She was drunk. I forgot the leading statement about coming to the casino to drink, but Uncle Si proceeded to tell her it was her choice to get drunk. She also had a choice to find a church – she needed to be around good people.

As I woke up this morning, I was reminded that it’s true. We need to be around like-minded (biblically-minded), godly people during this time. We have been isolated; church has been cancelled. Yes, thank God we live in a time of technology and can catch the gathering on line at a convenient time for us. However, we are told to stay home. I am reminded by the writer of Hebrews we are not to forsake gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). Our enemy is all about separation and dividing. We need each other – especially in this time.

As the times grow darker, and they will, we need each other. We need like-minded people who love Jesus and are not ashamed to mention His name. We need boldness and courage to stand up together. Jesus is the only hope the world has in order to walk back from the brink of despair. We have the answer but we have to be willing to step out and share what we know.

Another message I heard yesterday was from one of my health gurus I follow. He was interviewing a doctor concerning the forces of evil at play. I don’t remember much of the conversation; however, she did mention we will need courage to stand up for our rights as citizens of this country. This was the one thing she said was missing today – courage.

When times get dark, I want to put my head in the sand and make it all go away. I don’t want to be bold or have the courage to stand up alone. Yet, if I had my tribe around me, my people who have my back, then I might be willing to step out and share what I know. Standing alone is scary, but standing together is a better strategy.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 states two is better than one… if one falls down, the other can help them up…though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves… a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. As the saying goes, we’re better together. We cannot be the silent majority. We have to take a stand. We are at a crucial time in our history. I don’t like confrontation, but it may come to it in order to keep our freedoms.

Our freedom doesn’t come from our government, it comes from our God. We have a choice to make and it’s time we stand together. If you love Jesus, it’s time to be the light we are called to be. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Remember, we are not of this world, we are Kingdom people. Love like Kingdom people. Share and give like Kingdom people. It’s what we do as Kingdom people. It’s who we are. What can man do to us? Fear God, not man.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25

Feeling Full

Many years ago after a large meal with the family, I asked my grand nephew who was about three years old at the time if he was full. He turned to me and asked what’s full? Hum. I never thought about how to define “full” especially when it comes to a full belly. I couldn’t ask him that today because he is big fella now and full doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary. He always seems to be hungry.

Last week, my family gathered at the beach for our annual beach trip. I think this was our twenty-ninth year of gathering at the same place, mostly in the same house. This year, we had to get a duplex because of the number of family members getting together. We started the tradition with ten family members but we were up to nineteen at the house this year. My parents are gone now, but the nephews have grown, married and have kids of their own.

I once thought our family was built around my Mom. I thought she was our rock that held us together. When she passed almost eleven years ago, I thought we wouldn’t be the same. In reality, we are not the same. I think we are stronger and better equipped because of the foundation she and my Dad laid for us. Yes, both she and Dad are gone now, but the family did not fall apart because of it.

I have come to realize it wasn’t Mom who was our center – our family was (and still is) centered on Jesus. He is the foundation Mom and Dad laid for us. He was the center from the beginning and is continuing in that tradition as my nephews are building their foundations with their families. I love seeing my nephews with their kids and I love seeing how much they love their wives.

When we started this tradition twenty-nine years ago, I had no hope for those boys! They were a hot mess. Mom was not a boy’s mom. She had girls and wasn’t accustomed to the boy’s way of life. It was hard for Mom to cope with the messiness that comes with boys. She was a bit on edge whenever we were at the beach with those young boys. But as they grew up, she mellowed. She loved those boys dearly and wanted the best for them.

I wish she could see them today. I wish she had witnessed what the boys have become and the families they are now raising. Dad got to see it. Before his death, Dad got to see all these great-grandkids. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the capacity to know what was going on. He didn’t really know who all these little kids running around were. But Dad knew my nephews and remembered they were married to those young women. But the kids, he didn’t know they were his children as well. But he loved them just the same.

After last week, I remembered all we had been through; the good times and there were many, and the bad times when the rain didn’t stop for days. The special times with Mom and Dad and houses we occupied for a week – making it our home for that week. The times with Mom and the games we played. The one time she kept winning while our attention was diverted. We laughingly accused her of cheating. We got one of the best belly laughs out of her that I can remember.

The boys told us at Dad’s funeral how he used to talk with them on the crow’s nest about – well, I’m not sure what they talked about since they didn’t go into any detail of those conversations – but the boys all remembered those times with Dad up on that roof top as one of the greatest times with Dad. Year after year, memories are made. Even today as we look back at this past week, there will be memories we can all look to as one of the best times we had at the beach.

After the last four months of being alone, I was feeling a bit empty. Today I am full. I still don’t have a good definition for “full” that I could tell a young child. I just know today my heart and my emotional wellbeing is full. No matter what happens next, I have a memory bank full of hearty laughter, good food, putt-putt games and unending joy, but the best part is that it is all centered on Jesus. Jesus is the reason our family time is sincerely one of the best weeks of our lives.

This annual beach trip wasn’t originally started as a tradition. But I believe it was a God-given idea for the family to be strong through the start of this tradition. Year after year, we decided to do it again. God made it happen and I am so thankful today because of His love for us and for His love of family. It was His idea for the family to be the lifeline in a chaotic world. It is our safe harbor when things go astray. In this craziness we have experienced over the last four months, I truly needed this time of refreshment with my family. Thank you family for loving so well this week!

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 (ESV)

Hope for Our World

Watching the memorial service of Ravi Zacharias yesterday evening caused a great sense of grief to overwhelm me. The great defender of our faith died last week on May 19th after battling cancer. The sadness wasn’t really from his death, although it is a sad day to lose someone of such great significance, but the sadness was from the death of my own Dad a couple of years ago.

The daughter was speaking about her Dad and as she was speaking it was just a fresh tidal wave of emotion for me. The daughter’s son said that he didn’t know who he was without his Papa. He asked his Mom, what did Papa mean to you? The dam broke while I remembered my own Dad’s words to me as she spoke of her Dad’s love for her.

After my Mom died ten years ago, my Dad called me every night. Before he hung up, he always told me to remember he loved me very much. I miss my Dad. I miss knowing he was always in my corner. I miss how he instructed me when I had trouble with my golf game. (He would correct my positioning so that I could work out my slice.) He would tell me how to do something to finish a home project or he would do it himself when he was able. My Dad was a great father and he loved his family well.

The overwhelming sadness isn’t just from the death of my Dad or Ravi it’s all the death we are focusing on right now. Death just seems to be the main topic every day. I’ve lost two aunts in the last five months. The darkness seems to keep closing in. Evil just seems to be winning every day and if I didn’t know better, I would think evil will win in the end. But I know better.

I believe in eternity and no one truly dies. For those in Jesus Christ, we are given a promise of eternal life through Jesus – we just pass from this life to the true life we are meant to live – with Him forever. We are told through Scripture we will be with Him where He is at that moment of passing. There is no darkness for those in Him – only light. We also know that we will see one another again. We have the hope of resurrection and eternal life with God (Romans 8:18-25).

I may have a sense of sadness every now and then due to the events happening around me or the world, but my underlying sense is one of hope and assurance that God is in control in all things. No matter what the evil one plans, God has a countermeasure to bring good from it for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Sometimes I just need to sit in His Word and let it wash over me. Sometimes the Word needs to fill my tank just as I get filled up being with my family. My tank needs to be full. If I start running low, my emotions and my outlook seems rather dark like there is no hope for this world. God has worked many of my troubles in this life for His glory. I know He still is going to work something out for the story of loss we feel for this day for His glory too.

I believe in a Great God who can take our troubles and make them into a great testimony. We just have to surrender our plans to His. Our plans are futile without Him. God’s plan was not to heal Ravi from cancer. God’s plan didn’t include healing my Mom from cancer or my aunt either.

But this I do know, God’s purposes will be fulfilled – I read through every story in the Bible and God works it all out in the end. God didn’t save Jesus from His suffering either – but thank God He didn’t. By His suffering, we are healed and we are saved. There was no other way to have a relationship with God unless Jesus died for our sins.

I also know we all have to suffer at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s at the end like my Mom and my aunt. We are told in Scripture (Romans 5:4) suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope. God is always about building character.

It was my aunt who rejoiced in her suffering when she found out she had cancer. She knew Jesus was right by her side. She was at peace with her end. My Mom too.

I told my Mom when we first learned of her cancer, that God had given me a sense of peace about it. I thought He was going to heal her, but He had other plans which are not truly known to this day. My Mom too felt that sense of peace and reconciled to the fact God had chosen that type of death for her.

There is a 100% guarantee we will all die one day. We just have to be ready to meet Jesus no matter what. If we are given another ten, fifteen or fifty years, we still have to live each day as if it’s our last because we never know the number of our days or the time of Jesus’ return. And yes, I have hope that I will see Jesus return in the clouds for His church. I will be ready for that day. How about you? It’s time to be ready no matter what!

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

Making a Difference

It just doesn’t make sense. The news was bad. It takes time to process and after you do, it still makes no sense. You might think I am writing about the political landscape, but what I share is death. Death is bad news. It’s loss. It’s sorrow. But when it is someone who has such a bright future ahead, you just can’t make sense of why bad things happen to good people.

I lost my aunt a couple of weeks ago from cancer. She faced a long battle that finally ended for her. It was expected. But I woke up this bright, sunny morning going through my routine when I jumped onto Facebook to see what my friends and family had posted. I was shocked to learn of this young man’s life cut short by a new motorcycle and a good evening to ride.

I didn’t know him. I saw him around church. He was the kid everybody wanted to hang with. He was energetic and flashed a big smile. He spoke to everyone – even me – just one who passes by. I noticed when he left to go to college how everyone congratulated him and wished him well. When he came home, the people in his circle were so excited to see him. He seemed to be a really good guy.

But as I read the posts by my friends and church family, I noticed how big a loss this truly is to our church body. It’s a sad day. To make it worse, there’s no gathering together to mourn the loss. There’s no comfort of hugs as people come together to remember. I felt this loss when I went to see my aunt for the last time. There was no comfort found in mourning alone. But as I reflect on my aunt and this young man, I don’t mourn their loss of life because they are more truly alive today in heaven than what they ever experienced here on earth.

It’s hard to explain to those who do not understand this joy when we face these times of sorrow. We do not mourn as those without hope. We have the hope of Jesus – the One who defeated death and claimed victory for eternal life. Yes, we experience sorrow. But oh the joy we find in Jesus. If this young man’s legacy is as it appears to be, even in death his light will shine. This isn’t the end of his story. He already has a legacy even at his young age.

It was a death of a friend that reached into my heart and changed me. And I believe God can do it again with someone else who is on the fence looking in and wondering about their own eternity. My friend died at a young age too; a little older this young man. My friend was a godly woman. It was a tragic accident too. But what set this death apart from all the others I had experienced up to that time was she was around my age. It was shocking. I knew people died young. But not ones I knew. Maybe this young man’s death can be a catalyst for change in someone else’s life. I pray it may be so.

When my friend died years ago, I was faced with my own mortality. Even thought I have known about Jesus all my life, I didn’t know where I would go when that day of death occurred. You see, my life had taken a detour for a few years. I wasn’t living as one who had given their life to Jesus. Basically, I knew about Jesus, but I didn’t have a relationship with Him. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

From my years of church life, I just thought you said a prayer and it was a done deal. But when my friend died, I had to know for sure where I stood with Jesus. I began the journey to find Him. My friend’s death changed my life. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). We just have to trust God in our circumstances and remember He is our good Father who loves us and weeps with us in our sorrow.

We will all die one day. My hope is that you will know where you will go when you do. Let this young man’s life touch you too. We are to make the most of what God gives us – each and every day. God will make the most out of our days even when it’s such a short time. We just have to surrender each day as if it’s our last. This young man’s life has made a difference – even to the one who just passed by.

Jesus said to her (Martha), “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.” John 11:23-27

To Stay Under

Last night, I wanted a good movie to watch. I didn’t want fluff. I wanted substance. I found Corrie Ten Boom’s story called The Hiding Place. I read the book many years ago and I had forgotten the details. I remembered it was about her life in the concentration camp.

Before the time of hardship, their family led a quiet life until the Nazis showed up in their world. The Ten Booms decided to take a stand. They decided to help anyone who came to their door. They had a safe place for Jews to come until they could make their way out of the country. It was because of that stand that eventually led to the family’s arrest.

Corrie, her elderly father, her sister Betsy and her two brothers were arrested. Her father died soon after the arrest. Her two brothers died while in prison. Corrie and Betsy were taken to the same prison and eventual concentration camp. Betsy seemed to have had the greater faith. She encouraged Corrie not to hate but to thank Jesus in everything even the hardship.

Their conditions were harsh. Betsy was beaten because she could not keep up with the work. They stayed in an infested dorm room in overcrowded conditions. But Betsy kept telling Corrie, even in the deepest pit, Jesus is deeper still. Betsy thanked Jesus for the conditions of the room – the lice kept the guards out of their space. It gave them opportunities to read the Bible and talk about Jesus to others.

This morning, I got up with the message of hope in this trying time. This is nothing in comparison to what the rest of the world suffers every day. Yes, we’ve lost some of our comfort and our normal way of life. Maybe it will come back some day, but we may be in this storm for another month or two or ten. Who knows? But hardship is the perfect way of seeing what’s beneath the surface.

Both Pastor Louie Giglio and Pastor Andy Stanley used James 1:2-5 in their messages this morning. Okay, seems important to remember that trials are for our good. Trials help us to persevere. To persevere means to remain or to stay under. James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us trials are a way for God to finish His work in us. It matures us and makes us complete. That’s why we’re supposed to find joy in our trials. God is working in us to complete what He started.

Our trials or hardships are a way of finding out what’s underneath the surface of our faith. Is it rock solid or is it made of sand? Without storms in our lives, we would never know the authenticity of our faith. Faith is a muscle that has to be tested in order to become stronger.

Jesus told Peter Satan had asked to shift Peter. Peter said he would follow Jesus to his death. But was it true? Peter needed to see what was underneath his declaration “I will die for you.” The story didn’t go as planned for Peter. He denied knowing Jesus on three different occasions. Peter had to see his fault in order to become the man he was saved to become. There was a greater work that would be soon coming where he needed a deeper, abiding faith.

We may not like this time we’re in, but God has allowed it for our good and for His glory. We may want this pressure to end. But it’s best to stay under and let God complete His work. I don’t want to get through this time and not see progress on my faith journey. I want this to change me (in a good way). Pastor Louie reminded his listeners that God does not send us storms to destroy us but to refine us. This could polish and perfect us and transform us into the image of Jesus. That’s our purpose as believers in Jesus – to be conformed into His image.

God uses shifting from the enemy. He also uses shears to cut off any branch that isn’t fruitful. For the fruitful branch, He prunes in order to produce more fruit. Living the life we’re meant to live means we have to go through hardships in order to be useful to God and to glory Him. Hardships get us to the place we are meant to be and to be the people we were born to be. We cannot allow ourselves to get out from under the pressure before the work is done or the next storm we face, we may not be able to withstand it.

Corrie Ten Boom’s faith was tested. But in the end, after she was released from the concentration camp by clerical error, she went on to live a life glorifying God and proclaiming His goodness even in the deepest pit. She reminds us even in this hard time we face, He is deeper still. This is our time for shifting to see what is beneath our faith; our time of cutting off the thing that is not producing fruit and it’s time for pruning what remains to become more fruitful. Stay under as long as it takes until what God wants is polished to shine in perfection. Keep the faith – He is deeper still.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Re-imaging Worship

Several years ago, my Pastor had a vision for the future of the Church. He believed the Church would once again be as it was in the beginning – small gatherings in homes; studying scripture, singing praises and then eating together – sharing life together. Soon after the vision, he began a teaching program called Solutionary – to help the membership (well, those who signed up for the classes) learn how to lead a house church. Through the years since, the vision has morphed into missional communities – small groups meeting together regularly, driven by a single purpose to help the community in a specific way.

As I was contemplating this Easter without any of my family – either my biological or my church family – I realized this maybe the first of a new normal. This thought brings some real grief. I have ever been without my family for an Easter celebration. I also realized during this season of forced solitude, I don’t do worship well by myself. I join the online experience, but I can’t seem to get into a worship rhythm with the worship team. This new normal feels wrong somehow. Worship is supposed to be a joint effort, right?

The thought of a house church really appeals to me right now. How about you? But what if we’re months away from another in-person gathering? What if our new normal is small gatherings where we are forced to stay within twenty or less people? What if I have to worship alone for another few months? That’s a lot of what ifs and I can get a bit freaked out if I think about the possibilities too long.

My spirit has felt a bit dry lately even though I have been in God’s Word every day for the last fifteen years or so. I have been in Bible studies. I have going to the church building for our weekly gatherings up until these last couple of weeks. However, something seems to be missing. Maybe I am just going through the motions without really connecting with God. Maybe this forced solitude is to reconnect with my Lord and Savior. Maybe this is a great time to refresh and reconnect and to learn to worship properly without the others around me to influence my worship.

I was reminded a week or so ago from a message by Francis Chan about the worship experience being an act focused on God, not us. He said breaking bread and drinking from the Cup was central to the act of worship in the early Church. It is an act of remembrance of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was broken for us. His blood was poured out for us. Jesus told His disciples to remember Him in this way.

Communion should not be taken lightly. This is an act of reverence for what God did for us. He sent His Son to the cross for us. And Jesus’ death was a harsh by suffocation alone, but He was brutalized by flogging and beaten with sticks before He was nailed to the cross. I don’t think we get how offensive sin is to God. Jesus’ death should be our evidence of what God thinks of sin. If not for Jesus, we would have to suffer an eternal punishment for our sins.

According to God’s Law, sin is removed by a blood sacrifice of a perfect lamb. Jesus’ blood had to spill in order for our guilt of sin to be paid. Jesus said from the cross – it is finished – an accounting term meant “paid in full.” One and done. The Perfect Lamb was sacrificed and our sins were washed away. No more eternal punishment for those who believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins! Praise Jesus for what He has done for us!

However, we have to own up to what we’ve done. It’s our sin debt Jesus paid. We have to agree with Jesus – we did not meet His standard. We are guilty. Every time we take communion we come to the table acknowledging our sins before Jesus. But as we lay those sins down, we pick up the bread give thanks for what He has done for us and drink His offering of the Cup that was poured out for us. We come to the table humbled before Him. We go away from the table cleansed by His blood.

Worship should not be taken lightly either. Francis Chan explained in his message, we are actually joining the angels and the ones in heaven in their worship time. We come together to worship, but we are actually slipping in through the back door to join in the worship of God the Father and worshiping Jesus as Lord. The angels are already doing this worship experience non-stop in heaven.

Revelation 4 and 5 show us their worship experience. One day we will be in that crowd of worshippers. But today, while still here on earth, our voices join theirs. They are already on their knees singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty. We are the backup singers. And our worship should be God-focused. He is worthy. Our hearts should be turned in His direction. Our voices are lifted to the throne room of God.

We may have to do our worship experience a little differently this year, but it is still an act that pleases God. I may be alone in my living room, but I am joining together with the rest of the Body. It’s a spiritual act and one I should not take lightly.

We don’t know how long we’ll be forced to stay in this solitude time. But until God sees fit to release us from this time out, we will have to re-imagine worship – including communion and remembering all Jesus has done for us. It’s a time of humbling ourselves before our great and almighty God; recognizing we have fallen short of His standards, and confessing our sins before Him. Once we come to the place of repentance, I believe God will heal our land and our spiritual Body will be better for it.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28

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