Considering the Cost- The Spiritual Heart Check Luke 14

Discipleship has been on my heart a lot the past year. What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to make disciples as Jesus commanded us to in the “Great Commission” of the church? Exploration of this topic has brought me to a Bible study workbook called “Discipleship The Growing Christian’s Lifestyle” by James and Martha Reapsom. It’s a pretty straight forward type of study: Look up verses, think about them, answer questions. I enjoy taking time to think about and “chew” on portions of scripture. This study, however, has led me to some of the hardest verses in the Bible for me to wrap my mind around. Luke 14:25-35. They’re all about what it costs to follow Jesus. Modern Christianity, especially American Christianity, seems to focus on all the good stuff we get when we follow Jesus: He wants a relationship with us, He loves us unconditionally, He chases after us and woos us to yield to Him, He heals our hearts, He blesses our lives, etc. All these things are so very true of Jesus and His love for us, but He also says some very hard things in these verses. Things like, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yet even their own life- such a person cannot be my disciple.” or “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Those are both bars set very high by Jesus, Himself, and they aren’t exactly what I would call “Feel Good” quotes.

I think looking at these verses in the light of the Apostle Peter’s life has helped me understand them better. Peter was there when Jesus said these words, and It is recorded that Peter had a mother in law, so this meant he was a married man. Jesus wasn’t speaking of Peter hating his wife. He was setting a comparison of our commitment to Him over the other relationships we have. The Greek for the word “hate” in verse 25 means “to esteem less”. Jesus is first. His direction for our lives and His will comes before any other endeavor. Another thing that strikes me about Peter being a disciple is that when the rubber hit the road and Jesus was crucified, he bailed. Jesus had told the crowds the day He taught on the cost for being a disciple that they would need to “Consider the Cost” of following Him. Peter considered and when the threat was there the first time around, he denied Jesus and ran away. But Jesus doesn’t leave Peter there in his mess. He meets him on a beach days after the resurrection, with a fish breakfast for Peter, who had given up the whole disciple thing and decided to go back to what he knew before, fishing. Jesus didn’t meet him with an “I told you you’ve got to hate your family and give up everything quote.” Instead He asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus knew Peter’s heart was desiring to follow Him. It was just a case of the “spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak.” Then Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit empowered Peter in his human frailty to be the disciple that Jesus wanted him to be all along.

It seems to me that every time I come across the words of Luke 14 I do a little self examination. Do I love Jesus more? more than my own family, my things, my hobbies, my life… Do I have what it takes to “Consider the cost” and give up everything I have? For someone who struggles with feelings of insufficiency on the regular, these verses rattle something inside of me. I probably feel like Peter did on that beach when Jesus asked him three times, “Peter do you love Me?”. Peter replied, “Lord You know all things, You know that I love You.”

Peter was the fireball preacher on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He was a major leader in the early church, and he died a martyr’s death. He fulfilled the call that Jesus gave to him despite his internal struggles of his younger years. He literally “took up his cross” to follow Jesus as he was crucified himself, upside down as he requested because he was, “not worthy to be crucified in the same manor of his Lord” But all these things weren’t because Peter was some spectacular guy who could do anything Jesus wanted him to on his own. It was the power of the Holy Spirit inside of him that gave him the power to be Jesus’s “witness/ martyr”.

So back to me and my spiritual heart check. God knows me. He sees inside. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. I need the power of the Holy Spirit, just like Peter did so I can have the power to be a witness as well, and I too can follow Him wherever He leads because Jesus sees deep inside of my heart as well. I love Him and want to be whatever He wants me to be. The Spirit will help me in my weakness just as He helped Peter. So Be it! Amen

Anxiety vrs The God Who Fights for Me

Sometimes life is bigger than me. Actually, a lot of times life is bigger than me… My problem is admitting that little fact. Admitting weakness is not something that comes easy for me. I guess I come from a long line of the “never let them see you sweat” type. So not letting you see me sweat is my specialty. Not asking for help is one of my mantras, not necessarily a good one, but definitely one. So laying this out there is a little uncomfortable, but needs to be said. Mainly because I’ve been stewing on it for about a week. So someone probably needs to hear this…

You’re not alone. I know I need to hear that from time to time too.

A few days ago, I hopped in my car and opened my Amazon Music app. I figured I needed to find something new to listen to and one of the suggestions was Bethel’s new album, “Revival’s in the Air”. As I was listening, I was struck by the song “Egypt” with Cory Asbury. I’ve found myself listening to it over and over. As one who struggles with anxiety, I found the words comforting.

“You’re the God who fights for me
Lord of every victory
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
You have torn apart the sea
You have led me through the deep
Hallelujah
Hallelujah”

I’ve tried a lot of different things to try to bring peace while fighting the war inside of me through the years. Not that I don’t ever experience the peace, but the fears, the feelings, the thoughts, sometimes become more than I know how to fight. As an outspoken lover of Jesus, this seems to be a contradiction to some to admit that there are times that what I fight becomes bigger than my ability to see Him clearly in all my situations. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I fear. Sometimes I hide. Sometimes I struggle with guilt over things beyond my control. That’s why these lyrics resonated so clearly with me this week. I am clearly weak, but “in my weakness He is made strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 God is not surprised by my struggles, or yours for a matter of fact. He is the one who steps in where we are at and fights for us against the foes that are stronger than us, even if that foe is waging war between your ears- in your mind. The battle right now may feel greater than what you are able to endure, but He does not leave us alone in it. God assures us that “His grace is sufficient for us”.

Looking back over the years of my life I can see that God truly is the one “who fights for me, and He is the Lord of every victory.” He’s done it time and time again, and He will do it many more times. He’s not in the business of leaving us alone in disgust, because of struggles. He is the one who sees, hears, and moves on our behalf.

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 40. Especially verses 1-3, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him..” More than once, I’ve found God faithful to take me out of situations beyond me and set me in a place of security. He did not fail me then, and He will not fail me now. His faithfulness extends beyond what I’ve experienced. He has abounding Grace not only for me but for you where you are against your foe that is bigger than you. He will step into your Egypt!

Jesus Intercedes

I remember my first experience with labor pains. The best way to describe it is the feeling of such deep pain that you can’t think or talk. It didn’t take me long to figure out an epidural was the mode of pain control I wanted to experience. Feeling nothing. I can also remember a time of such fear I experienced. I couldn’t think or talk, just freeze. Lay still and wait for the threat to pass. Then there was the time of such emotional pain that I couldn’t think or talk, just cry. It was a chore to put one foot in front of the other to go on. I think experiences like this are part of the human condition. They occur in our lives when our world seems to be out our of control. It is in those gut wrenching times that I felt alone, abandoned and out of sorts.

This week has been a week. I’ve had to at times stand off to the side and hear the cries of pain as someone I love has endured physical and medical trials. It’s not been easy. One morning I sat down in my recliner with a cup of coffee to clear my head and spend some time with God. My devotion was about Jesus interceding for us. (Hebrews 7:35) my first thought was, “what exactly is interceding?” I’ve pondered that thought a lot the past few days.

Prayer in my life is a lot like conversation. Those prayers are awesome. They are the part of a relationship that I’ve experienced with God. However, I’ve had my times that I’ve kicked it up a notch and continually prayed for someone asking for God’s intervention. I’ve done it with feeling and with urgency. Not my typical dialog I have with God. It’s the “God they need you to step in! God this cannot go on! God we need your help” kind of prayers. I believe that is what intercession is. It’s when the person I pray for can’t pray for themselves, so I will- kind of prayer. “Going between” – “intercession”.

Then it hit me. Jesus intercedes for me. The time the physical pain was too much, the fear was too overwhelming, and the emotional turmoil was too great for me to even be able to think to utter a word. He was there. He was going between me in my situation and the very throne room of God where all I needed in that moment was being released on my behalf. He intercedes. What a comfort this past few days! Life sometimes takes us down paths we never wanted to step upon, but when I find myself there not sure what to do, Jesus intercedes for me.

As I sit here writing my thoughts, I am with someone I love watching her sleep on the oncology ward of a major hospital for my area. Away across the hall a man is moaning in great pain. I don’t know who he is or anything about him. But I pray, and then I said, “Jesus you know him. He’s unable to do this on his own. May your intercession be for him as well.” Because Jesus loves us all and when we can’t He can. It’s who He is and what He does. He intercedes.

Thomas and Me

Opposites attract would probably describe the relationship I have with my husband. He’s direct, I am not. He says what he’s thinking, I do not. He cannot get enough of being a social butterfly, I like it some, but also enjoy being alone. The list could go on and on. The other night we were “discussing” our differences after a stressful day. He aptly pointed out that he was an optimist, I am not. I am much more of a realist. I like to look at a situation and prepare to deal with it. He would prefer to look for the hope in a situation and expect a favorable outcome. In our conversation we came to the conclusion that of the twelve disciples Jesus picked he would be more like Peter, quick to believe, ready to jump out of the boat to walk on water, ready to take action, quick to shoot off his mouth, etc… I on the other hand am more like Thomas, doubting… Or is that really his hallmark after all?

Since that conversation, I’ve been contemplating Thomas. Probably the only thing I really knew about him was his nickname, “Doubting Thomas”. I can remember hearing about him in Sunday school as a kid and shuddering at the thought of being the one to “Doubt Jesus”. As a kid with a lot of fears, the very thought of how mad it would make God for me to doubt terrified me. I never wanted to “tick God off”. So being like Thomas, was definitely not a goal of mine. Until today…

There are three places in the Bible where Thomas is actually recorded as saying something. The first was John 11:1-16. Jesus disciples had just learned of Jesus’ friend Lazarus being near death. He and His disciples also were aware of people in Judea that were plotting to kill Jesus. The disciples tried to convince Jesus that going there wasn’t the best plan, but Jesus insisted. Thomas told the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Optimism of a good outcome wasn’t Thomas’ forte, but Loyalty was. He was realistically aware of the chances of death to accompany Jesus, and he was willing to do it. An attribute that followed through in his later years, Church tradition counts Thomas as a martyr after his extensive missionary work in India. Loyalty… not too bad.

The next place we see Thomas is in a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples in John 14. Jesus is trying to give His disciples an understanding that He would leave them soon, and that He would prepare a place for them to come and be with Him forever. He concludes by saying, “you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas being the thoughtful questioner, said “Lord we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas didn’t just sit there and nod his head “yes” like he got everything Jesus was talking about. He questioned. Jesus didn’t scold him or kick him out of the disciple group either, He replied with one of the more famous quotes that Jesus said about Himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I’m sure Thomas took that tidbit with him to bed that night and pondered over and over, “what exactly does he mean?” I’m sure I would have… Desires greatly to understand.

Finally the event that got Thomas the infamous nickname as a “doubter”, Jesus resurrection. I’m not too sure why Thomas wasn’t in the room when Jesus appeared to the disciples. I’d say watching the man you admired, followed, and believed in beaten beyond recognition, nailed to a wooden cross, and die would have probably played a part. The realist in Thomas probably saw his hopes, that he didn’t place lightly on anyone, dashed to pieces. I can’t fault him for wanting to see for himself what the rest of the disciples were excited to proclaim. I’d like evidence too. The thing about this scripture isn’t so much Thomas’ shortcomings, it was about Jesus’ grace. Jesus knew that Thomas had said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) That was an ultimatum that many people would say “lacked faith”. Yet Jesus when He encountered Him didn’t rebuke him for his statement. Jesus didn’t reject him for his doubt. He instead addressed Thomas specifically, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27) I take comfort that Jesus didn’t reject “the doubter”. When Thomas saw what he needed to see he stated what was in his heart, “My Lord and my God.” When the realist believes, the realist BELIEVES…

Jesus told us that “In this world we would have troubles, but take courage I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Wind of adversity certainly blow. Considering that all the disciples, with exception of John, died a martyr’s death and suffered persecution, points to this reality. Thomas got ahold of something the day that Jesus had him feel the very things that had killed Him days before. The believing, understanding, loyal realist got ahold of the anchor for when times would get tough on the mission field later in India and ultimately staying true in a martyr’s death. I too have got ahold of Him as well. My questions, my doubts , my realism doesn’t surprise Jesus. Every once in awhile He graciously invites me to feel Him and see Him as He is. It is then that I gain courage as I understand. His love for me doesn’t depend on how much I have it together. His love for me is there period He wants me to feel it in the nail scars that He bore for me. He wants me to touch it in the depths of the hole in His pierced side. He wants me to believe that He is bigger than what seemed to separate us when in darkness I couldn’t see. Because that is who Jesus is, realistically.

Pour Out Your Heart to Him- He Already Knows What’s Inside

I’ve often thought that the Psalms of David in the Bible are perfect examples of how God does not expect us to live in denial for the sake of “Faith”. David had this way of taking the good, the bad, and the ugly to God. At times, his writings were gut wrenchingly honest. He told God about his fears, his doubts, his trials, his anger, etc…and still God commended David not for how perfect his faith was, but how in all things David pursued Him and was “a man after God’s own heart.”

This morning I have been contemplating Psalm 62:8.

I am a “stuffer”. I’ve been one for a long time. Adversity hits and I try my best to push down the feelings that arise from dealing with it. I’m not British, but the whole “stiff upper lip” thing would be my mantra if I could only achieve it, but quite honestly, that isn’t working so well for me. Apparently “stuffing” oozes out after awhile, whether it be in depression or anxiety, or both. After awhile it begins to take it’s toll. It’s the little things, like lack of sleep, loss of interest in activities, etc. that start to add up to the big things and boom, you’re overwhelmed. That is where David’s words written thousands of years ago offers wisdom for a “stuffer” like me. “Pour out your heart to Him”.

I’m not sure what makes the proposition of telling God exactly what you’re feeling so scary. He already knows it. He’s God. Letting it out and leaving it in the open gives Him the opportunity to work with it. Stuffed away it is held on tightly by ourselves and He’s not going to barge in and rip it from our hands to work with it.

Mark 9:14-29 is an account of a man who brings his tormented son to Jesus. He had brought the boy to Jesus’ disciples prior, and they were unable to deliver him from the demons that haunted him. The man says something that does not fit comfortably in the circles of some schools of thought regarding faith. He says, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” to Jesus. Jesus responds with, “If you can?… Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man then says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” I don’t know how many times I have sat in this man’s shoes. I’ve tried everything I know to fix a situation on my own. I find myself at Jesus’ feet, wanting to say “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us”. All the while, I know Jesus can do anything. I believe, but I need help to overcome my unbelief. The comfort I find is that in this man’s honesty he did not find Jesus turning him away saying, “You didn’t believe right. I cannot do anything for you.” Instead, Jesus cast the spirit out of the boy and brought wholeness and healing to a seemingly helpless situation. The man “poured out his heart” to Jesus. He did not hide what was inside, and Jesus responded.

The words of Paul in Philippians 4:6-7 have been rolling around in my heart as well this week.

The Passion Translation really struck a chord in me, “Tell Him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.” “Tell Him every detail…” that includes the areas of struggle, fear, anxiety, anger, bitterness, etc. Letting God in on everything, letting the “stuffing” out is the key to peace and answers for the struggles and questions we face.

Tough times are upon us: Nationally, Spiritually, and the daily stuff as well. To be honest, tough times are upon me. Denying the struggle does not make it go away, but taking every aspect, “every detail” to God and telling Him is the key. Letting the feelings out so I can let Him in: His answers, His peace. It is only at that point that I can experience God the way David did, as a “refuge” from the storm and the winds of adversity that blow and rest in His peace.

Keep the Main Thing The Main Thing: Response for Uncertain Times

Several years ago my husband and I attended a smaller church that sat on top of a large hill in the middle of a small city. The Church was two story and rectangular(kind of looked like an ark in my mind) and situated right in the middle of a questionable neighborhood. It was the kind of neighborhood that I would get uncomfortable the nights we would be there if I didn’t know the door was locked. One Sunday we drove up the hill and noticed the SWAT team for the city surrounding the house next door to our church. We opted to drive around for awhile until the arrest was made. There were many Sundays that I would sit during service near a window and watch the neighborhood people walking up and down the hill on the way to the stores on the main strip. I would often think about how comfortable I was sitting in my padded chair, dressed nicely, surrounded by my family and friends. Then look out the window to see someone who looked desperate and alone walking down the hill. The image of Noah and his family sitting in the ark would play through my head. “Is this what they might have felt listening to the world fall apart while they were safe in the ark?” Lately, I’ve felt that feeling again. As I’ve watched the evening news drone on and on about riots, unrest, virus totals, statues being demolished, etc. Then I look around me in my nice country house, acreage, and miles from the closest conflicts. “Am I sitting on the ark again?” Even Noah in his time was a preacher of righteousness up until he got on the ark and it started to rain, why would I just sit here… The discussion with friends I’ve met up with lately has centered around “What on earth is going on in our country?” There’s anger and sadness over the changes that we’ve seen, and the biggest question of all is “What are we going to do?” I’ve thought of that a lot too. “What is my response?”

I’ve been contemplating Philippians quite a bit the past couple of months, and this week is no exception. The verse I’ve been chewing on is Philippians 3:20 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” NIV Actually the Passion Translation version has been resounding in my heart, “But we are a colony of heaven on earth as we cling tightly to our life-giver, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “colony” stood out. I figured it was quite a jump from “citizenship” to “colony” so I checked it out in the Greek. (It’s that deep thinker side of me coming out.) And sure enough the word “politeuma” was used which could be a state or a commonwealth, “colony” would work. Why all the fuss? Simple, it is easy to get caught up in thinking there’s nothing we can do. Our citizenship is in heaven. The earth will go to pot, and we will get out of here. We will sit on our ark and watch the world drown. But when I look at my life as a colonist of heaven. My viewpoint of today’s events changes. Colonists of Rome during Paul’s time “were expected to promote the interests of Rome and maintain the dignity of the city.” As a colonist of heaven I am to “Promote Heaven’s interest on earth and lead a life worthy of heavenly citizenship.” (notes from Life Application Study Bible on Philippians 3:20). My home, my brothers and sisters in Jesus are all Colonist of Heaven. We are here to plant heavenly citizenships all around us (make disciples) and influence the world we live in. Not hide our allegiance and wait for the great escape. We must not get our eyes off of the main thing. What is the main thing you may ask? Jesus gave us the main thing, the mission, after His death and resurrection right before He ascended into Heaven. The Main Thing is this: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” Matthew 28:18-20 NIV.

The American Christian, really the American anything, waits for a program. We want our kids to play in organized sports as opposed to organic sports that occurs in our neighborhoods. We want our relationships to start in organized groups and clubs as opposed to organic relationships that occur when we talk across the fence to our neighbors, smile at the cashier at Walmart, leave a significant tip for our waitress, etc. We don’t have to have a program to do what we are commanded to do! Look at who is around you and get started. “Make disciples!” Look at the tools you have around you, your home, your food, your social media, etc. and do what looks obvious to do. As colonist of heaven and ambassadors for Christ, all we have to do is represent. Represent by listening, praying, giving, and teaching others about how they too can become part of the Everlasting Kingdom that will not fail.

The other thing the American Christian is prone to get hung up on is numbers. “Great I’ll make disciples, how do I make the most?” Start with the one. The one who is in front of you. The one you run into on the regular. The one who listens when you share and when you point the best you know how to the King of your Kingdom, Jesus- who started the Colony of heaven in your heart. Simplify it even more, the one can be the ones who live in your own home, your kids/ grandkids (they are great disciples).

It is easy for me to get caught up in the drama on Social Media and the nightly news. But our current situation has not changed the mission that as a Heavenly Colonist I have embraced. I am not called to get caught up in the name calling, blame games. I am to proclaim the answer, Jesus is King over all and His Kingdom is the only one that will stand in the end.

“There Was Jesus”

July 2nd 1984, 36 years ago at a small church camp, Camp Sharon, was where I had my awakening. It was where I suddenly became aware of God’s desire, not just for me to give my life to Him, but my awakening to His desire for me to be close to Him. It all started when He began calling to me to let Him have everything, my plans, my life, my hurts, etc.

For an 8th grade girl, I’m sure I had become quite a surprise to those around me. I wanted to do this relationship right, and I wasn’t sure how to get there. I went to the local Christian Bookstore and bought a book that talked about how to have a relationship with God. It covered praying and reading the Bible. It said I should read 10 chapters of the Bible a day. So that is what I did. I wanted to experience God. Not just know about Him. I would spend hours in my room reading the Bible and praying. It was such a surprising response that my mom, a faithful Christian, was worried about just how much I was reading and pursuing. She was afraid that I would burn out on it. I was just HUNGRY. Hungry to know more of that feeling of peace and love I felt kneeling and uncontrollably sobbing in the sawdust near the altars of an outdoor church camp tabernacle. I remember telling God, “If you really want me you can have me.” It’s funny how much I didn’t understand. “really want me”?!?! He wanted me so much He walked the lonely road of Calvary and died on a cross to make a relationship with me possible. He tugged at my heart so heavily that night at camp that no matter how hard I tried to walk away, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I’m so glad I didn’t! I left that time of prayer new and free and filled with joy!

Through the years I’ve had my “hot on fire, so close to you” relationship with God, and others I’ve had my “It’s getting cold, where are you at God?” relationship. I’ve had my times of feeling like I had it all together and understood it. I’ve had times when I understood that I will never have it together and I won’t ever understand life. 36 years that Jesus was right there. His Holy Spirit living inside of me gently speaking to me which way I should go even when on my own I couldn’t figure out the way.

Lately I’ve been listening to Zac William’s album “Rescue Story”. I kind of have a tendency to get stuck on a song that speaks to me. Surprisingly to me, the song that sticks out to me the most off that album is a duet with Dolly Parton. “There Was Jesus”.

It hits where I find myself as of late. I’ve been looking at where I am in my life, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. The thing about the lyrics of that song that sticks out to me is that no matter where we’ve been, no matter where we are, no matter where we go, “There Was Jesus”. So the days of blessing that I laugh and smile through, He’s there enjoying the times of joy with me. The days that I struggle to understand and see, He’s there holding me up showing me the next step to take. He’s there with me when I feel nothing. He’s there with me when I feel it all.

I’ve been pretty open on this blog about my struggles and questions. It’s kind of the outlet I’ve chosen to let what I’m think about on the inside come out. You all get a little picture of what I’ve been contemplating as you take the time to read my thoughts. Most of the time I am able to lay out “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, but somehow take the turn back to the only answer I’ve found that resonates inside of me, Jesus. Struggles that we all face, whether they be depression, anxiety, addictions, PTSD, abuse, disappointment, etc. only find meaning and healing when looked at in the light of the presence of the only one who has been there for it all, Jesus, the love of our souls. The only One who is able to speak peace into storms of life, bring the dead things that we’ve given up on back to life, take a broken, wrecked life and make it a masterpiece is Jesus.

I can analyze my hurts, categorize my issues- give them names, and get understanding. These aren’t altogether bad things to do, but I shouldn’t stop there. I need to take the tools I learn to deal with the things I struggle with, and go to Jesus asking Him to heal what only He can heal. Do my part and let Him do the rest.

He has proven Himself faithful. I can trust Him where I’m going, even when I cannot see.

“There was Jesus”.

Jesus is there. Jesus was there, Jesus will be there.

Reset 2- New Beginnings

This Sunday morning, just like every Sunday morning, my husband and I got up and ventured off to our local Church congregation for the weekly service. It’s something I appreciate all the more since the Covid 19 outbreak. I sorely missed being “in the house” for a time of worship with the worship band and time in the word. The message today has been percolating in my heart. Probably since it reinforced my ponderings on “The Reset” I’ve been pursuing as of late. The ending of the service was a time of reflection on the times God has stepped in. You know when life appeared to be going one directions with a certain expectation of a bad outcome, and then God changed things. It may have been a time of financial uncertainty, emotional unrest, relationship turmoil, etc. Most certainly it has been a time of great darkness, sadness, pain, etc. The kind of time when there really was no way out. That’s the time the “reset button” of “New Beginnings” is pushed. God has a promise that has brought much comfort to me through the years. His promise is that He “makes all things new”. Revelation 21:5. That is a promise that I have had to dig my fingernails into and hold on with all my might at times. Because as one who has struggled with the monsters of the past lurking in the closet of my mind, that promise assures me the closet they have occupied has it’s light turned on, monsters evicted, and the New Beginning begun.

A few years ago I went in for my first session with a Christian Counselor to aid in my fight against anxiety and depression. The first thing she was quick to point out was how the battle in the mind has it’s rubber hit the road in the thoughts we think. It’s hard, but totally possible to change our focus from all the fear, pain, sadness, etc. to the things that are “True…Noble… Right… Pure… Lovely…Admirable…Excellent… or Praiseworthy.” and for us to “Think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 Then with a reassuring smile, she handed me a sheet of confessions of who I am in Christ, and assigned me with the task of speaking these truths out loud every morning. It has been a daily reminder of the “Reset Button of New Beginnings” I pushed so many years ago as a teenager at a Christian youth camp. When I asked God to take what little I had to offer, my life, and do whatever He wanted with it. The New Beginnings began. Looking back I can see that the hard times were the times that pushed me closer to Him, and the reminder of all that I wasn’t, brought the truth of all that He is and wants to be for me.

The “Reset Button of New Beginnings” starts with the first push “Salvation”. It’s the time when we see just how much what we are doing isn’t working, and just how much What He can do in us we need. It starts with an honest talk with God, an offer to give Him all of you, and watching Him do what only He can do, “Reset” your life.

Psalm 40 has been one of my favorite Psalms in the Bible. Verses 1-5 stand out the most to me. “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” The New Beginning I have found has been when God saw where I was, heard my cries, and pulled me out. But He didn’t stop there. He set me in a good secure place and gave me a new song to sing about Him and His Goodness! I Am Not There Anymore!! That is the Philippians 4:8 stuff I am to think about. The Truth is I am His! The Noble thing Is I am the Kings Daughter! The Right thing is I have been made right with Him- righteous! The Pure thing is Me after He cleansed me from my wrong doings and sin and made Pure. The Lovely thing is Me, His master piece! The Admirable thing is the Miracle of New Beginnings He gives! The Excellent thing is His work in me! And the Praiseworthy thing is that He has done all this because He loves me, period.

That is the “Reset Button” He has given to me. That is the “Reset Button” He has given to you! Hit activate! He longs to bless you with “New Beginnings”!

Defining Moments- Pentecost Sunday

I awoke this morning earlier than I wanted to, it’s Sunday I should be able to sleep in a little. First thing to cross my mind was checking the status of the violent protests that have erupted in cities across America, specifically a city near me. One of my close friends has a son who is a Highway Patrolman assigned to a particular hot spot in that city. I have been in prayer for him.

My heart is broken for the sin sickness that began this mess. The cruelty and utter horror of watching a video of a policeman kill George Floyd during an arrest. There is no excuse for such a cold hearted atrocity. But on the same token, protest meant to cry for justice have spun out of control and erupted across our nation. Looting, violence, innocent businesses destroyed, people being killed, etc. my heart aches as I watch this unfold.

All of this occurring as the Church celebrates a traditional holiday- Pentecost Sunday.

I have always held an optimistic view of Church history. I believe the Church is not a wimpy, irrelevant organization of do gooders. The Church is the messenger, the courier of the Cure for the madness we see escalating by the hour. In the midst of this great darkness our world is spiraling in, we are the light! Church history is the world’s History and in this case the Church is what will define this moment of American History. We cannot take our role lightly, nor can we believe we are powerless and defeated by foes too great for us. Now is our time to shine!

Yesterday morning my 19 year old daughter had a friend over. They were at our table in my kitchen when I walked in to get my morning coffee going. After some light conversation, the events of the news began to be discussed. My daughter asked me my thoughts on all the craziness in the world she is just now starting to step out into adulthood within. It was then I quoted the words of Jesus from John 4:35, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” I then told them, “What we are watching is sad and horrible, but this is also a sign of a good thing. The anger, violence, hatred, etc. are a reflection of the heart of our nation. These people need an answer that political powers cannot provide. They need what we have, Jesus, and they are ‘ripe for harvest’. The question is how do we as the Church get the Cure to them?”

On this Sunday 2000 plus years ago a group of men and women waited in an upper room in Jerusalem. They were familiar with unrest, police brutality, cruelty, racism, pain, etc. They lived it. Roman’s occupied Jewish territory. The Romans were unfair/ unjust. This particular group in the upper room had watched as these oppressors’ subjected their leader, an innocent man who did nothing but good, to death on the cruelest of torments, the Roman Cross. They also experienced the joy of knowing that the current events around them could not stop Jesus. He was not confined by torture and death. He conquered them! He told them that the things they had seen Him do were going to be surpassed by the things they would do once the Holy Spirit came upon them. So it was in this environment, they waited.

God’s hope does not disappoint! HE came that Sunday! HE filled everyone in the room with His promised power to be a witness, and it was there that the world began to change. Men and women, boys and girls, were no longer confined by their mortality. God’s very Spirit had filled them to overflowing to take the Cure- Jesus to the world. And that is exactly what they did. A once cowardly denier of Jesus became a man of boldness and preached a sermon that preceded 3,000 conversions, and what was a tiny group of twelve disciples has exploded to millions and millions through the centuries.

Have we seen dark times in history before? Yes! The church has endured much. But it is time. This is our defining moment. We are to take the power of Pentecost to the world! We are to do “the greater things” John 14:12-14.

John Wimber once said, “When do we get to do the stuff? You know, the stuff here in the Bible, the stuff Jesus did, like healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the blind- stuff like that?”

Now is the time to do the stuff! Our job is to boldly proclaim Jesus, pray for those He puts in our path, and Shine our lights. As we do these things, “the stuff” will come! Because once again the Church is celebrating a Pentecost Sunday during a time of great darkness, heartache, and oppression. And just like that day so many years ago as we seek God’s Pentecostal Power and step out in it, our world, our nation will receive the much needed cure, Jesus!

Pain into Pulpit

 

Four years ago my Mother in Love became sick.  We discovered after a hospital stay with complete renal failure that she had Multiple Cell Myeloma.  Months later she went to the city to have a stem cell transplant at one of the nation’s leading hospitals. Her time there was as she has described it her time of “being the closest I’ve ever been to death.”  In the four years since it’s not been an easy road for her.  Monthly and sometimes weekly or more appointments at the Cancer Center, changes in treatments, side effects in medicine, sleepless nights, and sometimes just feeling plain old crappy.

Yesterday, she calls me after returning home from another appointment with some good blood report readings and some not so good.  She relays all that, but then begins to share about a woman that sat by her in the waiting room, probably in her 30’s, recently diagnosed, and scared.  You’d have to know my Mother in Love.  She’s never ever really met a stranger. So she strikes up a conversation with the girl, and then begins to take the pain that she has walked in for these past four years and turns it into a pulpit.  She shared about how God saw her through treatments, transplants, radiation, sickness, it all.  She talks about how faithful and close He is, how much He loves, and how much He loves that girl and that she doesn’t have to be afraid.  Then my spunky 73 year old Mother in Love goes through the rest of her appointment and drives home, a challenge for her but as I tell her jokingly, frequently, “She’s a tough old bird.”

I was out running errands for her today, and thinking about all this and some of the personal challenges I have faced and am currently facing in my life.  Then this verse from Philippians 1 crossed my mind. “…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” Philippians 1:20 The Message.  It occurred to me that a stranger sitting next to my Mother in Love in a Cancer Center is probably feeling things pretty close to what a Centurion Soldier in Paul’s time must have felt chained up next to Paul. You either love it or hate it, but you for sure are going to hear about Jesus and everything He’s done. Paul reports to the Philippians that during his time in prison he has told everyone around him that he could about Jesus.  Many in his captive audience wanted to know more about this Jesus that turned Paul’s life upside down and changed a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of Christ.  Although beatings, chains, dirty prisons, poor food, and fellowship with rough cut prison guards were Paul’s daily life, he had taken all this and turned his pain into a pulpit at which he proclaimed the Goodness and the Love of God.

For four years my husband and I had been involved in a ministry called Encounter Ministry.  Every month they have had a weekend get away at a small rural church campground.  People from many different denominations of the Church come.  There are several sessions about different topics that typically start with a testimony of what God has done in the life of someone who has struggled.  I’ve heard women at the Ashes to Beauty Encounters speak about losing husbands, children, drug addiction, porn addiction within their home, marital unfaithfulness, PTSD, suicidal intentions, abortions,depression, anxiety, abuse- verbal, physical, mental, and sexual, etc. They talk about how they had suffered such great loss and pain yet they have found peace, joy, love, forgiveness, etc. in Jesus and how much He has changed their lives.  Once again they have taken their pain and turned it into a pulpit to declare a God who understands our weaknesses and wants to reach in and raise us above them.

I’m certain that life in Jesus  is a series of victories over struggles. I know I won’t totally arrive until I arrive i.e. see Jesus face to face.  I have been very aware, as of late, of some of the hard things I have had to walk through in my life.  I know several people who become aware of that and then freeze only to be stuck in the Pain.  I was praying about this as I drove from point A to point B on my outing today.  Suddenly it occurred to me, “What if the hell we experience here on earth, the teeth gritting hard stuff, are the very things that enable us to help some one experience the eternity of heaven?”  My mother in love has not enjoyed the pain of sickness, but what if all that was to reach that young woman at the cancer center with heaven’s hope in eternity for her? Paul didn’t enjoy the things he suffered, but what if the hellish torment he endured was the very thing that spread the gospel to a descendent of the Europeans that went down the line to finally give hope to a small town American girl, me, in the 80’s? There are countless accounts of martyrs, missionaries, and ministers that have endured much to be able to proclaim loudly from the pulpit built upon their pain.  My resolve must be that “what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn for Good.”  Hoist myself on top of it and proclaim from the very tip of the pain the God who Heals.

I’ve been kind of stuck on a song by Elevation Worship as of late.  It’s called “Graves Into Gardens”.  The chorus says, “You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can… You turn mourning to dancing.  You give beauty for ashes.  You turn shame into glory.  You’re the only one who can.”  This same God who does all these things as we let Him into our lives, is the same God who turns the pain we have walked through into a pulpit. That we can proclaim all that Jesus has done for us.  He’s the only one who can!