Now by faith

Over the years on my Faith journey I have often read Hebrews 11, commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith.”  This chapter is full of incredible examples throughout the Old Testament of men and women who followed God in the midst of trials and endured to see God’s faithfulness to them.

I love this chapter. I struggle with this chapter.

I love it for the stories it shares and the proof that nothing is impossible with God.  I struggle with it because I wonder if I would have had the same kind of faith.  I wonder if I would have trusted God enough.

Then I remember how the chapter starts,”Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3). In other words, faith is what we cannot touch or see it is something that must be trusted and believed. 

When the “ancients” were in the middle of their situations, I wonder if they struggled with doubt.  As human beings, I am inclined to believe they did, as I would.  However, they didnt’ stay in their doubt.  They stepped forward in Faith.

Faith that encouraged them, grew them, challenged them that with God they could accomplish the task set before them.  It is their faith that encourages us today to keep putting our feet on the faith journey we walk.  It is no coincidence that the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 12 they way he did.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2).

We are called to continue the race set before us because we have these men and women of Faith cheering us on in Heaven, the ultimate cheerleaders. That image is so encouraging to me.  Those who have gone before, the “ancients” and those even in the last century are cheering us on–you and me– to keep going forward with God.  They know the blessing of walking in Faith and they want us to know the blessing too.

So, by Faith, I will get out of bed, put my feet on the floor and keep going forward.  My steps may be shaky at first, but my Faith muscles will grow stronger with use.  I long to be faithful to God who is faithful to me.

There is nothing more incredible than knowing I am able to join this crowd of witnesses and complete the promise of Hebrews 11:39-40, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

 

 

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The Root

The news stations and news feeds of our media have been flooded with commentaries, perspectives, and emotionally charged images from Ferguson, Missouri. Once again, race has taken the forefront. If true to form, the topic will grow tired and worn out from the different spins taken and eventually it will fade from the news stations.

Until the next time.

Ferguson, Missouri isn’t the first time, either. The Watts Riots or Watts Rebellion in August of 1965 was sparked by an arrest of a young black man who was driving while intoxicated. The situation grew quickly out of control when an exchanged between the officers and the mother of the driver escalated. In the end, a 46 square-mile area would be torn by violence, fire, and other damage. Thirty-four people would die during the six-day long riots.

In 1992 after the acquittal of the police officers accused of brutally beating a black man named Rodney King, another six-day long riot exploded in Los Angeles. This time fifty-three people would die. The arrests and injuries from this riot were over 13,000 in number.

But racially charged events aren’t from just this country. It goes back to Europe where Bosnians and Serbians battled to keep one from committing genocide on the other. Or to Africa where countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and others have seen brutal killings of those who were different from the killers.

Just Google “Genocides in History” and you’ll find brutality all the way back to Genghis Khan. The point is, hatred isn’t new. It may change location, reason, or skin color, but the root of the issue is the heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9. Unless we, as human beings, start looking inside before we blame the outside, things will never change.

In the 1984 Paramount Pictures movie Footloose, Reverend Shaw has a watershed moment at the town library when he addresses his congregants who are burning books they feel are inappropriate. The Reverend tells them, “The problem isn’t in these books, it’s in here” (pointing to his heart). It’s true.

Until we address the root of our issues, our heart and its brokenness, no amount of conjecture or policy changes will bring change. It’s the reality of law versus free will. We must choose to forgive, ask forgiveness, seek understanding, and have compassion toward one another. I’m not preaching tolerance as much as I am praying for healing. Tolerance has become the battle cry of too many, who twist it’s meaning.

We must choose to listen first, understand the hurt and be a part of the healing. It’s the only way for restoration.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says it best, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander and along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

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stomach stretching

My grandparents’ church hosted a Turkey Dinner every fall for over 70 years.  My great-grandmother, grandmother, grandfather, and other family members would help serve the meal to the families who bought the tickets to the dinner.  When our extended family arrived, we would pass off the tasks we had to sit with our family and eat.  And eat we did.  Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and cranberries.  For drinks we had either tea, coffee, milk, or water.  Dessert– wow, pumpkin, apple, or cherry pie with whipped cream.  My brother and I called it “the annual stomach-stretching exercise.”

We looked forward to it every year, we were sad when we missed it due to college or distance, and we were grateful for every time we could gather together as a family one more time.  It was almost better than Thanksgiving itself.

Paul writes to the church in Colossae saying, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  (Colossians 2:2-3). Paul longs for them to be filled, full, even stretched, with the wisdom and knowledge of God.

Later in Colossians 2 Paul says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.(verses 6-7). Our lives should be “overflowing with thankfulness” stretched beyond capacity, pouring out our gratitude for all that Christ has done within us.

Just as our stomachs are pushing at the buttons on our clothes when we finish eating, so too should we be fully filled with Christ. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” (verse 9-10).

In a social culture where skinny is acceptable, we have come to believe that our Spiritual selves should be skinny, too.  How sad; there is a feeling of contentment in the fullness of sitting at a table with friends and family, dishes scrapped clean with forks and bread, sopping up the last morsel of goodness.

Are we doing that with the soul-rich food our Savior offers?  Why not?

Let us take the time to be filled “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13).

May we have stomachs stretched and spirits filled and blessings overflowing.

This season and always.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grateful Responsibility

This year is the first year we will not be spending Thanksgiving gathered around a table with multiple family members to give thanks. I will miss tossing rolls to my brother across the table or listening to the silly giggles of my young nephews when they goof around with my boys.

I think about the Thanksgiving meals I’ve shared with family in years past. The times we gathered at my grandparents with cousins, uncles, aunts, to eat turkey and pumpkin pie. We would watch football games and play board games. The women would wash the dishes and spend quality time together in the kitchen. Afterwards, we’d take a walk as a family to “let the food settle.”

I think of times we gathered at my in-laws, spending time getting to know their traditions and stories. I learned numerous card games and board games that we have adapted into our own game rotation.

I also think of the men and women I pass on the corners downtown. Those who have no family, no one who knows their stories, who can laugh at inside jokes, no one with whom to break bread. No one to tell them they are precious and prized and valued and loved and treasured above all things. When was the last time they were hugged? Listened to? Encouraged or blessed by the relationship with another person?

My gratitude list is simple:
I am grateful for my life.
Those who I love,
Those who love me
Those who know me.

My responsibility list is simple too:
to love others as the hands and feet of Jesus.

May this year my hands and feet bring a spirit of gratitude to those around me. Not because I am good at it, but because He is Good through me.

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Teaching

Today’s world is full of stories that stem from one person’s hatred for another. It could be their nationality, religious choices, sexual preferences, even the way a person voted that can trigger another person to hate. Why??

We may know in our heads that we are to be rational, thoughtful, respectful human beings, but one small thing can set us off on a rant that burns through our social network news feed. Why??

We pass someone on the street, in the mall, on the sidewalk in our town, and this person looks different than we do. We pass judgment on them and feel a little more self-righteous. We are after all, better than that person aren’t we? Why?? Why do we think we can behave that way? We may not act on it, but we thought it.

Hate comes wrapped up in many disguises, but it is still hate. Jesus spoke clearly about hate during a teaching moment in Matthew 5:21-24;
“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (HCSB)

In other words, it’s not the act of murder that is the only thing against the law, it is the feeling in the heart that was acted upon. Jesus redefined the Law of Moses by saying it’s more than actions, it’s the emotions that started it.

I grew up without a concept of color. My friends were my friends, no clarification of skin color or race, just friends. This sort of view helped me parent our sons to do the same. Skin color has no bearing on whether a person is a friend or not. But it doesn’t stop there– we accept and love people because they are people, made in the image of a God, created for His purposes and plan. I am well aware though, that not everyone had the same upbringing.

As a child my mom and I would watch many classic movies, but one of our top five favorites was South Pacific. A wonderful musical, powerful in its story telling, set in the South Pacific during World War II. A young officer falls for an island girl and laments what life would be like if he brought her home to meet his family. The words to his lament are haunting, challenging and all too true.

You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”, 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein, South Pacific.

Why?? Why do we choose to teach hate and not compassion? Why do we choose to teach fear instead of faith and courage?

I think of all the of the young men and women, as well as old, who have stood up in the face of hate to say, “There is a different way.” Paul described love in 1 Corinthians 12:31 as “the most excellent way” (NIV).

It is the most excellent way, it is a way I want to teach my sons, nieces, nephews, and eventually grandchildren, if God so blesses me.

I am a teacher, I need to know my subject. It is an excellent subject. What are you teaching? If you don’t like the “curriculum” find a different one, the excellent one.

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containers

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

It isn’t us.  We are not the source of the power within us.  Jesus is the source, He is the source of Life, Hope, Grace, Joy, Truth, everything about our Faith journey. We aren’t the source and whenever we try to say we are, we fool ourselves.

One of my favorite things about the church we attended in Illinois, was the humility of our pastor.  It wasn’t false humility either.  He knew that he wasn’t able to do anything on his own power.  It was all God.  Our pastor believed God was calling him to a life of teaching and challenging others in their walk, so our pastor left a family business and began the incredible journey of leading and teaching.  He has been doing it for over 39 years.  He knows WHO has the power.

Corrie Ten Boom and her family hid Jews from the Nazis in their home.  Eventually Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their father were arrested.  During very difficult times in the concentration camp Corrie and Betsy were trying to encourage each other.  Corrie said to Betsy, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”  It was God’s power that brought Corrie through her trials in the camp.  God was bigger than the depths of the pit they were in during that time.

I think of the countless missionaries who felt God call them to another country.  I think of the reasons they went, the situations they were in, the troubles and trials they faced.  These men and women went because God called them.  Not because they were amazing and terrific at sharing the Gospel.  Many of the best stories I have read and heard were about those who were reluctant to go.  God moved mightily through them.  God did, not them.

I love the image of the jar of clay.  Scripture doesn’t say, finest gold or beautiful jewels, it says clay.  Clay, the simple material found in the ground, walked on, tilled, and used for building.  It must be molded, shaped, and reshaped to fit the purposes of the Potter.

Isaiah 29:16 says, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?  We need to remember WHO is shaping whom.  God isn’t a tool for us to use. We are a tool to be used by God.  We are to hold His power, pouring out His love through actions.

When we remember our place, we can remember what is placed in us.  His “this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”   It is from Him and Him alone; we just get to be a part of His plan.

I am grateful to be a part of this amazing plan.  What about you?

 

 

 

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Mulligans

I strive to not have regrets. I don’t mean living with a “take it or leave it” attitude, I mean living with care and striving to live with kindness. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I fall flat on my face and blow a potentially good experience by a bad rash decision.

This morning I was reviewing something I wanted to “do-over” or call a “mulligan” on when I heard the words of James, Jesus’ half-brother from James 4:6, “But He gives us more grace.”

Ahhh.

If Jesus gives us more grace, then I need to give myself more grace. Not because I deserve it, that’s the opposite of what grace is, grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

I don’t deserve it, but boy do I need it. For myself and to extend it to others.

Like a deep cleansing breath, I take in the grace I need so desperately, but don’t deserve. And I exhale all the negative thoughts, regret, and even anger I feel. No one deserves that either.

More grace, more grace, more grace. Don’t we all need more grace?

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Modus Operandi

My weekly to-do includes laundry, dishes, picking up, putting things away, taking out the garbage, etc. Yes, the boys help, but it is something I still like to do. My work schedule gives me time in the morning to put the house in order which makes me happy as I serve my family.

What would happen if I did these things with the wrong motives? What if I did it to show how “lucky” my family was to have a wife and mother life me? What if I did it so that others thought well of me? What if I did it so God thought I was good?

Why do I do what I do?

I do it because I love my family. My motivation, my modus operandi, is because it is my way of showing my family that they are important, that I value them and want to care for them. Yes, they are capable of caring for themselves and can do so very nicely. Yet, it is out of love for them that I continue to wash and clean.

First Corinthians 13 is often called the “Love Chapter” because it outlines the way to live life. “If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faithso that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-8,13)

These verses are often read at weddings, but they need to be lived out in marriage, in parenting, and in any relationship. We need to do things in love, forgive others, not lord over them the wrongs they have done in the past. God doesn’t do that to us, we surely should not do that to others.

My heart is for my family. It brings me joy to do the things I do, it makes me happy to meet their needs without being asked to do them. My motive for caring for my home is that by doing it, I am caring for my family.

What is your motive? Read through the verses above and try putting your name in place of the word Love. If the things you say aren’t actually your actions, then ask God to help you develop those missing parts in your own heart.

Love should be your motive and it should be mine.

Blessings.

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A good day

Today I took the day off from work and spent time with my hubby. We took naps, went shopping for little things at one of our favorite stores and drove by some homes for sale to get an idea of where we’d like to live.

It was a good day.

I’ve written about rest, restoration, finding quiet and being still. Today I put it into action. It reminded me of one of my many favorite Rich Mullins’ songs made famous by Amy Grant, Doubly Good to You.

Let the words wash over you as you finish your day. Blessings.

If you see the moon,
Rising gently on your fields.
If the wind blows softly on your face.
If the sunset lingers,
While cathedral bells peal,
And the moon has risen to her place,

You can thank the Father
For the things that He has done.
And thank Him for the things he’s yet to do.
And if you find a love that’s tender,
If you find someone who’s true,
Then thank the Lord –
He’s been doubly good to you.

If you look in the mirror,
At the end of a hard day,
And you know in your heart you have not lied.
And if you gave love freely,
If you earned an honest wage,
And if you’ve got Jesus by your side,

You can thank the Father
For the things that He has done.
And thank Him for the things He’s yet to do.
And if you find a love that’s tender,
If you find someone who’s true,
Thank the Lord –
He’s been doubly good to you.

You can thank the Father
For the things that He has done.
And thank Him for the things He’s yet to do.
And if you find a love that’s tender,
If you find someone who’s true,
Thank the Lord –
He’s been doubly good to you….

Thank the Lord –
He’s been doubly good to you.

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Wet feet and weeds

Many of us are familiar with the story in Matthew 14 where Jesus walks of water and Peter calls out to join Him. I have heard many teachers and pastors teach on how we are like Peter, life will go much better when we keep on our eyes on Jesus. It’s the times when we want to step out in faith, but fear we will fail, that resonates with me.

Fear has recently reared its nasty head in my life again. Fear is like that resilient weed I think I have pulled out completely, but all of its roots didn’t come out. So it grows again. I don’t notice it at first, but eventually I find myself fully entangled in the creeping vine of fear.

Sometimes I allow myself to be pulled down, dragged down by the “what ifs” and that “what will they say” or “what if they don’t like me?” questions that swirl in my head. Other times I recognize my situation and I pull free and denounce the fear.

What I really want to do though, is step out in faith. I want that Fearless Faith I talked about before. I want to see the troubles as temporary because from Heaven’s perspective they are temporary. I want to walk on water.

Heavenly Father,
My heart needs you. My feet are failing me.
You are calling me to bigger and greater things
during my journey and I don’t want fear to keep me from them.
Jesus, call me out, call me out on the water.
Give me the courage to get wet feet.
Amen.

This is my prayer, maybe it needs to be yours too. Blessings.

When fear assails, when darkness falls, I find my peace in Christ alone. Here in the Power of Christ I’ll stand.

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