Do I Reflect Being With Jesus?

Every Sunday I meet after church with a small group to study the Bible and right now we have started walking through the book of Acts.

One story in chapter 4 of that book really makes me stop and examine my own Christian witness.

Peter and John had been brought before the religious leaders who were disturbed at the message they were sharing with the people.  A message that Jesus had risen from the dead.  A message of hope for salvation in those who believed their report.

After careful questioning they ordered them to never speak or teach again in the name of Jesus.  They answered that “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard. “

History tells us that they did not stop but later it is reported that in Thessalonica it was said of the followers of Jesus “they have turned the world upside down.”

What caught my eye in this passage of scripture is the religious leaders description of Peter and John.  They were amazed at the boldness of these ordinary men who had no special training in theology.  They recognized these two as men who had “been with Jesus.”

How was it these ordinary fishermen became bold and successful messengers of the Good News that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that belief in Him led to salvation?

They had spent time with Jesus.

Examination of my own life makes me question.

Does my witness to the goodness of Jesus reflect that I have spent time with Him?

My language, my attitude, my compassion, my awareness of the needs of others, how I spent my time and my money – would people say of me that “she has been with Jesus”?

That is my prayer today.

Heavenly Father, help me to spend time with you – in Your Word, in Your house, with fellow believers, in quiet times of worship.  Help me turn off the television, the internet, stop fussing about having a perfect house.  Keep me from the things that would distract me from time with you.  Then, help live in practice of what I profess to believe.  Help me treat others so that they will know I have been with You.

 

 

 

 

Thankful for the Lion – Thankful for the Lamb

In our worship today we sang about the Lion and the Lamb.  Those two terms are often used in Christian circles to describe Jesus.  But what a contrast!

Think of a lion.  The mighty king of the jungle.

lion

He is big, he has a tremendous roar.  He symbolizes power and strength.  Lions have often been used as symbols of royalty.  Many of the ancient palaces of kings and temples of pagan gods were decorated with statues of lions.

And these descriptions describe Jesus Christ in His role as king and resurrected Lord.

Old Testament prophets foretold of a coming Messiah who would be king.

Micah told us:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

Isaiah spoke of Him:

“There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

Daniel had a vision of this coming king and told us:

“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Jesus Himself accepted the title of “King” when confronted by Pilate:

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth”

But then there is the lamb.

lamb

Lambs are considered to be meek animals.  They have no sharp teeth, no claws, no physical way to defend themselves.  They run from what frightens them and the only protection they have from predators is to band together in large groups for protection.  Sheep were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated.  Dependent on protection from the shepherd, it is doubtful they could ever survive in the wild.

Yet the Bible often refers to Jesus as a lamb.

Isaiah in describing the coming suffering of the Messiah, described Him as a helpless lamb.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth;  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

When John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the one coming to deliver he referred to Him as a lamb.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And Peter spoke of Jesus as the lamb without blemish or spot.

“knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” !

I am so thankful that my Savior is both a lion and a lamb.

Powerful yet meek.

Majestic yet humble.

Calling for justice and righeousness yet standing for grace and mercy.

lamb 2

I’m glad my God is a powerful and mighty God.  So glad when I go to Him with my problems, I know I am going to a God that is able.  His strength is mine.  How often I have called on that strength –

  • When my father left my mother and me when I was only 14 – He became the source of strength and love I needed to go on with hope.
  • When my husband was killed in an accident and I was left to raise two little girls, He promised to never leave me and He gave me the wisdom and courage to go on with hope.
  • When the doctor said my cancer was very advanced and aggressive and there was not much hope I would live long, He assured Him that He would walk with me though this “valley of death” and gave me the determination to fight with all my might this dreadful disease with hope.

I am also glad He is a meek and loving God with mercy and grace.

  • When I became all stressed out about my future and my aging body, He assured me that just as He has been there for me in the past, He will not leave me now.  He understood my worry and concern and did not condemn me for my lack of faith.
  • In the many times I have allowed my own thoughts and feelings to lead me to gossip, not forgive others, to be disobedient, He has never stopped loving and drawing me back to where I need to be in Him.

It was His love (the lamb) that led Him to the cross – thank God for the Lamb!

It was His power (the lion) that brought Him out of the tomb – thank God for the Lion!

 

 

 

He’s Dead – or Is He?

This is from the message my husband gave today at Hazel Findley Assisted Living:

The Gospel of Matthew as well as other Gospel writers presents the reality of Jesus’ death as an absolute certainty.

Those standing around the cross watched as Jesus “breathed his last.” – John 19:30 tells us He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

They heard him cry with a loud voice. – Mark 15:37 tells us Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed His last.

Roman authorities, acting on instructions from Pilate, broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus to hasten their death; but coming to Jesus, they discovered He had already died – John 19:33 says “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.

Having received confirmation of death from the Roman centurion, Pilate released the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus for burial.

  • The callous Roman soldiers said “He is dead.”
  • The curious crowds, unconscious of the eternal significance, said “He is dead.’
  • Pilate got the word, “Jesus is dead.”
  • Mary, feeling the pain like a dagger in her heart, said, “My son is dead.”
  • His disciples, numb and stunned with the events of the last few hours said, “The Master is dead”

Everybody had written Jesus off – gone forever.

Dead.

Dead.

Dead.

Get on with the same routine.  He’s dead.  No one expected to see Him or hear His voice again.

It’s Friday….but Sunday’s coming.

What separates Christianity from all other religions is an empty tomb and the words of Christ who says “I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.”

 

The Miracle of Mount Calvary

The following is from a Good Friday sermon my husband shared this year.  I thought it was so good I wanted to share with my readers:

There are many great mountain top experiences in the Word of God.

  • On Mount Horeb, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush
  • On Mount Sinai, God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone
  • On Mount Hor, Aaron transferred his priestly robes to his son Eleazar
  • From Mount Nebo, Moses looked over into the Promised Land
  • On Mount Moriah, Solomon built the Temple
  • On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John saw Jesus in His radiant glory
  • From the Mount of Olives, Jesus would ascend into heaven

But the greatest of all of these is Mount Calvary, where Jesus was lifted up and died for our sins.

  • On Mount Calvary, Jesus of Nazareth was lifted up, bled and gave HIs life for me
  • On Mount Calvary Jesus, who walked the dusty roads of Judea, who could have called 10,000 angels chose rather to suffer and die
  • On Mount Calvary, God let this sinless, spotless lamb of glory, the Messiah thirst to quench the spiritual thirst of ll mankind
  • On Mount Calvary, God, who clothes the lilies of the fields, let His son hang naked and in shame for all to see and mock in derision and shame.
  • On Mount Calvary, this precious little child who lay so innocently in a cradle in an animals’ stall in Bethlehem, now hung helpless and dying on a criminal’s cross in view of friend and foe alike.
  • On Mount Calvary, earth has no darker sin, history no blacker page, humanity no fouler spot than the crucifixion of Jesus.

the cross

The old hymn states:  “He did it all for me.  When the Savior cried, bowed HIs head and died, He did it all for me.”

 

What is the “Joy of the Lord?”

Jesus laughing

We hear a lot from Christians about “the joy of the Lord.”  Often a verse from Nehemiah is quoted when speaking of joy.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

But I wonder what does that mean?  What is the joy of the Lord and how does it give me strength?  I have found many times in my life when I was going through a difficult time and struggling with pain or sorrow that well-meaning people would quote that verse to me suggesting if I would just be “happy” I would find strength from the Lord to get me through this difficult circumstance.

If I would just adjust my attitude.

If I would just think positive thoughts.

If I would just “put on a happy face.”

Then, God would give me joy.

So – strength from God depended on me.  If in this time of despair I could just either “pretend” to be happy (“fake it ’til you make it”) or if I could somehow find some inner strength to think positive thoughts, God would give me joy and strength.  Our culture (and many TV preachers/teachers) tell us having the right attitude, having self-esteem, is the road to the joy of the Lord.

Yet we know that many great men of God did not always have a positive attitude.  Look at the Psalms.  They are full of times when David and others even questioned if God cared.

for you are my God, my only safe haven.  Why have you tossed me aside?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

As I look at the verse in Nehemiah what stands out to me is that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is not some feeling I produce by my own ability to “put on a happy face” and adjust my attitude.  Rather, this joy is the joy OF THE LORD.  It is something that comes from God.  True joy, I submit, does not come from within me – it comes from without.

The joy of the Lord is not dependent on me adjusting my attitude or thinking positive thoughts.  I am not disputing that our thinking, out attitude does many times needs some work.  Paul wrote in Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

And the writer of Proverbs told us:

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

But if having God’s joy is simply me thinking on things worthy of praise, then the joy of the Lord is not really from the Lord.  It is simply having a good philosophy or a good outlook on life.  That benefits those of us who have a tendency by nature to be positive, who bounce out of bed each morning ready for the day and get excited about the new coffee favor we just bought at Target.  However, it puts those who have a more melancholy personality and basically say “don’t talk to me until I have had my coffee” at a great disadvantage.

So – what is the joy of the Lord?  And how do we get it?

Take a look at the times Jesus spoke about joy.

In the Beatitudes he told us:

 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven. 

One reason for joy, then, is the hope we have of what awaits us.  This life is not all there is for us.  Regardless of what is happening to me right now, I have a great future awaiting me and when I realize that I have something to look forward to it can give me a sense of peace and comfort.  This present circumstance may be terrible but it is not the end.

But how do I find joy in difficult times for the “here and now.”  Does this mean my only joy is in anticipating what will come in the future?  Can I find joy in this life now?

The Psalmist gave us the secret when he wrote:

in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

When we learn to stop running about and trying to solve everything ourself, when we take time to be still and quiet with the Lord, when we allow our minds to dwell on Him and His Word, we will find that joy that Peter wrote about that is:

At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express

The joy of the Lord gives us strength to face those difficult circumstances because it is the joy that comes from a real relationship with Him, not from something we can create.  I submit if you are lacking joy, ask yourself these questions:

  1. When was the last time I spend some time just sitting quietly reading God’s Word or listening to a good worship song and just remained quiet and allowed God to speak to my heart?
  2. When was the last time I took some moments to sincerely make a list of all the blessings God had given me and then took some time to truly thank Him?
  3. When was the last time I looked at the difficult situations in my life and asked God to show me where/how I could use these times to grow more like Him?

As we take time to focus on God, to allow Him to speak to us, as we come into His presence, there we will find the joy of the Lord.

Help us all Lord in the midst of our busy and crazy lives to take that time and allow You to minister to us of your love and fill us with your joy.

 

 

 

Who Do You Turn To?

It’s 8:30 at night – I’m sitting in my recliner – in my pajamas – and I’m crying!

The tears are partly a result of the tension of the past few days.  For over a month I have been planning a women’s retreat for my church.  With the guest speaker, who is my youngest daughter, I have brainstormed picking a theme, planning the lessons, the decorations, the music.  I so wanted it to be a success.  But as the weeks went by I had to ask myself – why do I want it to be a success and what needs to happen for me to consider it a success?

I have questioned my motives.  Do I just want to impress everyone with how smart I am?  Do I just want everyone to see what a great speaker my daughter is?  Do I want the women of my church to be encouraged and help them better understand God’s Word?  Do I want to see spiritual growth among my “sisters?”

Will it be a success if we have a large number show up?  Will it be a success if everyone has a good time?  Will it be a success if someone really is encouraged, really does develop a greater desire to know God, have a better appreciation for God’s Word?

So I have prayed that my motives would truly be pleasing in God’s sight and that there would be nothing in my efforts that would desire anything other than that God would be glorified and lifted up.  I have prayed that there will be a good response, that the women will show up, will enjoy, but most of all will draw closer to God as a result of the weekend.

Then, there was the worry of getting it all to come together.  Finding the right decorations to set the scene (but at a cheap price as I promised the church board it would not cost the church anything so the expenses are on me).  Getting volunteers to bring food for our Friday night snack and breakfast and lunch on Saturday.  Will I have enough food?  Finding volunteers for the skit I want to do on Friday and for worship on Saturday.  Praying for my daughter as she prepares the lessons I have asked her to do.

In the middle of all this I start having terrible pain in one of my teeth.  I had it filled last year but the dentist told me the tooth was really bad and he was not sure the filling would hold. A call to the dentist and off I got to get it pulled.

I’m feeling great!

Everything is coming together!

I have my tooth pulled on Wednesday.  Dentist tells me I can expect pain, bruising and swelling.  But here it is Friday.  I have had no pain, there is no sign of swelling or bruising.  My husband says it’s a God thing.

I truly believe my heart and my motives are right – that my desire is only for God’s glory.  I find most of the decorations at the Dollar Store – budget saved.  Tables are decorated and the room looks great.  My daughter sends me her notes for the handouts and they look perfect.  Volunteers have all responded and the skit, the worship, the food – it is all on track to be a great event.

Oh no!

Friday morning I start cutting up veggies for the Saturday lunch.  Suddenly my carefully laid plans all seem to come apart.

My husband comes up from the family room in the basement and he looks white as a sheet.  He tells me he almost passed out and off we go to the doctor’s office.  After examining him and talking to his heart doctor, we are off to the emergency room for further evaluation.  He had a heart attack in 2009 and has had 4 stents put in since then so the fear of another heart issue makes me very nervous.

Now I’m getting up tight.  Clearly I need to be here with my husband, but what about all the things I still need to do to be ready for tonight?  Is he going to be okay?  Is he having a heart attack?

While waiting for the doctor to evaluate the EKG and the blood work I pick up my cell phone to start calling our kids to let them know their dad is in the ER.  Before I can dial out, my phone rings and it’s our son.  When I answer he tells me that he has just had a call from his wife and he is rushing to the ER in their town.  Their daughter has been in a bad car wreck.  He doesn’t know more than that but wants me and his Dad to be in prayer.

Now I’m really stressed!

I try to hold back the tears as I think – “What do I do?”  I have to tell my husband, but is that going to add to his stress and cause a heart attack?  After sharing the news with him, we hold hands, crying and calling out to God for our granddaughter.

I watch the clock waiting for the doctor’s evaluation pulled between needing to be with my husband and needing to get back home and finish final preparations for the night session at the retreat.  Of course, my husband keeps telling me I need to go on and get ready for the evening and I keep telling him no way I’m leaving him until we find out what is going on with his heart.

And we keep waiting for our son to call with more information on our granddaughter.  How badly is she hurt?  Is she going to be okay?

He’s going to be okay

The doctor finally comes in and tells us that he is not having a heart attack but they do want to keep him overnight for observation and possibly do some tests in the morning.  When I am assured that he is in no immediate danger, I finally leave, hurrying now to get cleaned up myself and get to the church to finish final preparations.

We finally hear from our son.  Our granddaughter was hit in the passenger side by a young man drunk and high on drugs.  He hit her at such a high rate of speed it flipped her car over twice, crushed in the front and they had to pull her out through the windshield.  But, miraculously she has no broken bones, no life-threatening injuries, but is terribly bruised and some cuts on her arms from being pulled through the broken windshield.

While working with my daughter to put the finishing touches on everything at the church, we get a text from my son.  He has sent us pictures of my granddaughter’s car.  When we see the pictures my daughter and I both began to cry and to spontaneously praise God.  From the pictures of the car we realize we have seen a miracle.  There is no way anyone should have walked out from the car alive.  The whole front and right side is smashed in, the windshield completely broken out.  We get pictures of my granddaughter’s neck and front of her chest.  She looks like someone who has been severely beaten.  Clearly she has subsisted some terrible bruising and will be in pain for some time.  But no broken bones, no concussion.

As we praise God, I feel the tension drain from my body for a moment.  Then my husband calls.  They are going to do an angiogram tomorrow morning.  Doctor thinks they may be more blockage.  I start to get uptight again, but I’m reminded in my spirit that the same God who protected my granddaughter is the same God who will be with my husband in the morning.

Long day at hospital

But now, of course, I cannot be at the retreat on Saturday.  I know between my daughter who is speaking and the women who will be leading worship I don’t have to be there.  But I’m disappointed.  I have enjoyed watching the women in our Friday session and seeing their hearts being opened to God’s Word – just as I had prayed – and I really want to be there Saturday to share with them.

But I know there is no question about where I belong.  I love my husband – my best friend – and I not only need to be with him, I want to be with him.

The procedure is done and they have to put in another stent (his fifth).  The doctor shows me an area where there is a 50% blockage but says he will not touch it until it becomes blocked enough to be life threatening.  Because of its location it will require open heart surgery.  This makes me nervous.  How will he know it has become life threatening until it is life threatening?  On top of that they had trouble getting the bleeding to stop and have had to put a pressure cuff on his groin which is pushing down and is very painful.  While normally a person has to lay on still on their back for two to three hours, he lies all day – over six hours – not being able to move from his back and having this pressure cuff pushing down on his groin.  A rough day for both of us.  Since he cannot sit up, I help him try to get some food down.

The day is over!

Granddaughter is very sore – will be out of commission for a few days – but she is alive, she is going to be fine.

My husband is out of immediate danger.  He has to stay overnight in the hospital just to make sure he does not move too much and the bleeding stays stopped.  But, all is well with him.  I can bring him home tomorrow.

The retreat appears to have been well received by everyone.

Who Do I Turn To?

So, I need to be rid of all this tension.  What do I do?  Guess I could pick up a glass of wine.  I could put on a favorite movie.  I could take a hot shower, a sleeping aid and go to bed.

But I turn to the one I have always turned to.  My Savior, my Lord, but also my friend.  I put on a CD by Selah, lean back and think of all the times in my life – when my father walked out on the family, when my first husband was accidentally killed and my daughters came home and found him dead, when I was diagnosed with cancer and told I did not have a very good chance of making it – and so many other times when crisis came and how Jesus has always been there.  Giving me wisdom, peace, comfort.

And as I meditate on His goodness, His love to me, the tension drains from my body and my tears become more than just tears of release.  They become tears of love and gratitude.

I turn to Jesus.  Who Do you turn to?

When I’m far away from home
And the cold wind starts to blow
When I’m empty and alone
I turn to You

When there’s hardness in my heart
And I can’t see the truth
And I’m wondering in the dark
I turn to You

And here in Your holy presence
It’s all that I can do

For the faith to move ahead
And to let go of the past
And to see me as You do
I turn to You.

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do
I turn to You

You alone are worthy
The one and only God
The Ruler of the nations
And Father of my heart

I turn to You, Jesus
I turn to You, Lord
What else can I do, Jesus
I turn to You

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Did the Baby Change Your Life?

thlzkxacsg

One last look this time around

Brrrrr!  It’s so cold outside.  So today while staying snug inside I read and thought one more time on the Christmas story which we have just observed.  Now it’s time to move forward and begin thinking about spring and about the resurrection story.

But one writer I read during the Christmas season still speaks to me.

…the Christmas story is not just for observing, but for participating.  A long time ago, Jesus Christ was born.  But today, Christ is born in us.  And so we would be wise to spend some time wondering with the sheep and the shepherds, how does this baby change my life?

Sarah Cunningham

For 2017 – how has this baby changed your life?