The Hope of Easter . . . .

One of the benefits of living in uncertain times is that we stop taking life for granted. I can still remember the vividness of 9/11–the shock of watching the television screen, trying to make sense of the tragedy inflicted on so many people. Throughout that day I cried out to the Lord,

“Help me! I don’t know how to make sense of this!
What would You have me do? How would You have me pray?”

Throughout that day and late into the night, as I watched and prayed. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. When I went upstairs, carrying the heaviness of that awful day, I slowly got ready for bed. Then just as I began to pull the covers on my bed back, a most gentle voice spoke to my heart: “Hate what is evil. Cling to what is Good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”

I remember looking around my bedroom, trying to figure out what had just happened. No one else was there, but I realized that a peace had settled over me that was inexplicable. Nothing had changed . . . the world was still an awful mess . . . but a quietness of spirit settled over me that provided rest for my soul and much needed sleep.

The next morning I opened my Bible and found this verse in Romans 12:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

(Verse 9)

Since that moment I have carried that message in my heart and mind through dark and light days. Many times it has rescued me from fear as it has reminded me of God’s faithfulness in all things.

“He has risen, just as He said!”

In times such as these, we are forced to face our own mortality and to reassess our priorities. It is then that we realize the importance of our relationships with others, and with God . . .❤️

So why am I writing this post? It may seem a bit early to be writing about Easter since it’s a couple of weeks away, but I was inspired by a drawing posted on Facebook by a friend of mine. Done in soft pastels, it depicted a wooden cross that had a lily and other flowers draped around it and the opened Scriptures declaring,:“Christ is Risen!”  The greeting at the bottom of the drawing, “Happy Easter” initially startled me as I wondered, “Did I miss Easter?” But then tears came with my next thought, “That’s exactly what we need right now, the Hope of Easter!”

So what is the Hope of Easter?  I like the simplicity of Matthew 28, as it depicts this hope through two women who went to the the tomb where Jesus body was laid after His crucifixion. When they arrived, the large stone that had closed the tomb had been rolled back. As they approached, an angel spoke to them saying.

“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead,
just as He said would happen.
Come, see where His body was lying.”

(Verse:6 )
(New Living Translation)

Can you imagine the wonder and excitement generated in the hearts of those women who, just days before, had witnessed the battered, lifeless body of Jesus being taken down from the Cross? But the blessing did not stop there. As they ran from the empty tomb, they were stopped again:

“Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ He said.
They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.
Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me.’”
(Verses 9 & 10)

The Scriptures do not tell us what the women said to each other as they ran to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.  I imagine there were assurances exchanged between them like, “Did you see what I saw? Was it really real? Do you think anyone will believe us when we tell them about seeing the angel and Jesus?”  

It was in such encounters that Sunday morning that the Hope of Easter was born. Centuries later, the Hope of Easter remains in the promises of Jesus, fulfilled in His resurrection from the dead.  Had Jesus not overcome death on that third day after His crucifixion, we would have no such hope. But because He DID we can enter each day with this wondrous hope:

“He came to that which was His own,
but His own did not receive Him.
Yet to all who did receive Him,
to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.”

John 1:11-13

Like many of you, I am missing the traditions of advent leading up to the celebration of Easter in my church right now:

  • Hearing the Scriptures faithfully read each Sunday that remind us of the events that took place as Jesus headed toward Jerusalem for the last time.
  • Receiving Communion in small groups around the Cross draped in purple on Maundy Thursday . . .
  • On Good Friday, seeing the Cross draped in black while listening to the account of Jesus’ suffering as the candles are snuffed out one by one ,. . .
  • Then on Easter Sunday, the joy of seeing the Cross covered in fresh flowers as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death for our redemption as a church family . . . oh the wonder of it all!

We do not know what the immediate future holds as to when things will get back to “normal”, but we hold fast to the faithfulness of Jesus as we live each day looking for ways to glorify Him. I write this to encourage you to embrace the Hope of Easter–Christ’s redemption won for all who place faith in Him.

Perhaps the best way servants of Christ can truly encourage one another, is to  daily (starting NOW) exchange the greeting traditionally shared on Easter morning:

“Christ is Risen!”
“He is Risen indeed!”

I challenge you to join me in taking hold of the Hope of Easter in these uncertain times, by embracing  the truth that, Christ has indeed risen and He’s coming again!

All to His Glory!

 

Seasons . . . .

“To everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to break down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . .”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

Some of my fondest memories of growing up are tied to being part of an outstanding high school choir.  There was no “magic” associated with our excellence, except for the relationship between choir director, Leonard Cesene–who clearly enjoyed and respected his students–and the students who worked hard to please him. Five mornings a week we met to learn and practice a diverse variety of music that ranged from popular tunes to the deep richness of the sacred. With every opportunity  to perform, there was an almost palpable electricity that connected each choir member, as we watched for the nod of Mr. Cesene’s head and the movement of his upraised arms that signaled us to begin.  As the modulated, energized sounds were delivered, Mr. Cesene’s eyes danced with approval as the audience enjoyed our singing almost as much as we did.

So many years later, I still appreciate the blessing of having been part of something so special in the awkward season of my teen-aged years. For me, the balance of respect and discipline under Mr. Cecene (as well as the wonderful exposure to sacred music) positively impacted future seasons in my life.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25

When I first read Mother Teresa’s observations on the seasons of life, I felt that same intense excitement of performing so long ago:

“Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin!”

I like the way she set the stage, with three simple truths:

  1. “Yesterday is gone.
  2. Tomorrow has not yet come. 
  3. We have only today.”

Then, with a soft yet theatric, WHAM! . . . her words, “Let us begin,” reflect the divine call of Scripture:

“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 . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

It is a passage that speaks to the rhythm of seasons ebbing and flowing as God’s people seek to live their lives by faith. That call continues to echo across time and generations to Christians today.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to convict and encourage some friends who were in trouble. They had been duped by false teachers who entered their ranks after Paul left them.  He sought to encourage them with this wisdom and call:

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Galatians 5:25, 26

Paul also wrote to warn them:

  1. To NOT lose sight of what they had been taught and
  2. To remember Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit who was there to help them with every step they took.

Following up on the importance of the Holy Spirit’s availability to help them (and you and I), Galatians 6:8-10 warns of the pitfalls as well as the goal of living life well before the One who saves:

“Whoever sows to please their flesh,
from the flesh will reap destruction;
whoever sows to please the Spirit,
from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

But how? How are we to enter into the rhythm of such a life? The answer is remarkably simple:

  • By treasuring Christ as the Source of all that is good.
  • By putting off old patterns–confessing our sins as forgiveness is sought.
  • By putting on the newness that is ours in Christ, when we receive Him into our hearts through faith.

No matter what season in life you find yourself–in plenty or in want, in stability or in a season of uncertainty–God is right there to help you. Consider the reassurance, encouragement and hope offered by God in Jeremiah 29:13:

“You will seek Me and find Me
when you seek Me with all your heart.”

It is your faith in Him as the Shepherd of your heart, that will provide the courage needed to carry you through whatever you are facing.

As I remember Mr. Cecine’s eyes that encouraged us to give our best with every note we sang, I can also picture the eyes of a loving Shepherd who will lead His flock safely home . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

 

The Fine Art Of Speaking Truth In Love . . . .

A quote posted on social media weighed heavy on my heart last week:

“Don’t waste your words
on people who deserve your silence.
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say
is nothing at all.”

It struck me that the perspective of not wasting words on those who deserve our silence, reflects a haughtiness of attitude that is lightyears away from God’s call to love.  In fact, to say nothing at all, effectively denying the worth of the other individual, underscores the chilling observation of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel,:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

The truth is, silence is never golden when love is absent.
Instead, silence combined with the absence of love kills
and has great potential for hardening hearts–
yours, mine and the one being ignored.    

God calls us . . . .

The problem is not new. The Apostle Paul wrote about conflict in relationships and how Christ’s followers were to handle such:

“We are no longer to be children,
tossed here and there by waves
and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men,
by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
but speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in all aspects
into Him who is the head,
even Christ . . . .”
Ephesians 4: 14, 15

So what does it mean to speak truth in love?  Is it to follow wisdom of Thumper in the classic movie, Bambi? 

If you don’t have anything nice to say,
don’t say anything at all.”  

While that may be a sweet notion, God calls His own to go deeper in our relationships . . . much, much deeper.

To speak truth in love is not about niceties.  It often requires:

  • Sacrificial kindness–a willingness to risk being misunderstood for the good of the other.
Speaking truth in love is a process that requires intentionality. The key to working out that process is given us in Ephesians 4:22-25,

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and
speak truthfully to your neighbor . . . .”
  

Speaking truth in love becomes an art form over time when we remember Christ’s call to us:

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12
It is when we take our focus off ourselves and look to Christ as Sovereign and Good, that we begin to understand the value of words.  It is when we begin to choose our words prayerfully that we will bless our friends, neighbors and even that irritating individual we would otherwise be tempted to ignore.
Yes, relationships ARE hard and and at times even draining.  But when we keep Christ’s call in the center of our thinking as we use words to bless others, life becomes an adventure that is interesting and full of meaning.
All to His Glory!

How to Make Joy in Your Journey a Reality . . . .

There is a small sampler hanging in the entryway of my home.  Few people notice it (probably because it is surrounded by pictures of family) but I quite enjoy its depiction of a colonial home with a tree along with a beehive with bees framed by flowers and greenery typical of a colonial sampler.  Yet, as lovely as it is to look at, for me, the best part is the message it proclaims:  “Blessed is the life that finds joy in the journey.”  

Blessed are those who find . . . .
Blessed are those who find . . . .

JOY.  The Bible mentions joy frequently, but in ways that a world focused on itself cannot understand:

“Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . .”

 James 1:2

“Do not be grieved,
for the JOY of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10b

“But REJOICE . . .
as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
SO THAT YOU MAY BE OVERJOYED
when His glory is revealed.”*

I Peter 4:13

Holding onto joy in the journey can often elude us in our ever-changing, increasingly upside-down world.  For more than twenty years I have been privileged to come alongside people fighting personal battles large and small in the Counseling Room.  As we have looked to the Scriptures for wisdom and perspective, God has faithfully spoken to each hurting, hungry soul. Repeatedly, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in shepherding the hearts of those faithful to do their Journey Notesas the assurance of His Presence and Purpose being worked our in their lives, provide a quiet JOY that settles in their hearts.

So, how can we receive JOY when life hits hard?
By giving thanks to God IN the hard places.

An even better question to ponder is:

How can we retain JOY throughout our journey?
By give thanks to God FOR the hard places.

I met a young woman recently who, though shattered by infidelity in her marriage, told me about how God had softened her once angry and bitter heart.  She confessed her own failures as she expressed her determination to be reconciled with her husband.  She admitted that she almost canceled our appointment except for one remaining question: “Is there anything else I can do to encourage my husband to want to re-build our marriage?”

I responded with a question that burned brightly in my mind as soon as I heard her question, “Have you given thanks to God for your husband’s life and for your marriage?”  I went on to explain, “You have testified to me about how God has brought about change and spiritual growth in your mind and heart.  GIVE THANKS,  for the blessing of God’s divine purposes being worked out in your heart and life–a maturing, humble faith.”  She nodded with a thoughtful smile as the wisdom of what was said settled in.

What lesson can we learn from this?  While the world touts “happiness”, God calls us to go deeper as we choose JOY as a reflection of our trust in Him.

The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends about the basis of his JOY from a prison cell:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:12, 13

If you are looking for a formula for Joy/contentment in your circumstances, this acronym for JOY will serve you well: put Jesus first, Others second and Yourself, last.  

True Christ-centered JOY, chooses to trust more in His love for us,
as we give thanks that we are never alone.**

 Christ-centered JOY remembers the all-surpassing love of the One who came expressly to save us from ourselves . . . for Himself:

He died for us so that,
whether we are awake or asleep,
we may live together with Him.
Therefore encourage one another. . .
build each other up,
just as in fact you are doing . . . .
Rejoice always, pray continually,
GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES*;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:10, 11, 16-18

ALL to His Glory!

*Large capitalized letters, emphasis mine.
**Psalm 139

Christmas: A Reflection of His Light . . . .

For weeks I have struggled with thoughts about what to write to you as Christmas approaches.  I have to admit that with so much ugliness happening around the world, Christmas can be a nice diversion.

But when we look to Christmas as a diversion rather than for instruction,
we lose sight of the blessing God intends for it to be.

In the end what grabbed my heart to write about, were the instructions Jesus gave His disciples before sending them out to a world that was no friendlier then than it is today:

"Freely you have received, freely give." Matthew 10
“Freely you have received, freely give.” Matthew 10:8b

“The Kingdom of Heaven is near . . .
Freely you have received, freely give.”
Matthew 10:7 & 8b

Jesus’s words serve both as a warning–that God’s Kingdom (the only kingdom that ultimately matters) is only a heartbeat away–and, as a reminder of how our lives are enriched as we follow Him.  As I reflect on Jesus’s instruction I am touched by His simple directness:

“The Kingdom of Heaven . . .

freely . . .

give!”  

For those who claim Christ, Christmas is not a seasonal event, wherein generosity and caring are in vogue for a set amount of days.  No.  For those who claim His name, Christmas should be:

  1. A lifestyle–that reflects our awareness that Christ’s return is closer than ever before.
  2. A daily reflection of Christ’s Presence in our lives–as we set our sights on loving Him and our neighbor as He requires.
  3. Extravagantly given to those He puts on our paths–as we honor the Gift as well as the Giver who changed our lives for all eternity.

As I reflect on the times we live in, I am encouraged in knowing that living in such times, is meant to draw us ever closer to Christ.  When you think about giving gifts this year, don’t limit your thinking to mere tangibles.  Think instead about the treasure you have received in Christ Jesus, and give it away freely to a world in desperate need of His Light:

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

All to His Glory!

Spiritual Windows . . . .

Although it is the smallest room in our home–long and narrow, with windows lining two sides–our den has always been my favorite room in our home.  It is a wonderful place to observe squirrels running and birds of all sorts swooping between the trees and feeders in our backyard.  I especially love watching the first snow of the season quietly sift down and the contrasting scarlet beauty of cardinals against the sparkling whiteness–it leaves me breathless every single time.  Best of all, our den has been a quiet place to reflect, read, write or to spend time with a friend.

Windows change everything . . . .
Windows change everything . . . .

But what if there were no windows in that room?  Would the den have the same appeal? Humanly, I tend to think not . . . especially as I peruse a small bird book left by the previous owners of our home.  In that book, the visits of unusual birds sighted through our den windows have been recorded since the 1950’s.  Over the thirty years we have lived here, our family has excitedly added to that little book, our own sightings of various rare visitors.

Yet, I am challenged by the wisdom of John Newton*, who wrote about windows and light from a spiritual perspective more than two hundred years ago:

“All houses from the king’s to the laborer’s,
however they differ to other circumstances, agree in this:
that they must have windows whereby they may receive the light.
A palace without a window would be little better than a dungeon;
and a man would almost think himself buried alive in it.
Many splendid houses are dungeons with respect to spiritual light.
A believer would not bear the thoughts of living in any situation,
unless he enjoyed the light of the Sun of Righteousness,
and with this any situation is tolerable.”
(From Letters of Newton, pg. 138)

Where we tend to think about windows and light from a purely surface perspective, Newton urges us to go deeper by thinking in spiritual realities.

Indeed, apart from the blessing of a faith that sees beyond the immediate to the eternal,we are all short-sighted as to recognizing the blessings being worked out by God in this day of uncertainty.

 The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote his second letter to his friends in Corinth:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory
displayed in the face of Christ. . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Now comes what is the “to do” part of opening up those spiritual windows:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

II Corinthians 4:6, 15-18

There have been seasons when I have looked out our den windows and saw nothing but a dark hopelessness because of the heaviness of my heart–perhaps you have been there too?  Indeed, in such times when Christ seems furthest away, we all experience that spiritual dungeon Newton referred to in his letter.  Yet is has been during such times of despair, when I have opened my Bible–determined to focus not on my despair but on His Face–that the spiritual light and comfort of hope have ultimately prevailed.  It has been during such seasons that our den has provided,

  • A shelter to prayerfully confront the various storms that have threatened
  • It has served as a place to receive comfort and ultimate healing as God’s light has strengthened me in my brokenness.

Best of all, our den has been a place of celebration, as God’s Divine Will has been worked out though those storms, to draw me and those I love closer to Him.

Having suffered through the perils of facing cancer among family and friends during the past year, and still suffering the loss of several of them, I was grateful for John Newton’s wisdom as it opened up the windows of my mind and heart to appreciate the spiritual realities of  God’s Sovereign Goodness.  The good news is that you do not need a special room to open the windows of your mind and heart.  The light and hope found only through faith in Jesus, will open wide those spiritual windows as you determine to trust in Him.

Romans 15:13 is one of those windows in Scripture that saved me out of a season of darkness and fear; I pray that it will do the same for you:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

All to His Glory!

*John Newton, author of the classic hymn, “Amazing Grace” wrote his letter in 1774.