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!

 

Perspective Is Everything . . . .

It is a phrase I find myself repeating often, especially during the challenging times we face today:

Perspective is everything!

Perspective is everything . . . .

Be it the breakdown of society or the looming threat of the corona virus, it would be easy to give way to fear. That is why I was grateful to see this excerpt from an essay written by C.S. Lewis posted on Facebook. While Lewis wrote about living in an atomic age, his perspective can be applied by Christians equally well to how we reflect Christ in our lives during challenging times such as these. To be run by fear rather than to live daily in faith, is to be dominated by uncertainty. I offer this in the hope that Lewis’s wisdom will encourage you as it did me:

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us are going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”*

“Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for
and the certainty of what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
Psalm 16:7,8

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

2 Corinthians 4:18

All to His Glory!

*”On Living in an Atomic Age” by C. S. Lewis from the book, Present Concerns (pages 73-80).

The Lord Is Close . . . .

For months, perhaps even over a year, I tried to ignore what was happening to my body. Thinking that the physical pain I was experiencing had to do with getting older,* I tried to keep going until I couldn’t any more.  Bent sideways in pain like a lower-case “c”, a cane became a friend, helping me to and from the bathroom and to the downstairs couch. I struggled to think beyond the pain, often thinking about my grandparents–they seemed to age so much more gracefully than I was at this point in their lives.  I also thought about the day I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm to marry my husband, never dreaming that almost fifty years later I would be so needy of his patience and support.

I became homebound, dreading the excruciating pain of having to get into and out of our car to go doctor appointments. You may well ask, where was God in all of this? I confess, at times I wondered too. My fear was not of dying–I know my eternal future is secure in Christ Jesus.  No, my fear was of living out my life as a burden to my husband. I wondered: How was I going to honor Christ in the state I was in?

When we met with the pain specialist, she described my condition as “a train wreck”. She said that there were four pieces that contributed to my condition, but that she thought she could help me.  When we left her office, my husband commented that my condition was like, The Perfect Storm, referring to the movie about how three raging weather fronts collided to produce the greatest, fiercest storm in modern history.  Although he spoke of it in a negative sense, I found encouragement and smiled as I thought about God’s PERFECT plan being worked out in my life. It was then that I gained clarity on what I had experienced up to that moment and what was to come. The question was:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted . . . .
  • Would I trust Him in my present situation–as well as in what my future held for me?  
  • Was I going to look at where I found myself as being in the center of God’s PERFECT will?

It was then that the light of HOPE flooded my mind and heart. A verse I have clung to through many a difficult season came to mind:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your book
before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:16b

It was in that moment, that I gladly embraced whatever God has in mind for my future on this earth. Since then the beauty of this truth as deepened as He has ministered to me through the Scriptures with hope-filled words such as these:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Psalm 34:18

As I write this, I do so especially for those of you who are suffering–be it the loss of your health, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a dream.  I write to attest to God’s faithfulness in the midst of uncertainty and pain. No matter what the storm you are facing, He is only a prayer away. If you are feeling lost or uncertain about your future, run to Him through the Scriptures to discover the wisdom and help you need. (If you’re not sure where to begin, look up “hope” in the Bible to help you get started.)

I offer all of this in the love, humility and grace of a faithful God who is absolutely worthy of our trust . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*I am in my seventh decade–😊

Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

I woke up this first day of 2020 with a verse from Hebrews pulsing through my mind. I think of the passage as, the great ‘Ta da!” moment in history, when God’s ultimate plan was revealed to all mankind. I offer it to encourage you as we enter into this new year together:

“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

 To maximize the impact of what the writer is pronouncing in his letter, it is needful to consider its context–what it was placed there for: 

In what is referred to as,“the by faith chapter” (Hebrews 11)–the lineup of those who proved themselves faithful to God begins with the Bible’s first martyr, Abel: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Verse 4)

The passage continues with a grand, hall-of-fame lineup of people who proved themselves faithful to God. Hebrews 11 concludes with these words:

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
living in caves and in holes in the ground.
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.*

Living in a world today where Christians are suffering persecution, unimaginable hardship, torture and even death because of their faith**, I am humbled, challenged and yet encouraged by their steadfast courage as I reflect on what follows Hebrews 12:1,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . .”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Verses 2-3)

To be sure, we miss the point of Hebrews when we focus on those who have gone before us or on those who suffer today. Instead, we find direction and courage when we see Jesus looking beyond the cross to His Father.

Where was His focus?

  • First and foremost, He sought to honor His Father.
  • Secondarily, to redeem all who look to, follow and trust in Him for the salvation of their souls.

No matter what you may be facing in this new year:

  • Be it the loss of a loved one,
  • Disappointment,
  • Health issues,
  • Or perhaps just mustering the courage to keep up with the daily news,

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . .
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

  1. Be encouraged as you remember that you were chosen by God and are holy and dearly loved by Him.
  2. Be strengthen each day as you look to Him for the courage you lack to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient as He helps you to forgive in the same way He has forgiven you.
  3. Be intentional in loving those He places on your path as your means of honoring and glorifying Him.

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 11:5-40
**I consider Open Doors, USA a viable resource to keep up what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. .

Reflections At Christmas . . . .

It is early Christmas morning, so early that the house is silent around me. As I bask in the beauty of our tree hung with lights and special ornaments collected over nearly five decades of marriage, I am fixed on one ornament in particular that speaks through the ages of Christmas celebration. It is the porcelain image of the Christ-child with the word, “Behold” spelled out above it.

Behold defined: To have in sight; to see clearly; to look at; to regard with the eyes.

 With the simple yet elegant beauty of the ornament I am reminded of that dark starry night when some lowly shepherds were visited by a host of celestial beings:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

“Behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world!”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.”

Luke 2:8-13

As I reflect on the wondrous events of that took place that long ago night, the words of John the Baptist come to mind:

“Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!”
*

To see clearly that Babe, who came down to save a world sick with sin, is to behold the grace-filled Hope that continues to hold darkness at bay.

Whatever you are facing this Christmas season– be it sickness, the loss of a friend or loved one, or the discouragement of the world around us . . . find encouragement in the promise given to all who have trusted in Him through the ages:.

“Silent night, holy night
Son of God . . . love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.**

Merry Christmas, dear friends . . ..

All to His Glory!

*John 1:29
**Silent Night, Franz Gruber, final verse, 1816

A Force For Good In A Hurting World . . . .

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, put on the full armor of God . . . .”

Ephesians 6:12, 13a

The truth is, I didn’t see it coming, When I agreed to attend a Counseling Conference with my niece-in-law, I was mainly excited about getting to spend four days with her.  To be sure, there were several notable speakers slated and an interesting array of workshop topics offered that I trusted would be beneficial, but what I looked forward to most was spending quality time with Joyce..

Then about a week before the Conference was to begin, I received an email saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was going to be a guest speaker. My initial response was puzzlement: Why would a man so busy traveling around the globe putting out political fires, make time to speak to a gathering of Christian counselors? Along with that thought, I also wondered if there would be any sort of political agenda pressed that could be divisive in a setting of several thousand attendees–IF he came at all? Not once did I anticipate how what he said would actually impact me . . . .

Finally the Conference date came. It was great to spend time connecting with Joyce and have an opportunity to hear notable people in the Christian counseling realm speak. For me, the best part was chatting with Joyce about what we had seen and heard at the end of each day.

On the morning Mr. Pompeo was scheduled to speak, the Conference atmosphere was charged with electricity.  After being cleared by a group of security people, only those with Conference badges were allowed to enter the auditorium. As Mr. Pompeo was introduced I was impressed by his background–especially that he graduated first in his class from West Point!  When he finally stepped up to speak, he put everyone at ease as he shared his testimony about becoming a follower of Christ as a cadet at West Point–thanks to two fellow cadets who faithfully ministered to him. As to why he agreed to speak to a an auditorium full of counselors, he likened his role at the State Department to that of a counselor:

“Helping people in crisis as a force for good.” 

Of all the speakers I was privileged to hear at the Conference, it was that simple statement that most succinctly expressed, not only what should be at the root of meaningful counseling, but also how Christians in every walk of life can best minister to a hurting world.  It is a reminder that ultimately, we are in a spiritual battle that cannot be won apart from loving our neighbor in Christ.

In his talk Mr. Pompeo focused on responsible Christian leadership, breaking it down into three areas: Disposition, Dialogue and Decision. The following is my take from what he said about helping people in crisis as a force for good:

  1. A Humble Disposition: Relies on God to help us as we are transformed each day. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–
His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

When we humbly rely on God rather than allowing the influences of the world determine our steps, we are transformed, reflecting the light and hope of Jesus to those He puts on our path. I find this picture the Apostle Paul projects of the spiritual battle being waged around us helpful:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives
in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us
to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
To the one we are an aroma that brings death;
to the other, an aroma that brings life.
And who is equal to such a task?
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.
On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity,
as those sent from God.”

II Corinthians 2:14-17

 2. Truthful Dialogue that reflects Christ:

Listening well and asking questions that underscore a desire to fully understand, opens the door to meaningful dialogue. When our interactions with those in crisis are couched in such humility, the light of truth can penetrate darkness in unimaginable ways.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry . . . .”

James 1:19

The added benefit of such humility is that as we are less likely to speak with a haughty attitude that tend to build walls rather than break through them.

 3. Prayerful Decision:

Our actions and attitudes should reflect our commitment to prayer as we are faithful in stewardship and intentional in defending human dignity.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:11-12

Mr. Pompeo concluded his talk by saying that helping others get into God’s Word personally is key to being a force for good. 

The truth of Mr. Pompeo’s concluding remark, that the key to helping hurting people as a force for good is in exposing them to the wisdom of Scripture, cannot be overstated. In what is believed to be the last letter written by Paul before he was killed, he made this declaration:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful
for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped
for every good work.”

II Timothy 3:16-17

It is the Scriptures, combined with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit, that bring about meaningful change in people. To be a force for good in a hurting world requires that Christians humbly reflect the undeserved love and mercy we have received. I didn’t expect to be touched so deeply by the simple message of a fellow servant of Christ . . . but I was. I share this with you, in the hope that you will also be encouraged and strengthened–to move forward in the love and mercy of Jesus in whatever battle you face.

All to His Glory!