FOUND . . . .

Is it possible to be lost and not know it? After my husband retired early this year, we camped across the United States and back, traveling close to 15,000 miles.  Without a doubt, we made numerous wrong turns in our travels, sometimes driving for several miles before realizing we were lost.  One advantage we greatly appreciated on the road, was having a GPS to help us navigate.  Rather than getting panicky or upset when we missed a turn, we learned to rely on “Hilda” (our name for our GPS) to help us return to the route we were supposed to be following without having to “back-track” the entire distance.

"Is this all there is?"
“?????”

Other ways we can be lost without knowing it are:

  • When we seek fulfillment by setting goals, achieving them, and then find ourselves looking around and wondering, “Is this all there is to life?”
  • When we put our faith in people and they let us down.
  • When we doubt God’s Sovereign Goodness and think He has abandoned us.

More shocking in our times is the lostness being manifested in a wanton disregard for human life:

  •  Of people who appear outwardly dead as they inflict as much pain and suffering as they can on others, before taking their own lives;
  • Or the lostness of those who champion the “right” to slaughter our unborn children.

John Newton, author of the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, understood the depths of such lostness.  Having been involved in the slave trade for many years and as a younger man led a life full of debauchery.  Newton also knew the joy of having been saved out of that lostness by the love his Savior, Jesus Christ:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am FOUND; was blind but now I see.”  

John Newton, 1725-1807

I too can relate to Newton’s joy of having been FOUND.  It has been 38 years since I understood the wretchedness of my sin and knew that, before a holy God, I deserved hell.  It was the worst day of my life . . . but it also was the absolute best day of my life after surrendering all to Jesus.

So what does it mean to be FOUND?

  • I normally think of it as an adjective: to come upon unexpectedly or after a search.

When I looked it up in my dictionary, however, I discovered that it means much, much more as a transitive verb:

  • FOUND–to take the first steps in building; to set or ground on something solid (a base); to establish (as an institution) often with provision for future maintenance.*

To be FOUND by God through faith in Christ,
is to be more than simply discovered and then set aside.  
To be FOUND by God through faith in Christ,
is to be established with design and purpose
in something (actually, SOMEONE)
outside of ourselves.

God has been kind in reminding me of these truths through two new Clients.  One has been established in her faith for many years, but struggles with the pain of a divorce and the challenge of raising her children on her own.  The other is very new in her faith and comes in every week excited to ask questions and to share what God has taught her as she has done her Journey Notes.  BOTH were encouraged and downright excited when we explored Colossians 3 this week.  Here’s what it says in part about being FOUND 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 whatever grievances you may have against 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

Feeling lost or deserted?  Are you overwhelmed by whatever challenges you are facing?  Or, are you bored with your life and question God’s purpose for ever putting you here?

The question we must to consider is: Where is Christ in your life right now?

  • Is He merely a distant idea that floats in and out of your consciousness?
  • Is He at the foundational core of all that you care about?
  • Or is He somewhere in-between?

I have found much encouragement and direction in this prayer written by the Apostle Paul, and pray that it will do the same for you:

“I pray that out of the riches of His glory, He may strengthen you
with power through His Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have power, together with all the saints,
to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love.”

Ephesians 3:16-18

All to His Glory!

*Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Doors . . . .

When our family returned to the States after living in England for three years, our four-year-old son Luke talked about missing his “green door”.  He was referring to the flint and brick home we rented while living in England that had green front and back doors.  Luke’s “green door” was the only place he had ever known as home.  It was six weeks before we finally found a place for our family and, YES, we painted the front door the same shade of green as our home in England, so Luke would know we were truly home!

Doors . . . there is something fascinating about doors (especially front doors) that I find intriguing.  I saw a poster once that pictured fifty or more front doors of homes, some quite plain while others commanding the passerby’s attention–each of them uniquely hinting at what might lie within.

When temptation entered the Garden of Eden there was no physical door to knock on except for the doorway to Eve’s mind and heart.  When Eve responded by opening the door to doubting God’s Goodness, the domino-effect of sin changed everything.  Gone were times of enjoying such intimacy as a walk in the garden with our Creator.   From that point, sin clouded our perceptions of God and of all He created for us to enjoy.  Perhaps saddest of all, we lost sight of our unique status as His image bearers.  Yes, when doubt darkened the perceptions of the human heart toward God, the unique relationship enjoyed before man’s fall into sin was lost.

When doubt enters, how are we to respond?
When doubt knocks, how are we to respond?

To be clear, there is a place for doubt/caution in this sin-bent world. The Bible affirms this danger as it encourages us to look to God as the Shepherd of our hearts.  James 1:5 offers direction and encouragement to believers,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

To know that God wants us to seek Him in trouble is amazing.  Yet, for many years I struggled with the warning that immediately follows James’s encouragement:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

(Verses 6-8)

“You must believe and not doubt?”  The question I wrestled with was,

How is it possible to guard against doubting God’s character,
when doubt can so easily slide in through the doorway of our minds?

I gained insight into my question recently while reading Matthew 9.  The passage describes a paralyzed man being brought to Jesus by some of his friends.   Also in attendance was a crowd of people that included some religious scribes.  Jesus spoke kindly to the man as He said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew relates that when the religious scribes heard this, they condemned Jesus and thought what He said was blasphemous.  Matthew then wrote,

‘”Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said,
“Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?”‘

(verse 4)

Jesus confronted them not so much for doubting but for condemning Him as they entertained evil in their hearts.

How does Jesus’s rebuke help to sort out the difference between doubt/caution that is necessary to help us navigate through life vs doubt that condemns?  As was said earlier, doubt serves a purpose when it comes to living in this world.

Doubt defined: to fear, suspect, to lack confidence in : distrust* 

  However, when doubt darkens the door of our hearts and negatively influences our perception of God’s character–doubt becomes insidious:

Definition of Insidious: Awaiting a chance to entrap : treacherous
Harmful but enticing : seductive 
Having a gradual and cumulative effect : subtle
Of a disease : developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent.*

SIN is the disease that encourages us to question God’s character and to entertain doubts about God’s will and purpose for our lives.

So is there a way to avoid this problem?  I believe there is:

  1. Recognize that deep within every human heart the danger lurks of not only forgetting God, but also of doubting His character.
  2. Prayerfully ask God to help you recognize where you are most vulnerable when it comes to doubting His character.
  3. When you find yourself entertaining doubt (note: I did not say if)– go immediately to God in confession as you give thanks for His Sovereign Goodness.
  4. Seek His help in closing the doorway to doubt as you lean on Him as the Shepherd of your heart.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  
Proverbs 4:23

 All to His Glory! 

*Taken form: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

The Blessing of “Hiccup Moments”~

To chose to laugh when things don’t go exactly the way we plan is a valuable skill to learn–especially when it involves what I like to refer to as, “hiccup moments.”* I experienced such a moment last week, and every time I think of it I still find myself with a cheesy grin on my face!  Here’s what happened:

I was attending my Bible study’s special Christmas Luncheon with about ninety women and 40+ children.  Prior to coming together for lunch the children sang several Christmas songs for the adult class, concluding the program with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (one of my personal favorites.)  Their performance was loud and heartfelt, putting us all in an especially festive mood as we went into the multipurpose room for lunch.

One of the contributions I offer to the yearly Christmas Luncheon is a Birthday Cake for Jesus.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation but it serves as a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas:

Birthday Cake for Jesus

One cake iced with white icing.
Washable plastic holly or other greenery to go around the cake
21 red birthday candles (hard to find but worth the effort)
Any other relevant addition you have that tells part of the Christmas Story–I have a plastic star and a small baby in a manger I place in the middle.

This was the second year that the children were part of the luncheon (in previous years they had their own party) so they eagerly gathered around as I started lighting the candles.  I had planned to have some of the older kids light the candles as I talked about what each part of the cake symbolized.  However, I only had one of those lighter wands so I decided to light the candles myself, as quickly as I could, while talking about:

The white icing ~ Represents the Purity of Christ
The greenery ~ Represents Life Everlasting for all who trust in Jesus
The 21 red birthday candles ~ Remind us of the Royalty of Christ and the Twenty-One Centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on the earth 

Well, the candle lighting went more slowly than I planned and when I had about 12 of them lit I realized the lighter wand was running out of gas.  I grabbed one of the lit candles and asked a couple of the older kids to do the same on the other side of the cake to finish lighting them all.  I was down to the last candle when I noticed the littlest children in front of the cake were looking at me with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  I glanced down to see that one of the silk pieces of holly decorating the front of the cake had caught fire (hence the requirement for plastic that isn’t so flammable!)  I quickly tried to blow out the growing flames of the holly (as did several of the children) and suddenly it got very quiet in the room . . . the candles were all blown out and the cake was, quite dramatically splattered with the red candle wax across the top!

The children looked at me wide-eyed and stunned as I surveyed the damaged cake with lopsided candles that were too melted down to re-light.  I swallowed hard, and in the next moment found myself laughing as I heard these words come out of my mouth:  “Normally the candles would stay lit as we sang, ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus.’  Today we are going to use our imaginations as we think about Jesus as the Light of the world and sing our songs to Him.”  And that is exactly what we did!

Reflecting back, the memory of what Christ did was not lost, if anything, I think the messiness made it all the more precious.  The Christ Child was born in a barn filled with hay and smelly animals to parents who were tired and doing the best they could. There were no red candles, no greenery surrounding the feeding trough that held the baby.  Even so, it was an evening of divine mystery that caused the heavens to open up as angels sang and shepherds left their flocks to see the newborn King.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
   round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
   sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
   heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

I have probably made forty or fifty Birthday Cakes for Jesus and have enjoyed the wonder of family, friends and strangers gathered to sing and savor those wondrous moments.  Yet for me, seeing the worried looks of those little children turn to wonder as we sang, was the best reminder of God’s Perfect Plan of Redemption.   Sometimes we have good intentions and get upset when our ideas do not pan out.  What I am learning is that there are times when we take ourselves too seriously . . . that blessing abounds in those “hiccup moments” as we learn to trust God more.

All to His Glory!

*A “hiccup moment” can be determined by answering the following question: “In the light of eternity, how big is this?”  If the answer is, that it is truly not all that important, then that can be referred to as a “hiccup moment.”

“My Sheep Listen To My Voice”

I was two years old when my father was called to fight in the Korean War.  I have no memory of when he left, but I definitely remember him picking me up and hugging me over a year later when he returned to us at the Navy dock in San Diego, California.  Korea changed Dad.  He suffered severe frostbite on his legs and feet so he walked like he was walking on broken glass.  Also, he rarely slept more than four hours a night because of the nightmares that plagued him.   Early on I remember his hands shaking from what they called “nerves,” and he could not walk into a darkened movie theater for many years.  (Dad said it reminded him of the night he had to keep running along a steep ridge as he and his fellow Marines were shot at from either side.  Anyone shot had to be left, because the enemy was so close they “could hear them breathing.”)   It was rough carrying so many memories of war, but Dad worked hard and did his best to provide for our family.

My dad and I - Feb. 2013.
My dad and I – Feb. 2013.

Eventually, my parents worked to build a successful dry cleaning business.   While Dad cleaned and pressed the clothes, Mom did alterations of all sorts.  My brother and I helped Dad take care of customers, marked in clothes and put orders together when we weren’t in school.   To most people, Dad’s handwriting on their receipts was an almost indecipherable scribble, but after working together for so many years and because I loved Dad, it became as familiar to me as my own.  Almost fifty years later that proved to be an asset when I transcribed ninety-two of the letters Dad wrote to Mom during the year he was gone.  I must admit there were challenges (some letters I had to hold up to a light to make out the faded writing.)  But for me, it was a labor of love as I imagined Dad writing home from such a hostile environment.  As I carefully opened each letter, unfolded the fragile paper and started to read, it was as if I could hear his voice speaking through time.  To be honest, I believe transcribing Dad’s letters was one of the most worthwhile things I will ever do for our family.  His letters reveal the character of a young family man who wanted to be home but learned to love and care about the men he served with.  To this day, he can still tell you the names of many who “didn’t make it” back to their families.

Just as I recognized Dad’s “voice” speaking from a time when I was small, I believe Jesus was referring to a similar familial connection when He responded to the questions of some men who rejected Him as God’s Son in John 10:27-30,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” 

When Jesus came to this earth He knowingly stepped into enemy territory, a spiritual battle fraught with danger, to save those who would listen to His voice for eternity.  In my last post I wrote about Connecting Your Story with His.

It is as we connect our stories with His though faith, that we learn to listen and recognize the voice of the Shepherd of our souls.

Do you have such a connection?  Do you recognize His voice as He speaks to your heart?  Then embrace the miracle of a changed heart and mind; remember the battle waged that ultimately secured your redemption.  If you do not know the voice of the Shepherd but desire to, then answer His invitation given in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” He said.  “The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”

His Sacrifice given on your behalf and mine proves He is worthy of our trust . . .

Happy Easter!

Holy Love

Christmas morning, Love divine;

born a Savior, glory shines!

He came with purpose, to save the lost;

amazing Grace paid an awful cost.

Blessed are all who embrace the Savior,

Holy Love . . . there is none greater!

Joy-filled Love, redemption ours;

Grace-filled manger led to a Cross.

Do you know Him, can you see?

He came for sinners like you and me.

Holy Love how great the sound,

sing His praises all around!

“For to us a Child is born,
    to us a Son is given,
    and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of His government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over His kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.”   (Isaiah 9:6,7)

All to His Glory!