Scars

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

If you walk among the aspens, you’ll notice their scarred trunks. Many of the roundish blemishes are from branches that have fallen off, a natural part of the tree’s growth. Others, though, are more rugged. These irregularly shaped scars are usually the result of elk having chewed on the bark. Over time the wounds heal, but the scars remain as a testament of survival.

We all have scars. They are evidence of our past, and they make us unique. Our scars usually result from trauma – physical or emotional. For some it was abuse or neglect in childhood. Others of us carry scars from broken relationships, losses, accidents, illnesses, or threats. Many older people, looking back on their lives, acknowledge the pains they have endured, and still end up saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.” Why? Because they know they wouldn’t be the people they became over time without the events that sometimes wounded them.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our scars. They record our histories, they give evidence of our ability to survive, to heal. And they allow us to connect with those who recognize those scars as theirs, too.

Jesus was raised from the dead after a brutal crucifixion. He could have had any resurrection body he wanted, but he chose to keep his scars. They verified his identity to doubting disciples, and they still give evidence of his triumphant sacrifice for humankind.

Every scar we have represents pain that, by God’s grace, made us stronger, better, more like Christ. He didn’t hide his scars. We shouldn’t either.

Suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. – Joni Eareckson Tada

Paradise Lost?

 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43

I walked along a familiar road when I came upon this new sign telling me Paradise Drive was off limits. I had taken that shortcut many times before, but was no longer welcome.

Then I read the small print: HOA Residents, Guests, and Deliveries Only. Apparently there is a way in. Because I have nothing to deliver, my only hope is to be invited by a resident. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends!

You probably know where I’m going with this. We all want to get to Paradise someday, don’t we? Or Heaven as we more often call it. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that Heaven has restrictions for entry, too. But there’s hope! We already have Someone in residence there who wants us to come in. In fact, here’s what Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was arrested: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2b-3).

Then, just a few hours later, from the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief that they would be together in Paradise that very day. It seems that the way in is to accept an invitation from Jesus to join him there. So, this sign notwithstanding, I know my way to Paradise. I am the guest of the one who is preparing a place for me.

He issues that invitation to you, too. Say “yes” to Jesus and follow him home!

God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in heaven as you will be to be there with Him.”
– A. W. Tozer

The Family Name

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:18

Parents who adopt look for a child they think will fit into their family – someone they can love, nurture, and provide for. Once they find the child, they can’t wait to welcome him into their home.

God is building a family, too! His first adoption was the Jewish people. Here’s what he said to them, “. . . the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:2). Scripture often refers to Israel as God’s son.

God wasn’t done yet. Now, he we hear about other peoples of the world – those who are not Jews: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4b-5).

We are not born into God’s family with our physical birth. We have to be adopted in. The good news, though, is that anyone who wants to be in God’s family can be. He’s still in the adoption business.

Being adopted means our name changes. As we read above, we are brought into God’s family through Jesus Christ and, thus, we take the name Christian. It’s up to us now to carry that name with dignity, to bring honor to the family of God, to look to God as Father, and to follow Jesus as an older brother.

In all that, we never, never forget that God saw us, loved us, and chose to adopt us as his own. With that, we should wake up every morning smiling!

By God’s mercy, wretched paupers are made royal heirs together with Christ. By God’s mercy, wayward sinners are embraced as righteous sons.” – Jan Verbruggen

Jumbled thoughts?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

A few years ago, I took our grandson to a petting farm where he could see and touch all kinds of animals. We stopped at the enclosure where baby chickens were chirping excitedly and running around the pen – into and over each other. My grandson said, “I wish they would stand still so I count them.” Even though they were really cute, the chaos was unsettling. But there was no way to control them!

Later I heard God whisper that my thoughts were a lot like those chaotic chicks – noisily bouncing here and there, out of control, without direction, without peace. And, they were. I acknowledged that to be true and then realized he was reminding me that I should put my mind on him alone. I should calmly and confidently look to him and then my thoughts would follow – in a nice, quiet, straight line – just they way I like them.

I understood the problem better when I read this from Paul: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunningyour thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

There is a tempter who wants to create chaos in my thoughts by leading me away from pure devotion to Christ. God, on the other hand, directs me to stay focused on Jesus, promising that peace will follow. We know which of those two we want to listen to, don’t we? As we begin to know Jesus, we realize that he knows the path we need to take. Following him is the only way to peaceful thoughts!

“That which claims the most thorough part of our hearts, minds, and time both reflects and shapes our lives.” – Jill Carinini

Sacred Imagination

“Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long.” – Psalm 119:97

Do you sometimes feel there’s more your could get out of reading the Bible, but you just don’t know how? Many have realized through the centuries there are gifts of understanding God wants to give us that we won’t get by reading and study alone. Let me share what may be, for you, a new way of engaging with God through his Word. All you need is some quiet time and your imagination.

We can engage our imaginations by mentally placing ourselves in a biblical story. Recently I read the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet while he was dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:36-50). Then I decided to relive the story in my imagination. I saw myself in the place of this unnamed woman. She had a tarnished reputation, but she loved Jesus a lot. I imagined what she must have been feeling as the men around the table watched her anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears, knowing many of them were judging her. As I walked through the story in my mind with emotions fully engaged, I began to feel the weight of guilt she must have felt about her past and then the lightness of joy of hearing Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven. . . Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” 

Want to try it? Next time you read a biblical narrative, enter into it, imagining the surroundings, the other people, the smells and sounds, and sensing your own response as the story unfolds. Imagination is a gift from God. If we let him, he can use it to teach and transform us.

Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God, but God’s means of manifesting himself to us.” – Christian Wiman

Be good news!

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

I recently was reading a book by Richard Foster and came across this statement, “We cannot preach the good news and be the bad news.” I had to think about that. Have I ever been a “bad news” Christian? Judgmental, critical, dissatisfied, unaccepting, arrogant, stingy, or uncompassionate? Yeah. Probably. Sometimes.

I think you will agree there’s a lot of bad news in the world today. It’s easy to find it and to react to it. But, if we have a relationship with the eternal God and his Son who is the redeemer and ruler of this world, that bad news should not make us into bad news Christians. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be able to rise above the rhetoric of the day and be the most gentle, wise, loving, stable, compassionate, honest, confident, humble, and generous people on the planet.

Jesus commissioned his followers to share the news of his life, death, and resurrection and of his promise of new and eternal life to all who would believe and follow him. We are told to go into all the world to share this message and to invite people everywhere into relationship with the God of creation. That’s the best news anyone could hear. Few will listen, though, if we’re reflecting more of the bad news in our world than the good news Jesus told us to share.

We all want the same things, don’t we? To be loved, listened to, understood, and accepted. And that’s what Jesus did for the people around him. Maybe to share the good news, we first have to be the good news, just as he was.

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

A Good Life

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10b

How are you doing with living what Jesus calls an abundant life?

A life not focused on trivialities, but on substance.

A life with purpose that goes beyond what we can see.

A life of gratefulness for the pleasures we can enjoy, the beauties we can see, and the people we can love.

A life in which we truthfully can say something like, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing else I need.”

Pastor and writer John Piper talks about living with “. . . the awakening of heart capacities to soar with beauties, and the mysteries of creation and redemption, and with the revelation of God’s nature and God’s ways in Scripture.” A heart that soars – that sounds like abundant living, doesn’t it?

Notice that abundance does not mean lots of stuff, money, thrills, or entertainment. It’s a deeper level richness – abundance of the heart, of relationships, of eternal values, of appreciation. It’s a learned skill to rise above the earthly to the spiritual, but it’s so worth the effort.

Here’s a prayer that might help us get a bit closer to the abundant life we all want:

Lord teach me to play, to have fun, to enjoy this life with you at my side. Teach me to be courageous, to try new things, to risk failure. Give me the imagination to find new paths, make new friends, travel to new places, to stretch and grow and love and learn and dream. Teach me how to skip happily through life in love with you, enjoying your presence with me always.

“The transformation of the self away from a life of fear and insufficiency takes place as we fix our minds upon God as he truly is.”” – Dallas Willar

Just come.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” – Matthew 11:25

When we approach God as little children, we don’t have to worry about what we look like, how we feel, or whether we’re worthy. We just come – hopeful and open and a little scared. And then. . . we are welcomed enthusiastically into his embrace just as Jesus welcomed children when he lived on earth.

What happens when we are accepted flaws and all? We keep going back to people like that because we feel comfortable with them. That’s definitely true in our relationship with God. It takes only one soul-electrifying connection with his great loving heart and we are addicted. We’ll do anything to get that feeling again and again until it sinks in: He really loves us. Just. As. We. Are.

In the family of God, we don’t remain children. We keep returning to his presence, knowing we will never be turned away. And the more we hang out with him, the more we change. We grow up in God’s family much as we see our children grow up in ours.

But to mature spiritually, we have to maintain the attitude of a little child, remembering each day to be humble, teachable, not trying to take control, accepting what comes, trusting our Father, and treating those who come across our paths with joy, curiosity, and welcome. Little children know how to do that. Most of us grown-ups need to learn it.

“Christ wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” – C. S. Lewis

He came.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him…” – John 1:9-10

There were announcements of Jesus’ coming birth to Mary and Joseph, and his arrival was heralded by angels. But in the darkness of the Bethlehem stable, the most amazing proclamation of all came directly from the newborn boy. He stirred in his makeshift cradle, and his cry broke the silence of that night. That baby’s cry was the voice of God himself.

That cry shook the world of angels and demons. Eons ago, they had heard it break another silence as it called the world into being. They knew it as the voice that cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. It was the voice that called Abraham, spoke to prophets, and empowered kings. That world-changing voice was now coming from a tiny bundle of humanity. Could it be? What power was contained in that cry! What foreshadowing of what would come in his life. What hope for the world, created perfectly, now fallen. God had not sent a prophet this time or a king or an angel. He had come himself, and the world would never be the same.

The voice of God still speaks today for those who will hear. As we sit before him in worship and wonder, we wait to hear again the voice that cried out on that holy night. Then it comes: His voice resounds in the deepest recesses of our heart – through his word and through his Spirit.

Listen.

“What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.” -Ann Voskamp

NOTE: Post inspired by Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee.

Any mountains to be moved?

I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. – Isaiah 45:2

I look at mountains every day outside my windows. I don’t want any of them to move! They’re strong, ancient, and remind me of God’s creative power. Yet, Jesus taught we could move mountains with just a mustard-seed-sized faith.

One morning, he seemed to ask specifically, “Do you have any mountains you want me to move?” He didn’t mean the ones outside my window. He meant mountains relating to my life. Mountains I don’t have the power to move myself. 

For God, power isn’t a problem: “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth” (Psalm 97:5). So, I prayed. He listened. And I tried hard just to trust.

When I think of God moving a mountain, I’d like it to be instantaneous – an earthquake maybe. But, often, it seems, he moves the mountains a stone or a rock at a time. That requires my patience, but it’s OK. Usually, I can see him at work and know that someday that mountain will be moved.

One of the mountains I prayed about that morning has been removed. Gone! And without any help from me. I’m so thankful for God’s melting it away like wax. The others? I’m still praying, still trusting – believing God is moving them in his own way and in his own time – maybe just pebble by pebble.

Are there any mountains you need to pray about today?

“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. . . Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom