Sunday, August 27, 2017

Remembrance

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. Psalm 77:11

I'm so horrible at remembering faces that my kids have even pointed out people in the grocery story and asked, "Mom, isn't that your friend." I definitely have a weakness in this area but Nataliya's name and face made such an indelible impression on me when I first met her five years ago at a church luncheon that I immediately recognized her when I slid into a seat next to her at a Women's Conference yesterday. During a break, I asked her about how her mother was doing and a surprised look transformed her face, shocked that I would remember her mom after all these years.

The day I first met Nataliya is highlighted in my mind. My friend Dana had invited me to visit her church for a women's brunch.  If I can help it, I never miss a chance to spend time with Dana plus great food takes me back to my college days and the joys of the church potluck dinners. We sat down at a table in the back of the room and across from us was a beautiful woman with blond hair, wide set eyes and the high cheekbones you see on Eastern European models.  Next to Nataliya was a beautiful older woman with the same cheek bones. Nataliya explained that her mom was visiting for several months but didn't know English.   Every once in a while Nataliya would lean over and quietly explain what was going on in Ukrainian.

During the meal, we went around the table and introduced ourselves and during the process learned Nataliya's amazing life story of growing up in Ukraine and coming to North Carolina after meeting her husband online through an international dating website.  I was amazed at how brave and open she was about her life story- there is no way I would have left my life and family to marry some guy from Ukraine.   After coming to the United States, she started attending church with her husband and in the process came to know Jesus.   Her eyes lit up as she shared the transformation that had taken place in her heart after finding her Savior and True Love.  She thought she had traveled across the world to find love and a new life with her wonderful husband but God had a bigger plan that meant she would find the One who loved her so much that He sacrificed His life so that she would have eternal life.   Wow!  I am always amazed and humbled to learn of the extremes God goes to to make us aware of His love. After finishing her story, she looked at at us and said in the heartfelt manner of someone who knows True Love and wants everyone else to know it too, "Please pray for my Mom to know Jesus."

When someone asks me to pray for salvation, I pray.  I never doubt that it is God's will.  2 Peter 3:9 says "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God's heart is for everyone to know Him regardless of our gender, race, age or ethnicity.  Everyone.

Seeing Nataliya yesterday brought back her heartfelt request for us to pray for her Mom.  As we were standing in line for coffee during a break, I mentioned remembering her prayer request for her Mom's salvation.  Her face went pale with shock and she looked at me and said, "I can't believe you remembered my Mom and my prayer request. I don't even remember asking you." She paused and then joyfully answered my question. " My mom is saved.  She knows Jesus." She paused again and then gave me a concerned look. She explained, "God has told me to keep a journal.  He said 'Write it down.' This is why I am supposed to journal so that I can remember important things like this." I totally understood her conviction and calling.   God had called me to write and I had realized if I wasn't writing I wasn't being obedient to His calling.  Not all of us are called to write but all of God's people are called to remember His goodness, celebrate answered prayers and acknowledge His provision and protection.

Even before the people of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt, God told them to celebrate the Passover for all generations to come.   “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast." Exodus 12:14    By the time Jesus was born, the descendants of Israel had been celebrating the Passover to remember God's deliverance for 1,300 years. Just as the Passover was a way to remember the miracle of the Exodus,  Communion is a time to remember the bondage that we have been delivered from, a time to celebrate the amazing gift of new life that we have in Christ. Jesus told his followers to celebrate their deliverance from sin and death by remembering his sacrifice, "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Luke  22:19

It is so important to remember what God has done for us. As the Psalmist encourages us, "I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." Remembering requires valuing what God has done, repeating and sharing so we don't forget. What helps you remember God's blessings and answered prayers?  How would you share stories of God's blessing and salvation with others?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Are You Intolerant?

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

I’ve realized I am intolerant.
Over the past week, I’ve read a lot of posts that include phrases like “racism and intolerance are incompatible with American values.”  I agree that racism is incompatible with the founding principles of our country.  The “Declaration of Independence states that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”   

I firmly believe racism is incompatible with being a Christian.  One of my favorite verses states “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 This verse was written to address areas of racial and economic discrimination in the early Christian church. The early church leaders knew tolerating discrimination devalued Christ’s sacrifice for everyone.   While it might be human nature to devalue people of different economic, cultural or religious backgrounds, it was incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. James 2

Early Christianity was remarkable that people of all backgrounds worshiped together.  First Century society was more racist and economically divided than anything we could imagine today. While the first twelve disciples were men, a woman was chosen to tell everyone that the Messiah had risen.   Galatians 3:26  says we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We might be different but we are all loved and valued in our Father's eyes. One of the most beautiful pictures painted by a scripture verse is found in Revelation 7:9 describing a vision of heaven, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” 

All this to say, as much as I am certain that racism is incompatible with both Christian and American values, I am just as certain that I am intolerant.  I believe that much of the conflict and heartbreak today has grown out of tolerance. We have sat passively by and tolerated racism, injustice, and lies with an attitude of tolerance that has allowed atrocities to continue.

I am intolerant of racism.
I am intolerant of devaluing another person because of their race, gender, mental capacity, age, economic status, nationality, viability outside of the womb, weight, physical handicap, or any other thing that could cause us to look down on someone.  When we devalue a person based on their skin color, nationality, gestational age, or gender, we are devaluing God because every person is created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 clearly states, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  There is no doubt that there are remarkable differences between the 7.4 billion people in the world but I believe he made us different colors, genders, heights, aptitudes, interests and temperaments so in our diversity we get a taste of His vastness and we reflect His beauty and creativity.

I am intolerant of lies.
I am intolerant of disrespecting ourselves and others by lying to ourselves and to other people.  Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and I hate that He twists the truth so that we sacrifice the blessings God has for us for cheap imitations of love and happiness that devalue Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and devalue His Word. Psalm 119:128

I am intolerant of injustice. 
Proverbs 20:23 states “The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.” While I am certain life is not fair, as this blog about Job’s suffering points out, one of the reasons God set up the Law in the Old Testament was to provide justice and a safeguard for His people, including women and children and to protect immigrants who were of different races.  Deuteronomy 10:17-19 makes this clear, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

 While laws like “An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, foot for a foot” seem incredibly harsh to us today, 3,500 years ago when this law was given, it was remarkable because it limited retribution.  Rather than a tit for tat battle that says, “You hurt my eye, so I am going to hurt your eye and kill you cow” spiraling out of control like a gang war or generations of conflict we see in parts of the Middle East, the Law created a system of justice.

If we tolerate injustice, lies and discrimination; our hearts grow hard and insensitive to the Holy Spirit and a feeling of hopelessness and victimhood takes hold among those who are mistreated. Anger grows and violence explodes just like a pressure cooker that wasn’t used according to the directions.  God gave us very clear directions.  We are to love him and love our neighbor as ourselves.  Matthew 22:37-39  As Christians, we are called to a higher standard. It is time to repent of not following His directions and hold each other accountable. 

My tendency when faced with bad things is to be passive.  I freeze up when someone is telling a racist or sexist joke. I know it is weak but I don’t know how to respond.  Confronting lies, calling out injustice, denouncing racism, and actively valuing every person is hard.  It is scary and can upset people but I have realized that just as James denounced favoritism in the early church in Jerusalem and Paul argued against racism and sexism in the Galatian church in Greece, each of us have this same responsibility.

Dear Jesus, I am sorry for being complacent and tolerant of sin in my life.  I am sorry for not confronting racism, injustice, sexism and the Devil's lies. I am sorry for not standing up for those who do not have the resources to stand up for themselves. I am sorry for valuing comfort over listening to the Holy Spirit. Please forgive me and show me how I should love others as I love myself. Amen


 Are you intolerant?  How do you intentionally value everyone?  How do you confront lies?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Child's View

God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we've done wrong.  1 John 1:9


My friend's 6 year old son was devastated. Before bedtime, he began to tell him mom about bad things he had done, mistakes he had made and the mean things he had said.  Through tears of shame, he asked his mom, "How could God love me? How could he forgive me?"   My friend quickly assured him that there is nothing he could ever do that would make God not love him.  With a kiss and a hug she put him to sleep.  

Later, she shared with me her struggles about her conversation.  She was heart-broken that he felt such grief and sadness.  He was so distraught over such little things, like mean thoughts and watching big kid's shows, things that most of us wouldn't think twice about.   At the same time, she didn't want to dismiss his concerns.  As I listened to her story, I couldn't help but think of Jesus when he said, “We must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

This six year old knew that he had made mistakes and he wasn't perfect.  None of us are perfect but once we get older we tend to rationalize our mistakes and compare our relatively minor imperfections with dysfunctional family members, our out of control friends or the really messed up people on reality tv shows. Compared to them- we aren’t that bad. We reach a point where we have to do something major like driving a car after having too much to drink, discovering an unplanned pregnancy, or running a red light and endangering someone's life - to admit to ourselves that we are sinners.

Romans 3:23 says "we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  The Greek word translated "sin" in this verse means "missed the mark"; in other words, we make mistakes and we aren't perfect.  Realizing that we make mistakes is the first step to realizing we need a Savior. If we were perfect, we could save ourselves.   Since we aren't perfect, we need to ask God's forgiveness for all of our sins- the major ones that haunt us and the small ones like being mean or being caught in a lie.

I told my friend that her son should simply pray and ask Jesus to forgive his sins.  The Bible says, “He is faithful and just to forgive all of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9   Jesus can take away the awful feelings of guilt and shame.  There is nothing that we have done, said or thought that He won’t forgive.  Nothing.  All we have to do is ask. He makes us pure and holy.

Talking with my friend reminded me of when I was five years old. At that very young age, I realized I was a sinner.  I knew I had done bad things and so every night I prayed and asked God to forgive me.  As I look back on my life I am so grateful that I realized that I wasn't perfect and and made mistakes when I was young.  I learned that Jesus loved me not because of what I had done for him but because of what he had done for me.  Realizing His love for me at such a young age has given me a lifetime of confidence in His love, grace and forgiveness. 

If you have a young one in your life, don't miss out on the opportunity to introduce them to Jesus's amazing grace and love at an early age.   Romans 8:38-39 promises us that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus- Nothing.    You can help them avoid so much grief and heartache if they learn they are always loved and there is nothing they can do to lose God's love.    

How old were you when you realized that Jesus loved you in spite of all your sins and mistakes? How did that change your life?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rejoice with me

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15




Summer seems to be the time that my friends fill Facebook and Instagram with all kinds of amazing and beautiful experiences. One friend spends half her summer at the beach, another's husband and daughter are in Rwanda, a couple of friends went to England, friends from England traveled to the States, a dear friend went to NYC and was able to share her favorite hangouts with her kids and I was able to take a picture of my feet on a black sand beach during a once in a lifetime trip to Hawaii. Really, it is truly amazing to see all the joy captured in these posts and pictures.

Now it is time for a quick gut check- When you hear about other people's blessings do you rejoice or are you envious?  I have to admit- sometimes I am envious.  It is hard to rejoice with some people.   This inner conflict- most of us have had at one time or another- is the reason that told to rejoice in the Bible.  Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."  If rejoicing with others was always natural and easy, we wouldn't have to be told to do it.  It's like picking up dirty clothes, my kids have to be told to do it because they don't do it naturally.

Though it may go against our natural instinct to rejoice with some people, the Holy Spirit can empower us to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. The antidote to envy is giving glory to God and trusting that just as God blessed our friend (or someone we don't like) , He has blessed us and will continue to bless us more. His resources aren’t limited.

An important way to encourage each other in our faith is to rejoice in the goodness of the Lord in our friends’ lives. Being able to share joy with others is so important that the word “Rejoice” appears over 100 times in both the NIV and King James Versions of the Bible. It is a command and a response. When we share with others what God has done for us, we can encourage them to trust that God can do exceedingly and abundantly even greater things for them.

Jesus told a story about a woman who lost a valuable coin- worth about a days wages.  She swept and cleaned her house until she found the coin. "And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’" Luke 15:9  "The idea behind the prefix “re” is to do something again- i.e. redo, return. So, “to rejoice” means to feel the joy again. The woman had the initial joy of finding the coin but the joy was multiplied because she could rejoice with her friends. 

At times, I am hesitant to share my blessings because I don’t want to be perceived as bragging. The proper heart in sharing blessings requires us to not seek glory for ourselves but instead to glory in what God has done. God calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. It is much easier to rejoice with someone who has shared her hard times as well as her good times. When we are authentic with others, they will be able to mourn with us in the hard times and rejoice with us in the times of blessing. By remembering the struggles of the past, we will be able to appreciate the blessings in the lives of our friends and our own life." Embracing Change, p. 180

God calls us to rejoice with others because when we rejoice with our friends, we get to enjoy and celebrate the blessing again and again.

This week look for opportunities to rejoice with the people God has put in your life. Ask them to tell you about a blessing they have recently experienced. Your request will allow them to re-joice and will allow you to join in their joy!

Leave a comment on this blog, Facebook, Instagram or write an old fashioned letter to share how God has blessed you. Not to brag but to allow others to share your joy, take a minute to write down a blessing so you can read it and rejoice again.