Sunday, July 31, 2016
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
What do these things have in common- being promoted to a senior executive position, losing a child, going to college, cheering at soccer game, moving to a new town, adopting siblings, conquering cancer, surviving abuse, getting a puppy, filing for bankruptcy, going on vacation, or buying a new car?
All these things could constitute times of change and as a result they can also be times of extreme stress but if we love God- all things can work together for good. Some of these things seem "good" right off the bat- a promotion, adopting kids, cheering at a game, going on vacation. Other things clearly fall into the "bad" column like abuse, bankruptcy, and losing a child. Yet this verse says, “All things”. How could this be?
What if every circumstance in your life, every opportunity and even every heart break was allowed or even ordained by God to bring you closer to him and give you a way to connect with others so that they could come to know and love him? The “good” isn’t our happiness, our comfort, our health or our success; the “good” is a life changing knowledge of Jesus Christ.
In the Bible, there were many times that God used challenging situations to draw people to him. He promoted Daniel to be a leader and later allowed Daniel to be thrown in a lion’s den so that others would know that the Lord was the true God. He sent plagues on Egypt so that the Hebrews and the Egyptians would believe that He was the LORD God. He allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery and then elevated him to second in command to bless the people that had betrayed him. He caused a foreign general named Naaman to get leprosy and allowed a little Hebrew girl to be sold as a slave into Naaman’s house so that she would tell him about the one true God. He allowed a man named Lazarus to get so sick that he died, so that all the people around his town would know that Jesus has power over life and death. A woman suffered unstoppable bleeding for many years so that God’s power could be displayed in her life. Paul and Silas were thrown in prison so that an entire family would be saved. A night of fishing with no fish caught opened the eyes of some hardened fisherman to God’s power in every part of their lives. A business woman was able to host a church in her house to share the good news of Jesus because she had abundant financial resources.
I’ve seen multiple examples in my life and my friends lives where God used a particular circumstance to share amazing good news of Jesus Christ and his love with others. Not too long ago I wrote about my friend Lindy who has experienced God’s hand and provision after a kidney transplant. Lindy has had the opportunity to share God’s grace and love with others while waiting at infusion centers. She is able to minister to people in scary health situations because she is there. God puts us in physical situations and through challenging times so that we can share the hope we have in Christ.
As I was flying back from my friend’s wedding, I got into a conversation with the man sitting next to me. It turns out he was on the final leg of a 36 hour flight from Mumbai. I had been writing much of the trip and when I finally took a break, he asked me if I was a writer. I explained about my obsession with Hezekiah that resulted in two books and Hezekiah’s downfall due to pride. He explained to me the Hindu concept of the Six Passions-Pride, Lust, Anger, Greed, Jealousy, and Temptation. We talked about the patterns of sin and suffering that we see all around us. He understood that the six passions lead to bad consequences. A guru had explained to him that the good and bad things we do in life are counted in an account that accumulates interest. We can have positive compound growth or negative interest. I was able to share with him that Jesus He pays all our debts so that we can experience abundant life. We don’t have to suffer the consequences of sin. Jesus breaks us free from the cycle of death once and for all. As we were talking, his face lit up and he exclaimed, “That is amazing.” He had gone to Convent school and was friends with a priest but had never connected that Jesus was the way to break free. God allowed both of us to be on that plane and in those seats for a divinely appointed conversation.
When I was 18, my 15 year old sister tragically died in an accident. In the midst of devastating heart break, as my parents were planning her service they asked the pastor issue an invitation for anyone who wanted to know Christ to come forward in the church and ask Jesus into their lives. Over 30 people came to know Christ at her funeral including my grandmother, who my mother had prayed for for years.
I recently read this quote in Calm My Anxious Heart and it struck me. "When I had children, I remember thinking, 'Are children now my purpose?' I realized that my children were my platform, not my purpose." This sentence has caused me to look at all my blessings, challenges and opportunities in a new way. I realized they are a platform to share God's love and the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said his purpose in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose...” We are called to be like Christ and to make disciples of all men. Where we live, where we work, where our kids go to school, who we talk to at the grocery store and our passions and interests are platforms for sharing the good news of Jesus.
Where has God placed you that you can share His love? What have you gone through that provides a bridge to the Grace of God for others? What resources and gifts do you have that provide a connection to bring others to Christ?
Saturday, July 23, 2016
“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way” Psalm 37:23
Sometimes an impulse is more than just a feeling. Several weeks ago while driving in my neighborhood I spotted two rocking chairs by the side of the road. On an impulse, I decided that I wanted those chairs. Since I didn't have the truck, I coerced my teenage son Chris to help me figure out a way to get them home. He came up with the ingenious plan of loading them onto skate boards and wheeling them home. I am sure we looked a little funny rolling the rocking chairs on skateboards down the long hill to our street.
Soon after picking up the chairs, a neighbor I didn’t know pulled up in her SUV and offered to give us a ride home. I was a little embarrassed about loading a dirty decrepit rocking chair in the car of someone I didn't even know. Swallowing my pride, I introduced myself and thanked her for her kindness as she took me and the rocking chair home.
After she dropped me off, I wondered, “What have I done?” The chairs were a mess, paint was peeling off, and the wood had split in multiple places. They needed a lot of work. On top of that I didn’t even need them. I was sure my husband wouldn’t be happy with cluttering up our house with these chairs. For a brief minute, I considered putting them back out on our curb. I knew the garbage truck would come that afternoon and simply take them away. Logic said, “Put them by the curb” but my heart said, “Hold on to them and you will understand.”
A couple days later, while browsing the clearance section at Walmart, a can of red spray paint caught my eye. On impulse, I bought the spray paint and started sanding, caulking and painting them. After three more cans of spray paint and a can of varnish, the chairs were presentable. For whom and why, I didn’t know but I kept going. Steadily working and refinishing. Renewing and refreshing.
About a week later, a friend posted a request on Facebook for home supplies for a missionary family who was coming back home for a four month break after two years in India. They had sold everything before they left the States. A home had been offered for them but it needed to be completely furnished for their family of six. On the list of needed items were rocking chairs! I finally understood my impulse to pick up the chairs.
When I dropped them off at their new house, it all made sense. The red chairs perfectly matched their red door! I love how God is into the details and nothing is too small for him if we are willing to be a little embarrassed and not always understand why we are doing something.
Have you had a situation where you felt an impulse or urge that didn’t make sense but in the end turned out to be God leading and directing you?
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 5:15
Once in a while you get a taste of heaven. A brief glimpse of the joy and connection that comes from being in Christ. I had a small taste of it while celebrating the marriage of a dear friend.
Our family had the blessing and privilege of being a church host family for a college student from Nicaragua. Bettina taught us about her life in Nicaragua and we had a chance to share our home with her during holidays and vacations when she wasn't able to go home. After graduation she moved to Europe and settled in a small suburb of London. There she found a wonderful church that meets over a coffee shop. More importantly, she met her future husband Will. As I got to meet Will and Bettina's dear friends from England and around the world- I was struck by the connection that we have in Christ. We truly are one body connected in Christ as a vine and its branches.
Will and Bettina's church served and gave sacrificially to host receptions, help with the decorations, sound system, music, food, signs, venue and even housing out of town guests like me. I was able to witness the body of Christ working together using their gifts, abilities and resources to bless Will and Bettina and give glory to God for the great things he had done.
The worship music during the wedding ceremony was the most enthusiastic joy-filled praise I have ever experienced at a wedding. As I stood there singing together with their friends from Nicaragua, South Africa, India, England, France, Belgium and the United States, I got a glimpse of the joy and celebration that will occur when people from every language and nation worship God together for eternity using their gifts, lifting their voices and celebrating the one who gave it all that we might have life in abundance.
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
and his Bride has made herself ready;
Sunday, July 3, 2016
I live in a bubble. Unlike Christians in Saudi Arabia, I am blessed to be able to openly wear the cross my husband bought me for our tenth anniversary. I have a friend who is Jewish and her family started a Jewish congregation in our town and can openly worship with friends and relatives. I have another friend who married into a Muslim family. They will all get together this weekend for Ramadan festivities and eat a big meal and celebrate that they are all together in our country able to worship in freedom. Our freedom in America was paid for by many soldiers who believed that freedom we enjoy every day was worth fighting for. They knew they might not even survive the battle to enjoy the freedom they fought for but they chose to risk everything for the opportunity for others to live in freedom.
Each of our Founding Fathers understood that Freedom and Liberty were essential to being who God created us to be. As the Declaration of Independence states, “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.” To further clarify the rights we have been given by our Creator, authors of the Constitution made sure the 3rd Article of the Bill of Rights states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the rights of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom is risky. People don't always make the best choices. Yet, a defining characteristic of Christianity is free will. Our country allows freedom of religion because God gives us freedom in choosing him. People aren’t born Christians. They chose to follow Christ. Just because your parents are Christian doesn’t mean you will choose to follow Christ and in the same way; if your parents aren’t Christian, you can still be a Christian because it isn’t an inheritance passed down through your mother’s lineage. Think about it- When Jesus was choosing the twelve disciples; he asked them to follow him. Each one had an option to decide – will I follow Jesus or will I continue whatever I was doing before he called me?
Once we decide to follow Christ, we have a choice -will we try to earn our salvation through our effort or accept that Christ saved us and that we are complete in him. Paul reminds the Galatians that Christ bought our freedom so that we can experience life completely. He writes in Galatians 5, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” We have a choice to live in the freedom that Christ has bought for us. He has redeemed us from slavery to sin and the empty way of life that we were born into, he died for us to live in freedom and not be burdened by earning our salvation through our effort. Galatians 5 continues with this important admonition, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” If we are using the freedom that Christ paid the ultimate price for to indulge our selfish whims and desires, we have stepped back into bondage.
True freedom is found in loving God and serving others through love. If we grow insular in our focus on our wants and needs it creates an unending hamster wheel of always seeking a little more comfort, a little more safety, a little more money, a little more food, a little more happiness. Our theme song becomes, "I can't get no satisfaction." The only way to jump off the hamster wheel into freedom is to realize that our freedom doesn’t come from serving ourselves but in serving others through love. The amazing thing is that as we serve, we will experience comfort from the Holy Spirit, safety from the presence of the Lord, our physical needs met by our Provider and joy in the Lord.
As you enjoy your freedom this weekend, pray for Christians around the world who can’t worship in freedom. Ask for God’s protection and strength for each of them. If you feel like you are caught on the hamster wheel of life’s worries, remember it is for freedom Christ has set you free. Revel in the freedom you have in Christ, freedom to choose Him and to serve others which will give you satisfaction and complete freedom in Him.