Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Week Seventeen - Grace is Greater

Grace has been a word on my heart these past few weeks and has frequently appeared in my Bible reading as I have been going through Paul’s Epistles.  God’s grace – so freely given to me, a plain, ordinary sinner.  Undeserved, unmerited, but mine through the blood of Christ.
    A while back, a young man spoke to me of the work of God’s grace in his heart.  He had faced several years of great trial and a sad family breakup that left him broken and angry.  He began telling me about a book that had been the impotence of spiritual and emotional healing in his life.  My heart was intrigued.  What book had prompted such a change in this young man’s heart and helped him to regain his footing?  It was Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.  So, of course, I ordered the book for myself.
    Let me start by saying, I greatly recommend it to you, too.  Now, for a few truths I pulled from the book.  Kyle Idleman writes, “With grace…you take the consequences.  That’s not fair.  It’s not right.  But it is exactly what Jesus did for you” (p 84).   What?  Does grace mean sucking it up in order to live as the example of Christ? Does it mean resisting the temptation to make things fair?  Or, right? I believe that is exactly what he is saying and that is a part of what suffering with Christ means.
    Then, I read, “Stop thinking about what’s been done to you, and start thinking about what’s been done for you…because what’s been done for you is greater than what’s been done to you” (p 85).  I find that thought so humbling and very true.  Jesus paid a higher price to exhibit and grant grace than I have ever done or will ever do.  When I focus on my hurts, I detract from His great sacrifice.  I am saying my hurts are worse than His.  And, I get my focus all wonky.  I create my own pity party, to which grace is never invited.
    Then, he said, “Learning to forgive is growing up” (p 91).  And I think this is one of the keys to mature Christianity.  I know it is the key to personal happiness and confidence in Christ.  We are to forgive as He forgives.  We are to let things go and allow God to be the judge and the administer of justice.  When we hold a grudge, we are the ones who wind up being the most hurt.  The other person has no idea.  But we do – we know the depth of despair and the unreasonable attitude we contend with as we refuse to forgive.  Grace means I get back into my place and recognize I need as much forgiveness as the next person.  We have all sinned.  Grace makes us all level, all needy, and all accountable.
      It is such a relief to let it go.  When we turn the situation over to the Lord and get our eyes back on Him, we experience the deeper healing that only forgiveness and grace give.  It truly restores our soul.
    As this young man took hold of the principle of grace and forgiveness, he found healing for his heart.  His hope was renewed, and God began to open doors of potential for him.
    So, it’s time to grow up.  It’s time to let forgiveness doing its healing work and administer the wonderful grace of God into our situation and to ourselves.  Only then will we be released to find the freedom and joy we so earnestly desire.  Only then can we sing:
Grace, Grace, God’s Grace.  Grace that can pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, Grace, God’s Grace.  Grace that is greater than all our sin.
   We are going to be looking more into grace and forgiveness over the next two weeks.  That gives you time to get the book and have a read.  No one says forgiveness and grace are easy, but they are vital and possible through the power of Christ.  I’m excited to share more of what I have learned.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Week Sixteen - Two Funerals and a Death

   On Thursday, April 11th, only an hour or so apart, our family had funerals for two mothers-in-law.  One in England passing away after battling cancer and the other going suddenly from a heart attack here in the USA.  Two women, dearly loved by their families and sorely missed, finished their course.  All of the flowers, cards, and tokens of sympathy, though greatly appreciated, cannot take the place of these two women who were the glue to their families.
   Death is a solemn reminder of our finiteness, our temporary time on earth, and of the appointment, we must all answer.  The Lord is the only one who knows when that appointment will be and what manner it will take.   It is certain we are not in control.  His timing is perfect and His plan purposeful.  Our times are in His hands.
   We can either fear this truth as we walk around looking for the Grim Reaper, which isn’t a healthy way to live.  Or, allow it to motivate us to spend our sojourn in wisdom while there is time. 
   Another death took place in our family as well.  This time, the victim survived, but the person is gone.
It was the third Sunday in February before Tom and I got to Missouri.  That Sunday afternoon we drove out to the farm to visit with my dad.  We had a nice visit and I was so glad to finally get there to see him.  Then, about eight days later, he had some sort of unexplained event that pushed his mild dementia over into the total loss of concentration.  He still knows who we are and can answer basic questions, but he is gone.  No longer will he tell us stories or laugh and tell jokes.  No longer will he be free to take a drive or go out to eat.  His life now finds him living in a strange place where he looks for someone who will take him home. He wanders about looking for his pickup and trying to figure out what is happening around him.
    I am so thankful the Lord allowed me to have one more good visit with him.  I am thankful I can still go and give him a hug and hear him say, “I love you.”    Still, I’m finding this almost as hard as the two funerals.  At least they had completion and closure.  With Dad, we just don’t know how long this new chapter in his life will run.
    As I pray and meditate on these two funerals and the death of my Dad’s personality, I must deal with it by faith.  God knows our end.  His way will be perfect.  I am not in control of these situations and not wise enough to make the choices myself.  I must look to Him, the author and finisher of my faith, making sure I am ready to meet Him, no matter what path our reunion takes.
   I know this is an odd devotion, but I believe these are God-given opportunities causing us to consider our humanity and humble ourselves under the hand of God. 
   I covet your prayers for the losses in my family and for my Dad as we take this journey together.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Week Fifteen - More Than Expected

    Verse six of Philemon is one of those verses where my mind stops and begins to ponder.  It reads, “that the communication of your faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”  I start to consider, “What makes my faith become effective? Do I communicate my faith well?  Do others look at my life and see good things?  Do they see Christ?  Do they acknowledge my Christianity?”
       Usually, I go on to read the rest of Philemon and move on, but the last time I started looking deeper into the story to see if the answers to my questions could be found inside the book.  And, of course, because the Bible is its own best commentator, It did. I saw something that I enjoyed meditating on and wanted to share with you.
        Paul makes a strong appeal both to Philemon and Onesimus to demonstrate their reconciliation.  Onesimus is to show his new-found faith by obedience in returning to make things right with his master, and Philemon, the master, is to exhibit his mature faith by forgiveness and restoration toward the runaway slave.
       But it isn’t enough for Onesimus to return and for Philemon to take him in, they must do more.  As Paul says in verse 21, “having confidence in thy obedience…knowing that thou wilt do more than I say.”   
       Maybe Philemon needs to put Onesimus into a better home or a better position.  Maybe Onesimus needs to become a better worker.  Whatever Paul is hinting at, we know he meant a simple “sorry” and “I forgive you” were not enough. That would fail to communicate the whole picture.  They needed to show repentance and forgiveness through visible actions as well.  Actions that would communicate their faith to those around them.  Actions that would cause others to take notice and lift up Christ.   They needed to do more than was expected.
      We are to be salt and light doing good works that can be seen.  And, we need to do more than is expected.  How will people be able to acknowledge the working of God in our lives unless they see something visual, something different from the norm?  That is how we communicate real faith. 
      What does that mean for me?  It means going the extra mile.  It means laying self aside and looking to the needs of others—putting them first.  That makes my faith more effective.  Maybe I need to look for opportunities to do good works?  Maybe I need to not just talk about being a Christian but act like a Christian in ways that go beyond what people expect. Since the Lord intends us to be going about doing good, He will open the opportunities.  We must be alert and obedient.
       Do I communicate my faith well? Of course, I’d like to say I do, but sometimes, like you, I am not sure at all.  Do I always have an answer ready for every man that asks about my faith?  Does my loving attitude show I am a Christian?  Do I take the witnessing opportunities as they come? Do people look at my life and see Christ?  Or, is He obscured by worldliness, anger, poor decision, or fear?  Do others see good works coming from me?   Works that are more than expected? Do they acknowledge my Christianity? Oh, how I hope they do.  That is the challenge my study placed before me.
     What about you? Can you say that the communication of your faith is effective and acknowledges every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus?  Something to meditate, isn’t it?


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Week Fourteen - Lord, I Need a Friend

     After over thirty years on the mission field, I have seen friends come, and friends go. The reasons may vary, but they have moved in and out of my life at a steady pace. A few years ago, after being stateside for over a year, I faced returning to the field with no close friends to welcome me back.  My nearest friend was two hours away and I was feeling the emptiness. So, that began my prayer, “Lord, please give me some friends.”  I had loads of folks around me in ministry, but I was missing the closeness that comes with two hearts bound in friendship outside the ministry context.
     Once home, I continued my prayer and looked expectantly for my new friend.  I tried developing friendships with those around me and reaching out where I believed was potential but came up dry. I continued my prayer and looked to the Lord as I waited for Him to bring me a real friend or two.
     Then, I got the dreadful news no one wants to hear.  Cancer.  My concern for a friend waned as I began to draw upon my True Friend who faced the fears within me and helped me wade through decisions as a cancer patient.  I needed help to understand what was happening and someone to guide me through the process.  The only doctor I knew personally was the young wife of one of our former students, so I confided in her and she became my confidant and source for decision making.
      This young woman listened patiently as I explained my fears and queried every medicine and procedure.  She took time to ask her colleagues and find the answers for me as she assured me of a good outcome. She met with me and sent little tokens of concern.  She, too, lived over two hours away, but she took time to come and sit with me and through this process, we became deep friends.
     As Robert Browning put it, “Hush, I pray you!  What if this friend happens to be – God?”  Truly, God had answered my prayer.  Her friendship was the hand of God in my life – His arms around me.  Not only through my bout with cancer, but continuing today, her kindness and our unlikely friendship (as she puts it), is an answer to prayer.
     Through counsel, comfort, sharing, and caring, friends are not only a gift from the Lord, but they are also tools in His hands. But friendship is a two-way street.  God wants us to be a blessing to others, also.
      My young friend faces a strenuous life. She is a wife and mother, a medical student, and a working doctor facing stresses most of us never know about the profession.  In her times of need, God has allowed me to be her confident and source of release and solace, causing our friendship to grow deeper as we do the give and take required to grow a friendship and keep it alive.  Our unlikely friendship is a joy to us both.
     We enjoy playing card games, walking on the beach, sipping cups of tea before the open fire, and old books. One she shared with me is The Transforming Friendship by Leslie D. Weatherhead.  Written mainly about friendship with Christ, the author wrote, “When I go out to do a service to another man in the name of Christ I feel I have not had an experience with that other man.  I have had an experience with Christ.”
     And that must be the basis of true friendship; to do good for someone else, to love them with an unselfish and generous spirit; to give to them as unto Christ. For only then will we be doing them a service.  Only then will we recognize God amid our friendships.
     As I look at my new friendship, I still see it as an answer to prayer.  And God didn’t stop by giving me one friend; I now have my young doctor friend, but also, two colleagues nearby for fun and encouragement, an older, solid friend who is like a mother, and beautiful, maturing friendships within ministry. With the arms of these friends around me, I see and feel the love of God – the everlasting arms – underneath holding all of us up together.  I’m never alone.
     If you are feeling empty and lonely due to a lack of friends, call out to the True Friend, and allow Him to bring people into your life to meet your need.  They might be unlikely, but as He saw it was not good for Adam to be alone, He knows you need a companion as well.  You never know who He will send your way, but you will feel His loving arms around you in the friendships He gives.

“Hush, I pray you!  What if this friend happens to be – God?”  Robert Browning*

Weatherhead, Leslie D, The Transforming Friendship, London, Epworth Press, 1936, p 135.
*page 122