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Pondering upon preaching

I have been doing a lot of preaching this year and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.  Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining. I’ve come to enjoy preaching when, in the past, I only seemed to enjoy the preparation of the sermon. Having finally settled upon my style, I now enjoy proclaiming from the pulpit that which I prayed over and prepared in the study.

One aspect of my preaching that surprises me is the lack of humor.  I used to be much funnier in my preaching. However, I will also admit that my sermons lacked the depth associated with the genuine effort put forth in exegesis (a fancy word meaning the study of a passage to find its meaning). It’s not that I didn’t prepare adequately, it’s more that I didn’t really know how. I suppose that, like me, my preaching has matured. Yet I also think there is another component present. The older I become, the more I sense the urgency to communicate God’s message of salvation and His call to sanctification. In other words, I feel compelled to challenge people to seriously consider the truth claims of Christ; and I am acutely aware that God’s people need to be reminded each week both of God’s glory and Christ’s sufficiency as well as His commands to us to live holy lives in an unholy world.

Consequently, I have no desire to entertain when I ascend the steps to the pulpit.  Actually, I’ve never struggled with that particular temptation. But I can tell you that I wrestled with the performance trap in which preachers can get caught.  How did I do?  Did they like me?  Did I preach better than last time?  When we think this way, whether we realize it or not, we are actually seeking our glory rather than the glory of God. We are wanting the applause of men instead of the approval of God.  Honestly, I no longer care how I do.  It doesn’t matter if the congregation likes me or if my sermon was better than the previous time I preached. What I do care about is whether or not I was faithful in prayer and in preparation.  In the pulpit, I’m actually just reading my notes, the fruit of my time alone with God and His Word (hopefully, my reading includes good eye contact, voice inflection, helpful illustrations, etc.). What I now desire, rather than my performance, is that God might perform that which He alone can perform–the salvation of the elect and the continued transformation of those He has already called into His kingdom.  I long to be used of God in these ways.  Yet, I refuse to become discouraged when I leave church if nothing noticeable has transpired.  The Lord works in His own way and in His own timing.  My job is to be faithful. His job is the fruit.

Several years ago I preached a sermon in Supai, AZ, a small Indian village located in Western Grand Canyon.  I chose a particular text with the hope of encouraging a Wycliffe Bible translator couple who were devoting their lives to giving the Havasupai tribe a Bible in their own language.  Here was my text:

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
“Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
A leader and commander for the peoples.
“Behold, you will call a nation you do not know,
And a nation which knows you not will run to you,
Because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel;
For He has glorified you.”

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
12 “For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
13 “Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,
For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

That’s Isaiah 55. What a great passage! Can you pick out the particular section that a couple translating the Bible into another language–a task that literally takes years, if not decades, might find encouragement?

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

God’s Word will not return to Him empty.  That is the fuel for Bible translators as well as preachers of the Word. God uses His words–every time.  Commentator E.J. Young wrote, “The word does not return to God in vain, but rather accomplishes what He has desired and succeeds in that for which He has sent it” (p.384). What a comfort this truth is for me! As I read and explain God’s Word, I can have the confidence that my time is well-spent.  God is present and He will do as He sees fit with the text. Just knowing this gives me the motivation to turn right around and begin preparing my next sermon or Sunday School lesson!

Speaking of that…

The Book of Isaiah: A Commentary by Edward J. Young, Volume 3: Chapters 40-66, Eerdmans, 1972.

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Reflections on the Quest: From the heart

I wrote from the heart recently while I was in the heart of Northgate Mall (Chattanooga, TN).

For some reason, I was spent. I had to sit down and let others do the rest of the shopping.  Rather than scroll through Facebook yet again, I decided to write what was circulating in the back of my mind that afternoon. I hope you find it helpful in your striving for reality–the quest I remain on.  That day–July 25–I wrote:

Paul’s boast of Christ being his center (For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain) resonates more and more with me as I both age physically and mature spiritually. I so want to be able to honestly repeat Paul’s statement but I don’t feel it is true for me yet. One day, in glory, it will be the true sentiment of my heart and that of all of God’s people. In the meantime, I am called to make progress. I am commanded to seek God’s face, to draw near to Him through the of the means of grace (prayer, Bible reading and study, church involvement, Lord’s Supper, etc). Thus I have labored to be faithful in these activities since the Holy Spirit breathed life into my spiritually dead bones. For those many hours and days, I am grateful for God’s amazing grace. It is a glorious saving as well as a sanctifying grace. And, it has been absolutely needed in my life.

Should the Lord be pleased to continue to allow me to remain here for the benefit of my wife and children and others, I will continue drawing near to the throne of grace so that His image might more and more be reflected in me and that I might find the grace and strength I need to bless people and prepare for my life or eternity with Him. But should the Lord call me home to the better country I am seeking, I will rejoice that because of Him, and through Him, this saint has persevered to the end. On that day, I will be standing in His glorious presence without fear due to the righteousness of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then I will look forward, not back, entrusting my loved ones to the unending love of God and I will enjoy the Triune God with sinless affections, unhindered emotions, and a mind capable of apprehending divine truths as never before. What a transformation that will be! What a day of rejoicing!

God is in the equation

A couple weeks ago I needed a break and Dayton needed some Daddy time.  After considering the options, we decided that we would see the latest Jurassic Park movie.  Shortly into the movie, Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) was testifying before a congressional committee and replied to a question with the words, “God is not in the equation.”

Really?

I am currently teaching another Worldview course for Belhaven University.  On our second night of class, I teach about atheism and agnosticism. At one point in the class, I share this image:

In the first box labeled Naturalism we discuss the fact that naturalists (atheists) have no place for Deity in their system.  Their universe is closed.  As we consider Deism, we indicate that while their universe is closed as well, they allow the existence of God outside.  We write the word God above the circle.  Finally we meditate upon Theism.  According to Christian Theism, God is both in and outside of creation.  Our universe is open. The God who created is also free to enter His creation at any time for any reason.  Although He typically works with the natural laws He created and through providence, He also, from time to time, suspends that which we consider to be explainable and natural and performs miraculous deeds.  Theologians call God’s uniqueness and separateness from creation His transcendence and His intimate engagement within creation His immanence.  He is above His creation and at work within His creation.

But how do I know?

By faith (I know, every atheist and agnostic just tuned me out).  However, that’s the best answer I have.  “The Bible says so” is insufficient because it is through faith that we believe the Bible to present an accurate picture of reality. So, the bottom line is faith.  The naturalist believes their propositions.  I believe the propositions of the Bible.

And, if the Bible teaches anything, it is that God is undoubtedly IN the equation. He is at work each and every day within His creation.  This concept is especially poignant to me as I recall the presentation last night at church.  Our youth recently returned from Macon, MS where they spent a week at Lake Forest Ranch ministering to young people from the poorest county in America.  Several of our kids shared about how God worked in the lives of the young adults and children they met.  From all appearances, a few of the kids were even saved from their sins!  Another theme we also heard last night was that God worked in the lives of our own kids.  It was encouraging to hear how He met with our “student missionaries” and gave them the strength they needed for their fatiguing ministry as well as what He revealed to them about themselves.  In short, it was a great reminder that God is alive and well on planet earth.

If you know this to be true, praise God that He has not disengaged.  Thank Him be for being active in all of creation, particularly in your life.  If you doubt this is true, if you question the existence of God or that He is present and working, keep looking.  A friend of mine said to me just the other day that he had been the recipient of several God-sightings recently.  I can attest to the same.  So, keep looking.  You might even pray: “God, show me that You are alive, that You are real.”  And, you might even read parts of the Bible again.  Maybe start with the Gospel of John. You might just get a glimpse of God.

Searching for Jesus

Can people clearly see Jesus in you?

I was on a blog recently that is authored by someone who professes to be a Christian. In fact, I do not contradict her confession.  However, as I read the various pages and posts on the blog, I had to search for Jesus.  I went on a quest to see if His name was even mentioned.  To my relief, I finally found it.  I had a same experience years ago when I found myself on the website of a popular worship leader and vocalist.  She sang about Christ and spoke about Him while on stage but I couldn’t find a single reference to Him on the website.  Not one.

Perhaps these two women assume everyone visiting their pages knows that they follow and love Jesus.

Perhaps their omission is more telling.

I do know this: I want Christ to be so much my center that He is clearly visible in my life, including my sermons and my writings.  And, I want this to be both a conscious decision as well as a subconscious stream flowing from the reality that Christ Himself is my reality. I strive to that end and I very much hope that my striving results in others seeing Jesus in me.

I don’t want them to simply see God, particularly if we are working from a different definition of deity.

Several years ago, John Piper wrote two devotional works entitled The God-ward Life. The subtitle is “Savoring the supremacy of God in all of life.”  Where is Jesus?  On page one of the Preface!  As he recounts Augustine’s conversion, Piper quotes Romans 13:14.

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

The Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is Savior.  Augustine embraced these truths in August of 386 A.D. Many years later, John Piper would do the same.  Consequently, both author’s writings are filled with references to Him. For them, a “God-ward life” is a Christ-centered life.

One of the reasons these thoughts are resonating with me right now is my desire to be Christ-centered in my preaching. And the best way for my sermons to be Christ-centered is for me to be Christ-centered, to ensure that Christ is the center of my being and that everything I do, and I mean everything, revolves around the Center, around Him.

Charlie Hall wrote a simple song a couple years ago entitled, Center. Here are the lyrics:

You’re the center of the universe
Everything was made in You Jesus
Breath of every living thing
Everyone was made for You

You hold everything together
You hold everything together

Christ be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes
Be the center of our lives

We lift our eyes to heaven
We wrap our lives around your life
We lift our eyes to heaven, to You

Because of Who Jesus is (center of the universe) and because of what Jesus has done (created) and is doing (holding everything together), He should be “the center of our lives.”  What should we do?  Charlie instructs us. Fix our eyes upon Christ (lift our eyes to heaven) and wrap our lives around His life. What do you suppose he means by that?  My guess is that he would define his sentiment with the concept I have been discussing: Christ-Centeredness.  Wrapping sure sounds like an action verb to me.  It is something we are to do daily.  It is a decision that what I do today, how I act, react, speak and even think relates to the person and works of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I trust it includes our fellowship with Him through prayer and praise as well as our meditation upon His words.  You know–Christianity 101.  Without these important, though seemingly basic Christian duties, delight will not be present and Christ will not be our center.

Do you want people to have to search for Jesus in your life with the hope they might find Him, somewhere buried in a blog entry? Or, do you want people to be able to clearly see Him as the center of your life?  You know my answer!  I also know what that means I need to do today. What about you?

 

Our Idea of Heaven

As Jodi and I were reflecting upon our wedding ceremony, we remembered that her sister sang Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us. When we searched for the hymn on You Tube, we found a rendition by Leigh Nash. Since I liked her voice, I looked to see if there were any additional videos featuring her.  I found several, but the one that I  especially paused to watch was the song entitled My Idea of Heaven. In the video, the scene continues to switch from Leigh singing the song and then to couples sitting on a living room couch.  Each person on the couch has a white board upon which they wrote down their idea of heaven on earth.  Some of their thoughts included:

  • Snuggling on the couch eating ice cream
  • Being your baby’s daddy
  • World peace
  • A cold beer on a hot beach with my angel

Heaven on earth. What makes your list?  Time with your loved ones?  A great meal?  An awesome sunset?  I am thankful for those amazing moments God allows us to experience the goodness of His creation.  Every so often we get a glimpse of what life can be without the presence of sin.

Recently, I have been camped in the first several chapters in Revelation.  John, too, had a glimpse, an amazing vision of heaven.  In fact, he got a front row ticket to see some amazing things, some amazing events, some amazing beings. What struck me afresh was the view he got of Jesus Christ as recorded in the very first chapter of the book.

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lamp stands; 13 and in the middle of the lamp stands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

I think after seeing what he did, John’s white board description of his idea of heaven would be very different than most of ours.  In reality, it would probably simply read this:

JESUS!

Do you recall John’s response?  It was one of fear (“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man” [v.17]). Jesus is incredible and He is holy (thrice holy [Isaiah 6]…as holy as possible]. Awe and fear are natural responses. The description of what Jesus is like from John’s initial glimpse is instructive and you would be blessed by reading a few commentaries about the passage. In fact, that is a great way in which we can genuinely experience heaven on earth. And what a gift we have been given to do just that–the Bible!  The Bible is all about the central character of heaven and of history itself–Jesus Christ. The Old Testament clearly points directly to Jesus via promises, prophecies and types.  Jesus Himself is actually recorded as having invaded time and space prior to His incarnation, His walking among us (see Genesis 1:1 [Colossians 1:16], Joshua 5:13-15, Isaiah 6:1 [John 12:41]). The New Testament teaches us about His life, words and works (Gospels), how He built His Church (Acts), how He wants His followers to live (Letters) and what He plans to do in the future (Revelation).

Are you regularly (hopefully daily) spending time in God’s Word?

There is nothing wrong with the lists above provided by, I presume, the married couples (though World Peace isn’t going to happen until the Lord Jesus returns). We should enjoy God’s gifts in moderation (ice cream and cold beer are both equally sinful if used in excess). But no matter how good a dessert or a refreshing beverage tastes, God’s Word is better. It is better than creation and that which is created because of its essence and its effects.  Consider these words from Psalm 19, written by someone who loved general revelation (sunrises, sunsets, stars, canyons, hills, etc.):

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

The descriptive words used for the word of God and what it produces are clear in this passage. As a result, the author calls it “more desirable than fine gold” (the most valuable earthly possession he can think of). He also said it is sweeter than honey (the sweetest earthly possession he can think of).  Here’s my guess: If David were sitting on a couch and given a white board and asked about his idea of heaven, he just might have written: God’s Word.

What are your thoughts?  In particular, do you find God’s Word pleasurable, especially your glimpses of Jesus?  I hope that you do.  If not, plead with God to open your eyes.  It’s something only He can do it and we all very much need it done for us.  It is a matter of life and death.  Seriously.  You can have a taste of heaven in this life, but God has to reach down and allow it.  Ask him to do that.  Today.  It is that important.

 

An Opportunity for Daily Death

This afternoon I had the great privilege of officiating a wedding for a wonderful young couple.  They grew up in our church, fell in love after high school and decided that their two persons should become one flesh.  Since no one likes a long wedding sermon, I kept my remarks short.  Having said that, however, I did think it necessary to remind the bride and groom (especially the groom!) of the kind of love described in God’s Word that spouses (all people actually) are to have for each other.  After 1 Corinthians 13 was read, I spoke on the three main Greek words for love found in the New Testament: eros, phileo and agape.  The majority of my message (a charge to the couple really) focused on agape–the sacrificing love that practically looks like the love Christ had for His Bride, the Church.  It is also the type of affection (action) mentioned in “the love chapter” (1 Cor. 13).

In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders Paul’s eloquent description of love as follows:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

Here’s part of what I said to the couple:

Agape.  Self-sacrificing love.  That love with which Jesus loves His Church, the sheep—to the point that He actually laid down His life—is the love described in the passage we just heard read, 1 Corinthians 13. Drew, that is the love you are to manifest in your relationship with your wife, Laura.  And Laura, that is the manner of love you are to express to your husband, Drew. It is a day-in, day-out conscious decision to put the other person before yourself.  In a very real sense, circumstances and feelings do not matter for this peculiar love which abides—which must abide. One author stated, “love is a verb. Love is something you do; sacrifices you make…Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions (Covey, Seven Habits, p.80).  Agape.

It is a love that is patient and kind.  It is a love that is not jealous and which does not brag nor is it arrogant.  It isn’t selfish or self-centered. It is not easily angered and (the importance of this cannot be overstated:) it keeps no record, no record of wrongs. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.”  Peter said it even better:  Love covers a multitude of sins. Holy Spirit-assisted, Christ-like love forgives.  This love always forgives, always protects, always trusts, always hopes and goes the distance. Agape love never fails.

Before you navigate back to FB or move on to another website, think for a minute of your relationships.  Are you married?  Maybe a parent?  Have a best friend? Still living with your parents?  My guess is that in whatever season of life you find yourself, my challenge is appropriate for you to hear.  I know it was helpful for me!  I love decently, but I very much have room for growth!  One day I want to be described as someone who loves like Christ, someone who effectively agape(s).  In other words, I want to be known as a man who dies daily to self in order to bless others. Isn’t that your desire as well?  It’s interesting that Peterson choose to end his rewording of that great section included above with the words “Love never dies.”  He means, of course, that it does not end.  It always lives.  But it does indeed die.  Every day.  Every day is an opportunity for daily death, for laying down our lives so that others might live more abundantly.  Let’s do that today–in His strength and for His glory.

TV preachers to my rescue

Two Sundays ago saw a rare event–I was home rather than being in church.  Seems like every six months I get a dosey of a sinus infection and end up missing our weekly gathering with God’s people.  After getting the kids up and cooking some breakfast for those hungry, I was ready to relax on the couch.  With remote in hand, I summed up the courage and turned on the television, hoping to find some men actually preaching the Bible.  To my amazement, several TV preachers came to my rescue.

OK; I wasn’t that amazed.  I knew who almost every preacher was and I know their theological persuasion as well as the fruits which have resulted from their ministry.  In other words, I was able to be discerning in my selection and in my listening.

First, I caught the end of a Charles Stanley sermon from First Baptist in Atlanta, GA.  As usual, Dr. Stanley read and explained the Word of God. I actually believe he is better now at doing so than he was in his prime.  The fact that he is still preaching to the best of his ability was an encouragement to me. The text was 2 Timothy 4.

Second, I watched James MacDonald from Chicago (Elgin) preach from Nahum, chapter one.  I was particularly helped by verse seven:

The Lord is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

After mentioning God’s hatred of sin and that He will indeed punish sin, Nahum reminds Israel (and me!) of the great truths: goodness is an essential aspect of God’s character, He is a safe place for believers going through difficult experiences and the Lord sees everyone who trusts Him.  A good word for me to hear today (and everyday)!  James’ preaching style was also a nice change from what I am used to seeing.

Third, I watched David Jeremiah from San Diego preach from Ecclesiastes, chapter twelve. Solomon’s conclusion for us grabbed my attention yet again:

13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

What did the wisest man on the planet think we should all do?  Worship the Lord and obey His Word.  Christianity 101.  Trust and obey the God you claim to worship.  It is always good to be reminded of the fruit I am called/commanded to bear.

Finally, I watched Dr. Ed Young from Second Baptist Church in Houston, TX.  He has been a pastor there since 1978 and was married for fifty-eight years before his wife passed away in 2017.  While I am rather unfamiliar with Dr. Young and his particular brand with the SBC, I did not find anything incorrect or un-biblical from his message in the book of Job.  I was mainly encouraged by his verse-by-verse explanation from God’s Word coupled with his apparent faithful relationship with his two brides–his wife and the ministry in which he serves.

So–TV preachers came to my rescue Sunday morning.  Four men were attempting to teach the Bible in an interesting manner, showing how it is applicable to a modern audience.  (I could have even mentioned the charismatic preacher who challenged me to keep setting my mind on heaven!)  It is encouraging to know that not everything on TV on Sunday mornings falls into the category of false teaching!  I am also thankful for men who (from all that I know) have proven to be faithful.

If you are not attending a local church due to illness or a work schedule which prevents it, be glad to know that there are several options on TV for you watch.  The Internet is also full of ministry websites and You Tube videos to help you learn more about God’s Word.  Nothing can replace your attendance and involvement in a local congregation.  God created us for community and gifted all of His people with the ability to bless the body of Christ.  However, when we cannot participate for whatever reason, at least we can hear from the Bible.  Sunday morning I was able to do just that and for that I am thankful.  I am also grateful for the desire I had to feed my own soul.  Is that desire awakened in you as well?  If not, pray for it!  It’s that important!

The Sufficiency of Christ in all Things at all Times

A new friend of mine posted the following on Facebook.  With her permission, I am sharing it with you today.  We both pray it encourages you to see that Christ is sufficient in all things at all times.  Thank you, Rebecca, for giving us all a glimpse of real life, real pain, and a very real God!

So, today it’s June 28, 2018. One year since my precious husband went Home to Jesus. It’s been the worst year of my life. I feel like I’ve been running a 365 day marathon, bare foot, over a bed of broken glass, non-stop. The pain has been so intense at times, that I’ve literally cried out in agony. I’ll continue to run, walk and sometimes crawl for the rest of my life. But I can honestly say, in these past twelve pain-filled months, I have truly learned what oneness with Christ is. He IS my ALL IN ALL, my ROCK, my COMFORT, my PROVIDER, my FRIEND, my COUNSELOR, my JOY. He’s never, ever left my side for a second and together, we will continue to press on.

As a part of the journey to healing, for the past 8 weeks I’ve been compiling some of the things I’ve learned this past year and what the Lord’s been teaching me and speaking to me. I hope it encourages you as well.

-When grief paralyzes me, just do the next thing. Even if it’s just sitting up in bed. Then stand. Then walk.

-Say the word, “breathe” out loud and then do it.

-Allow others to do for me. It helps them in their grief as well.

-Having joy again in my life is definitely possible, but it’s not going to just show up on my doorstep. I’ve got to seek it, choose it and claim it.

-Time DOES NOT heal all wounds. (Whoever said this anyway!?!) Working THROUGH my grief with Christ will heal me and make me stronger.

-Professional counseling is a really, really good thing. Everyone should go.

-If I’m not sure how to do something, GOOGLE, usually has the answer!

-To experience the fullness of Christ, I must first experience the emptiness of everything but Christ. (I say this almost daily!)

-Walmart grocery delivery is a gift.

-YOGA.

– Every once in a while, lift my head up out of my own grief and encourage someone else.

-Friends who tell me they’re praying for me in the middle of the night, early in the morning, or anytime are treasures.

-I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.

-Single moms are heroes.

-When I’m drowning, just sit, breathe, and pray for strength. He always delivers.

-My faith is greater than my fear.

-Faith is work, not a feeling.

-People are not “in my world” all the time like I am. They’re not mind-readers, and don’t always know what I’m feeling or what I may need. So keep expectations at a realistic level and exercise grace and forgiveness when needed.

-Plan my weekends ahead of time. It’s no fun to be alone.

-There is really nothing in this world I can control. The only thing I have COMPLETE control over is how I will respond to others and Jesus.

Through losing Mark I’ve learned that my very presence makes some people uncomfortable. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Some people are afraid to talk about Mark around me. Afraid it’s too painful for me and they don’t want to cause me further pain. I get it! I was there one day before and know that awkward feeling too! But please know that talking about him is something I LOVE doing. It brings me joy to know he was loved by so many. And he needs to be remembered. So, talk about him! A LOT! Laugh at the memories. CELEBRATE HIM and his life! That’s a very good thing. But more importantly, live your life every day with the joy of Jesus like Mark did. And share that joy with others. Take his life and go forward with it with how you love your children, your spouse and your family. He loved well and we should all carry on that beautiful “Mark-ism”.

As I step into day 366 of my grief, I’m looking forward, not back. I have wrestled and struggled a lot with feeling like I’m abandoning Mark if I move forward. It hurts to the core to think of continuing my life without him. But I have come to realize that in order to have life and have it abundantly, I’ve got to look ahead with hope, joy and expectation for what God has in store!

My sweet memories with Mark are gifts to me and these gifts have been and will continue to be opened and enjoyed frequently. I thank God I have them. They are blessings and reminders of what a good, good God we serve. But God has more in store AHEAD and that’s where my focus should be and will be.

I still have work to do on this earth. I still have a little boy who needs a momma who can laugh, love, and celebrate life! I pray that I will live each day to the fullest, with a heart of gratitude for the years I had with my best friend and the love of my life. I carry him within me and will for the rest of my life. One day when Jesus calls me Home, I’ll see Mark again and I’ll hear the words from my Heavenly Father, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And it will truly be worth it all.

Reflections on the Quest: Let me not be counted as a fool

I camped in Psalm 16 recently.  Several verses stand out in this great text, but one which always arrests my attention is verse six:

“The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.”

In other words, life ain’t so bad.  Or–to put that in a positive manner–God has not given me what I have earned.

Grace.

There are a variety of graces that God bestows: Saving grace (God’s grace in choosing those He will save), Sanctifying grace (God’s grace in transforming sinners into the image of His beloved Son), Restraining grace (God’s grace in preventing us from sinning more than we do), Sustaining grace (God’s grace in ensuring we have what we required to go forward) and Common grace (God’s grace in giving us our needs and some of our wants).

“The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places” means that God has granted the common/regular gifts of life in abundance.  Perhaps your list is similar to mine.  It may be different.  The point to remember is that the daily blessings of life are undeserved, not earnings God is obliged to pay.

Most of you would have to admit that your list of blessings is long.  You can easily see that God has been exceedingly kind to you.

How should we respond?

I thought of three ways today, implied for us in Romans, chapter one.

Put in the negative:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”      Romans 1:21-23

What should our positive response be?

  1. Honor God
  2. Give God Thanks
  3. Cherish the Incorruptible Glory of God

First, we should honor God.  And while I am sure I have written upon this subject earlier, I would like to share my current thoughts on the subject for no other reason than that it be fresh for me.  Yet anything I have to say simply will not be as good as what I found here:

http://www.gotquestions.org/honor-God.html

Did you take the time just now to read that short article?  I found it helpful in my quest–my daily striving for reality. The Apostle Peter stated that all of God’s people are to proclaim His excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).  In the very next section, he exhorts us to keep our behavior excellent (2:12).  We are verbally to praise God and visually praise God. Our profession and our practice should all point to the truth of the existence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Second, we should give God thanks.  Without a doubt, He has not treated you as your many, many, many sins deserve. This is particularly true if you are one of His adopted children (everyone is a creation of God, but not a child of God).  One of the good habits I have developed this year was verbalizing to the Lord ten reasons for which I am grateful each morning.  It is easy to come up with that list!  It is also helpful to begin that way each day regardless of how my night of sleep went or what I am about to face in the coming hours.  Give thanks with a grateful heart!

And, third, we need to cherish the incorruptible glory of God.  The glory of God is the glorious attributes of God on display for all to see in creation but particularly visible to His children in the face of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 4:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

The glory of the gospel is the glory of Christ.  The glory of God is most clearly seen in the face of Christ.  Can you see it?  If not, plead with God for that ability TODAY.  He alone can remove the veil even as He did for the Apostle Paul (Acts 918 [See also Ephesians 2:1-9]).  Only God can open the heart as He did for Lydia (Acts 16:14).  Why would you allow yourself to be satisfied with the created instead of the Creator?!  If you can see, cherish the glory!  Value Christ above all else.  He is the treasure found in the field (Matthew 13:44).  He is the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46).  He is that which your restless heart desperately needed.

Honor God. Give God thanks.  Cherish the incorruptible glory of God.  If these actions and attitudes mark your day, it will be a day well-spent.  If they are on-going practices, your life will not been lived in vain. Let us not be counted fools by Him who weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2), especially if the lines have fallen favorably!

Hearing from Him before Speaking for Him

“Listen and obey.”

I can’t recall how many times I have said that to my own children.  I also wonder how many times that the Lord has communicated that to me over the past thirty years.  “Listen and obey.”  A while back, I was drawn to this section in Isaiah, chapter fifty.

The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.
The Lord God has opened My ear;
And I was not disobedient
Nor did I turn back.

If I desire to do anything with the remainder of my life, it is to “sustain the weary one with a word”!  The more I mature in my walk with Christ, the more I deeply desire to speak with “the tongue of disciples”!

Did you notice in the text how that is possible?  “He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple”!  In order to most effectively speak as a disciple, I need to listen as a disciple.  Calvin wrote, “he (Isaiah) shews that God efficaciously teaches all whose ministry He intends to employ for the salvation of His Church” (Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. IV, Eerdmans, 1948, p.54). In other words, God successfully instructs those He plans to use significantly in the lives of others.

“Here am I.  Send me” (Is. 6:8)!

Those were the heart-felt words of the prophet Isaiah after seeing an amazing vision of our thrice-holy God and after hearing that a ministry position was available.  They are my words as well.  I, too, live among a people of unclean lips (6:5).  I also live in the midst of a race of the weary (50:4). How many times have you told others that you were weary? How many times have you heard others tell you that they were tired?  And that fatigue isn’t limited to the physical.  It very much affects the spiritual.  Thus, we all need to be encouraged.  Daily.

Speaking of daily, Isaiah stated that God awakened him every morning.  And that is when he listened.  He heard from God.  He obeyed God.  He encouraged the weak and the tired.

What do your mornings look like? What is your habit for seeking the Lord? There is an argument to be made from this passage and others that a time seeking Christ in the morning reaps benefits throughout the day ahead.  Perhaps one of those benefits is our ability to say the right thing in the right way–something I very much want to do!

“Listen and obey.”

That’s my plan for tomorrow.  What about you?