Childlike Wonder

IMG_0166It’s Christmas season (my tree is already up and the candles are in the windows), and the  world expresses its readiness to capture a childlike sense of wonder. I recently heard a researcher express in a television interview that playing Christmas music at any time of year is actually beneficial because it connects you to good memories from your youth and releases feelings of euphoria to replace heaviness and stress.

Something about that statement grabbed me. I think we might be cheaply using Christmas in the same way an addict goes to his choice substance for a hit and a high. Let me just get a dose of Christmas so I can capture that carefree nature I had as a kid and momentarily escape the harshness of life…

These thoughts swirl in my mind at the same time I’m studying chapters nine and ten of Mark’s gospel. The following are references I found of Jesus relating to children:

  • A boy possessed by a spirit is delivered when Jesus rebuked the spirit and told it to come out of him and never enter him again (See Mark 9:14-27).
  • “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me” (Mark 9:37).
  • “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (Mark 9:42).
  • “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).

But here’s where I started to make a connection that unlocks revelation- In verse 17 of Mark 10, we read about a man who runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. What kind of message does a scene described like this convey to you? Do you imagine the man to be in a desperate state to act in such a way?

Read his request: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Oh yeah. Definitely desperate. Life hangs in the balance, and he needs to grasp onto something certain.

Jesus quickly ascertains that the man on his knees before Him is not presenting himself in worship but in a desperate attempt for a quick fix. He doesn’t call Jesus Son of David as Bartimaeus did in a desperate plea for sight. No, this young man failed to connect the reality of Jesus’ divinity to his need for eternal security. He blindly regarded God’s Son as Good Teacher.

Jesus responds to the man’s request in His typical fashion. He asks a question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good- except God alone.” Translation: God is good. If you knew that I came from God, you would not call me “teacher.” But, okay. Let’s do this. I’ll answer you on your level. You want assurance that all is well with your life and its outcome.

Jesus continued, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother” (Mark 10:19).

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20).

“….since I was a boy.” Childhood. Youth. Trust. Obedience. What happened to this man’s faith to cause him now to be on his knees before the Son of God and calling him by the mere title of teacher?

Get ready. It’s so obvious, but it hits us with fresh amazement. Although the young man began his faith in childhood as one devoted to God in keeping the commandments by honoring God and his fellow man, he abandoned the primary tenent of the faith when he entered into adulthood.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me'” (Mark 10:21).

Translation: You shall have no other gods before Me.

Jesus, in essence, told the man he is not fit for God’s eternal kingdom because he has forsaken God by breaking the first commandment. He has been faithful from boyhood until now in honoring the commandments dealing with his lateral relationships, but upon entering into adulthood, he discontinued the vertical- the honor of God. It’s true, and Jesus proved it was true. And the poor man, who happened to be materially rich, left the “good teacher’s” presence very downcast, for he loved his wealth more than he loved God the Father (See verses 22-23).

Childhood Wonder= all trust, all hope, all eagerness to please God and family.

Adulthood Desperation= grasping for childlike wonder while maintaining a trust in wealth.

Think about it: Would Jesus really ask you and me to forsake all our wealth and possessions? If we, like the young man, had one thing standing between us and eternal life, yes. He would ask us to surrender it.

Sounds extreme, doesn’t it?

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (Mark 9:43-47).

When we read those desperate words of Jesus, we realize the truly extreme is forsaking all the glory of God’s eternal kingdom for a quick fix of earthly pleasure followed by a never-ending plight of suffering.

Let’s get this one right. We will never inherit the wonder of Christmas, nor will we inherit eternal life with God as long as we superimpose anything of this earth above Him whose name is WONDERFUL. It’s a childlike abandonment to Jesus- a heart that says there is nothing on earth I desire. Only You, King Jesus.

One more beautiful thought: When you encounter the love of Jesus (and I have to believe that the look of love Jesus gave the young man pierced his heart and gave him cause for reflection in the days to follow), you know that He is the treasure your soul has been searching for. Giving up anything that defined your life before Jesus is much easier than it sounds. If He remains a good teacher in your eyes, you probably won’t do a childlike act of total abandonment; but if He looks at you and your heart knows His intense and desperate love for you, you will lay down every “lower-case-g” god you ever esteemed.

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Saints of God

IMG_0164The words saints in Psalm 132 drove me to a language study this morning, and one thing I especially love about Hebrew is it always directs you to the heart of God. To call someone a saint, we tend to think he/she has merit- has accomplished something by determination. But a saint would say the basis and the ongoing credit for devotion is wholly due to the unfailing love of God. A saint makes her boast in Christ alone.

I went back to some notes I took last year when Pastor Choco De Jesus addressed thousands of middle and high school students saying, “Everyone and their mother is a Christian, but very few are saints.” So what distinguishes a saint from a Christian? One who is captured by God’s unfailing love toward her in Jesus Christ. The essence of life is defined by this one thing. It’s like comparing a fully clothed woman who is ready for the day to one who only put on earrings. Her Christianity is an accessory, not the main thing.

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 13:14).

If you and I want to encounter something unshakeable in this ever-changing and unpredictable world, we will have to look no further than a total surrender to the love of God given to mankind in His Son. God’s love has been demonstrated to us through the cross of Jesus Christ. Through confession of sin and turning from sin and toward God in total surrender of our lives, He forgives us and makes us new. We confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God who came in the flesh, took the punishment of my sin upon Himself, died on the cross and resurrected again. This is not religion and checklists. This is a daily love affair with the lover of our souls. So the saint of God lives in faithful love of God and His ways, because He has first loved her and demonstrates His never-ending love and faithfulness to her.

 

God Reveals Himself

I stood at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the Spirit whispered, “Why do you like to be here?”

I thought about my answer as I sat down on the beach and replied, “Because it shows me how small I am and I must be reminded of it. Being at the edge of the ocean puts life in proper perspective.”

Do you know what I mean about being drawn to the water, whether it’s an ocean or bay, river or lake? What draws us? Is there a greater connection to life in those places? I look through my Instagram and realize the majority of my pictures include water. Does God intentionally wire us to be attracted to water?

Jesus invites the thirsty to His source of water- living water. To partake of His offer of life means to thirst no more. 1 Coming into communion with your Creator satisfies the soul thirst. The quest for something fulfilling ceases, but the search of His riches only begins when we say yes to life in Christ. God wants us to know the fullness granted us in His Son, and I believe its a lifelong adventure. What awaits us on the other side of the temporal life, I’m not sure. I do know that all who have confessed their sins to God, turned from sin and turned to God through belief upon Jesus for forgiveness, inherit eternal life. Jesus promised us a home in heaven that He Himself is preparing. So, I imagine there will be much cause for wonder, excitement, and joy in the fullness of God’s presence.

Heaven in Hebrew is Samayim. The “s” makes the sound “sh” in this use, and many words in Hebrew have the “sham” root which carries meanings of presence, watching, hearing and obeying. You know the name, Samuel (Shemuel), which speaks to God’s Name and His hearing. Hannah named her son Samuel because God heard her prayers. 2

Interestingly, the latter part of the Hebrew word for heaven is mayim, which means flowing waters. My Bible reference says, “the term [samayim] is used in reference to the originating point of frost (Job 38:29), snow (Isa. 55:10), dust (Deut. 28:24), hail (Jos. 10:11), rain (Gen. 8:2), dew (Deut. 33:13), thunder (1 Sa.2:10), and fire (Ge. 8:2).”

I haven’t researched it thoroughly, but God’s realm and water are connected. It took me back to Genesis 1 this morning. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” God didn’t create the waters as He did the other elements of creation; the waters were present, and He separated them to create sky. I’m not surprised I’m personally drawn to bodies of water, because He truly reveals Himself through everything He created. But, learning the Hebrew word for heaven has me even more fascinated by the way it reveals God’s nature and realm.

The final appearance of water in the written Word of God is found in Revelation 22:1-2.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.

Cover to cover, the Bible speaks to us about life and God being the source of all life for all eternity.

I wanted to put down my thoughts today about God’s realm and water because in my doing a word study of heaven, I encountered many other words in the same part of the Hebrew dictionary that carry meanings of devastation and desolation. For instance, samad means to lay waste. The Old Testament Lexical Aids at the back of my Bible indicates it “usually occurs in the context of a warning of the consequences of forsaking God (Debt. 4:26).”

The paradox of these similar Hebrew terms makes me think about how the same ocean that draws me and refreshes me also can bring utter devastation, as we have seen recently with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Photos of hard hit areas look as though bombs were dropped. There is much suffering as a result of land areas and islands now made desolate. But this suffering, painful as it is, is only temporary.

The same God who has in store for His faithful a heavenly reward where we will enjoy His presence without any limitation, is the One who will mete out justice to those who refused to receive His offer of eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord. Some people say they hope that on the Day of Judgment they will find favor with God. It is important that we who have received eternal life in Christ share God’s truth with them. If you go before God on Judgment Day in your sin, you will be judged a sinner and punished eternally. If you go before God on Judgment Day in the atonement of Christ, meaning, you already had confessed your sins and turned from them, receiving forgiveness through faith in Jesus the Son, you will be saved. 3 The sinner will be separated eternally from God’s presence; the faithful child will be eternally in God’s presence. The former will forever be aware of his thirst and long for a drink of water but never be satisfied; the latter will never thirst again.

The Lord says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.” The choice is yours: either by faith you will know God’s reward, or by denying Him you will know His denying you in response to your choice.

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life…”(Deut. 30:19-20).

1 See John 7:37-38

2 See 1 Samuel 1:20

3 See Romans 10:9

4 See Matthews 25:26

5 Deuteronomy 30:19

My Beloved St. John

I keep checking on reports coming out of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I’m so concerned for the people and the economy of St. John. The Caribbean is hurricane haven, so islanders are used to destruction caused by storms, but Irma delivered a crippling punch. The rebuilding process will require much patience. For now, the folks that remain are in need of the basic necessities for life. Pray for those who live in these isolated places, because their storm recovery is challenged.

My husband and I honeymooned on a Caribbean cruise and ventured over to St. John from St. Thomas for a day of sailing and snorkeling. We fell in love because the island was so naturally beautiful. In a little over twenty years, we returned five times. Family vacations to St. John for us meant hiking tropical trails in the morning, snorkeling in the afternoon, market shopping in the evening, and grilling while overlooking the most scenic vistas imaginable. Rinse and repeat.

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St. John is so imprinted upon our hearts that we characterize a breezy, pink sunrise as an island-style start of the day. Jon and I sometimes compare thoughts about blue skies contrasting against white puffy clouds and realize we both have St. John on our minds. Even as I type there is a low rain cloud blowing past that is typical of their daily tropical weather effects.

I’m trying to process how I would feel if I was on the island. I imagine, though, that the locals have no time for emotional reflection. Perhaps a state of numbness overtakes them while they expend all energy to do what is absolutely necessary. Shock is a powerful and necessary state… But when each one has time later down the road to think on what they have lived through, I hope truth surfaces: this world is fallen and cannot satisfy longterm our desire for pleasure. Anything short of God’s offer of abundant life in Jesus Christ will prove itself imperfect. If a life built upon a marriage with one’s soul mate is the picture of perfection, a later state of widowhood will prove that ideal to be only a temporary pleasure. If the perfect career delivers the much needed sense of value and identity, a later state of joblessness will prove it was a temporary pleasure. If a tropical paradise caters to one’s need for easy living and beautiful surroundings, that too will be stripped bare and revealed as only a temporary pleasure.

Friend, for all who have believed upon Jesus Christ for salvation, this world is not home; our citizenship is in heaven. What we are to be about in the meantime is sharing the good news: Jesus is the hope for all humanity, and all that the soul craves is satisfied in Him. He fills us with joy in His presence, and He has eternal things in store that are too wonderful for the mind to conceive. In these critical times of victims dealing with a displaced hope, we have the treasure they seek. Jesus always has been and always will be the Refuge in the storm.

 

Seeking Good in the Aftermath of Destruction

Wide-scale destruction. Over the course of a week our eyes behold images of the ravaging path of hurricanes, flooding, fires, terrorists… We see so much suffering in our land and in our world.

Unity is a virtue that shines brightly in the aftermath of destruction. Being negatively affected together unites us. The force of bonding is instant and lasting. Watch the videos of the people who have been directly affected come together and find strength in helping one another. Notice the surrounding communities and nation as a whole stepping up to lend a hand in their time of need. Do you hear more the pronoun we in place of in the days following disaster?

I do not like destroying forces of evil- hear me clearly. But I do love how we treat one another in humility. Things that were sociably acceptable as points of division now have no place upon which to stand. That foundation was removed in the destruction, and now all that remains is the fact that we are human and in need. So there is good to be found in the aftermath of evil. We see with fresh eyes in our present day the reality of what has always been in the history of mankind. At the core of our existence, we are one because our sinful nature and its destructive path leading to hell creates a desperate need for help. That is beautiful humility. Not only does Jesus offer us salvation from sin’s stronghold when we humbly confess, but He also teaches us humility when we walk with Him.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

What’s the big deal about humility, you ask? First, it’s the only way an individual can come to God. To receive His grace-gift of everlasting life, you and I first confess that we have sinned against Him. We bring nothing to the table of agreement except our yes- “Yes, I am a sinner in need of forgiveness,” and “Yes, I receive Jesus, the grace of God to me that I may have new and eternal life.” That action takes humility. Second, we must have Jesus’ nature within to produce the grace that loves and forgives one another in spite of our weaknesses in the flesh. The Spirit within is always willing, but the flesh is weak, and in a weak moment we undoubtedly will hurt one another. In response to hurt caused by another, pride pushes away, but humility embraces. Humility says, “I understand. I have acted out of the weakness of my flesh at times too. I forgive you and know that I may be in need of your forgiveness one day down the road as well.”

Isn’t it prideful to believe you would never do that detestable thing you saw another do? Isn’t it humbling to see yourself in a similar muck of your own making at a later point in life? That’s what I mean. The sin nature is universal. We cannot think ourselves to exist above it. Instead, we can be honest and believe we are just as capable. Remember the old saying, “There but by the grace of God go I?”

The sin nature is universal, and God proves his grace be global. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to depart heaven to become familiar with our suffering in the weakness of flesh. But He did. And He lived a sinless life to fulfill the needed sacrifice for sin- a lamb without spot or blemish. “… Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” (Hebrews 9:28).

Friend, the disasters and onslaught of evil are numerous, and we may even see an increase of them in the coming days.  Today’s reality of hardship already may have forced you into a humble state, or perhaps you’re realizing anew the call to walk humbly with your God- out of choice. Regardless of the catalyst, may we all see ourselves as one- totally dependent upon the grace of God. And may the grace of God that we have in Jesus Christ shine brightly in the darkness.

Was I Ready to Die in the Hurricane?

The high clouds and powerful winds announced the storm’s approach. My young children and I took the opportunity to enjoy our last day of sunshine before being cooped up inside. We walked the path around our neighborhood park, physically straining against the push of the wind. Jordan, a pre-schooler at the time, spoke the obvious: “What about Isabel?” We actually shouted to one another in an attempt to carry on the conversation.

“What about Isabel?” I asked.

“She’s a storm; we’re people…”

Talk about having a pulse on the severity of the matter! A hurricane is no joke. Regardless of how advanced storm tracking technology is, there remains much unpredictability. I had to come to terms on a Wednesday in September that our city may face a Thursday unlike any other by taking a direct hit. Isabel quickly brought a much needed sobriety.

Do you get what I am saying? How often do we think about the culmination of our lives- the end result of how we invested our energy and resources? Upon what or in whom did we place our faith? Hurricane Isabel brought me face-to-face with the hard questions. Was I ready to die? What did I need to settle before I went to bed that night with the hopes of waking up on the backside of Isabel?

I remember standing in my dining room that afternoon and praying as I looked out the window. I told God that my confidence was in Him. I had long ago put my faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins, I had turned from the evil I entertained prior to that confession, and I lived to please my Father in heaven in accordance to His Word. At the end of it all, there is only Jesus, and I placed all faith in Him.

While this world values fame, fortune and pleasures, God in heaven values faith- faith in His Son whom He sent to redeem sinful humanity. We all need a Savior, and the hurricane was a needed reminder that a day will come when I will stand before my Creator and Judge and give an account for my life.

On the day that you depart the earth, there will be an Audit of all audits. God will ask with foreknowledge of your answer: “Did you believe upon my Son for salvation?” There will be no covering of truth in that moment, for you will only be able to speak what is fully exposed in the light of God’s awesome presence. Either it was only Jesus, or you trusted in yourself or in a lie.

Thomas said to Him…, “how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:5-6).

At the end of the next day, my family all huddled together on the floor in a part of the house we deemed safe from any falling trees. I slept; in fact, I slept peacefully. How does one sleep through a hurricane? I had peace with God, meaning, my uncertain earthly future was guaranteed a certain outcome: I would be brought into God’s glorious presence and rewarded for my faith in Jesus Christ.

 The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent. -Jesus

Friend, if you are still reading this post, thank you for allowing me to share my experience with you. I pray that before you move on to the next thing, you also entertain a sobriety of spirit like I did but without the urgency of a hurricane bearing down on your home. I cannot move you to faith in Jesus Christ, only the Holy Spirit can do that, for He convicts the world of sin. If you have confessed your sin and turned from evil ways, and if you already put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, then I will celebrate your reward with you in heaven on that day. If you are waiting or doubting the truth of the Bible, you can ask God to reveal Himself to you. How He longs for a relationship with you. He created you for Himself- to know Him and to enjoy His presence without end. God’s love for you is unmatched- proven when He gave Jesus Christ to die for the sins of humanity, although He Himself was without sin. Jesus arose from the grave and revealed Himself to many before returning to His Father in heaven. That is the gospel. That is God’s love for you- He spared no expense in redeeming us. Do you believe?

Being Intentional at Being One

One thing I know for sure: there is an enemy who hates the unity of the body of Christ. This reality would become a struggle in the Church Age and Jesus knew it, so in His final hours of ministry in the earth, He actually knelt in prayer and asked the Father that we would be one. The Lord prayed about only a few things the night before His crucifixion; the unity of the believers was among His petitions. (See John 17).

How do you think the body of Christ in the earth is doing in the year 2017? How well are we contending for our unity as brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus? Do you see any deception at work; meaning, are we taking the bait and battling against ourselves instead of against rulers, authorities, powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?

Let’s look at unity on a smaller scale- the marriage covenant. Once a couple marries, the real work of fighting for a state of oneness begins. The enemy hates marriage and its depiction of God’s covenant love for us. Are you aware of who is baiting you to fight with your spouse? The enemy assigns forces who feast on your weaknesses, and before you realize what hit you, you partner with his devices to destroy the marital unity.

No one expects that just because you have a legal document declaring marriage that no work remains in order to protect marital unity. In the same way, the blood of Jesus is a legal covenant declaring there “no difference between Jew and Gentile- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (Romans 10:12-13); yet, we do not assume that because the blood affords us unity with Christ and one another that no work remains to contend for that unity. Those of us in marriage understand the fight to remain as one in covenant love, and all of us in the body of Christ must awaken to the same fight.

I am grieved every time I hear “our side” or “their side.” How effective the enemy has been in deceiving. Our nation is sliding backwards, and we are willing to point fingers in blame of any public figure while ignoring how desperately wicked our own hearts can be under the influence of Satan’s temptation to sin. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not perpetuate the division, because we know the only true us vs. them that ever existed was the Holy Trinity dealing with sinful humanity. Jesus came and died once for all. ALL HUMANITY is deserving of death as a result of our inherent sinful state, but we can be declared holy by faith in His blood- the only blood powerful enough to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. That is the good news: Jesus bridged the great divide, and now all who were once among the sinful them, now by faith experience unity with the Holy Us: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, for God embraces the sinner born again by the Spirit.

I write about the enemy’s division because I have witnessed it in a very personal way. I love the body of Christ- it is so beautiful. Everything God creates is beautiful, but this creation was costly; God gave His one and only Son for us to become the family of God. Do we disagree on matters with our natural families and with our eternal, spiritual family? Of course, and God has given us wisdom concerning how to work through issues that arise when we cannot find agreement. But when we see a bitter competition take center stage, we can be sure we have missed the mark. I will not stand by and watch an us vs. them like it’s some entertaining reality show without speaking out in prayer to the Father and to any who will listen. It simply grieves the heart of God, and it still hits me with disbelief when I recall a deceived brother in the Lord stopping me in the grocery store one day to ask me whose side was I on? Whose side???? It’s not the first time I have heard that question while in conversation about the body of believers, and it may not be the last. But my answer remains the same:

There are no sides. We are one body.

I always think about the end times indicator of love gone cold that Jesus said would be prevalent in the earth. Whose love will grow cold? The world’s, meaning those who refused salvation? Or is it the church’s love? Seems ironic, right? How can you be a believer yet cold? Jesus said it would happen as a result of “… the increase of wickedness…” (Matthew 24:12). Is there a coming day when the Church no longer pushes back against darkness? Will the watchmen on the wall abandon post because of persecution? In that day we would see the rise of wickedness as a result.

Body of Christ, we are better together. We were purchased and made one by precious blood- we must never forget it. I know my mind is made up to not take the bait of us vs. them, but I cannot do it in my own strength, and neither can you. Will you pray as I am praying and ask the Father to search your heart? Will you pray for our unity as the body? Will you pray about the resolve to stand boldly for righteousness that brings glory to God? Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to direct us in doing one thing each day that promotes our unity as believers.