Of Ice-Cream, Mountains and the Gospel

“How was your trip to the mountains?” my friend asked.

“Oh, AMAZING! I had a chocolate twist cone. It was the best!”  I replied.

Wait. What? What is this nonsense conversation we walked in to? My friend asks about a trip to the mountains and I tell him about ice-cream. Nonsensical! But what if I told you there is a Maverick gas station on the way to the mountains that sells ice-cream?  Does the conversation seem reasonable now?

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I don’t think it does. While it’s true there is a Maverick on the way to the mountains and it really does have tasty, inexpensive ice-cream that I’ve indulged in many times, the ice-cream is not the highlight of the trip. The highlight of the trip is, of course, experiences that can be found only in the mountains. The sound of the wind in the pines. The brilliance of the Aspen leaves. The ice-cold river with slippery rocks in the bed.  Any of the things exclusive to the mountains ~ that’s what makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  Ice-cream is easily available in lots of places. The mountains may enhance my ice-cream experience, but it’s still not the ice-cream that makes the trip to the mountains amazing.  It’s the mountains.

Yet how often do we do this with the gospel? We frequently say we’re talking about the gospel, but then focus on things that are available elsewhere. Moral lessons and teachings. Self-improvement. Social justice. Values. Civil behavior. These things certainly are in the Bible and a part of the faith journey.  But they aren’t exclusive to a faith in God and they aren’t the point of the gospel or Christianity. They are simply things that we experience as we make our way to the Point. They are important only in light of the gospel. It’s nonsensical to converse about those things void of the gospel itself.

Central to the gospel message is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the redemption He freely offers. That message contains rest and peace for the soul not available any where else. And that message sweetens all the other things we encounter along the way.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and it’s good news!

That’s the Gospel.

Experiencing Grace

No matter of religious persuasion, or no persuasion at all, we inherently understand the powerful freedom that comes when we find a safe person to whom we are able to admit our guilt, speak our shame, and cut the cords from the demon-burdens we bear. I was recently introduced to the following table to help people work through their past grievances and failings. It was described something like this:

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Now, because I was at a religious meeting when I heard about this, we used more religious terms than what I’ve got on the table. The first column was titled “sin” and the process was called “confession”.  And in religious terms we would call the final column “repentance” – or turning away from prior actions, desires, or beliefs.

Anyone of any faith or no faith at all can go through this process and find some level of relief and feel like they’re starting with a clean slate.  They can get up the next day, read the list, remind themselves of the kind of person they’d rather be, and make choices that work toward that end.

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But through the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus, so much more is available to the believer.  Listen to this good news:

Make your list. And as a believer in Jesus and His gift of grace, tear away the first two columns and destroy them. Shred them. Burn them. Have your dog eat them. You get the idea. God remembers your sin no more.

Now read the words in the last column out loud and let this sink in: Because of the gift of Jesus, God already sees you this way and He promises to  remake you into what He already says you are.  That’s right. It’s not just a clean slate – but a complete slate.

You don’t deserve it and you don’t have to work for it.

It’s a gift.

That’s forgiveness. That’s love. That’s grace.

If you don’t know Jesus and the place you have in His story, or if you have been a Christian and this is new to you, I invite you into God’s reality today.

By His wounds we are healed. 

Jesus is the hero and that’s good news!

When Love Supersedes

How many hearts have been broken by love ended? And how many faith journeys have been shaken when God has seemingly not answered the prayers for peace and harmony in a struggling relationship?  God is all-powerful.  His Word says that He places a very high regard on marriage. So why would He allow a marriage to fail when there has been much prayer asking Him to save it? Those are very real questions in this world of brokenness.

What do your prayers look like in those situations? I can tell you the gist of my prayers in the past. “God, it hurts me when he ____. Please make him stop. Make him ____ instead.”

While the desired end result (a more loving, peace-filled relationship) was certainly healthy, the means by which I wanted God to achieve that goal were not healthy. When we take our broken understanding of love and try to apply it to God, we can come up with some very unloving ideas about what He ought to do on our behalf.

But God doesn’t make anyone do anything. His kingdom is about love – and love requires free-will. He is not interested in coerced love. He doesn’t manipulate, condemn, or shame.  He doesn’t do that to you to get His way with you, nor will He do that to your spouse to get His way (or your way) with your spouse. His kingdom is built on earning trust through sacrificial love. Yes, God is all-powerful. But He values non-coercive love more than He values power.

So I invite you to change the tone of your prayers. Shift your perspective. Ask God to empty you of your broken self and fill you with more of Him. Ask Him to teach you how to communicate clearly, love gently, and to know Him better. It is through beholding Him, contemplating His love, and understanding what He’s about that you will naturally change on the inside so you can begin genuinely acting differently on the outside. And the bonus is that as you are changed, those around you will see a reflection of Jesus and will be impacted in a positive way.

Hemerocallis Gentle Shepherd 6805I pray that today you catch a glimpse of the tender love God has for you. If you don’t know Him, I invite you to read this blog and this blog to learn how to know God in the scriptures.

Jesus came to show us the Father. He came to save, not to condemn.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

Maybe it’s Abuse

“I have a praise,” the middle-aged woman raised her hand. “A christian friend of mine had a husband who wasn’t very nice. She sometimes would put the kids to bed at 6:30 and sneak supper to them so they wouldn’t have to be around their dad when he got home from work. He could be pretty mean to them, so she protected them. This went on for years. He passed away not long ago, but before he died he gave his life to Christ. He knew he hadn’t been nice all those years and for her to put up with him, well, he decided there must be something to this Christianity thing. Her kindness all those years was a witness to him. Praise God!” Others chimed in, “Yes, praise God!” and “A-MEN!”

Dear Conflicted Christian,

I’m sorry you were there for that conversation. You’ve been deeply hurt and confused by this relationship you’re in. And you’ve been listening – listening because you want to do the right thing and make the right choices. I know you’ve heard that true Christians turn the other cheek and keep their promises no matter what, but sometimes doing so feels wrong in your gut. It feels like a wrong against you, or perhaps your children. And you think it is your sinful, selfish flesh that makes you think of leaving instead of staying and sacrificing. You’re more afraid of being a bad Christian than you are of being mistreated. Please keep listening.

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Jesus loves you. You’ve heard it so many times perhaps you didn’t really hear it just then. Jesus loves you. The Creator of the universe, the Savior of mankind, your Redeemer – He loves you. Not only that, but Jesus loves you. He adores you. He was willing to give up His home, His power, His position in heaven to heal His relationship with you. And further more, Jesus loves you.  Perhaps you’ve been told in words or actions that you are not lovable. Or perhaps you believe that Jesus loves the institution of marriage and the character traits of purity and commitment more than He loves you. You and I understand that people are more important than things. So don’t you imagine that God, whose very character is the definition of love, prioritizes people over things even more than we do? Jesus loves you.  Now walk forward in this conversation from that point of safety.  Please keep listening.

Jesus is your Savior. Jesus is your spouse’s Savior. You don’t need to sacrifice your life in hopes of saving your spouse. Jesus already provided that sacrifice. I’m sorry for the messages within the church and among  Christians that have informed you otherwise. Please keep listening.

The cross that Jesus asks you to bear is not the abuse, it’s not your marriage, and it’s not your vow of silence. I know you’ve heard preachers tell you it is. But it’s not. Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and the burden He places on you is light. You need to carry your cross so you can die daily as Paul did. That means your selfish desires – including your urge to cleanse your life by being good – must be nailed to that cross every day. Please keep listening.

No one can help you unless you’re honest. That means being honest about everything – even the things that don’t reflect well on yourself. You will have the strength to do this only if you’ve accepted in your heart the things I’ve already said. Maybe you’re easily manipulated. That will need to be admitted for your own healing. Maybe you’re ashamed of things you’ve done that were not consistent with the person you want to be. Betrayal of self is perhaps the deepest of injuries. But there is compassion, grace and healing in Jesus. In the presence of a safe person, allow that wound to be opened so He can heal you.

There will be people who are not safe and may create obstacles to your healing. They may say things like:

  • “That doesn’t seem likely. I’ve never seen your spouse act anything like what you’re saying.”  Spare your breath. Their response doesn’t negate your experience or make them a bad person. They just can’t hear you right now. That’s ok. Find someone who can.
  • “You’re being too sensitive.” If you’ve lived with abuse for years, you probably believe that’s true. So let’s just say it is true. A loving spouse and friend respects – and dare I say even admires – a sensitive spirit. Find someone to talk with who isn’t going to condemn you for that character trait.
  • “You’re the one who decided to marry them. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”  No one signs up for abuse. You didn’t choose to be abused.
  • “You just have to put up with some things in order to have a long term relationship.” Yep, you sure do. You’ll experience differences in likes, priorities, and ideas. There will be a lot to work through. However, that does not include putting up with habitual mistreatment or manipulation.
  • “You’re not being forgiving enough.” Forgiveness relates to your attitude toward another person and impacts your motives. Forgiveness does not equal embracing destructive behavior.
  • “Your spouse probably has reasons for acting that way. You need to be more understanding.” There are always reasons for what human beings do. But understanding why a thing is so does not necessarily make it healthy or acceptable.

While there may be some element of truth in all of those statements, it still may be abuse that has you on edge and your stomach in a knot. Find someone who will believe you and give unbiased feedback. A counselor is a good option or follow this link to talk with someone at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Just because you and your spouse go to church every week doesn’t mean abuse can’t happen in your home. Studying religious beliefs and doctrine doesn’t automatically give you an understanding of the love and compassion Jesus has for you or equip you with the tools to share that love with others in a healthy way. Please get to know Him!

Talking about what you’re experiencing doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is over or that your spouse is a horrible person. But it does provide a doorway to a future that is more peace-filled and less chaotic. Now walk through it.

Be strong and of good courage.

Much Love, Me

Church – Do we not realize that our words are encouraging domestic abuse to continue in our midst? Yes, praise God the man in the story gave his life to Christ. Praise God He is able to take a bad situation and bring about good. But no, not “praise God” that the wife’s “kindness” witnessed to him. Where did we get the idea that God requires us to enable abusers and how did we come to see it as kindness?  What is kind or loving about habitually shielding our abusive loved ones from the natural consequences of their actions?  Where is the growth in their journey when we do that? How will they come to the end of themselves and see their need for God when we run perpetual interference? Yes, relationships are complex and there will always be more give than take. But let’s not confuse that with abuse.

Please allow Jesus to be the Savior of mankind.

He is the hero.

And that’s good news.

 

The One Who Loves You

“For God so loved the world,…” Most of us even remotely connected to Christianity can finish the verse found in John 3:16. And most likely we say we believe in Jesus, and we definitely hope we have eternal life rather than perishing.  But who is this God? And what is He like?

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, here’s what God wanted to make sure Moses knew about Himself: “I, the Lord, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness. I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin.” That’s how He sees Himself.

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As you celebrate your relationships on Valentine’s Day, spend time thinking on the One who loves you and wants a relationship with you. He doesn’t simply want you to believe that Jesus actually exists. He wants you to trust that He is who He says He is. He is compassionate. He is slow to anger. He shows great love and faithfulness. He forgives sin – or to put it in language we understand better, He heals the relational brokenness that we’ve created.

God loves you.

And He’s a good, good Father.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dear Christian Porn User

Dear Christian Porn User,

I know what you’ve been up to. I’ve seen the browser history, the credit card bills. I’ve found that stash of magazines you thought you hid in the basement. I’ve heard your stories when you thought I wasn’t listening. You may think you’re being clever, but you’re not.

You’ve probably said you think there’s nothing wrong with it – that no one is harmed by it. But your attempts to hide it and your defensiveness when caught betray that your heart knows differently. We do not hide that which is right and just and pure.

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I know you go to church every week and have called yourself a Christian all your life, but don’t fool yourself with your title. Do not let who you think you have to be blind you to who you really are. And listen up, because I’ve got some things to say to you!

Jesus loves you.  

Yes, I know. I know you’re a hypocrite. God knows, too. And He’s crazy about you – right now! He loves you. It’s not conditional. He doesn’t ask that you change your ways before you accept His love. In fact, accepting His love is the only way to change your heart.

The gospel is for you.

You’ve often heard about how we need to tell the unchurched about Jesus. But, the good news is, the gospel is for you, too. While you were an enemy of God, Christ died for you. He took on the wages of sin for you. On the cross, He  freely chose to die, forsaken by His Father and without hope for Himself, to give you the right to a new life.

You are valuable.

The cross tells of your value. The God of the universe – the one who can create stars or tell mountains to rise up or to fall down – He offered His Son to bear the price of your sin and mine. Do not reject or scorn the value He places on having a relationship with you.

Now, leave it!

Walk away from it. You know the fleeting moments of pleasure are a high price to pay for the dysfunction it’s brought to your home and the chaos in your heart and soul. So leave it. You’re tired of the scramble for more and feeling like it controls you. So leave it. But you actually can’t, can you? You’ve tried and it pulls you back every time. Perfect! Yes, perfect! You are in the perfect spot to drop your pride, stop the charade and proclaim your utter helplessness.

Call out to Jesus.

I know you are in the church, but call out to Him from the broken place you find yourself. His mercies are new every morning. Now is the time for salvation. Allow His love to soothe and heal those hurts of your past that have been so influential in where you find yourself today.

Pray these words:

Lord God, I acknowledge that I am unable to control my desires. You know the brokenness of my life. I need you, Lord. I am a sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for displaying Your love and might on the cross through the death and resurrection of Jesus. You overcame the power of sin on my behalf! Sin no longer has to reign over me. Jesus, I want my old life to die with You and Your risen life to live in me. Holy Spirit, remind me of this love and new life throughout my day. Thank You for loving me even while I am a sinner. You are a compassionate God, full of mercy. In Jesus name, Amen.

I urge you to find two or three Christ-followers who will not condemn you, but will walk with you in humility and uplift the cross of Christ to you daily. In His strength is your freedom. In His love is your healing. You cannot do this alone.

Now, to you other Christians still reading because you wanted to see what cursings might be called upon the sinning pornography users, I hope you realize that a good many things could be the topic of this blog. Exchange pornography for pride, workaholism, gossip, greed or self-exaltation. It’s not as easy to count the victims of those acts, but they are destroying others and ourselves just the same. They are a violation of the law of love – out of harmony with God.  My message to you is the same.

People” don’t need Jesus.

WE need Jesus.

Who Deserves the Praise?

Imagine working for a boss who never thanks you for your effort. Say there is an important project with a looming deadline, and the whole team makes personal and professional sacrifices to make certain that the project gets completed on time and with superior quality. The owner of the company arrives and throws a big celebration party for your boss – but the team isn’t invited. You hear rumors of awards and bonuses being lavished upon your boss – but the team gets nothing. You see your boss in the hallway and congratulate him on the job well done – but he does not acknowledge that you or the team had anything to do with his accomplishment.  I think you get the picture. And what do you think of your imaginary boss?

You might stay at that job if you have devotion to the work the company does. You might stay because you need to provide for yourself and your family. But I’m pretty sure you won’t stay out of love for your boss. And the sense of injustice you feel toward the situation is not caused from a lack of humility or selflessness on your part. It rubs you wrong because the boss is prideful and the situation isn’t an honest representation of the work that’s being done.

Contrast that with a story a friend of mine shared yesterday. She had worked at a thankless job for years – often fielding complaints and rarely hearing gratitude. She was a teacher. At midlife she made a career change and came to work for a man who recognized the value of each person who contributed to the success of his business. He went out of his way to appreciate the “least” with simple words of thanks.  And he noticed and was thankful for the good work my friend was doing. That happened years ago, but it holds deep meaning for her even now. She said, “I would have done anything for that man.” His appreciation for her effort caused her to want to freely give more effort.

Now listen to this:

I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:

The slain Lamb is worthy!
Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!
Take the honor, the glory, the blessing!

Then I heard every creature in Heaven and earth, in underworld and sea, join in, all voices in all places, singing:

To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!
The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,
For age after age after age.

The Four Animals called out, “Oh, Yes!” The Elders fell to their knees and worshiped.

The saved in heaven are a part of that crowd. And they are all, of one heart, praising the Lamb of God. There are several such descriptions in Revelation of this type of praise session bursting out around Jesus. This one is recorded in Revelation 5. And that leads me to believe this:

He alone is worthy of all the glory and all our praise.

“Well, of course!” you might say. “Any christian knows that.” We know it in our heads, but do we know it in our hearts?  Is that what comes out of our mouths?

Have you heard “God helps those who help themselves”? Or a similarly themed, “I have to do my best and God will do the rest.” Or “If you want to be saved, you have to keep all of the commandments – or at least try.”  Now I’d like you to consider this: If  when I get to heaven I’ve done 10% of the work to be saved and God has done 90%, where’s my praise? Or if I’ve been very strong-willed and able to pull off 45% and God picks up the other 55%, don’t I get more accolades than the person who could only put in 10%?  Or if I’ve disciplined myself severely and become perfect, obeying every commandment, don’t I deserve … all…the praise?

If I deserve some level of praise and instead all the glory and praise goes to Jesus, God would be dishonest, prideful, and unjust at best.Why would we want to spend eternity with a God like that? Why would we go along with that… for ever? The problem isn’t that we’re currently too selfish to accept that arrangement. The lopsided praise seems wrong because it would be against the very proclaimed nature of God for Him to accept that kind of praise if He wasn’t actually worthy of it.

However, if … if indeed we are in heaven 100% because of the gift of Jesus Christ, then and only then is He worthy of all the glory and all our praise.

And then He is a good, good God for being worthy of the praise and for accepting it.

So, if Salvation isn’t at all tied to what I do, “What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? ” Paul asked that very question in Romans 6.  And here was his immediate response, “Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

As we consider the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will increase our understanding of the Father’s heart, and we will respond to His love (John 12). We will desire to spend time with Him, and He will work in our lives to change us as we do so (Philippians 1, John 15). As we look to Him, we will be healed (Numbers 21, John 3). Our desires will be changed (2 Corinthians 3) and doing the will of our heavenly Father will be a natural response (Psalms 37).

So what about the law? It is a tutor, teaching us the nature of God and showing us how it differs from our own nature (Galatians 3). It is a mirror, allowing us to look at ourselves and realize our need of Jesus (James 1). That isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime look in the mirror. It is a daily look, a daily repentance, a daily dependence on Jesus. When we contemplate our lives and recognize where we’ve fallen short of the mark, a God-dependent response isn’t “I should be a better Christian than that. I need to try harder at that tomorrow.” But rather a God-dependent response sounds more like, “I failed to rely on You, Jesus. I believed a lie about You when I acted in opposition to Your way. I have sinned against You. I repent of my self-reliance. I repent of not trusting You in that area of my life today. I want to know You more, Jesus. Draw me to You. Help me to see You more clearly. Create in me a clean heart.” (Psalms 51) You see, we don’t spiritually mature out of our need for Jesus. But rather we realize our need for Him more as we grow (John 15).

There certainly is a reward for choosing to be a rule-follower and acting in kindness toward others. You are much more likely to live a life of freedom rather than imprisonment by doing so. You bring peace to yourself and to those around you. You enjoy a sense of stability and harmony with the world. But if you were hoping to do good things in order to contribute to your salvation, Jesus says, “You’ve already gotten your reward here on earth.” (Matthew 6)

Yes, in Revelation we are told “Here are they who keep the commandments of God” (Revelation 14:12). But I take that as a statement, not instruction. One cannot decide to keep the commandments in order to be in that group – or we would indeed deserve some of the praise that is lavished on Jesus in heaven. Rather, by deciding to follow Jesus every moment of every day, He will work in our lives to cause us to keep the commandments of God. For the commandments will be kept, but they are to be kept in spirit and in truth – not just in letter. (Romans 7, 8)  No amount of personal effort allows us to keep the spirit of the law without a new life in Christ. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1).  It’s not that the glory I deserve pales in comparison to the glory Jesus deserves. It’s that He deserves all the glory.

Jesus is the hero of every story.

He deserves the praise!

And that’s good news!

Where is Jesus?

I was invited to an ongoing outreach training seminar a while back. It sounded like a denominational program, held in a denominational building, with the goal of converting others to our denominational beliefs. Even though an old friend was heading it up, I had less than no interest. Despite holding the denominational beliefs as true, I often severely disagree with the sub-culture, and attending a planning committee to multiply that sub-culture in our community was not top of my list for use of my free time.

Why are we so driven to convert others to Jesus if He’s so impotent that He can’t accomplish anything in our own lives?  Why do we even need Jesus if our primary focus is on working harder, being good, and making right choices? Oh, I’m sure none of us would actually say we don’t need Jesus, but we live it all the time. How often in response to a guilty conscience do we turn toward ourselves instead of Jesus? More often our thoughts probably go something like “I should really stop being so fill-in-the-blank. I should try harder at that next time.”  Where is the power of God in that? How has Jesus impacted your life there? He gave you a standard you feel obligated to live up to, but other religions or philosophies can do that. What’s so special about Jesus if all He’s done is given you a behavior goal to work toward?   Where is Jesus in self-improvement and good living?

We may for a time convince ourselves and others that trying hard to be good is resulting in success. But that is not reality. We cannot fix our sin problem by trying hard. It’s a convoluted, dysfunctional journey when we try to play the role of God in our lives. At some point we will each get sufficient  evidence to realize that we are broken and in need of Jesus. But if our beliefs have taught us that people who are really saved are not broken, and if we hold our salvation and beliefs tightly, then we will not be able to admit our own brokenness. We become narcissistic and victim-driven in our thinking and look for explanations for our hardships outside of ourselves. Our own beliefs that could have kept us humbly at the feet of Jesus instead cause us to cling more strongly to our self-righteousness. Being broken is risking too much. Where is Jesus in the charade?

Church, your talk is often focused on how much the unchurched need Jesus and the truth. You don’t talk nearly as often about the need for Jesus’ power in the lives of church members. Sure, you’ll say you need His help and guidance so you can do a better job at converting them, but generally that’s as far as it goes. Perhaps those on the outside of the church need Jesus, while those on the inside are only needed by Jesus to do His work. Your words may say otherwise, but over time the cultural atmosphere says the saved don’t need Jesus like the unsaved need Jesus. So what’s wrong with me when I fail? Why do I need Jesus so much? Am I actually one of them and not one of us? Maybe I don’t belong. Where is Jesus in this self-righteous club?

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I didn’t start attending a house church community so I could be on the cutting-edge of evangelism.  My focus wasn’t on reaching a new group of people to save or serving as a missionary in my city. I went to be surrounded by others who admit they stumble as I do, so I know I’m not alone. I went to be with those who want to be reminded of how good Jesus is when they forget, and who will do the same for me when I forget. I went to find Jesus, because I need Him. Oh, I’ve stumbled there, too. I’ve gotten wrapped up at times in the process and thought the key was in the “how” and not the “Who”. “It” has been so much more deeply ingrained in me than “He” has. But He has touched my heart in a way that “it” never could.  There is no deep abiding power in a list of beliefs. The power lies in knowing in Whom we believe.

Jesus is there.

His power lies in the impact of His grace that removes my need to prove myself to Him. In my weakness, I am enough because He is enough. His power shines in His omnipotence that lets me rest and not fight to control. He is able to control all things. His power is in His goodness and glory that fulfills my cravings, allowing God to become bigger and other people smaller. He frees me of my idols. His power will naturally bring my behavior into alignment with His will, not because He forces me, nor because I’m working hard at it, but because His love draws it out of me. His yoke is easy.

Jesus is there. 

I have found His covering righteousness shining in the writings of Ty Gibson and heard His grace and justice in the preaching of David Asscherick. I have surprisingly been drawn to His goodness in the words of Ellen White. And I found Him this week at that outreach training seminar, held in a denominational building with a distinctly denominational group, where we decided the most important outreach focus for next year is for each one of us to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus and to rely on Him daily. The power is in the relationship and it is through our abiding in His power that others will come to know Him.

Jesus is there. 

 

Perspective

Thursday morning I stepped out of my car into the sweltering heat. My glasses fogged as I walked into the office building where I work. Without effort, my thoughts headed down a well-worn path.  I rehearsed the why’s of my current location, the what’s of nature I’d rather be surrounded with, and the how’s of potential change. But the when is not now and the where isn’t settled, so I redirected myself to my work, grumbling a bit and enduring on.

Saturday afternoon I slid into the driver’s seat of my car – literally – slid – onto the seat as my legs were so sweaty the usual struggle of sticking was long past. My face was beat red from the couple of hours I’d spent walking on the concrete in the sun and heat surrounded by the buildings of downtown.

And what was that I felt?gratitude?

I was thankful for the option of turning on the air conditioner, blocking out the sun with a visor, and getting ice out of my freezer at home anytime I wanted to. It was hot, at least as hot as Thursday. But spending a couple of hours serving others who aren’t as fortunate as I am, made all the difference in my heart.  I’m sure the people we met appreciated the ice-cream sandwiches and cold water we shared. But interestingly, none of them were grumbling about the weather. And once again my heart told me it is true: It is more blessed to give than to receive.

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May you find the blessings in your own life as well no matter your situation.

 

A Love Story

I snatched the book out of my mail box Saturday morning before heading out for a day of camping. And I’d finished it before I headed back home today. It’s the easiest hard-to-read book I’ve read in some time. And I was so moved by the story that I think everybody really ought to read it.

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The title suggests the pages will speak of peace and grace. It certainly has that, but it’s also full of love and redemption.

Kara’s story starts as a youngster in a home with an angry father whom she struggled to please. After rebelling from the pressure and unattainable expectations, she was introduced to Jesus. His love drew her in and her life took a drastic turn away from the destiny she had been carving for herself. Shortly afterward she met a young man, Jason, who became the love of her life and the story unfolds as the two of them, and eventually their four “littles”, learn to love in a way she had never experienced previous to that. The same vulnerability that was required for her to walk that journey with him is what makes the story so compelling for the reader. She openly shares so much of her raw struggles of humanity that her story becomes all of our stories.

The depth and love of the story is beyond beautiful. The ending – tragic. The particular “hard” for Kara mentioned in the book title was breast cancer. She found a  deeply grace-filled, loving God along that journey.  Her “hard” eventually took her from this here, this now. She passed away about a year ago.

The book presents an amazing quality of relationships that few of us experience. Her marriage to Jason really seems to have been blessed and rare. They were endlessly focused on loving with kindness. But as Kara points out in her book, the best we have here is simply a shadow.  We are living in Shadowland. The real love story that can fill our hearts without compromise or end is available to all of us. It is the love of our Savior, Jesus.

So while I would wish for you a marriage and relationships filled with grace and peace, above all I would wish for you a relationship with Jesus. It is through the author of Love that we can learn to know Love. And when we allow Him to be the hero of our story, grace and peace are promised – even in the midst of hard.