Its a Rocky Road to Heaven

The news is horrible for anyone to hear: a 16 year old dead in a horrible freak accident.  And of course the questions immediately follow: why?  how could God let this happen?

It is another painful reminder that we all deal with tragedies. We all deal with pain and suffering.  We all face the devil.

Today two verses overtake me:

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

God loves us.  He does not set trials in our path.  He does not want us to be hurt.  But the trade off with allowing us to have free will is — He has to allow us to use it.  He does not control us or the people around us.  What kind of life would that be?  We would be no different than robots.  We are God’s children and as His children we grow in strength and maturity.  The way we grow is by facing trials big and small.  Think about your own children: if we do everything for them, how will they grow?  If we never let them make mistakes, how will they learn?  It is terribly hard sometimes because we want to protect them, we don’t want them to be hurt, but at the same time, we have to let them go to discover things on their own, to make their own choices and sometimes suffer the consequences.  Imagine how God must feel with all of us.  Yes, He could put us in a bubble, but how would that be for any of us?  How would we grow?  How would we truly know what joy and love are if we never experience the pain?  We appreciate the sun, when we experience the rain.  (and we appreciate the Son, when we experience the pain.)

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.  But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.

James 1:2–6

God may not fix every situation for us, but He is there with us, and if we are open to it, if we ask, He guides us with a way out.  Some trials may take a lot of perseverance.  Some may feel devastating and it may seem like the pain will never end, but God is there.

I have often wondered, if He loves us how can he allow us to suffer so much pain.  The idea of us allowing our own child to die seems unfathomable.  So how can God?  As I read Corinthians this morning this thought came to me:  our trials, our pain, our suffering is human.  They are not eternal.  Our life on earth is meant to be temporary (indeed we all must die to experience eternal life).  It is like when we watch our own child play a board game or video game.  They may make mistakes.  They may lose or their player may “die”.  They may even be heartbroken (I remember throwing a board game because I was so upset).  But as parents we know that these challenges are little ones.  As they get older, we watch them with their first girlfriend or boyfriend, we see them make mistakes, we see the heart break — they may feel devastated.  They may feel like they can never move on.  Although it is sometimes painful to watch, as parents we expect it and we know it will be ok because they are still young and there are bigger things in store for them.  Similarly, God knows that our entire life on earth whether it is 2 minutes or 102 years, is just a small blip in our eternity.  We are all still young.  We are all still children.  He knows we will be ok.  Because, if we let Him, He has bigger things in store for us.

God,

Thank you for giving us free will.  Sometimes it feels like it would be easier if you would take it away and control the world around us.  Sometimes it feels like the world is more than we can take.  Help us to always see the light and the hope no matter how dark or painful the things on earth may seem.  Help us to share the light and hope with others.  Help us to persevere through any trial and to know that this world is temporary and so is every struggle.  Help us to know that you never leave our side.

 

Father’s Love

I found a new favorite verse in the bible:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Romans 8:14-15

I have heard before that we are children of God, and of course that sounds wonderful.  But tonight the part that struck me was that we “did not receive a spirit  of slavery to fall back into fear.”  God does not want slaves.  He does not want us to choose Him out of fear.  To me, the Old Testament often seems full of fear.

God sent His Son and His Spirit so that we would know His love.  His Spirit surrounds us, not to force us into a relationship with God, for what kind of a relationship would that be.  (Can a slave love his master, or is he always looking for the day when he can get away, when he is finally free.)   But rather the Spirit is a constant reminder that  God chooses us. He willingly adopts us.  He is not stuck with us like a birth parent might be.  Not only did He create us, but even with all of our faults and sins, He chooses us again and again every day. He sent His Spirit to lead us to Him, if we choose to follow, so that we can have a real relationship with Him, so that we can run to him like an innocent child runs to her father crying “daddy” as we leap into His arms, with total confidence, trust and the purest love.

Father!

Forgive me for turning away.  Send your Spirit to lead me and guide me.  I want to be with you!

 

 

 

Why Worry?

I worry.  A lot.  I worry about being a good parent.  Being a good spouse.  Being a good business partner.  I worry about making enough money, maintaining job security, obtaining financial security.  I worry about my health, and my family’s health.  I worry about my son’s future and whether I have done enough to help place him on the right path.  I worry about my faith, my future and my relationship with God.

Tonight, I read Matthew chapter 6:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?   Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?  Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.  But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.   If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Matthew 6:25-34

Do not worry about tomorrow.  That is a wonderful idea, isn’t it?  The Bible is filled with this idea.  But is it possible?  I struggle with this.   I want to be able to do this, but how?

This passage seems to provide an answer: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

We worry about things on earth — things the pagans seek.  Things that won’t matter in our eternal life.  God.  That is all we really need.  That is all we need to seek.  If we just focus on Him, what is there to worry about?  Oh, I want to seek you Lord!  I want to cast my worries aside and focus on you.

Our Father,

You are all powerful in heaven and on earth.  Hallowed be your name!  Let your Kingdom come.  I pray that your will be done on earth and that I let go and let you take control.   Give us this day our daily bread — and the acceptance to know that is all we need.  Help me not to worry about tomorrow’s bread and instead to just seek you.  Forgive me for the times I fail and the times I turn away from you.  And help me to forgive others who fail me.  Lead me away from temptation and when I stray, deliver me from evil, so that I may always return to you.

 

Made and Loved by God

Tonight’s passage is wonderful (and easy to understand):

For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate.  How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?  But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Wisdom 11:24-12:1

God loves us.  He made us.  He created us.  By His will, we exist.  We are His. It is just that simple.

As I read this scripture over, it almost makes me say “well, duh — of course He loves us.”  I can feel my soul breathe a deep sigh of relief, because this passage makes it so simple and clear.  We all have a tag on our soul that says Made by God.  (Who needs a Made in the USA tag — we all bear the Made in Heaven stamp!)

And just when I think it cannot get any better, the very last clause blows me away: “for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

I watch my son, the one little part of God’s creation that I had a hand in making and I can see part of me in him (some good and some not so good).  God made us.  And just like part of me is in my son, part of God is in each of us.  And that is all good!  God’s imperishable spirit is in all of us!  We need to let that part shine!

God,

I love you!  I am not worthy of your love, but I am so grateful to have it.  Let your Spirit  fill me and shine through me!

 

Buzzer Beater Hope

It has been a tough weekend for many on the basketball court (and many in the stands).  My own bracket has been completely destroyed.  There have been some heartbreaking losses — some in the final seconds of the game.  Of course, these losses are nothing compared to the many other losses that we suffer.

Tonight the Bible opened to Lamentations:

My life is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; My enduring hope, I said, has perished before the LORD.  The thought of my wretched homelessness is wormwood and poison; Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.  But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope:

The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness!

The LORD is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him.  The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance.

Lamentations 3:17-26

The passages before this lamented on all of the suffering we experience.  We all suffer.  We all have loss.  Some small and fleeting, like a basketball game.  Some tragic and life altering.  This line struck me tonight: “Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.”

If we focus on our sufferings, there is no doubt that our souls will be downcast.  We need Hope.  In every situation, we need Hope.  In basketball sometimes a team’s last hope is a buzzer beater shot.  But there is only one Hope that can lift us, no matter what the situation, no matter what the suffering, no matter what the loss.  Hope in the Lord.  Hope in His deliverance.  Nothing on earth can match what the Lord provides.  Even when all seems lost, God always provides us with a buzzer beater —  we just need to trust in Him, seek Him.  We don’t have to make a half-court shot, we just need to turn to Him.  God’s love exceeds all of our expectations.  It is the true Cinderella story.  He takes what might seem downtrodden and  turns us into something beautiful.

He constantly takes us out of the darkness.  With every sunrise, we are renewed.  His compassion is not spent.  His mercy is never exhausted.  Therefore, I will Hope.

Lord,

I trust in you.  I put all of my sufferings, all of my pain and all of my loss in your hands.  Help me not to dwell on these things.  My hope is in you.  Help me to have enough strength to maintain Hope even in the darkest days.

 

Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks

Do you ever wonder what God is calling you to do?  I think about it constantly.  I know His plan is bigger than me.  I know He is calling me to do more.  But what is it He wants from me?  What is it He wants for me?

As I was racking my brain and struggling with what God wants me to do, I heard this verse on the radio:

We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all.  See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all.  Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:14-22

I love these lines: Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  

Maybe I am trying to think (and worry) too big.  Rejoice, Pray, Give thanks.  This is the will of God.  If I focus on these three things…  how could I be anything but happy?  How could I not be following God’s will?  No matter the circumstance, if I can rejoice at the goodness around me, the life God has given me, the love that God showers on me; if I can give thanks for everything I receive, every blessing I have, every moment that I enjoy; and if I can pray about everything else, I cannot help but think I will be satisfied.  I will be happy.  I will be living God’s will (even if I never accomplish anything else, even if I screw up along the way, even if the world is dark around me). Rejoice, Pray, Give thanks.  I can choose to find the good and rejoice.  I can choose to be thankful, instead of always wanting more.  I can focus my fears, my worries, my pain into prayer.

God,

I rejoice in your goodness!  Thank you for allowing me another day on this earth.  Thank you for blessing me with so much.  Help me to remember your love and your blessings, particularly when darkness tries to invade.  I pray for your help and your guidance.  On paper, this can seem so easy, but in life it can become so hard.

 

 

 

Are We in a Time of Persecution?

I remember, as a child, learning about the early Christians who were persecuted for their faith and nevertheless stood steadfast and strong in God.  I remember feeling jealous because the early Christians had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution.  Growing up Catholic in a Catholic community, at a time when stores and businesses were still closed on Sundays, when religion appeared to be a part of everyone’s life and the country still appeared to trust in God, I thought the days of Christians being persecuted were long gone.  How wrong I was.  I am no longer jealous of the early Christians  because they had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution (unfortunately, I think that opportunity is now more widely available), now I am jealous because the early Christians had the strength to remain strong in the face of persecution.

Tonight the Bible opened to Maccabees.  At the time, the Jews were being persecuted.  But one man, Mattathias stood strong:

The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them sacrifice.  Many of Israel joined them, but Mattathias and his sons drew together.  Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias: “You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kindred.  Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and Judeans and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends, and you and your sons shall be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him, so that they forsake the religion of their ancestors and consent to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kindred will keep to the covenant of our ancestors.  Heaven forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king by departing from our religion in the slightest degree.”

1 Maccabees 2:15-22

Throughout the ages, humans have been persecuted for following God.  Upon his death, Mattathias told his sons:

And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength.

Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.

Children! be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be honored.

1 Maccabees 2:61-64

These words struck me: “Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.”   A little bit more powerful than the old sticks and stones saying.

If we believe in God…  If we hope in God and the promise of eternal life…  Why do we allow the words of sinners, or the pressure of their earthly glory to get to us?  When we do, we show our weakness, we show our doubt, we show our fear.  Do we doubt God’s promises?  Do we doubt God’s existence?  NO!  We can be strong knowing that no matter the persecution here on earth, no matter the hurtful words of sinners or earthly promises they may make, their glory is fleeting, and ends in corruption and worms.  Our glory is eternal (and worm-free).  Our glory is with God.

None who hope in heaven shall fail in strength.

God,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my faith in the face of persecution.  Help me to be strong in my faith.  Help me to be courageous and steadfast, whether I am surrounded by sinners or your faithful followers. Help me to cast my weakness, doubt and fear away, so that true knowledge can fill their place.  True knowledge of your love and your promise of everlasting life.

 

What is your Cornerstone?

Although it may not seem like it now, our country was built on a cornerstone of faith. Our declaration of independence references God 5 times.  George Washington said:

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

 Thomas Jefferson said:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”

Where is our cornerstone now?  It is sometimes hard to see it among the mass shootings, abortions, sexual promiscuity and anti-Christian rhetoric that floods our country and our media.

God has laid the cornerstone for each of us.  It is up to us whether we allow ourselves to be built upon it:

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander; like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good.  Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For it says in scripture:

“Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.”

1 Peter 2:1-6

God has laid a cornerstone.  And he has chosen each of us to lay our stones upon His foundation, to be built into a spiritual house.  He asks us to rid ourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander.  Why would we want to hold on to any of this?  Believe in Him and come to Him.  That is all He asks.  Believe in Him and Come to Him.  Make Him the cornerstone of your life.  Don’t we all need that?  Don’t we all need to re-center on what is important.  For even when we are rejected in this life, God calls us to Him.  He chooses us.

Lord,

You are my cornerstone.  Thank you for choosing me.  Thank you for providing me with the opportunity of another day to create something beautiful upon your foundation.  Guide me in your path.  Forgive me for the times that I have allowed malice, deceit, insincerity , envy or slander to enter my heart.  Fill my heart with your love.

 

 

 

Fear God — Fear Life Without Him

Today’s passage is a short one:

Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

I generally do not like the passages in the Bible that advise us to fear God.  I think this is because I want to think of God as just the loving God.  The Father in the Prodigal Son story who welcomes us back with open arms.  When I read passages about fearing God, I think about God smiting and sending fire and brimstone.  And I don’t want to think about that (probably because I might deserve it sometimes).  Or maybe I don’t want to think about it because I don’t like the idea of being powerless to anyone else.  (and yet, of course, I am powerless, I am weak).  It bothers me that God seems to want us to fear Him.  I struggle with this.

So today’s passage has had me thinking all day.  “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  We would be foolish not to want this.  But I am struggling because I don’t generally like things that I am afraid of.  And in general I fear evil or things that want to do me harm.

I spent a little time googling and found that some suggest that “fear” as used in the Bible includes awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, love and fear.  This makes me feel better.  This makes me think of the fear because we are in the presence of such an amazing, AWESOME power — not because we are afraid He will hurt us.  God doesn’t want to hurt us.  We hurt Him.  He doesn’t hurt us.

When I think of  fear in terms of someone we love, the fear is of losing that person.  Losing my spouse or my son is my greatest fear.  Perhaps this is the fear we need.  Fear of losing God.  Fear of being without Him.  Fear of disappointing or hurting Him.

Lord,

I love you.  I am in awe of you and afraid of what I do not know.  Help me to grow in your love.  I don’t want to be without you.

 

 

Janet’s Joy

Today, I went to a funeral service for Janet, the mother of a friend and a faithful servant to God.  I was lucky enough to meet Janet and to speak with her on a few occasions.   On one such occasion she shared her love of God with me and she shared this verse:

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

She shared this with me when I was questioning whether God was the God of the Old Testament (who often seems angry and maybe even mean) or the God of the New Testament (who seems to be all about love).  Janet cited this verse to assure me that God was the same throughout time — all about love.

Return to me with your whole heart, He tells us.  No matter what we have done.  No matter where we are.  God invites us to return to Him.  He tells us to rend our hearts, not our garments and return to Him.    Sometimes our hearts and minds are fixed on something other than God.  Rend your heart, fast, weep, mourn and return to God.  I think sometimes we are afraid to make the change necessary to return our hearts to God.   It needs to be a conscious decision.  We need to fast and cleanse our body, weep and cleanse our inner spirit, mourn and say goodbye to something in our life.  We change our heart, change our life and follow God.  And the good part is…  He will take us back.  He is gracious and merciful.  He is slow to anger.  Look around at the world.  He has lots to be angry with.  But He still loves us, all of us!  He is abounding in steadfast love.  That is my favorite part.  Abounding in steadfast love.  God is love (Old Testament or New Testament — He is love).

And He is constantly calling us to Him.

Janet’s body is now returning to God, but I believe her heart, her whole heart, has long been with God.

God,

Thank you for your abounding and steadfast love.  Show me how to share the same with others.  I am sorry for the times I turn away.  Help me to rend my heart.  Help me to return to you whenever I turn away.

(And God, thank you for Janet.  No matter her struggle she remained steadfast in you.  Welcome her into your kingdom.  We will miss her here, but know that she is finding everlasting joy in you.)