God in Jamaica

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Luke 4-18

Two weeks ago I left my house at 2:00 in the morning to join my Bible college classmates on a mission trip to Jamaica.  We had been preparing for this trip for months, and I was looking forward to it.  One of the things our group of 13 students had done in preparation was to select an overall goal for the trip.  The passage from Luke chapter 4, pictured above, was our choice.  We went in order to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Because we went in the spirit and anointing of the Lord, we did those things.  We went to a hospital and broke up into groups of two or three to pray for the patients, and their visitors, and the staff, and the people waiting outside.  One group prayed with a man, totally blind in his left eye, who wanted his sight back.  His sight was fully restored!  We went to a girls’ home and spent the morning with about 55 teenage girls who had no other home.  We shared God’s love with them through songs and skits and personal testimonies and one-on-on prayer and conversation.  We were able to tell them that God’s love was more powerful than their situation and that he has a plan and a purpose and a design for each one of them. We gave them physical gifts – journals, bracelets, gel pens, candy; but mostly we gave them the gift of hope.

We visited a nursing home and spent time with the elderly and disabled residents. We visited schools where we preached the gospel to the poor.  We prayed with the shopkeepers and the shoppers in a port where the cruise ships dock. We walked the streets of the Jamaican countryside and prayed with people on the road and in their yards and on their porches.  One deaf woman had her ears opened and sang praises to the Lord! Her husband, and many others, were filled with the Holy Spirit.

We met so many people and heard so many stories.  One man had a crumpled right hand and we prayed for healing, but he resisted.  He told us he used to play keyboards in his church, but he left the church and began running with a bad crowd.  He was attacked with a machete one day after work.  He survived, but his arm and hand were disabled.  This young man believed the attack was punishment from God for leaving the church, and that he would never play keyboards again.  We were able to share scripture with him showing that it was the devil, not God, who was behind the attack, and that God wanted him to be healed and able to play again.  We continue to pray that he has faith to receive the healing God wants to give him.

We proclaimed the year of the Lord.  Everywhere we went, we told people that their sins are forgiven.  Jesus paid the price for every sin for every man, woman, and child.  God is not counting our sins against us… we don’t have to be “good” to earn his love.  Salvation, right standing in the eyes of God, is a free gift.  Jesus provided it for all of us. It cost him everything, but it costs us nothing. We just need to accept it.  God does not force anyone to come to him, and he does not reject anyone who turns to him, no matter what they’ve done.  Our eternal destiny is a choice each of us has to make. In Deuteronomy chapter 30, God says:

I call heaven and earth as witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…

On our trip, over a hundred people chose life.  Hundreds of lives were touched by God, and that corner of Jamaica will never be the same.  I will never be the same either.  I had no choice but to rely on God every moment on that trip. I experienced his power and his love and his faithfulness like never before, not because he had changed toward me, but because I had changed toward him.  I had my own healing to receive, and I received it.

On the first day of our trip one of our leaders told us, “This is your mission trip.  Your mission begins when you get back home.”  So true!  For me, there’s no turning back.  I will continue to proclaim the Lord’s favor at every opportunity from this day forward.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

 

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Home

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What do you think of when you hear the word home?

Some people think of a house or apartment, the place they live, maybe with family or friends, maybe alone.  Home to me is the place I live with my family and my pets and many good things:  hot and cold running water, fridge and pantry full of food, appliances that do most of the work, space to be with people and space to be alone.  Home is very good to me.  If someone asked you to describe “home”, what would you say?

“Home” might mean different things to other people.  To a college student or a deployed soldier or resident of an assisted living facility or a prison, what they think of as home might be somewhere other than place they live.  To someone living on the streets or in a refugee camp, what is home? And to others – a battered spouse, the child of addicts – home might be where they live, but it doesn’t seem good to them, like it does for me. 

In the same way, different people can have vastly different connotations of God.  He’s the “man upstairs” making the rules. Or maybe God is nature, or perhaps there are many gods, or no god at all.  If you asked ten people what their view of God is, you would likely get ten different answers.  And if someone asked you to describe God, what would you say?

Many people rarely think of God, because to them he is distant and inconsequential.  Some people deny God exists.  To a lot of people, God is the one who will punish you if you break the rules and reward you if you follow them.  Some people think God hates them, or is angry at them, or is out to spoil their fun.  Quite a few people think of God as a giant puppet master pulling everyone’s strings to tell the story he wants to tell. Most of the people I know believe that God is basically good but that he sends things like sickness and injustice into our lives for some higher purpose. But where do people get their information about who God is and what he’s like?  Why so many versions? Can we know for sure what’s true and what’s not?

 We can’t know absolutely everything about God while we walk this earth.  Our puny human brains can’t get around everything he is and does.  But we can know enough.  A baby doesn’t understand everything about his mother, what she was like before he came along, how she does what she does.  But the baby can know that his mother loves him and is taking care of him.  That’s all a baby needs to know at that stage in life. 

 All we need to know about God is that he loves us and is taking care of us.  We can learn a whole lot more by reading the word, because God has described himself in the Bible.  If we approach Scripture with an open heart, setting aside the pictures of God that we got from the movies or even from church, truly seeking to know him, he will show us who he is and what he wants for us.   To me, God isn’t distant or scary at all.  He’s absolutely the best thing ever.   It makes me sad that people don’t know that God is good, and that he loves them no matter what, that his plans for them are all good, all the time.   I struggle with coming up against others’ versions of God.  When I think of home, it is good.  And when I think of God, it is very, very good. 

Not everyone has access to a good home.  But every single person on this planet has access to a very good God, and an eternal home where every need is met and there is nothing but peace and joy and love. 

Open Letter to Someone I Love

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If today you will hear his voice, harden not your heart. (Psalm 95)

There was a time when you were young, and innocent, and trusting. When you had a sense of God as a good God, and you knew He loved you, and you wanted to please him. Then someone who should have loved you and protected you did not. Someone you loved and trusted and wanted to please was NOT pleased. They rejected you and hurt you and used you, and cursed you with their words and their actions.

You were crushed, not just once but many times, and each time there was a scar. The devil whispered lies in your ear: “You are not enough. You are not good. You are not loved. God doesn’t care. He won’t protect you. You must protect yourself.” And so like an oyster protecting its tender flesh from a jagged grain of sand, you built up a hard layer, and another, and another. You stopped trusting your tormentor, and you stopped trusting God.

Your shell might look like a beautiful pearl, but there is still a jagged edge buried inside. You built a shell, but you could not remove the grain of sand. And so time passed, and your connection with God grew more dim. Part of you believed the lies, and part of you knew the truth: that you are valuable, and good, and acceptable just as you are. But are you loved? You look to family, to friends, to coworkers, to strangers, needing to be loved, needing to be accepted, needing to be needed. Some seasons are happier than others, but the innocent, trusting child that you once were is long gone. There is no one worthy of your trust, not even yourself. The pain never stops for long.

You are loved, just as you are. You are cherished by me, but to a far greater extent you are cherished by God. He yearns for you. He wants to restore you and give you every good thing. His love for you fills my heart to bursting. It keeps me up at night. He is your creator, and he loves you exactly the way you are. Nothing you have done or will do can separate you from his love.

In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16)

Not judgment, not condemnation, not hoops to jump through or laws to keep. Fullness of joy. More joy than you can handle, and peace that words can’t describe.  He’s waiting for you like the father of the prodigal son, searching the horizon every day, never giving up on you. Turn to him, ask him to show you his love. Stop listening to the lies and receive the truth: you are valuable, and good, and accepted, loved beyond measure by the Creator of all. Enter into his presence. Experience the joy.

Thankfulness

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FallThanksgiving Day in America has a lot of traditions.  People gather with family, eat too much, and take naps.  Some families watch football, some play outside, some go shopping.  When I was a kid we talked about the Pilgrims and the Indians and how they celebrated the harvest together. (That’s clearly out of fashion now, I know.)  Hopefully people still take time to be thankful.  I woke up early today and spent an hour thinking about what I am thankful for.  Here, in no particular order, is my list.  I hope you write your own.

I’m thankful for the beauty of nature, for the natural beauty of the place I live.  (The picture with this post is the view from my kitchen on an autumn afternoon.) I’m thankful for the seasons, each with their own appeal.  I am thankful for my family.  I’m grateful for my husband, that he has stayed with me even though I am a completely different person than the one he married. I’m thankful for my kids and my grandkids, who each have a big place in my heart. I’m grateful for my parents, for their love and example. I appreciate my siblings and their families, who are an important part of who I am. I’m thankful for my extended family and their diverse talents.

I am thankful for my job and the good people I work with.  I’m thankful for my friends from school and church and the neighborhood.  I am grateful for all those who have spoken into my life, shared themselves with me, and taught me.  I’m thankful for the country I live in, with all its resources and opportunities. I’m thankful for my health and the amazing design of the human body, and the incredible diversity of plants and animals around me.

I appreciate the comfort and conveniences of my life.  I’m thankful for hot baths, blankets and pillows, dishwasher and washing machine.  I appreciate all my kitchen gadgets and the opportunity to cook and bake. I’m thankful for my car, not just because it gets me where I need to go, but because it carries what I need and provides a safe and quiet space where I can think.

I’m thankful to God for the opportunity that he has given me to know him and to be with him.  I’m grateful that he has good plans for me, that he has given me a purpose and provided everything I need for life and happiness. I’m grateful that he cares for me and speaks to me.  I’m thankful for his promises and that his word will never fail.  I’m grateful that his love is the one sure thing that I can count on no matter what happens, no matter what I do or fail to do.

Today, and every day, be grateful.  Practice the art of counting your blessings.  It is truly time well spent. All the blessings in your world can only bring you joy if you take the time to appreciate them.

 

 

 

My Lamborghini

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lamborghini cropped   I drive a 2013 gray Ford Focus.  It’s a small, economical, unremarkable car with a few dings and almost 100,000 miles on it.  On the outside, I’m a lot like my car.  I’m small and unremarkable and have a few dings and gray hairs.  Like every human being ever created, I have a body, and I have a soul. My body is what you see on the outside; my soul is where I think and feel and choose and believe.  (Mind, will, personality, and heart are all words that refer to the soul.)  Then there’s my spirit.  The thing that sets mankind apart from other creatures is the fact that we each have a spirit.  God is spirit and he created us in His own image.  In addition to our minds and our bodies, he gave us each a spirit.

In my spirit, there’s a flying Lamborghini.  On the day I was born again, I became a new creation, not in my body, and not immediately in my soul, but in my spirit.  It’s like God gave me a Lamborghini parked in an invisible garage.  This is the new creation that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians.  We relate to God and everything in the spirit realm through our spirits, not primarily in the body or the mind. Before I was born again, God did speak to my spirit, but I didn’t know it was His voice I was hearing.  I felt things and didn’t understand where they came from.  After I became a believer, I learned to recognize His voice better and hear Him more clearly.

Just like a Lamborghini can do things that a Ford Focus could never do, my spirit can do things that my body can’t.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead resides in my spirit (Romans 8:11).  The power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and cast out demons dwells in my spirit.  The power to display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control also dwells in my spirit.  But while my Focus is powered by gas and my body is powered by food, my spirit is powered by faith.  I can’t pull into the local gas station to fuel up my spirit.  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).  I build my faith by hearing the word of God; not just by listening to someone preach or by reading the Bible, but by digesting what God is saying to me personally.  I need to be willing to let His word change me from the inside out.  There’s a lot involved in changing from a Focus to a Lamborghini!

I’ve seen the power of faith in my life far too often to doubt that it is real.  But every time I go to drive my Lamborghini, I need to have faith for the moment.  It takes faith to love someone who is being hateful toward me.  It takes faith to offer to pray for an acquaintance who is suffering from a health problem, even knowing that I have been healed of the very same issue.  I know that God won’t withhold healing from them, but the person might not be able to accept it.

My goal is to bring glory to God by letting Him use me to heal those around me; not just their physical ailments, but the emptiness inside them that makes their lives emotionally painful. Physical healing is great, but knowing how much God loves me and wants good things for me is far better.  I want to share that peace and joy with others.  That’s why I write this blog.

Happy Birthday, America!

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flag mapToday, as we celebrate the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it is good to remember the purpose and text of the document.   The thirteen New World states were declaring their independence from Britain, and the Declaration was written to explain why. These lines convey the foundation and essence of American liberty.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Recently there has been a great deal of sentiment expressed over the Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage throughout the country. Christians have spoken out on both sides of the issue. But it is not and never has been the purpose of the American government to decide what is right and what is wrong, only (as the declaration states) to secure the rights of its citizens.

I find it interesting to note that Jesus refused to engage in the political issues of his day, and instead talked about the kingdom of heaven. He said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” My purpose as a Christian is to represent Christ in whatever circumstances I find myself. Jesus never required anyone to be without sin before he talked to them, ate with them, healed them, loved them, or died for them. His death provided forgiveness for all of us, while we were yet sinners. Jesus’ purpose is not to condemn, but to save. Followers of Jesus should diligently share the love, compassion, and mercy of our God with every person on this planet, whether their sin is blatantly obvious or cleverly disguised as self-righteousness.

As Benjamin Franklin (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) said, “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.”

Diving into the Waves

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waves

Today I was alone at the ocean.  I’ve always enjoyed being in the water, but my experience today changed me.

The surf was so high that the red “do not swim” flags were out (but no one enforces these things.)  As the waves pounded toward shore, I eagerly walked toward them.  By the time I was in water to my waist, the incoming waves were over my head.  If I tried to stand against them, they knocked me backwards.  But as each wave approached, just before impact, I dove into the base of the wave, and the foaming water passed harmlessly over me.  I came out on the other side laughing.

I did this for quite a while, wading deeper, facing higher waves, until I could no longer touch the bottom.  Then I swam beyond where the waves were breaking.  In the deeper water they were just high swells, constantly moving.  I floated on top and gazed at the puffy white clouds dotting the deep blue sky.  There was so much power in the water, but there was no reason to fight it or fear it.  It was the perfect place to rest and relax.

I was reminded of the passage where the apostle Paul prays that we might “comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love.  I was barely a speck in the water in the tiny bay where I floated on the edge of a vast ocean, and could not begin to imagine how much water surrounded me.  But that’s how God’s love is.  There is so much power in it, but I can rest in it as easily as I floated on those waves.  Nothing I face is too hard for God.  Nothing I need is beyond His capacity to provide.  When life’s circumstances come at me and threaten to knock me down, I can dive into God’s love and come up laughing on the other side.

Paul concludes his prayer, “know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.”  To that I say, Amen!