Saturday, February 17, 2018

Taking Heart Despite the Signs of the Times



Yesterday, I planned to finish a chunk of edits on my fiction work-in-progress. They’re dangerously close to past-due, so all my attention was glued to the manuscript. I was editing a terrorist attack and imaging the sound of gunfire when a noise from outside stopped me in my tracks. 

Automatic weapon fire, quickly followed by a loud explosion.

My heart lurched in my chest. My first thought was, “Whoa. They’re here, in my yard!” My second thought, “Who’s outside my house with an automatic weapon? They’re gonna hit my horses!” 

I jumped out of my chair in an instant and raced outside to confront the shooters, no weapon in hand except a hearty dose of indignation. I arrived to find the automatic weapon fire was 1/3 of an old oak tree splitting off from the main trunk. The explosion was the sound of the enormous tree hitting the ground.

The catastrophe and danger I envisioned was nothing more than an act of nature. The only destruction was to my fence. A few of the bigger branches (the size of trees) had broken the wire in two places and knocked all four strands loose for a long stretch.

I heard the sound clearly, but failed to interpret it correctly.

Signs of the times

Jesus taught his disciples about occurrences, both in nature and society, and warned them to take note of the signs of the times and interpret them well. (Matthew 24:29-31)
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:25-28
When we see and hear the signs He said, interpret them wisely. The shaking of earthly powers signals one important thing: Jesus’ imminent return. There's no need for dismay or despair, even if the signs suggest an expectation of terrible things to come.
If there was ever a time of dismay, of fear and expectation of what will come next, it is now. Powers around the world are shaken. Governments are in disarray. Citizens protest and fight in the streets all around our world. 
We live in an increasingly troubled world, but there is no need for fear. From the beginning of the signs of the times, we’re to recognize a new day is coming. Though all around us are seized with fear and panic, we, the disciples of Christ, must lift up our heads with anticipation. 

Redemption draws near

We serve a risen, reigning, and returning Savior. At just the right time, Father God will declare the moment, and Jesus will return on the clouds. We’ll all see Him, as well as the angels who accompany Him, and those who love Him will be gathered up with them in the clouds.
We live in a broken and hurting world, but this place of sorrow is not our home. One day, we’ll enter that eternal kingdom where tears and sorrow are not allowed. Only joy, and love, and peace. 
Until then, recognize the signs and lift our heads, for redemption draweth nigh. 





Friday, February 16, 2018

School Shooting: Stop Blaming and Start Helping




I am sickened by the wanton destruction and meaningless loss of life as a result of the school shooting in Florida this week. I am also sick of hearing who’s to blame for the tragedy. If we want the truth for a change, we need to stop accusing the other side and listen up.

It’s OUR fault.

We, the American people, have embraced the idea of a car for every licensed driver and a chicken in every InstantPot. We’ve put TVs in every bedroom and video remotes in the hands of every child. We’ve painted our little girls like china dolls, wrapped them in satin, and called them princesses. We’ve built man caves and taken girl trips and declared that we are in great need of sand between our toes. We’ve indulged our materialistic desires and blamed someone else when unwanted consequences came our way.

Wear a crown, but skip the rhinestones.

People of God, if we want to wear a crown like the child of a King, don’t choose a tiara. Choose the crown Jesus’ wore. A crown of thorns.

Ponder that for a lifetime.

Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.

He was also very specific about wading into the darkest situations and bringing light and life to the most hopeless, and he set the example. His light shined in the darkness and the darkness DID NOT overcome it and it still doesn’t. 

Be part of the solution, not the problem.

If you have never volunteered to help the homeless, never served a meal, embraced a homeless person, wept with them, prayed with them, or helped close-up-and-in-person, do not speak to me about the problem of homelessness and do not dare to cast blame or offer a “solution."

If you have never reached out to a troubled teen and invested in their lives by teaching them a new way, mentoring, or simply loving them, do not talk to me about the “problem of youth” and do not dare to cast blame or offer a “solution.”

If you’ve never done anything to make a real, tangible difference in this world, I don’t want to hear your theories about the problems. You (and we) are part of the problem, and it’s time we take a close look at ourselves and change.

Change begins in the heart, not in the legislature.

New laws will not solve the problem of our hearts. We cannot legislate morality and that, dear friends, is what we’ve lost. We’ve discarded the Judeo-Christian ethic as if doing whatever we wanted would always be right. The school shooting, and the seventeen left dead this week, prove its not. 

Our choices reveal who we are.

Regardless of our opinion about Christ or religion, our choices result in consequences and we the people are reaping what we’ve sowed. A kid in trouble needs help, needs someone to learn his name, listen to him talk, and try to intervene. 
School teachers must teach, and they have more to do than they can get done. They cannot be expected to train up a child in the way he or she should go, too. That’s the responsibility of we the parents.
Lead by example. Please.

We’re supposed to teach our children the difference between right and wrong by words AND the example we’ve set, to teach AND demonstrate the importance of loving and forgiving others, to teach AND demonstrate the need to love and care for the least, most troubled, most vulnerable among us. 
Our children learn from us and they are a reflection of us. Certainly, they make a choice about their actions, but their choices, in general, reflect what they’ve learned and lived at home. What are we teaching?
Stop blaming and do something.

Violence in schools and the decline of our society are not problems caused by “the other side,” by our current or any previous President, or by the legislature. They are a reflection of our hearts. 

If we want change, we must be the change. Volunteer. Offer to read books to the class for an elementary school teacher and choose the books wisely. Invest in the life of a child by participating in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. Help at the Salvation Army. Google “programs for troubled teens” and get involved in your community, and take your own children along as you go. Welcome people from troubled circumstances into our churches and our lives.

Don’t just pray.

The thousands of people directly impacted by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School need our prayers today and for years to come. The sound of gunfire will echo in heads, hearts, and dreams for a long time. We must pray, but let our prayers move our feet to action. 

Ask how we can help, then do it. When someone puts out a call for volunteers, step up. You don’t have to be an expert. God uses the ones who show up, even when they don’t feel equipped. Help anyway. 

One day, we’ll answer for what we didn’t do.

What we don’t do matters as much as what we do. This morning, one Scripture rings in my head, breaks my heart, and drives me to action. May it do the same for all of us. 

“The King will…say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick in prison and you did not look after me…’ Truly  I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:41-45



Thursday, February 15, 2018

Finding the Beautiful Place Called Hope



“Hope is that beautiful place between the way things are and the way things are yet to be. See Hebrews 11:1”

Yesterday, my pastor posted those words on social media. I couldn’t get them out of my head and I began to wonder about the beautiful place of hope. A Scripture search revealed hope to be the most unexpected place imaginable. 

First, a quick history lesson.

Before the battle of Jericho, God decreed that all silver and gold belonged to Him and should be placed in His treasury. This ban remained in place. Joshua and his army fought the battle at Ai, and Achan’s greed defeated them all. (Joshua 7) He saw a beautiful mantle, as well as bars of silver and gold, took them, and hid them. The army of Israel suffered a sound defeat because of his hidden sin.

Ultimately, Achan was tried and found guilty. Joshua took Achan, his family, and all his possessions to the Valley of Achor, where he received his punishment. The entire family of Achan received a sentence of death by stoning, followed by burning to dust. As a result, the valley of Achor became known as the Valley of Trouble.

Trouble Transformed to Hope

God describes this place of judgment as a “door of hope” for His people. (Hosea 2:15) and a resting place for their herds. (Isaiah 65:10) 

The word translated as hope indicates a literal cord or attachment, as well as the ground (or foundation) on which our hope rests. This word describes the scarlet cord Rahab threw out the window for the spies of Israel and on which she and her family depended for their salvation. (Joshua 2;18,21) 

The Psalmist declared his hope in God alone. (Psalm 39:7) Gentiles find their hope in the name of the Messiah, Jesus. (Mtt 12:21) As Christians, we fixed our hope on the living God who is the Savior of all men (! Tim 4:10) The word translated as hope also indicates trust, and the willingness to wait for salvation with joy and full confidence.

Waiting in the Place Between

The beautiful spot between the way things are and the way things are yet to be is the valley of Achor. God transformed the place of judgment into rich pastureland. There, we find the door of hope, the door to all we expect and for which we wait. According to Jesus, He is that door. ( John 10:9)
Even in the hardest and most difficult seasons, we need not fear, Those places of pain are the transition between the ways things are and the way they are yet to be, and Jesus is the door between. In times of trial, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, press ever closer to Him, and find our hope, our expectation, and our scarlet cord of deliverance in Christ alone. 
It is then that our hope becomes the beautiful place between the way things are and the way things are yet to be. 
Therefore, let us fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13) and wait for Him.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lent: Learning to Love the Discipline



My first experience with Lent was nearly two decades ago. A friend of mine, from a more liturgical denomination, pondered what she would fast for several weeks before Ash Wednesday. The act of abstaining from something helped focus her mind on God. The discipline served as a tool of refinement and preparation for celebrating the joy of Easter. 

The idea of preparing my heart to fully appreciate the passion of Christ made sense to me, so I participated in a Lenten fast. Those first forty days changed my life, and I learned a vital truth. God does something significant in response to that degree of sincere, dedicated prayer and fasting. It’s not always what I expect (or want) but it’s important.

Forty days is a long time, and fasting something significant for that duration is hard. My friend taught me it’s much easier to fast something she felt called to by God. It’s also easier if the fast is linked to a prayer focus. 

This year, the idea of a Lenten fast came to me gradually. Forty days of spiritual discipline requires all the faith and dedication I can muster. It also requires the help and strength of God, so it’s not something I enter into lightly. Over the last few weeks, I thought about fasting quite a bit, and a sense of anticipation steadily built. A prayer focus came to mind and God confirmed it over and over again. 


Why participate in Lent?

Discipline is a vital part of the life of the disciple and fasting is something Jesus expected his disciples would do. (Matthew 6:16) His forty-day fast before He began His public ministry was a time of sacrifice, testing, and preparation. The complete surrender of His desires and needs set the tone for the rest of His earthly life. Our surrender of desire and dedicated focus on prayer is a time of testing, refinement, and preparation in our lives, as well.

If your faith background is non-liturgical, you may not be familiar with Lent, but this might be the year to learn more. Consider a simple fast of a single item or a single activity during the next forty days. Use the time you’d spend to focus on the gift Christ gave on the cross and to draw closer to Him. 


What should I fast during Lent?

People traditionally fast anything from sweets to meat to bread to shopping to social media. Isaiah 58 describes the fast God desires as a sin fast, when we obtain from a judgmental, critical spirit. The sin fast is the hardest fast of all.

A “full” fast, of no food is a rigorous trial and not something I recommend. No one should fast food and water, as going without hydration can be deadly if prolonged, even though Jesus did this fast.  The “limited” fast, of a single food or food group or a single activity is most common. Some people do a “Daniel fast,” based on his fast of “rich food” when he was first taken to Babylon. According to Scripture, he ate fruit and vegetables and drank only water. Our choice of fast should be guided by of God. As James promised, if we need wisdom, including in the selection of a fast, God will give it. (James 1:5)

What if I accidentally break my fast?

I’m not perfect. On occasion, I unintentionally ate something I was fasting before I thought about it, especially at the beginning of a fast. I didn’t stop my efforts, though. Instead, I apologized to God, picked back up where I left off, and finished the allotted time. The discipline is not a time for condemnation, but for reconciliation with and dedication to God.

Will Lent change my life?

Will a dedicated period of prayer and fasting change your life? Absolutely. Participation in Lent has almost always accomplished something significant in my life. It’s allowed me to forgive, release hurts, love the unlovely, embrace a deeper walk of faith. 

Only God knows what He plans to accomplish in you, but one thing is certain. He will not leave you the same. 

When do I start? 

Lent is designed to be an intimate time with God, not an opportunity to broadcast your spirituality to your friends and neighbors. Limit information about your fast  to those to whom you will be accountable. There’s no time like the present to begin a deeper walk of faith. Why not start today to embrace discipline and strengthen your prayer life. You’ll be glad you did. 


“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

Monday, February 12, 2018

Does Miraculous Healing Still Happen?


What comes to mind when you think of sickness and healing? Does the image in your head include doctors, nurses, surgery, medicine? What about pastors, elders, and anointing oil?

If the first image, of medical personnel, comes to mind, you're not wrong. Doctors are frequently used by God to bring healing to those who are sick and hurting. If your imagine of healing includes faith workers and anointing oil, you're not wrong, either.

Yesterday, our pastor taught from Mark 1:29-39 about divine healing. Peter's mother-in-law was seriously ill. Jesus arrived and Peter's family immediately told Jesus about her illness. He healed her, and she went straight to work, serving Him.

Pastor Scooter asked, "Does God still heal?"

If we're honest, most of us would answer that question with a "yes, but..." When that question becomes more specific, "Will God heal me?," we hesitate. We're less certain.

My pastor asked me to share the story of my eye problems during the service and explain how God intervened. In mid-December, my bathroom scales developed a problem. When I stepped on the scale, the light barely illuminated and the numbers were no longer visible. I changed the rechargeable batteries. No better. I bought regular batteries. No improvement. 

Oddly enough, I could stand on the scales until the weight was ready, hop off, and lie on the floor to get an image of the numbers. I thought the problem was with my scales, but I was wrong.

On a foggy day in early January, I headed to work and realized something terrifying. The fog outside was in my left eye, too. My vision was seriously blurred. 

I saw my ophthalmologist right way. Corneal edema (or swelling) had caused the blurred vision. He didn't know why it happened. Trauma, virus, and unknown cause were considered. I took anti-virals and used steroid drops. My eye improved. 

Soon, I developed a different corneal problem in my right eye. More eye drops. The right eye problem quickly resolved, but the left eye didn't heal as steadily. With the medication, it improved but, when the steroids were tapered, it worsened again and the possibility of a vision-losing problem was mentioned.

I spend my day reading a book or on a computer. My eyes are my most important tool, but the eye problem made work difficult. My eye hurt in the morning and light made it much worse. The vision was blurred early, but gradually improved as the day went on. I had to take breaks every 30 minutes or so to keep the blurriness at bay. I felt slowed down, and I was. The struggle left me exhausted by the end of the day. 

I did everything my doctors told me to do, but it didn't seem to be working as well as I'd hoped. I'm familiar with James 5, which says, if you're sick, call the elders and have them pray over you. I've seen God heal through the laying on of hands before, so I knew He might heal me. 

Before I asked, though, I had to confront a serious problem of faith. What if He didn't heal me? Could I deal with it if the vision loss didn't resolve, but worsened instead? I pondered it, explored options for working blind, and considered the lives of two friends, both of whom are blind physicians, still actively working. God will make a way through, I realized, no matter what happens with my eyes.

I prayed the prayer that never fails. "Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done. Even with my eyes." I wanted clear vision back, but I was willing to accept whatever God allowed. After I reached that hard place, I contacted my pastor and asked for the elders to pray for my healing.

The place of surrender is the perfect place to begin prayers for healing. 

Wednesday night, after Bible study, Pastor Scooter called the elders to the back to discuss a matter of prayer. Then, to my surprise, he called me to the back. This wasn't how I expected it to happen, but it didn't really matter what I expected. The elders and my pastor gathered around me, anointed me with oil, and prayed over me. The earth didn't shake. I didn't get hit with a lightning bolt. I didn't feel different at all.

I drove home that night and wondered what God had done. I didn't feel healed. I thought I could have orchestrated a more certain process. Still, I chose what God wanted and I surrendered again to His will.

The next morning, I awakened and turned on the light. It didn't hurt. I opened my Bible. I could see the pages. I reached for the laptop. The screen wasn't blurred. I could see. My vision was back to normal.

It was already improving from the treatment, but my vision took a big leap forward after the elders prayed for me. It hasn't regressed. I'm still tapering the steroid drops, because that's what must be done with steroid drops.

I know my vision and my discomfort are better. I don't know what my cornea looks like. As a physician, I have to say that healing, in this situation, doesn't simply mean better sight. It also means a normal cornea. Am I healed? I don't know yet. 

I do know my vision is better and the pain and blurriness are gone. That's enough for now.

Why did God intervene? 

It wasn't because I'm such a good person, or because of superior faith, or because I go to an amazing church. He intervened because I  believed what the Scripture says and obeyed. It's that simple. 

Does God heal everyone? 

I don't know if everyone gets healed on earth or not. Paul clearly was not healed of his thorn in the flesh, but God made a way through it. His suffering wasn't wasted. Everyone is healed in heaven.

If God heals me, can I stop my medicine? 

No. That decision needs to be made with the assistance of your physician. God uses doctors and medicine, as well as prayers of faith. 

Can I continue doing the same old things and get God to heal me? 

No. Healthy choices that allow you to care for the temple of God within you will still be necessary. We'll still need to eat right, exercise, drink water, and lower stress. We still need to take our medication. We can't ask God to heal us in order to indulge our lusts, our gluttony, or our cravings. That's not the kind of God we serve. He does not bless sin. Don't miss the verses about confession. It's a part of the healing process, too.

Are you sick? Do you need healing? 

Read James 5:13-19. Humble yourself, confess your sin, call your elders, and ask them to pray for your healing. Then, wait with expectation to see what God does. 

Does God still heal? Yes, He does.

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them prayer over him, anointing him iwth oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him." James 5:13-14


Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Benefits of Sabbath Rest or Why You Should Take a Break Today


"If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." The quote is attributed to Marc Anthony, but it certainly applies to my life. I love what I do, even when it's a messy, stinky job like cleaning out the barn. The disadvantage comes when you do what you love without a break. Even Jesus, who often worked all day and prayed all night, honored the Sabbath. I, on the other hand, find rest difficult.

Several years ago, I accidentally "did nothing" one Sunday. At the end of the day, I complained that I did not do a productive thing all afternoon. Quick as a flash, the still, small voice in my heart whispered, "Oh, yes, you did. You took a Sabbath." 

I'm not perfect at rest, but I've been intentional about the Sabbath for a while now. I attend services at my church and come home to rest. I feed the livestock, but I don't clean the barn or check off items on my to-do list. I listen to music, walk outside, play with the dogs, read books. On a rare occasion, I nap. When the weather is nice, I sit outside and ponder life.

Early this morning, I lay in bed and considered what I wanted to do today. I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I said, "Lord, could I get a pass on Sabbath rest today? I'd sure like to work on edits."

I did not get a pass. 

Instead, I received a still, small reminder of the benefits of honoring the Sabbath. Isaiah 58 offers an enticing reward for choosing rest on this holy day.

"IF because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight...THEN you will take delight in the Lord...ride on the heights of the earth...be fed with the heritage of Jacob..." Isaiah 58:13-14 nasb

In case you need a reminder about the heritage of Jacob, you can find Issac's deathbed blessing to his son (which he stole from Esau) in Genesis 27.

"Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you, Be master of your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed by those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you." Genesis 27:28-29

The simple act of obedience in Sabbath rest yields delight, abundant provision, authority, and influence, as well as blessings for those who bless you and curses on your enemies. 

I can't quite take this in, but I believe it's true. IF I will choose to turn from doing what I want and spend the day taking delight in my God, THEN He will bless me in astounding and generous ways. Obedience is worth it.

Today, the to-do list can wait. I choose rest and all the blessings it brings.

What will you do today? How do you honor the Sabbath? I'm eager to hear, so leave a comment below. 

You might also like: When You're Too Busy to Be Still But Rest Isn't Optional