08 September 2019

When I Know I'm Weak

Some seasons in life can seem, well... "off," don't they?  It's not that anything is going wrong necessarily, but life feels labored.  I know these times.  I know them in my flesh - it is weak.  And so, I wonder why...what makes me this way?

I woke up after five and a half hours of sleep from a horrible dream.  Mind you, in a pastor's mind, it indeed was horrible.  At a special service at church, I preached far too long, got lost several times in my notes while trying to cut the material on the fly, and then realized I'd printed the wrong notes!  I left the platform in disgrace, returning to my office defeated, near tears.  Yup, that's a terror to anyone who does public speaking!

I arose, scratching my noggin, and headed for 3 items...my Bible, my notebook, and a hot cup of coffee.  All three in hand, I sat and opened God's Word, praying to find Him in my semi-awake funk.  It was there, saddled next to my bookmark, where I left off from our previous time together... His encouragement for me.

"But what if we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then find out that we are still sinners?" (Gal. 2:17a NLT)  That was it!  I was drawn immediately to why I was "off."  Plain and simple, I am a sinner still.  Oh, yes...the Bible doesn't call me that anymore after coming to Christ.  I know I'm a "saint," according to the New Testament.

But here, I found the reason behind my feeling.  Mine was the sin of omission.  I looked down at my prayer journal and found four days had elapsed since I spent time with my Savior.  I had missed our intimacy together for far too long, and was deflated and defeated.  I try to keep our times together regularly, but I missed it lately.  Laziness, other activities, whatever.  And I began to sense guilt.  I had missed what He wanted to say to me.

Did He use my dream to somehow awaken me to that fact?  I cannot say for sure.  But I do know He spoke as clear as day to me in His Word.  I could almost hear His voice through the Apostle Paul whispering in my ear His truth:  "For when I tried to keep the law, I realized I could never earn God's approval.  So I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ.  I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal: 219-20a NLT)

And then came the encouragement: "So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20b NLT, emphasis mine)  He loves me!  He knows I can never please Him by trying, only by being crucified to self with Him, Him in me!  

I sensed so much relief today!  I understood in my mind the truth, and that led to my guilt departing as my heart ran toward Him!  Oh, I am filled with joy this morning, and my coffee cup isn't even drained fully!  I am eager to start this adventure of life anew with Him!  I am blessed to know He lives with me, and that my only response is to trust Him!

This week, I gave a friend some counsel that I will be wise to heed myself this morning during our special church service: "I have found the further I am from hearing Him, the more I need to worship."  Yeah, that's for me!  And I pray it is for you.

Do you sense something "off" in your life?  Is there a weakness in your flesh?  Why don't you run to worship Him, even when you don't feel like it?  Trust in the Son of God who loves you and gave Himself for you!  Lift your hands toward heaven and rest in His amazing power and presence!  Amen and amen!

17 August 2017

Reflections on Living When Death Is Near

These past few days I've spent alongside my mother, who has been, quite abruptly, diagnosed with terminal cancer throughout her body.  We've spent time holding hands and sharing about life and memories of the past.  We've had conversations about streets of gold and seeing Jesus face to face.  We've sat in silence as the tears came to my eyes, despite her wishes for us to be joyful for her.  We've even planned her Celebration of Life with her admonition to not wear black but "happy colors!"

Yes, she is tired and her body weak.  But, Mom is an incredible optimist, looking for the best in every situation.  She desires no pain medication other than Tylenol.  She wants to be lucid at all times without the fog of narcotics to dull her senses.  I respect that immensely.  She has always been a woman who has wanted zero attention on her but looked after everyone else.  I honor that in her and thank God as I write.

Yet, it's all a bit surreal.  I regularly have the privilege of walking families through this season, but now when it comes to my own family, I am experiencing a different feeling altogether.  I lack the words of comfort I normally have.  My thoughts are cloudy, at best.  I have no idea how to support my sister who will be her primary caretaker with appropriate love and compassion.

The anguish of my soul at knowing my Mom will not live much longer fluctuates between a warm realization of the rest in store for her in Jesus' arms to a resigned acceptance of the truth that I will no longer have her here for her grandchildren.  Oh how many times I lack the right thing to say or think, but somehow this is completely foreign.  I am strangely...numb.

It is in days like these I turn to the only surety I know - God's own words for us.  Sunday morning, ironically, in my quiet time before God, I'm studying 1st Thessalonians.  If you've been a Christian for a while, you may know chapter 4.  Wouldn't you know it...I began at vs. 13.  It reads:

"And now brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died." (4:13-14, NLT)

Let me tell you...this helped.  Vs. 18 says... "So comfort and encourage each other with these words."  Yes, it talks of death, but it provides me hope in the future life we have as followers of Christ!  And Mom knows this as a fact.  She is confident in her eternity...why?  She summed her whole life this way:  "I was once Saul, but now I am Paul."  She had a rough go of it early in life, living outside God's will for her, as Saul did.  But God changed him...and her!  And now she proclaims Good News to people, as Paul did in the Bible, with her life!

Today, I continued in 1st Thessalonians, and these words are so appropriate for us:  "For God decided to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.  He died for us so that we can live with him forever, whether we are dead or alive at the time of his return.  So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing." (5:9-11, NLT)

These become words I now have when I possess none to say!  And they are yours, too.  Trust Jesus with your life, as Mom does, and receive that security that she has for her future...when death is near.

08 December 2015

Bringing Us Back

Last night, I visited our PD officer in the hospital recovering from surgery.  His accident could have claimed his life, but God is so good and spared him for unknown purposes that we can only be excited about!  I can't wait to see how God will use his life for His glory once he has recovered.

How interesting that my time in the Word today led me to such a relevant passage.  I'm working my way through the Old Testament, and some valuable words awaited me today in 2nd Samuel 14.  A wise woman from Tekoa is contending with King David to bring his estranged son home again.  In her speech before him, these words hit home for me:

"All of us must die eventually.  Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.  That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him.  He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about..." (2 Samuel 14:14)

We know our lives are limited in days (Heb. 9:27), yes.  But how thrilling to me that God isn't finished with us... He doesn't discard those he cares about!  What encouragement for my friend who was close to death's door!  God has a plan and purpose for his life, and I know He cares so deeply for him.

But this also has the more direct implication.  He also cares about us when we stray...when our thoughts are far from Him.  He tries to bring us back.  I think of those times when I don't want to be close to Him.  My eyes are fixed on myself or the sin dangling before me, and I distance myself.  How exciting that God continues to call after us, seek us, and find us.  I'm reminded of Jesus' words and why He came - to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  That's not just for those who don't know Him...it's for me , too.

Would you say you are lost today?  I know God wants to draw you close to Him and His fatherly affection.  The question is: will you let Him?

03 December 2015

In the Midst of Tragedy

It is easy to lose hope in the midst of tragedy.  Our city/region has taken a one-two punch with our officer in the collision Monday in surgery now and with the horror yesterday in San Bernardino.  But I will not give up.  Since God graciously allows us the gift of our lives today to do whatever we want - good or evil - I will not give up living for Him moment by moment. 

It's not about God "fixing" the problem.  He already did by coming to earth and entering humanity.  And He's not dead...He's alive and knows full well the results of His gracious gift of giving us a free will.  Following Jesus is the antidote to living a self-centered life.  There will always be those who deny God's existence and then point the finger at Him for all our troubles.  It will not be popular or easy to be like Jesus. 

That's why, in my prayers for the victims and families here locally, I take great comfort in these two Scriptures:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Cor. 4:16-18 (NIV) 

"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ." - 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (NLT)

How might you today not lose heart?  How might you fix your eyes on the Source of all comfort and peace and then pass that on to someone else?

28 May 2015

Days 8 & 9 - A Speech, City, Tunnel, Wall, Museum, Tomb, and Long Way Home!

Our last day began with an early breakfast, followed by a living-history lesson from a Holocaust survivor named Hannah, childhood friend of Anne Frank.  At 86, she is sharp and witty, yet her words were haunting as she described the horrors she witnessed during the terror of the Third Reich and her relationship to the late diary-writer of international fame.  I felt grateful to have heard her experiences, as few will be left to tell others as the years go by.  She left me with a firm resolve: "Never again shall this annihilation occur!"  Needless to say, these words would come back to me no later than midday.

From our hotel, we left for the City - not Jerusalem with the walls around it, but just outside, on Mt. Zion, the Ancient City of David.  Here is where Jerusalem began, and the excavations that started here 10 years ago continue, uncovering more and more history.  It was thrilling to go through some of the residences uncovered, and a place where some scholars insist is the the edge of King David's palace.  From there, we walked through Hezekiah's Tunnel, carved 2700 years ago prior to the Assyrian army attack to divert water from the Gihon Spring into the city.  We took the "dry" route, as the spring is active today with fresh water up to your knees!

As we exited, we looked across the Kidron Valley, into a less-than-friendly neighborhood, some flying green Hamas flags that hadn't yet been spotted by Israeli forces.  We then took our bus to the Temple Mount and visited the Western (Wailing Wall).  At the entrance, an inscription reads: "The Divine Presence never moves from the Western Wall."  I was moved by the magnitude of the surroundings - a small area in size, but big in terms of the prayers lifted to God.  The Jewish prayer is vocal, yet there was a reverent silence - until shouts erupted from the many bar-mitzvah celebrations for young men!  It would seem these instances of "irreverence" were actually very reverent!  And thrilling, for me to write a prayer, insert it into the wall, and sense the Lord with me.  Powerful, to say the least.

From here, we ate lunch at Yad Vashem, the Museum of the Holocaust, and had a short tour.  Here is where that phrase from the morning really came back..."never again!"  My heart was sickened as the second and third panels, after describing the Nazi mentality, shared how so many Christians worldwide had such a negative view of the Jewish people and then, in the hour of need during WWII, turned the other way.  As a group, we had an opportunity to lay a wreath at the memorial of the 500,000 children slaughtered during this time.  My heart broke... my mind failed to comprehend the severity of this destruction of beautiful human life, as some how less than human.  Never again.

But hope abounded, as we then headed to another supposed site of the tomb of Jesus, the Garden Tomb.  This one, and its proximity to the traditional site of Golgotha (Calvary), seemed more likely from the biblical text.  Here we saw an authentic tomb, hewn out of the rock, intended as a family burial spot in a garden.  Whether or not this place, or the one at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is actually the one used by Jesus isn't the issue.  What is?  He is alive!  And that, friends, was the most poignant way to leave the Holy Land...with the fact that He IS!  Sitting there, partaking in Communion with our group, we understood the finality of that act - the one that guarantees our eternity with Him when we place our trust in Him.

I didn't have to walk this path, go to a sacred shrine, dress a certain way or follow any set of rules to be counted as His child.  No, I merely yielded my will to His, my life to His keeping, and my obedience to God alone.  And upon that profession of faith, He receives us as His own.  Hallelujah!

The journey home was difficult.  I didn't want to leave.  Even with rush hour traffic (and yes, they have it in Jerusalem, too!) and the 2 hour drive to Tel Aviv for dinner and catching our plane home, I was left feeling like I was actually LEAVING home.  Some part of me stayed in Israel.  I somehow connected with her beauty: from the Golan to the Negev, and I became attached.

The tendency for Christians is to want the end to come, for Yeshua Ha'Meshiach to return.  And I do.  But let's not miss the present.  He died for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.  And our task is to love everyone.  I want to uphold the people of Israel because of the covenant God made with them; not to proselytize or pander.  I saw much more than a land.  I saw a people that God has blessed and through whom all will be blessed.  And I am grateful, more than I could possibly say, for this opportunity.

How do you see Israel?  If you are fortunate enough to place your feet where the patriarchs walked or shoes where David danced, or hands where Jesus healed, you have a different glimpse.  But do you see the people?  Do you see a nation?  God is still in the business of miracles, and all you have to do is look to this one spot to see that He has blessed her and us.

Thanks for going on this journey with me!

24 May 2015

Day 7 - Northern (Old City) Jerusalem

Today we started early and began the 2nd of our 3 days in the Old City by entering the Moslem Quarter at the Lion's Gate. (We know it as the Sheep Gate in the Bible due to the livestock sold there up until the early 1970's. We walked alongside an old Muslim cemetery en route to the Via Dolorosa, the path traditionally said to be the one Jesus took to Calvary.

First stop: St. Anne's Church, built by the French and was remarkably left standing after the Suleiman invasion due to it's phenomenal acoustics that they used to train the men who issue the Islamic call to prayer.

Here archaeologists discovered underneath several layers of building, the actual pools of Bethesda (meaning "house of mercy") in Hebrew that Jesus healed the lame man in John 5.  We then entered the church and tested the acoustics in worship...what a thrill!

As we reentered the narrow street, this quarter was filled with scents and spices, Turkish coffee and fresh meat, and sweets that would send anyone into diabetic shock! Lots of bargains to be had but none I took advantage of!

We then entered the Church of the Condemnation and Flagellation, the very site where scholars and scientists believe Jesus was mocked, flogged, and dressed up as a king, spat upon and stood trial before Pilate before finally being led off with the cross-member across his shoulders up the road to Golgotha.

This placed moved me dearly, as I sat upon the exact stone courtyard (now underground due to the City being built on top) that Jesus endured the harsh hand of the Roman garrison.  If you've seen that horrible part in The Passion of the Christ, you know what I mean. Etched in those stones were the game squares used by those soldiers to cast lots, the game of chance played for our Lord's garments. A wow moment, to be sure!

You may also know this place as the Antonia Fortress, a place Paul knew, as well. Preserved here in this church are the remnants of the Hadrianic Arch that spanned across the street and sidewalk as you entered Jerusalem.  This was my favorite stop today.

Because today is Pentecost Sunday - the day we commemorate the giving of the Holy Spirit - our guide took us around most of the Via due to the large numbers of Christian pilgrims trying to complete the 14 Stations of the Cross. (I'm glad we did, as the City was packed today!)

We wound our way through tight corridors and came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a joint effort by Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and Greek Orthodox mark the place Jesus was traditionally crucified, wrapped for burial and then entombed. It was an ornate experience of all the different brands of the faith coming together to honor  Christ in their own way with their own interpretation of the last 4 stations.

What struck me were the number of nationalities present: Indonesian, Indian, German, Greek, Russian, Canadian and Filipinos...all together to be where Jesus was.  These are the facets found in the diamond of Christ's Church. The question is, do we recognize those different from us as such? Faces and shapes and new flashes of holy light in a dark world that Jesus can use for His glory!

We finished today with lunch at another kibbutz hotel and restaurant, this one nearer our hotel that suffered intentional damage during the war. From here you had a panoramic view of Bethlehem, now not toured by groups due to the high level of danger for foreigners, especially those like me!

I saw God's hand today, as we prayed for Donna, who has become a good friend this trip, and her heart issue. As we knelt on those cobblestones where Jesus' stripes would heal us, she received the healing she needed to keep going, as her a-fib subsided. Isn't it great when God answers prayer so directly?!!

Today's post is probably too short for you, but my heart and head are full. What about these words hits close to home? Is there a take-away for you to apply in your life?

Lord, bless those that read this and their walk with You...THE Way, the Truth and the Life...amen!

23 May 2015

Day 6 - Southern (Old City) Jerusalem

It's 9:30PM and I am on overload tonight...physically, as we walked a lot...mentally, as we took in so much information, and spritually, as I'll attempt to describe.

We began the day on the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Kidron Valley, with an incredible view of Old Jersalem - its eastern side with the Dome of the Rock on top of Mt. Moriah and the Golden Gate that was sealed when the Moslems conquered the city to prevent the Messiah from entering. (I preached on this last year, so I'll have to get to it another time.)

We learned about the Jewish cemetaries here, atop where Jesus taught the disciples. At the base, the tombs of Absalom, St. James, and Zechariah still exist. From here we walked down to Gethsemane, the actual Garden where Jesus prayed and found the disciples sleeping. A church was established called All Nations, as 16 countries founded it. So much was here including a 2000 year old olive tree, that is the lone living witness to Jesus' presence then.

I have to say, this one place moved me more than any other today. I knelt inside the church and had time to reflect on what Jesus did here... His agony... His betrayal... His abandonment by His closest friends... What could all this have felt like for Him?

And to add to that, His knowledge of what would come next: "Oh that this cup would pass! But not My will, Abba, but Yours." Can you imagine the depth of emotion in words like this? I'm not sure I can. Kneeling there, I pondered it. And the years came. Alone, rejected and despises, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. And surely He bore our sins...freely! Will you consider the Garden today? Among its vibrant green trees lies a profound sense of death. And it calls to me to die to self yet again.

I'll admit... I wasn't myself the rest of the day. And that, in hindsight, was good.

We then drove past the Dung Gate, around Mt. Zion in the south and then to the west side and entered Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate into one of 4 sections of the city - the Armenian Quarter. We dined at an Armenian restaurant, whose family established it as a grainery in 1882, and here I had my first of 2 cultural lessons.

I wrongly assumed the staff were Armenian, and upon beginning a dialogue with our server (Who, me? Talk to a stranger? Yeah, I know...keep going with the story!), I learned she was a Palestinian. (I will withhold her name for safety reasons.) I noticed a cross around her neck and asked her about it. She shared she is a Lutheran, formerly of Bethlehem, but now living in the Old City. Persecution of Christians by the Muslims there is quite oppressive. She is forced to observe their restrictions, and even participate in fasts or face punishment.

Ten years ago, the city, in the West Bank, was 90% Christian. Numbers now hover around 10% since Israel conceded the territory to the Palestinian government. She said she had a much better life even as a minority still in Jerusalem than back in her home city.

It was telling. We think WE face "persecution" all the time. She did, and still does. But she is proud of her heritage and faith in Jesus. To even wear that necklace means hatred, but she identifies with Jesus Christ. She is glad to do it. I needed that reminder; how about you?

We walked through many narrow streets, full of shops and residences, into the Jewish Quarter. Today is the Sabbath, and most were returning from services. Tonight begins Shavout, or Pentecost...the Feast of the Harvest 50 days after Passover. We wished many "Shabbat shalom!"

Here we visited King David's tomb and were separated, men from women, as in any Jewish holy site or synagogue. We then went around the corner to a place significant to the Son of David, the Upper Room, where traditionally it's believed the Last Supper took place.

From there, we exited at the Zion Gate in the south and went a short distance to Dormition Church, the site of the High Priest Caiaphas' house. Here Jesus was charged and held overnight in the dungeon, dropped into a pit in the basement, after his arrest by the Jewish guards in the Garden.

What touched me most here were the original stair-steps Jesus used, both as a free man after the Last Supper, and then as one condemned to die. I touched one (reaching over the fence!) and thought how my Lord may have placed His sandal there. I felt a lot like the woman who wanted to touch just the hem of Jesus' garment to be healed.

I know, however, that my healing in Him has already come! He is with me and will never leave me alone or without hope. Sometimes we need a touchstone to remember this fact. I pray these words will be one for you today!

My last cultural connection was at dinner at an Arabic restaurant in a section of Jerusalem that has for quite some time been kind to Jew and Christian alike. (Falalfel, shish-kebab and French fries, complete with Heinz ketchup!) Our waiter, a young man named Mohammed, taught me some key phrases: shukran...thank you, and asalaam-o-alechem (can you guess that one?)

I.commented how good his English was and how hard I'm sure it must be for him. He said the opposite...how hard Arabic is, even as a native speaker, he still flunked tests in school, but excelled in English. How? Even when mocked by his friends, he insists on renting American movies without subtitles. We parted with a firm handshake and blessings in his studies.

Family, there is so much good to be had if we are willing to open up and extend the peace of Jesus (shalom, salaam) to others. How might you do that today?

It's late. From Jerusalem, Lie-la-tov! (Good night in Hebrew)