Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Live Life to the Full Even In the Shadow of Death

I was hoping when 2018 opened its door that death would not overshadow the excitement of new beginnings. But, in spite of the fresh, new beginning, within the first four weeks, four souls I've known have exited this world and entered their eternal surroundings.

Life and death are inevitable on earth.

And, until Jesus returns, death will be the portal into our out-of-this-world, forever home.

My parents never sheltered me from the hard of life, death especially, and for that, I'm forever grateful. I can't even remember the first funeral I attended, but I do remember how the lives we celebrated powerfully impacted my perspective on life growing up. From teenagers who committed suicide, to friends killed in car accidents, to teachers who lost their fight to cancer, and grandparents who just withered away naturally, death leaves behind no rhyme or reason. 

Throughout my life, death has continued to teach me much about living. My familiar place to reflect on life is on the piano bench at our church. I've been playing or singing (or both) for all kinds of services and life events for over 40 years, but funerals have always been a unique place of ministry for me. Even for my dad and mom's celebrations, I played and sang. My heart spills onto the keys and, through the music, I seek to bring healing and comfort to hurting people as well as praise to God, the Giver of life. Being asked to be a part of so many home-going celebrations has been my honor. Serving in this way provides a fresh perspective on what really matters, and gives me time to reflect on how I'm living my one life.

A shadow of grief looms over us when someone we know and love leaves this earth. It presses in hard on the reserved space in our hearts where we hold them dear. We feel lost without their physical presence, but God walks with us through our grief and holds our hand with His comfort, hurting with us as we cling to all that's left - the sweet memories.

God has given us a wonderful gift of remembering. Whenever we choose, we can reach down deep into that sacred space and draw from a well of cherished memories. God also gives us tears to cry, helping to empty our hearts of the pain and sorrow, and as He catches every tear that falls, He holds them close to His heart of holy compassion.

Memories of joy.

Tears of sorrow.

God's tender touch helps us maneuver in and out of the shadows.

In the midst of grief, God also brings eternal hope. He gently calls us to focus on His Light, His Son. Christ, our Hope, illuminates the dark with light, and tramples death with life everlasting.

Death is a hard pill to swallow. It hurts. The pain can be excruciating. No one understands the pain more than God, Himself. Even Jesus, born under the shadow of a cross, could hardly bear the weight of our sins and the death that loomed over Him as He cried out to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. But, for the joy set before Him, He chose to die - to be the perfect sacrificial Lamb for you and for me. His death broke the Father's heart, but it also broke our chains of sin enslavement. His death set us free. Our Victor, Jesus Christ, swallowed the sting of death for us so we would have nothing to fear when we face death. He conquered death and the grave.

Death could not thwart God's redemption plan, therefore we are redeemed!
Death could not defeat Christ, therefore it will not defeat us!
Death's grave could not hold Christ, and it will not take hold of us!
Death has lost. Life has won!

We have Christ's promise and hope of being fully restored and wholly healed. All of those tears we've cried on earth? Every one of them will be wiped away. Praise God!

He has called us to live fully in His Light even in the shadow of death. For in His presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), every moment of every day, and that's where we, His people, are to remain - in the light of His presence. 

How has the shadow of death impacted your living for Christ? 

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Better Is a Never-Ending Quest" (Honda's slogan in 2018)

Guess what! Honda gets it! "Better is a never-ending quest."

Honda knows they haven't arrived, but they keep moving forward, getting better and better with each new car design.

This past weekend was a great reminder of this truth. The more I attend writers' conferences, the more I'm convinced better is what I'm always longing to be. I want to be a better writer and communicator. I want to be better with weaving words together to tell God's story well. The more I  learn and apply, the better I become. Therefore, I keep learning, growing, and moving ahead.

No matter what you're aspiring to do well, better describes progress. Whether from yesterday to today, or from last year to this year, better is a mark of improvement on what you've accomplished so far and a dose of encouragement to keep moving forward.

Better is not an the end-all.

Just like believers and the sanctification process, it's on-going until we see Jesus face to face.

Followers of Jesus Christ are on a never-ending quest to be better today than we were yesterday.

Read 1 Peter 1. The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is constantly working in us to refine us into the image of Jesus Christ, the radiance of God's glory, to be obedient children until we receive the goal of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls. 

In our Red Carpet Winter Bible Study, we're learning what it looks like to "Live Like You Belong to God" (from Kay Arthur's 40-minute Bible study series). This past week we looked for words like Light and holy, distinguish and separate - words that define God and His chosen people.

We were reminded that God's first words recorded in Scripture are, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3).  God separated the light (day) from the darkness (night), and He's been separating the two ever since. In the physical separation of light and dark, a spiritual truth was told.

Believers are called to be the Light of Christ in a world filled with darkness. God's chosen people have been called to be separate. He called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light to proclaim the praises of our holy God (1 Peter 2:9).

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16 CSB).

Ask yourself: Is my light shining in such a way that I'm distinguishable in a crowd as one who lives in the presence of Jesus? Is my behavior as such that I can be identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ?

People should be able to distinguish us from non-believers wherever we go. We are not called to blend in, but to stand out.

We're called to be holy. 

But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy because I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16 CSB).

Holy does not mean perfect. Holy means set apart.

Allow this thought to permeate your mind and influence your behavior as you move through your day: 

Our better is becoming more unique, more holy, more set apart, more distinguishable...

just like Christ.

My Pleasure,

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fill It and Spill It

It's really a no-brainer. What's poured in is what pours out.

Luke 6:45 (CSB) says, A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.

Our mouths speak from the overflow of our hearts.

It's been impressed on my mind and heart in 2018 to not only read and study 1 Peter, but to memorize it.

Yep. Memorize it.

The whole book.

One chapter at a time.

I know it sounds crazy, but I'm truly drawn to do this, so I will with the help of the Holy Spirit.

All Believers are all held accountable for how we handle the Truth of God's Word.  As a writer, speaker and musician, words are always flowing in and out. The responsibility can be overwhelming at times, but it's also humbling and such a great privilege.

We must store up God's Word whether we're regular teachers of the Word or not. Our words invoke fires. Fires can be harmful or helpful to the landscape of a heart. Depending on the words we store, the words we speak or write can either drain the life out of a heart, or move it to beat with passion and compassion.

Branding God's love letters deep into our minds and souls not only refreshes our spirits, but it brings the One worthy of our worship into His rightful place in our hearts. When Christ is seated on the throne of our hearts, there's no room for idol worship or idle words. 

There may come a day when our memory of the Word will save our life. Who knows? The time may come when we won't have a plethora of Bibles lying around on every shelf, right at our fingertips just begging to be read, or a host of church buildings on every street corner to run to when we feel life is forging out of "our" control.

Our nation as a whole is withdrawing from the Truth of Jesus Christ. It's our responsibility as Believers to hold one another accountable with the Truth of the Word. If we're not looking to Christ and His Word for wisdom, guidance and direction, then how can we expect non-believers to. When we're looking for Truth in all the wrong places, we are leading others to do the same. The way things are shaping up, we could easily find ourselves in a stark place where the Bible is not allowed, or we could be imprisoned for being a Believer.

In a documentary about Christians being persecuted, one story took my breath away. An imprisoned man remained alive and sane by scribbling down words from Scripture he could write for memory. Though he was beaten time and time again for proclaiming God's Word aloud, or when a guard would find the scribbled words on minute pieces of paper in his prison cell, God continued to give him clarity of mind to cling to those life-giving words, and gave him the strength to endure his inhumane suffering. Eventually, he was released because of the very words he spilled out on paper and by mouth every single day. Our survival could depend on the portions of the Word we've committed to memory one day.

Speaking God's own words back to Him brings Him pleasure, and me too. Repeating the portion of Scripture I'm memorizing is something I look forward to. As I move through each day, quoting what I've learned helps to set my mind on things above (Colossians 3:2); focusing on things that will last, and not so much on the things that won't. Even the mundane becomes more purpose-filled with the words of God on my tongue. 

God's Word heals. 

God's Word refreshes. 

God's Word is life!

So, instead of wasting our breath on things that won't matter days, weeks or years from now, let's join together in filling our minds and souls with the beauty and breath of the One who is the Source of life and has created us to bring Him praise, honor and glory.

Won't you join me?

My Pleasure,

Monday, January 8, 2018

You've Got Mail!

Don't you love to get mail? No, not an email, but the old fashioned kind - snail mail. A real life, handwritten card or letter addressed to you. I certainly do!

Receiving genuine encouragement in a one-of-a-kind handwriting from another human being lifts my spirits and makes me feel important. Of course, any type of encouragement is welcomed and greatly appreciated, but those who go the extra mile? Well, it just means a little more.

In 1 Peter, this apostle of Jesus Christ addresses his letter, "To those chosen..."

My ears and eyes perked up as I lingered on the word, chosen. Peter's letter is written specifically to anyone who has chosen Christ.

That means me!

I've got mail!

Expressed throughout this passionate letter is the core of what we believe, who we are in Christ, and what we've been called to. It encompasses the very oxygen of the Christian faith, and with such clarity, it sends a fresh wind into the hearts of the chosen ones of God.

Peter emphasizes how we should live as God's chosen, His beloved, and when we behave as if we're not chosen, we're displeasing the Father.

How do we know we're chosen? 1 Peter 1:2 explains:

...chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, 
through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, 
to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.

God's chosen are recognizable. Our faith and covering by the blood of the Lamb are evidenced through the Holy Spirit working within us to transfigure us into the image of Christ. The Spirit's sanctifying work does not stop until we see Christ face to face. Until then, we must seek to be obedient day by day.

Most people, and even many pastors and teachers, don't like to speak on the concept of the foreknowledge of God mentioned in the above verse. And those who do, seem to dicker and bicker over what it means. But in my finite, simple mind, this is how I understand and will seek to explain this mystery:

Anyone who has chosen or will choose Christ, God already knows.
Anyone who has completely rejected or will reject the Son, sadly, He already knows that, too. 

God has given us a choice, and He knows what we'll choose. Because of this, God chooses us before we choose Him. He can't help Himself. He has to know because He's omniscient - all knowing. It's who He is. His desire, though, is for no one to perish (John 3:16-18), but He also knows many will, because they will refuse His grace gift of salvation and reject His Truth. 

And it breaks God's heart.

Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to write the letter to the chosen. I believe he wrote it to clarify our calling to live separate, holy lives, and to encourage us in our sanctification process. Peter included specific instructions for how we are to behave in this world while all the while understanding we're not part of this world. It's by our behavior that we encourage those around us to choose or not to choose Christ. A serious responsibility, my dear friends.

As I continue to read and ponder through 1 Peter over the next months, I'll continue to marvel at the mystery of how God chose me knowing I would choose Him. It's inside this mystery that we can know for sure, and live as His chosen.

Have you got mail?

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What Will the Church Display in 2018?

I love a good fireworks show. Don't you? Watching the brilliant colors burst through the air, I'm awed and amazed at the innovative designs.

"Wow! Did you see that one?"
"Look! The pinks and reds are gorgeous!"

All fireworks are created to explode into something beautiful. But when mass amounts are all lit at once, the splattering array is absolutely breathtaking.

The same is true for the Bride of Christ, the Church. She is created to be His Light in the world. A brilliant display of His beauty, love and grace. She's sacred, holy, and can simply take your breath away.

Thumbing through the calendar pages of 2018, thinking about what might be in store for the Church, I can't predict whether Her Light will dazzle or fizzle. All I know is, the spiritual spark lit within Her has the capacity to either be a brilliant display of the Light of the world, or a fizzle-dud that burns out as quickly as it began. From my point of view, 2017 proved to be more fizzle than spark.

So, how can the Church make sure Her radiance doesn't fizzle out completely in 2018? It will take all of us, our individual lights, doing our part and recommitting to the following:

  •  Abide in Christ.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me (John 15:4 NASB).

To produce the sweet fruit we are designed to produce, we must remain firmly attached to our Source of life, soaking in every bit of nourishment we can hold. The fruit we're called to bear is the character of Christ, fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), bursting forth with His beauty and the sweet taste of His goodness, mercy and grace.

  • Be holy.
 (L)ike the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 
(1 Peter 1:15 NASB).

Being holy does not mean living perfect lives. Only Christ was perfect. Though we're incapable of living perfect lives, we do have the power within us through the Holy Spirit to overcome sin. The holiness we're called to is embracing a life lived separate from the world. 

Holy means "set apart." Our behavior in this world exudes either our holy calling, or our conformity to the world. The Church cannot expect the world to jump on board if She is only offering the same thing they see everyday in a hopeless world.

Holiness impacts the world for God's glory. 
Conformity impacts the world for God's detriment.

  • Spread the Word.

The Word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued 
to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were 
becoming obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7 NASB).

The Gospel (the good news) of Jesus Christ is key in breaking through the darkness of this messed up world. It's the only Word that can penetrate a heart of hardness and hopelessness. We carry that key with us everywhere we go, and we're held accountable for how well we "show and tell" the Gospel to the world. 

My favorite visual of real Gospel living is dropping colorful confetti on those we cross paths with everyday. Who doesn't like watching confetti drop after a big championship game?Confetti is a symbol of celebration. It marks that a team has overcome. It brings smiles to the faces of those under the delicate landing of small pieces of colorful paper everywhere. Sometimes it even sticks to those it falls on. The Church is a Team of Overcomers. We should live celebratory lives and behave accordingly.

In 2018, I'm praying for drastic change in how the Church displays God's glory this year. A change that is much needed if we are to remain His agent of Light in a very dark and hopeless world. This change, though, begins with me and with you. It's not about how much the Church can look and act like the world, still claiming to not be part of it. It's all about how much She can look and behave like Christ. Her lifestyle of lifting Christ up is what draws those from the outside in. We're overcomers because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ! The world needs us to live like it.

What do you say we dazzle the world this year? 

Will you take the 2018 challenge?

Abide in Christ. Be holy. Spread the Gospel. 

Oh, and don't forget to drop some confetti along the way. It just might stick to someone who needs it!

My Pleasure,