Thursday, April 26, 2012

Would You Brave the Crowds to See Jesus?

As I have been reading through the Bible, using a new method suggested by a friend, I have attempted to put on my concentration cap and really get something new from scripture.  

One thing that came to me today was that Jesus was a man beleaguered by crowds; multitudes of people, namely!  Everywhere he went there were throngs of people gathered around him.  Some, I'm sure were there out of curiosity (isn't that always the case?) wondering "who is this guy" or what's he going to do this time.  Some were there because they had been waiting and watching for Messiah to come (aren't we doing the same thing now?) and wanted to see for themselves if Jesus measured up to what they had gleaned from scriptures about the Messiah.  Many, many, many of them were there in hopes of an opportunity to reach out and touch this man who had healed so many of so much.

I hate crowds, and I know that my husband hates crowds.  We do just about anything to avoid being in crowds.  Jesus, being a man, surely had to sometimes just wish he had some peace and quiet, don't you think?  He often got up early to go out and pray alone, he often tried to just slip away from the hands that were reaching out to him just to revive himself - to energize himself.   This was a man (yes, He was and is God, but He was also 100% human) who could tell when "power" had gone "out from" him.  Luke 8:43-46 tells the story of the woman with an issue of blood who touched his garment and was healed.  He was so in tune with God's power working within him that if someone touched His garment and was healed; he knew it and felt it.  Keeping abreast of all that energy flowing would be very tiresome. 

Crowds, in an of themselves, are very tiring - at least they are if you're like me and don't care to be in them.  All that shuffling, and pushing and waiting and trying to hang onto your child's hand so he or she doesn't get lost in the melee.  That's enough to make you stay home for a long time! 

But Our Lord and Savior, day in and day out, for three and a half years, went out into the masses to serve and to love and to befriend those who believed in Him and to teach and convict and stand up to those who were against Him.  And it stretches my imagination to think that those who were against Him and were trying to find a reason so that they could kill Him, He LOVED them and died for them, too.

That makes me think about those verses in Romans 5: 7 and 8

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Do you know very many "especially good" people?  Luke 18:19 says:
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, [that is], God.

Yet, still, knowing the very heart of men (read John 2:24) that He could not trust anyone, He went out daily amongst them so that they might know Him and His heart for them.  He cared about them then, and He cares about us today.  He took all our wretchedness upon himself and literally "became" sin for us so that we might become the "righteousness of God" when we are "in Him".

I couldn't help but think as I closed my Bible today, that to be in the presence of someone who cared about me that much, someone whose heart was for all men and women; who wanted the best for them and would give everything He had so that they had an opportunity to have that best, well, I would have braved the crowds to see Him, too.

I encourage you to pick up your Bible today if you don't already, and read the New Testament.  Concentrate on Jesus, the things He says and the things He does.  Read slowly and look deeply into what's being said.  You will see His heart there and you will see that the life He wants us to lead is not one that is filled with the day-to-day miserable dog-eat-dog world where we live today.  He is not all about success.  He is not all about having everything you want.  He is not about riches or blessing you with stuff and seeing that you are entertained 24 hours a day.  But He IS all about wanting you to have a life that is rich with love from Him to you and you to others.  He IS all about wanting us to be fulfilled in serving others.  He IS all about redeeming our lives from the gutter and setting us free from the things we are in bondage to.

He IS kind and loving and patient and his peace is one that is hard to understand.  He is good, and He is a Master at teaching us self-control.  (I always longed for self- control until He began to call me to it.  Then I was not so ready to put it into effect.  Self-control is a way cool characteristic to have, though.  When I started listening to Him and exercising self-control, I lost 25 pounds.)   He is ALWAYS about what is best for us.  I pray that you know Him or come to know Him.  One's life is never the same after a true "Come-to-Jesus-Meeting", and for that we can all be thankful.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Truths From the Mission Field

As I have looked back over the past week at my recent mission trip to West Liberty, Kentucky, I have asked myself what I learned from the trip. Probably the most glaring thing I learned is something I don't like to admit: I am a murmurer...a who if I were on the journey to the Promised Land with Moses and the Israelites would have died in the wilderness and not been allowed to go in and take the land.

I asked God before I left for His help in accepting whatever conditions I met there. Before the first 24 hours were done, I had failed myself and the Lord in keeping that goal in mind.

What did I complain about? Three guesses. Give up? Well, our trip was to Eastern Kentucky. In the hills thereof. It is not what you would call a wealthy area of the Country, or the State for that matter. We stayed at a nice little Nazarene Church. We had the basement of the church which encompassed the Sunday School area and the Fellowship Hall/Kitchen. The parsonage was adjacent to the church.

The first thing I complained about were the showers. We had showers - four or five of them to be exact - but they were on the back porch of the parsonage and were open to the rear woods with just a wooden railing between you and the woods. I didn't complain about the showers so much as I complained about the possibility of snakes. After a long day of working in the hot sun, I soon forgot all about complaining about those showers for any reason, though.

The other thing I complained about was food. There's no good reason for me to complain about food, but for some reason, I've gotten it in my head, that I don't eat sausage, biscuits, gravy, or sugar coated cereals. No, this is not the healthiest of breakfast fare, but believe me I could live off the fat of the land for a good two to three weeks, if I didn't like what was offered, I should have just passed on the meal and kept my mouth completely shut. No, I didn't complain to the church or the pastor or the cook; nothing like that, but I murmured about it to a couple other travelers. As I look back on it, I am ashamed of my conduct. I have asked God's forgiveness, and I know He is faithful to forgive those sins that I confess.

I guess what's bothering me is the fact that I knew the danger. I knew what might happen. Yet, I still didn't come away with a victory, and it distresses me to know how weak my will is and how easy it was to say just a few little negative words about the showers and snakes and the nutritional lack in the food that was served.

Thank God for His grace and His mercy. Thank God that He is a god of second chances, and third for that matter. But He is also a god that requires His people to grow up in Him, to be content in all situations and to rely on Him for everything. I learned something about myself last week, and it's not pretty. I am a spoiled brat. There I was in the midst of all that destruction, and I still complained and murmured. God should have spanked me, but He didn't. It helps me realize just how much I need God to work in me and how I need God to continue transforming me. There are going to be more trips to West Liberty, and next time I pray that I will please Him with my contentment in all things; my thankfulness for what He provides for me - no matter how much it's unlike what I'm used to (for good or not).

The whole reason to go on mission for God is to serve others and to bring hope and the love of God to those who are suffering; not to be served. I went to help in any way that God saw fit for me to help, even if it was cleaning up sewage.

God knows our hearts, and so I'm thankful that He knows I learned a lesson there. I pray that He will bring that lesson to fruition in me and that I will learn to be content in times of abundance and also in times of leanness.

Father, forgive me. I have sinned by murmuring and complaining in a situation where you placed me and I should have accepted and been happy with the provisions you made for me. I realize that in the future, I may be placed in situations much worse and/or much better and that in order to glorify you, I need to be thankful and appreciative no matter what measure of provisions I am presented. I long to be a child who pleases you, Father; so I ask you to give me more of you and let there be less of me. Let the words of my mouth, the thoughts in my mind and deeds that I do today be pleasing and glorifying to you and your holy name. I ask it in Jesus' name. Amen

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hallelujah! He is Risen!

I really don't have the words to put down tonight to express how I feel inside about Jesus. What a God! What a man! What a Savior! I'm happy, no; happy isn't the right word. I'm thrilled to the depths of my soul that God spoke my name, and I heard Him. Most importantly, I responded to His call.

I'm humbled to my core, too. To think that one such as He - who created everything from the smallest, unseen particles of matter to the largest...the universe - even thought about me, cared about me, wanted me to be in Him, so much so that He died in my place so that I could live and be set free from sin and death.

I'm sad, though because there are many that say he was just a nice (very) guy who had a big impact on people who were alive in his day. Many who don't know how to be set free from sin, addictions, boredom, ineffectual living, questioning why they are alive. They don't know the power that is manifested within a person when that person comes to a true, saving knowledge of Jesus and submission of their will to Him. The Bible says it's the same power that God used to raise Christ from the dead.

Ephesians 1:19-20

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms.Th

Raising someone who is dead back to life that's power! And we who have submitted our lives to Christ have that power in us! The kind of power it takes to raise the dead can enable a person to do anything. (Philipians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.) That power can overcome sin, addictions, depression, character faults, whatever a person struggles with, and that's something worth celebrating today!!

It makes me smile, puts a spring in my step and makes me want to dance - sometimes all at once; sometimes just one at a time, but when I really give myself time to sit and meditate on the great things God has done in my life and how everyday I see Him leading me to do things differently than I would have done them in the past, I am filled with a thankfulness that is overwhelming. That is why I celebrate today on this day that most of the world calls Easter. I serve a risen savior; yes, he's in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever men may say....

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Journey into Serving - From Girlhood to Womanhood

One of my fondest childhood memories is a trip I took to Eastern Kentucky with my mom and dad and one of my sisters to attend the funeral of one of our Kentucky relatives. You have to realize, first of all, that life in a small town of under 500 residents in the early 1960s was not very exciting when you compare it to life in Small Town, America, today. My family was a pretty good sized one with six girls and one boy, and my dad worked in a bagging factory not raking in anything that might be considered "big bucks". So when my folks allowed me to go along on this trip to the Bluegrass State with them and my sister, I knew in my small, untraveled heart that this was a special trip for me. We packed a picnic basket -- no fast food stops for us; there was no money for that, but my mom's home cooked food was always delicious, and she had packed bananas (my favorite) and sandwiches and some cookies and iced tea and inspite of the fact that we were attending a funeral, I was excited.

I was a very small girl when this happened, so I can only recite the few details above, but this trip has been imprinted on my heart and mind for the past 50 or so years. The beauty of the State of Kentucky left quite an impression on me. I can still sense my awe at the rolling hills, mountains to me, the blue sky, the dirt roads and meeting my Kentucky relatives. I can also remember holding my Daddy's hand as we walked through the cemetery; something I don't remember ever doing before or after that.

Years later, in approximately 1978 or 1979 I took another short trip to Kentucky by way of a detour when I was going to Florida with a friend and her mother-in-law. I was again stricken with the beauty of the landscape and the deep blue of the sky and the dirt roads and the friendliness and guilelessness of the people.

On March 4th of 2012 the people of Eastern Kentucky were greeted with a disaster in the form of an F3 tornado that ran through the State for approximately 100 miles. YouTube Video of Tornado Footage in West Liberty, Kentucky 3/4/12.

This past week, I had an opportunity offered by my church to go and serve the people of West Liberty, Kentucky via a mission trip. For the past four years I have allowed myself to take on a mentality of not being able to be of service to anyone because of the unreliability of my body due to parkinson's disease and the unusually erratic behavior that it brings on. Sometimes I can barely motor around my house, sometimes I go into what can only be described as a trancelike state as I stare stone-faced while my mind races incessantly around and around trying to figure out how to get back to normal.

However, during that four years, the Lord has put His Word in my hands and inscribed it on my heart. I have hidden His Word in my heart so that I might not sin against Him and so that I could learn exactly what it is I believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Salvation, and how to explain it to anyone who might be interested in hearing.

When word of this mission trip started circulating in our weekly church bulletin, our pastor was at the same time preaching a sermon on Luke 9:57-62 which I have now titled in my Bible, "Lose Your Excuses". I heard God calling me out; telling me I could do very little for Him sitting in my easy chair - no matter how much easier it made my physical discomforts. I knew it was time for me to leave my comfort zone and get back out into the word abd the spiritual warfare zone.

Unless you have personally visited a site that has been affected by a tornado as large as the one that struck West Liberty, you cannot be prepared for the devastation that meets your eyes. Places where homes once stood now bear only the foundations that bore them. The buildings that are standing have no windows, roofs are torn off, parts of the building are gone and are marked for demolition and/or for repair. Trees are knocked over like bowling pins in an alley. Trees that are standing have been visibly changed with splinters sticking out where leaves and branches used to be. The most notable thing, though, is the people and the haunted look in their eyes; at least the ones who have lost everything.

I found myself praying at each site that we worked. First at a graveyard, setting upright marble headstones weighing I'm sure five or six hundred dead weight pounds that had been completely knocked off their concrete foundations. It took about eight strong men and some mechanical and basic equipment, but the job was accomplished. My new girl-friend-in-the-Lord and I just wiped off the dirt that had been forcefully shoved deep into crevices in the headstones. Next at a home where a man and woman had huddled in a corner only to look up and find their whole home gone from over their heads. Their pet was missing for several days, but they were spared injury. Additionally, at a local pastor's home restoring the back section of his home which had been torn off, and a family's homesite in the country where massive damage had been done to a trailer, residence and various outbuildings. Clothing, plastic, paper and various other types of things could be seen in the highest branches of trees, electric poles and strewn across hundreds of yards of ground. Finally, just prior to leaving, as I worked in the center where all the distributions were being made, sorting and arranging, I asked the Lord to never allow me to take anything He might gift me with for granted, including life and loved ones.

The fact that in a town of 3500 where the destruction was so severe that the police had to shut it down immediately afterwards; yet no one was killed inside the town is a testimony of God's grace and mercy. I was told that six people died in the country, though. Praise God that many were spared death.

Each day, hour, and moment of life are a gift from God. The next 60 seconds could be your last ones. The Bible tells us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ Romans 14:10 and give an account for every word spoken Matthew 12:36. Are you prepared for that? What a terrifying thing to stand before God of the Ages, Creator of All, and have to respond to His inquiry about how we responded to His gift of redemption, salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. I can't imagine having to say, "Well, Sir, God, ummmm, I just thought you were a joke, I thought man knew what he was talking about when he said you weren't real, that a big bang brought us all into being and Jesus, well, I just thought he was a real nice man." No need to run for the hills; there is nowhere to hide from God (Psalm 139:7.

Oh, my friend, God is good. He is all merciful and ever gracious to those who ask Him for forgiveness. He does not long that any should perish but that all would have everlasting life through Jesus Christ. The best thing is that His love, mercy, grace, and forgivenss are LIFE CHANGING! You at this moment can't begin to conceive of the changes He can bring about in you. Sometimes it's all at once; other times and usually most often, it is a daily thing, small things, big things,...but if you persevere, daily bowing your knee to Him, asking His advice on how to walk through this life, He will change your life and show you a better way. It is inevitable for He is a God who keeps His promises.

Heavenly Father, I come and bow my knee before you today, acknowledging that you are my God, my King, my Savior, and my best, most-loving,loyal friend. I know that Your way in the best way even when my flesh and pride tell me differently, and Father, I am beseiged daily by spiritual wickedness and darts of the enemy. Strengthen my faith, teach me how to put on my armor correctly, help me become adept at wielding my sword of the spirit. Thank you, Father, for ALL you do for me; All you've given me, ALL you've done for me and for the great and glorious things I can't even imagine that you have in store for me in the future. And, Father, please, make your spirit move in and on each person who visits here and may they become ALL that you want them to be in you. I give YOU all praise, honor and glory for YOU alone deserve them. YOU are matchless, awesome, wonderful and worthy to be praised. May my words, thoughts and deeds glorify YOU today and every day. In Jesus' name I pray.