Prodigals and older brothers

“So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”

Luke 15:20 (NAB)

Some of us were once prodigals, while others might have been the steadfast, faithful older brothers. All prodigals who come home, become older brothers later. I’ve learned that the kind of older brother we become, depends on our ability to recognize who those prodigals are in our lives.

The father in this parable was full of love and  compassion, as he ran to meet his son. He sought only to embrace him, not to judge him or even put him to work. Jesus reveals His Father’s heart of love and mercy in this story. 

The older son, who has been loyal to his father for years, arrived home after a day’s work, and hears music, dancing and celebration. When he learned that it’s a party for his younger brother, he quickly formed his own judgement about who does or doesn’t deserve a celebration.

I felt a little like that older brother, one time, by choosing who I would or wouldn’t invite to a function at my church. I had my own list of reasons, why I shouldn’t invite certain people. I chose not to invite one person who had a contentious personality and another person who I thought would come for the wrong motives. 

I suddenly realized I was no different than the older brother in the story. I was called to invite, not to judge. 

I felt the Lord saying to me,

“Just bring them to Me as they are, and I will take it from there.” 

Then the truth really hit me that I was once a prodigal daughter myself, so why am I choosing who should or shouldn’t be invited to my Father’s house? 

I was ignorant in recognizing who the prodigals were. 

I used to think the definition of a prodigal is the homeless addict, sleeping on a park bench, but God showed me that the prodigals are anyone who is running away from God. 

They are in all economic sectors, have all types of temperaments and may come with all kinds of motives. They may not have magnetic personalities to attract us to them, and some even repel and push people away. 

The Lord is simply asking us to invite them, not to judge them or try to fix them. The great commission is really about doing our part in reuniting the Father with all of His children.

Lord, help us to recognize and show compassion to all the prodigals in our lives, by inviting them home, as we trust you to restore them. Amen

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Speaking to our soul

“And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Luke 12:19-20 (RSV)

In this parable, Jesus gave us an example of someone who spoke to his own soul with a false confidence, crediting himself for all the material goods he accumulated, while assuming he had a lifetime to enjoy them. In other words, he mishandled his blessings. Jesus seems to be telling us that there is a right and a wrong way to speak to our soul.

Happiness in life is not about achieving the best ratio of gains over losses. It’s about how we respond to every gain and every loss that we encounter.

Everyone’s lifetime is filled with a series of gains and losses, but God intended for us to remain in close fellowship with Him through it all. 

In all of our blessings and successes, we can speak to our soul, reminding ourselves that every good gift is from God. We remind our soul that He is the source of all that is good, and we offer Him thanks and praise. 

He is also closest to us during times of grief and loss. We know this from what David wrote in the psalms, that God is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm34:18)

During times of distress, we speak to our soul, and are consoled, knowing that God’s Presence is mysteriously nearer to us when we are broken or  or crushed.

We all have the same invisible enemy, and he has been using the same strategy since the beginning of time. Satan wants us to take all the credit for our successes, and blame God for all of our losses. He wants to destroy faith and the relationship between God and His people, but God tells us if we resist the devil, he will flee from us.  (James 4:7)

By speaking to our soul, we will resist the devil, being wise to his schemes. There is a language of faith that sows the seeds of hope, and it needs to be spoken to our soul regularly. We were created to stay in regular fellowship with God through Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to help us thrive, not just survive each trial. When we speak the right way to our soul, we edify and strengthen our faith. 

Remember the woman in the gospel story who had a hemorrhage for twelve years? She spoke to her soul saying, “If I just touch the edge of His garment I will be healed.”  She initiated her miraculous healing by speaking faith to her own soul, and afterward, Jesus praised her for it.

Scripture tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

If faith comes from hearing, then we can increase our faith, by hearing ourselves speak those truths of Christ to our soul. His truths are found in scripture, though His truths are often counter cultural. We walk the narrow path that leads to life, not the broad deceptive path of this present culture.

We also speak to our soul when we are distracted with worry and anxiety, as we recall the invitation of Jesus, saying “Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus told us His yoke is easy and His burden is light. We remind our soul to let Jesus lighten our burden as we wait for His rest. 

Praising and thanking God in hard times, is a sacrifice. It doesn’t feel natural, but if it came naturally, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. The sacrifice of praise is really at the heart of worship. In fact, sacrifice is at the heart of everything Jesus ever did or taught. Since He was both divine and human in nature, He didn’t feel like sacrificing, but we can thank Him and remind our soul that He did it for us.

These are many things that we can speak to our soul about, and we need to do it through the good and the bad times, in our gains and in our losses, through our blessings and our trials. We speak to our souls in this life, because this is our training ground to offer God a sacrifice of praise. 

We speak to our soul with the hope that we may one day meet Jesus, see His face and hear Him speak to our soul, and say,

“Well done, my friend, and thank you for honoring me with the fruit of your lips.”

Lord, we praise you for our blessings and for being a comforter and giving us rest from distress. Draw us closer to you as we speak to our souls, believing your truth and receiving your love, wisdom and strength. Amen

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Get up!

“Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

John 5:3-8 (NIV)

The pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, was known for its healing properties during the time of Jesus. It’s hard to imagine that for thirty eight years, one man could never once get into that pool. Multitudes of other sick, blind and lame people managed to get into those waters, for decades, except one man.

I think sometimes we all have moments when we feel like that one person who didn’t get an answer to a prayer or the help from others that we need. Situations in our lives can leave us feeling alone, or that we missed out in receiving some type of support that others around us all seem to have. 

Whether we need physical healing or a relationship restored, a loved one to return to the faith, or a financial miracle, Satan, the enemy of all souls, is trying to erode our faith and destroy our spiritual self image, and get us to feel forsaken by God.

The paralytic in the gospel story clearly had many issues with what people didn’t do for him. He hung out at that site for 38 years, probably longer than anyone else there. There was a large number of desperate people lying around that pool, but Jesus approached only one man. God sees and knows what we are feeling deep within, and He draws particularly close to those who feel forsaken in this world.

It’s interesting to me that when Jesus asked the man if he wants to get well, instead of answering Him with a resounding “Yes!”, he proceeded to tell Jesus about all the people who didn’t help him over those thirty eight years.

The strategy of the enemy was to make the paralytic dwell on all the reasons for failure, and the people who hurt him or let him down. By not letting go of the disappointments of his past, he also didn’t make any progress. After thirty eight years, the man’s spiritual identity and self image was more paralyzed than his body. 

Maybe that’s why Jesus asked him if he wants to be healed. He brought the man’s attention from his past to the present moment. There is a time for everyone to finally let go of whatever happened in the past and hear what Jesus is saying here and now.

Jesus said to the paralytic, “Get up and walk!” At the words of Jesus, the man was instantly healed as blood re-circulated in his legs, nerves were rejuvenated and muscles were strengthened after decades of not moving. Strength once again flowed through his body, and he stood up after thirty eight years and walked. That’s the power of the love of God and the words of Jesus. 

We all need reminding of who we are in Christ and to Christ. He loves us and sees us as individuals among the crowd. He knows when we are crippled with doubts, guilt or anxiety. He is telling us that He has loved us throughout our past and that we were worth dying for. Today, we are reminded of who we are in Christ and to rise up. 

Jesus also tells us who we are not. We are not the sum of our past failures and mistakes, or the names and titles that others have called us. We are not defined by any missed opportunities or the medical diagnosis we were given. We have never been forsaken or forgotten by God. Jesus walks over to us where we are and says, “Get up and walk!”

We were meant to walk in the power of being a child of God. We are His beloved children, redeemed with precious blood, living by faith and His Spirit dwells in us. He told us that we will do even greater works through Him. Jesus conquered hell, death and all the power that sin could ever have over us.

We will have moments where we doubt our identity in Christ and struggle to keep our hope, but then we will resist the devil, and rise up, because of what Jesus says to us, 

“Get up, take up your mat and walk!”

We are chosen, crucified with Christ, forgiven, resurrected with Him and living in victory through Him who loves us, and intercedes for us daily. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:35)

Lord, let us all get up and walk in our true identity as one of your beloved children, because of the power of your love, forgiveness and eternal sacrifice for us. Amen

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The chapters of mercy

“My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; For I am God and not a man, the Holy One present among you; I will not come in wrath.”

Hosea 11:8-9 (NAB)

The Lord describes His character in this scripture, and He has a heart of pity. Scriptures teach us that God feels anger, but His mercy is greater. He is Holy, and yet He desires to be present among us. We could never earn His mercy, but He delights in showing it to us. Some day, He will return to render justice, but for now, we live in the age of grace and mercy, and God wants us to keep seeking His merciful Presence.

Many years ago, while I was reading each of the prophets’ writings, I discovered a pattern, common to all of them, which opened my eyes to the love and mercy of God. 

The writing of every prophet began with a reprimand for sin and a warning of impending punishment. Whether it was Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Hosea or the others, if someone read only the beginning of each prophet’s writing, they would think that God is all about wrath, but I would say, read on. 

By the end of each prophet’s book, the words of wrath are gone, and God offers forgiveness, love and mercy. God is grieved by sin, but His heart is stirred with pity and love for us. 

Isaiah starts out by saying he lives among a people of unclean lips, but ends his book with the promise of a Savior, who would come to suffer and die for us. 

Ezekiel begins his book by describing visions of creatures in heaven, telling him to warn the people that sin leads to death. Toward the end of the book, God is promising to bring dry bones back to life, restoring people through spiritual regeneration and rebirth. 

Zechariah begins by strictly warning people to turn from their evil ways, but ends with the prophecy that “God Himself” will one day set His feet upon the Mount of Olives. This was fulfilled by Jesus, whose feet stood on that mountain preaching the sermon on the Mount. 

In the book of Hosea, God used the harsh example of having a wife who is a prostitute, to stress that the infidelity of His people deeply grieves Him, but by the end of the book, His heart is filled with pity, and He says, “I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from them.” 

(Hosea 14:5)

There is abundant mercy in the heart of God. I once heard a true story of how His mercy transformed a young woman’s life. She was never raised in any particular faith, and found a lucrative career as a professional escort or call girl. For years, she earned an incredible amount of money working as a high priced prostitute. 

While she was driving, she would occasionally notice a bumper sticker on a car driving ahead of her. It was for a radio station called Relevant radio 95 AM. Her curiosity led her to turn on that station, and as she started listening, she became increasingly interested. It was a talk radio station, including various personal testimonies, scripture studies, with questions and answers about the Catholic Christian faith. 

She listened until the Holy Spirit awakened a hunger within her, to change her life. She completely surrendered to Christ and left her old life of prostitution behind. The Holy Spirit called her to Jesus, through bumper stickers. 

God’s mercy reaches people wherever they are, and He can change hearts through any means, even if He chooses to use bumper stickers. The heart of God is stirred with love and mercy for all people, and He invites all of us to be renewed in Christ. 

In whatever way God has called us, we should be able to truthfully say with Paul,

”I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”(Galatians 2:20)

We are crucified with Christ, and we now live with the awareness that Christ lives in us. God had a plan since creation, to show His love and mercy to us. His prophets wrote all about it in those final chapters. 

Isaiah foretold how He would be mocked and spurned by men. He describes the Lamb of God, who was pierced for our sins, and died for all mankind. (Isaiah 53:3-8)

 Zechariah foretold that God’s feet would stand on the Mount of Olives, which will happen once more, when Jesus returns to stand on that same mountain, at His second coming. (Zechariah 14:4)

Ezekiel’s later chapters promise us that dry bones will come to life,  both metaphorically and as God raises all believers after death. (Ezekiel 37:14)

It only requires reading to the end, to learn that the heart of God is filled with pity, love and mercy for all of us, embodied through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. 

Lord, we love you and seek more of your presence in our lives, and thank you for having a heart filled with mercy and love for all of us. Amen

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Perfect love

“You are all fair, my love;
 there is no flaw in you.”

Song of Solomon 4:7 (RSV)

The book in the Old Testament, Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs, is written by King Solomon, an ancestor of Jesus. It is read by both Jews and Christians, and is interpreted as a portrayal of the mutual love between the Lord and his people. 

The Song is interpreted by Jewish theologians as God’s love for the ideal Israel, chosen and loved by Him. It’s interpreted by Christian theologians in correlation with the book of Revelation, as the culmination of the love between Jesus and His bride, the church. 

The scripture in Revelation 19:7, reads:

“For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, His bride has made herself ready.”  The perfect love expressed in the book of the Song of Solomon, comes to a climactic conclusion, when Jesus is finally united with all His church, His bride, in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. We are that bride, in the process of making ourselves ready for Him.

What Solomon says to his bride in the Song is what Christ is saying to His church today. It fully expresses the love of a bridegroom for his bride, and his desire to be in marital union with her. 

There is a “love chapter”, in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 13, which is read at almost every Christian marriage ceremony. It describes perfect love, as “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.” 

In Solomon’s Song, the bridegroom’s passion for his beloved says,

“You are all fair, my love. There is no flaw in you.” The perfect love of God knows our flaws, but He loves us as if there are none. If we could all fully grasp His perfect love for us, we would probably live in a greater state of confidence, fearlessness and power, knowing we are so loved by Him.

Our flaws don’t change His perfect love for us. It’s why the apostle John encourages us to confess our sins, because God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. He forgives anything, if we will only come to Him and confess it. 

The most overlooked truth in the world is how much God loves us unconditionally. Some people, due to their upbringing, have come to believe that God loves them only when they are good, or that He stopped loving them, after they strayed from Him. God loved us before we were born, while still in the womb, and He loves us even when we forget about Him or waste time pursuing things other than Him. He is forever faithful even when we are faithless.

Jesus is in constant pursuit of us and always inviting us to abide in Him and receive His strength. It is His grace and lovingkindness that turns the human heart back to Him, not fear of punishment.

The Bible refers to God’s perfect love, saying “Perfect love casts out all fear, because fear involves punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

The perfect love of Jesus gave all of Himself for us, His bride, and He would like us to give all of ourselves back to Him, adoring the One who first loved us. It’s simply what brides and grooms do for one another. Our journey of faith excels not only in the good times and blessings, but when we realize how much we are loved by Jesus, during the difficult trials in our lives.

We are not perfect, but we are perfectly loved.  He sees our gifts, our potential and our hidden beauty. He knows that we will bring praise, glory and honor to God, His Father one day, which is the sole desire of His heart.

God is all knowing, and He is not shocked or surprised by any of our  failures. He just wants us to keep returning to Him. The prophet Jeremiah wrote under the Spirit’s inspiration, “Shuvee Israel !” Jeremiah 31:21, in Hebrew means, “Return to Me, oh Israel !” God is calling all humanity, Jews and gentiles, to return to Him.

We are His church, His flawless bride, beautiful in His sight, and He steadily pursues us day and night, until we offer more of our hearts to Him, in response to His perfect love.

He believes in us, hoping we will trust Him, in the many ways that He is regenerating and renewing us each day by His Holy Spirit. Jesus endures all things and He also gives us the strength of endurance in all things. His perfect love pursues all those who need to return to Him. Love never fails, because it is as strong as death.  (Song of Solomon 8:6)

Lord, we surrender our whole self to you, returning all our love to you, along with our gifts and our flaws, because no one loves us more faithfully and more perfectly than you. Amen

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The beautiful lyrics in this song are by singer and songwriter, Rachel Lampa.

Perfectly Loved -with Lyrics Rachael Lampa – YouTube

Claiming the cake

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.”

Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV)

Jesus’ sobering words remind me of how important it is for us to be known by Him. Everything we do in this life should lead us to know Him better, with the hope that He knows us and will one day say to us, “I know you, good and faithful servant.”

I had a recent experience that was a lesson in the importance of being known by Jesus. 

Last week, I ordered an ice cream cake, and paid for it in full, planning to pick it up on Sunday. It was for my niece’s 40th birthday party. The young man who took my order seemed new, but he accurately wrote down what to write on the cake. Then I paid him in advance and he gave me a receipt and I left. 

Later that day, it occurred to me that he forgot to ask my name and phone number.

I started looking for the receipt, since that would be my only proof, but to complicate things even more, I realized I had lost the receipt. I tried retracing my steps and suspected that I might have accidentally thrown it out. I was so angry at myself, as I realized I had no receipt and they have a cake with no name of who it belongs to.

I called Dairy Queen and asked if they had an order for a cake that read “Happy 40th birthday, Seanna.” They confirmed that they did, and they also said it was marked paid, although they didn’t know who purchased it, since the new employee forgot to put a name on the cake order. I assured them it was my order and I would pick it up Sunday. 

What a bizarre situation that was. I paid for a cake and then lost my receipt. The young man took an order for a cake, but forgot to put any purchaser’s name on the order.

It was such a strange feeling to realize I had nothing to prove who I am, or that the cake belonged to me. My only identifier or claim to that cake was my niece’s name on it, since no stranger would want a cake with someone else’s name on it. 

In situations like this, I always look for the hidden meaning. So, after the near debacle of an ice cream cake, with no purchaser’s name and no receipt in existence, I figured there has to be a deeper meaning in this whole experience.

Technically, without a receipt, I cannot claim ownership of that cake, and my own name means nothing to them because it was never written down in the first place. 

The key identifier and my only claim to that cake was my niece’s name written on it.  Seanna’s name is the identifier that connects the cake to me. No one else would want a cake with a stranger’s name on it.

It made me think about Jesus’ words regarding events after death and the day of judgement. We will have no receipts to show, because our salvation cannot be bought with money. We can try telling God our name, who we are, and what we did for Him, but our name and our personhood alone, doesn’t merit our salvation. There is only one key identifier that connects us to eternal life and it’s our trust in Jesus. He is the only mediator between God and man, and only Jesus bridges the gap between us and His father. He told us that whoever believes in Him will live even if they die. No one comes to the Father except through Him, because He paid the price in full. 

On that day, when we stand before God, by faith, we expect to hear Jesus say to us, “I know you”, as He turns to tell His Father that we belong to Him. It’s because we have trusted in His sacrifice and have received atonement that comes only through His body and blood. He is our connection to heaven. 

To know Him and to have Him know us, leads Him to say “I know you”. 

It’s the unique connection, like the name on the cake, that links it to us. Those words will be the best words we’ve ever heard, in both this life and our afterlife.

Lord, draw us closer to you here and now, so that we may love you more and hear you one day say that you know us, as you welcome us into your presence for all eternity. Amen

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Trust now, details later

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6  (NIV)

I have written about him before, but today, the father of Jesus has come to my mind. There is so much we can learn from his example. When we think about how Joseph trusted God, with all his responsibilities combined with the unanswered questions, he is an amazing example for all of us to follow. It’s a story too wonderful to save only for Christmas time. 

Being a pious and faithful Jewish believer, I am sure Joseph read today’s scripture in Proverbs several times during his lifetime. He was a man of faith, who excelled in virtue long before he became engaged to Mary. His steadfast trust in God helped him face many new complex and difficult decisions. 

Joseph was a human being, and scripture tells us that he became pretty stressed when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy. He prayed about the situation but he had sleepless nights, stressing over what to do over the whole issue. 

 Betrothal was the first part of a legal marriage in his time, which meant it was almost the same as being husband and wife, while not yet living together. An engagement could not be broken without a legal divorce. 

Joseph considered divorcing Mary, but secretly sending her away, in order to spare her life. Being a righteous man, sending Mary away is what most decent men in his position would do. He asked God for advice, and an angel appeared to him in his sleep, telling him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. Joseph received the word from God that the child Mary carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Instead of trying to find his own solution, he trusted God by believing the unbelievable. (Matthew 1:19-20)

God’s plan for our personal salvation, came through the miracle of the incarnation, and was followed by the difficult challenges in two simple people’s lives, Mary and Joseph. 

God required the help of two human beings to work out His plan of salvation. It was a beautiful plan and yet it required the cooperation and free will of two selected people. The rest of the world did not understand them, and the only ones who were rooting for Joseph and Mary at the time, was the entire host of heaven. In spite of heaven’s support, they surely felt strangely misunderstood as well as chosen and blessed forever. 

Joseph’s belief was followed by obedience and he took Mary as his wife. They headed to Bethlehem to fulfill an obligation for a census, which required all people to register in the city of their ancestry. This was God’s plan to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2)

Little by little, Joseph recognized the details of all that God was doing. 

Some time later, Joseph was warned by an angel, to rise up quickly, and take Mary and Jesus to hide in Egypt. Herod was plotting to find the prophetic child king who was born within a two year period, and he plotted the murder of those innocents, who he felt threatened by. 

Joseph as the father and protector of his family, obeyed an angel once more, taking Mary and Jesus in the middle of the night to travel a far distance to Egypt, which presented incredible challenges in itself for a young Jewish family. It was a very uncomfortable place for religious Jews of the first century. Joseph moved them far away from family and friends of faith, to live in a land  as aliens and strangers. Again, Joseph had the support of the host of heaven, rooting for him, as he kept obeying God.

Every decision Joseph made in caring for his family, was contrary to the normal lifestyle of his culture and time. It was not normal to marry an already pregnant woman, or as a Hebrew man to live among pagan idol worshippers in Egypt. He lacked the support of a faith community nearby. It was just him and Mary, trusting and obeying God. 

God led Joseph by angels, dreams and with His Holy Spirit, all because he was given the ministry of protecting, fathering and raising the incarnate Son of the one true God. The result of Joseph’s diligent trust and obedience saved the young Jesus from Herod’s mass murder plot. Together with Mary, they both obeyed God and created a peaceful, secure family environment to raise Jesus in the faith, despite living in a cruel period of Jewish history.

God’s greatest plan since creation, was His plan to send His son to save the whole world. Besides Mary, Joseph had the most important role of any human being in God’s salvation plan. He was called to be the father, leader and protecter of the Messiah, our Savior.

Any average man, a foster or step father, who married into a situation like Joseph’s would be asking himself, “How did I get myself into this?” For Joseph, it was about doing what Proverbs says, trusting the Lord with all his heart, not leaning on his own understanding. This is why Joseph is considered to be the patron saint of all stepfathers and foster fathers.

We will all face a situation at some time in our lives, which makes us feel like our problem is too difficult to explain, but God understands and He has a unique role for each of us. Joseph reminds us to keep trusting

God, who always rewards our faith. In some cases, we may never know the purpose for perplexing situations, but one thing we can be sure, that God loves us and blesses those who steadfastly trust Him. The host of heaven is also rooting for us in our faith and obedience.

God can accomplish anything without our help, but He sends people and angels to help us at the right place and time. The details are not immediately revealed, but there’s no better place to be than in the center of God’s will, and like Mary and Joseph, only trust can bring us there. 

Our peace does not depend on the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.

Lord, thank you for the example of Joseph, and help us to imitate his faith, trust and steadfast obedience, even when we don’t understand the purpose or details of whatever is happening in our lives. 

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Because of mercy

“But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy,

he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us

through Jesus Christ our savior.”

Titus 3:4-6 (NAB)

I often write about mercy, because it’s an infinite topic, like the God who embodies it. The official definition of mercy is: 

“the compassion shown to an offender who is subject to one’s power to punish.”

It makes me appreciate God’s mercy and also wonder how I can do better in showing mercy to those who offend me.

What would happen if everyone in the world prayed for the gift of seeing others through God’s eyes. Think of how different we would see things and people, if we had a glimpse through His eyes of mercy, especially toward those who persecute us. 

When it comes to the residents at the Nursing home, showing them mercy is a no brainer. The residents there are humble and appreciative of any kindness, so it’s pretty easy and natural to see them through God’s eyes of mercy. 

Last week, I had an unusually negative encounter with a certain social worker on staff at the Nursing Facility. The social worker I’m referring to, is not a supervisor, nor was she assigned to counsel anyone in that day room. She came there purposely to tell me that I can no longer bring the residents any treats. I was stunned, since over the past seven months, no staff person ever prohibited me from bringing them treats. 

A few residents overheard her and objected, saying that she has no authority over them.  Since the majority of the residents have no visitors, my visits and treats are the only ones that most of them ever receive. To stop it would be like robbing them of a simple joy.

Then it occurred to me, that each resident is given an amount of cash in dollar bills each month, which they are free to spend on any treats from the vending machines throughout the facility. So I asked the social worker why the residents are allowed to buy a treat in the vending machine, but would be prohibited from me bringing them packaged treats at my own expense. 

She could not give me an answer, nor could she tell me who her supervisor is, or who sent her to speak to me. It was all very strange.

I said nothing more but went home and wrote an email, addressing it to the head administrator of the Nursing Facility. My email was respectful, yet covered every point. 

The next day I received an answer from that administrator assuring me that she would speak to that social worker, and take care of everything. She did not prohibit me from continuing to bring the treats to the residents. 

I admit that at first, I was upset with that social worker. I may never know what motivated her, but I forgive her because the Holy Spirit reminded me that God has mercy on all people, whether they are kind or not. 

Scripture says the sun shines on the just as well as the unjust. Since God is merciful to all of us, I need to be merciful to her, just as she should be merciful to those residents. God has established a natural rule, that mercy reaps mercy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”(Matthew 5:7)

I’m thankful that the administrator overruled the social worker and I am free to continue my visits with treats. 

If only we could all look at people through God’s eyes, instead of our own personal feelings, reactions or judgements, what a different world it would be.

Mercy defies all logic. God shows mercy to people who do not deserve it and Jesus said we must be merciful to others in order to receive mercy. We show mercy to those who mistreat us, because Jesus did. He also assured us that if we are persecuted for doing good, then we are blessed. All of these teachings go completely against our human nature, but that’s because God wants to transform our nature. 

God desires all who believe in His son to be conformed to the image of His son, but we first need His help to see people through His eyes. There is no one like God, so merciful and patient, and there is certainly no human being who can show patience and mercy without His help. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but we can do nothing without Him.

Lord, give us the grace to see people through your eyes and to show mercy to our enemies. Thank you for constantly transforming us to become more like Jesus. Amen

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Waiting with our whole being

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.

I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

After we have cast all our cares upon Jesus, and resolved to trust Him with all our concerns and requests, there is a waiting period. David wrote that he waits for the Lord with his whole being, putting all his hope in God’s word. I wondered if there is anyone in the stories of scripture who waited with their whole being, besides David, and there was. Her name was Rhoda.

When Peter was imprisoned and the disciples were fervently praying for a miraculous release, an angel came and appeared to Peter, walking him out of prison, putting all guards into a deep sleep. Peter didn’t have to do a single thing. The angel did all the work, and Peter walked up to the house where the disciples were currently praying for him. 

When he knocked on the door, a woman named Rhoda was the first person to jump up and run to the door. She was overjoyed to see  Peter standing at the door. She didn’t know how he escaped from prison, but she had been praying with the group, waiting and hoping with her whole being that their prayers would be answered. 

She quickly told the others but no one believed her, telling her she was out of her mind. (Acts 12:15)

Although the disciples were praying for a miracle, they didn’t seem to expect one. I can’t criticize them because I have often found myself praying for a miracle, and still not truly expecting it. It seems to be easier to believe God for someone else’s miracle than for my own. 

The scripture tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, because He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. 

(Hebrews 11:6)

In Rhoda’s situation, diligently seeking God meant listening for the sounds of Peter’s footsteps or his knock on the door. Rhoda had hope that God would hear the prayers of all the believers, and bring Peter back. She waited in hope for the miracle that they all prayed for, and when it happened she was the first to hear Peter knocking and see him standing at the door. 

David writes in this psalm that his whole being waits for the Lord, and all his hope is in God’s word. Whatever it means to wait for the Lord with our “whole being”, Rhoda had what David was talking about. Waiting with her whole being is why she jumped at the slightest sound of someone at the door. She had an enthusiastic faith, believing God is a rewarder of all who seek Him diligently. 

Today, waiting with our whole being might mean expecting some good news about a medical test. When we ask God for a miracle, like Rhoda, we need to anticipate the answer, waiting and hoping with our whole being, that Jesus is with us and the answer is coming. 

As we leave all our worries and doubts on the altar, trusting that God hears us, the next step is to tune our hearing in with hope for the knock on the door, a phone call, text message or an email, with the answer we have been hoping for. 

I rarely experience such expectant faith but when Jon fell out of his bed last Saturday, and the nurse called me, I felt an inexplicable confidence and expectation that he would have no injuries from the fall. 

Waiting with a sense of expectation,  is a good thing. We expect Jesus to be present when we go to church. We expect Him to hear our prayers. We expect Him to speak to our hearts through the scriptures whether we are reading or hearing it read to us in church. Living with a sense of expectation as Rhoda had, is like adding wings to our faith. 

Yesterday I picked up the disc of the CT scan of Jon’s brain and neck, that was performed the night he fell out of bed. I brought the disc to drop off at his surgeon’s office. Instead, they told me to wait and the surgeon will read it and give me results in person. I was called into the exam room and the surgeon told me that he was very happy with his CT results. There were no new injuries to the brain, and his enlarged ventricles even looked a slight bit smaller. Hearing the doctor’s good report in person was like seeing Jesus knocking on my door. 

Lord, help us to wait for you with our whole being like David and Rhoda. Give us the grace of having faith with expectation, always looking for you to show up since you promised to be with us always. Amen

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The Spirit and our groaning

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

Some situations are so perplexing that we aren’t sure whether to pray for healing or for endurance, for someone’s deliverance or for their salvation. We want God to be glorified through everything we pray for, but we can reach a point of not knowing what to pray. We may not know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit always does. 

Whenever we are weakened by sorrow, sickness, discouragement, or anxiety, and find it difficult to pray, the Spirit steps in and intercedes for us. Sometimes He intercedes for us through other people, but He also does it directly as this verse today describes. 

The Holy Spirit understands our emotions, and He interprets the wordless groanings that are deep within our spirit. He is God, the third person of the Trinity, and He knows everything that is within our heart and mind, before we utter a word. We have an inner groaning, which He reads deep within us and He ministers to each person in a unique and special way. 

Besides the thousands of languages in the world, scripture refers to a language of angels spoken in heaven. (1 Corinthians 13:1) 

There is a language of heaven, but heaven also understands and interprets the thoughts of our heart and our wordless groaning, and the Spirit intercedes for us. When our spirit is overwhelmed, and are at a loss for words, He searches our heart and mind, and intercedes for us. He prays for us and through us.

Jesus left us with another great gift of His Spirit, which is “Comfort.”

I think we often underestimate the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We can ask Him directly for help because Jesus sent Him to us for a purpose.  He has been sent to do everything that Jesus would do if He were here in His body. He is our comforter, our helper, our healer, our teacher and our mind reader. When we are overwhelmed and weak, He steps in and is our Comforter when we feel alone or misunderstood.

Lord, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, who interprets the deepest groaning that is within us, and intercedes for us, praying for us and through us. Remind us that you are always ready to lift up our hearts in the fullness of your peace and comfort. Amen

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