JUST KIDDING!

This year Easter is on April 1st….the traditional April Fool’s Day.

Some of my friends say that is blasphemous, but our calendar puts the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection according to three days after the Jewish Passover.

The tradition of April Fool’s Day has endured for over 400 years. The true origins of April Fool’s Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1582 when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before then, New Year’s Day fell on the end of March, not January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year (at the beginning of April) were called “fools” by their peers. In 1700, English pranksters began popularizing this annual tradition of April Fool’s Day by playing practical jokes on each other. And so it goes on still to this day.

When Christ died on that Roman cross and shed His blood to cover our sins it certainly wasn’t a joke. And, God’s plan for the covering of our sins is not a prank. God wasn’t teasing humanity with a “maybe my Son Jesus could suffer, bleed and die for the penalty of mankind’s sins against Me.” It’s not a J/K scenario that Jesus actually arose from the dead and is living with His Father in Heaven!

And, you know what?  Jesus is coming one day when His Father says “Go get my children!”  And on that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD of all…no one will be able to say “I thought you were kidding.”

Something to think about………..

The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.”  Psalm 14:1

On a happier note…have a blessed Easter Day celebration that Christ is risen!!!

WEARINESS

Today I am simply weary. I don’t even have the strength to post something positive on social media to make it appear as though all is well. All my needs are met for today. My immediate family and close friends are all safe and sound for today. But, people have worn me out, and I am fighting to stay grateful, thankful and positive. I can be nothing but honest today as I write this. Just the raw truth.

I have been reminding myself all day that the only one we can fully count on is Jesus himself. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand….” That old hymn continues to loop in my head. I welcome it. TURN UP THE VOLUME. It’s slowly drowning out the background noise.

Disappointment comes in many forms, but the hardest for me to swallow continues to be when a person I trust betrays me. That pain just runs deep. I have had my share of betrayal in the past several weeks. Not one, but several people whom I thought I could count on have run off the rails. Today I am just on the verge of throwing my hands up and writing off human beings. I want to run away with my family and live in the wilderness, off the grid, with a canine companion.

I suppose there would not be so many references to weariness in the Bible if it were not an expected part of life. Our weakness reminds us of God’s strength. Without him, how could we press on? I know that he is all that is keeping me going today. I must press on toward my calling and my goal. I must be kind and faithful to others regardless of how they treat me. He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him.

My word to share with you today is simply that we are human, and we are weak. It is okay to have the days where we feel so heavy and dreary. It is okay to admit it to ourselves and to others. BUT, we must remember to focus on HIM and his faithfulness to us on the dark days. That focus will pull us through. Mediate on the Word with me:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

How far is too far? How close is close enough?

For over a a year now I have been witnessing to a 90-year-old woman who can’t seem to decide to be a follower of Christ.  She keeps saying “I’ll try.”

My heart is drawn to her.  She is covered in prayer by friends she has acquired at this faith-based retirement community.

This past week I asked her some pointed questions, such as: “Have you decided to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?”  The answer was “No.”  “Do you believe Jesus Christ shed His blood and died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?”  “Oh yes!”, was her answer.   “Do you believe Jesus arose from the dead after three days and still lives in Heaven today?”  “Oh yes!”, she said.  “Do you believe He’s coming again?”  “Well, I’m not sure about that.”, she said.

My heart was rejoicing as I told her….”Then you believe according to the Word of God in Acts 16:31.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved….”

I encouraged her with Scripture and the account of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples who did not believe Jesus was alive, who, after touching the nail scars in Jesus’ hands, and the wound in His side, cried out “My Lord and My God.”  John 20:28

Also in the scriptures; the account of a father asking Jesus to heal his son, if He could. (Mark 9:24) When Jesus said “If you can?  Everything is possible for him who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Isn’t it God’s great compassion and grace to give us proof in His Word that He knows our heart?  He knows our frail humanity!

Even though my elderly friend has not prayed the “sinners prayer”, or “gone forward to the altar” at church, she must be on her way to a full realization of who Jesus Christ is, and who He is to her. Even the thief on one of the crosses next to Jesus cried out to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “I tell you THE TRUTH, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”  That man believed in his heart at that moment and didn’t have time to pray a sinners prayer, or go forward to an altar , or even be baptized in water….Jesus accepted him just as he was!

My point is…it is not for me to judge how far away her soul is from salvation, or how close is close enough.   God knows every individual heart and motive.  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12

My part in her salvation is to pray for her, encourage her and disciple her in the Word so that she fully understands that salvation cannot be earned, it is a free gift, accepted by childlike faith; no need to try harder!

As she comes to the last years of her life on this earth, I pray peace over her; that she will know, without a doubt, that she belongs to Jesus Christ, her Savior for eternity.

I claim this scripture for her that my Mom prayed over me…”Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6

If the Door is Open, Walk Through It

I am drawn to doors.

I notice them when I look at a home.

I photograph them when I am on vacation.

I envision in my mind the most lovely doors whenever there is a reference to them in someone’s speech. Sometimes they are polished and perfect.

Other times they are a bit rough, but beautiful in their own way.

The Bible uses DOORs as a reference, too. I counted 235 this morning. Of course, most of those are referring to a physical door. Building the temple. You can’t come in, the door is shut. etc.

But many are talking about doorways into our soul or opportunities.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.   (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

If you are like me, this is the image that came to mind when you read that verse –

Yes, doors are everywhere in scripture. Where are the doors in your life? Are you facing doors of opportunity? Do you see many doors to choose from and have to make a decision?

I’ve always thought this was such a difficult process – then just the other day I heard one of my favorite Bible teachers, Havilah Cunnington, say this:

I think we spend too much time in doorways and we never walk through the door.” 

I was agreeing, yes, YES!

She went on to say that God is really good at shutting doors to places where we are not supposed to go. If the door is just too hard to open, pass it up. (And I would add, DO NOT, as the old song goes, “look for a window.” No! That room is off limits.)

But if a door is open to you and you are standing in the doorway, pondering, crying, wondering, whether you should walk through it. The answer is YES. Remember, God is really good at shutting doors to things you are not supposed to be involved with. Ask Him to show you.

Your opportunity is on the other side of that open door. Take that step of faith and believe that God will direct your next steps.

Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash

JUST DEAL WITH IT!

This sounds like something dismissive or rude that someone might say! BUT, this is the favorite “tag line” of a very special 94 year old woman! She insists that this is the best advice she can leave for her family and friends. At her age, we can be sure she has experienced all the ups and downs life can bring, and with that she is rooted in deep wisdom!

Job 12:12 says,  “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”

She says, “Life will always bring unexpected challenges. There will be many things that are completely out of your control. What you can control is how you DEAL WITH IT!”

I am one of those people who love a good surprise when I’m on a trip, or casually hanging out with friends. However, I am still learning to gracefully deal with life’s everyday surprises that knock my plans off track. I admittedly am not consistent when dealing with such surprises! I like a plan, and I like it to stick. With age, I am becoming more flexible (albeit perhaps at a slower rate than my family and friends would like – ha).

Everyday glitches in life are just a part of it. The real challenge is properly handling the big life course altering things that happen. The unexpected things. The death of a close loved one. The end of a relationship you expected to last forever. A car accident. A devastating diagnosis. So many situations can waltz right in to our lives. In a moment, life can completely change course.

It is in these challenging times that we are faced with a choice to cower and let life defeat us, or rise up and DEAL WITH IT. Of course, on our own we may not have the strength. BUT, with God’s help and the ones we love, we can push through the greatest challenges life can throw at us.

Whatever it is that you are facing today, be sure, this too shall pass. You CAN deal with it with God’s help. He promises never to forsake us. He is with us through it all.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Psalm 34:17-18 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

2 Cor. 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Lost in the Woods

When you think you are lost and don’t know where to go, keep going because you never know what you will find.

This is what I was telling myself as I was running along the paths on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. If you don’t know about this place you need to look it up. There are 8,000 acres of land with which now has 2 hotels, a small village of shops and restaurants, a farm, horses, and a mansion called the Biltmore house. This home was completed on Christmas Eve in 1895 after 6 years of construction. This home has 100 rooms, 43 bathrooms, and 6 floors! HUGE! And the man who built it was named George Vanderbilt in which he and his wife and their daughter lived in this massive place. Now this land is a national forest and the home is a high demand for tourists.

I woke up one morning while staying at the Inn on this Estate and decided to go for a run to see what I would find. It was raining and as I was passing the front desk the concierge called out, “Have fun and try to stay dry.” I turned back to him with a huge smile on my face and said, “I will get wet, but I’m ok with that!” And he smiled back and said he would have a water ready for me when I return. So sweet!

I headed out on the estate. I didn’t truly know where I was going or where I would end up, but I had a plan to run about 4 miles along the river, I just had to figure out how to get there. I found a road that went right past the majestic horses and in the distance saw this road paralleled the river so I headed there. I ran along on a muddy path next to a river as rain was falling. I continued until this muddy trail turned into a paved path and continued on. I followed the path and it crossed the road and then turned into another dirt trail. There were signs for hiking so I decided to follow them. I got to a point while I was running I realized I didn’t see the signs anymore. I was still on some sort of path, though it was covered with leaves. Maybe it was a maintenance path or horse trail, I wasn’t quite sure. I continued on and got to the point I had no idea where I was. It was raining and fog was rolling in, and no person in sight. I was in the middle of the trees, no clue where I was until I looked up to my right and there through the trees was the Biltmore House. I laughed to myself at first because I couldn’t believe how far I had actually ran. Way past the 4 mile mark I set out to do.

In that moment I felt a sense of comfort and peace and joy! I felt Jesus was with me. Tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t stop smiling. I wasn’t really lost after all! The path wasn’t distinct, and yet I kept taking step after step. I kept in mind to keep going because I didn’t know what I would find. And in turn I ended up seeing a side of this mansion the general public doesn’t see. It was incredible!

I thought about this moment and related it to life. We may not know what we are doing or where we will end up, but if we trust God and keep going we will see something spectacular. And sometimes the path doesn’t look like much of a path at all, but if we put our fears to the side and keep our curiosity in front great things will happen and God will show up!

Keep going!

(the trail looked a bit like this except less leaves on the trees and some fog)

(A portion of the front of the Biltmore House)

RESOLUTIONS!???

How are those New Year resolutions working out for you?  I know.. on January 1st you had the best of intentions to keep them.  Same here!!!

Are you hearing people say “I can’t believe it’s the year 2018 already.”  Well, I heard the year 2020 mentioned on TV the other day and I thought…that’s way off.  No it’s not!!!  Space movies in the 70’s and 80’s hovered around that year.  Ha!  That’s only two years away, and you know how fast those years go!!!

Now, let’s get down to the issue of broken new year resolutions.  We all do it!  Maybe we don’t speak it, but if you’re honest you’ll admit that the “clean slate” of a new year is appealing.  “If I can just change one or two things about myself this year, I’ll be happy.”

I looked up resolution in the dictionary and there are six definitions.  The first one is: ‘the act of resolving or reducing to a simpler form.’  Ha! That’s one of my year after year resolutions…to reduce to a simpler form by 20 pounds!!!

The next definition I am sharing with you comes under the word resolve which has ten meanings.  The ninth one is: ‘to make up ones mind; arrive at a decision, or a fixed determination.’

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Now we’re getting to the resolve that really matters for eternity.  When you come to faith in Christ, you make a decision to do so.  As you grow in your knowledge of God and His Son by reading His Word, you find that His ways are past finding out.  You find that since you live in a sinful world that life is not always easy.  There are times when you feel like giving up.

That’s when the word resolution has spiritual meaning.  If you have committed your life to Christ, then it’s your choice, your resolution or fixed determination to never forsake Him, no matter what.  So I implore you to keep on, keeping on with Christ.  That’s the best resolution you can make day after day, year after year.

Romans 8:35,37-39  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

song….”I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.//The world behind me, the cross before me….no turning back, no turning back.// Though none go with me, I still will follow….no turning back, no turning back.”   

“Mommy, this little boy likes me!”

(We recently found a few hidden pages written by our mom & grandma. This one is especially poignant today, January 15th, the birthday of both Martin Luther King, Jr and Gladys I. Johnson. Not only did they share a birthday, but they shared God’s heart for teaching our children love and not hate. We hope you will enjoy these beautiful words.)

MOMMY, THIS LITTLE BOY LIKES ME

The vacant house across the street had been rented, and of course the neighborhood children (and their mothers) waited anxiously to see the new neighbors. Would there be a boy to play with? Would he have the two necessary ingredients for friendship – a bike and a dog? And since our neighborhood is bereft of girls, the boys all felt it would be a calamity if “one of those things” moved in.

So, in typical boy fashion, they banished such a thought from their minds. This family would have boys to play with, and to add to the football squad in the fall, and the baseball team in spring.

At last the movers’ truck pulled up and the men began unloading furnishings. But no sign of a boy. Odd, wasn’t it? thought the neighbors. If there were children, surely they would be under foot, hindering instead of helping, laughing merrily as they rediscovered things mother had hidden in packing.

A black car had been bustling back and forth over the streets, loading and unloading its cargo. The driver, obviously the woman of the house, stopping to tell the workmen where to put the furniture.

When all the furnishings were in, the black car came back, and from the front seat hobbled a small waif of a boy, walking with an effort on crutches. The few neighborhood children who had not given up their vigil, stared hard and turned away in disgust. This poor little fellow could not play football. He could never add the member needed for the baseball nine.

As the days passed, little Tommy was never included in the play of the other boys. When he got into the car that drove him to school in the mornings, passing children who would stop and stare. He was the unusual, not understood. Tommy often cried when, attracted by his toys, a small boy would enter his yard to play, only to stand and stare, not knowing quite how to cope with the thought of playing with a boy who walked with crutches. I noticed that the children, while not meaning to offend, would say cutting things – as children often do. As a result, Tommy would put up his own defense of bitterness and meanness.

One warm day, little Tommy came across the street to play with my son, and I hoped for Tommy’s sake they would be friends. My own son, while ordinarily no angel, took him in, if for no other reason than the fact that his other friends were scarce that day. But it delighted Tommy. When his mother came to get him later in the day, Tommy looked up with a smile of delight and said, “Mommy, this little boy likes me!”

In that moment I thought of all the little children in our world who suffer such injustice at the hands of others who do not understand why they seem so different. Would it not be a better world if each mother taught her children the meaning and beauty of each individual, and the willingness to accept the one who is different?

There is a little bigotry and racial hatred in all of us. It is learned, not birthed. We must teach our children that crippling the spirit is much worse than crippling the body.

written by: Gladys I. Johnson

Unpack Your Baggage

We’ve just finished the first week of the new year. I love this time of year – it is filled with new promises, new beginnings, and new hope. We take great pains in promising ourselves that this year will be different. We start new diets & exercise plans, we start new projects, we clean out our closets and our cabinets and discard things that weigh us down.

I am doing these things, too – but today’s sermon at my church reminded me that Paul says the ONE THING we must be certain to do in order to move forward in life, is to forget what is behind us.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

What does that look like? In order to fully grab on to God and walk into his favor and grace in the new year, we must leave behind those things that will hold us back. If we are unhealthily still focused on your past, you cannot move forward.

So, if you are intending to really make strides in your life this year – I’d like to share with your the list my pastor, Albert Tate, gave us on Sunday of things you must unpack from 2017. As he opened a suitcase on the stage and unpacked each t-shirt with these words on it, he shared why hanging on to these things will keep you from experiencing the fullness of God in the new year…

ANGER and UNFORGIVENESS

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes

HURTS

“Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.” Rick Warren

UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

Godly community is powerful. Find friends that want to know, “how’s your soul doing?” and ditch the friends who push you into feeding your flesh.

WORRY and FEAR

“Put away worry and fear and watch God be God. Every day, give the day to God and worship him at every step. Don’t walk in worry and fear – walk in worship and faith.” Albert Tate

BAD HABITS

Two words: STOP IT.

Unpack Your Baggage from last year. Photo: Becky White

PRIDE and SELFISHNESS

Leave behind your failures, yes – but we also must leave behind our successes. If we assume we are the source of our success, we won’t be able to let God bring us to new things in the new year.

Once you’ve unpacked and made a commitment to yourself and to God to leave behind the things that will hold you back in the coming year – you must also remember to re-pack your bag to push ahead on the journey ahead. Fill it with

CONFESSION

Confessing the broken areas of your life takes away any power it has to hold you back. You are meant to soar!

GRACE GRACE

Grace comes in a double portion – always. No one is too far from God to receive his grace, and once you have received that grace it is your duty to freely give it to others.

ACCOUNTABILITY

You cannot do this life alone. Who knows what you struggle with? Have someone you can call for prayer and positive affirmation that you can do this!

Christ’s resurrection represents the NEW thing God wants to do for you in this NEW YEAR. You will never experience the new thing God wants you to do without first letting go of the old things.

Don’t be stuck.

Don’t be stagnant.

Make the choice to unpack those bags and move forward for God’s glory!

(Author’s note: This is a brief recap of a sermon from 1/7/18 at Fellowship Monrovia. No one tells the gospel story quite like Albert Tate – to enjoy the whole sermon, you can watch on Facebook by clicking here, or on the church website here.)

 

 

 

 

Reflection

As I sat and reflected on 2017, there was one common theme. I went all the way back to the beginning of the year. I found myself writing down every significant moment that happened. I was writing out details I didn’t want to revisit. I was writing out moments that were hard for me. But as I was writing I realized why God was having me do it. He wanted to show me where He was through it all. As I was writing I saw God in the middle of it. He was with me the whole time. This was the theme. Over and over again throughout the year God would tell me He would never leave me. And now reflecting back I see that to be true.

God is faithful and true to His word. If you are unsure if God was in the hard times maybe you need to sit and write them out as hard as it may be. Allow yourself to see where God was in the midst of it all. It may surprise you. And you will find healing in revisiting those moments and seeing Jesus. It was for me. Now I can let it all go and leave it in 2017. I am a new creation. I am transformed by the blood and love of Jesus. And I am stronger than ever before!

We look at new years as a fresh start. I can see the significance, but something God reminded me as I reflected was that life is a continued process. We will forever be growing and changing if we choose to.

Do you want to change? Do you want to continue in this growing process of life with your Savior and Father in Heaven?

Take what you have gained and learned from 2017, continue and increase it in 2018.

With God the impossible is possible. He has given you promises that have not happened yet. Let me tell you, he will follow through. They will happen. Some of them in this lifetime and others in the lifetime of generations to come. I think of Abraham and how God showed him the stars and told him he would be the father to many nations. Yet Abraham is not alive to see it all happen.

Don’t lose hope. And certainly do not give up on God. He is with you. Go into this next year with a renewed sense of HOPE. God your father in heaven is with you and sees you. He is in the pain, the struggle, the heartache. He is in the joyful moments, and the celebrations.

He loves you very much!

Make 2018 a year with God! This is going to be your best year yet!

May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 1 Kings 8:57

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26