You Can’t Earn It

“But the father said to his servants, Quick! Bring the best robe and put in on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet…” Luke 15:22

You may have heard this story of the prodigal son who squandered his inheritance and was living in obscure poverty when he finally came to his senses and returned to his father to ask if he could work as his hired help. The father was so overjoyed his son had returned home, that he restored him to his previous status, including giving him the family ring that would forever give him all the rights to something he did not earn.

That ring, though.

Photo: Jostens

Photo: Jostens

Troy Murphy, a Wisconsin pastor who also happens to be the chaplain for the Green Bay Packers football team, tells a story about when they won the Super Bowl in 2010. A few weeks after that big game, he was running on the treadmill when he answered a phone call that went something like, “How soon can you come here to be fitted for your Super Bowl ring?” You better believe he stopped that treadmill and rushed to the stadium as soon as he could. As he flashed the ring to us and we all ooohed and ahhhhed at its bling & beauty, he said, “I don’t know if you remember, but I didn’t catch a pass during that game. I didn’t go out and make any tackles. I never ran a ball into the end zone.” And yet, here he was, the recipient of a ring that makes him part of something he did not earn.

What a gift we’ve been given!

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be

~Brennan Manning~

 

Letters From Gladys

I’ve dreamed many dreams that never came true …

I’ve seen them vanish at dawn.

But enough of my dreams have come true,

thank God,

to make me want to dream on.

 

I’ve prayed many prayers when no answer came …

Though I waited patiently and long.

But answers have come to enough of  my prayers,

thank God,

to make me want to pray on.

 

I’ve trusted many a friend who failed me,

And left me to weep all alone,

But enough of my friends have been true blue,

thank God,

to make me want to trust on.

 

I’ve sown many seeds that fell by the way for the birds of the air to feed on.

But I’ve held enough golden sheaves in my hands,

thank God,

to make me want to sow on.

 

I’ve drunk the cup of disappointment and pain.

I’ve gone many days without song.

But I’ve sipped enough nectar from the roses of life,

thank God,

to make me want to live on.

(Author Unknown)

old letters in the vintage arrangement

In my mind, retirement always belonged to “those older people” who had passed their most useful days of ministry. We lovingly watched as others entered this stage of their lives, never really anticipating that one day, we too would belong to that group. This past fall, however, my husband and I retired from our pastorate, having completed 46 years of ministry in the Body of Christ, and the Foursquare Church in particular.

As retirees, the amount of concessions afforded us is amazing! Restaurants, parks and hotels give us discounts; magazines are published specifically for us, and the health field directs its attention to us in a constant barrage of new medical plans to supplement Medicare. We are forced to make new decisions concerning our lives and future. Change seems to be a constant for us, and it fills many of the prayers we pray.

Recently, in the apartment building where we live, the need to remain open to change even in the small details of life, was illustrated for me. It was a Monday morning and I had filled the washing machines in our community laundry, when a retired lady came in, looked at me with anger and said, “I have lived in this apartment building for twenty years, and I have always washed first thing on Monday mornings. You have ruined my day!” I returned to my apartment praying, “Oh Lord, keep me flexible. Don’t let me become rigid and unable to flow with life’s changes, small or large.”

In relating to the Church, we are happy to submit to the leadership of the younger generation, for this is right. But at the same time, we are still Salt and Light; Jesus made us that, and that we will be until He calls us “Home.” We thrill when a soul is born again. We rejoice in the victories of the Church, and we encourage the younger pastors who have taken our place to preach the Word, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus.

We also request your understanding. In your ministry to us, please don’t expect us to totally change, for there are some things that we do cherish. We are still moved by some of the old songs that have sustained us down through the years. We love to hear a preacher proclaim those proven truths of God’s Word and stir our hearts with eloquence and anointing. Most of all, we need your care and support as we face what might be the most challenging time of our lives.

The poem which I have included above must have been written by someone who has walked along the pathway of life some distance and learned from that walk the things that are truly important. I know they express my sentiments at this time in my life.

A Retired Shepherd,

           Gladys

(This article first appeared in the “Letters From Gladys” column in Foursquare Advance Magazine, 1989. We are happy to report she was vibrant in other forms of ministry for another 20 years until God called her Home in 2009.)

 

See, I am Doing a New Thing!

I love a new year! It feels like everything old can be washed away as a clean slate is presented to us for writing a new story. I find this both encouraging and daunting. Encouraging because there really is no limit to what God can accomplish through me. Daunting for much the same reason. What will 2016 bring?

The Bible is filled with rich promises of a new beginnings, and I found it so encouraging to read through these verses the other day, I thought they might encourage you as well. My prayer is that you will latch on to these promises and find the HOPE in new beginnings:

Isaiah 43:18-19 

18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Oh, how I love that one! It feels like a love letter from God. He is making all things NEW!

LWT_ANewThing

Lamentations 3:22-24 

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Let us not be consumed by worry about what the future holds, or what the past has brought. His mercy and compassion is new EVERY morning! What a great thought!

Ephesians 4:22-24 

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Amen! May we put on a new self daily, as we walk through the new year.

Isaiah 40:31 

31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Want to SOAR this year? The only requirement is that you HOPE in the Lord. Whew! That takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

Matthew 7:7

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

We have not because we ask not. This one hits hard. I’m going to be asking for big audacious things this year – not only from God, but from myself and others as well.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

As much as I’d like everything to happen NOW, I must remember that God makes everything beautiful in its time. In HIS time.

Revelation 21:5

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He is making everything new! Everything. Every. Thing.

Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

So why am I trying to do it all myself?

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

My future is secure. What a glorious hope!

Proverbs 16:9

In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.

Yes. We plan our course. In our hearts, on our planners & calendars. After all that planning, what might happen if we gave the Lord the last word on which things to step into and which to stay away from? I think probably the best year ever, that’s what!

Oh, there are so many more! I invite you to explore the Word of God as you plan your year. Let Him direct your steps and chart your course. If you do, I believe you will look back at the end of the year in amazement at how much more God accomplished through you than you ever could have done on your own!

Give With No Expecation

This is sometimes a difficult one for me….if you are honest, it is for you too. 

Just yesterday I was about to pull out of a parking lot. A guy was walking down the sidewalk and getting close to where I was waiting to pull my car onto the road. He was young, and seemed in a hurry, so I backed up a few feet to let him cross…smiling at him. I had had plenty of time to safely pull out before he got close, but I thought I’d be nice. This wasn’t a pedestrian right-of-way situation.

He crossed without so much as a nod. In fact, he seemed to cast a devious glance of entitlement as he sauntered slowly by… 

That rush of anger welled up inside me. Immediately I thought, what an ingrate! I didn’t have to do that… I was patient and kind, and he didn’t even thank me for it! 

OOPS. Was I? Really? Maybe not so much. 

I had to repent, and then have a little talk with myself. I went into that act thinking I’d just do it because it was nice. But, I came out of it having expected something in return.  

We are to be charitable, and selfless, even with our enemies. Altruism is however, many times, something we do for ourselves to “feel good” as much as it is due our desire to be kind and to help others.  

I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Luke 6 when he said, 

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

Remember also that Christ willingly gave His life for us, with no guarantee of our acceptance or appreciation. He did it out of pure love. End of story.

We all encounter circumstances every day that range as small as the example I gave, to challenges of deep sacrifice.  

What will I do the next time I have the chance to give with no expectation? Will it come from the right place in my heart? I sure hope and pray so. As humans, our work on ourselves with God’s assistance is never-ending! Let us examine always our motives.

God knows our hearts, and he is merciful and giving. Let us follow in His way.

gift

May the Lord bless you…

Blessing

May the Lord bless you.

May you carry the glow of his presence with you.

May he meet every need in your life.

May he provide you richly with the abundance of his blessings.

May the Holy Spirit be your helper,

who comes alongside of you and ministers to you

the things that are of God,

For those things do not ever pass away.

May you walk in glorious victory,

and may there not be those days when you say,

“It’s dark today”…

But may there always be the light of Christ

shining in you and through you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

~ Gladys Johnson, 1987

A Grateful Heart

IMG_5521

On my personal blog I’ve been writing this month about being grateful. And not just being grateful sometimes, but about how to cultivate a grateful heart in this whiny, self-absorbed world we live in.

It’s tough sometimes, isn’t it? We want what we want, when we want it & whine when we don’t get it. At times we think the world revolves around us, and we whine when it doesn’t. We gaze at the new (fill in the blank) the neighbor has, and think, I should have that, too…

No? Just me, then?

I am truly so grateful for my life. But when bad stuff happens, or things don’t work out as planned, or, or, or… sometimes a swell of mopey overcomes my normally good-natured, grateful self. And I cringe.

I cringe at the silliness of it all. I cringe at how childish I am. I cringe to think of others I see daily who have a reason to be moping about, but aren’t. I look around at how stinkin’ blessed I am, and I want to slap myself upside the head and say, “STOP IT!”

So I’m working on it.

Let’s work on it together. One little change daily will turn your heart around. Think of one thing. ONE THING you are thankful for today, and write it down. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day. And the next.

I’m not a journal-keeper. Believe me, I’ve tried. But this I can do – I keep a gratitude journal where I write at least once a week the things I’m thankful for. I leaf through the pages and look back on it often.

And you know what? It always produces a smile. And a change of heart in that moment.

I could go on and on about how there are studies to back this up, but let me just leave you with these wise words:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

 

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 106:1

 

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

What are you doing to cultivate a heart of gratitude?

 

I Surrender All. Maybe. Not Really. Okay. Yes!

I’ve heard and sung the hymn practically my whole life. “I surrender all.”

  1. All to Jesus I surrender;
    All to Him I freely give;
    I will ever love and trust Him,
    In His presence daily live.

    • I surrender all,
      I surrender all;
      All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
      I surrender all.
  2. All to Jesus I surrender;
    Humbly at His feet I bow,
    Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
    Take me, Jesus, take me now.
  3. All to Jesus I surrender;
    Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
    Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
    Truly know that Thou art mine.
  4. All to Jesus I surrender;
    Lord, I give myself to Thee;
    Fill me with Thy love and power;
    Let Thy blessing fall on me.
  5. All to Jesus I surrender;
    Now I feel the sacred flame.
    Oh, the joy of full salvation!
    Glory, glory, to His Name!

But I didn’t mean it. Not really.

The dictionary says surrender is
  • to give up, abandon, or relinquish.
  • to yield or resign (an office, privilege, etc.) in favor of another.
  • to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

There was always something, that one thing, I wasn’t willing to lose control over. It wasn’t even ever the same thing. Just something. Holding on to something, anything, made me feel I had some control.

Thinking I had control was the lie I told myself. Thinking God wasn’t really interested in taking care of my life’s details was the enemy’s lie I chose to believe.

Until that day. That one day two years ago when I laid it all down and said, “WHAT? What is it you want me to do, God? If you want me to stay where I am, I will do this at 200%. I’m all in. But if you want me to do something else, show me.” And I surrendered. All.

white-flag-surrender-2

And HE is showing me what he wants me to do. Every day I surrender again. And every day God is showing me a new life. The last two years have been a journey of joy and discovery. There have been more days of freedom and joy than I’ve ever experienced in my life. I highly recommend it.

Surrender.

All.

I promise you won’t regret it.

Saying “God Bless You” Is So Much More Than a Greeting

What does it mean when we say “God bless you”?

These are very important words, but often spoken and received too lightly. When a person sneezes, there’s always someone in the crowd who says, “Bless you.” Others proclaim “God bless you” without really knowing God, or what His blessings are about. It becomes a cultural statement.

Is this phrase just a byword, a way of being nice? Has it become so routine a habit that we confer it upon everyone when it ought to be special? Actually, it means putting yourself on the line with God and asking for His divine favor to rest upon the person you are blessing. Perhaps that is why the apostle John, in his second epistle, verses 9-11, informs us that if anyone comes to us who is not preaching the Gospel, or does not believe what Christ taught, we are not to invite them into our home or bless them. If we do, we become a partner in their wickedness. I personally am very careful not to say “God bless you” to those who come to my door preaching another Jesus.

God was lavish with His blessings to His people in the Old Testament. See how He pronounced a blessing on Abraham, that through him the whole world would be blessed in the coming of the Messiah. To Israel He made a covenant of the land, saying that they would plant their crops for six years and let the land rest during the seventh. In fact, in Leviticus 25:21, God said that if they were worried about what they would eat for that seventh year, He would command His blessing on them during the sixth year and the land would bring forth sufficient fruit for three years. What a powerful blessing!

God personally gave Aaron a blessing to give to the Children of Israel:

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee;

The Lord make His face shine upon thee,

and be gracious unto thee;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee,

and give thee peace”  (Numbers 6:24,25)

It was a custom for the father to pronounce a blessing on his children. He would lay his hands on them and pronounce the favor of God upon the child. It was a holy sacred thing. Could it be that some of our children are losing their way because they have never felt that blessing from their fathers?

In our churches, we dedicate children. We bring the newborn baby for a special time of blessing. The pastor places hands on the child and confers the favor of God on the little one. Biblical? Yes, indeed!

SWV-Baby-for-Baby-Blessing.jpg (413×413)

Photo Credit: sacredweddingvows.com

Jesus certainly thought so, as well! The disciples brought the children to Him. He took them in His arms, and with His hands, blessed them (Mark 10:16).  As His ambassadors, should we do less?

I have a new granddaughter, named Nicole. Recently, she accompanied her mother to the grocery store. My daughter is accustomed to people stopping to smile at her baby, but this particular day an elderly lady approached her, laid her hands on Nicole’s head and said sweetly, “The Lord bless you, dear. May you walk in His favor all of your life.” My daughter came away with a warm glow in her spirit, for a stranger had taken the time to confer a blessing on a newborn, in the name of the Lord.

Proverbs 10:22 states, “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it” (KJV). Let us be people who are lavish in our blessing, but who are sincere and understanding that we have the right to confer God’s blessings on others. And let’s begins with our families!

GOD BLESS YOU!

(This post was written by Gladys in 1988 for Foursquare Advance magazine. She mentions her granddaughter Nicole – LifeWords Today’s own Nikki Romani, who has, indeed, walked in God’s favor all her life!)

Live For Today, Or Worry About Tomorrow?

God clearly tells us in His Word not to worry about tomorrow because it is not guaranteed. This lends itself to the idea of Carpe Diem – live for the moment!

However, He also instructs us to be wise with our money and investments and to be prepared for the future.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to properly balance these two concepts. On the one hand I feel I should enjoy life and that spending money on experiences and good times with the ones I love is usually appropriate. On the other hand, I feel that I don’t always properly save or prepare for the future.

What is the proper balance?

money

It seems like some people are so wrapped up in saving for retirement that they miss life by passing on experiences with loved ones that will last a lifetime and are crucial to good relationship development. Some people don’t even tithe or give to charity in lieu of “saving for the future” or in fear of not having enough for themselves. Giving is a biblical principle and God promises that if we give, we will always have what we need.

What if today is the last day of your life? What if “saving” too much prevents you from enjoying life right here, right now? Or keeps you from freely and joyfully giving to those who are in need?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, so I decided to look at some related Scripture. I am trying to reduce my debt and start saving while still giving as much as possible AND enjoying my life right now since that is all I am guaranteed!

Matthew 6:25-27 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Luke 6:38 refers to giving and His promise to us when we do. “Give, and it shall be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This is encouraging! I can attest to this as I am blessed beyond what I deserve! Give with joy, and you will always have what you need plus more to give away. Proverbs 22:9 says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

And finally, the balance. We also must be wise with our spending and our giving, for if we spend all we have, we will have none left to give. Debt removes some of our freedom, and if we are not careful we can be overtaken by it.

“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7

“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” Proverbs 21:20

Clearly Scripture endorses wisdom and saving for a rainy day. It also encourages us to give generously without worrying about how it may affect our future.

So, do I live for the day and help those God puts in my path or on my heart? Do I spend money and time on recreation with family and friends regularly because I am only guaranteed today? Do I sock some funds away for the future so that I have a cushion for the tough times?

My conclusion. YES, YES and YES.

Pray for God to help you find the proper balance. Put your trust in Him as you give, that He will always provide what you need with more to give away. And at the same time, enjoy your life with gusto! Work hard AND play hard! He is teaching me that it is possible to do it all and do it well.

Now, stop worrying about your future. Enjoy every moment with your loved ones. And find a place where you can give your time and resources to help those in greater need.

This will make your life RICH indeed!

God’s Timing is Perfect!

One of the great things about getting older is that your perspective on life changes. One major shift I am noticing in my own life is my perception of time. When you’re young you feel like everything needs to happen NOW and your patience is weak. Today’s Internet culture makes people feel that way as well. We seem to lack patience and many people won’t stick with something long enough to see the result they desire if it seems like it is taking too long to get there.

We want what we want, and we want it now.

I am learning, albeit slowly, that God’s timing is perfect. This is true for the major events in life as well as the details of the everyday. We will never fully understand His timing with some things while we are here on earth because He is infinite and we are here for a moment. However, if we pay attention, we will notice when His timing is right even when it differs from our expectations. He knew every second of our lives before He put time in motion.

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Have you ever been late getting somewhere and then on the way driving you see a terrible car accident? Maybe if you had left at the “right time” you would have been the one in that accident. Perhaps this was God’s way of protecting you.

Do you ever think about what you thought you’d be doing at this stage in life? Maybe you have been working toward a goal that you have not yet accomplished. Don’t worry. Perhaps God is still working to prepare you for what you will face once that goal is reached. Or maybe He is guiding you toward something better than you imagined for yourself.

Stay the course. Keep working. Keep hoping. Keep believing.

A couple weeks ago I was on a great trip to visit my family on the West Coast. My Aunt Tami and I took a road trip from L.A. to Portland, Oregon. It was great fun!

On the second day of our trip we got going later in the morning than we had planned, and then we spent a lot more time site-seeing than planned. We realized we would never make it into Oregon in time to get a hotel for the night and wondered how this may affect the rest of our trip and our arrival time at our cousin’s house the next evening.

The weather was foggy and rainy as we passed through the Redwoods on the way to the coast. Just as we broke out of the forest and saw the beach, there was the sun! We had two perfect hours of beautiful sun and no fog as we enjoyed that beach. Had we been “on time” we never would have been there at that moment! We expected a gorgeous sunset because of all the clouds, but just as the sun was setting a heavy fog came in and we could no longer see anything! We got in the car and found a little hotel. Turns out we were just in time to get to a restaurant to eat in the tiny town and had we stayed for the sunset we would have had to skip dinner. We had already traveled about nine hours without a meal!

The rest of the trip followed suit. Many things happened because our “planned timing” was off. Things that we would have missed if we had been on our own timing.

This example is only meant to remind us that God cares about the little things. Even when we are on vacation enjoying the beauty He created. Because Tami and I chose to see that timing as a gift, it was significant. What joy we shared as we gathered driftwood, dug our toes into the beautiful black sand and took photos of the beauty that surrounded us. We knew if we had passed through earlier or later in the thick fog we would not have even noticed that we were passing by that beautiful place.

There are trials in life that don’t make sense to us now, but remember that your life and all it’s troubles are in God’s hands. An unexpected death of a loved one. Cancer in a friend who lives a clean and healthy lifestyle. The loss of a great job. God cares for us always during those times. He has a plan and we can be confident that if we love Him with all our heart and soul and love our neighbors as ourselves, He will always carry us and see us through.

If God cares for us in the timing of simple pleasures in life, then we can be sure He cares for us in the timing of major life events as well.

Take heart in the midst of your trials. God’s got this.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  2 Peter 3:8-9