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

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.”   

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.)

 

 

 

 

TRUST

TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. synonyms: confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence; reliance

Between the daily headlines and personal disappointments of 2017, I many times find myself lacking trust. God clearly tells us that He is the only one we can fully trust – the only one who will never let us down. However, as humans, it is not only inevitable, but understandable to put our trust in other things. Children trust the adults in their lives with everything. We trust our family members to act in our best interest. We trust friends to keep our confidence. We expect the people close to us to be honest and supportive. We trust that our finances will remain stable. We trust that we will remain healthy.

The older I get, the more I realize that these hopes are dashed much more often than I expected them to be. It disheartens me to see too much news. The acts of hatred and violence of all kinds run rampant. I also realize the ups and downs of finances, health, and relationships.

Without consistent communication with God through prayer and by reading His Word, it is easy to continue down the path of disheartenment and become distrustful of God Himself. It is sometimes easy to hold Him accountable for the disappointment we feel in the people He created in His image, and the circumstances that are out of our control.

Here we are at Christmastime again, and though the joy of the meaning of this season supersedes the chaos I see in every corner of earth, those headlines do take hold of me sometimes. Those personal disappointments in people that I thought I could trust, that I thought would be in my corner for life, loom in my heart and my mind. They somehow become magnified at this time of the year.

My Grandmother used to say two words to me (and to many others) at times of despair and difficulty…at times when there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel…

BUT GOD….

No matter what we see, hear and feel…. BUT GOD….

God is here. He is in control. He holds EVERYTHING in His capable and perfect hands.

So, when the world looks bleak, and when we feel personal pain and despair and begin to lose our faith in goodness, let us remember: BUT GOD is here.

Some encouragement today. A Merry Christmas and a peaceful and joyful 2018! Let us push on in faith and trust in our Heavenly Father.

Joshua 1:9  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Psalm 9:10  “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

Proverbs 3:5,6  “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.”

Psalm 56:3  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Psalm 20:7  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

Psalm 13:5  “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

There is Hope in Our Mourning, Part 2

Last month I shared about our hope in knowing we will see my brother again when we get to heaven. This month, I find myself being reminded that when unexpected tragedy strikes, that hope is still alive to carry us through. This time, though, the news is still so very fresh.

Just over a week ago, a family gathered for worship in their little country church in Texas. It was a small church very much like where I grew up. As the associate pastor stepped up to bring the message, a gunman entered the sanctuary and hit nearly everyone inside with a bullet. Many were wounded, and 26 were killed that day – 10 victims representing 3 generations of the Holcombe family – including a baby yet to be born but already given nickname by older siblings.

My friend JoCheryl Holcombe’s brother was the one preaching that day. She lost half her family in a matter of seconds. I won’t go into the devastation – this part is within reach for us to imagine.

What I find harder to imagine is the unspeakable peace the remaining family members have been experiencing this week. Even they are astonished. But why should we be surprised? The world was praying for this family. They felt it. In fact, one family member commented to another, “did you feel it?” As they compared notes, they found that ALL of them felt a wave of peace wash over them the day after this horrible loss.

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

There was no natural explanation for this peace. But there was a supernatural one. God promised to send the Holy Spirit as our comforter and advocate. The prayers of so many surely moved the Spirit to be present in the hearts of those who were mourning.

Memorial Crosses at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church – Photo Getty Images/Scott Olson

The intention was defeat and destruction, but this horrendous act unleashed a torrent of love and goodness. I hope and pray this family will see fruit from this story for decades to come.

Today, the Holcombe family laid to rest their 10 family members. Yes, it was gut-wrenching, but it also was a testimony to the fact that these folks who so tragically lost their lives will live on through their story. A story of hope and love, and the knowledge that they are together in heaven now, and this is not the end.

Here are a few words written by JoCheryl in a public post on Facebook – I don’t think I could be so eloquent nor gracious at such a terrible time….

we made it through this day…i’m sad, but you know…i’m also filled with bliss because of LOVE, and…i’m actually filled with so much love, and friendship and memories and the joy from being around authentic awesome people whose faith is stronger than any tragedy…so proud of my brother, who i will miss so much…but oh WOW!!!! his awesome family…and my parents who exemplify joyful living, who know how to be strong and tender, joyful and heartbroken at the same time. as the days get easier, i want to write a few stories about those who have left and the rest who are left behind…so much inspiration…

yeah, my guts were wrenched today, but there were so many people there with their arms around us holding us, the comfort far outweighed the sorrow!

i am so grateful for the thousands of people who stood in line for hours, some only to get turned away because there was no more room, i am so grateful for all the people who drove HOURS to get here from all over Texas, (some drove 10 hours, and waited in line only to get turned away at the last minute ) i am so grateful for all the people who were there that i didn’t even get to see…i am so grateful for all the professionals who took a chaotic, unprecedented, event of enormous proportions and turned it into the most amazing beautiful celebration with the most poignant creative touches.

i am grateful for friends and neighbors, who hosted the most amazingly delicious meal and country gathering that was filled with love and joy, perfection and beauty.

i am grateful for old friends and new friends, and i am grateful for love that spans a lifetime…i am grateful that we have forever!

i am grateful for all the local and county police and sheriff’s departments and DPS for keeping the press away and coordinating traffic and managing a procession that stretched from one town to the next and still kept coming.. we had no intrusions as we celebrated and mourned.

i am grateful for the streets lined with people who stopped their days, held their hands over their hearts in vigil for that long procession paying tribute to my family, for all the signs along the highway, for all the flowers along the route, for the mountains of cards, for all the hugs, gifts and expressions of love, for the beautiful memorial at the church in Sutherland Springs where my family members graduated to heaven.

this was an awful thing but it was also awesome because love is eternal and we will all be together again. may the love unleashed today be ever present in all our lives

as i reflect on this last week i can say that there is absolutely no way a person could ever imagine what it has been like, i pray nothing like this EVER happens again to anyone…it should not have even happened this time…

so, when you think of those you love and it feels like you have forever, just remember you don’t, but then again, YOU DO! make this life matter, our soul is the only thing we take with us when we are done…it’s worth tending, it’s worth making meaningful deep connections and living each moment in the fullest most meaningful way. BECAUSE everything can change in a holy instant.

i love you all, thank you for making this so much easier for my family..i feel like i have thousands of new family members.

Our hope is not in this life, but those remaining still have to live this life without 10 members of their family, and it will be so very hard. Please continue to pray for the families of those lost in the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

More info here: Houston Chronicle Article

Click here for Financial help for the Holcombe family

 

Have you found the perfect gift yet?

I get amused with the Christmas shoppers in the Riverside Gift Shop I am managing at the retirement village.  They will come in and say they’re looking for the “perfect gift” for someone and they’ll “know it when they see it.”

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This month of Christmas music, programs, parties and shopping can become stressful to some people.  We have been made to feel guilty if we don’t give extra to the needs of those less fortunate.  There are the lonely people who actually hate this time of year.

But wait…..what is it really all about?  And I mean more than remembering a miraculous virgin birth of a baby 2000+ years ago.

The miracle of Jesus the Christ…..the Anointed One, is that He is fully God and fully human!!!    The doctrinal word for that is Incarnation……….and I don’t mean a flower!!!

This is one of the mysteries of Almighty God.   In His Son, Jesus, God became a human man to save us ultimately by shedding His blood on the cross, dying and arising from the dead, without ceasing to be God.

Philippians 2:5-11    Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

WOW!!!  That’s quite a bit to comprehend.  It’s so “far out there” our human minds cannot figure it out……not possible….don’t go there!!!

It is child-like FAITH which is a GIFT from God to receive THE TRUTH.

If you are struggling with the reality of who Jesus is, and that He is more than a baby in a manger, ask God to give you the faith to believe.  Be honest with God, He knows the thoughts and intents of your heart anyway.  Don’t try to figure it out…..just know that God loves you with unconditional love.  Once you realize that great love through Jesus Christ you will never be the same again!

The celebration of Jesus’ birth this week will give you JOY and an INNER PEACE that is unexplainable.

JESUS CHRIST IS INDEED THE MOST PERFECT GIFT TO YOU!!!

Romans 6:23  The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Am I God’s Friend?

I was captivated by her story as she told me how God was her playmate as a child.

An only child, my friend Karen says, ” I didn’t have an imaginary friend as a little girl. I just talked to God all day long.” She smiled joyfully as she recounted days in the back yard of her family home, playing by herself. Only she wasn’t by herself. She was talking to God, her constant companion, about anything and everything.

Photo: AdobeStock - Used with Permission

Photo: AdobeStock – Used with Permission

I was amazed. You see, Karen didn’t have the benefit of attending Sunday school or church with her parents like I did.  She was left to her own devices in the spiritual realm at that young age. And yet, she KNEW God was close. He had called her by name. And she had listened. Her childlike faith allowed her to converse with the God of the universe like he was her best friend.

Because he was.

It makes me wonder – how many times had God called my name, even as a young girl, and I didn’t have ears to hear? My friend’s life-long ability to speak directly to God like he’s right there in the room with her is something I didn’t learn until much later in life, in spite of growing up in a pastor’s home.

Have you tried it? If you listen, he is calling your name. He wants you to know him. He wants you to talk to him. Like he’s right there in the room.

Because He is.

 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 18:3

Are You Too Near the Getting In Place?

The story is told of a little boy who had a habit of falling out of bed in the night. Finally, his mother asked him why he fell out of bed so much. He replied, “I guess I stay too near the getting in place.”

The small boy with alarm clock in the bedIt’s a picture of too many Christians who don’t seem to grow, or know the Lord Jesus better this year than last. They’re faithful in their church attendance and they even tithe. But the Christian walk is a walk with Jesus that causes us to change. As Paul wrote, we are changed “from Glory to Glory, transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Peter also cautioned us to grow in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Knowledge comes through the Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

 

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

(These thoughts were first shared with Kristin in an email on August 11, 2005. Gladys was 86 years old. And yes, she loved connecting via email!)

The Simple Life

This is the beginning of a new year so all of us are thinking how we are going to be better than we were the year before. I know I am and I know my cousin, Kristin is as well. She talked about in a previous blog, Slight Edging It, about her change for this next year and I think it’s fantastic!

 

The trouble is you must stick to it. You must tell yourself everyday you are going to accomplish those things you want to. Things don’t happen over night, if they did then we wouldn’t have very exciting journeys just a lot of endings. The journey is what changes you, shapes you, molds you, and transforms you into the best version of yourself if you allow it to.

 

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

            Romans 12:2

 

I am currently doing the Daniel fast. And it hasn’t been easy. This fast consists of fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, and water for 20 days. It’s very simple. But there have been many days I want a piece of chocolate or coffee and in those moments I pray God gives me strength and sets my mind back to why I am doing this fast in the first place. I think this is what we need to do when we want to “give up”, to “quit” on our goals we have set for ourselves in the beginning of the new year. We need to bring it back to Jesus because he will help us.

 

Before starting this fast I prayed about what kind of fast to do, and God gave me the word simplicity. At first I thought that was just my word for the fast, but now I am starting to realize this may be my word for the year. SIMPLICITY.

 

God wants us to live simple lives. We seem to overcomplicate things, but really we should live as children. Children are care-free, honest, live for fun and adventure, love everyone, they don’t over think they just do. God wants us to have child-like faith and this is what comes to mind when I think of simplicity. I want to live life as a child. I am going to pray to God when it gets tough and when I want to quit, when I start to overcomplicate things and ask God to help bring my mind back to the simplicity.

 

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

 

What are your goals for this new year?

How are you going to make sure you stick to them for the entire year of 2016?

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(A few of the many kids I met along my journey on the World Race in 2014!)