Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year; New Hope

"But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."

Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" Mark 9:22-24 (NKJV)

I saw Him again this week. And it was glorious. Surprising, but amazing and delightful.

Those clouds can be so deceiving. Any reason for hope is just clouded by doubt, but the light is blinding when it breaks through, and it leaves me speechless.

Human perspective is so short-sighted. Human reason is so limiting. Hope based on logic is so faint and well, hopeless. But hope in Jesus? The impossible becomes possible. The tragic becomes an opportunity for glorious grace. The heartbreaking becomes heartwarming. Despair turns to joy.

We’re at the end of another year, and maybe you feel at the end of your rope. If you do, I have good news for you. Just like a new year is upon us, new hope is waiting for you to cling to. I have learned that being at the end of my rope, or seeing others at the end of theirs, it’s a glorious place to be. Why? Because the glory is coming! Just wait. Just believe. And if you can’t, do what the man did who wanted his son to be healed so desperately but had trouble believing Jesus could really do it.

“Lord, I believe,” he cried. “Help my unbelief!”

And hear Jesus respond. “Anything is possible for the one who believes that I am able.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

“Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you...For if you love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them...Be merciful as your Father also is merciful.” Luke 6:27-28, 32, 36 (KJV)

Whew! That’s a tough one. Sometimes I have trouble loving the people who do love me, let alone those who don’t! How about you? So why does Jesus instruct us to love our enemies and those who have hurt us? One reason is because they need the love. People who hurt others have been hurt themselves. They are not well-loved. They need to experience God’s love and the compassion of others. Without it they will never change. They will continue to hurt more people just as they have hurt us. They will remain in bondage to hate and bitterness and strife. And we will remain there with them.

Love brings healing, for them and for us, but when we have trouble loving others, it’s not just an area we need to work on and strive to be better at, it’s a red-flag that we have not taken God’s mercy fully into our own hearts. I like the words that Jesus speaks here in the King James Version because there is an interesting word in the middle of His dialogue. “If you love them which love you, what thank have ye?“

The word ‘thank’ means ‘grace’. To love others that love us is nice, a natural thing, but it doesn’t reveal the grace of God in our lives. But to love those who don’t love us, that can only come from one source: hearts that fully recognize and accept God’s love. Full hearts. Thankful hearts. Forgiven hearts that live continually in His grace toward us first, and then can pass that forgiveness on to others.

Grace is not just something to receive, it is something that when received changes us. Later in His message Jesus says this: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart...out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” We can’t just determine we are going to love someone and do it. We can’t just decide we’re going to do good to others who have hurt us. Only when we fully take in God’s love for ourselves and ‘store it up’ will we have anything to ‘spill over’ onto others.

What grace have ye? God’s full measure of forgiveness and healing and goodness filling up your soul? Have you fully accepted His love for you? Jesus says that the way we love others will reveal the state of our own hearts. And hearts that live as His dearly loved children is what He wants for us more than anything.

‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ Ephesians 3:17-19

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Things of God

“You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Mark 8:33

The words of Jesus often hit me right between the eyes. Calling them profound is an understatement, but that’s exactly what they are. Truthful. Weighty. Thought-provoking. Obvious, yet subtle. Like a knife to the heart, yet delivered with grace.

Jesus speaks these particular words to Peter, and they are meant to be a rebuke, but the curious thing is that Peter was trying to do a very noble thing. Jesus is telling the disciples that the time of His death is near, and Peter steps in to say, ‘Don’t say that!’ He doesn’t want to hear any talk about Jesus being defeated. That isn’t the plan. That can’t happen, and Peter isn’t afraid to set Jesus straight.

But as often is the case, Jesus isn’t swayed by human emotions. He understands where Peter is coming from, but He can’t accept his way of thinking. It’s short-sighted and counter-productive. Jesus came to teach and demonstrate the love of God. That was His purpose, His destiny, His way of telling the world that His mercy extends to all. To take that away made no sense to Him, to put it mildly. Jesus uses some stronger words: “Get behind me, Satan!”

Those are some pretty harsh words for Jesus to speak to anyone, let alone one of His closest followers, but I think He often has cause to say the same thing to you and me--a lot more often than we are willing to listen.

When I read these words a few days ago, I knew Jesus was speaking them to me in a variety of ways. Some more serious than others. And while there is that element of rebuke in bringing my thinking into alignment with God’s, there is also a great deal of freedom in knowing that the burdens of my heart are of little significance in light of God’s perfect ways. What I see as tragedy, hardship, confusion, failure, pain, loss, and negativity, He sees as opportunities for grace, redemption, love, and hope.

The mind of man is unreliable, untrustworthy, short-sighted, and lacking in understanding and proper perspective. But the mind of God is always perfect. The things of God are good, intentional, and higher than our own ways could ever be. In what ways are you allowing your mind to dwell on the things of man? Do you need a heavenly perspective? Is your heart bound by human emotion and despair, or are you living in the freedom of His grace? Are you trying to be in charge, or are you letting Him be?

It can be tough to let go of what we think is best, but it’s the best thing we can ever do. For ourselves, for those around us, for our world--which you might not think is worth much, but Jesus did. And so are you. You were worth His life. Now there’s some out-of-this-world thinking. But it’s true.

‘Follow the way of love...’ 1 Corinthians 14:1

Thursday, December 3, 2009


There was a young woman named Sarah who was raised as a princess. Her father was the king of a great land. He was very wealthy, and she was well educated. At the age of 22, having finished college and not being married, she moved to New York City in America to make her own way in the world.

She was close to her family and remained in contact with them. While she searched for a job, they supported her financially, and when she called to tell them she had been hired as a research assistant for a large publishing company, they were happy for her. Being financially stable on her own within a few weeks, she asked them to stop sending her money, and the weekly wire-transfers ceased.

Many years passed. Along the way, Sarah found a man to share her life with, and they were married. They had two children. She climbed the ladder of success in the publishing world and became an editor, and she balanced career and family. She was busy, didn’t get a lot of sleep, and went from one day to the next with a familiar kind of monotony, but she was her own woman, doing what she had left her homeland to do, and she was happy, as happy as she could imagine ever being.

When her youngest child was five years old, Sarah’s husband became very sick. After many medical tests and doctor’s exams, his condition remained a mystery. Nevertheless he was sick and couldn’t work for several months. Eventually he lost his job and his share of the family income. With a hefty mortgage to pay on their New York condo, Sarah called her father and asked if he could help them out. He agreed without hesitation, and the money was wired to their account that very day, and once a month until her husband got better, was able to get his job back, and began bringing in a steady income once again. When she called her father to let him know they no longer needed his help, the monthly support stopped, and life returned to normal.

About a year later another crisis came. This time her job was in jeopardy, as her publishing company was facing tough financial times and several editors were let go to downsize things. After twelve years with the company, Sarah was suddenly unemployed in a city where other similar businesses were in the same boat, and finding another job took two years. During that time, she enjoyed quality time with her husband and children she hadn’t had been able to fit into her schedule before, and with her father’s money to help them out once again, they didn’t experience financial hardship.

Returning to work as an editor with a publishing company she had once only dreamed of working for, Sarah could see that losing her job originally had been a blessing in disguise. They hadn’t just survived the difficult time but actually thrived, and her new job was better than the one she’d had before.

A few years later her husband got sick again, and in just two months he was gone. Sarah became a widow at the age of forty with two children to care for on her own. She knew if she sold their upscale condo and moved into a smaller place in a less desirable neighborhood, she could support her family on one income, but she loved their home and didn’t want to leave where she had spent so many happy years with her husband, nor did she want to uproot the children from everything that was familiar to them.

Her parents made the journey from their homeland to attend the funeral and remained for another week to have time with their daughter and grandchildren, providing emotional support during the difficult days. The evening before they were scheduled to leave, Sarah broke down with the burden of the challenges and changes that lay before her. She had silently decided to sell the condo and move them to a new place, not feeling certain where they would go but feeling like it was her only option.

“What is this talk?” her father asked. “Why are you talking about not having the money to remain here?”

She looked at him and waited for an explanation.

“Don’t you remember your childhood and how we cared for all of your needs until you moved here and were able to support yourself? Don’t you remember when your husband was sick and we wired you money to meet your expenses until he was better? How many months was that?”

“Six,” she replied.

“And when you lost your job and we sent you money so you wouldn’t have to move then? How long was that?”

“Two years.”

“Do you still not understand that we are always here for you no matter what?”

She felt humbled by their generosity, but she knew she shouldn’t be surprised. Had they ever let her down? Had they ever left her to fend for herself when she was in need? Had her father been the one to withhold anything from her during the times of prosperity, or had she been the one to stop receiving when she could provide for herself?

More tears escaped her eyelids, but this time they weren’t from an overwhelming burden caused by difficult circumstances. They were simply tears of gratitude and a realization that she was so loved and could always count on the care of her father. She could deny his generosity whenever she didn’t have the need or was too proud to receive it, but he could never turn his heart from however she needed him.

This parable was inspired by the words of Jesus in Mark 8:14-21. If you are facing tough financial times or have other burdens that are weighing you down, I encourage you to read these precious and poignant words of our loving Savior and allow them to bring you peace today.