Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Fairy Tale Come True

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."
Ephesians 2:8 & 9

     Do you believe in fairy tales? Maybe you wished a Prince Charming would notice you, rescue you and take you to live in a wonderful castle. Maybe you married someone, your dreamy attractive person, only to be disappointed. Don't worry! You just picked the wrong Prince.

     Cinderella was lifted from the ashes of her life and given a diaphanous blue gown to wear to the impressive ball, where she had longed to go.

     Sleeping Beauty was roused from her nap, freed from the curse that was placed upon her, by the kiss of a benevolent lover.

     Snow White found unconditional love, apart from the vain queen who sought revenge.

     Every fairy tale seems to have an ogre, a rotten-toothed, hunchbacked, mean-spirited person that sets out to harm the protagonist, usually a sweet, young girl in need of rescue. Who will save her from this tower of captivity or this life of drudgery? Is there someone strong enough to break the binds of injustice, the curse of evil that was cast?

     Yes! Jesus is that Prince. True royalty, whose kingdom shall never end, he laid down his life for his Beloved. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He pulls us from the sooty ashes of despair, dressing us in the most lovely, shimmering gown. Listen to this passage from Isaiah, chapter 61:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
And the day of vengeance of our God,
To comfort all who mourn,
And provide for those who grieve in Zion-
To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
     This is one fairy tale that is true and has a happy ending.
"This is amazing grace,
This is unfailing love,
That you would take my place,
That you would bear my cross.
You laid down your life,
That I would be set free.
Jesus, I sing for all that you've done for me."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Hebrews Queue

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they'd been thinking of the country they'd left, they'd have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."
Hebrews 11: 13-16

     The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is known as The Faith Chapter since the word "faith" is used 28 times. God's definition of faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (verse one) It goes on with an all-saints line up, a who's who of Bible days. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses are a few named.

     Abel loved God and showed it by offering his very best to him. Enoch was so close in his walk with God that he did not taste death, he just disappeared one day. Noah risked ridicule by building a boat where there was no water and he kept his faith is a very godless society. Abraham struggled to assemble a crib on his 100th birthday.

     Maybe these people all seemed nuts to their neighbors. Picture one skeptic buzzing to a buddy at the corner bar: "Now why do you suppose Abraham would pull up his tent pegs without a game plan? He doesn't even know where he's going, doesn't even have a map! What a loser!"

     And what's up with this guy, Moses? He'd rather mush in mud with the tattered Hebrews than wallow in the riches of Egypt?

     Strange people, these Christians. In modern day, we might appear looney to some as we nibble a wee wafer and sip from a tiny cup, or dribble water on the sleeping head of an infant, or bow our heads to pray in a restaurant.

     But, you see, we are aliens here, eagerly waiting to set up housekeeping in the New Jerusalem, watching the skies for the trumpet call heralding the second advent of Christ. We believe in things we cannot see and are so certain about it that we surrender all.

    Where is my name in the Hebrews Queue? "By faith, Rachel..." How am I filling in the blanks today?

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Soft Spoken Man

"Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles, He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering flax He will not quench. He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth."
Isaiah 42: 1-4

     I was raised in a loving, Christian home. My parents were self controlled and soft spoken, rarely raising their voices or saying things they'd regret.

     Therefore, I can only imagine how healing these verses are to someone who has been abused or who experienced a lot of friction and hollering at home. How awful to live life on the edge of one's seat like that. But envision our loving Savior: He does not raise his voice. You won't walk by his house and hear dishes crashing or people screaming. Rather, with tenderness, he will encourage a bent stalk or fan a smouldering flame, not giving up if he sees the tiniest spark of hope. What a loving God we have! Yet, he's not a milktoast, a doormat or a pushover. He will bring forth justice. You who are oppressed, take heart! Look to Jesus because He has the strength, courage, compassion and justice. He will not fail!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cain or Abel?

"By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead."
Hebrews 11:4

     Two statues flank the entrance to the Lake County Courthouse in Painesville, Ohio: Cain and Abel. They serve as silent reminders why our judicial system is necessary. In Genesis chapter four, one can read of the first murder, when Cain slew his brother, Abel. When viewing these statues, Cain is the one with the clenched fist behind his back and the thunderous countenance to match, whereby Abel appears more pensive and peaceful.

     As the story goes, God favored Abel because he gave the best of what he had whereas Cain's sacrifice was more of an afterthought.

     I wondered about my own faith. What will it say about me long after I am gone? It's unlikely my statue will be erected anywhere, but perhaps my writings will remain? With this in mind, I must be very cautious about the impression I am making. My love for God must come first, then all else will fall into place - that's the way I see it.

     It's my prayer that I am remembered as a righteous person who had a genuine love for God and others.

     What will your faith say about you?

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Two Worlds

"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."
John 17: 15-17

     I live in two worlds.

     Born in Painesville, Ohio, I slowly learned about my world. I relied on people as much as I needed food. I slept as I became fatigued. Gravity held me to the sod. I learned about plants and animals. Some plants are beautifully soft and aromatic, others have nasty prickers. Some animals are sleek and soft, yet there are claws. People are similar.

     My parents introduced me to the facets of Jesus' world as I went to Sunday School and spoke my prayers. As I learned right from wrong, I learned about black and white, God and Satan. "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." I learned that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. My Savior died on the cross to pay for my sins and he is coming back again someday. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

     To me, the word "sanctify" equates to my spiritual growth as I journey with God. As I feel my way around the spiritual realm, God pulls me back from dangerous precipices. He beams his radiant love upon me as I study his word, the truth, and test his waters. Is the pasture really green and lush, as he said? Are the waters still? Will he lead me through dark valleys, calling me by name? Can I count on him to look for me when I have strayed?

     YES! Resoundingly, the answer is affirmative. I don't have to leave my first world - the one with rose petals and sleek fur, prickers and claws - to abide in my second world. I just need to stay connected to Jesus through the truth of his word and the righteousness that is his. I am in this world, yet my citizenship is in heaven.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Me, a Ruler?

"When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you would care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas."
Psalm 8: 3-8

     God crowned me with glory and honor? He must think more highly of me than I do myself. With all this on my shoulders, what type of ruler ought I to be? A humble one! Repeatedly in scriptures, God smiles on the humble and frowns upon the proud.

     Notice, the passage does not say he put other people under my feet. No, if I am a ruler then so are they. I should strive to work in tandem, loving my neighbor as God loves me. As far as it is up to me, I must be at peace with others.

     The other day, I was impatient and frustrated by the idiosyncrasies of my dog so I was gruff with him. But it weighed heavily on me and I asked God to forgive me; I was not a good ruler that day.

     How can I improve? Feed the birds. Take in a stray. Tend my property with care. Show God I love him by adoring his creation.

     What type of ruler ought you to be? A proud despot? A humble leader who knows the value of servitude?

     I choose the latter and ask God to help me achieve it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

This Shepherd is Good

"The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
John 10:3

     Jesus leads, he doesn't drive us, as cattle.  The sheep know his voice; he has names for us all. The sheep will run away from a stranger, they will not listen to any hollow or deceptive philosophy.

     Jesus saves us. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) He cares for us so much that he laid down his life for us all.

     He protects us from predators. "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4) Sheep have no natural means of defense; they do not spray, scratch or shoot quills. They need the Good Shepherd who protects them from evil.

     "He leads me beside quiet waters."(Psalm 23:2) Sheep become fearful around agitated waters. Jesus knows what our fears are, he know our needs just as a good shepherd should.

     "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10: 27, 28) Jesus not only leads us here on these earthly pathways, but his is the Way to heaven, to life eternal.

     Look around at all the lost, scattered sheep. They've no restive pasture, no provision for their soul, no protection against evil. They will either get hurt or killed with no Shepherd to guide them.

     I exhort you to follow Jesus. He loves us so much that he laid down his life for us. He's sharp - he knows how to deal with our enemy. He wants us to have restoration for our souls, abundant life and green pastures. He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. We've nothing to fear.

     This Shepherd is GOOD!