Monday, April 18, 2016

Do You Know?

Do you know that Jesus loves you?

Not just as an oft-repeated religious saying.  Not just as some pleasant, generic phrase with no power.

He loves you!  Profoundly.  Deeply.

In a soul altering way.

His eye is upon you.  He sees you.  He knows you.

He wants you to experience his presence & truly know Him.

All pretenses, all striving is shattered.

Yet we put His name on bumper stickers.  We water down what is the greatest Truth of all time.  That Jesus loves you.

He longs for you to draw near to Him.  He offers life.  Abundant, full, overflowing life!

He offers water that will quench your thirst.

The fire of longing that drives you to seek comfort in things and in people....that longing can only be fulfilled in Jesus.

He loves you.  He knows you.  You are His.  He knew you before time began.

And He will not stop pursuing you.

Nothing you do, nothing you say, nothing can take away His love for you.

To some He was just a good teacher.  To some - a myth.  'What does this Jesus offer that we can't find elsewhere?'

The Truth is - He offers EVERYTHING.  He offers Himself.  It is done.  No other 'god' has sacrificed himself for the love of humanity.... to remove the separation between us & have relationship with us.

There is no writing Him off as a nice guy.  There is no shelving Him with the story books.

Lives are changed.  Hearts are released at a glance.  Bodies healed with a touch.  Only One has this Power.

There is Power in the name of Jesus.

Demons shudder at the thought of His name.  (James 2:19)

The same One that spoke life into the vast nothingness before time is the One who yearns to be near you.

His breath is in each of us - whether we recognize it or not.  (Job 33:4)

He has set eternity in our hearts.  (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

He knows you.  Every ache.  Every dream.  Every part of yourself that you can't even express.  He knows.

And He loves you.

Do you know that Jesus loves you?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Most Powerful Weapon

I jotted this down in my notebook a couple weeks ago when I was reflecting on how much anger there is surrounding us today - even among the Christian community...
"The most powerful weapon we have is not our anger or our indignation - but our love".
I had a confirmation of that this morning. John had breakfast with a group of local businessmen. One of them was the defense lawyer for one of the men who killed Ms. Mathewson (my son's teacher). As soon as John told me that I felt emotion rising in me. How could anyone defend someone like that?
But John went one to say that this lawyer is a Christian, and even though he works with people who are guilty of what they are accused, they still need a lawyer. And, he sees this as an opportunity to minister Christ's love to even the most wretched among us.
I asked John if he had said anything about Ms. Mathewson's case....knowing that he is bound to certain confidentiality.
But apparently the lawyer did say this man that he had to stand beside in court was an extremely hardened individual. It wasn't until Ms. Mathewson's family & friends were given the opportunity to speak to him - and instead of anger they showered him with Christ's love & forgiveness - did he begin to crack.
Love IS more powerful than anger. Forgiveness IS more powerful than indignation. I don't exactly know how to put that into practice in my daily life. When we are hurt & wronged - anger is our go to response. It seems the natural response. The response we have a right to. I can't imagine standing in front of the killer of a loved one, especially a killer who showed absolutely no remorse, and react with love & forgiveness instead of hate. I can't imagine it, because it is humanly impossible. But it is only through Christ who strengthens me that such love is possible. Am I seeking him in the little things? In the small offenses? When I feel misunderstood by my husband or unappreciated by my children. When someone says something to me that hurts my feelings. Goodness, am I able to insert love & forgiveness in place of the go to response of anger when someone cuts me off while I'm driving? I know I fail repeatedly at this. We all do. But, I'm learning that putting on the mind of Christ is not something that just automatically comes when we become a Christian. It's an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts & minds. It takes practice and perseverance....and failure. But, we have new mercies every morning to keep going, to keep learning, and growing.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open Doors

I felt this impressed upon my heart this morning as I was praying.

I was led to this scripture in Revelation 3: 7,8
"These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.  What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts not one can open.  I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word & have not denied my name"

I felt like God was saying that He is opening new doors across our country even now in this moment
 - Doors of opportunity for change
 - Doors of hearts & minds that have previously been closed
 - Doors of ears - that people might hear God's Word & have understanding of it for the first time

I felt like God was saying that He is shutting doors to the enemy.  Where the enemy previously had inroads and paths for deception and his own influence....God is shutting them.  And, the enemy can not get through.  His efforts will be frustrated.  God is blocking his way.

And, I was encouraged by the reminder that he knows we have little strength - but he is renewing his people with increased boldness and energy.  He is planting a zeal for His Word and His Truth and a heart for those around us who are living in darkness.  Where there has been apathy & discouragement, he is giving supernatural strength & motivation.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Discovering a purpose

So it's going to get a little deep here.
But, I had a moment today. Can I share?
I've been in a major funk this week...walking about in a fog, depressed for no real reason. Maybe it's the winter blahs, maybe it's hormones. Who knows.

Anyway, I have a lot of people who stop at my house to pick up items they are buying. Some of them are here & gone. Others end up chatting a bit. Actually quite a few end up chatting a bit.
A lady who stopped this afternoon told me her husband died of brain cancer 2 years ago. I guess he'd been in the hospital for a while & then she brought him home to live out the rest of his days. Her living room became his room...his hospital bed, medical equipment, etc.

The furniture they'd originally had she had just put out along the side of the road for free to make room for her husband. She didn't have the time or energy to do anything else with it.

Now, that he's gone she's slowly rebuilding her living room...making it a new space with new things. The coffee table she bought from me will be one of those things.

And, it struck me after she left what a gift I've been given. Yes, I love vintage things - finding and selling treasures. But, the greatest part? The people. Even though I'm an introvert, I love hearing people's stories. I love listening and figuring out who they are. Why they think and feel the way they do. What they've experienced.

A bit of light broke through the fog I've been walking in. You see, I've been feeling purposeless, useless, really unimportant. I've been asking God to give me some sense of purpose, And, suddenly I realized what an opportunity I've been given.

I can be a listener, an encourager. And, I hope as I grow bolder, I would remember that I can offer to pray with people. It might not seem like much. But, maybe this is my role right now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Getting What We Deserve

One of the young men who murdered my son's sixth grade teacher last year finally faced sentencing this past week.  To avoid facing a trial where the death penalty would be pursued he accepted a plea bargain.  He pled guilty and was sentenced to life plus 20 years with no chance for appeals.  In other words, he will never get out of prison.

I hope that this begins to bring some closure and healing for Ms. Mathewson's family and friends.  She was loved by so many.  She was a woman of great faith and her love for God spilled over into how she related to others.  Although our local newspaper (sadly) didn't focus too much on this aspect of the hearing....many of her loved ones, when given the chance to speak directly to her killer, offered forgiveness, and spoke of God's love for him.

What a contrast that was to the comments left in reaction to the online article reporting his sentencing...

-"Why on earth does this country allow people to live if they plea guilty, so taxpayers have to pay for this scumbags crime by keeping him for life. I think with DNA evidence murderers should be killed within 48 hrs."
-"Killing him would have been letting him off easy, now he will sit in jail for the rest of his life wishing that he was dead."
-"I hope he gets a shiv in the back while in prison."
-"Why is his life being spared and the tax payers will pay for him for the rest of his pathetic life???? Thats why these scum bags do as they please to who ever they please, the justice system isnt fair and prisons are over crowded"
-"Death would have been too easy. Where he is going for the rest of his worthless life will be like hell on earth ."

These are the mild reactions.  There were comments made that I cannot repeat here.  People were angry.  I get that.  I'm angry too that they took the life of this precious woman who was so full of love and enthusiasm.  And, yet reading the hate filled comments didn't make me feel any better, it just made me feel sick.

There were a couple of her loved ones...those who had the most right to be angry...who tried to re-focus the discussion

* "I was proud to be a friend of Nicole today. Her life was honored by the testimony of her friends in the courtroom, offering forgiveness in place of justice. Grace in place of anger. Love in place of hate.
Everybody needs compassion

A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everybody needs forgiveness
A kindness of a Savior
The Hope of nations"

* " I completely understand the response of the public, and as a close friend of Nicole's I feel similar emotions. But she would not approve of this hatred. It was against the very core of who she was: overcome evil with good. Read the transcript of this hearing - and you'll see what an amazing person nicole was by hearing from her family and close friends. This is where the rubber meets the road for Christians - to show God's grace in the face of extreme evil.

Today I was more proud than I've ever been to be a Christian and see the love of Christ triumph over absolute evil."

But their voices were barely heard through the continued noise of voices hungry for retribution and blood.

I've noticed a trend on social media.  It's a trend of judgement.  There is no mercy.  People should get what they deserve and then some.

I think it's in our nature to react this way.  A sense of justice is good...of wanting wrongs to be righted and situations to be redeemed.  Yes, God is a God of justice.  But our sinful nature causes this desire for justice to cross over into hatred, anger, bitterness, and a thirst for revenge.

God is also a God of mercy and compassion.  Not just for those who are 'good'.  But, for the worst of the worst among us.  He does not desire that ANY should perish.  Yes, even for the men who killed an innocent woman in her own home...who tortured her & did unspeakable things to her.  He longs for them to turn away from the wickedness that has entered their souls and to seek Him.  He longs for them to come to Him in repentance.  He longs to bring even them into his arms as cherished sons.

If God's love and mercy was only big enough to cover what we consider minor infractions....if his forgiveness was big enough only to cover those things...what power were there be in that??  It would be feeble & frail.  It would be unworthy of any notice.

The fact that God's love and mercy is big enough to cover IT ALL is a reflection of the vastness of His capacity to forgive and compassion.  It is deep and wide.  It is unending.  THAT is a God worthy of our worship.

We took communion this Sunday at church...a time of remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made willingly for US.  He stood innocent before judgement and accepted our guilt, our sin, our filth.  It was UNFAIR.  It was UNJUST.  And as a result WE were the recipients of mercy and grace.

I thought to myself, "Thank God I didn't get what I deserved.  God knows I deserved punishment and shame."  And, as I looked at my family I felt so humbled.  I did NOTHING to deserve the good things that I have in my life.

I am not saying that it is easy to forgive.  In fact, on our own it is impossible. And,  I'm not saying that we don't have to face the earthly consequences of our actions.

But, what I am saying is that we serve a God who is so mighty, so good, so perfect that it is beyond our comprehension.  And, if we seek to honor him here on earth, if we believe that he took our sins to the cross, then that should change forever how we look at other human beings....even those who 'deserve' our disgust.

We should remember..always remember...that thanks to the Grace of God we ourselves did not get what we deserve.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Downton Abbey Episode 4 - Now We're Moving

So last week I commented that I felt this final season of Downton Abbey was really in slow gear and rather bland.  Well, last night Episode 4 aired & I feel like the story lines have amped up and now we're moving along.  Thank goodness!   My biggest fear as we finish out my favorite television series has been that it's just going to kind of stop with no real resolution or sense of closure.  It looks like there are 8 total episodes for this season.  We're at the halfway point and now I'm finally fully engaged.

Last night was one of those nights where I didn't want to miss anything.  There were so many lines spoken throughout the evening that carried weight, so many stories that took off running.  The sudden advancement in last night's episode seemed a lot like Daisy's near confrontation of Lady Cora.  It came storming out of the kitchen, tired of holding it's tongue, & ready to go to war......or so to speak.  Last night the writers had thrown off whatever sleepy fog they were in for the first three episodes and made stuff happen

In Daisy's case, she didn't actually have that confrontation.  Thank goodness Lord Grantham showed up just in the nick of time.  He naturally assumed Daisy was there because she'd already heard the good news that they were going to rent the farm to Mr. Mason.  It stopped Daisy in her tracks.  And she quickly scurried back down to the kitchen not sure to do with the misplaced righteous anger she'd had coursing through her veins.  Lady Cora said she felt as though she'd dodged something.  Oh, you did Cora.  You did.  And, so did Daisy!

But what really stood out to me last night was Thomas Barrow.  I know we are just talking about characters.  But, sometimes a character really touches us deeply nonetheless.  I think we all know a Thomas Barrow - someone who is so damaged by life that they lash out.  They've been wounded & they don't trust anyone and even when they feel a certain level of trust, they don't know how to reach out.  They don't know how to react to kindness.  And, they retreat into their bitterness and cynicism because it's safer there.

So my heart goes out to Thomas....not out of pity - because he can't stand pity....but out of compassion.  Last night was painful to watch for poor Thomas.  He got to briefly step into the role of butler during Carson & Mrs. Hughes' honeymoon.   This is the position he has longed for.  With it he had also expected to receive respect....because in truth he longs for that as well.  Rather, the staff just seemed to barely bear with him & bided their time until Carson returned.  If anything they seemed to take every opportunity to remind Thomas that this position was temporary & he was certainly not there because of any merit of his own.

There were so many heartbreaking moments with Thomas last night.  There was a brief conversation with Lord Grantham where Thomas indicated how much he had enjoyed his week in the role of the butler.  It would have been nice if Lord Grantham could have just been gracious and thanked Thomas for his hard work that week & stepping up to the plate.  Instead he basically told him he could never expect to reach the heights of Mr. Carson because Carson is a kind man & Thomas could learn a few things about kindness from him.  Except, while Carson is certainly a principled man and is a defender of propriety, I don't know that 'kindness' is always an accurate descriptor.  In fact, he's often quite unkind to Thomas. And then Lord Grantham basically confirmed Thomas's worse fear that his time at Downton Abbey is short and that it's best to continue searching for other employment.

There was also the scene with Thomas & Baxter talking outside.  I have a terrible memory & I should really write things down.  I don't recall the specifics of the conversation.  But, I remember Thomas telling Baxter that she's lucky because people actually like her.  She made some comment.  I forget the specifics.  But, she was downplaying herself.  Thomas told her she doesn't give herself enough credit.  This was the first part of this scene that touched me.  Thomas said something nice to someone else.  There was that period of time where Thomas was basically blackmailing Baxter & torturing her mentally.  Rather than allow this to make her bitter toward him, she has taken it upon herself to show Thomas kindness even when he rejects it outright.  She has slowly built up a trust with him.  And, he's still afraid to admit how much he appreciates the fact that she's the closest thing to a friend that he has.  So, the fact that he stepped out & said something to build her up was huge for Thomas.  She later said that she admired Thomas for not caring what people think of him. And this was the second part of the scene that just ripped my heart out as he turned away and said something to the effect of "You're wrong about that.  I do mind."  There Thomas goes opening his heart just a teensy tiny crack.

And, of course, at the end of the evening's episode Carson & Mrs. Hughes (as she will continue to be known because it was just too hard for everyone to remember to say Mrs. Carson now) return.  A welcome back party has been planned downstairs, and all the upstairs folks venture down to welcome them back...even the Dowager Countess who mentioned she hasn't been downstairs in at least 20 years.  Isobel quipped, "Do you have your passport?".  Oh, those two!  Anyway, all is back to the way it was.  And, Thomas recedes once again into the shadows.  In fact we see him standing back in the hallway observing the others...once again forgotten.

My other takeaway from this week's episode was that this seemed to be the week of "WWSD - What Would Sybil Do?"   We were reminded several times throughout the evening of Sybil's good nature & giving heart.  The biggest reminder was the return of Gwen, the former housemaid.  As a little aside - I have to say that there have been so many characters that have come & gone over the course of these past 6 years...often just appearing as a minor blip in the storyline....that when they return again I really don't remember who they are.  Apparently we were supposed to remember the man Edith ran into on the street as someone she had met before.  Although, I am like Edith.  I would have walked right past him never realizing our paths had crossed before.  And, the new race car driver/ possible new love interest for Mary has been seen before?  Apparently.  But, I couldn't begin to tell you in what context he first appeared.

Anyway, Gwen is now Mrs. Harding.  She and her husband work to raise funds for young women to achieve higher education who otherwise lack the  opportunity.  Gwen herself has done well.  She was a housemaid with higher aspirations.  With Miss Sybil's encouragement she took classes to become a secretary.  She went on to work in the secretarial field before marrying Mr. Harding, who to the best I can figure is high enough in the social structure to have the respect of the Granthams, but isn't quite as high bred as they are.

Gwen didn't realize that one of the stops she and her husband were making to try to rally support for their cause would be Downton.  She feels understandably awkward and doesn't immediately 'fess up to why Lady Mary would think she looks familiar.  "Have we met before?"  Lady Mary asks.  "No, we haven't officially met."  Gwen replies...which while it's technically true, it's stretching it a bit.

Thomas' cranky nature gets the best of him & he can't help buy 'out' her at their lunch.  It doesn't go as he imagined though.  And, instead everyone seems annoyed at him for trying to put her in an uncomfortable position and instead they ooh & ahh over her and seem genuinely glad to see her.  This is where we are reminded again that Miss Sybil did a great deal to mentor and encourage Gwen.

So is it any wonder that later that evening as everyone is gathered & the discussion of the farm & Mr. Mason comes up, the question "What would Sybil do?" helps them all find their moral compass.   Even Mary later notes her own moral failings in comparison to her dead sister.  Perhaps there is hope for cold hearted Mary yet if she's able to acknowledge that she is indeed cold.

Other notes from the evening:

 - The Dowager Countess seems to be fighting a losing battle.  Even when she brought in reinforcements to support her side of the hospital merger debate, it backfired.  She knows she's outnumbered.  And, at dinner it appeared that she could spit or cry....neither of which is appropriate.  So, she had a bit of a contained hissy fit.

 - Foreshadowing?  Lord Grantham continues to have shooting stomach pains.  Something is most definitely not right.  At one point Lord Grantham & Lady Cora are talking about his mother & how upset she is over the whole hospital issue.  And Lord Grantham worries it will be too much for her insinuating it could kill her.  Cora alludes to the seeming immortality of the stubborn Dowager and says something along the lines of "You never know.  She will probably bury you."  Ugh.  Is the series going to end with just that happening?  Will Lord Grantham die and be the final death stroke for the floundering estate?

 - Ok.  So Lady Mary referred to Tom Branson as her brother.  I guess she doesn't see him as a romantic interest.  But, she does seem intrigued by this car racing fellow.  And, he doesn't seem the least bit intimidated by Lady Mary....which of course appeals immensely to her.

 - Oh, & thankfully Anna told Bates the reason for her & Mary's midnight excursion.  Let's hope they have a bit of good luck now & that Anna's pregnancy is uneventful from this point on.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Recommendation - The Advocate

I am really drawn to biblical historical fiction. I have found a few authors who are quite talented at staying true to the biblical text while pulling in historical aspects and a compelling storyline.
Francine Rivers is one of those authors. Also, Bodie & Brock Thoene accomplished the same in their A.D. Chronicles.
I have another author to add to this list. His writing talent blew me away. Today I finished reading The Advocate by Randy Singer. This book takes place in ancient Rome. It begins right around the time of Jesus' execution. It is written mainly from the perspective of Theophilus. While we don't actually know who Thephilus was in real life (the addressee of the letters known as the books of Luke & Acts), Singer creates a believable and thoroughly engaging character.

In the book Theophilus is a young Roman nobleman of the equestrian class. He has trained extensively in both Roman and Greek philosophy. He is an intelligent man who is concerned with justice and he becomes an assesore (much like an advisor) to Pontius Pilate. He later becomes an advocate (lawyer) who is drawn to defending cases of those who have been wrongly accused.
The first 2/3 of the book is written before Theophilus has any encounter with followers of The Way. He had a brief encounter with Jesus during his trial before Pilate and while it effects him profoundly he does not become a follower himself. This section of the book is filled with Roman political intrigue and vivid descriptions of Roman life. Trips to the Colosseum, and glimpses inside the lives of gladiators, along with descriptions of the Roman perception of the gods, their style of worship, and the role of vestal virgins help to establish who the Roman people were and how a Roman would think and behave.
The last third of the book picks up where Theophilus meets Paul while he is Caeser's prisoner. From there we witness his eventual conversion, and the bravery of the saints.
The end of this book literally moved me to tears. It was intense and deep. And, I definitely believe God's hand was on the writing. This book brought to life a period in time that is hard to imagine. You should absolutely read this book!
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