Showing posts from 2013

Finding Hope in a Blue Christmas

Welcome to Real Life. Not every Christmas is a merry one.
“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” –Charlie Brown from A Charlie Brown Christmas It’s the Sunday before Christmas and I’m feeling blue.[1] I’m sick, again, and on my second round of antibiotics. I can’t seem to shake this virus.

Since I haven’t felt well, I put off Christmas preparations. Now, the holiday is upon me and I’m overwhelmed. Yesterday, I pushed through a day of baking Christmas cookies with my elderly parents who are staying with me. Even feeling lousy, I thought that with enough caffeine, baking together would make a precious memory. I was wrong. I ended up working to get it done, with few words and little joy. The day will be a memory alright, just not a fond one.

Still feeling poorly this morning, I debated whether or not to attend church. I decided the sermon might lift my spirits. So, I went.

Instead of his n…

I Am the Lord's Servant | Luke 1

Welcome to Real Life. The nativity story—angels, shepherds, manger, young couple, and newborn baby Jesus—is as warm and tender as a Hallmark moment. But, did it feel warm and tender to Mary?

“Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son,  and you are to give him the name Jesus.”

Gabriel’s message radically altered Mary’s destiny. She, a virgin, engaged to Joseph, would soon be with child. It was a miracle—never before, never again repeated.

The angel’s words troubled the young woman. She didn't understand. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Still, Mary welcomed God’s invasion into her small world,

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
I wonder at what point Mary considered how others would respond to her unplanned, unwed pregnancy. Did her mother cry at the news? Joseph, heartsick at her assumed betrayal, almost broke off their engagement. Did neighbors and friends gossip? No angel had appeared to t…

Face to Face with God | Deuteronomy 34:10

Welcome to Real Life. A phrase from Moses' eulogy keeps running through my mind.

There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. Deuteronomy 34:10 NLT
What did this face-to-face look like? We know that no one, not even Moses, saw God’s actual face.[1] So, how did God appear? In their first encounter, He spoke from a burning bush.[2] What form did He take on Mount Sinai?

Aside from questions, the verse stirs a deep longing, almost an ache in my soul. Lord, I want to know you like that—face to face.

This much is clear: God values relationship. He desired face time with Moses. He desires face time with me, also.

In the old covenant of Moses’ day, few conversed directly with God. He is holy. Though there were hundreds of thousands of Israelites, only Moses (with his assistant Joshua) regularly climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God. The mountain rumbled with trumpet blasts, thunder, smoke, and fire like a volcano ready to blow. The people …

The Consequences of Sin | Deuteronomy 3:25-27

Welcome to Real Life. I don’t like to recognize it. I prefer to ignore the truth: sin damages whatever it touches.

Moses spoke with God face to face. He stood up to Pharaoh, called plagues down on Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and led Israel 40 years through a desert wilderness. He penned the first four books of the Bible.

Now, Moses stands at the border of the Promised Land, longing to go in. He pleads with God, Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon. But, it aint gonna happen.  "That is enough," the Lord said. "Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan."
Deuteronomy 3:25-27 Why is Moses forbidden from entering the Promised Land? It is the consequence of his sin. At Meribah, he dishonored God in word and deed.[1] This is serious stuff when you represent the Almight…

Jealous God | Deuteronomy 4:24

Welcome to Real Life. Is jealousy ever a good thing?

Only a year after we vowed lifelong love, something was terribly wrong in our marriage. My husband was spending more and more time away from home. At first, he made lame excuses. Later, he didn't even bother with that. Finally, he left. He moved in with another woman. The pain of his betrayal plunged like a knife, deep into my heart.

I was jealous, of course. My husband was bedding another woman. 
We divorced. Eventually, my heart healed. God has since blessed me with a faithful, loving husband of 30 years, Terry. However, the memory of my first husband's betrayal helps me understand this aspect of God:

"For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."Deut. 4:24 NIV
Jealousy. It’s usually considered a negative trait. We assign it to unhealthy relationships. One partner is insecure and, therefore, jealous of any other relationships in his lover’s life. From this perspective, attributing jealousy to God almost …

Time to Break Camp | Deuteronomy 1

Welcome to Real Life. It’s autumn—footfall season in the Cleveland. Though I don’t know much about the game, I know this: as critical as defense is, it takes offense to win. You gotta score. To do that, you must move the football down the field, past your enemies, and into the end zone.

Moses and the Children of Israel understood defense. For forty years, they focused on staying safe and alive while traversing the desert wilderness. Now, camped at Horeb on the border of the Promised Land, God calls them to shift focus. 
“You've stayed long enough on this mountain.
Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites.”
It’s time for some offense.
“Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”God wants them to move out, engage the enemy, and conquer the Promised Land. It’s time for Israel to score some points and win the game. 

Like Israel, I understand defense. Life can …

Does God Laugh?

Welcome to Real Life. Does God laugh out loud? I never pictured him so. I imagined him stern and sober. 

Yet, he created us with a sense of humor. God endowed us with the capacity for over-the-top, jumping up and down joy. We bear his image. I dearly love to laugh. Why, then, should I consider it strange to imagine God enjoying a full belly laugh?

Part of the barrier that blocked me from experiencing God’s love was the way I imaged him. He is holy. And holiness has a reputation for quietness, solemnity, and seriousness—no goofing around.

When I was still a young believer in Christ, my sister Terre and I visited a friend’s church to hear a guest evangelist. Somehow, we got the service time wrong. We arrived late. As we entered the sanctuary, it was jam-packed for the special speaker. The preacher was already rising to speak. Our friend was impossible to locate in the crowd. Since all the rear pews were full, the only open seats lay conspicuously in the center of the church, mid-pew. We e…

The Most Important Commandment | Mark 12

Welcome to Real Life. What does God want from me? Does he want me to clean up my act, get to church, and serve my fellow man? What’s most important?

Like a modern political debate, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were posing questions to Jesus in order to trap him into saying something blasphemous, worthy of arrest, or even death. However, one of these teachers recognized the wisdom in Jesus’ answers. He posed a sincere question, 

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with a…

Let the Children Come | Mark 10:14-15

Welcome to Real Life. How do I feel about children? Are they important to me? Optional? A waste of my precious time? How does God feel about children?

Let's look at Jesus’ blessing of the children from another perspective.

Lately, it seems like my primary responsibility is crowd control. This is not what I signed up for when I decided to follow Jesus. But, I don’t mind. I don’t blame the crowds for coming to catch a glimpse of Jesus. I never know what remarkable thing he’ll do next. Give sight to the blind? Make paralyzed limbs move again? Restore the putrid skin of a leper? I even saw Jesus raise a dead man. For three days, his friend Lazarus lay decomposing in a tomb until the Lord called his name. Then Lazarus came wobbling out, still bound up in burial clothes. I almost fainted! Who, but God, can do that? No, I don’t blame people for coming.

However, a few days ago, parents started bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed. With everything the rabbi has to do and teach and s…

Childlike Faith | Mark 10

Welcome to Real Life. How does age affect our image of God? Are you ever too young to believe? Or, too old?

“I want to go to heaven.” My three-year-old son Calvin told me one Sunday morning after church.

"Why?" I asked.

"I want to go to heaven to be with Jesus," he answered.

Parents brought their children to Jesus so that he could lay his hands on them and bless them. The disciples were annoyed. They thought the parents were wasting Jesus’ time and told them to leave. When Jesus saw what was happening, he said to the disciples,
"Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it."Then, Jesus took the children into his arms and blessed them.

Sometimes, when people hear that my son prayed and invited Jesus into his heart at age three, they are incredulous, “Can a child that young understand …

Don't Be Afraid, Just Believe | Mark 5

Welcome to Real Life. Hope. It’s priceless. Without it, I feel lost, helpless, and defeated. I've been there—hopeless. Where do I find the strength to go on when hope is gone? 
The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' or 'Help me.'
–Billy Graham
Jairus, a synagogue ruler, falls at Jesus’ feet and pleads, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

Jesus agrees to accompany Jairus to his house. A throng follows, pressing in and jostling them as they go. Hidden within the crowd is a woman. She’s suffered twelve years from a bleeding disorder. She’s exhausted her savings on physicians. Nothing has helped. Hope is gone … until she hears of Jesus’ miracles. “If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed.” She pushes through the crowd and touches him.

Immediately, she feels it. The bleeding has st…

Sabbath is for Man | Mark 2-3

Welcome to Real Life. I am quick to pick up the gavel and play judge. That person is so wrong! But, whose rules am I using? 
How do we get it so wrong? The Pharisees were the theologians of Jesus’ day. They studied God’s Word. They knew the law. They kept the law. The problem: they added to the law.

God set aside the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a day of rest. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were so bent on policing and adding stipulations to the “no work” rule that they forgot the reason behind the rule. It’s for our benefit. These bodies of flesh grow tired. If we keep working without taking a break, our bodies and minds break. Rest is critical for good health.

Twice, the Pharisees condemn Jesus for breaking the Sabbath. First, he and his disciples are crossing a grain field. The disciples pick and eat some grain. The Pharisees notice. They accuse Jesus of letting his disciples break the Sabbath law. Jesus replies,

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son o…

Your Sins are Forgiven | Mark 2

Welcome to Real Life. What do I really need? I want God to bless me with strength, health, and enough money to make me happy today. While, he is focused on my long-term needs.

After people heard of Jesus’ miraculous healings, crowds hounded him everywhere. In Capernaum, he was teaching in a home. So many gathered; the crowd overflowed outside of the door. Four men arrived carrying their paralyzed friend. Seeing the wall of people and determined to reach Jesus, they dug through the flat, clay roof. Then, they lowered their friend into the room where Jesus stood.

Seeing this, Jesus was amazed by their faith. “Son, your sins are forgiven,” he told the paralyzed man.

A few teachers of the law were present. “This man is blaspheming. Who can forgive sin but God?” they thought to themselves. These experts in the law clearly recognized Jesus’ claim to divinity. Only God can forgive sin.

And only God can hear unspoken thoughts. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said,
“Which is easier: to say to this…

Faith to Enter the Promised Land | Numbers 13-14

Welcome to Real Life. Have you ever felt stuck? You don’t like where you are. But, you’re too afraid to move forward. 
Israel is stuck. They had made incredible progress. With God’s strength, they escaped slavery in Egypt and crossed the desert. But, then, on the cusp of entering the Promised Land, they hesitate, fearful of what lies ahead. So, they decide to send in twelve men to spy out the land.

Their report: The land is lush, flowing with milk and honey. BUT … the people are giants! They’ll squash us like grasshoppers.”

Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, exude confidence, “Let’s go in. With God on our side, we can take ‘em.”

But, the people can’t shake the negative report. Fear has taken hold. They hate the desert, yet lack the faith to enter the land. They grumble, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken plunder.” 

They have forgotten. This is the land God promised t…

Death to Complainers | Numbers 11

Welcome to Real Life. Life is far from perfect. There’s always much to complain about. But, who wants to hang around a complainer?
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain–and most fools do.” Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)God’s nation of Israel is trapped in slavery to Egypt. His people cry out to him for deliverance. He answers. He sends Moses to Pharaoh with a directive, “Let my people go!” But, Pharaoh refuses. Why give up his free labor? God gives him ten reasons. After the plagues devastate Egypt, Pharaoh lets God’s people go free.

Though free, Israel must cross a desert wilderness to reach their homeland—the land God promised to Abraham’s descendants. The journey is long and hard. Food is scarce. God supernaturally provides manna (a type of grain to make bread). Before long, the people tire of manna. They crave the flavors of Egypt. “Oh, for a nice fish filet. We’re sick to death of manna. Remember the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic we enjoyed in Egypt? We were bette…

Jesus' Second Coming | Matthew 24

Welcome to Real Life. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”[1] These words were proclaimed every Sunday in the church I attended while growing up. I understood that Jesus died and rose again. But, I never thought about the “Christ will come again” part. 
In the days before Jesus is crucified, he warns the disciples that he will soon die. But, the cross will not be the end. He will rise from the dead. Afterwards, he will go to heaven to prepare a place for them. Then, he promises to return for them at a later date. The disciples ask, “Tell us what will be the sign of your coming?” 

“No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen,” Jesus says. He gives four word pictures to emphasize one point: his return will be unexpected. 

First Picture. It will be like Noah’s day. People were throwing parties, getting married, and living their everyday lives right up until the moment the flood swept them away. I've seen footage of the angry wall of water that wiped…

What Good Thing Must I Do? | Matthew 19:16-26

Welcome to Real Life. How often I have wished, “if only I had more money.” Money provides the freedom to do many things. It’s tempting to believe that if I were rich, my problems would disappear. But, what if my riches were my greatest problem?

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”–song lyrics by Janis Joplin 
A chauffeur-driven Mercedes rolls up to the temple gate. The car door swings open and a young man gets out. He flashes a blindingly white smile at the crowd that is gathering to admire his ride. He straightens his custom-tailored Armani suit, glances at his Rolex, and then strides through the temple gate. (Okay, Mercedes weren't around in Jesus’ day, but this is how the scene might translate today.) Approaching Jesus, the young man asks, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 

Jesus’ response is interesting, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good …”

He answered the man's question with a question. He did so to draw atte…