Live, Uncategorized

Peace.

Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you: not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

The word “Peace” spoken by Jesus to His Disciples was a common form of greeting one another, often a way of saying hello as well as goodbye to someone. Such a common everyday word of Jesus’ time, and yet when He said it, it seemed to mean something much more significant. It was in an attitude of love and encouragement, with a sense of hope that Christ gifted this precious promise to His followers. Jesus knew there were tough times ahead not only for Himself but also his Disciples, the road to the cross was getting shorter.

As parents we want so much for our children. What I want most for my boys as they navigate life is that they know true contentment and peace as they grow and become the men God intended for them to become. Unfortunately I can’t swing by Target and pick up a box of “contentment” or a bag of “peace” and gift it to them. That’s what makes this verse so mesmerizing and beautiful. Jesus is freely leaving us a beautifully packaged gift box with His perfect peace inside. All we have to do is unwrap it and accept it.  Peace is simply knowing Jesus.  It doesn’t mean that life will be easy and there will be no set backs or suffering to endure.  It means that during the tumultuous storms of life and crushing waves of pain, Jesus is in the boat with us.  He is peace.

Jesus must have sensed that His beloved Disciples were having a hard time understanding His mission and work on earth. They were afraid of what was to come. The words our Heavenly Father spoke to those so dear to Him must have been like a soothing salve to their troubled and fearful hearts. Much like the men that followed Christ during such troublesome times, many of us are facing circumstances beyond our control or understanding. We too need to cling to those precious words so lovingly gifted to us in this verse. Dive into God’s life giving Word everyday, read it, meditate on it and pray it. When we open ourselves up to the presence of God, we open ourselves up to His perfect peace.

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Grief, Uncategorized

Birthdays in Heaven

img_5265Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. It’s a little different for our family now that he is celebrating birthdays in heaven. We celebrate his birthday by knowing that he is finally able to eat all the ice cream he desires and maybe even partaking in one of his favorite past times: playing a little baseball with some of the greats that have gone before him. If there are rocks to skip in heaven, that may be where you will find my dad. I would like to think that skipping rocks in heaven would be somewhere on a beautiful shoreline filled with he most perfectly shiny smooth pebbles. Just one easy flick of the wrist and that pebble would glide across the top of that majestic water finding it’s resting place at the bottom of the crystal blue shallows. Or perhaps he is blissfully waiting along the waters edge of some sort of heavenly tropical beach, with the bottoms of his jeans cuffed just perfectly so not to get them wet. “Meet me at the beach” is what he would tell my mom before he passed away. I guess he wanted my mom to know where to find him when she entered through the pearly gates, I can’t think of a better meeting place. If he were here, he would start the day by making a larger than life batch of pancakes for the grandkids… pancakes were about the only culinary delights he would attempt in the kitchen. Cooking was not his thing, but his “flapjacks” would make the grandkids come running and demanding more. The last several years, we ended his birthday by taking in a Tide’s game, it was his favorite past time. He was a darn good ball player in his younger days, but his last few birthdays spent at the ball field were a terrible struggle for him because of the ALS. I remember as a very young girl watching him play slow pitch with the ball the size of a grapefruit. I could never figure out how in the world you could ever catch that thing, it was ginormous! The last year that he was able to make it to Harbor Park Stadium proved to be an enormously challenging outing for his tired and withering body.
As we have just recently passed the 1 year mark of his passing and celebrate his birthday today, I have been reflecting so heavily on precious memories that are more valuable than any rare jewel. I’ve been reflecting on grief, trying to process his last seven years on this earth. And I’ve been reflecting on what it means to move on, to continue this life without someone you love so dearly.
Grief is a funny thing. I thought when my dad passed on that we would have a sense of relief, that we would start the process of living our lives again. Picking up where were left off so to speak. But it hasn’t been like that. I guess I thought we had grieved so much over the years and had faced so much loss that possibly those days of sadness were coming to an end. I was wrong. There is so much to process these days that my head spins much of the time. Now that my dad’s suffering has stopped, we are relieved…but now what? The sadness that blanketed our family during the first several months after his passing was brutal. There were glimpses of hope and happiness that surprised me and caught me off guard at times. I remember being so thankful for those moments that reminded me of that strange thing called “happiness”. On the other hand, some days brought much heaviness and sorrow; trying to wade through and process the many questions felt overwhelming. Why did we feel so isolated and alone for so much of those seven years? How long will we carry this heavy baggage of this terrible loss? There were many wrestling matches with God during the last couple years of my dad’s life. Trying to come to terms with the “whys” but realizing it’s really about the “why nots?” Now I wrestle to overcome bitterness and overwhelming sadness that come in terrible surges like the powerful but frightening waves of an angry ocean.
Oftentimes, while in the midst of our trial, I was embarrassed of my sadness and felt apologetic for my feelings. I don’t anymore. I would find myself in places where I should have felt loved, accepted and safe with my emotions. Instead, I would feel judged, misunderstood or even disregarded. People would look at me funny, or not look at me at all which was even more painful. I still feel that way much of the time, I really wish is didn’t. I tried to bury my grief after my dad passed away, wanting to magically move on and live a normal life again. I didn’t understand that although we’ve been through a never-ending tsunami of suffering, now there’s a different kind of grief period.
But today is my dad’s first birthday in heaven…. so what do I do now? I know that my dad would not want me to stay this way, so I won’t. I know that my dad would want me to love people, so I will. My relationship with God is much more vibrant and pure than it was just a few months/years ago. Somehow when God seemed silent and absent in our situation, He was somehow the most present. He was working His greatest, most refining work I could have ever imagined. I don’t fully understand the theology behind it, but I just know, “His ways are higher”. To go through something like this and not be changed for the better would be calamitous. Thankfully I feel that my senses are much more attuned to those struggling, when I look into someone’s eyes I want to know their story. I want to know their struggle, their pain, or how they overcame or how I can come alongside them in their journey to provide support. Although I have many setbacks as I try to traverse grief, bitterness and loss… I also know that a new day is coming when things will get easier, life will get sweeter and the world’s colors will come back in all their fullness. I also know that one day I will be sitting on the beach with my dad, or maybe watching him play slow pitch again… I will search for the perfect pebble on the heavenly shores of majestic rivers and partake of the calorie free / fat free deliciously fluffy pancakes. Until then, I will keep living, I will stay on my journey that Christ has set before me and I will go to Cracker Barrel on my dad’s birthday and order the highest stack of “flapjacks” they have on the menu.

Live, Uncategorized

What is a Successful church?

successful
[suh k-ses-fuh l]
Spell adjective
1. achieving or having achieved success.

2. having attained wealth, position, honors, or the like.

3. resulting in or attended with success.

I’m not exactly sure how to measure a successful church based on Webster’s Dictionary’s definition.  It just doesn’t seem to accurately articulate what the body of Christ is capable of through the power of the Holy Spirit and our obedience to His Word.  Webster’s definition captures what success looks like here on earth, but falls short of capturing an eternal perspective of what success should look like as we follow Christ and His commands as the church.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently as I’ve studied Paul and his missionary journeys and the development of the New Testament Church. The older I get the more I’m convinced it’s not about numbers or the latest and greatest in ideas or technology. I have a sense of the church being a back to the basics, grass roots ideology that we are here to point the lost in the right direction. It’s a simple concept, but it’s our mission. We, as believers. are the church.  There are many styles and formats to get people on our campus and in the building, but once they’ve entered the doors of our sanctuary, it is really time for the Holy Spirit to do the work.
I’ve been convicted and challenged as Ive been studying Acts and the purity of Paul’s heart as he bravely entered each town along his journey with a heavenly message. His fearless proclamation of Jesus’ love for all people, even as they hurled jagged stones at his body time and time again, is mind blowing. I’m so comfortable in my nice home and familiar surroundings, my life is scheduled and I rarely deviate from my daily routines. My fear is that I’m not being an effective Christian and using my time wisely on this earth. Paul never found comfort in his quest, but he always had joy. His joy was pointing the lost in the right direction…the direction of Jesus.
Paul’s success of spreading the gospel came with a lot of hardship and ultimately his death. Are we there as a church? Am I willing to be uncomfortable for Christ? Am I willing to put others needs before my own? What does it mean to be a true servant? Will I love someone enough to speak the truth into their life, even if they don’t want to hear it?
Do I have a faith as strong as my dad who once said he wouldn’t change anything about his life, not even his disease that slowly and tragically robbed him of just about every bodily function and ultimately took his life. He couldn’t sit around a table to enjoy a good steak and conversation with friends, he couldn’t speak to his grandchildren or tell his wife that he loved her. He couldn’t run and play ball with his grandsons anymore. On a bad day, he couldn’t even breath without assistance. He had an obnoxious hole in is throat and in the middle of his stomach that hurt and regularly became infected, causing him to have daily struggles. But he wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing?
He also wouldn’t have changed the over thirty years of ministry where he pointed people in the right direction, scrubbed toilets, comforted those who were grieving, opened his home to strangers, provided for those who couldn’t provide for themselves, visited those in jail and the list goes on. So many of the back to basics human needs we find Jesus and the disciples doing as they went from city to city, household to household and pointed people in the right direction. My dad’s life was not perfect but I think he found success because he had joy in the journey as he pointed people to Christ. He wouldn’t change a thing, good or bad.
What does this mean for the church? I think we have to have joy in the journey, even when faced with our own personal struggles, and still be able to put others’ needs first. I remind myself often that it’s “not about me” when I’m down and want to give up. I’m here to point that wayward teen or single mom that is at her wits end, the wiggly three year old that can’t sit still during a Sunday School lesson in the right direction. What do people do once pointed in the right direction? I don’t know…That’s personal, it is really up to them. What is our responsibility as the church? I think it’s simply to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can do the work and people will leave feeling something they’ve never felt before. We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus daily to a hurting and lost world.  We need to point people in the right direction then we have a responsibility to help keep them on track through discipleship and study of God’s amazing Word.
Something beautiful…
something life changing…
something real…
Maybe that’s success, maybe that’s just “back to the basics” Christianity. But whatever it is, it is essential and life giving and our responsibility as the church and as individuals to fulfill.

Live, Uncategorized

Jesus is Enough

Jesus is Enough

Today is the anniversary of my dad meeting Jesus face to face. What an impossibly glorious thought of what this past year must have been like for my dad as he worshipped his creator in his new and perfectly whole body, now living in paradise. My heart is overjoyed at the thought of my amazing earthly father residing with my all powerful and perfectly holy Heavenly Father. I find myself longing to be in such company, along with the angels and all those that have gone on before us to their eternal glory worshipping the one true Creator.

Life if full of ups and downs, highs and lows. It just is. Everyone will face moments of absolute joy, finding delight in beautiful moments gifted to us by God, but there will also be devastating set backs and heartache to endure.

I have experienced both. Joy and heartache, delight and devastation. Jesus is in them both. His presence should not be taken for granted, lost or forgotten in either circumstance, good or bad.

As I’ve wrestled with my faith the past couple of years I am profoundly strengthened and encouraged because of the wrestle. I’ve been embarrassed and felt ashamed when my reality was one of incredible doubt and endless questions. When I’ve wavered and asked God the tough questions, God was not mad at me. He did not get offended or flee from me. He showed me absolute mercy and grace when my foundation seemed to be crumbling.

In a purely miraculous way, my faith was being restored and strengthened, the struggle and wrestling forced me to deconstruct my faith and start the construction process back to my first love. Jesus has not changed, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He’s not afraid of my struggle and insecurities, He’s right there…in life and in death.

I’ll never forget the moment I got the phone call about my dad’s passing. His death was expected and we had gathered with him for months just about everyday thinking it was the end. We actually joked about the fact that we had said our “good byes” numerous times, my poor dad was probably tired of hearing our “It’s ok to let go” speech. He had a fabulous sense of humor and I think that’s what I miss the most.

Those days we watched my dad slowly and painfully lose his battle with ALS were long and terrible, they were gut wrenching. But I have learned many lessons, I have grown in my relationship with my God and my family and the brave friends that stood beside our family when we could barely function. Most of all I learned that Jesus is enough.

My dad knew that Jesus was enough. He served him faithfully even to the end. I know it wasn’t easy for him, I know that he wanted to be strong for us. I also know that he chose God even when he may not have felt like it – the end of his life was heartbreaking. It just was. You can’t sugar coat the ugliness of disease and isolation of death. He wasn’t able to speak, but I know he would have proclaimed that Jesus is enough. I know this was not what he wanted the end of his life to look like, I’m sure he had disappointments. There were tears and there were times of uncertainty but… Jesus is enough.

If you are struggling with grief, if you are experiencing a terrible life altering circumstance please know that it’s ok. The struggle is ok. You will grow in the struggle. You will grow in the devastation. You will have questions and will struggle with your faith. Your faith will be strengthened. Please don’t feel guilty but know that God loves you and most importantly that Jesus is enough.

Live, Uncategorized

ELOHIM

Elohim is a hebrew word for God, it means mighty one, creator of the universe.  As we have started a new year, I’ve been so focused on the holiness and power of God.  I love that just as we are starting a new year on our calendar, the Bible starts with Genesis and the story of the creation of the world.  Genesis 1 is a powerful account of God making our universe, our planet, our entire world.  That’s pretty amazing, I often take for granted the absolute power of Elohim, our Creator, the maker of the earth.  Elohim stands above all others, He’s the picture of perfect love, wrath, justice and complete sovereignty.  He has no equal.

Do we adequately fear God?  Our culture is consumed with love for ourselves and our comfort, acceptance of any philosophy and doing what makes us happy, trying to be constantly politically correct.  God is none of those things.

I love how C.S. Lewis illustrates God’s power through the character of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  When Mr. Beaver tells Susan that Aslan is a great lion, she seems surprised and seemingly intimidated.  She expresses that she is nervous about meeting a lion and asks if Aslan is safe.  I love Mr. Beaver’s response: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.  He’s the King.”

To be a just God, He must be good.  He must be a God of Love but He must also be a God of wrath.  Administration of perfect justice requires both.  It defines and separates right from wrong. I often find comfort in the goodness of God but probably don’t focus on the absolute holiness of God enough.  Our God, the maker of heaven and earth (Elohim) needs nothing from us, but because of His goodness and love for us, desires to have a relationship with us.

I am learning to respect the holiness of God, to have a healthy fear of Elohim and His power.  I am also falling more in love with my creator and desiring to be closer to Him in my day to day routine.

The fact that God, in His ultimate wisdom and compassion for His children, sent His Son to die for us so that we could experience eternal joy is absolutely mind blowing.  Cling to God and His love for you.  Respect the holiness and wrath of our sovereign maker, develop a healthy fear and reverence for Elohim.  Draw near to Him.  My prayer for this new year is that I would recognize God’s holiness and serve Him because He is perfect love.

…and because He is good.

Psalm 96:12-13

12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

 

John 1:1-5

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Romans 2:3-5

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.