I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post was originally posted June 11, 2010

This is the first Father’s Day I will be without my dad. It did not really hit me until the other day when I strolled past a display of Father’s Day cards. Instinctively I started to walk toward the display thinking, “Oh, I should get my dad’s card.” No sooner had the thought entered my mind when I remembered he was no longer with us. A sense of loss suddenly filled me; a sense of missing someone you love; a sense of wanting to see him again.

It made me wonder if I have the same sense of loss of not being with God my Father. Do I miss his companionship when I don’t spend enough time with Him? Do I have a love for God that makes me miss Him – makes me long for Him? Do I grieve over the sinful things I do that harm my relationship with Him? Isaiah 59:2 reminds us that our sin separates us from God, that “sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (NIV) Paul told the Ephesians not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30)

Paul expressed the longing he had for God the Father and Jesus. In Ephesians 1:23-24 he describes being torn between his desire for Jesus and his desire to stay and teach others about Christ. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” I question if I have that same love for God my Father. Do I live in expectation of the day when there will be a reunion with God my father in heaven? Do I long for others to know the love of God?

While this Father’s Day carries with it sadness and loss, there is also joy in thinking about the reunion with God the Father and my dad on the true Father’s Day in heaven.  “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3) There we will no longer feel the pain of separation or the grief of loss. We will live forever in the joy of his presence. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that reading through the book of Leviticus in the Bible can be a struggle. Yet this time through something struck me about Leviticus 14:33-57. In verses 34-35, God tells Moses and Aaron: “‘When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house (NIV).’”

At this point in the Bible the Israelites are living in tents, but God is telling them that they will take possession of Canaan and become homeowners. Here, in the midst of rules about how to atone for sinful behavior and how to handle unclean things, there is a future instruction on how to handle mold in a home. God isn’t just about their current condition, but he is very much about preparing them for their future.

To me this demonstrates that God is not just about the big things, but he is also about the smallest details of our lives. He is concerned about our current well-being as well as our future. As Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (NIV).”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:2-3 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post was originally posted April 2, 2010

Each day we write another page in the story of our life. If you stop now and examine the pages that have accumulated, how does your biography read? When we first meet Saul of Tarsus in the Bible, we read about a man who grew up in a wealthy seaport; studied at one of the best universities in the world; and was trained by the best religious leaders. In his own words, Saul described himself as “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6).” He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5).”

In the eyes of the world, Saul’s biography was about a man with everything going for him – riches, a career and very religious. He personally wanted to stop this new movement centered on this man Jesus. Acts 8:3 describes Saul as being on a mission to “destroy the church,” a man who was hunting down the followers of Jesus and putting them in prison.

But Saul turned a new page when Christ intervened in his life. While on his way to Damascus to find more followers of Jesus to imprison, “a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3-4).” Jesus confronts him and asks “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” From that point on, a new chapter is written in Saul’s life. His story is transformed to someone totally focused on Jesus.

It took a major intervention by Jesus Christ to change Saul’s biography. He becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and from that point on he is called Paul (Acts 13:9). The power of Jesus Christ changed his life story from one rich in the ways of the world to one rich in the Kingdom of God. Paul describes his new life in Phil. 3:7, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus (NIV).”

What about your life story? As you look at each day, each page and each chapter, what is being written about you? Will your life story end as Jesus describes in Matt. 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Or will your story be more like Paul in Philippians 2:17: “But even if my life is to be poured out like a drink offering to complete the sacrifice of your faithful service (that is, if I am to die for you), I will rejoice, and I want to share my joy with all of you (NLV).”

Each time I read the book of Exodus I wonder how the Israelites could be so short-sighted and constantly desire to return to their old ways. Why would they willfully chose to worship idols instead of the God who created the heavens and the earth? Why would they desire to return to the enslavement of Egypt instead of the land God promised them? I believe the answer lies in Exodus 2:23-24.

In the beginning of Exodus we find the Israelites enslaved in Egypt by a Pharaoh who had forgotten how Jospeh saved Egypt from ruin by famine (Exodus 1:8-10). The Israelites were now so numerous that they were viewed as a threat. So Pharaoh “made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields (14, NIV).” How the Israelites dealt with this ordeal says a lot about them and their view of God.

Exodus 2:23 tells us, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out.” It’s interesting that it doesn’t say they cried out to God, but rather it says they just “cried out.” It’s a subtle but important distinction that God hears their cry and chooses to act even if the Israelites did not cry out to Him. It explains a lot about why the Israelites throughout the book of Exodus were so quick to turn to idols and desires to return to Egypt. Like us, they were often immersed in the immediate struggle and lacked faith in God’s promise.

As readers of the Old Testament, we have the advantage of seeing the whole picture of God’s future plan; the ability to see God’s ultimate purpose for Israel. We don’t always have that vision for our own lives. Sometimes we can become like Israel where we are so immersed in the immediate that we only see our current pain and struggles. At those times we must remember to not just cry out, but to cry out to God. Pray he will help us to focus on His plans instead of just our current trials.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26 (NIV)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” – Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

Throwback Thursday – Originally published March 26, 2010

When Christ pries open the bulging suitcase of our life, the contents spill out before us. There, spread out for everyone to see is all the junk we have carried for years. Just as when a bag bursts open in an airport, our first reaction is to stuff everything back in before anyone notices the personal items in our life. The last thing we want to do is to stop and take time to examine our dirty laundry.

But an emptied life is a chance to see how you can repack for a journey with Christ. It’s a new mindset that is different from the world you once knew, a mindset that requires you to only focus on what you need for your destination. Romans 12:2 reminds us: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is (NLT).”

Our life is designed to only need a small carry-on bag filled with God’s goodness. The challenge is to not put everything back in again so that Christ gets misplaced in your overloaded life. Paul writes in 2 Peter 2:20, “If they have escaped the corruptions of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.”

A commitment to Christ means sorting through your life and dealing with the contents one by one. It means reading the Bible and praying and meeting with other Christians to help you sort out the things that do not belong in your life. When you pack for a journey with Christ, you will be amazed at how everything fits in your life. Christ said in Matt. 11:30 “For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

I remember the look of panic on my dad’s face when he handed me the keys to his car. I was 16 years old with a newly minted driver’s license and about to drive his car alone for the first time. He didn’t say a word about what he must have felt inside, he only said, “be careful” as he handed over the keys.

This is the image that came to mind as I read Matt. 16:17-19. I could almost picture Jesus handing over a set of large keys to Peter saying, “Here’s the keys to the kingdom of heaven!” Then as Peter takes them, Jesus tells him, “Oh, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” It’s an astounding level of trust to hand over the keys to someone who just a couple chapters earlier was told he had “little faith” (Matt. 14:31, NIV).

Just as my mom and dad spent countless hours gritting their teeth and coaching me from the passenger seat as I learned to drive, Jesus spent years with his disciples mentoring them on the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the Jewish leaders at that time, the disciples were not the type of people you would want to hand over the keys to the kingdom. Yet God’s wisdom proved right as he equipped Jesus’s disciples to take the wheel and drive “into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).”

Like Peter, God entrusts us with the keys to the Kingdom of God. He is holding out the keys to us and asking us to take them. Even though we may doubt our ability, God trusts us. He has been there in the passenger seat with us gently mentoring us and encouraging us, “You of little faith, why did you doubt (Matt. 14:31)? We only need to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ; to believe and take the keys with confidence.

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

— Mark 4:30-32

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” — Mark 16:15

Throwback Thursday – Originally Published March 18, 2010

If you asked someone to write down what they think of you in 140 characters or less, what would they write about you? Would Christ come through loud and clear or would it be a mixed message? Would they write more about you or about Christ? What would you write about yourself?

Sometimes the opinion we have about ourselves is different than reality. An article in the Feb. 18, 2009 issue of Scientific American, “Think You’re Good Looking? Think Again” detailed a study that showed people often over inflate how they view their own physical appearance. Study participants were asked to identify their face out of eleven pictures that were actually modified images of themselves. Most of the time, the person chose the more attractive image, even over an actual picture of themselves.

“It is perhaps of little wonder, then, that people so rarely seem to like the photographs taken of themselves,” remarked the authors of the study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Our selfish desires can paint an image of ourselves that makes us think we are better than others. Even the disciples fell into this trap. In Mark 9:33-35, Jesus asks them what they were talking about as they walked along the road. The disciples don’t answer “because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.” (NLT) Jesus then tells his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” (NIV)

Christ helps us see the sinful image of our life that we do not want to look at. He gives us the Spirit to help us serve Him instead of ourselves. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”

Throwback Thursday – Post originally published March 12, 2010

A commitment to Christ is a decision to follow Him at all costs. Every activity, interaction, and thought becomes a choice for Jesus or self. With each daily decision point, you draw a line in the sand and announce, “I’m staying with Jesus.”

When we declare we are with Christ, we become an enemy of the evil one and his plans to trap us in sin. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “We are fighting against the power of this dark world.” (NIV) Some days it’s an internal struggle, other days an external fight with temptation in the world. Either way the battles are sure to come.

Paul instructs us in Ephesians 6:13 to be ready for these scuffles by putting on the full armor of God. He tells us to prepare ahead of time to “stand your ground” against the evil in this world. Paul gives us a visual picture of a soldier suiting up for battle with the weapons of the faith: the belt of God’s truth, breastplate of righteousness, gospel of readiness, shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. It’s a conscious act of protecting your decision to follow Christ.

Then there is the secret weapon that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6:18, prayer. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” In prayer you will feel Christ gently take your hand and say, “follow me.” His grip of truth is far stronger than the lies of the world that try to take hold of you.

Throughout my life I have grumbled about a lot of things, often related to the actions of other people. I have also heard my fair share grumbling from other people. So when I read Exodus 16, verse 8 jumped out at me — particularly the last sentence: “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord (NIV).”

It made me wonder if we look at our grumbling as complaining to God instead of complaining to people? In Exodus 16 the Israelites are complaining because they lack the food they had in Egypt. Verse 2 tells us, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” In the next verse they accuse Moses of bringing them into the desert to starve to death.

The Israelites had forgotten that God appointed Moses as the person to bring them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10). The irony is that they grumbled about being freed from the slavery they grumbled about before they left Egypt. They could only focus on their current discomfort, not God’s plan to lead them into “a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17).” Instead they choose to grumble and blame Moses for their current struggles.

God offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ; life with him in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21). He has appointed people in our life to guide us to this new land, to help us grow in our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we struggle in life let us remember that when we grumble at people for directing us to do hard things, we are actually grumbling at God; a God full of love and grace who wants what is best for us.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! – James 5:9

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