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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)

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)

Bruised and injured I lay on the ground

My adversaries advance, closing in for the kill

I pull my belt tight around my waist, secure my breastplate

I see their angry faces as they move closer

They taunt me with their screams, “Where is your God now?!”

I try to pull myself up, my feet ready with the gospel of peace

My bones and muscles ache from countless skirmishes

I can barely stand, as I try to get a glimpse of my enemy

In the advancing darkness I see a line of archers form

Flaming arrows pierce the sky as bowstrings snap

I stumble and fall, as I raise my shield in faith

My muscles strain to steady the shield as arrows impact

Yet no harm comes to me, the evil one’s intent is smothered

I adjust my helmet and pull out my sword from its sheath

“Give up!” The enemy shouts as they continue to pursue me

Again I pull myself up, this tired old warrior presses on

Armed with the word of God, I place my hope in the Lord

I take refuge in my God, my strength and my shield

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:12-13 (NIV)

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

After Jesus died on the cross and was buried, before Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were hiding out of fear they might meet the same fate. All they knew was that Jesus was gone. They had yet to experience his resurrection. This was a period of fear and doubt, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

To live without salvation through Christ is to be caught between Good Friday and Easter morning. It is an eternal darkness without the hope offered by the resurrection of Christ. It is a place of constant night with only the fading light of a man-made lamp to illuminate the way. It is a state of hopelessness without any chance of salvation from sin. Yet because of God’s love for us we do not have to remain trapped between Good Friday and Easter.

Salvation is ours through faith in Christ. This Easter embrace the hope of the resurrection. Leave behind doubt and disbelief and run with Peter to see the strips of linen lying in the empty tomb (Luke 24:12). Share the joy of the women who saw the risen Lord and ran to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:8). 1 Peter 1:8-9 tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (NIV).”

My prayer is that the dawn of this Easter morning will dissipate the darkness of night with the radiant light of the risen Lord. May we express the joy of our salvation with the proclamation, “He has risen!”

This past week I was once again shown how much I take for granted the little things in life. A week ago I had surgery on my right hand — the hand I use to write and type. Subsequently I was unable to use my right hand for several days for even the simplest of tasks such buttoning a shirt or opening a jar. I quickly discovered how much I depend on my right hand for many tasks throughout the day. Blogging had to wait until I could get enough movement back in my hand to cradle my phone and type on the touchpad with my thumbs.

It gave me pause as I contemplated the many things in my life that I take for granted each day — the many things I owe to God. Even the simplest movement of my hand is because God gave me that ability. The fact that a surgeon had the ability to operate and fix my hand — the fact that it is now healing — I owe to my Creator God. He knows every fiber of my being because he “knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).”

God is evident in the smallest of details in my life. Yet too often I get distracted by struggles and suffering instead of being in awe of God’s miraculous work, his love and grace. Today I only need to look at my hand and see my fingers moving to remind me of his marvelous deeds; to remind me of the healing I have experienced in the past week. I should “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people (Psalm 96:3).”

The very breath that gives us life should call us to vocalize our gratefulness to God. The movement of my fingers should remind me type praises to our Lord.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).”

The silence is overwhelming, it pierces my ears

I hear a light wind rustle through the evergreen trees

The snow gently swirls downward in the cold air

In this temple of God’s creation, I feel his gentle hand upon me

I feel his gentle grace, his love surrounding me

It is a moment of solitude away from a turbulent world

A world where a storm rages within humanity

A world where people deny your existence, yet secretly hope you truly exist

Outside the noise and confusion of that worldly place

I find this escape into your creation

It fills me with your spirit of hope, love and truth

Against the cold chill of this world

I see your light piercing the darkness; it warms my soul

Your light gently touches my face, it tells me to trust you and your way

The trampled snow ahead seems the way to go

But God you tell me this is not so

“The path I’ve put you on is full of troubles and struggles.”

He points toward the deep snow, pure white

I do not know where this unmarked path goes

But I do know its ultimate destination

There we will bask in the presence of God’s glory

But for now I must press on, clinging to his hope, trusting him

Letting my faith in God guide me along this uncharted path

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord God Almighty is his name.”

— Amos 4:13

There was seemingly no end in sight as the trials continued to pummel us. I lost count of the times that I cried out to God to spare us; to rescue us and others experiencing the excruciating emotional pain each week. But it just continued, the trials were relentless with seemingly no end in sight. Yet there were times when the eye of the hurricane would pass; times when God would remind me of his grace and his love. There were frequent times when dear friends would lift us up in prayer and the peace of God would suddenly be evident In the storm.

There is no doubt the suffering of the last few years has changed me. I cannot go back to the person I was before the storm blew through my life. Certain passages in scripture now resonate with me like they never did before my trials. When Paul writes about the thorn in his side in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, I can feel the piercing of the thorn and the torment that shook his confidence. I understand more fully Paul pleading for God to remove it. And I understand better that the Lord’s grace is sufficient, that God is made perfect when we are weak.

I have found that when I come to the end of myself and my arrogance, God can begin a new work in me for his kingdom. I am better able to rely on God for my strength to see me through the trials in life. Where once I did not understand James 1:2-4, I now know that the trials I face help me to persevere in my faith. The more I draw closer to Christ Jesus, the more I mature in my faith.

I feel I am only beginning to understand perseverance and how it is shaping me in my faith In Jesus. I am only beginning to appreciate how Christ can meet all my needs. Perhaps I am getting closer to the point where I can thank God for blessing me with trials.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”. It touches me because it captures the yearning of God to restore us to him through his son Jesus Christ. Likewise, I think it captures the longing in our hearts for someone to save us from the hopelessness of this world.

Ever since sin created a chasm between us and God in the Garden of Eden, we have been exiled to this world full of temporal hope. The song reveals the deep desire of our heart to ransom us from the captivity of sin, to “close the path to misery.” It expresses a longing for a savior to save us from exile in this land that is not our true home. The song reveals a deep desire to put “death’s dark shadow” to flight, and a longing for “sad divisions” to cease.

Yet there is a hope that resonates from the yearning within this song. It leads us to contemplate the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ, our “King of Peace”. Amidst the despair that cries out in the lyrics, there is a joy that sings out. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!”

This Christmas may our hearts yearn for Christ Jesus who was born as a baby in a manger and will one day come again to save us once and for all.

The man stands on the street corner holding a sign that says, “Hungry and Homeless, please help!”

Tomorrow he will return with the same sign.

Innocent people are gunned down in the streets in a violent act and war wages on throughout the world.

Tomorrow the violence will not cease.

Computer hackers from the other side of the world empty the bank accounts of people struggling to earn a living.

Tomorrow the stealing will not stop.

In a hospital bed cancer ravages the frail body of a child as he clings to life.

Tomorrow the cancer will remain.

In the midst of all the suffering, the overwhelming and endless need, sometimes I feel helpless to change anything.

All is not right with the world.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:17

Some day the world will be made right.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Rev. 21:4

But today I can bring hope to the hopeless.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” – 1 Peter 3:15

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