Church Signs

Can I just say I’m not a fan of church signs?

I could list a dozen reasons but here I will simply list one:  It is impossible to constrain good theology to the few words that will fit on most church signs.

The temptation to be funny, cute or trite generally overcomes any desire to be biblically accurate.

Case in point-just down the road from me is this sign:

THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS, ONLY OPPORTUNITIES FOR GOD TO WORK.

I could write for days on why I hate (yes, HATE!) this sign.  But I’ll restrain myself.

Here are the top three reasons I want to close my eyes when I pass it:

  1.  It’s simply does not line up with Scripture.  Paul gives a list of “problems” in 2 Corinthians 11:25-27.  Did God help him?  Yes!  But was Paul discouraged?  Yes!  He turned to God but was also thankful for the practical help of those who cared about him and gave him aid.
  2. People who are struggling are not encouraged by platitudes.  Platitudes close the door to further discussion.  They are a giant “period” in a conversation.  If the purpose of your sign is to invite others in, this one will do just the opposite.
  3. Preaching this foolishness (in person or by sign) lets congregants off the hook.  If there are no problems then there is no reason to extend a helping hand.  If God will handle it-why should I get my hands dirty or waste my time?

This week alone I have dealt with at least ten “problems” that required practical solutions in addition to prayers that God would help work them out.

Did He make some things fall in place that otherwise might not?  Probably.  And for that I am very thankful.

But did He shower solutions from the sky like raindrops?  No.  I had to face the problems, look for solutions and ask for help from others.

When Christ instituted the church it was not for us to sit inside four walls and dole out pithy platitudes to passersby.  It was for us to be His hands and feet in the world.

Truth is that God DOES work.  But most often He works through US.

All around us are people hungry for the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If we are going to put out a sign, could it just say, “We welcome the broken, the wounded, the hurting, the ones with no hope”?

Isn’t THAT what Jesus came to do?

weary

 

 

 

In Christ Alone: Homegoing Hymns Remembered

We chose the songs for Dominic’s Homegoing Service with great care, knowing that we wanted to honor him and his life, lift high the Lord Jesus and give a clear preentation of the hope we have in Christ.

Today, I’m sharing them again.  

in christ alone old barn

“In Christ Alone” (Getty Music)

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

the wrath of god

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
and as he stands in victory

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!

And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
jesus commands my destiny
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Living Without Answers

We are a people who love a good mystery as long as it leads to a good ending-bad guys vanquished, questions answered, motives revealed and a tidy resolution.

But real life is rarely so neat and squared away.

Just consider your average doctor’s visit.  Diagnosis is often a result of trial and error when a simple blood test or throat culture is unavailable to confirm or rule out a particular malady.  Yet we blunder forward, trying this and that until something either works or the illness runs its course.

Relationships are even trickier.  We stand toe-to-toe with others hoping we understand what they are saying or not saying, feeling or not feeling-all the while forced to act and react in the space between.  It’s a wonder we aren’t all at war with one another.

And then there are the big “What ifs?” and “Whys?”

The cosmic questions that rock our world and threaten to undo us.

These are the questions that filled my mind and kept me awake at night after burying my son.  Questions I was free to ignore before they took up residence in my soul and echoed in my head with every thump, thump, thump of my beating heart.

It took a very long time for me to learn to live with them unanswered. And there are still moments when I scream aloud and raise my fist to the sky, demanding an accounting.

But most days, I can rest in that space between the asking and the answer-if not exactly at peace-then at least in a state of suspended animation.

And that may really be all God expects of me this side of heaven.

Job never did get any answers.

He stood before God speechless and in awe.

That’s pretty much where I am right now.

I don’t have to like it.

I don’t have to understand it.

I only have to be willing to admit that He is God and I am not.  

Job answered God:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Job 42:4-6 MSG

 

My Choices Reflect My Focus

My daughter is a quote collector like her mama.  

Here’s the one she has taped to her dashboard:  

choices-reflect-rainbow

That is challenging for me.

When the one thing happens you think will never happen, well, that opens a whole chest full of fears you thought you’d locked inside.

But when I wake up I get to choose:  will I give in or fight back?

I’m learning that while I can’t stop the thoughts that fly around in my brain I can choose which ones I invite to make a nest there.

When fear threatens to undo me, I resist.  

I refuse to react to what MAY happen.  I choose to hold onto what IS happening, right now.

Truth is, either way, I have no control over the future.

I will not lose today because of what tomorrow might bring.

corrie-ten-boom-empties-today-of-strength

 

 

 

Soul Food

Whether I think about it or not, every day I’m feeding my soul.

I’m either feeding it truth from God’s Word so that it can grow fat and full of hope, joy, contentment and peace or I’m feeding it with the lies of this world so that it shrivels and becomes cold, disheartened, cynical and disillusioned.

I don’t always make the right choice.

Sometimes I give in to the temptation to linger long over my questions without answers, my pain without end in sight and my desire to have my old life back.

I have to choose, as an act of will, to turn away from despair and turn again to the Lover of my soul.

And when I do, He restores my soul, just as He promised.

The Psalms are full of verses that feed my soul hope and peace:

Adonai is a stronghold for the oppressed, a tower of strength in times of trouble.

~Psalm 9:10 CJB

psalm-9_9

I told You, Eternal One, “You are my Lord, for the only good I know in this world is found in You alone.”

~Psalm 16:2 VOICE

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.

~Psalm 28:7 KJV

psalm-28-7-1024x768

psalm56_3

When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone.

~Psalm 56:3 Voice

Trust God, my friends, and always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.

~Psalm 62:8  CEV

psalm-119-50

Never forget your promises to me your servant, for they are my only hope. They give me strength in all my troubles; how they refresh and revive me!

~Psalm 119:50 TLB

 

Guess what happens when you linger with the Lord?
He restores your soul.
– Eric Mason

Eye On The Prize

“To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears.” [emphasis added]

~ I Corinthians 9:25 TLB

I remember one particularly grueling semester in college.  I had foolishly stacked five upper level political science classes on top of one another thinking that taking them together would be easier.

That was a dumb idea.

The end of semester assignments included 200 pages of written term papers along with essay tests and other random bits.  For two weeks I fell asleep on my bedroom floor, pen in hand, legal pad underneath my head and surrounded by dozens of open books I used for reference.

After composing the papers, I had to type them, add footnotes and bibliography and deliver them. All back before computers and word processing programs made it easy and electronic!

Oh, how I wanted to give up and give in!  I was certain that I was not going to make it.  I just knew that my body or mind or both would give out before I completed the task.

But they didn’t and I did manage to make it through.

I was willing to put forth the effort and pay the price for a letter grade!

No one cares what I made on those essays.  No one asks me about my college classes or grades.  At 53 I can’t even remember what I wrote about.

Now I face a much more challenging task:  Living without the companionship of one of my precious children.  The “grade” I make on this effort has eternal impact.  

This is the Valley of Weeping, yet Christ promises it will become a place of refreshing.

“When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains!”

Psalm 84:6 TLB

I can’t see an end for this grueling work.  There’s no “semester break” circled on my calendar.

But there will be an end to this toil and pain-just as surely as there was an end those many years ago.

“As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.” [emphasis added]

~Hebrews 12: 1-2 GNT

And the reward for faithfully completing this assignment is so much more valuable than a good grade.

“Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.”  [emphasis added]

~Philippians 3:12-16 PHILLIPS

This reward is eternal-a never-ending supply of God’s grace and love and joy that will overwhelm the toil and pain I’ve endured.

Reunion.

Redemption.

Restoration.

gods stor doesnt end in ashes

So while I wait, I encourage my heart with these truths:

“Even more, I consider everything to be nothing compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. To know him is worth much more than anything else. Because of him I have lost everything. But I consider all of it to be garbage so I can know Christ better.” [emphasis added]

~Philippians 3:8 NIRV

“We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well. 11 For while we live, we are constantly handed over to death on account of Jesus so that His life may be revealed even in our mortal bodies of flesh.” [emphasis added]

~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 VOICE

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~Jesus

~Matthew 28:20b NKJV

i-am-with-you-always

A Question of Trust: What About Signs?

It comes up often in bereavement groups:

What about signs from loved ones who have gone on to Heaven?  

What about books that tell stories of people who have been to Heaven yet “allowed to return”? 

What about cardinals and butterflies and feathers and dreams?  

It would be so very easy to allow my feelings to rule my heart and to reject the truth of Scripture. It would be less of a struggle to walk this Valley of the Shadow of Death if I could “talk” to Dominic while waiting to join him.

But the Bible is plain:  I cannot trust in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ. Every thing and every one else is fallible and will eventually lead me astray. 

I wrote this a few months ago and hope it’s helpful to other grieving parents:

Read the rest here: Signs

Monday Musings: What is Required?

I am a strong proponent of reading ALL of the Bible, considering Scripture in context, studying entire books and digging deep to mine the truth contained therein.

But I think sometimes I am so enamored of finding something new I forget what I’ve already learned.

It’s easy to remain in pursuit of truth and yet dismiss the truth that I’ve apprehended.

I can fool my heart into thinking that learning is the same thing as living.

But it’s not.

Someone said that if believers in Christ put into practice a tiny fraction of what they already know, it would change the world.

And that’s exactly what happened in the first three centuries after Jesus walked the earth.

Christ followers lived such radical lives that even though they were tortured, killed and forced to flee, the Gospel spread like wildfire throughout the known world and beyond. Seeds were planted that continue to bear fruit, even today.

Rome was just as corrupt, just as sensual, just as political as our country today.  And Christians weren’t just mocked, they were killed.

But something happened when the church became a close companion of culture.  

Gospel teaching began to lose its tranformative power when the powers that be tried to use the power of God to further political agendas.

We aren’t the first generation to look around dismayed by the impotence of the church to impact our world.

Like Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

God hasn’t changed.  

The Gospel is still Good News. The power of His Word to open eyes, embolden hearts and transform lives is as effective now as it ever has been.

But I must DO what is required.  I cannot read the Word and walk away.

I cannot check off a daily devotion and live my daily life unchanged.

When my walk matches my talk, I become a faithful witness to the life-changing power of grace.

The Old Testament prophet Micah created a short list:

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you Except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), And to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?

Micah 6:8 AMPC

I’m committed to start right here:  Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God. 

common mediocre christians

 

 

He Knows My Name

Grief can be isolating.  

It separates me as one who knows loss by experience from those who have only looked on from the outside.  

It opens a chasm between me and people who aren’t aware that life can be changed in a single instant.

And I can feel like no one sees me, no one cares about me and no one notices my pain.

Sometimes it even feels like God has forgotten me-that He isn’t listening, that He doesn’t care.

But Jehovah hasn’t abandoned me.  

Have you ever wondered why there are lists of names in the Bible?  Do you, like me, sometimes rush through them or pass over them to get to the “main part” of a story?

But look again, the names ARE the story. 

The God of the Bible isn’t the God of the masses.  He is the God of the individual. 

He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve.  He called out to Cain, ‘Where is your brother?”

He took Enoch, guided Noah, chose Abraham and Moses.

He anointed David, spoke to and through the prophets and He CAME, flesh to flesh to bear the sins of His people, redeem them from death and cover them with His blood.

My name is graven on His hands.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”

Isaiah 49: 15-16a NIV

My life is hidden with Christ.

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life,appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:3-4 NIV

He has a new name for me, a secret name I’ll receive in Heaven.

“To the one who conquers through faithfulness even unto death, I will feed you with hidden manna and give you a white stone. Upon this stone, a new name is engraved. No one knows this name except for its recipient.”

Revelation 2:17b VOICE

The enemy wants to convince me that God has forgotten me.

That He has abandoned me in my sorrow and pain.

That when my son breathed his last, He was looking the other way.

That’s a lie.

And I refuse to listen.

Years ago I heard this song for the first time and it touched my heart:

He Knows My Name by Israel  (listen here)

Lyrics:

I have a Maker
He Formed My Heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

(Chorus)
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call

Not everyone reading this has lost a child.  

But everyone has lost something or someone.

And everyone, if they are honest, has experienced moments of anguish wondering if God in heaven cares.

graven on hand

 

He does.

He hears.  

He knows your name.

 

 

 

I Am What I Am

The cartoon character Popeye responded to critics with “I am what I am”.

popeye-yam-spin

And while this phrase can be used to excuse all sorts of bad behavior, there is a ring of truth to it.

Every one of us is the sum of our experiences.  Each of us is hemmed in by what we know and how we are made.

We are more than the things that happen to us.  

But, in part, we are  Defined by Moments.