YOU ARE LOVED

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. [Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)]

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:6 (NLT)]

purple coneflower

I have a friend who always signs her cards and notes with “Remember you are loved.” What a beautiful sentiment. I’m not sure if she’s thinking of the love we have for one another or of the love someone else has for both of us. There is one who will pursue us with His love like an ardent suitor. He loves us as a father loves his children. There is one whose love is eternal; His love won’t quit when we get sick, hurt, disfigured, old or in trouble. There is one who loves us, flawed as we are, and who never tires of forgiving us for our many failures. There is one who loved us enough to sacrifice His only son for our salvation. There is one who doesn’t just do loving things for us; His whole essence is love. That one is God.

Remember, my friend, you are loved

God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. [Fulton J. Sheen]

 Put together all the tenderest love you know of, multiply it by infinity and you will begin to see glimpses of the love and grace of God. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:16 (NLT)]

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NOT JUST HALF

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” [Matthew 16:21-22 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronWhile talking with a friend, I mentioned how many people of our generation seem unprepared for the challenges of widowhood. Having relinquished certain responsibilities to their spouses during the decades of marriage, they’re ill-equipped when they lose that spouse. There are men who have no idea how to do laundry, grocery shop, clean the bathroom or use the microwave. On the other hand, many of my women friends have never done minor repairs, paid bills, made an investment or purchased a car. “That was me!” replied my friend whose husband died of cancer. His death, while unwelcome, was not unexpected so I asked why they hadn’t prepared her for widowhood. “He tried to,” she said, “but I wouldn’t listen.” As long as they didn’t talk about his imminent passing and her future life without him, she still could deny its reality.

While thinking of her experience, I thought of the disciples’ behavior when Jesus spoke of his death. At first, He spoke metaphorically: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” At least three times, however, He spoke quite plainly about what the future held: he would be killed and raised from the dead. He didn’t mince any words when he described his death but the disciples didn’t understand. Jesus forewarned them but they were confused and frightened when He died, hid in a room instead of waiting expectantly at the tomb, and didn’t believe the women who said the tomb was empty.

Jesus spoke of fulfilling the prophecies and the disciples knew those prophecies. They preferred the ones about the messiah’s glory, however, to those of the suffering servant. Still thinking about an earthly king, Jesus’s words were contrary to their expectations and the disciples couldn’t reconcile what Jesus said to what they wanted. How could suffering and death accomplish anything? Like my widowed friend, they didn’t want to face the truth of what the future held. Perhaps, like her, they thought their denial would keep the horror from happening.

We aren’t all that different when it comes to seeing and hearing only what we want. In his Bible commentary, Matthew Henry cautions that we’re like the disciples when we read the Bible “by halves” – only the half we like. Consistently, the top three searched-for Bible verses are John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, and Philippians 4:13; the rest of the top twenty are other reassuring verses of comfort. If the Bible was a buffet, we’d find those feel-good verses on the dessert table. Dessert is great and so are those verses; nevertheless, they only tell part of the story. The other half of the Bible, while just as nourishing, isn’t quite as sweet; it’s the meaty stuff on the main dish table that tells us we’re going to have trials, temptation, affliction, and persecution. It tells us of mankind’s failures, God’s warnings, and why He had to redeem the world He created. It speaks of sin and God’s wrath and uses words like sacrifice, suffering, judgment and tribulation.

Let us never turn away from God’s word because we don’t like what it says. Ignoring the prophecies didn’t keep Jesus from being crucified and ignoring the still unfulfilled ones will not keep them from coming true! As for me, I want to be prepared for what the future brings (both in this world and the next).

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. … Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. [Mark 4:23,24-25 (NLT)]

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HEALING

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” [Mark 5:34 (RSV)]

Queen butterflyIn Mark 5, we have three miraculous healings: the demoniac in the Gerasenes, the bleeding woman, and the daughter of Jairus. A Gentile, the demoniac didn’t seek out the Lord. What did he do to deserve healing? I have a dear friend, a man of faith, whose wit, intelligence, and joy have been stolen by severe dementia. Countless prayers have been offered on his behalf but he only gets worse. My uncle was a man of faith but he descended into the hell of psychosis from which he couldn’t escape even in his sleep. In spite of prayers for release from his demons, that release only came when he died. Why was the demoniac healed and not them?

The woman with the blood issue had been suffering for twelve years and, after spending all her money to find a cure, she’d only gotten worse. Sure that just touching His robe would heal her, she fought her way through the crowd to Jesus. He told her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” What about all of the other people with faith for whom there is no healing? My mother had deep faith and even took part in the healing ritual of the laying on of hands but she died of cancer at forty-seven. Her faith didn’t bring healing and my prayer list is filled with the names of suffering people who, like that woman, have exhausted every possibility searching for a cure. Their faith is as strong as that of this nameless woman and yet they are not healed. Why her and not them?

Then there’s Jairus, the man who fell at the feet of Jesus and begged him to heal his daughter. By the time they arrived at his house, the girl was dead. Jesus held her hand, told her to get up, and she did. What did Jairus or his daughter do to deserve healing? As the local synagogue’s leader, had he been one of those in the synagogue who criticized Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath? He may even have been with the Pharisees when they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan. Why was his daughter restored and not the little girl for whom I pray every day? Her parents and countless others have knelt before Jesus and begged for healing and it doesn’t come. We’re not even asking Him to raise her from the dead; we just want her to live!

There is no satisfactory answer as to why God restores health to some and not to others. Someday, in heaven, we’ll understand but, for now, we must have faith and trust in God; that’s not always easy. We must never think that healing is deserved. It is neither proof of our faith nor of God’s love for us and we can’t allow bitterness or anger to fill our hearts when healing doesn’t occur.  While there are many instances in Scripture where Jesus links faith and healing, there are many others where the healing seems almost random. Let us remember that Jesus healed only one person of the many who were by the pool in Bethesda. Even for the most faithful, miraculous healings are the exception and not the rule!

Jesus told the bleeding woman her faith made her well and then he told her that she was healed which tells us that being well and healed are not necessarily the same thing. Faith makes us well (or whole) in a way that health can’t. Jesus healed ten lepers but only the one who returned was told that his faith had made him well. He wasn’t made well when his leprosy was cured; he was made well when his gratitude and faith allowed the power of Jesus to enter his heart. Faith in Jesus is what makes us well; while it may or may not restore health, faith will always make us well. Lord Jesus, it is well with my soul.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
[Horatio G. Spafford]

Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” [Luke 17:17-19 (RSV)]

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THE OTHER SIX

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work… [Exodus 20:8-9 (ESV)]

naples botanic gardenUpon retirement, many people consider their productive years over. Having been a CEO in a major corporation, a friend’s father felt worthless without his corporate identity. Prior to retirement, he could call any number of powerful people and get a meeting simply because of his position but, without his title, he felt like a nonentity. His previous business triumphs couldn’t sustain him and he saw no victories in the future. Unfortunately, many seniors who found their identity in their career, corporate title or paycheck are at loose ends when retirement comes along. Some of my friends who were homemakers aren’t much different from those in the business world. It’s just that they found their identity in motherhood and their self-esteem in their children’s achievements. Now, with an empty nest and adult children living their own lives far away, they feel unnecessary. Like my friend’s father, they are looking back at who and what they’ve been rather than forward to who and what they can be.

A quick glance around the room at my noon women’s Bible study tells me that most of us qualify for senior discounts. When discussing keeping the fourth commandment, our pastor told us to read all of the words. While we should observe the Sabbath, she reminded us that those other six days of the week are meant for productive work. A few of the women attending are still employed and others are caregivers for ailing spouses or handicapped children. Like me, however, the majority of the sixty women present are happily unemployed and our time is our own. The pastor’s words clearly were meant for us.

Well into her 70s, this pastor lives her advice. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in this church, she stopped getting a paycheck but continued in her mission. She still teaches at least two Bible studies a week, oversees the women’s organization, conducts both the weekly preschool chapel and the Saturday evening worship services, and, during Lent, added a daily 7:00 AM communion service to her schedule. She did not give up her purpose when she stopped getting a paycheck!

Our work schedule after retirement doesn’t need to be as rigorous as this pastor’s, but it seems that God wants more for us than days in front of the TV, at the beach, shopping, Facebooking, or playing bridge, mah jongg, golf, bocce, or tennis. Yes, daily activities like cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, and making repairs qualify as “work” but the people I know who truly enjoy their golden years are the ones who regularly devote some part of their week to service and learning. One friend has parlayed her HR experience into a volunteer job helping seniors navigate insurance and another uses her love of animals as a zoo docent. A former teacher tutors the disadvantaged, a retired nurse does blood pressure screening, and a neighbor uses his marine skills as a boat driver for the Conservancy. Former CEOs help stock shelves at the food pantry, advise new businesses or build houses for Habitat.

God gave us the gift of the Sabbath but, before He gave us the Sabbath, He gave us the gift of work. No matter our age, let’s use those other six days both wisely and productively.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. [Genesis 2:15 (NLT)]

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! [Psalm 90:17 (ESV)]

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WHOSE SIDE?

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” [Joshua 5:13-14 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawk

The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River and were preparing to conquer Canaan when Joshua came upon an armed man. Joshua was a stranger in a foreign land and I wonder if he brandished his sword when asking, “Friend or foe?” Neither Canaanite nor Israelite, the man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. As to whether he was friend or foe, he said his loyalty was to neither side. His allegiance was to God and the only side he was on was God’s! Recognizing him as a divine being, Joshua fell to the ground.

Jump ahead 500 years to King Asa of Judah. Under attack by the Ethiopians, Asa turned to God for guidance. Rather than ask God to be on his side, he prayed that Judah’s side was God’s. In spite of overwhelming odds, Judah’s army was victorious, not because God was on their side but because they were on God’s. Asa then committed his kingdom to seeking God with all their heart and soul. Unfortunately, twenty-one years later, the King forgot whose side he was on. He depleted his nation’s treasury by committing himself to an alliance with Ben-hadad of Aram. Although the alliance at first appeared to be a success, the prophet Hanani rebuked the king for violating his covenant to seek the Lord. His foolishness meant that Judah would continue to be at war for generations. Asa, so sure he was on the right side, never bothered to find out if he was on God’s side.

During the Civil War, one of Abraham Lincoln’s advisors commented that he was grateful God was on their side. The President replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Whether the dispute is ours or someone else’s, getting involved eventually means taking sides. It’s not a question of which side we’ll support. It’s a question of prayerfully determining which side is God’s and understanding there’s a good chance that God has a side all His own. Perhaps, we should take a lesson from Joshua and Asa before taking sides, drawing lines in the sand, making threats, burning bridges, creating alliances, waging battle, or committing ourselves to a cause. It’s not who’s on whose side that matters; it’s simply a matter of whether or not we’re on God’s!

The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you. [2 Chronicles 15:2b (NLT)]

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. [2 Chronicles 16:9a (NLT)]

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NOT WHAT WE WANTED – Palm Sunday

Orchard swallowtailFor the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you! At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. [Zephaniah 3:15-17 (NLT)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. [John 1:10-11 (NLT)

With palm branches waving, the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. News of Jesus’s miracles, especially the resurrection of Lazarus, had spread through town. They shouted “Hosanna!” at the man they thought would overthrow the Romans, establish peace in the nation, and retake David’s throne. Expecting a political liberator rather than a spiritual savior, they wanted deliverance from the Romans rather than redemption from sin—a conquering king rather than a suffering servant. More concerned about the here and now than the forever after, they wanted power and might rather than love, peace, humility, forgiveness or eternal life. Jesus, however, didn’t come to change their circumstances; He came to change their lives and, when He didn’t give them what they wanted, they rejected Him.

I sometimes wonder if we do the same. Are we fair-weather followers like the people of Jerusalem? Those cries of “Hosanna!” became calls to crucify Him when the miracles stopped. Like them, do we turn away from God when He doesn’t fulfill our expectations? If God delivered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a fiery furnace, why won’t He deliver us from cancer, marital problems, or debt? God answered Elijah’s prayers with rain, so why won’t He answer ours with the longed for baby, spouse or job? He freed Peter from his prison cell, so why won’t he free us from debt, pain, or addiction? When God doesn’t deliver what we want, do we turn our backs to Him as did the people of Jerusalem? Let’s remember that while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the furnace and Peter escaped from prison, not everyone got what they wanted: Stephen was stoned, John beheaded, Isaiah sawn in half, and James slain with a sword.

When God doesn’t meet our expectations, we may start to doubt. Instead of believing that God is good, we ask, “What good is God?” We don’t have to earn God’s love with our works and yet we expect Him to prove His love through His blessings. Our faith cannot be tied to His fulfillment of our desires and expectations; it must be tied to His word. His business is transforming us and not our circumstances.

Let’s never confuse our desires with God’s promises. He will always deliver what He’s promised—peace, love, forgiveness, salvation, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, His grace, and sufficiency. Whether they recognized Him or not, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, God was fulfilling His promises and meeting their greatest need: deliverance, not from the Romans, but from sin. God continues to be true to His word today. He will always deliver what He’s promised but, like that itinerant rabbi from Nazareth riding on a donkey through the streets of Jerusalem, often it is not what we expect or think we want!

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. [Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT)]

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

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