A MESSAGE IN THE SKY

skywriting - love godJesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)]

After a lovely walk in the park, I looked up in the sky and saw a skywriter busy at work. The word “love” was starting to fade in the sky and, thinking a marriage proposal was in the works, I thought the pilot needed to work faster to get his message written. Curious, I waited to see what came next and was surprised to see the word “God” written in pale white smoke before the pilot flew off.

“Love God” – that’s the first and greatest commandment and we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. In other words, love Him with our entire being: our passions, prayers, thoughts, words, voices, skills, desires, reactions, appearance, finances, strength, desires, relationships, and possessions. With no punctuation, however, that wasn’t necessarily what was meant. Rather than the command “Love God!” those little two words in the sky could have been more like the closing and signature line to a letter, card, or love note: “Love, God.” Indeed, the sunny day had been a beautiful gift sent from Him.

Although God sends us love notes all of the time, they’re usually not done in skywriting on a blue sky day. A rainbow, the symbol of God’s covenant with His creatures to never again send an all-destructive flood, is one of His reassuring love notes reminding us that His love shines through all the storms of life. Rainbows, beautiful days, magnificent sunsets, butterflies, even the aroma of spring lilacs—all can say “Love, God” to us. Today, when I opened my email, I realized God sends His love another way—in the encouraging words and prayers of a Christian friend. Having mentioned my heavy heart for a loved one, she immediately responded with encouraging words and by lifting us both in prayer. The email may have come from her address, but it bore His signature: “Love, God.”

In church Sunday, I turned to a stranger and told her how beautifully her daughter had sung during the teen led worship service. She welcomed those words with such enthusiasm that you would have thought I’d offered her girl a recording contract. Telling me how thrilled her daughter would be to hear the compliment, she added that the teen had just been cut from a choral group and badly needed reassurance. I spoke the words but they came from one of His nudges and were signed “Love, God.” In the many ways we share God’s love, we fulfill the second, equally important commandment given to us: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“Love God!” or “Love, God” – in this case, the punctuation makes no difference. Each day brings opportunities to love and honor God by being one of His love notes with our prayers, an encouraging word, a quick text or email, a warm touch, a hand-written note, extra patience, a friendly smile or a helping hand. It is in the love we show to one another that we can fulfill both of His commands at once.

All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 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 4:15-16 (NLT)]

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ONE AT A TIME

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval. [John 6:27 (NLT)]

northern mockingbird

There once was a beautiful mockingbird who loved to sing from the branches of the forest trees. An old sly fox sat beneath the trees and licked his lips as he thought of devouring her. Every time he tried to snatch the bird, however, she would fly away to safety high in the oaks. One day he offered her a mouthwatering berry for the price of just one feather. Accepting his offer, she plucked out a feather, swooped down for the fruit and flew back up to the treetop before the fox could catch her. The next day, he made the same offer and the mockingbird, anxious to enjoy the sweet bite again, gave him another feather. The wise owl warned her not to play this foolish game with the fox but the bird, hungry for the tasty berries, ignored him. This went on for several days until one day, after giving the fox a feather and snatching the berry, the mockingbird tried to fly away only to discover that she couldn’t. Foolishly, in her desire for the passing pleasure, she had given away one feather too many. The fox had his meal and the mockingbird was no more—all for a perishable and momentary indulgence.

Berries won’t cause our downfall, but pursuing fleeting pleasures can. We don’t have a wise owl on a neighboring branch but we do have the Holy Spirit living within us. We must listen to his voice and live by his power. Best of all, even if we lose our feathers, all is not lost. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s final word is not punishment and death but grace, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) … Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:9, 12-14 (NLT)]

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ATTRIBUTES AND ESSENCE

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT]

Riger SwallowtailI can be a good person, be good-natured or be good at something (like Scrabble or bridge). I can look good, feel good, do good and even smell good. Nevertheless, I am not wholly good; try as I might, I cannot be goodness personified. The same goes for love; although I can be in love, love someone or something, act loving, profess my love, and be loved, I cannot be love.

If the piano piece is easy enough and I practice long enough, I can play it perfectly. I usually can bake perfect chocolate chip cookies, make perfect buttermilk pancakes, and choose the perfect gift for my husband but I am not (and never will be) perfect. As for righteousness—I can distinguish righteousness from wickedness, have righteous indignation, act righteously and feel both righteous and self-righteous. Nevertheless, I am not righteousness.

I can recognize wisdom, act wisely, and, on occasion, even give wise counsel, but I am not wisdom. I can know the truth, discern between truth and falsehood and, most of the time, speak the truth, but I am not truth.

Although we are made in God’s image and share some characteristics with Him, we share them only to a limited extent. We love inadequately, even our best efforts are imperfect, our sense of justice is flawed, our wisdom is unreliable, and our truth is slanted. On the other hand, God just doesn’t do good, love wholly, perform flawlessly, act righteously, advise wisely and speak the truth—He actually is goodness, love, perfection, righteousness, wisdom and truth. He is all that and more!

Heavenly Father, although made in your image, we are flawed humans and can never fully be like you. Help us as we battle our sinful natures; may your Holy Spirit fill us so that we grow more like you each day.

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly. [St. Richard of Chichester]

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)]

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)]

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PICTURING GOD

sunriseAfter his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” [Matthew 3:16-17 (NLT)]

 A little boy was busy with his crayons and a large sheet of paper. When his mother asked what he was drawing, he proudly answered, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The mother tried to explain: “But sweetie, no one has seen God so we don’t know how he looks.” Smiling proudly, the boy continued coloring and reassured his mom. “Well, they will when I get done!”

That story reminded me of last Sunday’s sermon. In honor of Trinity Sunday, our pastor asked us how we picture God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Had there been any children present, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one had described him as an old gentleman with a flowing beard, wearing a white robe, and sitting on a golden throne. Actually, I was a little surprised that no one said they picture God as Morgan Freeman, George Burns, or even Octavia Spencer. Instead, people shared how they saw or felt God’s presence in things like babies, sunrises, rainbows, and sunsets.

When asked about Jesus, no one described the man who walked the dusty roads of Judea, wept at the tomb of Lazarus, or reassured the doubting Thomas. Instead, they spoke of seeing Jesus in actions like love, sharing, forgiveness, service, and sacrifice. As for the Holy Spirit, people described hearing His still small voice in things like insight, inner conviction or experiencing a compelling force.

Our assignment for the week was to become more aware of our triune God’s presence in our lives. Early Tuesday morning, my husband called to me while I was reading Scripture in my windowless office. When I looked out the east facing window I understood his urgent call: the sunrise was absolutely majestic. As our Creator God announced Himself, remembering Sunday’s sermon, I responded to God’s proclamation by finishing my prayers on the deck while watching the sun rise. The show in the sky was accompanied by a heavenly chorus of robins, wrens, sparrows and cardinals. Our Triune God made His presence known and felt.

I had a pastor who used to start her morning prayer with, “Good morning, Lord. It’s so nice to see your face.” I hadn’t thought about the fact that she was looking out at the congregation when she said those words. Indeed, she was seeing God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the sea of faces before her. We are, after all, made in His image, saved by His blood, and filled with His Spirit.

As for that little boy’s picture: I don’t know if he drew a grandfather, a sunset, a long-haired man in robe and sandals, a hospice volunteer, a breeze, or a dove descending from the sky. Perhaps he drew Jesus’ baptism when all three of the Godhead were present. The youngster is probably too young to understand the Trinity but I hope, in his own unique way, he found a way to incorporate three beautiful images into one. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [Matthew 28:19 (NLT)]

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COUNTING THE COST

And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, “There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!” … So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. [Luke 14:27-30,33 (NLT)]

Jesus carrying cross - Cathedral church St. Francis - Santa FeRecently, friends toured a model home in a new community. A beautiful house, it had every feature they wanted and seemed to be in their price range. It was only after sitting down with the salesman to go over the purchase details that they discovered the true cost. The granite countertops, energy-efficient stainless appliances, and pull-out pantry seen in the model home were not included in the base price, nor were the paddle fans, bar sink, under cabinet lighting, pool, pool cage, tile backsplash, rheostats, recessed lighting, soaker tub, crown molding, or the tray ceiling in the dining room. After counting the base price and the expense of all the desired upgrades, my friends realized the cost was too great for them.

When Jesus said “count the cost,” unlike a salesperson, He wasn’t giving us a list of options with a matching pricelist. Counting the cost for following Jesus is more like hiring the best builder in town and giving him complete freedom as to the size, design and décor of the house. After agreeing to pay for both his time and material, we hand him a blank check that gives him unlimited access to our bank account. Knowing it would probably cost us everything we had, that’s not a deal most of us would make.

Fortunately, unlike that model home, God’s grace is free. Nevertheless, we must agree to certain terms if we’re going to accept it. Being a disciple of Jesus means we’re giving him a blank check with our lives and resources. Like that fictitious builder, He’s the one who determines the finished product. He takes our old selves and rebuilds us as the people we’re meant to be (which may not be what we thought we wanted to be). Giving Him carte blanche, we don’t get to say, “I’ll take the love, the usher job at church, and weekly Bible study but I’ll skip the self-denial and obedience. I’ll keep my independence and pride and take a pass on both the trials and martyrdom.” Although costly, discipleship is an excellent value and the best investment we could ever make. When we give Him our all, we get His priceless gifts of salvation and eternity with the Holy Spirit thrown in for good measure. Just sign on the dotted line.

Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? [Mark 8:34-37 (NLT)]

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LAST WORDS- ASCENSION DAY

starry campion - mouseeared chickweed - chicoryHe said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [John 19:30 (NLT)]

It’s been said that Leonardo Da Vinci’s last words were, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” A scientist, painter, architect, mathematician, musician, sculptor, geologist, botanist, historian, cartographer, and inventor, Da Vinci was a true Renaissance man and it’s difficult to understand how he could feel he’d failed anyone. I hope my last words won’t be as depressing as his or as foolish as those of Union Major General John Sedgwick who, just moments before he was shot and killed, said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!” Nevertheless, most of us won’t know when the words we speak will be our last ones. Chances are they’ll be as mundane as Elvis Presley’s: “I’m going to the bathroom to read.”

Jesus, however, knew his life was ending when He spoke from the cross. He’d been hanging there for several hours and the weight of his body pulling down on his arms meant he could barely breathe. John tells us Jesus said, “It is finished!” and then died. After hearing those words, can you imagine the heartbreak of His followers? This was Jesus, the man who calmed storms, fed thousands and healed lepers! How could it be finished? Everything they’d believed in and hoped for was gone! Was this how their story would end?

Last words, however, aren’t always what they seem. Jesus’s words and the crucifixion were only the end of the first act. What the disciples didn’t understand was that the story was just getting started. Three days later, the resurrection opened the second act. Forty days later, that act ended with Jesus’s ascension into heaven. Although those last words vary in the gospels and Acts, the message remains the same: our sins are forgiven, we are to go out into the world and make disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit is promised. Jesus physically left the disciples but He promised both His presence and return so those weren’t His final words either. Early in the third act, Jesus spoke to Saul and He continues to speak to us today through His living word (the Bible), prayer, and in the Holy Spirit’s beautiful whisper. The only last words to be spoken in the third act will be ours when we depart the stage, as did both Da Vinci and Elvis. The glorious fourth act begins when we come home to Jesus and hear His voice again. This final act has no ending and there will be no last words spoken. It never is finished and the curtain never will fall!

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. [John 14:1-3 (NLT)]

And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. [John 5:25-29 (NLT)]

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