Eternity on our Hearts (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 5, 2015)

Ecclesiastes 3 is the home of the “time for everything” verses, but if you read a little further, verse 11 is an absolute gem: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (NIV). I love the way the New Living Translation says that God “has planted eternity in the human heart” because it makes me think of how faith grows in our lives over time.

 

I’ve mentioned before that Easter is my favorite holiday, and it isn’t just because of chocolate (although, I saw that York now has a Peppermint Pattie bunny, so I’m going to raid the discounted stash at the grocery store on Monday!). The thing I love most about Easter is the focus on hope and eternity. Hebrews 13:14 reminds us that this world is not our permanent home, and Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven. This brief snippet of time that we call life is just a training ground, a dress rehearsal, a preview of eternity with Christ. The best is yet to come!

 

I’m a planner; I like to know what to expect, and I’m not a big fan of surprises when it comes to things that I feel like I should have control over. That said, I got a chuckle out of the way Ecclesiastes 3:11 implied that we humans try – in vain, of course – to figure out the things of God. It’s true, isn’t it? We want answers for this, a reason for that, an explanation for something else … yet, the Bible reminds us that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).

 

It’s ok to not have all the answers or everything planned out just-so. Sometimes, we just have to walk in faith and trust that God does have a plan, even if we aren’t privy to it. He has put eternity in our hearts, and I wonder if perhaps it’s to keep us focused on the end goal of our endless days together in Glory, rather than getting bogged down in the worries of this world. This Easter, let your focus be on eternity.

Impending Death … and Hope (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 15, 2015)

I received some devastating news this week about an old mentor and kind friend. As things stand now, it looks like she has advanced pancreatic cancer that has spread to her liver. I am terribly sad, and yet I feel a strong sense of peace for her. She loves the Lord, she adores her family, and she cares about her fellow man. She is passionate about justice, and not just the kind that penalizes criminals for wrongdoings, but the kind that rights the wrongs in the world. She is an advocate, a brilliant thinker, and a confidante.

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless Jesus returns to take us home before then, there is a 100% chance that you will die. How does that make you feel? Does the notion of dying fill you with dread or joy? Like it or not, as James 4:14 and Psalm 103:15-16 point out, our lives are like a mist puffed into the air or a dandelion blowing in the wind – only temporary.

 

While imprisoned for the gospel, Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He had a very matter-of-fact view about death: if he lived, then he had more opportunity to serve the Lord. If he died, then he got to be with Jesus. Win-win!

 

For a long while after my brother died, I had peculiar feelings that could only be described as jealousy. I hesitated to share it, because I didn’t want anyone mistakenly thinking that I was suicidal. It’s just that the more I thought about him being in the very presence of God in heaven, it felt like I got the short end of the stick. I/we were left behind to grieve and cope, to continue living in this broken world of sin and despair and problems, while he was free from such entanglements. How I long to be with Christ!

 

Easter is just around the corner, and it is my absolute favorite holiday. Sure, I love the festivities of Christmas, and I enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving, but wow – Easter! Easter is a reminder that this world is not our home (Philippians 3:20). Easter is about the resurrection, newness, eternal life, victory, and HOPE.

 

It is with this everlasting hope in my heart that I can say to my sweet friend: Go in peace. Go to Jesus, relish in his presence, and enjoy the reward for your labors. I will always cherish having the opportunity to know you and call you my friend.

Called to Sacrifice (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 20, 2014)

As he concluded his inaugural address on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan shared a story about a young man named Martin Treptow who lost his life in the First World War. He related the story to the economic woes of the time by saying: “The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.”

President Reagan was referring to his goals for improving America’s standing as “the world’s strongest economy,” but I would like to suggest that similar words could be said of our faith-walk, particularly in the context of Easter.

For every Purple Heart recipient and Gold Star military family, there are thousands of men and women in the armed forces who serve our country sacrificially in less drastic ways. In the same way, Jesus doesn’t call each of us to follow in his literal footsteps by facing death for our faith. However, I do believe that he calls us to be ready, and to be willing to make sacrifices for what we believe. Romans 12:1 (ERV) puts it this way: “So I beg you, brothers and sisters, because of the great mercy God has shown us, offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him—an offering that is only for God and pleasing to him. Considering what he has done, it is only right that you should worship him in this way.”

It is too easy for us to become comfortable in our comfy little bubbles and forget that around the world at this very moment, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are facing very real persecutions – including death – for their faith. This Easter and in the weeks and months to follow, let us remember not only Jesus’ sacrifice and glorious resurrection, but also how we can put our faith into action so that “… with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us” locally and around the globe.

Palm Sunday: Rusty Nails

We are having a Life group fair and communion service on Sunday night. All of the Life group leaders were asked to bring finger foods to share, and we’ll have tables set up in the back of the church for people to browse the groups and meet each other. Then, we’ll move to our seats and have communion together. I’ve been looking forward to it, and since my ladies’ group meets at Whataburger one (very early) morning a week, we’re serving Whataburgers cut into pizza-wedge slices with toothpicks. It should be a hit! 🙂

The staff and elders are tag-teaming during the communion service, and I was asked to do the intro for the theme “Rusty Nails,” which we’ll play at the end of the service. There will be a bowl of nails as a prop/visual. It’s a lovely song, and it was completely new to me:

 

I thought I would share with you my notes that I’ll be speaking from. It’s pretty short (isn’t supposed to be a sermon), but hopefully it will be meaningful to people:

I can’t tell you how many times I have naively prayed over the years, “Lord, use me.” From summer youth camps to college Bible studies to women’s retreats to Life groups and mission trips, I always had such good intentions. I wanted to minister to people, to help the hurting and save the lost. I guess what I really wanted was for God to use me in feel-good ways that made me feel needed and appreciated.

Jesus did a lot of feel-good things in his ministry, as well: he healed the blind and lame; he played with children; he fed the hungry; he had an audience anywhere he went. And yet, he knew – oh, so much more fully than I ever have! – what it truly meant to let God use him. When he prayed in the garden before his arrest, Jesus begged his Father to spare him from what he was about to have to do, but then, he relented and offered himself for God’s use.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: sometimes, life is hard. It can be painful, and it often doesn’t make sense. When we offer Jesus his rightful place as Lord of our lives, it means that we have to make sacrifices in our otherwise self-centered lives. Yet, nothing … nothing that he calls us to do or to be or to give up could ever compare to what he has already done for us.

These nails represent the sin – your and my sin – that he willingly, painfully, sacrificially paid for on our behalf. They also represent the freedom that we experience when we give ourselves fully to him and say to him, “Not what I want, but what you want.”

 

Ash Wednesday

Last night before bedtime, I held a family meeting to talk to the boys about some concerns that I have — namely, bad attitudes and tempers. I started by reading the passage from Luke 4 about Jesus being tested (tempted, provoked, antagonized, had his buttons pushed, egged him on … things that I tell them they do to each other frequently). We talked about how Jesus turned Satan’s arguments around with Scripture and how he made the decision not to make the choices that Satan wanted him to.

We talked about verse 13, which says that Satan eventually gave up and went away until a more convenient time. I reminded them that just because they make a good choice one time doesn’t mean that they’ll never face that issue again. Each and every time is a new choice. I reminded them that anger by itself is not a sin. There are plenty of times when it is justifiable to feel angry. What’s not ok is to take out your anger on others.

I confessed that I don’t always make the best choices, either, and they’ve seen me lose my temper more times than I’d like to admit. I told them that I’m sorry and asked them to forgive me for times when I’ve not set a good example with my own anger. I explained that I want us to commit as a family that we will pray together daily (and individually) about anger.

When I described Ash Wednesday, I said that some Christian traditions (mainly Catholics) recognize Ash Wednesday as a day to mourn – or feel sorry for – our sins. It’s a time to get straight with God about our choices and focus on making better choices as we prepare our hearts to celebrate Easter in a few weeks.

Before the meeting, I had one of the boys cut out several Bible verses about anger that I had printed, and we put them in a bowl. I told the boys that each day, we will draw a verse and read it aloud. I told them that if they felt like giving up something for Lent as a way to give a sacrifice to God, then they certainly could, but the thing I want us to focus on together is getting rid of anger. Everyone agreed, so one of them read the day’s verse and prayed before I sent everyone to bed.

An ash cross (albeit smudged) to remind me that I came from dust and will return to dust.

An ash cross (albeit smudged) to remind me that I came from dust and will return to dust.

I’ve never attended an Ash Wednesday service before today, but the university where I work offered a program during the lunch hour at the seminary chapel, and I thought it would be a nice time to reflect and experience something new. The service was a nice reminder about the things we discussed last night.

The chaplain reminded us that the symbolism of the day isn’t just to focus on our sin and feel remorseful about it, but to recognize our sin, own up to it, and walk away from it. Therein lies the struggle, and it’s a daily battle.

Lord willing, these baby steps that we’re taking together through our daily readings and prayer will help to instill some Scripture in their minds and hearts to draw from in the future and equip them to defy Satan’s provoking.