Monday, November 11, 2019

What This World Means for Evil, God Means for Good

Looking back, I remember with such fondness the blessing the Lord brought into my life when He laid it on my heart, during a sad time, to join a Cornerstone Life Group. During this devastating time, when I was experiencing my second divorce and working two jobs in order fund my son’s college education, I was only available on Monday nights. 

As I reviewed the list of Life Groups, the one led by Jan and Dennis Bishop was the only group that met on Mondays. Their study at that time so powerfully focused on Joseph, who had experienced the extraordinary pain of being rejected and sold into slavery by his siblings. This excruciating experience created the pathway for Joseph to become a leader in Egypt and the champion who protected the people of this planet during a devastating famine. 

After protecting his loved ones during the famine, despite their rejection of him, and enduring the loss of his father, Joseph spoke God-inspired insights when he was approached by his brothers. His insights have become a theme for my life.

Genesis 50:18-20
'His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”'

Joseph understood that his healing didn’t arise from his success, but rather from the redeeming work of God. Joseph gave voice to the poignant truth that his enslavement ended up being the very thing that freed his community and family from famine and death. Like Joseph, I also cling to the truth that sometimes there is great purpose in our pain. God has been laying on my heart that I should look with gratitude at the way that He has blessed me through my earthly pain. He has leveraged it to purge sinfulness from my heart and to inspire me to be obedient to His commands and to trust in Him. 

Today, I know that our Heavenly Father loves me, and I love Him too. Unlike some who get mad at our sovereign Lord for their earthly pain, I feel extremely grateful that He did not allow the sinful me to continue my lifetime of disobedience. I was headed to hell because of my sinfulness. Now, because I believe in His sacrifice, I have begged for His forgiveness, and He has changed my heart as a result of this earthly pain, I pray that He will bestow on me Christ’s righteousness and allow me to worship Him in Heaven for all of eternity. 

Some other verses that emphasize this point can be found throughout the Bible. Here are some examples: 

Ezekiel 7:4
'I will not look on you with pity or spare you; I will surely repay you for your conduct and the detestable practices among you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'

Hebrews 12:11
'No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.'

By being determined to love Him through our earthly pain and to see His tender mercy in transforming our hearts, we will be blessed by difficult times.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your love. As I look to my past, I know that I have brought much of my earthly pain on myself as a result of my sinfulness. Now, rather than focus on those painful circumstances, I focus instead on your tender mercy and allow my love for and belief in you to continue to transform me. I praise you for who you are and express my loving gratitude for your compassion and your willingness to transform me. Amen.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Seasons


Admittedly, I do not like change. And, if I were to be really honest, I dislike change so much that even when it is a change that is good and positive and exciting I approach it with trepidation. I do not even like the change of seasons, though I relish those things each Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. Bikini weather, apple picking, snowflakes, and tulips.

Many things have been changing these last months, and will be changing even more in the coming weeks. Some very sad and some highly anticipated with the joy they will bring.

God says there will be seasons, not just the earthly changes to the landscape, but there is a time and place for everything in our lives. The details. The newness, and the old passing away.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 speaks to this:
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Yet, my spirit still battles with this. My humanness falters, struggles, tears leak from my eyes.

Just days ago an acquaintance reached her arms to wrap around me, her words, “I am so sorry for the loss of your dear, sweet Grandmother.” Her words were apropos, as my Gran did go to be with Jesus on August 3.

I am still not comfortable with this reality. I dislike the change. Yesterday, I looked at a piece of jewelry she had given me when I was quite young, and it hit me like a shocking slap across the face that indeed she was no longer on this earth. I could not talk to her. I could not hear her say to me, “I love you. More.

An unwelcome season.

But.

God says “there will be a time to be born and a time to die.”

The words of my acquaintance came flitting through my mind, “ I am sorry you lost your Grandmother.”

I breathed in. Tears afresh again.

I did not lose my Gran. I know EXACTLY where she is. I know she stood by Jesus and was welcomed home by him with open arms. I imagined that my Grandpa was standing near to those incredible gates of heaven when she entered in.

With that, I thought of nearly an hour after she had stepped beyond the veil, she stood with the Savior of All Humanity and watched as her great-grandson’s reaction to her death played out. He bowed his head, joined by me, and his wife and their precious little girl and gave thanks for his Gran’s life and all that she had taught our family.

So while I still do not easily embrace change, I know that it is all, every last detail, in God’s hands, in God’s providence for my good. And, I am comforted that God will, in fact, work all things - change included - for my good. Just as in the passing of my Gran my family, generations, were brought to their knees in prayer.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What Are You Waiting For?

When I was younger, I waited impatiently to be old enough. To be old enough to get my ears pierced, go out with friends on my own, drive myself wherever I needed to go, eat whatever dessert I wanted, get married, have kids. Often, instead of living in the moment and being grateful for what I had, I was looking for the next (better) thing. As I got older, there were things I wanted so badly I couldn’t wait. So I made a way to have them.
Over the past few years, my health took a downward turn. Since I’d been healthy my whole life, exercising, eating well, working hard, this felt really difficult. Too hard to handle. It was something I couldn’t control, no matter what I tried. As I waited and prayed to be well I found impatience with God grew. Though I read that I should “consider it all joy when [I] encounter various trials...so that [I] may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4), it was so hard to find joy. My trust became less as I worked harder to control my life. In spite of how hard I worked to get healthy again on my own, no matter how many doctors I went to see or medications I tried, things continued to worsen. It wasn’t until I came to a place of desperation and had no other options to try that things began to turn around for me as I found unconventional answers. I can only attribute this to God leading me to them. I’m so thankful today that I can say many of my symptoms are controlled and no longer completely define my life! I learned through that time that while I was waiting on God, he was waiting for me. Waiting for me to trust Him. To give Him back the control. To be grateful in everything. To find joy in suffering.
Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. - Isaiah 30:18

Bob Sorge, pastor and author of Secrets of the Secret Place, writes of this passage “When it says, “The Lord will wait,” it doesn’t mean that God is waiting for you to do something; it means that God is strategically delaying His miraculous visitation because He has greater things in store for you then you’ve even asked for. But to give you the fullness of what he has planned for your life, He will use the season of waiting to prepare you as a vessel, and also prepare circumstances around your life so that you will be able to step forward into the proper sphere when His release comes to you. He's waiting so that He can crown you with an even greater blessing.” (p. 130) I used to think that God gives us good things we’ve been waiting and praying for when we least expect it. Now I understand that we least expect it because it comes when we’ve finally given up trying to control it and so we don’t think it will happen. God gives us good things we’ve been waiting and praying for when we’ve given him back control. When we’re in the place of desperation, that’s when our Good Father steps in and gives us gifts that bring great joy. What you’re waiting for might not happen in your time or according to your plan, but God will always mean it for your good and His glory.
Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!
- Psalm 27:14




Friday, August 2, 2019

Responding to God's Blessings



You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.” John 15:16a

At Lafayette College, I feel joy as I witness the success of our graduates as they apply the wisdom they have gained in their careers. As I hear of their success in leveraging the degrees they have earned, I am reminded of a similar time in my own life. After four years of a determined pursuit of knowledge, I was awarded my degree in chemical engineering by Grove City College. Unfortunately, 1984 was the year that the bottom fell out of the oil market and so many chemical engineers with decades of experience were laid off. That year, a young woman like me with no experience struggled to get a job. 


Throughout my lifetime, our Heavenly Father has blessed me by creating opportunities for me to gain knowledge and skills that I did not have. My choice has been to use those gifts to serve Him. My service to Him has blessed me by allowing me to gain even more skills and by bringing me joy through the knowledge that I am responding to His blessings by serving Him.

Before I tell this tale, I want to emphasize as Paul does in Romans 3:22 – 24, that I am not earning my way to Heaven through my service. As the verses say:
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justified those who have faith in Jesus.
I emphasize this now because I have been sinfully prone to thinking that I am earning my place in Heaven. In reality, it is His sacrifice that created a pathway for me, and His graciousness in calling a sinner like me to believe in Him and His sacrifice, to beg His forgiveness, and to strive to repent of my sinfulness which has put me on the pathway to Heaven. I respond to that by my determination to know Him, love Him, and trust in Him. I also find joy in serving Him.

I began my career when a Grove City chemical engineering graduate who worked for Pennsylvania State University’s Nuclear Engineering Division contacted me to invite me to interview for a position doing science assembly and classroom presentations focusing on cutting-edge technology in schools throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Given that I was considering going on to earn my master’s degree in education, I jumped at the opportunity to test my potential as a teacher. 

Fortunately, people judged me talented in this regard. As I approached the conclusion of my first year, I was contacted by a consultant at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant to join him in creating a presentation for area schools. The opportunity paved the way for a lengthy career there, which gave me on-the-job opportunities to learn how to write and manage media relations activities. 

As my career continued, I faced potential career losses as the companies I worked for were bought out by other companies or failed due to the loss of major clients. In each chaotic moment, God protected and paved the way for me to work for another employer where I gained even more knowledge and skills.

After losing my son, Zachary, in a custody battle with my soon-to-be ex-husband, God also paved the way for me to be offered a job close to Zach’s father so that I could partner with him in raising our child even after our divorce. The job did not include a lot of writing, so the Lord laid it on my heart to volunteer to write for the newsletter at the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey. As I wrote for the Lord, he gave me skills in writing feature stories that celebrated and honored others as they served our Lord. Ironically, when I was told that I would soon lose my job because of my employer’s merger, the talents I gained and the feature stories that I wrote became an instrument for me to be offered a job at a local marketing firm. 

After my son began his studies at Cedarville University in western Ohio, I chose to give up my job at Elizabethtown College and come to the Lehigh Valley to be with my now second ex-husband. Unfortunately, I struggled with finding a full-time job. My part-time job at Lafayette helped me collaborate with my husband in paying the bills, but I felt called to volunteer to support my new church family in launching Cornerstone Connections. Funny tale: I researched an online marketing tool called MailChimp, which offers free support to non-profits like Cornerstone. As I continued my job search for a full-time job, the skills I gained in learning how to use MailChimp enticed SunGard K-12 Education to offer me a full-time job as their Public Relations Specialist. 

My gratitude to our Heavenly Father calls me to respond to his blessings by serving Him. This service brings me joy and helps me grow closer to Him and my church family. I am blessed, like others who serve also are.  

When God calls you, He does not waste your gifts. The story of Rahab early in the book of Joshua demonstrates another individual using her talents to serve God. God gifted Rahab with savviness, which she used to enable the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Her aptitude for thinking on her feet saved two Israelite spies. In Joshua 2: 8 – 14, we also see how her ability to negotiate with these spies ultimately saves her entire family.

When God called Rahab, He overlooked her sinfulness as a prostitute but did not overlook her talents and intellect. Instead, by using her gifts, Rahab forever changes the course of history. God has also gifted you with skills and talents. When God calls you, He will not waste the gifts He has given you. 

Dear God, I praise You that You have created me with gifts to make a difference. I ask that You open the way for me to use them in extending Your kingdom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Pray In This Manner


Any relationship has to involve good communication, right? Communication has become easier thanks to technology, yet it comes with the caveat that conversation is often interrupted by screens. Our smartphones allow us access to others quickly and efficiently. But how deep are we going in all of our relationships, especially those online? How is our lifestyle of sound byte social media style information sharing affecting our real-life, in-person interactions? Communication has become easier, but it does not necessarily follow that it has improved. 

Jesus taught and exemplified constant, deep, concentrated communication with his Father. He took action to heal and help, balanced with carving out time to talk to God. “He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” (Luke 5:16) The New Testament describes multiple instances when Jesus got up early, traveled far, and prioritized conversations with God. He led by example and also provided explicit instruction on how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer only as a rote, memorized anthem, we miss out on how deeply we can converse with our Heavenly Father. Kay Arthur outlines in depth the guidelines Jesus provided in her study, Teach Me to Pray. Her summary of the topics given to pray through in the Lord’s Prayer are as follows:

Worship: “Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 
Allegiance: “Your kingdom come.”
Submission: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Petition & Provision: “Give us this day our daily bread”
Confession & Forgiveness: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Watchfulness & Deliverance: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Worship: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

-Are you carving out consistent time to talk to your Father who loves you?

-When you pray, are you worshipping and praising the One who created and sustains all life? 

-Are you living out and praying out strong allegiance to the kingdom of Heaven, laying down your idols?

-Are you submitting to His will, even if it means your prayers aren’t answered the way you want? 

-Are you trusting that God will provide for you, your loved ones, your church, His people around the world? 

-Are you bringing your wrongdoing into the light and believing that He loves you enough to forgive it all?

 -Are you asking for salvation from the temptations of this world?

“The Lord is near. Therefore, do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:6-7

Thursday, June 6, 2019

When Shame Speaks Your Name

There have been moments that all I seem to be able to remember are the names of the past. Names that whisper over me to remind me of who I was. Stupid. UNLOVABLE. Clumsy. ABANDONED. Ugly. UNWANTED. Invisible. UNWORTHY. Dirty. SHAMEFUL. Hateful. ALONE. Sinner. These are the names, the emotions that have plagued my life, my mind, and my heart. These are the names I would hear repeated over and over in my mind. Names that expressed who I was. Who I thought I was. Who I was told I was. And sometimes names I still believe describe who I am. Names the enemy loves to taunt me with. I have lived so often in bondage to shamed-filled thinking. I have filtered everything through shame. BUT, I have learned that I can choose to think differently. I can choose to remember that Jesus came to set me free. He came to give me a new name. He gave me a new identity. A new life. And oh what a marvelous name it is! A beautiful name. He calls me BELOVED. I am no longer condemned. I no longer live in shame. Because of Jesus I am very much LOVED. I am WORTHY. He finds me BEAUTIFUL. I am FORGIVEN. I have not been abandoned for He is ALWAYS with me. I’ve been made CLEAN. I am RIGHTEOUS. He SEES me. Watches over me. He CARES about every part of my life. Because of who He is and because He lives in me I am a new creation. The person who was is no more. She dies daily as Jesus continues to renew my mind with His holy, perfect Spirit within me. I wish I didn’t have to be reminded of who I am. I wish I could just rest in the truth of who I am in Christ. But I know this is my weakness and my enemy knows this too. Sometimes I will need a daily reminder. I forget so easily, but He is faithful to send reminders. This is what I know, He continues to work in me in this area. One day I know I will really, really get it. I will “get it” into the depths of my heart and soul. Then shame will no longer have such power over me. For even today I am aware that my enemy has less power over me in this area than before. I am thankful that Jesus continues His work in me, He never tires of reminding me of who I am. He never tires of the sanctification process in this area of my life. I can run to Him at any time and He gently whispers in my heart the names He has given me. My dear friend if you also find yourself mired in shame then let me speak these truths over you. Say them out loud. Choose to believe the truth as these words filter down into the depths of your heart. Then choose to walk in them today. I know you may not FEEL these truths at first, but keep trusting, keep believing them. Keep speaking them to yourself when the enemy tries to remind you of who you were. Memorize them. Ask God to remind you. I promise He will use these truths in your life to change your thinking. He changed my thought patterns, He will do it for you. Sure I still struggle some days but I don’t stay there. I am confident in the truth that these verses speak of who I am today! And on those days that it is painfully hard to believe these truths I just choose to walk in them anyway as if they are true. Because they are!! God says, “My precious daughter you are my beloved.”
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved… Col 3:12
As He says also in Hosea, "I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, 'MY PEOPLE,' AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, 'BELOVED … Rom 9:25 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God ! How vast is the sum of them! Ps 139:17 "The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; Duet 26:18 "My delight is in her... For the LORD delights in you" Is 62: Oh, dear friend, He does delight in you!! Now go and walk in the knowledge of whose you are and how much He loves you, whether you feel it or not!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Death to Life

Piles of brown leaves hiding dark, rich soil. Brown stalks rising from the piles. Bare branches reaching up toward the sky. My garden this time of year? It’s ugly. It’s dead and brown and dirty. Yet this is my favorite time of year when I start to see the buds and the green leaves bringing the change. Change from barren to beautiful, death to life. The hydrangea will soon be a bright splash of blue. The rhododendron bush that’s two stories high will be a stunning sight in a few weeks. The bulbs that lay dormant are pushing out beautiful buds; pops of color start to show from the daffodils and crocus flowers. My favorites, the pretty pansies, love this cool spring weather as much as I do. Death is ugly. If I’m honest, even though I believe in life after death I’m scared of it. I don’t welcome the thought. I worry about the pain that will come before my final breath here on earth.

But the promise of eternal life in heaven is overwhelmingly beautiful. When I read the prophecies in the book of Revelation, my mind can’t comprehend it.

The wall was made of Jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 21:18-23)

The story of Redemption, the promise to save us all from eternal death after earthly death leading us instead to live forever in this beautiful place, is authored by Jesus Christ, the Son of God and man. The testimony of what he is like is stunning and awe-inspiring:

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:12-18)
My Jesus has conquered the ugliness of death and replaced it with the promise of a beautiful life forever. He took the consequences of my sin to the cross, died, was buried. Then he rose again! He conquered Death! All I need is to believe that’s the truth. There isn’t anything I have to do, or in fact can do, to earn it.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)
If you believe that Jesus’ death has paid the cost for your wrongdoing? Life after death. If you don’t believe? Condemnation, the second death and a lake of fire. Choose life!
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Revelation 5:12-13