Friday, September 13, 2019

Who Are You?




As I walked into a fitting room, a woman exited a booth on the left and moved to an end booth. She turned around, facing the door, and started picking through a cart of clothes. I went into the booth she exited and found four walls with two hooks. Period. No bench. No chair. Nowhere to put the clothes I would be taking off or the shirts I had draped over my arm that were not on hangers. Where would I set my purse?

I looked out and said to the woman sorting through the cart, “Is there no booth with benches?”

“Oh,” she said, “this one has a bench; I’m finished here. Use this one.”

So I did. When I came out, she was coming out of the first booth I had entered, so I asked if I could just leave my extra clothes there on a rack. She said, “Just put them on the end.” Then I asked if I could leave the folded items on her cart, assuming she was sorting clothes to return to the racks. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t work here.”

I was dumbfounded. I assumed she was an employee. I profusely apologized, of course. I said, “You gave up that booth for me. You are so nice!” “Sure,” she said, “I am nice to people who are nice to me.” She told me to just leave the folded clothes on a little bench, and after thanking her again, I went on my way.

I had mistaken her identity.

I just saw the movie “Overcomer,” and it’s all about who we are in Christ. Sometimes we don’t just mistake another’s identity, we forget our own. In the movie, Priscilla Shirer, playing the role of a high school principal, led the lead character to Christ. Then she told her to go home and read Ephesians 1 and 2 and list all the things she learns she is. It shows the teenage girl making a list.

Don’t mistake your own identity. You are:

·       Chosen by God. I was always picked last for recess teams in elementary school because I wasn’t very physically adept. That hurt. But God has chosen me to be part of His family. What a privilege! I belong. You belong. We need never again feel rejected by any person or group. “For he chose us in him . . . to be holy and blameless.” Ephesians 1:4

·       Forgiven. I have regrets. We’ve all made mistakes, done wrong things. We have offended others and possibly abused our power somewhere along the way. We’ve certainly offended God in one way or another. But with Christ’s death on the cross, we are forgiven. No sin is too ugly. No wrong is too great. God forgives us—if we ask His forgiveness through Christ. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Ephesians 1:7

·       Given grace. God offers grace through every situation of life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Look at the survivors around you. Ask them how God has been faithful in the most trying situations. “In accordance with the riches of God’s grace . . . .” Ephesians 1:7

·       Given God’s Spirit of wisdom and revelation. With the Holy Spirit in our lives, He serves as our Counselor and Friend. He comforts, guides and informs our lives. After my devotional time, I sometimes write a note to myself from God. I start “Dear Shirley,” then I write what I feel I’ve drawn from my time of Bible reading and prayer. Yes, I realize what I write may be my own earthy thoughts. But I do believe if we are serious about our relationship with God, He is serious about touching our lives, guiding us, in the here and now. Try it. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Ephesians 1:17

·       Created to do good works. We are not just pretty faces. God has a purpose for our lives. Whether it’s to our family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances or just people we meet along life’s way, there’s a way for us to brighten their corner. Shine that light. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 1:10

Ephesians was written at a time when commerce flourished as silversmiths sold images of the Roman goddess Diana while Christians faced harsh persecution. Paul wrote to remind the Ephesians that they may not be rich in the eyes of the world but they have spiritual riches in Christ.

I just got my Real ID. It has a gold star on the corner that allows me to enter federal buildings and go through airport security. But more important is our Real Heavenly Identity, which means God walks with us on this earth and assures us of a place in eternity.

Read Ephesians 1 and 2, and then praise God for His goodness to us!

Friday, August 23, 2019

I AM For You



I do not have answers for all the problems of those who read or hear my words. While I’ve experienced sorrow and suffering, I’ve not experienced the heartache or heartbreak that some in my audience have lived through. So why even try to relieve their distress?
            I read a verse in Isaiah with a footnote that put things into perspective. In discussing how God described Himself to Moses as “I AM,” David Wilkerson was quoted as saying: “God asked, ‘What do you need? Deliverance? Then I AM deliverance? I am whatever you need. . . . .’”                  Now that may seem glib, a pat answer. But I believe it’s true. What do you need? Patience to care for a handicapped child? I AM growing that patience within you. Strength to approach a coworker about a problem? I AM filling you with courage. Perseverance to live with a disability? I AM making a way for you day by day. New ideas about what to make for supper? I AM a Creative God Who gives you ideas to jazz up recipes.
            Look at living examples: Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic when she dove into the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck at the age of 16. Can you even imagine? She was an active teenager who loved horseback riding and painting! Now she could not balance on a horse or hold a paintbrush. So she learned to paint by holding a brush between her teeth. And she has become one of God’s most faithful servants, ministering around the world as Joni and Friends. Joni found the great I AM to be her strength.
            Look around your church for local examples of how God is faithful to a grieving widow, someone suffering from a terminal illness, someone surviving an accident. You need not look far to find someone whose life has been blessed by the worst of circumstances. They have found I AM to be their strength.
            So if God were to ask you: How can I help you? What would you say? “My husband has been unfaithful, and I can’t forgive Him.” God would say, “I AM forgiveness. On the cross, I asked forgiveness for those who put me there.” Would you say, “I need wisdom to solve this problem”? God would say, “I AM wisdom.”
We think life’s issues are the problem, but actually every issue can draw us closer to the Great I AM. As I search scripture I discover Jesus’ pattern of living. He went out early to be alone and pray. He prayed over food. He prayed over illness. He prayed and prayed and prayed. AM I as prayerful?
            Jesus walked in daily obedience to His Father. Do I? Or do I let the “emotion of the hour” lead me down destructive pathways? Do I cry out to God for help when I feel impatient or angry or helpless? Do I return good for evil? Do I memorize scripture to fight unhealthy emotions?
            I heard on a game show that we touch our cell phones on an average of 2,617 times a day. How often do we touch our Bibles? Do we touch them even once a day?
            “So do not fear, for I AM with you; do not be dismayed, for I AM your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
            We may need to change our way of thinking to achieve victory over a problem. But remember, God says, “I AM there for you.” “I care about you.” “I AM with you—now. In your distress.” Then consider AM I willing to surrender my life to Him and let Him, rather than circumstances, satisfy me?
            Listen to a Christian song and face the hour in the knowledge that your I AM is always in the present tense.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Book Review: Remember Death--The Surprising Path to Living Hope



According to author Matthew McCullough, we’re a culture in denial of death. We’ve removed death from our doorstep. People now die in hospitals rather than at home. We see ourselves as indispensable. And we avoid talking about the subject of death.

McCullough traces the origin of death from the Garden of Eden where the serpent taunts Eve: “You will not surely die (if you eat the fruit of the forbidden tree).” He lied. She ate, and so we all die. But that story leads to the New Testament story of Christ, who died so that we may have life eternal. “Death is a punishment perfectly fitted to the offense,” McCullough writes. But the gospel redeems and destroys death by offering life eternal.

We need to recognize foreshadows of death in the world around us. Like Ecclesiastes reads, everything has a season—work, pleasure, wealth. Ecclesiastes sets the scene for Jesus: “It sets the context in which the resurrection of Jesus makes sense. It prepares us to see why everything is vain if Jesus is not alive.

If we recognize the shadow of death around us, we appreciate the promise of a deathless world. We live in a stage of impermanence. In time everything changes, nothing lasts—meals, books, shows. All temporary. Time devours. But that need not spoil our appreciation of the good things of life. The best is yet to come.

McCullough writes: “Embracing death-awareness is how we strip away a heart-breaking attachment to the things of this world.” It’s just like love. Some might say that it’s better not to love because your heart may be broken. We miss out so much with such an attitude.

Consider everything in this world as an appetizer and see problems as momentary in light of eternity. That puts death in perspective.

The book ends with an index and a scripture index. I appreciated the author’s perspective. I keep putting off things I could do to better prepare for death because I really don’t want to think about it. But McCullough is right. The death rate is 100 percent, so we better be ready. A thoughtful read.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book Review: Stepping Heavenward



Reading this novel is like seeing a video timeline of a Christian woman’s life, showing her development from youth to maturity. Written as a dated journal, you will relate to Katherine’s emotional ups and downs—her youthful petulance, her heartbreak over a broken engagement, her peevishness with her husband, her crankiness with her children, her struggles with health and her disappointment at her own lack of Christian maturity.

In her journal, Katherine shares her private thoughts. With honesty and humor, she exposes the complexity of human nature as she struggles to grow in faith.

Set in the 1800s, Katherine garners advice as she travels the path of life. When she complains about difficult people in her life, a friend advises God has two reasons for allowing it: “One would be the good they might do me. The other the good I might do them.” The book is chockful of such food for thought.

Forced to take in her husband’s relatives, Katherine struggles with the burden it places on her household. Over a sick child, she ponders turning her daughter over to the Lord: “Could I refuse Him my child because she was the very apple of my eye? Nay then, but let me give to Him, not what I value least, but what I prize and delight in most. Could I not endure heart-sickness for Him who had given His only Son for me!”

As you turn the pages, you watch a mature woman’s feelings settle as love to Christ becomes her guiding principle. As her home becomes more peaceful, she muses: “Is the change all in Ernest? Is it not possible that I have grown more reasonable, less childish and aggravating?”

Author Elizabeth Prentiss includes includes a discussion guide for personal reflection or to share with a group.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book because Katherine so openly and honestly reflected the thoughts and feelings that mark our days as we strive to grow in Christ through every age and stage of life.



Friday, August 2, 2019

Which Coupon Gets You Into Heaven?



To redeem a $5 coupon at a dollar store, I needed to spend $25, so my husband and I stopped by to pick up a few things. Since dollar store items are cheap, we kept adding to the cart—shampoo, vitamins, and at the last minute I threw in a box of blueberry waffles to make sure I spent $25.

As we headed to the checkout, I reached for my coupon. It wasn’t in the compartment of my purse where I put it. I rooted through every section of my purse. No coupon. I looked in our car. No coupon.

I finally gave up on finding my precious coupon, and we checked out with a total of $37 worth of merchandise. My coupon did me no good.

Hungry for Heaven?

My experience with my coupon reminds me of the “coupons” we may think we need to cash in to get to heaven.

Perhaps we think that if we are “good enough” we will earn a coupon for heaven. But what is “good enough”? Have you ever tried to live the perfect life for a day? You are sure to have a wrong thought or grumble at your husband.
           
Perhaps we think that if we serve God enough, we will get a coupon for heaven. But how much must we serve? Does it count if I hand out juice at vacation Bible school? If I host a neighborhood Bible study? Work as a pastor? Teach Sunday school? How much service is enough?
           
Perhaps we think that if we pray enough, we will get a coupon for heaven. But how long must we pray. Five minutes? Thirty-five minutes? An hour a day? Five hours? How much prayer is enough?
           
Perhaps if we serve our fellow man, we will get a coupon for heaven. Does it count if we buy a meal for a homeless person? Serve in the Peace Corps? Visit a nursing home? What must we do to earn a coupon for serving our fellow man?

            You get the idea. We can never:



  • be good enough
  • pray enough
  • or serve enough.

  • Good works follow salvation, but they don’t provide salvation. If they did, Christ’s death was unnecessary.

    Hope for Heaven:
               
    So is there no hope for us to get to heaven? Fortunately, there is. Christ lived a perfect life, a life that is good enough. And by dying on the cross, He paid the price, the sacrifice, required by a righteous God to pay for our sin. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
               
    You see, God is so holy, so perfect, that only perfection may come into His Presence. We simply don’t qualify in ourselves. But when we receive/believe/accept (whatever word you want to use) Christ as our Savior, it is as though He wraps us in His own white robe of righteousness. Although we are still sinful people, we then appear sinless and perfect before God.
               
    That is salvation. That is the gift for which we need no coupon. We need only Christ.
               
    Headed for Heaven:

    If you’ve never embraced Christ as your Savior, just pray this prayer today:
               
    Dear Lord, I know I’ve done wrong things in my life, and I’m sorry. (Feel free to tell Him the things you remember.) I believe Christ died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for my sins. I invite Him to be Lord of my life, and I look forward to doing good works for Him throughout this life and walking with Him right into eternity. In His Name I pray. Amen.

    “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story . . . . “ Psalm 107:2
               
    You are now a new person in Christ. Write this date in your Bible. Know that on this date you passed from certain death and separation from God into life eternal. And tell someone of the step you’ve taken. Feel free to leave a note on this message to celebrate your salvation. And may God bless you for taking this step of faith.

    Feel free to share this post if you think it might help someone seeking better to know God.
               



    Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels