A great way to grow closer to the Lord is to read His word, pray, and write down what He is teaching you! Many of the people at Paradise Calvary Chapel do just that and we get to share them with you here!
When I was offered a ministry internship, I’d been in a season of spiritual warfare in my thoughts. Working in the church sounded like a dream come true; serving in a place where closeness to God is your coworkers' paramount goal seemed like a good way to keep my mind distracted from the temptations. Besides, it felt good to know I was doing something right for once. All I wanted was to get back into focusing on God again, and going to church seemed like a good start.
The pastor I interned under told me he liked to give people jobs that allowed them to use their spiritual gifts. I wasn’t sure anymore what my gift was (come to find out I’ve got the gifts of helps and administration). I’m not any kind of prophet or evangelist, but I can serve those who are so they have more time to do what they’re good at doing. So I stepped up to plate, not waiting to be asked or told to do something, but taking initiative and serving where I saw it was needed.
I started out with simple things, like cleaning the bathroom, or bringing the pastor his afternoon coffee. The more I offered service, though, the more the pastor entrusted to me, and by the end of the internship, he dubbed me his personal assistant. Counseling sessions that needed to be scheduled, or documents that needed to be filed were filtered through me so they wouldn’t clutter his time in the Word.
Not only did this aid his ministry, but my ability to evangelize actually strengthened; it’s natural for people to talk about their own lives, and if a majority of your life is spent at church, it’s a whole lot easier to bring up the gospel in conversation.
There’s a Proverb that says, “Whoever keeps the fig tree will eat its fruit; so he who waits on his master will be honored” (Proverbs 27:18). In essence, if you submit yourself to taking initiative, if you dedicate yourself to service, then you’re going to eventually get a sort of tenure. You’ll gain trust. This is exactly what happened to me: I was given the role of assistant simply because I stepped into it when I saw assistance was needed. I wanted to serve for the sake of the simplicity, for the sake of being with God. If I were trying to earn my way to some lofty title, I wouldn’t be truly submissive—and a lack of submissiveness would actually hinder my ability to serve!
What about this concept on a larger scale, though? What if the master we’re waiting on isn’t a pastor in need of a secretary, but rather the God who has called us into obedience? What if we tended to the spiritual fruit in our lives, making sure we accurately represented He who saved us? What would it look like if we submitted ourselves in a way that we took initiative in serving Him? What doors of ministry would we open for ourselves and others? How much more focused on God would our minds be if we dedicated every day to His Church and Kingdom?
“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:2-3)
The words of one of theses verses have been firmly etched into my mind as we sung it growing up in our bible studies. Granted, it didn’t make as much sense to me then as it does now. It can easily be summarized that essentially God makes a trade with us; He takes away misery and gives us joy. Of course, that is a gross under appreciation of what is being stated here. Ashes were used in mourning, as when people learned terrible news; oil was used for anointing those that served the Lord, such as a high priest or a king; and the Hebrew word for heaviness could just as well mean dull, dark, smoking, or faint, the imagery being something worn out or burned.
I’ve seen people in the depths of misery and depression, and these words seem to capture the vision quite well. It’s almost like you can feel a weight in the air, it permeates the atmosphere like ash or smoke. It’s hard to see people in a state like this, you want to help them and at the same time you just want to escape the suffocating aura they exude. Yet, it’s at this point, this point of undesirable despair, that God seeks us out.
God looks down at us at our lowest point, when we’re hopeless and destitute, and says: “Wanna trade?” Granted, these verses were to comfort the exiles of Israel, but it doesn’t seem like much of a leap to say that He offers the same generous bargain to us. He wants to take away our grief, to take away the weight that bears us down, and wants to anoint us with beauty and joy. I can’t help but think if we were to see a person come to us in our daily lives with such an offer we’d stare at them confused and say, “Really? Are you sure?” By our standards, God is terrible at bartering, yet He considers us a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price (Matthew 13).
If we choose it, we can take God up on His offer, shake off our ashes, our mourning, our spirit of burned-out heaviness. We may not always be happy, because happiness is temperamental, but we can be girded with a joy that persists regardless of our circumstance.
I don’t travel often. I guess it’s just easier to stay home. There are so many preparations to be made, especially if you’re leaving the country. Along with flights, lodging and appropriate wardrobe, the extended absence from job, family, friends and church need to be considered. There may be loose ends to tie up and special arrangements made.
Ready or not, each of us will one day depart from this planet. We won’t have to concern ourselves with transportation, hotels and clothing, but what about all those people we’ll suddenly leave behind? Will we exit earth with those proverbial loose ends still untied? As of now, do we run the risk of entering eternity having left sorrow or pain in our wake? Will there be gracious words left unspoken that were needed for healing, or loving actions left undone that would have paved the way for peace? Needless to say, unlike a planned vacation, we may have zero time for last minute deeds of preparation.
Two years ago, I sat with a dear friend and spiritual mentor as she journeyed from earth to heaven. I know why her flight home was so peaceful. During her funeral, her beautiful legacy of love was confirmed over and over again as one by one her many friends were compelled to share their stories, recounting the difference she had made in their lives. Her life was like a treasure chest that was opened for all to see, brimming with brilliant jewels that sparkled with the warm tears of grateful mourners.
When I am seventy or eighty years old, I may indeed be able to say “I’ve lived a full life.” But dare I ask my future self, “What was it full of”? Did I basically live for my own happiness? Or was I present and useful in the lives of others day in and day out, no matter the cost? Did I regularly invest in others with a servant’s heart or did I spend my 30,000 days on earth seeking only comfort and pleasure?
Have I made sure that all my relatives have heard the Gospel of Jesus from me? Did I embrace divine appointments with enthusiasm? Did I share the money that was entrusted to me with a generous heart? Did I spend the time entrusted to me to guide, teach, cheer, feed, refresh, cry with, labor for, and generally love on others?
King Solomon wisely said, “Here is the conclusion of the matter: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
His commandments can all be summed up just as Jesus said in Mark chapter 12:30-31, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
If given a choice, would you choose to be rich, or poor? It sounds like a no brainer right? Is it better to be wealthy or poor, healthy or sick, successful or a failure? In a Proverb, Agur requests to be neither. “Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).
The Bible has only promises and comfort for the poor, but many warnings to those striving to be rich. Solomon, who was also very rich, said again in Ecclesiastes 5:10, "He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase." He was probably the richest man ever, and he tells us it does not satisfy. Look at how many stories we’ve heard about how the rich and famous are miserable, or how big lottery winners end up broke and broken.
It's okay to be rich; there are many rich men in the Bible. Money is not the problem. It is the love of money and putting trust in money that is the problem. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Timothy 6:10).
Enough about being rich. If given the choice between being healthy or sick, which would you choose? Or how about being successful or a failure? Another no brainer, right? However, has anyone ever been driven to prayer for help because they were healthy or successful?
I got into a serious motorcycle accident at age seventeen. It seemed pretty bad, but at the time, guys were getting drafted left and right. The accident kept me out of Vietnam, which could have ended my life.
It all boils down to being content with where God has you and what you have. In Philippians, Paul says to be content in whatever state you are in (that includes Nevada!). Jesus tells us not to worry about anything, just to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will take care of all the rest. Lay up your treasures in heaven, not here on earth; really, there is nothing worth storing up here on earth anyway. All things do work together for the good for those walking in faith. I know it does not seem like it at times but it always does.
I love the story of Ruth, as I’m sure many do. It’s just a lovely story; how it hasn’t been made and remade into a movie is beyond me. The way Boaz’s redemption of Ruth parallels Christ’s redemption of us is one that has been made many times, but it is not the topic of discussion I’d like to make here. Rather, something that has been on my mind recently is in the first chapter of the tiny book. Ruth and Naomi met in the land of Moab during a famine, where Ruth married Naomi’s son.
Both Ruth and Naomi’s husbands died, leaving them both widowed and destitute. Naomi tells Ruth and her other daughter in law to return to their homes and find new husbands, but rather than leaving for her own benefit, Ruth clings to Naomi, even after Naomi tells her: “And she said, ‘Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’But Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave you,Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God’” (Ruth 1:15-16).
This level of love and loyalty is astonishing to me, Ruth was giving up everything to stay with Naomi, with no prospective benefit. One line that gets my attention is “your people will be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth wasn’t just leaving her home and her people, she was leaving her entire belief system and world view. This runs in contrast to her sister-in-law, who Naomi notes returned to her people and her gods (Ruth 1:15). Ruth was leaving what was familiar, comfortable, her tradition, and her identity so that she could be with someone she loved, and make room for a new and better God.
This is something that is easy for me to fail to appreciate if I don’t take time to recognize it. I grew up in a Christian household, but many people don’t. Many people grow up in a home with contrary, sometimes even antithetical, beliefs. Yet, when they come to know the grace and love of God they still choose to abandon their old lives, their old traditions, and their old gods, for something foreign and unfamiliar. I am humbled by that sacrifice as I never was asked to make it myself; I didn’t have to leave my people or my God when I accepted Jesus, I embraced them.
Not everyone is as lucky as I am. Some have to be what Jesus spoke about in His message in Luke 14:26-33, and die to themselves. Like Ruth, they have to be taken to the point where they have lost everything they have, before they are willing to give up who they are, so they can be brought to the One who will redeem them.
Beautiful fall weather had us outside last week tidying up the yard. A decision was made to remove a 20-year-old oversized shrub. Twenty years is a long time for a plant to be in one place and its roots had gone deep enough to creep under the driveway.
About 30 minutes into shoveling, pushing and pulling, we looked up to see two young women making their way toward us. I knew by their friendly smiles, manner of dress and book in hand that they had a religion they intended to share. My husband quickly told them that if they pulled the bush out, he’d convert to Jehovah’s Witness. He was desperate, but joking. The pair were actually Later Day Saints. Sister Shin was from Korea and Sister Housley was a blonde, blue-eyed westerner.
It didn’t take my husband long to begin the inquisition. I’m not sure which he enjoyed more, the break from shoveling or the opportunity to inflict discomfort by his prodding questions. Sister Housley clearly did not enjoy the banter and soon disengaged. Sister Shin, on the other hand, personified patience and even insisted on helping pull the stubborn plant out. Ignoring our hesitation, she picked up a yard tool and went to work. Before long, the twenty-year-old stubborn shrub was out. It had been defeated by the teamwork of a worn-out homeowner with a shovel, and a young stranger with fresh determination.
After a moment of celebration, the question & answer session picked up where it left off. However, Sister Housley was beyond done. Trying her best to move Sister Shin along, she pronounced that we were obviously not ready to hear her truth with an open heart. But the Korean stood her ground. She pressed on, reading aloud from The Book of Mormon and showing us colorful pictures. She didn’t understand as her counterpart had that she had zero chance with us.
When asked if they had grown up in LDS households, both said that they had. We shared that we were raised Catholic but were compelled to search for Truth once we left home. Our conversation ended when they were asked what had been left out of the Bible that necessitated a new revelation, or rather, what exactly was made complete by the Book of Mormon? They could not give a meaningful answer. I gave them each a bottle of cold water as we said our goodbyes.
Roots that go deep provide stability and nourishment, but they can be extremely hard to pull up when it’s time to remove that which needs to be uprooted and replaced. We continue to pray for them as we told them we would.
“He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots’” (Matthew 15:13).
The Lord sometimes can warn us or start to prepare us for a difficult season to come. Over the summer we had a lot going on. A lot of new changes happening in the coming months. We were going to have a baby in August, my husband was starting a new position in August, and our kids were starting school—in August. We had started to prepare and we were going to be ready!
Well the Lord had a different plan. The baby came in July. We were thrown off. We weren't expecting it, the pregnancy had been going so well this time.
I knew a tough season was ahead. I was confident or maybe even prideful about it. Thinking "I know Lord. Yeah, yeah, we've been here before. It will be fine. Whatever it is I'll just pray and let You get us through it." Well that is not how it went at all. And it took me longer than it should have to recognize my pride. I'm really having to use discipline and self control to keep my eyes and heart focused on the Lord. This was a tough season. Much more difficult than I anticipated. Of course as it was approaching I just figured we'd been through tough seasons before, it won't be so bad. I know it's coming so I'm mentally prepared. But I found myself crying at some point every day for a week straight.
This season hasn’t ended, and I’m learning through this another level of needing Jesus. He is for sure stretching my faith and how glorious is that!? Because I am weak and He is strong. So although I know He is in control, and I know with Him I will prosper, I am still human with human emotions, desires, and needs. But every time I started to feel overwhelmed if I just stopped, breathed, prayed and honestly gave it to Him, it would get easier. So why is it so hard to think to do that in the moment? I've decided this must be one small reason why I'm in this season; to learn that discipline. He's conditioning me and growing my wisdom. And in that I find peace and comfort. Hallelujah!
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4)
It’s a bit ridiculous, but one of my favorite things to do when it’s cold is to blow out a long stream of white puffed steam. The vapor dances in the air briefly before dissipating, never to be seen again. That’s the kind of imagery I think David conjures when he discusses his own mortality; “Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah” (Psalms 39:5). It’s hard not to see his point, compared to God the best any of us can ever do or offer seems insignificant; like a puff of steam on a winter day.
The revelation of one’s own relevance in the grand scheme of the universe is almost enough to instigate a existential crisis; or it least it would if the analogy of our existence ended there. It is true that we have a short time on this earth, and much of what we do may not effect much in the long run, but God doesn’t see our lives as inconsequential. David praised in wonder at the power and awesomeness of God, how He made the universe in it’s complexities, and asked: “What is man that You are mindful of him,And the son of man that You visit him?For You have made him a little lower than the angels,And You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:4-5).
Even when we think our lives mean nothing, God doesn’t. He has numbered every one of our hairs (Luke 12:7), He’s collected our tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8), He is fascinated by us and by no means discounts our deeds. The bible repeatedly tells us that we will give an account for all of our deeds when we stand before God, so someone is keeping track of what we do. Thankfully, Jesus redeems us from our sins, wiping our slate clean, and amazingly our good deeds are remembered. Jesus told His followers that anything they did for others in His name would be remembered, even as simple as giving a cup of water to someone thirsty (Mark 9:41).
Will the earth quake and the sky turn black when any of us die? Probably not, but that doesn’t make our lives meaningless. While it is true that our acts will begin to fade into memory as soon as our time is up, but we are being observed by someone who values what we do. So, even if life may seem like just a vapor in the wind sometimes, its every moment is watched by our Lord in the clouds
I've been thinking a lot about how I view God and how God views me. If only I could consistently see God for who He really is—Sovereign (ultimate power); Omnipotent (unlimited power) “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light" (Genesis 1:3); Omniscient (knowing everything) "...His understanding is infinite" (Psalm 147:5); Omnipresent (everywhere present)—no one can hide from Him; Immutable (Never changing) "For I am the Lord, I change not..." (Malachi 3:6). And many more attributes - all which should be a comfort to me as a believer. I mean, the character of God is true and unchanging. His promises are true and unchanging.
But alas, in my tiny imperfect human mind I become distracted by my condition and limit God. When I try to take control of my life—essentially becoming my own god—I am disrespecting the God of the universe who is perfect in all His ways and He loves and cares about me! How can I have one moment of failing faith or disbelief? How can I not treat Him with reverence and awe and respect? How can I shrink the gift of the cross—minimizing His Holiness and minimizing my sin? But, I am a sinner, running amuck with my free will. Oh, Heavenly Father, forgive me for my disbelief and my lack of faith and my selfishness and arrogance! Teach me to walk by faith, not sight.
I praise God for His grace (unmerited favor) and His love. When I come to Him over and over with the petty problems of my condition, He never says to me "Go away! You are so annoying and dumb!" No, He takes me in His arms, forgives me and loves me even more not because of any acts of righteousness on my part, but because I stand in grace and my position is assured because of who I am in Christ.
If only I could see myself as God sees me—forgiven, spotless, loved beyond measure. How I pray that each day I become humble and teachable in the ways of my Lord and Savior, living in the freedom of knowing who God is, and knowing who I am in Him. I must constantly nourish my mind on Biblical truths growing in holiness (sanctification); seeing more of His holiness and more of my sin; seeking my position in Christ and the transformational life of joy and hope and love that God gives me by His grace.
How precious are His promises and because of the character of God, I know they are true and never changing. Amen.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
We love looking forward to something good! The anticipation of a future thing or experience brings energy to our souls. Consequently, anticipation doesn’t confine itself to our intellect; our emotions ride piggyback. The expectation of something good can literally hijack our minds and hearts. We will trade hours of being in the present with hours of imagining the future.
But what about the kind of expectation that depends on another human being for its fulfillment? If I have a strong belief that something good will happen, and that thing depends on the actions of someone other than myself, I may be in for a big disappointment. Disappointment in ourselves can be painful, but disappointment in the failure of others to live up to our expectations doubles the pain and is relationally poisonous. Many times, an expectation is placed on someone else without their knowledge. How unfair is that? It puts them squarely in the crosshairs of our indignation, blindsided by our disappointment in them.
My husband and I have talked about childhood Christmases when we didn’t get that one thing we asked for. His was a certain battleship and mine was a doll family. We were sure they’d be under the Christmas tree on December 25th. But they weren’t. We remember well the disappointment.
Marriage brought new expectations. Not of battleships and dolls but of grace gifts. Continual random acts of kindness and sacrificial serving, unlimited favor and forgiveness, never forgetting an important date on the calendar and making each other our number-one priority. It’s as if we expected dating behavior to continue forever! The problem with expectations placed on others goes well beyond marriage. Friendships have been needlessly derailed by it, families have been tragically destroyed by it and churches have suffered painful fractures when expectations replaced humility and submission.
Here’s what I’ve learned. If I am feeling terribly disappointed that someone let me down, I might need to check my heart. It may mean that I felt like I deserved better, or that I felt like something was owed to me, or that for someone to be so negligent, they must not care about me. I, I, I, me, me, me. If we have truly died to self, we are wrong to take the perceived failings of others as a personal affront. A Bible teacher once said, “Dead things don’t feel pain when they are kicked.”
There is only One on whom we can fully depend. Only One whose actions on our behalf are fully sufficient. His name is Jesus. Everyone else will fail to meet our expectations. We can expect it.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31 & 32).