Immeasurably More

My auburn-haired granddaughter, Olive, celebrated her fourth birthday last Sunday.  Like most little girls, she is a source of joy.  Her parents have taught her to love books and as a result of reading “please, just one more” book at bedtime, she has a huge vocabulary.  Olive invented the phrase “yes sense” as an opposite to “no sense” when her mother remarks, “that makes no sense!”

Recently, Alisa and Olive were working in the yard.  Their fruit trees were in full bloom, having been fooled by our warm winter into thinking it was the right time.  Alisa told Olive, “We need to pray to God to bless these trees, because everyone says that there won’t be any fruit this year.  But, I think He can make some grow, anyway.”

Olive answered, “Yes…because God is inside the branches!”

Her profound observation brings to mind the end of Paul’s prayer recorded in Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

Isn’t it interesting that Paul did not name God in this passage, but chose instead to give us a description of God that would make us sit up and take notice?  “Him, who is able to do more?”  No.  “Him, who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all we ask or imagine!”  The ability of God to amaze us cannot be measured, so to imagine Him being in His creation is not so difficult.  God’s ability to do more exceeds my ability to ask.  God’s ability to do more exceeds my ability to even imagine what He can do.  Okay, well, I can believe that.  He is God, after all.  But, that’s not what Paul said.  Paul said, “according to His power that is at work within us.”

What?  He can do immeasurably more through me?  Yes, according to His power (the Holy Spirit) at work within us.  And, just like Alisa wants her tree to bear fruit, God wants us to bear spiritual fruit. Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Healthy branches bear fruit—not by their own power, but because of the power of God giving them life from within.

If we are going to be led by the Holy Spirit in 2016, we need faith that Paul’s prayer is true.  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit is at work within us.  If we will only trust that His help is readily available to us, we will step out in boldness.  We will put our fear in a dark corner where it belongs and step into the Light with words about our Lord Jesus on our lips.  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would provide the words if we will only open our mouths to say them.  Once we do, we’ll experience a surge of new energy and confidence from the Holy Spirit.  We’ll realize that we’re no longer afraid to talk to our neighbors and friends about Christ.  The Holy Spirit’s only devotion is the exultation of Jesus.  If we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we cannot help but talk about Christ.

God is in everything!  He is in us… and, He is ready and able to do more than we can even imagine through us.  So, give up and give in.  Lay down your will and take up His and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you.  Everything you ask of God, He can do through you and so much more.  He is in everything… even the branches of a fruit tree.  And, that makes yes sense!

 

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Numbered Days

A couple of years ago, a movie came out entitled “The Fault in Our Stars.”  It is the story of two young people, both battling cancer, who find redeeming love in each other.  The movie left me with a heavy sense of the unfairness of two young people experiencing a pure, hold-nothing-back, kind of love for each other only to find their days are numbered.  At her friend’s funeral, the young woman said:

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.  There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

Do you remember the excitement you felt when you first learned that numbers were infinite?  No matter how high you could count, there was always the possibility of adding a number to that number to reach an even higher number.  Math is different than any other subject we learn in school.  Nothing about it is based on a man’s opinion.  Its nature is to always be true, always constant, always trustworthy and absolutely infinite.  Math has integrity and makes sense.  But, when I watched this movie, it struck me how important math is to us spiritually.

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “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.”  God is the One who established order out of chaos.  He knew once we grasped the idea of infinite numbers and discovered that numbers don’t lie, we would also discover something important about Him.

In a world polluted by evil, numbers may be the only thing we can hold up as a standard of truth.  You and I can spin the numbers, exaggerate with them, and in that way be dishonest using numbers, but the numbers themselves when computed in any order, in any math equation, will always give you the correct sum, difference, product or quotient.  Just as numbers cannot lie, neither can there be anything false in God. He is absolute Truth — pure, perfect, endless and always true.  Jesus promised that His Holy Spirit would guide us into all the truth. (John 16:13)  Faith in Christ makes us partakers of the pure honesty and infinite nature of God.

Just as numbers have no beginning and no end, so God is without beginning or end.  Within Himself, He is infinite.  The Bible speaks of God counting the hairs on our heads or knowing how many grains of sand are on the seashore.  He knows exactly how many birds are in the air and is aware when one of them falls.  These descriptions help us grasp the infinite nature of God.  No matter the size of the infinities we can see, God is the bigger infinity.  He is the Span of infinity that engulfs all the other smaller infinities.

The infinite and honest nature of numbers gives us a glimpse of the nature of God that is small enough for us to embrace.  The same concept ignites our imaginations with wondrous awe of a God too glorious for anything less than pure, genuine worship.  He has given us a forever within our numbered days.

Just Tell Your Story…

road-to-emmausMy friend, Cleopas, and I left Jerusalem and headed toward the town of Emmaus.  We had a seven-mile walk ahead of us and our hearts were heavy with grief, our steps faltering and slow.  We trudged along the dusty road in silence, thinking about all that had happened in Jerusalem.  Three days ago, they crucified Jesus of Nazareth as if He was a common criminal.  While Jesus was alive, we saw Him heal all the sick in our towns and villages.  We saw Him feed hundreds of people after He preached on the hillside and He did many other miracles.  Cleopas and I wondered early on if He might be the One our fathers had prophesied about; so, we met with His disciples as often as possible.  When He died, we hid out, along with the Eleven and other believers – weeping, praying, and trying to understand.

I was first to break the silence.  “Do you think what the women said is really true,” I asked.  “I don’t know,” Cleopas said.  “It’s hard to believe they really saw and heard angels speak!  But, they seemed convinced He is alive.”

Suddenly, I noticed there was another man on the side of the road.  I hadn’t seen him before.  It seemed like he appeared from thin air!  Had I been so overcome with sadness that I didn’t see him ahead of us?  Cleopas greeted the man, so he began to walk along with us.

“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” He asked.

We looked down, not wanting him to see our sadness.  “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” I asked.

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” Cleopas and I said in unison.  I continued, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the One who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  Some of our women amazed us when they went to the tomb early this morning, but didn’t find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

“Why are you so foolish and slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken?” the man asked.  Then, he began explaining stories we had heard all our lives, stories from Moses and the Prophets about the Messiah and how He would suffer.  Hope began to fill our hearts which were burning within us as He spoke.

Time passed quickly and soon we reached the outskirts of Emmaus. The man stopped speaking and acted as if he would travel on, but, we urged him to have supper and stay the night at our house.  “It’s not good to be alone on our roadways at night,” we told him.  He accepted our invitation and when we reclined at table, he blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to us.  When He did, the truth was revealed to us that the man was Jesus!  I looked at Cleopas and saw the same joy in his eyes that I was feeling. He’s alive!  It’s true!  We looked back at the man, but He was gone – had disappeared as suddenly as He had appeared on the road. Cleopas and I rose quickly, and hurried back to Jerusalem, to the house where the Eleven were sequestered along with other disciples.

“The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!” they told us.

“Yes, He is alive!” we said.  “We have seen Him!”  Then, we told them all that had happened on the road and how we recognized Him when He broke the bread.

My story is true and will be retold throughout the ages.  My grandchildren’s grandchildren will tell how my life was lost in grief and hopelessness until I met the Lord on the road, listened to His voice, came to know Who He was and believed all He spoke to me.  They will tell how he broke the bread in communion with me and my friend, Cleopas; and, of the salvation He offers to all who will believe in Him – the Christ – Jesus of Nazareth.  My story is the gospel.

The Heart of the Family

 The story is told of a father who won a toy at a raffle. He called his kids together to ask which one should have the present. “Who is the most obedient?” he asked. “Who never talks back to Mother? Who does everything she says?” Five small voices answered in unison. “Okay, Dad, you get the toy.”

We laugh because this hits too close to the mark. A husband knows that while he may be the strength, protection and authority of the home, his wife is its heart. Mom is the one we attach our memories of comfort, praise, empathy, and healing to.  When my family gathers for a holiday meal, it is only a matter of time before everyone is in the kitchen close to Mom. My sons lean against the cabinet, telling stories and laughing while I work.  My husband interrupts for a much-needed hug while stealing a bite of pie dough behind my back. My daughter helps cook and my daughters-in-law decorate and set the table, all happily joining in the conversation. Soon, the grandchildren squeeze in, not wanting to be left out. No matter how many times we disperse the group and make room for work, the gravitational pull of “home” eventually brings them all back again.

We feel this connection to family even when we are apart.  As the first gold and yellow leaves herald the arrival of fall, we eagerly begin thinking of holidays, not because of shopping and presents, but because we will gather together and catch up on the lives we have been missing.  We know that soon we will again experience “home” as we feel it in our hearts.

Perhaps it is this God-given design of home that caused Jesus to call His church His bride.  The marriage relationship is the most tender, the most loving and fulfilling.  It is held in faithful honor above all other relationships. It does not singularly exist so that the husband can guide, bless and care for his wife and children.  It exists so that the husband will be blessed as well.  In chapter thirty-one of the book of Proverbs, the writer describes an excellent wife who so well complements her husband that he is enabled by her to do all that God sets before him.  Verses eleven and twelve especially speak to this idea:

“The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” (NASB)

Think of how that applies to the church, the wife of our Lord.  His heart trusts in us!  Jesus trusts us to be productive, generous, and honorable.  He trusts us to be faithful and loving, to be good stewards of what He has provided, just as a husband trusts his wife to do the same.  He trusts us to teach our children true stories of His role as the respected husband in a home where love and grace abound.  He trusts us to be the heart of the world, a family to whom lost souls can attach their memories of home, a place where they were accepted, loved and enabled.  Because of His provision, authority and sacrificial love for us as a husband, He trusts us to respond with the love and grace of an excellent wife. We are the church, the bride of Christ, the heart of the family of God.

Thoughts on Sunday Evening Worship

JoeWritten on Sunday, March 22, 2015

Worship on Sunday evenings is a special spiritual blessing.  Attending on Sunday evening has been a weekly habit/tradition for me as long as I can remember.  I confess there have been times in the last couple of years that I have missed this wonderful blessing for reasons or excuses that I thought were valid; and, at times, I’ve had to fight the possibility that missing, rather than attending, might become my new habit.

But, tonight, Joe and I attended and were purposeful in not allowing anything to prevent us from being there.  We were a few minutes early and whether or not we can say it was for God’s purpose, Joe was asked to lead the song service, right off the cuff with no preparation whatsoever.  As I watched him step up to the task at hand, I couldn’t help but feel so proud of him.  Something he tells me all the time is, “Never say “no.”  When someone asks you to do something, say “yes” because it is God giving you an opportunity to be part of His work.”   In my own life, I don’t think I’ve bought into that completely.  Sometimes, I don’t feel like accepting a task.  Sometimes, I don’t feel capable.  Sometimes, I just don’t want to.  I can learn a lot from my husband.

When the service began, he walked to the microphone, his shoulders bent from the pain in his back and his gait a bit slow from the pain in his foot; but when he looked up to announce the first song number, I saw his usual smile and twinkling enthusiasm in his eyes.  The first song he chose to lead was “He Gave Me a Song.”  As I listened to his strong voice leading a song he loves, I wondered how many times in our forty-one years together I had experienced this and took it for granted.  It brought tears to my eyes and I thought again for the millionth time what a gift he has been to me.  His ability to lead a song is a wonderful strength.  He has seemingly perfect pitch and I don’t mean to be prideful when I say that.  It is a gift God has given him, to hear the music in his head and know how to produce it with his voice.  And, yet, he has never been one of the chosen song leaders, except for a Sunday or Wednesday evening.  It makes me wonder if others take him for granted too.

His second choice was “Heavenly Sunlight.”  “In the bright sunlight, ever rejoicing, pressing my way to mansions above…”    What a journey Joe has had and still has before him, but “ever rejoicing” is simply his attitude because he is on his way to be with the Lord Jesus.   Then, came, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness.”  He sang out… “His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood.  When all around my soul gives way, He, then, is all my hope and stay.”  Joe knows about the “whelming flood.”  Yet, there is nothing that compares to living a life of trouble, pain, and constant emergency when you are supported by His oath, His covenant and His blood.  I’m not sure we’d even have the ability to understand that hymn had we not gone through so many trials in our lives.

After the sermon came, “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story, of the Christ Who died for me.  How He left His home in glory for the cross of Calvary.”  It’s a song of love and hope, of promise and victory.  How sorely our world needs such a message!  We get so bogged down in the horror of evil in our world that we start to think there’s no victory over it.  And we are so faithless when we think that.  Our Lord defeated death more than 2,000 years ago and no matter what comes while the earth remains, that Truth will always stand.  As my daughter says, “Truth is always relevant.”  The only hope the world has is the cross of Christ.  He died for every person who ever lived and every person living now — not just for those who will believe in Him.  When we listen to Him, for the first time we hear the Truth, and He promised that Truth will set us free.

Our evening of worship ended with “I Know the Lord Will Find a Way for Me.”   A simple statement of faith.  “If I walk in Heaven’s Light, shun the wrong and do the right.  I know the Lord will find a way for me.”  And, whether or not we admit it in our politically correct culture, we do still know the difference between wrong and right.  We just need to reinvent the purpose for our lives and once again choose to shun what is wrong and do what is right.  Good thoughts to take us into the rest of the week.

I wish I had asked the deacons in the Sound Room to record the song service.  As I listened to Joe leading these hymns, I realized the time is short and there may not be many more opportunities for him to do what he did tonight.  What a treasure it would be to have a recording of him singing with his whole heart about the Savior he loves so dearly.  Recordings are, after all, merely enhancers of a memory.  The song service is a spiritual blessing and each worshiper benefits from it in their own way.  But, for me, tonight’s service seemed like a special gift and I am so thankful to have received it.

God So Loved the World

I wrote this post before Christmas, but somehow never got it posted to my blog until now.  I’m posting it now because it’s important to me!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  John 3:16-17
By now most of us have our homes decorated for Christmas.  Fragrant aromas are coming from our kitchens.  Gifts are being wrapped and cards are being mailed.  This Sunday evening, we will meet together for worship, sing praises to God for the gift of His Son, pray together in communal thanksgiving, and follow it all up with an all-church Christmas party afterward. It’s our tradition; and we enjoy these unchanging traditions because we know we serve a God who never changes.   Christmas is the second-greatest proof in history of the love of God.   (The first is, of course, the cross.)  The God of Christmas loves us so much that He laid His Son in a humble manger knowing the shadow of the cross fell across it.  This is the good news that we proclaim every week when we gather around His table and experience communion with Him.  We believe that bread and that cup represent the flesh and
blood of God!  God was “with us” and God died for us because He loves us that much.   We don’t need Christmas to know God is powerful.  We can look at the Creation for that.  We don’t need Christmas to know God is wise.  We can look at the way the seasons change and the cycle of life in everything around us and observe His wisdom. We need Christmas to know God loves us.  We needed God to come down here and live “with us” to know the expanse of His love for us.  Only divine wisdom could conceive of such an answer for the sinful condition of men.  But only divine LOVE could let this answer be born as a child, laid in a manger somewhere in Bethlehem. When we celebrate Christmas with our families, we need to ponder the enormity of this thought – that God became flesh, that God was with us and that God died to save us.  Ponder the reality of Christmas – God in the flesh – taking on flesh and bone and blood because it was the only way to satisfy the sin problem of men.  As you put out your beautiful decorations, with the glitter and lights, realize your efforts to make your home lovely and filled with light and fragrance, are an act of praise to God for the
love that Christmas represents.   Christmas points to God and that is what we are really thankful for and what we are sharing in the gifts we give and receive.  God is the author of the Christmas story.   God is the main character.  God is the hero.   The Bible says in Titus 3:4-7: But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  We can’t talk about the birth of Christ without giving glory to God.  The kindness of God and His love for mankind appeared in the life of a baby boy born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.  God is the One who made us heirs and gave us the gift of eternal life.  Jesus is God’s love for us.  He is our gift.

Wild at Heart

Joe and Chad
Several months ago, I had a telephone conversation with my son, Chad, in which we discussed the ways that members of a family relate to each other, specifically fathers and sons. Chad had just gotten back from taking his sons, Case (5 years old) and Jake (almost 3 years old,) out in the country to shoot their guns. Chad set up some targets which consisted of balloons tied to a post. (At Christmas, my husband, Joe, (Chad’s father) gave Chad the little, single-shot, .22 rifle that Chad and Matt had learned to shoot when they were little boys.) Case and Jake got to practice shooting the gun at the balloons. They had a lot of fun, but it was too windy and cold, so they returned to the house sooner than expected.

Several years ago, we gave Chad an audio copy of a book entitled, “Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul” by John Eldredge. He said he has listened to the book several times. One of the main points in the book is about how vital it is to the emotional and mental health of the boy that his father instills in him confidence about being a man. In the book, John Eldredge states that every man has a wound in his soul and that the wound has almost always been inflicted by their fathers. Chad said he has given a lot of thought to that statement and has searched his mind and heart to try to figure out what his wound is. He has even asked Shannon (his wife,) “What’s wrong with me? I don’t know what my wound is.” And, he has asked her to help him figure it out – what does she think his wound is? She doesn’t know either.

Chad said, “The book says that fathers are the ones who make the boy feel like he has value as a man by the manly sorts of things he teaches his son and by praising him in those things. The men who feel wounded are the ones whose fathers didn’t teach them manly things or taught them and then criticized or punished the son when they got it wrong. But, my dad was wild at heart. My dad loved those masculine activities. He was always teaching me something. He taught me how to weld, how to use a cutting torch and other tools. He taught me how to cast a line at the pond and how to clean a fish. He let me shoot his guns and drive his truck and he expected a lot out of me. But, he always praised me too. He was proud of me when I did something good. He kicked my butt when I needed it and sometimes when I didn’t, but that’s not all he did. So, Mom, here’s what I think about my wound. If I have a wound and it was my father who wounded me, then I think that wound was also healed by the same father.”

Tears sprang to my eyes and I said, “Chad, that is the nicest thing you have ever said to me about your dad. You need to tell him that. He needs to hear that from you.”

Chad said, “I can’t say that to him, Mom, but you can tell him.” And, I did. But, I also wrote it here so it will not be forgotten. Maybe it could be read at his funeral? Or, some other appropriate time? Things like this are rare. They are the golden moments between parents and children that are rarely spoken out loud. When they are spoken, they should be preserved and treasured.

Chad went on to say, “You know, sometimes at work, these younger guys are always griping about their fathers and saying, ‘All my dad does is kick my butt.’ And I say, yeah, most dads do that, but what else does he do? Forgive him for that and respect him for the rest of it.”

I am proud of Chad – proud that he has thought about this deeply enough to figure some things out and proud that he now wants to pass that on to his sons. And, I have no doubt that one day, Case and Jake will figure out that they, too, are blessed because they had a father who was a little bit, or maybe a whole lot, “Wild at Heart!”

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