Sunday, December 31, 2017

Skip the Regrets and Forge Forward in Faith in 2018

"What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?  Job 15:14

I am but a silly sheep in the great I AM 's  overflowing pasture, and I lose my way all the time. He rescues me daily from my own bad decisions and keeps me in life. (Psalm 66:9) Yet the Bible says I am pure if I am washed in the blood of the Lamb. I am without spot and blameless. I share in Christ's very righteousness.

"Yes, but....!" I've said in my heart a million times. My own heart wants to readily condemn me. The voice in my heart demands to be heard. Yet God is far greater than that voice...
For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. I John 3:21

 At certain times, like at night when I toss and turn, the thoughts of what I should have done and could have done come back to nip at my conscience. Finally, I am able to put the day into the wastebasket and He gives me rest.

The trouble is I know what is in my heart. I know that I fall short of God's righteous requirements. And Jesus does too.He knows I can never clean up the mess within my own heart. But somehow He still loves me, not because of anything desirable in me, but because of who and what He is. There is nothing in Him less than absolute love and perfection. He knows that if I spent the next billion years trying in my flesh to be like Him I would never produce even one good thing.

So He waits. He wants only for me to trust Him. He alone will produce anything good that comes from me by His grace. After all these years of walking with the Lord, I  only see more of my failures. That's a good thing, though. It's good to be weakened, to be reminded that I am only made of dust, so that I look only to my Perfect Savior. He too was made of dust, but now is in an incorruptible body that has triumphed for once and all over sins and failures and death.

Thank God, this Perfect Savior does not see me the way I see myself. I say in my heart, "But Lord, remember the time I did this, or though that, or didn't do what I thought You wanted me to?"

But that's ridiculous to entertain that, for He tells us:
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Heb. 8: 12

If I believe the Bible, I must cast these thoughts off as vain imaginations. These feelings of guilt and regret do not make me more valuable or pious to God. They only serve to prove that my eyes are on myself and not on the Finished Work sacrifice that He made, once for all.

If He said it was finished, it was finished. No matter how bad I botch things, my sins, past, present and future have all been a part of what we could call Job's bag and thrown on Christ, once for all.

"My transgression is sealed up in a bag, And You wrap up my iniquity." Job 14:15

In the updated 1992 version of Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest today,  it gently and kindly reminded me, when once again I was ready to beat myself up for falling short that it is about looking ahead, not looking behind, as we reach this last day of the year 2017.

 "It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return...Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ. Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him." 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Make a Little Bright

For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.

II Corinthians 13:4

Our adversary is slick. He studies our countenance to see what kinds of thoughts he can throw at us to try to knock us out of God's plan. But he makes the thought seem like it is our thought, so we don't realize it is an attack upon our mind, an effort to deride any good thing that the Lord might be working in us.

I saw this so clearly today. I go on Thursdays to the assisted living place where my Mom is now and each week I share a chapter of my book Sure Mercies: Hope for the Suffering, with any who want to come in the back dining room at 10 am. But today, I planned on staying on even after that.

About 6 weeks ago, I started thinking about something small I could do for the residents. I deliberated and looked on Pinterest, googling ideas back and forth when finally I came up with something. I like to sew and I have lots of materials from the years. I found a pattern on Pinterest for a little sheep. I could make one for each of them. I copied the pattern onto parchment paper and set to cutting out some 60 sheep bodies, heads, arms and legs.  I just wanted to give the residents something to let them know that God cared about them, that Jesus died for them, and to try to spread God's Good News of salvation through a little poem I wrote and attached to a ribbon and tied around each one.

A couple of days ago I felt this sense of dread about the whole thing. I felt that everyone there would despise them and the staff people would laugh at me for being a "do-gooder." But it wasn't like I was working to "try" and please God in making them, I enjoyed the whole process of sewing them together and even wrapping them. It's hard to explain but I felt this oppression. I even cried a couple times yesterday.

I woke up still feeling heavy inside. But as I began reading my Bible this morning, God blessed me so much in His Word and I just felt that burden lift off my shoulders. 

God, You are my God, I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You; in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. So I gaze on You in the sanctuary to see Your strength and Your glory. My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. Psalm 63: 1-3 

I took a couple minutes to pray to the Father and I asked my little sister and my husband and son and daughter in law also to pray for me today when I handed them out.

All I can say is I was so deceived by the enemy in feeling intimidated in sharing my gifts with the old folks there. Some of them were so surprised that I had a gift for them and their faces lit with joy. Seeing that joy on their faces was more than enough to fill my soul with blessings.

It can be gloomy in my corner of the country, and often the darkness really can get to some of us. But today, there was just a little brightness added to my day and to their day, and to think that I thought of chucking the whole idea. Like I said, the enemy must have seen my needless worry on my countenance and tried to win a victory on this the shortest and darkest day of the year.

But once again, our adversary was defeated by the Word of God.

"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death." Revelation 12:11

When God is glorified, people are blessed, plain and simple. God's glory is for man's good. So let us lift Him up, unashamed, in this dark world. I remembered  suddenly this lovely quote by Edward Everett Hale, and realized how it can apply to small, tiny efforts to spread the love of Christ: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  

When I hear and see of all  the terrible things in the world today, sometimes I feel like I can't do anything, it's hopeless. But seeing the light in the residents faces reminded me that is just not true. When I am weak, then He is strong. Praise be to His name.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hope from Christ in the Winter of Life

Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Acts 14:17

Last night I went to a Christmas party at the assisted living center where my Mom now lives. I am there pretty frequently these days and am getting to know the residents. How is it that there are so many people living in assisted living and nursing homes and I can relate to them better now than any other time in my life? 

When I was young, every summer we drove halfway across the country to visit my Dad's mother who lived in a nursing home in a small town in Iowa. When we went there, I didn't take time to talk to the other residents, I was just there to see her. I did not view it particularly as a sad place, but for me saying goodbye was always tough. The reality is that people go to these places to die. It is their last stop after a long life.

Some of them are happy and lively, some are not. "Life is hard," my Mom reminded me last night.

"Yes, life is hard, Mom. I see it now," I could have said to her.

We joined all the others for the party in the dining hall as people scrambled to find a place to sit. Some were struggling with Alzheimers, one was blind, others had dementia. They all were there because they needed to be there for one reason or another.

As we came in, we were going to sit at the table where she eats, but one of her table mates snapped that what, were we planning on coming at midnight?  Now it was too late for us to sit there, the seats were gone. She scowled at us for not being there earlier, but I didn't want her mood to get Mom down.  I remained cheerful and eventually we were seated in the middle of the room, facing the beverage table and with a good view of the musicians there to sing to us all.

People who have a hard time remembering what they did a few hours ago remember the lyrics to the Christmas songs, like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindoor" and Jingle Bells. But we also sang songs that reflected the true meaning of Christmas like Silent Night. A real treat was listening to singers perform the Christmas version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I closed my eyes and though there was lots of room noise, I focused on the lyrics and the incredulity that God Incarnate came down to dwell with broken people like us.

Then, "Santa" and "Mrs. Claus" arrived to wish all the residents a Merry Christmas and hand out little bags with small gifts and candy inside. I thought to myself, "This is the first Christmas where my Mom is a resident at a home." Just like a little child getting candy, she eagerly took her gift bag from Santa.

Before the party, I attended a ladies Bible study across town. I hadn't been there for a while. It was a bit treacherous getting there with snow coming down but I had a 4 wheel drive and was OK, even going through the Fort Pitt tunnel. The day before, I really felt the seasonal affective blahs. I knew the day would be long and dark if I didn't brave the weather and go meet with likeminded ladies.

Though I drove 45 minutes to get there, I was reminded of why shortly after my arrival. I needed the encouragement that God's plan is grace. It is not based on merit that I can stand before God but on what the Son did for me that made me acceptable to God. How is it that we so easily forget that?

And so, when I reached the assisted living last night for the party on a bitter December night, that love and grace was still sustaining me and filling me. I realize I am starting to get attached to some of my Mom's companions and enjoy being in their company. It won't be long 'til I am in their shoes.

There are some there who are believers and some who are not interested in faith. It makes a difference, I think, as their end draws near. For the believers, they are confident that soon they will make an exit to a "better resurrection," that they will not be stuck with their limitations forever. I can see joy in their faces when we talk about Christ at our little devotions on Thursdays. Sadly, those who have said "No" to God all their lives seem unable to change their minds at this point in life. I am sure there are those who do, but they are the exception.

Looking at the residents there last night, I was overwhelmed with the fact that God loves us and wants a relationship with each one of us. He still honors our free choice, though, even when we are old and frail. Yet any time, any day, any person can simply take the free gift of salvation God so generously offers us. Then we truly can have a Merry Christmas, no matter what we are going through. For we possess the greatest gift of all: Christ living inside of us and sharing with us His gift of eternal life.

And so I will continue to share the good news, for "now" is the appointed time, now is the season. It is always a good time to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christmas is a time when we can truly think about why we are celebrating anyway.

It's about Christ. God with us, Immanuel. He will be with His children always, even to the end of their lives.