BY HIS GRACE HE GAVE US ETERNAL ENCOURAGEMENT!

On the way to AWANA with our grandsons, I emptied out the coin bin in the car and handed both of them what seemed to be an equal amount of coins for the offering. “Wow! That’s really a lot!” Seven-year-old Jehiel exclaimed as he put his newly acquired coin counting skills into practice. “One dollar and 35 cents!” Then Jehiel spontaneously offered a child’s interpretation of the word “rich”: “Rich is when you have a whole bucket full of dollar bills!”

Unexpressed thoughts swirled through my head: It depends on how tightly the bills are packed, how big the bucket is, how much debt you have, current monthly expenses, where you are in life, or in the world…sure, a bucket full of dollar bills might mean you’re “rich”…

Then I remembered one of my Dad’s favorite Bible passages, especially in his later years: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1st Timothy 6:6-8)

Maybe as a 7 year-old, Dad had the same concept of “rich” as Jehiel has. By the time he was that age, World War I had ended and he lost his mom to the 1918 flu pandemic. With his 3 siblings, Dad had to dig the best potatoes from their crop to pay the undertaker for his mom’s burial because Grandpa didn’t have that bucket of dollar bills. Throughout his life the bucket was elusive: World War II, the Great Depression, being laid off at 43 with six children at home, starting a new business at that age…but no bucket full of dollar bills.

When Dad went to be with the Lord at age 94, he still didn’t have that bucket. What he did have – and it was obvious to those who knew him – was “godliness with contentment”, learned at an early age, and cultivated over many decades.

As the years creep up on me, the truth that the Apostle Paul expressed in 1st Timothy 6:6-8 becomes more real. I haven’t secured that elusive bucket full of dollar bills, either, and I’ll probably never have it. With contentment, I have something far more valuable: the assurance of God’s presence. In Hebrews 13:5 we are encouraged to “Be content with such things as you have. For He himself (GOD!) has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’

And that assurance makes me much richer than the elusive bucket full of dollar bills!

Is Easter only about colored, decorated eggs, the Easter bunny, “Peeps” and jelly beans? Is it simply another long weekend? Or is Easter about having the table set with fine china, an impressive Easter centerpiece and an excess of well-prepared food? What is Easter?

We can best understand Easter by seeing what God has to say about it. After all, it was His greatest act of love that prompts this annual celebration: The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Looking at an acronym for the word “Easter” will give us insight into its meaning.

E – Everlasting life. That’s the foundation of our celebration. In one of the most well-known Bible verses, we read: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

A – Assurance. In a long heart-to-heart session with His followers shortly before His death, Jesus assured them (and us) “Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19)

S – Salvation. Before Jesus made his physical appearance on earth, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, announcing Christ’s arrival. He said: “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

T – The Gift. Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that we are all sinners, deserving death. But we praise God that “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

E – Enemies. That’s what we were when Christ died for us. Because Jesus died, we are offered reconciliation. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “…when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:10)

R – Resurrection. To a woman who was grieving the death of her brother, Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25,26)

Color the eggs. Eat the “Peeps” and jelly beans and enjoy your delicious family meal. But always remember God’s greatest act of love, and let the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection be the center of your celebration. That’s what Easter is all about!

Five-year-old Milos’s huge, round eyes sparkled as he enthusiastically declared “I have gold! Real gold!” He invited me into his little world to see the precious stash he had hidden, expecting me to “Oooh!” and “Aaaahhh!” over it with him. Curious, I followed him to his bedroom, feeling privileged to share his excitement. I did what any Grandma would do: I “Oooohhhed” and “Aaahhhed” over his shiny little plastic beads.

Milos had his “gold” (plastic) treasure very well hidden. From his nightstand, Milos pulled out one of daddy’s stocking caps that was stuffed with one of Mommy’s Tupperware bowls (I wondered if she was looking for it). Inside the bowl was a cut-off sock, jammed full of what he called “fluff” (cotton batting material) and in the toe of the sock…his precious “gold”. He went to great lengths to hide his treasure under a big picture book as he put it back, and whispered: “I hidded it here.” The secrecy factor added to its value, and to Milos’s excitement.

In Psalm 119:162, the Psalmist wrote: “I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasures.” For him, God’s Word was the treasure that he was really excited about; throughout Psalm 119, the value of God’s Word is described; we discover how precious God’s Word is.

God’s Word revives us. (verse 25)
God’s Word gives us strength. (v. 28)
God’s Word gives salvation. (v.41)
God’s Word can be trusted. (v.42)
God’s Word gives us life. (v.50)
God’s Word comforts us. (v.76)
God’s Word is eternal. (v.89)
God’s Word makes us wise. (v.98)
God’s Word gives us understanding. (v.130)
God’s Word gives light to our path. (v.105)
God’s Word holds us up. (v.116)
God’s Word protects us from habitual (dominating) sin. (v.133)
God’s Word is very pure. (v.140)
God’s Word is truth. (v.160)
God’s Word is “Better than thousands of coins of gold and silver”. (v.72)

It’s hard to compare God’s Word to the little pile of plastic “gold” that Milos had secretly stashed away. Each time we open it, let’s remember the incomparable value it has. Let’s read it expecting to extract words that will make us richer, hiding it in our hearts and allowing it to work in our lives. Appreciating God’s Word as the great treasure that it is, we just might get the level of enthusiasm that Milos had with his “real gold”!

THE BEST GIFT

“My son, give me your heart.” Proverbs 23:26

Our oldest grandson will be seven in a few days. Last week was his mommy’s birthday, so they came to our house to celebrate the occasion. When his mommy was well out of earshot, Jehiel called me over to the sofa, where he was sitting, noticeably distressed. I sat down beside him.

“What’s up, buddy?”

“Lola, do you have a surprise for my mommy? I don’t have any money, so I couldn’t buy her a birthday present. I don’t have anything to give her.” His voice was tinged with sadness.

At that point, I was nearly in tears beside him, wondering how to address his concern.  “Well, tell me something. Did you make a birthday card for mommy?” (What kid that age doesn’t ?!?!?) He assured me that he did. “You know what?” I continued, “I’ll tell you a secret. That is by far the very best thing you could ever give mommy. All mommies love the cards their kids make. When your daddy was a boy, he always made me birthday cards. And so did Aunt Denise and Uncle Dino. It didn’t matter that they didn’t give me any gifts. Those cards were the best gifts I ever got. In fact, I still have some of them.”

With that explanation, Jehiel perked up and seemed to be convinced that his card was, really, a valuable gift for mommy.

That incident reminded me of what God wants of us. If he doesn’t have our hearts, God doesn’t care about our gifts. He would rather we love Him – and express that love to Him – than any other gift we could give Him. After all, He owns everything anyway. So what can we give Him, besides our heart?

As I mused these things, I prayed that one day little Jehiel – and all of our grandkids – would understand what we adults often need to be reminded of: all God wants, really, is our heart!

SNOW REMOVAL AND SIN REMOVAL

The winter of 2013-2014 is proving itself to be one of the snowiest on record in Northeast Ohio. Salt supplies are dangerously low and cities across the region are exploring new options to keep roads safe. Reports show that as of mid-February, Ohio used 880,000 tons of salt on the roads. Schools have used all their calamity days and the state government is considering adding days. Utility bills have skyrocketed, even after lowering the thermostats! People are weary of cold and snow.  With the harsh winter, there is one business that is very busy: snow removal.

We see huge, once-white-now-filthy mountains of snow around the edges of every parking lot. Snow removal crews don’t really remove this bothersome element; they simply try to get it out of the way so life can go on. It gets ugly. Long after the ground is bare, these dirty mountains stand as monuments to the harshness of winter.

Snow removal 004

Snow isn’t really removed; it’s just pushed out of the way.

Psalm 103 is rich with descriptions of God’s character and work. In verse 12 we read: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” The Psalmist is referring to “sin removal”. Jesus came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) If you haven’t had your sins removed by Jesus, today – right now – you have the opportunity to take that step by faith and call on Him for forgiveness. He really does remove sin! Christ followers can testify that Jesus doesn’t simply shove our sins out of the way so we can get on with life. He doesn’t pile them up and let them get ugly; they don’t remain an eyesore that stands as a monument to our foolishness, reminding us – and others – how awful our sins really were. Our sins are removed!

Where would we be without “sin removal”? Praise God today for this truth: Through faith in Jesus, our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west. They are GONE!

OVERCOMING FEAR

It was the first time that real, gut-wrenching fear gripped me. I was in a strange room. Everything looked scary. An unknown man was coming towards me with something I’d never seen before in his hand, intending to do something to me. I had no idea what that might be, but I was sure he was going to harm me. Looking up, I saw a window right in front of me. My knee-jerk reaction was to jump out the window, even though we were on the second story. A physical struggle followed. The last thing I recall is that man, my mom and Uncle Joe restraining me. It took all three of them to hold me down long enough for him, the dentist, to place the ether mask over my face.  I was five years old and overcome by fear.

The unknown is scary. Fear is very powerful. It can overcome us and as we take matters into our own hands, fear can prompt us to do some very foolish things. I did a study of Bible characters that found themselves in unknown, potentially scary situations. As I discovered that they were instructed not to fear, I realized that they were also told why they shouldn’t be afraid. There are numerous examples, and here are a few of them.

To Abraham, God said, “Do not be afraid. I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1)

To Isaac, God said, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Genesis 26:24)

To Joshua, “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

To the descendants of Abraham: “Fear not. I will help you. I will hold your right hand saying, ‘Fear not.’ “ (Isaiah 41:13)

To Daniel: “Do not fear, Daniel…your words (prayers) were heard.” (Daniel 10:12)

So for me, no more crazy things like I attempted when I was 5 years old at the dentist’s; no jumping out of second story windows. No more being overcome by fear. Instead, I’m choosing to overcome fear by trusting Jesus, who said to John on the Island of Patmos, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more. AMEN.” (Revelation 1:17,18)

Many of us are familiar with the TV commercial that shows an elderly lady exclaiming, “If it weren’t for (product “x”), I wouldn’t be here today!” Like that lady, every person has a set of circumstances and a unique story; we can fill in the blank with nearly anything or anyone. We hear expressions like:

“If it weren’t for…

…my upbringing… my work ethic…my mom…my dad…my position in the company…my education…sheer luck…my abilities…my commitment…my 4th grade teacher…my best friend…

…I wouldn’t be here today!”

That may be true in the physical realm; but let’s look deeper, into spiritual issues. Eternal things are what really matter, anyway. Let’s fill in the blank with truths that Christ followers live by. We can declare that:

“If it weren’t for…

…Christ’s death that reconciled me with God… (Colossians 1:21,22)

…Jesus, who was made sin so that I can become righteous like Him…(2nd Corinthians 5:21)

…Jesus, who died for me when I was undeserving…(Romans 5:8)

…Jesus, the only Mediator I have before a just and holy God…(1st Timothy 2:5,6)

…Jesus, who gives me access to grace…(Romans 5:1,2)

…I wouldn’t be here today!”

Now let’s take all those truths, distill them down and fill in the blank with one name: JESUS. It reads like this: “If it weren’t for JESUS, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Praise God for Jesus! Thank Him – if you haven’t yet – for being the center of your life. Love Him, serve Him, and get to know Him more. Then one day, as we present ourselves before our Holy Father God by no merit of our own, we will fall on our knees before him, confessing once again, “If it weren’t for JESUS, I wouldn’t be here today!”

Miracles? or MIRACLES?

God doesn’t do miracles. He does MIRACLES! Ask anyone who has experienced God’s intervention in their life, and they will testify to that. Ask Joshua.

In Joshua chapter 3, after Moses had died and Joshua took leadership of the children of Israel, they were about to cross over the Jordan River. God instructed Joshua exactly what they had to do to cross the river, mentioning also that He wanted the people to know that, just as He was with Moses, He also was with Joshua; that He, “the living God is among you…” (Joshua3:10)

Joshua passed along God’s instructions to the people, ending with these words of encouragement: “…tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)  God also mentioned to Joshua The priests who were bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord were to step into the water, and the waters coming down from upstream were to pile up in a heap. That is exactly what happened, and “all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.” (Joshua 3:17)

There are two things that made this a MIRACLE.  First, it was flood season; a time of year when the Jordan’s banks were overflowing. It was not just a trickle that the multitude had to jump over. Second, they passed on dry ground; it wasn’t shallow water and it wasn’t muck or mud. It was DRY ground. Those details point to one truth we can hang on to. Always. God does MIRACLES.

What MIRACLE are you praying for…waiting for…expecting? Will God do it half-way, and leave you with muddy feet on the other side? Absolutely not! Will He do it in a way that goes unnoticed? Never! God’s MIRACLES have a “wow factor”. That’s always the way God works, and He is the God I’m praying to; HE WILL pull off the MIRACLE I’m waiting for! AMEN!

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Reading this truth not long ago, I meditated on the following:
Running for safety means we are under threat of harm or approaching danger, or being attacked. We run to a “strong tower” because we know where to go; we know where it’s safe. We know that, even though the enemy approaches, threatens or attacks, we are no longer vulnerable. We are safe!

When are we vulnerable?

  • When (in our thoughts) we allow our problems to be bigger than God.
  • When we wonder if He really cares about what’s going on in our life.
  • When we doubt His goodness, His power, His plan for our life.
  • When we try to figure out the “what if” scenarios.
  • When we are worried, anxious or stressed.
  • When we try to do (on our own strength) what we can never do, and what we should let HIM handle.
  • When we’re focused on earthly “stuff” and not on eternal realities.
  • When we lament something about our past that we can’t change.

Those times of vulnerability are when we must “run to” the name of the Lord. Not just say it, but cry out to Him! Reading of His character in Bible stories and Psalms; singing worship songs to Him; filling our mind and life with Him; studying what his name YAHWEH means and why that’s relevant to us today; praising Him for who He is. That’s how we “run to” the name of our Lord.

When we know the name of the Lord, He is our strong tower. We run to Him, trust in Him and find safety in Him. We praise Him, along with the psalmist who declared: “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:10)

Porque somos humanos, no somos perfectos. Todo lo que hacemos es imperfecto; nuestros pensamientos y nuestras actitudes están lejos de la perfección. Los planes y proyectos que hacemos tampoco salen perfectos. Toda mujer que ha amasado algo alguna vez puede testificar de por lo menos un “desastre” que salió de su horno: crudo, quemado, duro, chorreado…ya saben a qué me refiero!

Hace unos años, viviendo en Argentina, nuestro querido amigo Juan viajó alrededor de 3 horas desde Paraná para pasar el día con nosotros. Como Juan es goloso, le preparé una torta de manzana. Al cortar la torta – para mi sorpresa y horror – vi que aún estaba cruda en el medio. Sin decir nada, y disimulando el fracaso, de todos modos la serví de postre. Una y otra vez, Juan expresó, “Ay, Kath! Qué rica!!…y tiene como un “flan” en el medio! Qué rica!” Lo que nunca supo es que fue una torta imperfecta hecha por una mujer imperfecta.

Alguna vez, mirando tu vida, ¿pensaste “Nunca voy a poder…”? o tal vez algo como “¿Por qué me siento como un fracasado?” O “¿Qué será de mi futuro?”…“¿Por qué todo me sale mal?” Quizás te sientes tan imperfecto como la torta de manzana con el “flan” en el medio. En esos momentos, es bueno recordar lo que escribió el salmista: “En cuanto a Dios, perfecto es su camino…Dios es el que me ciñe de poder, y quien hace perfecto mi camino.” (Salmo 18:30,32)

No tratemos de entender todos los “por qué”, ni los “cómo”; tampoco gastemos nuestras pocas fuerzas en proyectos para perfeccionar lo que no tenemos la capacidad de perfeccionar. Dios es perfecto y TODO lo que El hace es perfecto, incluyendo nuestro camino. El mismo está trabajando en nuestras vidas, y podemos alabarle ahora mismo, porque las tortas que El saca del horno nunca tienen “flan” en el medio. Sí, ¡EL perfeccionará mi camino!

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