The Other Side

This week I heard John Ortberg speak about Jesus going to the “other side” with his disciples.  You may know the story.  Jesus had been teaching and healing primarily on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, and was becoming quite popular. The disciples were eating it up, satisfied that they were indeed following the best teacher of their time, even the promised Jewish Messiah.

Then Jesus suggested going to the “other side.”  Mark 5 tells of the first visit to that place.  There a fiercely possessed man met them.  Jesus healed the man and drove the demons into a herd of pigs. Then he left.  No doubt the disciples were glad to go. They were wondering what good could come from the “other side” anyway.  The man wanted to go with them, but Jesus told him to stay and share his story.

The cool thing was when Jesus went back to that side later, a crowd was there to greet him. They had people who needed healing and ministry just like the people of the western side of the lake. They had folks who needed to be fed, so Jesus fed 4000 of them and there were baskets leftover.

It was as if Jesus was on their side, too. Even though the people of that region were traditional enemies of the Jews.

Ortberg says the only two sides that really exist are the Holy and the Sinful. That puts all of humanity on one side.  Jesus embodies the message that God is willing to love both sides.

Our culture seems determined to divide us into camps of emnity.  “Us” versus “Them.”  But God wants us all to realize there is no them.

When we look into the faces of those with whom we disagree, or those whom we find it hard to forgive, it might help to remember that Jesus loves them as much as he loves us. And if we get that message in our hearts, we may choose to move beyond the familiar and go to the “other side” as well.

Could that mean speaking to the person on the street with genuine interest? Could that mean not parroting the vitriol we see on the news?  Could that mean finding a way to help a person out of poverty halfway around the world?

It just might.

JOY… To The World!

One of the most iconic Christmas carols, Joy to the World doesn’t mince words. Like Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas show, this song knows what Christmas is all about. It’s about the Lord coming, and about our chance to make room for Him in our hearts. It is also the chance for heaven and nature to sing from the same praise book. Joy!IMG_1884

Joy can be hard to find at Christmas. When a loved one is missing from our Christmas gatherings, we remember old times and regret that we cannot share the current fun with the missing one. When we seek to please everyone and find the task overwhelming, it’s hard to feel the joy. When depression rears its head for no apparent reason, joy hides from us.

Happiness, often mistaken for joy, comes easily to some during the holidays. Many people are smiling and offering unusual kindness to strangers, there are

fullsizeoutput_6cb7delicious foods and treats to be had everywhere, and gifts begin appearing on doorsteps and under indoor fir trees.

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And to be honest, there are times when the happiness is elusive also, especially when my carefully laid plans and expectations for myself go awry.

 

Do you think of joy as extreme happiness? Or something deeper? Or something else entirely?

I think joy is sorrow turned inside out.

I believe Jesus understood joy when he talked about it in John 16:20. “Your sorrow will become joy.” The sorrow he was talking about was the grief they would feel when he had died. He said the world would rejoice. There would be a stark contrast of feelings when Jesus was taken from them. Some would be glad, but they would be mourning.

It was this sorrow, he said, that would become joy. There would not be a replacement of the sorrow. There would be no whitewashing of the sorrow with a smile or outward happiness. But the sorrow itself would become joy. The disciples would have a miracle worked in their hearts. The pain would turn to joy. It is not the absence of sorrow that makes for joy, but the transformation of it.

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So can we expect that same miracle today? This Christmas? Can the sorrow of grief, of unmet expectations, of exclusion, poverty, or depression be turned to joy? Can the coming of Christ at Christmas

be the trigger?

I think yes, we can expect it, we can find it, and it will be God’s gift to us, yet again. The miracle of Christmas is God with us.

Joy to the world and to you, my friend.fullsizeoutput_6cb0

5 Reasons to Buy a Guided Character Study for your Teenager this Christmas

The world seems to be burning. There are so many things to know, to avoid, to enjoy, to be anxious about. The anxiety is falling on us everywhere like snow in a blizzard. Both kids and adults feel it. Here are some good reasons to look again at Serving One Lord guided studies, designed for teens and young Christians of all ages.

1. IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE

Who hasn’t felt the sting of exclusion, taunting, or worse at the hands of school bullies? A huge problem in all schools today, bullying can have lasting effects on children, even if the situation seems mild.

The Bible doesn’t gloss over the subject of bullying and the story of Hannah can inspire your child to recognize and handle tough situations differently. While there are many practical ways to deal with bullies – reporting to adults, authorities, etc. – there remains a need for an emotional healing that God wants to provide for those who seek him. A desperate prayer directed straight to the Almighty can change everything. Such prayer grows faith, builds trust, and bestows peace.

If you or someone you know suffers from bullying, you could check out Hannah Unhinged fullsizeoutput_6029for a biblical approach that changed the course of history. Hannah’s cry for help in her “perfect storm” of problems found its way to God, who blessed her with a son, Samuel, who in turn became one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel.

2.  CHARACTER MATTERS IN RELATIONSHIPS

Our country is flooding with stories of “sexual misconduct” by men in high places. Somehow these men didn’t learn the basics of respect and trust in relationships.

Girls need to discern who can be trusted, and what qualities deserve attention. The character of a “Proverbs 31 Woman of Excellence” is very attractive to men of honor, and the love story of Ruth and Boaz is a perfect example.

Teens looking for a healthy relationship will enjoy the twists and turns of the love story from the book of Ruth. It has much to teach about blessings born of love, trust, and respect.

Ruth and Boaz: Woman of Excellence, Man of Honor looks closely at these two characters, one an outsider who learns hard work and faith from her bitter mother-in-law, and the other an older bachelor who recognizes the qualities that make a woman faithful and excellent. Together they show how godly relationships can develop in surprising ways. God is always working toward his children’s good.

3. THERE’S NO SHORTCUT TO LEADERSHIP WISDOM

Teenagers are naturally impatient. They want a chance to DO something, often leaping in when it might be better to watch and wait a while. Teenagers do well to look around for leaders they can learn from – maybe parents, youth leaders, teachers – and follow their examples.

Joshua spent many years as a close observer and assistant to one of the greatest leaders in history. For teens who are looking for leadership role models the life of Joshua is one of the best. The key to great leadership is a close relationship with God. Joshua learned this important wisdom from his mentor, Moses.fullsizeoutput_6c7c

The Bible paints the character of Joshua first as a slave in Egypt, then as assistant to Moses, and later as a conquering leader in the Promised Land. In Joshua, Strong and Courageous, readers are led through the wilderness to see how great leaders develop through all kinds of circumstances. They will learn a lot about God’s character as well.

4. DEPRESSION IS REAL

Life can be very hard and sometimes our mistakes seem to dog us and keep us from becoming the people we are meant to be. Every year, especially at Christmas, some people fall victim to their own lack of hope and come dangerously close to self-destruction.fullsizeoutput_6c80

A close look at the life of Jesus through the experiences of Peter can help teens gain perspective about any mistakes that loom large. They will see that in spite of denying Jesus and losing faith, Peter came back to Jesus because he loved Him.

Then God raised Peter to a full life of “rock star” proportions as he told boldly the gospel story and healed many in the Name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit guided Peter all the rest of his life, and it was not an easy one.The life of discipleship is an antidote to depression. Knowing deep in your heart how much God loves you, no matter what, can keep a heart at peace.fullsizeoutput_654f

5. THE BIBLE IS MORE RELEVANT THAN YOU OR YOUR TEEN MIGHT THINK

The Bible. It’s not really just a dusty old history book, nor is it a stuffy collection of do’s and don’ts. It contains stories of real people who, just like us, struggle to find God. Sometimes the stories show us what not to do, and sometimes they show us God’s amazing patience. The characters within the Bible are not that different from the characters in today’s news headlines. They are certainly not perfect, but some of them are excellent role models.

In the simple solid Bible study guides from Serving One Lord, you will dig into the scriptures and find lovable characters from whom you will learn something about God and godly ways. Try one today. Order from ServingOneLord.com using PayPal or a credit card. A study guide will be on its way to you in no time!

Ten Ways to Pay it Forward

As I read again Rich Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel, I am challenged to think intentionally about the poor living across the globe from my well-lit, well-watered, bountiful corner of the world.

This week at the conclusion of our small group discussion, I challenged the group to catalog at least ten blessings for which to be thankful, and beside each one to list an appropriate, proportional way to pay that gift forward. In this way we can decide to actually DO something, however small, toward helping the poor. We can’t claim ignorance any longer.

My attempt at this exercise, with explanatory notes, follows.

ONE.

First, I am grateful for my family. I have a supportive husband who shares my desire to help others as much as we can. I have three children and a son-in-law, who are all healthy and working out their purposes with many options in life.

To pay this gift forward, in a way, we sponsor four children in Swaziland, who are AIDS orphans. They find family only when they are helped by others, sometimes a grandmother, sometimes a kind care-giver. World Vision offers community and love and essential services. As sponsors, we can give special gifts to our sponsored children as if they were in our family. Sponsorship costs a little more than a dollar a day, something I can easily afford. And I can send messages to them by email. I will do this tomorrow.

TWO.

Second, I am grateful for food, especially here in New Orleans. I rarely miss a meal, and hunger is not something I fear. There is always enough food, and the food is delicious and of good quality.

This week at Rouse’s, my local grocery store, I saw pre-packaged brown bags containing food for a local food bank. I put one in my cart. It was a $10 bag of canned goods, and it only cost me $5. That’s a partnership I can’t pass up. I should do this more often, like maybe every time I go to the store, which is pretty often.IMG_6214

THREE.

Third, I am very thankful for books and Continue reading

Forgotten Passwords

Has this ever happened to you?  You go to log in on one of your many internet accounts, and as always, they ask you for a user name and a password.  Of course, you don’t remember either, but your computer types in your email for you, and you figure that’s a good guess.  Clicking on the blue words, “Forgot your password?” you are now assured that a link to set a new password is on the way to your emailbox.

After waiting a few minutes, which seems like an eternity, you get the link, and proceed to type in a new password.  I heard of one person who never types anything memorable, rather just randomly hits keyboard keys, and figures this is the most secure password ever.  He just does the reset thing every time he wants to access the account.

Anyway, after resetting the password, and again logging in, you receive a message that you do not have authority to access that account.  What???!!??? It’s my account.  I just changed the password.  I logged in using my email.

This was my dilemma with WordPress for about six months.  Sure, it was all my fault. But I had somehow erected a brick wall through which I couldn’t penetrate. I had to try to reach a help desk, discover that a different user name had been used to set up that account, and then reset the password…. Finally, I can return to this blog site you are reading now, and post this blog.  OK, I wrote it all down, and hope to REMEMBER where I wrote the user name and password so I can return here without further delay.

Just wondering, will we need a user name and password to get into heaven?  I hope not.  I seriously hope that someone there knows my name already, so even if Alzheimers has taken my brain and I can’t recall who I am, I will be let in.  As for the password, wouldn’t that be JESUS?  And wouldn’t everyone there have the same password?

Sometimes I think technology is great. Most of the time, actually. But sometimes I think it slows us down, encumbering us with unnecessary tasks, layers of pseudo-security, and distractions that decrease efficiency and focus.

I’m grateful for computers, for easy sharing of ideas with others, but more than that, I’m glad God knows far more than our feeble brains can think or imagine.  I may forget my passwords, but I can never forget how much God loves me and wants the best for me.

A Library Box of Blessings

“God works all things together for good.”

Yes he does.

Here is the latest example in my life. Over the past year I have heard a little bit about Debbie Macomber. I learned that she is a writer. And a Christian. And a friend of World Vision.

But that was about the end of it. Usually I feel a bit inferior when learning someone is a published author, since a writer is what I claim to be, though I have only been published once, a short meditation, through The Upper Room, and all my other work has been self-published. Real authors, I assume, will be kind, but inwardly will look down upon these meager accomplishments.

Then at World Vision’s annual conference, I met Adele, Debbie Macomber’s daughter. We were placed randomly (really?) in a small group together and I learned more about Debbie’s widely read novels. Adele mentioned that Debbie’s novels are especially loved by women in the Middle East. Both Debbie and her daughter are huge supporters of World Vision, and so are my husband and I. Adele expressed wonder and delight at the way God was using her mother’s work in the world. I became curious.

I had never picked up, or even looked up, the work of Debbie Macomber.

So it was startling to find one of her books staring back at me in a roadside library box less than two weeks later. It was actually my first time depositing books I had read in this take-one-if-you-want-one box. Realizing it was surely no accident, I brought home this perfect condition paperback by Debbie Macomber.

Then I read it. Though romance novels are not my usual reading fare, I was drawn into the story. Debbie has written over a hundred books, many in series, and the book I picked up is Silver Linings, part of the Cedar Cove series, which has become a Hallmark Channel television series. I found myself wondering why Middle Eastern women would enjoy these books.

I was about halfway through the book when a package arrived in the mail for me. Our World Vision representative, Robin Folkerts, had send me a birthday gift. It was a “Blessings Box,” a lovely collection of items put together by none other than Debbie Macomber.

fullsizeoutput_5753The Blessings Box contains a lovely contemplative journal, written by Debbie, along with some incidental items like a candle, jam, tea bags, recipes, a pen, stickers and a tote bag. A precious box of things to make you joyful, which is no coincidence, since Debbie’s word of the year is JOY.   I would be buying these same boxes for many of my friends if they were still available, but sadly the last one has been sold.

I finished the book and learned how Macomber makes her books so popular. She portrays characters who have honest feelings, who get angry, who forgive, who love deeply, who find loyalty and honor and humor and happiness. The book I read has a thread involving military deployment in Iraq, and relationships with Muslims there. I can see now why the women of the Middle East find Macomber’s books captivating.

Anyway, I love the way God weaves our experiences together for maximum impact. It turns out that Debbie Macomber donates $5 from each Blessings Box to World Vision Education efforts. And she is a spokesperson for World Vision’s Knit for Kids program.

I am awestruck by how God uses her talents to bless the world.

I wonder what he will show me next.

Was That Really Necessary?

jericho-tell-es-sultan-neolithic-tower-from-east-tb091504848jordan-river-aerial-from-west-tb010703748Reading Joshua 4  and 5 today, I wonder, like many Christians, at the utter destruction commanded by God when Joshua entered Jericho. Was this really necessary?

First, is it right for us to question the morality of ancient cultures in light of our own ethos? After all, our wars and genocides and abortion statistics might seem a bit inconsistent with our condemnation of the past. And though we condemn these current evils, are we taking the stand that will change them? It’s harder than we like to admit.

Second, is there a greater lesson here? Should we look beyond our own reaction to the “victory through destruction” actions? God has a way of speaking truth through historical parables. There is a lesson here about mercy, God’s mercy toward Rahab and her entire family. There is a lesson here about obedience on the part of the leader, Joshua. There is a lesson here about obedience of the people toward their godly leader. There is a lesson here about peace.

Let’s take those lessons one by one.

Mercy: If God had not believed Jericho needed to be destroyed, I think he would not have ordered it.

And notice how he skillfully spared both the advance spies and Rahab the harlot. God doesn’t really have to justify to us why the rest of the people had to be destroyed. Shouldn’t we trust him the way Abraham did when asked to sacrifice his own son? The way Peter did when asked to walk on water? The way the disciples did when he took one lunch to feed 5000? The way the priests did when stepping into the Jordan River at flood stage? So it may not make sense to us, but we aren’t God, so that’s not too surprising. And God more often than not was known to spare people deserving of death.

Obedience: These chapters are emphasizing obedience.

I went through and highlighted all the places where “The Lord said…” and then I highlighted “So Joshua did….” Then I noticed the next thing was “The people did…” Joshua had watched Moses as he listened and obeyed God for over 40 years. Joshua had seen how Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. Was that fair? God had his ways, and Joshua learned it was best to trust and obey. He didn’t waver or parse God’s commands. He just did it the best way he knew.

Trusting your godly leaders: Whatever Joshua says, goes.

The people, at this point in the story, are paying attention to Joshua.  Later, when they decide to second-guess him, trouble ensues. It is all right to question your leaders if they are not listening to God. If they are, you will know it, not by what they tell you to do, but by how they are seeking God’s direction.

Peace: God wants us to see that when there is evil in our own heart, it is best to completely destroy it if we want peace.

If we think, “Oh the poor things, let’s let them live, but just keep them under control,” we think more highly of our ability than we ought. We figure we can just keep an eye on them and they won’t give us any trouble. I don’t know about you, but sin keeps rearing its tempting head when I let it.

The bottom line is we get into trouble when we think we know better than God.

Alternatively, when people follow the Lord’s commands, amazing things happen. I agree it is very hard and we tend to weigh these actions against our own version of godliness, but in the end, it may be to our own detriment and the slowing of God’s abundant blessings. Many things are difficult to overcome, but if God commands us, he will be with us.