Faith

Cloud Cover

” I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:11-13

 

The cool air blew through the parking lot as storm clouds skated across the sky, preparing the snow expected in the morning. We stood in line waiting for our ice cream, licking our wounds, after a different kind of cloud cover loomed. Just as cold and unwanted as snowfall in May, billows of disappointment threatened to steal our joy and contentment.

I wanted to know the next step, or at least the end of the story. After all, I’m the kind of person who likes to read the last chapter of a book to see if it’s worth reading. But my life story isn’t finished yet. I can’t turn the pages or control the outcome. However, in this situation we came to expect a certain ending. We prayed and acted in faith and things looked good. We would get what we “wanted.” Then, everything changed within a few hours. Someone else intervened and what we wanted was lost. Like the rolling waves of the nearby ocean, our emotions peaked, then receded into the vastness of normalcy. But it didn’t feel normal. It felt like we had been tricked or violated somehow–even though we prayed for God’s perfect will and He answered.

Right now, in the midst of disappointment, I know God allowed the cloud cover. What feels like a loss is actually a faith building experience that reveals the goodness of God. His goodness demands that He offer His best to His children. Sometimes that doesn’t feel good. In fact, sometimes it is so anticlimactic it makes you angry. This time God and I wanted different things. Or did we?

Fortunately, God did answer our prayers. He said, “No.”

“Why?” I asked.

 “Because I said so. Because I know what’s best for you. Because I love you. Because I am the great I AM.” Then He asked, “Do you trust me?”

Then I realized the truth. This is a spiritual dilemma, not a physical one. Through this small disappointment God revealed that my heart was focused on earthly things, not on things above. My heart’s desire was not God’s best. Like a spoiled child I wanted to cut across what God was doing in the waiting and live for myself. Instead, God’s love compels me to echo Paul when He said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” God wants me to live for Him alone. Disappointment and discontent reveal that I believe Jesus is not enough for me–What He did is not enough for me.

Now, we sit looking behind us and realize this was a catalyst to action. We have a vision. We have plans. So, we wait. How long? I don’t know. As long as it takes. God isn’t going to plot our lives in a predictable way like a romantic novel. Boy doesn’t always get the girl. People don’t always live happily ever after. God surprises us with middles that don’t always make sense. In fact, the end is usually shocking, or at least abrupt. There is no neat The End this side of Heaven. Instead we are ushered into another realm altogether. A new life from the womb of the world to the fresh air of Heaven. There we experience everlasting joy. A joy that can’t be yanked out from under you like a cotton rug on a tile floor.

Ask yourself, do I live for the things this temporary world offers? Can I be content in all circumstances? Is God enough for me?

Ultimately, I thank God for unanswered prayers. Or, I should say, I thank Him for saying no. I praise Him for making me wait. I am content to live in the Hope of Heaven. In the meantime, God is the author of my messy middle. Besides, the end is already written.

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Philippians 3:8

Faith

Surprised by Peace

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Deuteronomy 31:8

My short legs wrapped around our neighbor’s shoulders. I clung to his chin, my little body draped over his head like a bonnet. I had just followed him into the water. Suddenly, he snatched me up and plopped me on his shoulders as the jellyfish surrounded us.

“I got you. Don’t be afraid, Marlene.” 

The Okinawan ocean was crystal blue. The jellyfish danced serenely around his legs as he glided his way to the beach. But I wasn’t afraid. I had been lifted up. I was being carried then and I am being carried now.

This has given me peace over the past few weeks. When the news floats through my living room, threatening to sting, I remind myself, “The Lord Himself goes before me and will be with me. Don’t be afraid, Marlene.” 

When I start feeling depressed because we’ve been separated and isolated for so long. God answers, “Don’t be discouraged, Marlene, I am with you.”

Today, when we feel the Corona virus hovering like jellyfish, unseen and dangerous in the waters of everyday life, there is a pull toward fear and discouragement. And yet, God still echoes the same words, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” These words pull us in the opposite direction, causing resistance. Not necessarily physical resistance, like immunity to a virus, but a covering from the world—a sense that we are on God’s shoulders and He is walking us through the waters. In other words, the Bible is true. It promises trouble but Jesus has (past tense) overcome the world. 

Consequently, God was not surprised by Covid-19, but I was surprised by peace. It’s not the peace the comes with denial or the peace that comes with knowledge, rather it’s the peace that surpasses understanding. This is what Romans 15:13 means by “overflowing with peace.” When I put my hope in the God of hope­–not in my health or my family or financial stability–He fills me with joy and peace as I trust in HIM! 

So, just for fun, close your eyes and picture yourself on a beach standing in front of Jesus with your back to Him. He’s waist deep in the Ocean and jellyfish are all around. Your eyes are closed, and your arms are crossed over your chest.

He says, “I got you.”

Without hesitation you fall back into His loving arms. It’s the ultimate trust fall. But that’s where the joy and peace come from! Our hope is not in avoiding the Corona virus, our hope is in the Lord. The enemy is trying so hard to stir up division, strife, fear and hopelessness. But we are like little five-year old’s who can’t see clearly until we get up on God’s shoulders. So, hold up your arms and allow God to scoop you up onto His broad shoulders. Then, rest in Him as He carries you through. He always does.

On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”  And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”…They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.

Mark 4:35-5:1
Faith

Social Distance

1970’s Social Distancing

I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.

Hebrews 13:5

Have you ever felt abandoned? I have. It’s a powerful emotion mixed with isolation and loneliness, then baked in the oven of time. As a verb it means: To cease to support or look after; desert.

I was almost eleven when we moved from the “comfort” of military life to the unknown. I stayed at home for a full year, mostly by myself. My mother worked full time, my sister started beauty school and my younger brother spent his pre-school days with my mom at her secondhand store.

Because my parents had separated, my father remained in Las Vegas. We moved to Southern Oregon with my mom to start a new life. At least everyone else did. I was literally abandoned. My physical needs were met but my emotional needs were deserted. For an entire year I sat at home reading mature novels, watching General Hospital and collecting fears like precious coins. I was already a fearful child, but isolation fueled the fears like oxygen does fire.  Also, my dad never came to visit. Not once.

Of course, I’m sharing this because of the social distancing we are experiencing as a global community right now. We too have distractions where we can immerse ourselves into other’s drama so we don’t feel so alone. However, that only lasts as long as a crocus’s bloom. The reality of being created in the image of God is that we need real relationship. A real relationship with God and with other people is the only way to avoid feeling abandoned. God promised that He will never leave you or forsake you. Even if you are left at home and no one seems to care. God is there. God’s loves. God’s grace is sufficient. 

But, in this miraculous age of technology, we are never without the resources to connect–at least as long as we have electricity! At ten I was unaware of my need and welcomed General Hospital’s Luke and Laura into my life as friends. When I was pulled away from them at eleven (my mother finally put me back in school) I grieved the loss of their “relationship.” I missed them desperately. It sounds ridiculous now, but it was so real to me as a child. They were my family. 

In the same way, we need connection with our “family,” even if we remain at least six feet apart. We are not meant to be alone in the family of God, floating individually in a protective innertube of isolation. So, now is the time to figuratively link arms. If you weren’t connected before, reach out to someone. Chances are they are feeling lonely too. If you are connected, maintain those relationships through phone calls, FaceTime, and the like. It is good for the soul.

Having said that, please don’t forfeit this time by treading water. Dig into God’s Word. Covet this time to be with God as He shapes us with the waters of solitude. The rough edges will be smoothed if we swim toward Him, I promise.

For example, this time, as I am left at home with my husband, I have become aware of other self-indulgent behaviors–selfishness, impatience and a desire to be the center of my world. Instead of escaping into another’s fantasy I battle the real pull of self-centeredness. Our pastor reminded us on Palm Sunday that we are not the center of our world, God is. God made it that way to save us from ourselves. You see, apart from Him we can do nothing. There is no real comfort, no real love and no real belonging without Him. 

I pray that we will all be changed when the tide comes in and we are all back on the same shore. I pray that God’s love will compel us into the arms of those we hesitated to hug before the pandemic. I pray, in this time of social isolation, we will run into the embrace of our Heavenly Father, and reach out to others as we are able, leaving our fears in the wake of His lavish love.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Contentment, Faith, Overwhelmed, Patience, Rest, Righteousness, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust

What Are You Waiting For?

For we, through the Spirit, by faith are waiting [patiently; with care and perseverance] for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5:5
Our property – 2017
Preparing for our 25th Wedding Anniversary
Lorden Photography

Have you ever dropped a seed into the dirt and watched it slowly grow into a plant? If so, you understand waiting. You understand faith. You have experienced the miracle. This kind of waiting (patiently, with care and perseverance) is part of our faith walk. Through it we demonstrate our love for God and exercise our trust in Him. Like the seed, as we wait, we too are changed. The Living Water touches the hard seed of our heart and the root sneaks out for more. Pressed into the dirt, like an umbilical cord, it sucks in the life-giving nutrients.

Likewise, our spiritual roots are made in the waiting.  As we pray, surrender and listen, the Holy Spirit draws life from the divine and bears fruit in our hearts and minds. The changes are minute. So small we cannot see them until the green stem pops above the surface. It may be a flower of kindness or forgiveness or love—a flower that bloomed while we waited.

I am expecting. Four years ago, we purchased three acres of land that sits at the end of a cul-de-sac nestled up to the Cocheco River. We planned to build right away, but we’re still waiting. The stakes are in the ground marking the footprint of the home. The architects and the engineers have finished their work. Still, we wait. We wait because the appraised value of the home does not match the cost to build. In reality, we are waiting on God. You see, this land wasn’t bought on a whim. We prayed for God to provide a home where we could host missionaries who need a place to stay while on furlough. We prayed for a home where pastors and ministry leaders could find rest. We prayed for a place where we could gather with our church family and do life together. Yet, the door remains closed.

Admittedly, there are times when I get discouraged. I lean toward skepticism and sometimes think, maybe it wasn’t a vision from God. Maybe it’s just what we want. I contemplate selling the property and giving up. Other times I want to push ahead without God’s leading, giving time a little shove. But maybe the gift isn’t the house at all. Maybe the gift is found in the waiting.

Don’t get me wrong. As of today, Marty and I still expect God to provide a way for us to build this home. But it’s in the joyful expectation that we see beyond this life. We not only wait for a forever home here in New Hampshire, we also wait for Heaven—A place where Jesus is building us a forever home. Every day He works at it, bit by bit, removing walls and letting more light into our living-heart. This waiting defines our faith journey. Like Abraham, we walk with God, believing His promises, expecting God to deliver. But, sometimes, like Abraham, we take things into our own hands and end up with Hagars and Ishmaels. Fortunately, none of that deters God. His promises are certain, like they’ve already happened. We will, for certain, have our Isaac. It may not be a house on the river, but we will have eternal life with Him.

—————

Marty and I drive to the property often to pray. Yes, we pray for the house but, more so, we pray for God to be glorified in the waiting. He is the Master Builder, after all. There is a joyful expectation. The waiting is a gift. I imagine living in this house the same way I try to imagine living in Heaven. The doors are open for those looking for a place to rest, only, He is waiting.

God took an oath in his own name, saying: “I will certainly bless you, and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.” Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.

Hebrews 6:13-15 NLT
Contentment, Faith, Freedom, grace, Hope, Jesus, Joy, Love, Trust, Victory

Skip to My Lou

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Psalm 28:7
Cheerleading – 1973

Skipping. That’s what came to mind while reading A Standard of Grace by Emily Ley. It was an answer to the question, “What would it take to bring back the type of heart-bursting joy you may have felt as a child?” Why skipping? Because, when I skipped I was completely oblivious to others’ opinions and my own negative self-talk. But skipping wasn’t the only thing that made me forget. I would also run for no reason, had pretend-tea-parties at the bottom of the pool, rolled down grassy hills, swung till my toes touched the sky and cheered for Pee Wee football. “First in ten, do it again! Alright! Uh-huh!” All of these things brought me heart-bursting joy because I wasn’t self-conscious. I was free!

That is until I wasn’t. Somewhere between eleven and twelve, I stopped being free–at least free enough to skip in public! Of course, in my defense, most adults don’t do these things. Instead, they opt to walk politely across the parking lot, push the swing for others or stay on the surface of the water to protect their hair (You know what I’m saying, ladies). Sometimes, though, when I walk from the grocery store to my car, I’m tempted to hoist myself up onto the shopping cart and ride across the lot! But I don’t. Why? Because of self-awareness. Most adults have it. It keeps us confined to ourselves, reserved and fearful of what others might think.

On the other hand, have you ever met an adult that seemed free of self-consciousness? Most likely they were full of joy and grace, loved others without hesitation and freely gave of themselves. They probably jumped into the deep end of the pool, hair and all, skipped to the swing set and pushed and pulled till their toes touched the sky. I want to be that kind of person — that kind of adult. I want to forget myself to the point of experiencing heart-bursting joy in the LORD…like David.

When David wrote Psalm 28 he was beyond stressed, but he chose to worship God and his heart was bursting with joy! David set an example by dancing for God without shame, and he didn’t stop when his wife rolled her eyes (2 Samuel 6:16). David was as free as a child. Perhaps, as adults, we forget God. We forget we are His joy; He delights in us. Or perhaps, Instead of Jesus’ love for us, we think of our failures, those humbling times when we’ve blown it and others saw, or worse, were hurt by us. These kinds of thoughts steal joy. But, If we did remember, would we would be transformed into “child-like” adults, free of self-consciousness? Would we be full of joy and grace, loving others without hesitation and freely giving? I want to be that kind of person — that kind of Christian. I want to forget myself to the point of experiencing heart-bursting joy in the Lord.

This year, I am determined to express joy without fear of disapproval. I want to be a cheerleader for others who are struggling. I want to dance before the LORD with all my might, no matter who sees. I want to be free–free to love and be loved, forgive and accept forgiveness, show grace and receive it. The only way to do this, however, is to forget “me” and focus on the LORD. Like David, I need to be so consumed with God’s love that I just don’t care if others think I’m crazy or stupid or delusional. God’s Word says, “The joy of the LORD is my strength” Nehemiah 8:10. This gives me the courage to run the race of life without fear, rolling down the hills when I trip and skipping all the way home.

And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment.So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.

2 Samuel 6:14-15

What about you? What brings you joy?

Commitment, Contentment, Faith, Gospel, grace, Hope, Humility, Jesus, Redemption, Restoration, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Victory

Waco’s Redemption

Washington Avenue Bridge, Brazos River, Waco, TX
Photo by Marlene McKenna

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

Ephesians 1:7, ESV

What does Waco, Texas have to do with redemption? If you’ve visited this small city in the hill country, made famous by the television show Fixer Upper, you’d know. After attending a women’s retreat in Seguin, a friend and I journeyed to Waco for some shopping therapy at Magnolia Market. What I found, however, was much more than great shopping. Waco is a city defined by the word redemption.

Not only are there several homes that have been brought back to life, there is also a thriving economic upturn because of the popularity of Fixer Upper. In fact, thirty-thousand tourists visit the city per week! But it wasn’t until we took a tour from Waco Tours (https://www.waco-tours.com/) that we discovered other organizations that were working to revitalize the poorer parts of the city.

For example, the library in East Waco was refurbished and a mural was designed to encourage education for the underprivileged who live there. There is also a non-profit grocery store called Jubilee Food Market created by Mission Waco that was placed in a “food desert” so that those without transportation would have access to healthy, low-cost food. Finally, we were told about a church that gathers the homeless who live in Waco for a church service every week under the bridge where most of them live. During construction, when many were displaced, Chip and Joanna Gaines opened the common grounds at Magnolia Market for their services on Sunday morning.

When you arrive, you realize very quickly that this is not a wealthy city even though there are very nice areas with rolling hills, green grasses, and a beautiful river. But God is moving mightily, meeting the needs of the poor through His people. Moreover, He is bringing people from all classes and races together in love. For instance, Jubilee Market offers jobs to convicts who are transitioning from jail to living in the world. At Jubilee, they find a place to belong when others turn them away. As one employee put it, “I now have hope for the future.”

In short, Waco is a place where you can see the Gospel lived out every day. It is an uncomfortable place where you are challenged to look at your own heart, beliefs, and motivations. It is a place of glory where Baylor University shines and a place of poverty where a homeless man bathes in the fountain at Baylor’s entrance near the Hilton hotel and the Brazos River.

Similarly, our hearts are complicated too. We love the Lord and yet do not always love Him with all our hearts or love others as Jesus loved us. Nonetheless, like Waco, we are being redeemed. Every day we walk in newness of life and have hope for the future. To me, Waco is a metaphor for spiritual sanctification. As we allow God to search our hearts, He chooses to cleanse us. Then, little by little, we are made more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

As we allow God to reveal the deprived and impoverished parts of our lives we can surrender to the process of redemption. Remember, there is a river as powerful as the Brazos in your own heart cleansing you from all unrighteousness. Remember, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Remember, there is a Jubilee Market where we can belong, no matter what we have done, and get fed by the One who paid the price. Remember, there is a place for us to gather as a Church and praise His glorious name for all He has done, is doing, and will do for His glory. Remember the Cross!

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

Romans 3:21-22
Contentment, Faith, Hope, Jesus, Life, Sanctification, Spiritual Battle, Trust, Victory, Worry

Circus Circus

  …be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”

Hebrews 13:5-7

He picked us up outside a little church in Sarasota. “Hello!” His accent was unique.

“Where are you from?” I asked as we drove away.

“I live here but I’m originally from Morocco.”

“What brought you to Sarasota?”

“Oh, the Circus!”

“Really? We’d love to hear your story…”

The Uber driver shared how he provided for his family when he was a child growing up in Morocco. He performed acrobatics on the boardwalk for tourists and, he said, “I made more money than my father.” His Uncle had been in the Circus and taught him how to perform. Eventually he was able to get an internship at Disney World working at EPCOT. Afterward he worked with the Ringling Bros. Circus for almost two decades, traveling all over the country until they shut down in 2017.

This colorful story reminded me of God’s faithfulness and the power of contentment. When I first heard it, I was transported to the Moroccan seaside and felt the joy and pride that he had as patrons would pass him money and applaud. God gave him a gift that eventually carried him to the United States where he continued his dream and lived in relative luxury. Even as an Uber driver he was satisfied and happy with the memories of his nineteen-year circus career. His Pooh Bear like attitude impacted me. If I were him, I would have told the story of my rough childhood in a poverty-stricken country where my labor enabled my family to eat. But he didn’t mention the obvious difficulties, only the blessings.

Even now as I reflect on this encounter I am convicted. You see, I am a pessimist. Naturally, when I wake up in the morning I’m usually grumpy. My sunrise countenance aligns more with Eeyore’s than Pooh’s and I am definitely NOT a Tigger—those energetic people who are always cheerful and kind from dawn to dusk. There is a weight to my flesh that is attached to childhood memories telling me that “bad things always follow anything good.” It’s not until I sit at Jesus’ feet that I start to feel and act joy-filled and content. Because of this I have to purpose to listen to God’s promises first thing in the morning or the heaviness follows me throughout the day. For example, when I am tempted to worry about loss, fear can grip me and keep from being productive. However, if I listen to my Heavenly Father, He whispers, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Or, when I fear criticism because I think I’ve done something wrong I will isolate myself and “hide” from God and others. But, if I run to Him, He says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

God, like the Uber driver, always looks on the bright side and wants His children to remember what He has done and to be content. That’s why God wants us in His Word. It truly is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It illuminates the dark places so we can see the work God has done through the suffering. Only then do I realize that the heaviness I feel in the morning is an illusion. My reality is amazing! I am free from the poverty of sin and death and so are you. Regardless of our past or current circumstances we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. We just need to be reminded often.

Ironically, whenever I tell my story, including the trials, others are encouraged because God’s redeeming love is all over my past. Like an acrobat’s trapeze act, it is the hard and dangerous feats that impress us. We are amazed at what God has done, if not without suffering. My story, like the Uber driver’s, includes suffering too, but God masterfully choreographed every step. I am grateful for the journey God has brought me through and desire to be satisfied with wherever God leads. I want to reflect on God’s goodness in my story and to have a contentment and optimism that is reflective of God’s faithfulness. I want to be a Circus Pooh.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Matthew 6:25-26
Faith, Hope, Jesus, Love, Redemption, Restoration

Be a Neva

The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.”

Psalm 34:22

I sat on the mottled shag carpet staring at the mess. My younger brother and I had just finished building a little town with large, plastic blocks. Then, without warning, he slapped the tall buildings with his toddler hands. The blocks collapsed onto the coffee table with a crash. My brother smiled then grabbed a block and started over.

Years later I found myself staring at a different mess. The building blocks of my life were scattered. My marriage was seemingly over. I had no foreseeable future. I had no education. I was alone. But God set a plan of redemption in motion that reached far beyond my salvation. Immediately, He started building, block by block, until something new— something indestructible—was built on a strong foundation.

The first block He chose after saving me was a person. As I walked into the Bible study and sat in the center of a semi-circle table, I noticed her writing on the whiteboard. The woman stood on her toes so she could reach the top of the board as she finished her notes. Finally, she lowered her arm and turned toward the class.

 “Good morning! I’m Neva True.” She announced with a smile. Her short, gray hair framed her joyful face like a silver hat of curls. As I remember, she talked about the Holy Spirit and asked us what we knew about Pentecost. I leaned toward my friend and asked, “What’s Pentecost?” She shrugged and we both turned our attention to Mrs. True.

That day Neva became my spiritual mother. We often sat at her round table for two and ate cookies as she poured tea into my cup and love into my heart. She encouraged me to love my unbelieving husband even if he didn’t “deserve it,” pointing me to 1 Peter 3. She cheered me on by saying things like, “Keep on being your joyful self and don’t worry about tomorrow.” Most importantly, Neva pushed me into the arms of a loving Father and taught me to pray deep, faith-filled groanings and to trust God with the results. She is also the one God used to ignite my love for writing. Neva would often search through her old journals for things that would encourage her daughters in the Lord. I have one of her hand-written journal pages she wrote when she was a young mother and all her children had the flu. Now, just having her handwriting is special to me.

Why is this a story of redemption? Because my own mother was terribly broken and unable to love me with wisdom and affection. She was trapped in a marriage to an alcoholic and was brought up in an environment much the same. My mother was a survivor and taught us to survive. But I was unable to thrive without the sunshine of unconditional love and encouragement. My mother did the best she could considering her background and mental state, but she did not have Christ and she lacked the ability to demonstrate love—real, physical affection and verbal affirmation—which makes up the rich soil of a healthy growing heart. That’s why Neva means so much to me. She was a gift from God when I was a spiritual infant. He supplied all my needs, even a mom who nourished and loved me to maturity.

Are you a Neva? God uses people as vehicles of both salvation and redemption. Our part is being available and responsive. My relationship with Neva enabled me to trust people again. Her encouragement and faithfulness gave me direction as her face was always tilted toward Christ. She encouraged me to walk in the light with courage, saying things like, “I hope you start writing before I die so I can read it!” or, “Marlene, you’ll be a giant in the faith someday.” No pressure, just encouragement. She didn’t care that I had no formal education. I was her spiritual daughter. She was my mom. I don’t know how many “kids’ she had but she always made me feel like I was her only child. She always had time for me. This is Jesus’ heart too. Jesus is our Redeemer! Not only does He redeem our souls, but He also redeems relationships, starting with our relationship with Him. Yes, He redeemed my marriage and, after fourteen years, saved my husband. I now enjoy the fruit of being equally-yoked to a strong, Godly man—something I did not expect but I suspect Neva did!

God not only redeems souls and relationships; He also redeems our emotional brokenness using the fragments to build something more beautiful than we can imagine. Take refuge in God, trusting Him with all things because He is our Redeemer. God knows what we need and has the ability to provide. God is a resurrecting God. He creates abundant life where there was only death. He builds beauty from the ashes and uses unlikely construction workers like Neva True and you and me to transform lives. So, I encourage you to see God’s redemptive work in your own life and be a Neva to someone else.

Faith, Gospel, grace, Grief, Holiness, Hope, Jesus, Life, Love, Obedience, Rebellion, Redemption, Repentance, Rest, Restoration, Uncategorized

Death & Resurrection

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
Photographer: Glen Bergstrom

Would you die a brutal death to save someone who hated you even if you knew you would come back to life? Easter is all about the death and resurrection of Jesus, but did you know that He died for people who hated Him? Do you see yourself? Yes, you are the one Jesus died for while you were His enemy. Easter is about you before you knew God and about you right now if you don’t know Him still. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). It also says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). The language is so poetic we may miss the weight of the statement. Jesus was offered up to be beaten, whipped, scorned, rejected and crucified to pay for the sins of the world for all time so the world could be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. He suffered and died for you and me before we gave Him a thought.

Even more fantastic is the fact that He suffered and died for the very people who were beating Him, the very people who pulled out His beard and spit on Him, the men who scourged Him and the soldiers who mocked Him. He died for the ones who pierced His hands and feet with nails. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus died for people who hated Him, for people who doubted Him and for people who rejected Him. Jesus died for you.

If you don’t think you needed Jesus to die for you than this may seem extreme. But the truth is we are all depraved and separated from a Holy God because of our sin. Yes, we are ALL sinners, meaning we miss the mark of holiness (which God demands because He is Holy). Because of our very nature we are born with the propensity to rebel and want to be our own God. The great news for you and me is that what God demands He also provides! We can enter into God’s holiness by accepting the gift Jesus is offering.

How do I know? Because I am living proof. Jesus took my sin and gave me His righteousness. I drank, for the first time, the Living Water. It was finished. Like a flower which bursts out of the ground, I was made new. The dead seed was my hard, sinful heart and Christ made me alive! The turning point for me was grief. I was broken and alone after suffering a huge loss and God met me in the darkness. Jesus said He was sent to heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to liberate those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). Boy, did I qualify!

How did this happen? The Bible says,

Men become right with God by putting their trust in Jesus Christ…For all men have sinned and have missed the shining-greatness of God. Anyone can be made right with God by the free gift of His loving-favor. It is Jesus Christ Who bought them with His blood and made them free from their sins. God gave Jesus Christ to the world. Men’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ when they put their trust in Him. God gave His Son Jesus Christ to show how right He is…He shows that He is the One Who has no sin. God makes anyone right with Himself who puts his trust in Jesus” (Romans 3:22-26, NLV).

Romans 3:22-26

How do we know this is true? Because He rose from the dead just like He said He would. There were hundreds if not thousands of witnesses to both His death and resurrection. No one could survive crucifixion, and no one could deny that He was raised because they saw him and ate with him and spoke with Him. It turned the world upside down because it was prophesied centuries before it happened, and everything made sense. They understood that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23, NIV).

You see, God is just and loving at the same time. His grace and truth are perfect; and God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so we would never be satisfied apart from Him. Also, He is not only the Way and the Truth, He is also the Life. If you have ever placed a dead seed in the ground and witnessed its rebirth you have seen the power of God and a picture of Christ’s death and resurrection. Would you plant the dead seed of your sinful heart in the soil of God’s love and let Him resurrect you to new life? Will you believe He died for you and is Risen? He is Risen indeed!

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”

Matthew 28:5-6 NASB
Alan Jackson
The Old Rugged Cross
Faith

Immersed Faith

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1
Marlene’s Baptism, July 1997
with Pastor Jon Courson

It was a bright, July afternoon when I entered the warm waters of baptism by faith. In the outdoor gardens of Applegate Christian Fellowship, I openly gave my life to God. I had already been transformed by Jesus shortly before that day and came with an expectation of public proclamation, “I am Yours, Lord!” The scent of Jasmin danced around me as I prayed and cried as if I were walking down the aisle. The veil had been lifted and I was His.

This memory helps me understand faith. Like a wedding veil separates a woman from her groom, the curtain of faith separates two realities. When I walked through the linen folds at twenty-eight years old it was like seeing daylight for the first time. I tasted grace and forgiveness and real love. And yet, it was a love bound by holiness. The perfect balance of truth and grace, Jesus is our object of faith. He is our groom. Hebrews 10:19 says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…” So, it is by faith we are ushered into His presence.

In other words, for those who realize their need for Him (and we all need Him), faith in Christ’s work on the cross is the doorway into the Holy of Holies. Here, by faith, we are ushered into the very presence of God. Romans 4:3 says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to Him as righteousness.” God offered. Abraham accepted. Only then did Abraham enter into a love relationship with the God of grace by faith. Fortunately, God makes us the same offer. But we have a deeper intimacy with God than Abraham. We have Christ in us. He abides in us through His Spirit. You can’t get much more intimate than that!

Fortunately, there is nothing we have to do apart from believing. “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law… since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” This tells us that it doesn’t matter if you are a “good” person who follows the Law (circumcised) or not (uncircumcised). Heaven is not some rich utopia set aside for “good” people. It is a place for forgiven people. It is a place for faith-filled people.

Also, Romans 3:28 and 30 make it clear that there is only one God. There is only one Savior. We cannot save ourselves through good behavior. We may think it’s not fair. We may want to explain that we have lived a good life and deserve Heaven. But, do we deserve it? How can we justify ourselves? There is only one way to Heaven and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot be our own God. We cannot save ourselves from destruction. We cannot clean ourselves up enough to be able to enter into the presence of a Holy God.

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12, NASB).

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Therefore, you must believe for the veil to be lifted. As the person being asked (the intended bride), saying “I like Jesus” is not a profession of faith. Instead it’s a rejection of the groom. Jesus isn’t a novelty to like or dislike. He is God. God lays the foundation for a love relationship with Him. His cornerstone is Jesus Christ. And, you know what? We can trust that His Way is just and fair because He is just and fair. More than that, He is love. He bled for you. There is NO OTHER WAY. Faith is confidence in a God we cannot see but A God who has revealed Himself all the more, demonstrating His love on the cross. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29, NASB). Immerse yourself in faith and believe.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Hebrews 10:19-23