Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When is Your Birthday?

I was just reading the story of the prodigal son, found in the Bible.  It is one of those very popular Bible  stories that I've heard it many many times.  However, today I've pointed something out that I didn't really see there before.

Okay, so to wrap it up in a nutshell, here's the way the story goes.  A man had two sons.  The younger one claimed his inheritance before it was time because he wanted to venture out into the world and make due with what was rightfully his.  And so the father did not deny him the request, and the son went out and splurged on everything and anyone foul.  As a result, he foolishly wasted all of his money on "dead-end" things, and ended up with not even a bite to eat.  He hit rock bottom, when he finally mustered up the courage to go back home.  (Ever been there?)

And so off he went on a venture back home, taking with him his only baggage: guilt and shame, repentance and a humble heart.  He had, indeed, learned his lesson the hard way.  And it must have been a very long and difficult walk, not knowing what the response from his family would be.  He couldn't stop to call or text or facebook dad to give him a heads up that he was on his way.  Instead, he made the long walk home.  Actually, he didn't make it all the way home, when his father spotted him and ran to him.

His father not only ran to him, but he greeted and embraced him with immense joy.  So much so, that he called for a party.  He ordered his servants to prepare the best meat in the house and to invite friends and neighbors, so as to throw the biggest bash in honor of his "prodigal son".  It was as if they were to celebrate a birthday.  In essence, the prodigal son had been reborn and renewed.  It was a birthday celebration! --Luke 15:22-24, "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on hi finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let's have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate."

The story goes on to say that the older brother was very jealous and bitter about the way the father treated his brother.  However, what I find most revealing and moving is the part when the father took back his son. You see, I am in awe of how loving and open this father was toward his "spoiled" son.  And as a parent myself, I know of many other ways that I may have handled the same situation.  In fact, I think this father had many other options.
He could have gone inside the house and closed the doors, when he spotted the son drawing closer.
He could have asked the son to quietly leave.
He could have drilled the son with questions about his whereabouts. (that would have been my natural choice)
He could have yelled.  He could have shouted.  He could have turned his back.
Lastly, he could have politely asked his son to go get cleaned up before taking him in.  I would have.  Wouldn't you?
Isn't that what we do?  We want people to act right, before we can consider them acceptable. We want them to clean up their acts and look right, before we can welcome them in.
What's even worse, is that Christians do this, and churches do this as well.

And he could have... but he didn't.
And what's more, God didn't.

When I was a little girl, I remember having great respect for my father.  Well, actually it was mostly fear.  I revered him at times, but mostly I was just afraid of his response to my wrongful behavior.  And there was plenty of wrongful behavior, even at at young age.  I specifically remember that my father did not allow me to play outside.  He wanted me to be indoor, while I hated the indoors.  And so, I'd play outside as long as I could, before noticing him on his way home from work down the road from our home.  Even my friends knew to alert me, if they saw my dad coming down the street.  Most of the time, I'd be inside, before he'd catch me breaking the rule.  Yet, there were those regrettable times, when he'd catch me before I could run inside.  And it was on those days, that I'd get my spanking.
And so I learned to either walk a very straight line to impress my father, or to be prepared for the worse if I broke his rules.  I received the worse many times.

You see, that is why I am in awe of the father's love for the prodigal son.  Hence, it  is obviously, an illustration of God's love for us.  The truth is that, as much as our earthly fathers may love us, none could compare to our Heavenly Father's affections for us.
I wished my dad had accepted me that way.  I wished he'd receive me with open arms, even when I was at fault.  I wished...

Fortunately, God did.

And after reading the story today, I could actually visualize God celebrating my return to Him.  Celebrating my repentant heart, just like the father in the story did.  He celebrated my return, and He celebrates every time another lost child comes back home to Him.  He throws a birthday party on our behalf!  And He doesn't ask us to take care of the "check list" beforehand.  He simply awaits us.  He longs for us.  He runs to us.  He finds us.  He embraces us and takes us in.  And then, as if that wasn't enough, He celebrates!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Jailer

Can you imagine going to work one day, feeling mighty dutiful. You make sure the desk is in order. You handle the accounts. You make the calls. You make the arrests. You nurse the wounds. You mop the floors. You grill the chicken. You.....what do you do? What is your job title? Okay, so whatever that is.... you do it, feeling completely oblivious to anything else that is not work-related. You have a job to do, and you're focused on that. Yet, deep inside you know there is a void that you haven't been able to fill. So you submerge yourself in work, as to completely deny the great need inside of you. And the reality is that not only are you in need, but so is your family. And as much as you'd like to save yourself and your family, you know that you are unable. And so you go to work one day, as you do every day. Only difference being that on this day, your life will be changed forever. Yet, you are unaware. (Don't you just love days like these?) That is how I visualize the story of the jailer found in the book of Acts 16:22-34.

The jailer made sure to do his job well.  He knew that it was his duty to jail Paul and Silas for performing miracles and preaching "Jesus", and he was to make sure that they could not move.  Yet, when he woke up to the amazement that Paul and Silas were loose, he was so highly disappointed and in despair that he was willing to take his own life.  He figured he would lose his life anyway, when his superiors found out.  

It is obvious that this jailer did not know the power of God.  It is obvious that he didn't realize that Paul and Silas were filled with the spirit of God.  And it wasn't until Paul shouted to him, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" that he began to see God's power at work.  He fell before Paul and Silas, and inquired, "what must I do to be saved?"  And they lead him to salvation in Christ that very night.  

I find it so amazing that God would work this way to save a lost  soul.  The jailer was lost and without hope, and God was aware.  So much so, that He used the suffering of two of His most devoted followers, Paul and Silas, to bring this lost soul to salvation.   And not only was he  saved, but his family, as well.  It says that, "then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family."

What a night!  What a full day/night of work.   This man's life was changed unexpectedly.  Or so it seems, but God knew.  God knew that this man needed a savior, and He came to him... even if it was at a jail cell.    

Be encouraged, my friends.  God is still aware of lost souls.  And He can still work within the most absurd circumstances.  He is at work in hospitals rooms, psych wards, jail cells, train stations, supermarkets, restaurants, beauty salons, schools, trucks, and so on.

If you are a lost soul, acknowledge His power today.
If you are like Paul and Silas, claiming to be devoted to Him, be prepared to sing His praises, claim His power, and share the good news of salvation with others at any time.

Every day is an opportunity for salvation for the lost.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Singing Praises

I just want to praise you!---- Psalm 144:9 says, "I will sing a new song to you, O God! I will sing your praises with a ten-stringed harp." I was reminded today about the power of praise. Truly, Satan isn't happy when we are bringing praises to God. So much so, that he'll work his subtle ways to distract us enough that we begin to feel like there is nothing to praise God for. I've been there too many times. "You've fooled me way too many times, and you almost had me today... but not now... no more." I will praise God for He is worthy of all praise. I will praise Him because His love is everlasting. Because his mercies endure forever. Because He alone is my rock and fortress. My tower of safety. My faithful friend. My rescuer and redeemer. When I was young, he lead me to Him. When I was lost, he found me. When I was hurting, he held me. When I was in despair, he gave me hope. When in bondage, he was my deliverer. When I was in shame and guilt, he showed mercy and grace. And as I'm in need, He is always there for me. I love it when I get to the point of deep heartfelt prayers that consist of lots of tears and very few words. Words like: Jesus, help me, and I need you Lord. And I can't say much else because I'm so overwhelmed. Yet, He sees my my tears and heavy heart, and somehow understands me. And the reason I know is because after I'm done pouring my heart out to Him, I begin to feel this immense feeling of peace. I love those moments. As I mentioned, today I was reminded of the power found in praises to God. And how they are fierce weapons in spiritual warfare! Yes, spiritual warfare. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that if you are a child and follower of God, you are living in the midst of a spiritual warfare. You see Satan wants your life. And although, he knows that you belong to Jesus, he wants to keep you from enjoying the wonderful life that God has granted you. Better yet, he longs to make you despise your life and everything in it. He wants to see you dissatisfied. He loves it when you are confused about what God's will is for you. He is happy when you are down and out. And he loves it when he is able to discourage you with just a few simple "white lies". And all along, while you think that you are just having a really bad day, he is doing a little dance of discouragement. You see if he can get you to beleive the little lies...f you can just hold on to those discouraging thoughts long enough, you will begin to waiver in your faith in God. So much so, that you may get to the point, when you begin to wonder why you believed in the first place. Oh but to the contrary, when there are praises on your lips, and words of praise in your mouth, Satan begins to feel defeat. When you acknowledge God for all that He truly is, and you tell Him how grateful you are, Satan gets to squirming and flees from you. He rather entertain someone else, who will give him the time of day. I am in the middle of a warfare... even as I write these words down. Satan has been wanting my family's time. He's been trying to get my family to believe that we are not satisfied. That there is something missing. That we are lacking. That we do not love each other or truly love God. He's been attacking my marriage (for a while now), and now he's targetting my children. Satan is a liar!! And so in the midst of these attacks, today I praise God! I praise God because He is above all things and above all gods. He is the life, the truth, and the way. There is no other! So gear up. Use your weapons. Praise Him!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fearless Women

This is dedicated to all the women I know, who have had to withstand turmoil and suffering, and yet did not give up; finding strength in the Lord our God.

My mother said her first heartfelt prayer, while facing her own death. She nearly drowned as a teenager, as she tried to save her sister from drowning. And in that most turbulent moment, she cried out knowing that only God could save her. And He did. Her sister's fate was different. She passed away with the turbulent waters, leaving my mother with immense loss.

I call my mother a survivor. A feisty woman full of gumption and great spirit. And although she has given in to fears at times, she is fearless.

There's a woman I know. Her graceful smile hides the burdens that she must carry. Her gentle ways never tells about her pain. She pulls herself together instead of pulling covers over her head. She is fearless.

I've fond memories of a woman who'd write her cares away to paper. Not allowing pain to leave its trace on her heart. With each new night, she welcomed new strength... With each new day, new mercies she embraced. She was fearless.

My sister is one of my heroes. Her smile lights up a room. She's giving and meek,and to some she may seem weak. Yet on her knees, she finds the courage to face the cares of the day. She is fearless.

One of my dearest friends passed away several years ago, after a long battle with Lupus. This October 17th, we would have celebrated her birthday. I can't help but think about the great example of strength and courage that she left for me and others. She had the gift of hospitality. And although she lacked physical strength, her words were always uplifting. She drew people in with her soft tone and laughter. Oh, how I miss her! Nancy was fearless.

I know of single mothers, who play the role of mom and dad. I know of widows who pick up where husbands left off. I know of young mothers who spend their days and nights by the hospital beds of sickly children. I know of women who are battling illnesses, not giving up the fight. I know of moms who await their "prodigal" children's return. I know of wives who do not walk away from their marriage, although they have every right to do so. I know a lot of fearless women.

And then there's me.
I get up in the morning because I am able to. I share my life with others because God says I should. I love when it is hard to. I believe, when I can't see. I trust although it's difficult. I move forward, although I feel stuck. I smile, even when I'm hurting. I laugh because it feels so good. I cry because there is hurt. And I pray because only in God do I find strength.

A while back I read a study on what it meant to be a woman of strength versus a strong woman. And the conclusion was that anyone can be strong, but real strength is only found in God. And when you fully rely on God for strength, you become fearless.

Have you ever head the story of Elizabeth Elliot? She won over the men who killed her husband. She witnessed to the violent tribe, and they gave their lives over to Christ.

Have you read the story of Rahab? Although she was a prostitute in Bible times, she protected the men of God who needed a place to hide, and she was saved.

Lastly, have you not heard the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus? She was a young virgin who carried baby Jesus in her womb and gave birth to Him, the savior of mankind.

She was, indeed, fearless.

Nehemiah 8:10b, "for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Psalm 28:7a, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me."
Isaiah 40:29, "He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak."
1Peter 3: 13-15, "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
2Timothy 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."