Monday, April 24, 2017

The Warmth of Peace

            I’d never considered warmth a by-product of peace. Not until this last Easter Sunday, April 16, when I attended Easter Sunrise Service.
            My husband and I rousted ourselves out of bed at 5:00 AM, (still dark here in the Southwest), dressed for service, hopped in our car and headed to the west side of our nine thousand-plus-foot mountain range.
            Now, for those of you who have never tiptoed in the desert, even an eighty-nine-degree day—like our Easter was—started out as a fifty-seven-degree night. And that was what it registered at the airport, in “the valley”.  At our nearly three-thousand-foot elevation home in The Foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, it was colder, and the sunrise service location—another 1,000-foot elevation rise—colder still.        
            As we stepped from our car in the pre-dawn light, the wind whistled across the hilltop setting. While I was grateful for the sweater I wore, I regretted my skirted legs being exposed to the cold. I looked at my husband who is generally HOT. He had his arms wrapped around his waist. “It’s cold up here! I should have brought a jacket.” He was wearing dress slacks and a long-sleeved, lavender (Easter egg purple) dress shirt.
            We headed to the outdoor seating area, and I snagged a front row seat. Not difficult since we were real early birds. The ushers were still carting out the hymnals, wheeling out the piano, and connecting the portable sound system. Determined not to miss the sunrise, we’d scheduled an early arrival. I plunked my purse on a chair, walked the short distance to the east-facing wall, and pointed my eyeballs toward the granite ridge in the not-so-far-away distance. While you could see the light effects from the sunrise that had already occurred on the other side of the mountain, the sun had still not opened the door on our side. It was cold. Chris and I huddled side-by-side like puppies. Some worshipers cocooned themselves in blankets. (They’d anticipated what to expect.)
            We waited. And waited. And waited.
            Then the first arc of the sun popped above the ridge and split the sky like a herald making a joyous announcement. Chris and I snagged our sunglasses, watched it elevate and glisten some more, and then took our seats to await the start of service. In spite of our efforts to gaze at it, it was too bright for even sunglass-clad eyes.
            But as the sun continued to rise, something sort of miraculous took place. Nothing you’d usually consider out-of-the-ordinary. A miracle that happens every day, even though I don’t take note of it.
            My face and cheeks responded first, absorbing the heat rocketing toward me. Then, like a gentle caress of a loving touch, the radiation seeped through my body and spread into my legs. You could feel the atmosphere heating around us, the molecules awakening from the motion-dampening chill.
            “Do you feel that?” I asked my husband at the same moment he whispered, “Wow!”
            “Isn’t that amazing?” we uttered in unison.
            Our bodies—once shielding themselves against the cold—relaxed, and we exhaled simultaneously. The experience gave new meaning to the miracle of creation, the faithfulness of God. The life-giving and life-sustaining warmth and peace of His creation and unfailing love. Like the prophet Jeremiah, I felt like singing out: 

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness” (NKJV 3:22-23).

            Our worship would not be distracted that day by the temperature. In fact, it would be enhanced by it. If I had dressed for the cold, or wrapped myself in a blanket, I would have missed it. The sun’s rays and accompanying warmth drove home the truth of steadfast love, endless mercies, morning newness in the face of evening cold, and mind-boggling faithfulness.
            Why oh why do I continue to take it for granted?
            At once, joy danced with peace in my soul. And I could sense my husband’s soul dancing too. We were mesmerized and entwined by peace, love, and joy. Our bodies were warmed by it. Peace warmed our bodies and the warmth triggered peace.
         Before the first rousing Wesley Easter hymn vibrated the piano and celebrating voices, I was ready to proclaim the Hebrews 13:20 benediction:

“Now may the God of peace [wholeness; Shalom] who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
            It was one of those everyday miracles. One I hope I never forget.


Pursing peace as we press on in the race to glory…

See you next week!

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Monday, April 17, 2017

When Trust Leads to Peace

            CHRIST is Risen!
            He is Risen, indeed!
            And He will be coming back again.
            Do you believe that last statement? I hope so. Because that’s what He’s promised to do.
            Are you waiting for Him, and living like you are?
            If you answer “Yes”, and you’re focusing on that (His promise), then you’ll have peace.



            Last week we looked at the knee-jerk response of the Israelites to the Egyptian army bearing down on them in the desert, where it appeared (to them) as though they would be snuffed out in front of the Red Sea. Because I hope you’re still basking in the fumes of yesterday’s Resurrection celebration, and because I don’t want to move on until we’ve highlighted a few other points of last week’s story, this post is going to be shorter than normal.

            While reading through Max Lucado’s great book And the Angels Were Silent: The Final Week of Jesus, which I do every year for either Lent or Holy Week, I came across Max’s thoughts about the Red Sea-parting event and the Israelite’s tramp through the wilderness. He explains part of the event in true Lucado-style:

            “[God] led [his children] into a strange land. He marched them through a sea and guided them into unexplained territory.
            They didn’t know where they were. The desert was strange. The sounds were new and the scenery unfamiliar.
            ‘Take us back to Egypt,’ they demanded.
            But the Father wanted his children to trust him. The Father wanted his children to take his hand and relax. The Father wanted his children to quit worrying about how and be content with who.
            He liberated them from slavery and created a path through the sea....
            … ‘Trust me. Trust me and I will give you what you need.’”


            Are you like an Israelite in the wilderness, worrying about how and not focusing on and being content with who?
            Because when you focus on the Who, peace invades your spirit.
            When you take the first step and trust in God and His son Jesus, then you have taken the first step in the beginning of wisdom then peace automatically follows.
            When you know He loves you and wants the best for you, peace calms your worried heart.
            When you know He has a reputation for being a promise-keeper, and you trust that He’s still keeping promises He’s made for the future, then peace reigns.
            When you know that He is—this very minute—in the process of building a dream home for you in Heaven, joy and peace dance together. You can’t wait for Him to come back for you, But you also know this building process takes time, and peace makes your heart content.

            Jesus doesn’t promise us a rose garden life. (It helps to remind ourselves that those breathtaking roses are usually laden with thorns, anyway.) Indeed, he tells us we will have troubles. So why do we act so surprised when they show up?
            When Jesus was on Earth, He talked about how we need to live a life of God-worship rather than other-worship, self-worship, money or possession-worship. The Apostle Matthew reported on some teaching Jesus did about it.
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax… People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiatives, God-provisions….
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (The Message).

           With that in mind, here are some things you can keep in mind:
            ~ God takes pride in you, His child.
            ~ God will always do His best for you, and what's best for you.
            ~ Don’t fuss over things. It’s not worth the energy or time. Fussing can make you sick and others around you frustrated.
            ~ Steep your life in God—the reality of Him, the things He initiates, the way He provides. He’s got a perfect track record.
            ~ Pay attention to what He’s doing in your life right now, this very day, this moment. Maybe you are walking a difficult path because you need to give up more of your “self” to His control. To remember He’s God and you’re not. Maybe you’re being tested and need to lean into what’s going on in your life at this moment.

            ~ Trust Him. Put all of your weight into Him. He’s got a strong hand on you; He won’t drop you.

            While you see a tiny blip on the screen, He sees the big picture. Let Him worry about the big picture and see you through the tiny blips. (I know. They don’t always look so tiny from this end.)

            TRUST. That’s really what it—and peace—come down to. When you trust Him, the peace that comes hand-in-glove with that trust makes life simpler, easier mentally, more enjoyable. More blessed.
            So when you don’t know where you are, and something is new, strange, and unfamiliar—or uncomfortable—don’t give in to your first inclination to turn and sprint back to where you came from. Give Him your hand and relax.
            Don’t worry about how.
            Instead, be content with Who.

Which leads me to another question: Just how BIG is your God…?


More peace next week!


May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Do You Want Peace? Then Keep Silent and Get Out of Your Own Way

            HOLDING your peace. Keeping silent. Biting your tongue. Shutting up. Sometimes that’s all you have to do to have peace, and become a spectator to God’s power and salvation.

            Today we’re going to revisit a very popular, well-known story. Even if you’re not a Bible geek, you’ll know this one. It’s all about the Israelites, way back when they’re leaving Egypt after having been slaves for 400 hundred years. And even though I didn’t plan it this way, it is SO appropriate that this post come out today since Passover begins tonight! (Isn’t it just amazing the way God orchestrates these things!)
            Anyway, the events happen just after Passover has occurred, when firstborn sons in Egypt were struck down by the angel of death. But those who applied the blood of the lamb to their doorposts and lintels were passed over from the destruction; their sons were protected because they identified with and took refuge in Jehovah.
            The Israelites were vacating the land and life where they’d been brick-making slaves. Life had been horrid. They’d been crying out to God for years, and He has heard them and saved them. They’ve pilfered Egypt for spoils and are on their way to the Promised Land. Only God takes them to the Red Sea, and that’s where their “problem” begins. At least they see it as a problem.
            Pharaoh changes his mind about allowing them to leave, and he decides to pursue them with all of the horses, chariots, and warriors he can round up. He and his army take off after the Israelites as they walk through the desert. As the Israelites arrive at the Red Sea, they see, and undoubtedly hear, the pounding hoof beats of the pursuing Egyptians. The Israelites are terrified. And when you’re terrified, what do you usually do?
            Well, maybe you do what the Israelites did. They started complaining at the top of their lungs about their predicament. And the first person they laid blame to was Moses, who had led them down this path. (Actually, they forgot who did the actual leading.) Instantly, they lose all faith in Moses and start accusing him of dragging them out there to die. They start remembering the brick making and slavery as “the good old days” and tell Moses that it was better being a slave in Egypt than to die in the wilderness.

            We think we have short memories today. The Israelites didn’t seem to be much better. They act as though they didn’t have any choice in the matter, that Moses dragged them kicking and screaming into the wilderness. And they had just witnessed God perform ten mighty miracles through plagues that ripped across the land, killing livestock, poisoning the Egyptians’ main water source, and making life miserable and physically painful. And then the final blow—the death of the firstborn sons. Their memories are very short, indeed.
            FEAR overwhelmed them and drove them to complaining. They were so afraid and so angry with God and Moses that they forgot what God had just done for them—set them free—and the miracles He’d just performed. Like He was suddenly put out of the miracle-making business and couldn’t follow this thing through to do what He promised them He’d do.

            So what does Moses do? He tells them not to be afraid, to stand still, be quiet, and pull themselves together! And then watch what God’s going to accomplish for them. How He’s going to fight for them. Which means make the Egyptians disappear so they can go on their merry way, without worry, to the Promised Land. Moses wants them to switch their thinking from fear and worry to looking for and expecting the “great salvation God is about to work for you.”

            Have you ever been in a situation like that, where fear overcomes you to a point that all you can do is yell, argue, agitate, point fingers at someone, and act like all is lost? Does your fear lead you to:

~ Complain bitterly?
~ Point fingers at someone and blame them for your predicament?
~ Think about making a mental about-face and changing your mind about going forward and returning to the old, familiar life or behavior, even if it’s awful?

Or does your fear lead you to:
~ Pray and trust in God, await His response, and actually expect Him to move mightily on your behalf?


When fear strikes, there are steps we can take to overcome:

First, we need, as the Apostle Paul says, take every thought captive to the Lord Jesus Christ. He writes that in a passage where he’s talking about spiritual warfare, so make no mistake about it. This is a war for our minds and hearts. And war demands extreme defense and offensive measures, calculated—and practiced—responses. Give the thoughts to your Commander. Send that Urgent! memo to Him and let Him take care of them, and then resist with every ounce of energy you have against grabbing them back from Him.

Second, call to memory all of the promises God has made and fulfilled throughout the ages in the lives of His people, in your friends and family’s lives, in your life. Remind yourself of His faithfulness, His love for you, His desire for you to have a hope and purpose. His desire to do you good and not harm.

Third, turn your worry actions into prayer activity that includes thankfulness. Thank God for what He’s going to do on your behalf and expect great things from Him! It’s hard to worry about something when you’re being thankful, and prayer has a way of diffusing fear and agitation. It gives you the security that you are not alone and that Someone is listening. And praying aloud can tell your brain to take its thoughts another direction. That alone can change the entire chemical and physical reaction to the stressor. To not make God puny or human-sized. He’s BIG and GREAT and POWERFUL and LOVING!

Fourth, contact a good prayer warrior friend to join you in the emotional battle. Have them go to bat for you or with you. As Solomon puts it in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone…. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped” (The Message).
            If you don’t have that kind of friend handy, contact a Christian ministry that offers prayer support. Guideposts has a big prayer ministry. See their website or Facebook page. Food for the Poor takes prayer requests. Just look on a ministry’s website to see if they ask how they can pray for you. Ask around to see if anyone you know is on a prayer chain. I’m on a couple of email prayer chains, one of which is global. It’s a pleasure and honor to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom I have never met. Call a local church, or show up and ask someone to pray for you. Ask if they have Stephen Ministers who are trained to walk with you through issues. Look for a local chaplain group. They’re ready and willing to pray with you!

            And what’s another important thing to remember?
            Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way and let the Lord work on our behalf!


            May God bless you mightily this most holy of weeks!
            Have a blessed Resurrection Day!

            Until next week,

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

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