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What Color Is Jesus?

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            Isaiah 53:2

On my kitchen windowsill is a Christmas card I received a couple of years ago. It is a simple but colorful drawing of the Christ Child in the manger, with several shepherds kneeling in adoration. All the people in the picture are jet black.

Am I offended by the lack of historical accuracy? Not at all. Nor have I written back to the sender, saying “By the way, Jesus was Jewish, and the shepherds were Jewish, and that picture makes no sense.”

Nope. I love that card, because of who sent it and where it came from. The greeting inside is a hand-written note from one of my friends in Uganda – “To my favorite author.” Elsewhere in the note is written in big letters, “UGANDA LOVES YOU!”

Lately there has been some heated discussions regarding the question of “what color was Jesus?” This question was the basis for accusing whole cultures of racism, western European types in particular. It seems that some European paintings of Jesus show Him looking, well, like a European.

But then, why not?  I would expect pictures of Him in, say, a Mexican church to look more Hispanic. In Asia you can find pictures of Jesus looking Chinese or Indian.

There’s a reason for this, and I’m guessing those reasons were more theological than historical.

These artists were probably aware of where Jesus lived and died, and yet they decided to paint Him in a way that made Him more relatable to the people of their own culture. These artists weren’t ignorant. On the contrary, I would respectfully suggest that their critics are the ones who might be missing the point.

And what is the point? What is the message of the Incarnation?

The point is, the Son of God – God Himself – left His home in heaven to become one of us (“us” being Humanity).

As a Man, Jesus went through the same experiences we go through. He was hungry. He got thirsty. He experienced weariness and pain and loneliness. He knew fear and stress and the sting of other people’s hatred. He empathized, He grieved, He knew anger and frustration. These are things experienced by every person that ever lived, every color, in every era, and in every corner of the earth. He came for all of us – for black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American. And for every race, every nationality, every ethnic group, He took our sins upon Himself and took them to the Cross, where He died for the forgiveness of all of us.

One of my favorite outreaches, the Jesus Film Project has been showing the gospel in video form for decades. Their movie, “JESUS,” the dramatization of the gospel according to Luke, has been translated into more than 1800 languages! Until the pandemic shut down the world, small teams of technicians and evangelists would trek into the remotest places, set up their equipment, and show the film to whole villages at a time. The people would gather to watch and be mesmerized to see the gospel story played out in their language! Now of course when Jesus was on earth He didn’t speak in the tribal languages of these obscure groups, but that doesn’t matter to them. They watch, they listen, they understand – and they believe! 

SIDE NOTE: If you are a linguistics expert and want to get nitpicky about the language Jesus really spoke, you might want to rent “The Passion of the Christ,” where the dialogue is in the original Aramaic. (You might also want to make sure the subtitles are turned on.)

The Apostle John’s description of Heaven in Revelation describes a multitude of people that could not be counted, people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Revelation 7:9) I’m guessing none of those people got hung up what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth as one of us. Who knows? When we enter into eternity, He may show Himself to us in a glorious new color we have never seen before in this life! (Yes, my imagination can go wild when I think of entering eternity after leaving this finite world.)

The Incarnation is a profound reality, one well worth reflecting on.  John 1:14 says,     “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In these days of arguing about anything and everything, let’s focus less on the flesh and more on the Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving the throne room of Heaven to live in this fallen world as one of us. Thank You for offering Your life for all of us as the perfect sacrifice. You paid the debt we could not afford, so our sins might be cancelled out and we might live with You forever. And now, as we place our faith in You, we can look forward to eternal life in Your glorious kingdom, along with Your children from every nation, tribe, people and tongue! What a glorious day that will be!  Lord, help us to focus less on the superficial and more on what’s truly important – how much You love us, how much we love You, and how much we should love one another in Your name. Amen.

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To Seniors and Others Missing Out

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.         Colossians 3:2

This piece, originally entitled “What Else Matters?” was posted May 3 of last year. I wanted to share it again, for all my readers who are or have seniors missing their prom, graduation, and other festivities they thought they would be enjoying now. Feel free to share this with them. I hope it encourages those who are feeling the loss.

It was the morning of the National Day of Prayer. I was sitting in the auditorium at City Hall, listening to my daughter’s school choir singing a goosebump-raising rendition of “You Are God Alone.” They were warming up for the city-wide prayer meeting that was starting in half an hour. And I was crying.

My daughter Kelly had been having a rough time in high school. The migraines that had first appeared when she was four years old had continued to plague her through grade school and middle school and had caused her record absences through high school, in spite of years of prayers and attempts to find a solution through medicine, both traditional and “alternative.”

But in spite of enduring more pain than some people suffer in a lifetime, Kelly had found a few sources of pleasure in her life. By far her greatest joy was singing, and her favorite part of school was choir. When the students performed, Kelly’s face radiated with unmistakable joy. She had looked forward to the national Day of Prayer and taking part, and as I had said goodbye to her that morning and she left for school, I had whispered a special prayer of thanks to God for this special day.

My optimism had been short-lived, however. Kelly had called me from the parking lot of a McDonald’s half a mile from school to tell me about the migraine that had assaulted her shortly after she had walked out the door. When I had suggested that she come home, take some medication, and rest until the assembly, she had sobbed that if she didn’t show up at 8:00 she wouldn’t be allowed to sing with the choir.

There are definite advantages to a small Christian school, one of them being teachers who know each student well and practice grace along with discipline. As I called the office to explain Kelly’s dilemma, the choir director, who “happened to be” right by the phone, responded with compassion. She said to let Kelly come home, take a pill and a nap, and meet the choir at City Hall at 11:30 if she was feeling better.

But the medication that knocked out the migraine had a way of knocking out the patient as well, and when I had tried to rouse Kelly for the prayer meeting, she had been hopelessly (and predictably) dead to the world. Now as the choir finished their warm-up and filed off the stage, there I sat, with nothing to do but feel sorry for Kelly, thinking of all the important high school events she had missed and would never again get a chance to do. And yes, I’ll admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as well. (When “BabyBear” hurts, “MamaBear” hurts, too.) So in spite of my efforts to contain them, the tears flowed.

I was digging through my purse, looking for a tissue when I came across my small New Testament. Since the prayer meeting didn’t start until noon, I knew I had twenty minutes to kill, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend them wallowing in self-pity. So I pulled out the Bible and prayed.

Lord, Jesus, please encourage me. I don’t want to feel this way today!

I was not in the habit of looking for answers to problems by haphazardly opening the Bible; I hadn’t done that since college. But since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, I opened the Book at random, planning just to read until I found something helpful, or until the prayer meeting started, whichever came first.

The scripture that first caught my eye was the last chapter of Mark:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”                    (Mark 16: 1-6)

Something told me I had seen enough, so I stopped reading.

OK, what does that have to do with Kelly’s migraines? I wondered. But then I pondered the significance of the passage.

Jesus is alive … JESUS IS ALIVE! That means that death is not the end … for Him or for us! And it certainly means this life isn’t the be-all and end-all for those who trust in the Lord. – It’s barely the beginning!

Yes, my daughter had missed the National Day of Prayer, over a hundred days of high school, and numerous weekend festivities. She had missed Homecoming, but someday she would be at the greatest Homecoming in history. She had missed singing in the choir that day, but someday she would sing in heaven’s choir forever. Kelly loved Jesus, and she would get to spend forever with Him, at the never-ending, greatest celebration of all time. When one had that to look forward to … what else mattered?

What else matters? I asked myself, and I found that in spite of my pity-party, I was smiling. I decided that I would pour myself into the Day of Prayer and keep a better perspective on life from that day on, by remembering the one thing that really matters –

Jesus is alive!

Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)                           c 2015 Ann Aschauer

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that You are alive! Keep us mindful of what really matters. In Your name, amen

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On Being Transparent

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.     Isaiah 64:6a

I don’t do windows.

Well, every few years I try. There will be that bright sunny morning when the light is streaming in, and the need for cleaning is so obvious, I grab the window cleaner, spray bottle, rags, paper towels, and squeegee and get to work. Two or three hours later I throw in the towel (and everything on it) and once more promise myself, never again!

Every summer we go to the house in Michigan that my grandparents built it in the 1940s. It was elegant then and it is still elegant now. Forty-six years ago, my husband Marty and I got married there, and two years ago our youngest daughter was married there. The house has French provincial architecture, fireplaces, a bay window, and French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the lake.

It also has windows that have had a curse put on them. Or maybe it’s just the paint on the frames that dissolves every time any liquid touches it… Each magical little pane is specially made to get dirtier the more it’s wiped. After several attempts at cleaning, the glass will go from mildly dirty to ridiculously streaked on the outside – when you’re looking out. Of course, when you’re outside looking in, all you see are the streaks that are inside. I have on occasion treated the job like an Olympic event, “the Window Sprint” – Can I run outside and get that streak off before I forget where it is? Pretty soon I’m streaked too, with sweat and dirt, and breathless with exasperation. No gold medal here.

(Now please don’t write and tell me how you clean your windows. Believe me, I’ve heard the advice, all about vinegar and newspapers and yada-yadda-yadda… I’ve tried it all.)

A few years ago, we put our house in Port Huron up for sale, and one of the many jobs that needed to be done was … clean the windows. [Insert scary horror movie music here.] When a perfectly gorgeous day came up and I had absolutely nothing on my schedule, there was no excuse to put off the job, however desperately I wished for one.

I was delightfully surprised to find the job was not only effective but surprisingly fun when it actually worked! I found myself singing as I got into the rhythm -squirt-squeegee-wipe, squirt-squeegee-wipe – and pretty soon I was looking around for more windows to clean. At the end of the day, I was standing in the living room, gazing out at the Lake Huron, relishing the fact that the windows were virtually invisible, and I may as well have been standing outside. >Eureka!<

For some reason I took this to mean I now knew how to clean windows, so when we later went to Portage Lake, one bright, sunny day I confidently grabbed my trusty squeegee and began to make the dining room gorgeous, one little pane at a time, forgetting that these windows were cursed… Two hours, one roll of paper towels, one bottle of Windex, and one tantrum later, there was not one pane that was totally clean. I threw up my hands and yelled “I GIVE UP!” followed by a few other things that were probably inappropriate for a Christian to be saying.

Have you been there? I don’t mean just with windows, but anything that you’ve tried to “fix,” that only gets worse the more you try? As I stood there that day, hot and exhausted, scowling at the streaks blocking the view of the beautiful lake, I figured the only way to get a clear view would be just to break the windows. That’s it! Just take out the pains – er, panes – completely, and the view would be great. Of course, that would have made the house a bit drafty and buggy, so Marty didn’t go for that idea.

It occurred to me that I was looking at a picture of sin. The Bible tells us that ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of Mankind has been under the curse of sin. For many people, their lives may seem “good enough.” But then the light of God’s truth shines through, and it becomes painfully obvious that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) The more we look at our sin, the more it bothers us.

So, what do some of us do? We try to clean up our act. Somehow, we think we can make it right on our own, although it should soon be apparent that if we were so capable of doing good, our lives wouldn’t be such a mess in the first place. After trying to make things right, we see that we have failed, and more often than not, our feeble attempts have made the situation worse than ever. At this point we should see that we can’t do this ourselves. But some of us refuse to believe we’re that helpless. So, we try harder, thinking if we could just try hard enough, we’ll finally clean up our lives.

The bottom line is, we can’t fix the mess ourselves. We have only two choices. We can avoid the Light and hope nobody notices the dirt, or we can go to God and ask Him to help us. Fortunately, He can. In fact, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take all our dirt onto Himself. When He died for us, He was taking our sin and nailing it to the Cross, and we never have to be enslaved by it again. He can make our lives clean, and He can shine His light through us. Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up?

I haven’t yet figured out how to get Jesus to do my windows for me, but two years ago before our daughter’s wedding, we did hire a professional exorcist – er, window cleaning service. Now when I look out through the crystal-clear glass and remember how it used to be, I know what a mess I would be without Jesus. I’m just grateful that I’m not without Him, and that He was willing to do what was necessary to make me clean, so He could shine His light through me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in ourselves we are powerless to clean up our own lives. Thank You that You have not left us on our own, but You have shed Your blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we can live the lives You want us to live – the lives we truly want. We choose to trust You to shine through us today, in Your power, in Your name. Amen

Are You Praying to the Wrong Person? Part IV: Wrong god

How you have fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! – Isaiah 14:12

[Jesus] replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” – Luke 10:18

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. – II Corinthians 11:14b-15a

I was visiting a relative who was moving to a new condo, and as she was only partially moved, she slept in the new condo, while I spent the night in the old one. After going to bed, I was struck with an uneasy feeling and instinctively got up and checked the doors to make sure they were locked; they were.

And yet, I still had the distinct feeling I wasn’t alone (Well, I’m a Christian, so I’m never really alone-alone, but other than that …), I looked in the closets; no one there.

Lastly, feeling utterly silly, I looked under the bed and found the “boogie man” – a New Age book said relative had been reading. I knew immediately it was not in my belief system, because on the cover was an elaborate picture of a “goddess” with multiple pairs of arms. Some might call these books harmless fiction or entertainment, but I believe there is a spiritual element to such teachings when taken seriously. I addressed whatever entity was in the room, rebuked it in the name of the real God, tossed the book in the corner, and promptly went to sleep.

The world is full of religions, philosophies, and world views, and with the advent of the internet, ideas can (sometimes) be freely exchanged. With all the available ways to receive input, rather than making it easier to believe in something, the opposite is true. Confusion abounds.

Many religions put a good face on their “gods,” but most of us learned early on that looks can be deceiving.

Whose “truth” is true? Some even claim that everything is true, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that everyone can’t possibly be right.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6) That’s clearly a statement of exclusivity. If Jesus was telling the truth, He is the only truth. If He wasn’t, there could be multiple “truths,” but He would not be one of them, since He just lied about being the only one. – Right?

So, when someone speaks of praying to “whoever you pray to – Mother Earth, Buddha, the Force, your inner child, the divine mother, Jesus, it doesn’t matter … ” don’t go there! It does matter. Especially if they lump Jesus in with the others – do not go there! (I will address the issue of “the wrong Jesus” at a later time.)

So, who are all these other “gods” and “goddesses” who seem so benevolent, so willing to “help” us? To the Christian, they are spiritual imposters. When it comes to power, the true and living God is greater than all of them put together, so the best these false deities can hope for is to deceive people created in God’s image.

Thousands of years ago, when Pharaoh refused to free the children of Israel from slavery, Egypt was struck with one plague after another. Each plague was aimed at humiliating and defeating one of the Egyptians’ “gods.” The LORD began by turning the Nile to blood in defiance of their river god. After seven more plagues darkness covering all of Egypt – except where the Israelites were -in defiance of their sun god Ra. The tenth and final plague, the death of the first-born male struck even the son of Pharah, who himself was considered a “god.”

But Israel’s sons were spared, because they had been warned to put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts – a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God – Jesus – whose blood was shed on a wooden cross for our deliverance from eternal death. You can read about all ten plagues and Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt in the book of Exodus. It’s a great read.

Centuries later, Elijah, the prophet of God, stood alone and confronted 450 prophets of the “god” Baal. They held a contest, where each side offered a sacrifice on an altar to see which “god” would receive the sacrifice with fire.

First the 450 prophets called on Baal to send fire down and burn up the offering on their altar. They cried out, they danced, they slashed themselves with swords and spears and bled profusely, past noon and until time for the evening sacrifice.

Nothing.

Then it was Elijah’s turn. First, he did some preparation. He built an altar with twelve stones (for the twelve tribes of Israel) and placed the wood and the pieces of the bull on it. Then he dug a trench around it and called for large jars of water to be poured over the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones, until it flowed down and filled the trench!

Then Elijah called on his God.

(Once.)

“Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and licked up all the water in the trench.” (I Kings 18:38)

So much for Baal.

When I pray, I want to pray to that God, don’t you?

While visiting some relatives, my daughter and I spent the night in the bedroom of their daughter who was no longer living at home. The knickknacks in her room were souvenirs of her trip to India, a country she dearly loved.

I woke up in the middle of the night, again with that feeling of being watched. I pulled aside the curtain of the window, and there, a foot from my face, was a sticker, a picture of some “god,” I suppose. It had the body of a man and the head of an elephant and seemed to be staring right at me.

I whispered, “My God’s bigger than you,” rolled over, and went back to sleep.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. – I John 5:21

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the way – the only way – and I thank You for being on my side, in spite of my sin, weakness, and failures. – Where would I be without You? Today, as always, I will trust You, and You alone. Amen.

My Pronoun Is …

Dear Readers: I try hard to keep my posts at 1000 words or less (About 4 minutes of reading per week), but last week I couldn’t get to my word count. Predictably, my post went way over.

As my way of apology, I’m going to write even more! – Kidding… sort of. Just some extra thoughts that are way shorter than my usual. Enjoy, and have a great weekend.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price. – I Corinthians 6:19-20a

I was a sinner (Romans 3:23), condemned to eternal death for my sin (Romans 6:23a), but God chose to give me life instead (Romans 6:23b). He sent His Son Jesus to pay the price for my sins by dying in my place (I Peter 2:24) so I could be forgiven and healed. I was the lost sheep, but my Shepherd came after me, found me, and brought me home, rejoicing. (Luke 15:4-6) He has gone ahead to prepare me a home in heaven. (John 14:2) And when the time is right, He’s coming to get me and take me there.

Jesus bought me with a price – a very heavy price, His very life. And I belong to Him forever.

(MY PRONOUN IS “HIS.”)

Are You Praying to the Wrong Person? Part III: Angels

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14

The last couple of weeks I’ve written about the mistake of worshiping or praying to the wrong person.* The fact that God is invisible can make it harder for us to talk to Him, ask for His help, and believe we will receive it. The fact that He’s the King of the universe makes it hard to imagine He’d be interested in the needs and problems of a mere mortal, so we look for someone we think is closer to Him (“godlier”) and yet can relate to us – a kind of go-between to “put in a good word for us.” But these human beings, however holy they seem to be or to have been, do not qualify to receive and answer our prayers.

The Bible is clear; people are just people – like us.

Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, knew her need for a Savior. She was called “blessed,” but Jesus said the way to be “blessed,” was by hearing and obeying His Word. When you consider this, it is a marvelous truth! What God did in the lives of people like Mary and Peter and Paul, He could do in our lives, as well – maybe more!

I hope it’s clear to you that we’re better off not praying to or worshiping our mortal peers, both those living among us today and those who have passed on and are in heaven. But what about supernatural beings? What about angels?

Most Christians are aware that we are forbidden to engage in occult practices. But unlike witches or wizards or genies in a bottle, angels are on God’s side … Right?

First, we need to understand what exactly angels are. When angels appeared in the Bible, usually the first thing they say is, “Fear not.” Apparently, these beings are alarming and intimidating, contrary to the way they’re often depicted as cute, chubby babies with wings or beautiful women in the window of a lingerie shop. (As the kids would say, “Give me a break.”)

Angels are mighty warriors. The book of II Kings tells about the time one angel went into the enemy’s camp and killed 185,00 of Israel’s enemies in a single night! Clearly, angels are powerful and able to help God’s people in distress.

But the Bible teaches that angels are God’s servants that He sends to do His bidding – exactly the reason it would be futile to pray to them. An angel of God will never do anything that isn’t God’s will, so don’t even ask.

Besides, why ask a servant when you can go directly to the top? Jesus taught His followers not only that we could pray directly to God, but that we were to call Him “Father.” The word originally used was “Abba,” or “Daddy.”

Nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that we are to seek angels out. In the biblical accounts, God has either sent an angel with a message or with help in answer to the prayers of men (and women). But the prayers were directed at God, and He answered. As I admonished in my last post, don’t worship the messenger – even if the messenger is impressive and intimidating.

The apostle John was visited by an angel who gave him a panoramic view of the future, which he wrote down as the book of Revelation. At the end of this marvelous message, John wrote:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things, and when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”-

Revelation 22:8,9

So, there it is. Angels are our fellow servants. They may be more powerful than we are now, but we the redeemed of God have a more privileged position, like a little child among the household servants. We will someday take our place in heaven with Him in our glorified bodies. (Jesus said we would be “like the angels.”) Paul wrote, someday we will even judge angels. (I Corinthians 6:3) More about that next week.

To me the most endearing photo of John F. Kennedy is the one where he, the President of the United States and leader of the free world, is at work in the Oval Office, while his son, John Kennedy Junior – “John-John” – is playing under his desk. While heads of state, world leaders, diplomats, and other dignitaries had to go through many channels and often wait days or weeks for a meeting with the President, John-John had access to his daddy at any time.

We who follow Jesus are even more privileged than that! Just think, the Creator, who designed everything from the atom to the galaxies, is available to hear our prayers. It might be hard to wrap our minds around the fact that every one of the 8 billion people in the world were created by God and are known by God, but it’s true. He is infinite wisdom, power, and love. And He cares about us! Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not important enough to talk directly to God, that the One who rules the world doesn’t have time for your problems and concern. He does – He created time.

But just as President Kennedy wasn’t available to all people equally, not everyone is in the privileged position of God’s child. “We are all God’s children” may be true in the sense that we are all His creation. But to be adopted into His family and to have that kind of access to Him in prayer, one must have the special relationship of a son or daughter with a dad.

If you don’t know whether you have that relationship, there is a way to become His son or daughter, to be the child He delights in.

First, acknowledge your sin. How do I know you have sinned? The Bible says, “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) So, that includes you and me.

Realize that “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) This means spiritual death – being separated from God forever. He is holy, and sin makes us unfit for His kingdom.

(That’s the bad news. Here’s the “good news” – the gospel!) When Jesus Christ willingly died on the cross, a death He didn’t deserve, He was taking the punishment for our sins. If we believe that, and if we put our faith in Him as our Savior, our sins are paid for! Now we are clean and fit for His kingdom, and when we die, we get to spend eternity with Him instead of separated from Him.

To prove the reality of the Resurrection, Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. As incredible as this is, His resurrection is one of the most well documented events in ancient history, verified by many eyewitnesses, who were willing to go to their deaths rather than deny that Jesus is alive!

Believing on Jesus does not make us automatically live a sinless life. We are fallen creatures, and as long as we are in this fallen world, we will not be perfect. But Jesus promised His followers that the Holy Spirit would come to live in us, and with His help, we can say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. Our lives will be transformed. Sometimes this transformation is sudden and startling to those around us. Other times it’s a gradual change. But we will find that when we are serving the living God, we are no longer slaves to our sin. And we have daily access to our heavenly Daddy. No need to go through other channels; all we have to do is say His name.

Prayer: Daddy God, thank You for giving us direct access to Your throne room any time we are willing to come. We have not been willing often enough! Forgive our foolishness, as we come to You now, without anything or anyone coming between us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Are You Praying to the Wrong Person?

Are You Praying to the Wrong Person? Part II: Saints

Are You Praying to the Wrong Person? Part II: Saints

The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates, because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to [Paul and Barnabas]. But when the apostles Paul and Barnabas heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” – Acts 14:13-15

Most of us have heard the admonition, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” In other words, when the news is upsetting, some people take out their anger or grief on the one who delivers the news. Although tempting, this course of action is inappropriate.

In the book of Acts we read about a case where the opposite was happening. The lesson here is, “When the news is good, don’t worship the messenger!”

Paul had been used by God to heal a man in the city of Lystra, where the people worshiped multiple Greek gods. Seeing the miracle, they shouted “The gods have come down to us in human form!” They believed that Barnabas was Zeus, and that Paul, being the chief speaker, was Hermes, the messenger god. (Acts 14:11-12)

Some people today might find the misunderstanding mildly amusing, and no one could blame the apostles if they took the attention as a compliment. On the contrary, these men were distressed – so distressed they tore their clothes – a sign of extreme grief, anger, or loss. While the egos of some men might have enjoyed the kind of attention the apostles received, Paul and Barnabas were horrified. They had come with a glorious message, and the people misunderstood. Consequently, their reaction was the opposite of what it should have been. To the apostles, the twisted message was appalling, because the real message was so wonderful.

This was the true message: Contrary to the beliefs that were prevalent in those days – that there were many gods, with varying personalities and demands – there was only one true God, and He loved the world so much He gave His only Son, Jesus, to give His life for our salvation. The great news for the people of Lystra was that they no longer had to make endless sacrifices in an effort to atone for their sins and please their various gods with their changing moods. Jesus, the One and Only Son of God, had already made the ultimate sacrifice – Himself! Their sins were paid for! The only thing remaining necessary to receive God’s favor was to repent and trust Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Fast forward: In light of this account, how do you suppose the apostles feel about being worshiped and prayed to now? I’m guessing if they could speak to us today, they would say, “Remember, we were human, just like you! Remember the message we brought! Worship the God we served!”

The Church is the Body of Christ, and like a human body, Christ’s Body has different parts that work together. We have different gifts, different personalities, different ministries and mission fields. The stories of the first Christians, as well as accounts of Christians who lived more recently, are told to inspire us to do the kinds of things they did – to worship the God they worshiped, to serve the One they served.

These people came in a wide variety of personalities, situations, and challenges, so most of us can find at least one we can relate to. These differences aren’t so we can identify the patron saint of music or the patron saint of athletics or the patron saint of medicine and pray to one of them, depending on the situation. How is that really any different from worshiping many gods and thinking, I’m going on a cruise tomorrow, I’d better pray to the god of the sea?

Maybe you don’t pray to saints. Good for you. But do you have other “Christian idols” in your life? Do you have a favorite pastor, radio preacher, or other Christian personality that you like to follow? Do you mold every one of your beliefs after what that person says? Godly Christian preachers, teachers, and evangelists are wonderful. They can teach us a lot and help us grow. But we should never make one person a substitute for our own study of God’s Word and our own prayer time. Jesus formed His Church out of many types of people, so we could be interdependent on one another while at the same time being totally dependent on Him. Making a flawed human into a god (consciously or unconsciously) is not only offensive to the Lord; it is also totally unfair to that person.

Replacing God with anything or anyone else, is idolatry. This is perhaps the most serious sin of all, not only because it is a lie (That person or thing is not God.) but because it breaks His heart. The Bible speaks of idolatry as “adultery,” the grievous sin of being an unfaithful bride.

No, the Good News – the Gospel – is that there is only one God, and He loves you! Believe in Him. Worship Him. Pray to Him. Trust Him to get you through life – He will!

Besides, if you look to saints, they will say, “Don’t look to me, look to Jesus!

Prayer: Lord, Jesus, we are prone to look to something or someone we see, rather than the unseen God that You are. Forgive us and help us to keep the right perspective when we look at those Christians we admire. Help us to follow good examples, but never to put one another on pedestals. Help us to stay off pedestals ourselves and not give in to the temptations of our egos. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Are You Praying to the Wrong Person?

[After a couple of false starts (sorry, folks), I am finally beginning a series today. My book on prayer, BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?), covers about 14 “barriers” to effective prayer. In this series, I want to address the most basic aspect of prayer – praying to the right Person.]

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus – I Timothy 2:5

When we lived in Michigan, next door to us was a family that had children close to our children’s ages. Our kids played together, attended one another’s birthday parties, graduation open houses, and weddings. We could not have asked for better neighbors.

This family was devoted to another religion, faithfully following all the “pillars” of that religion. Among other things, my friend prayed five times a day to her god with a consistency that puts most Christians to shame.

Although our beliefs had major differences, I was frequently able to share with her over coffee what Jesus had done in my life, as well as learning a great deal about her religion. We exchanged books, and I was a bit surprised that one of hers said that people who believe God has a Son are headed for hell. One reason I was surprised was that this woman had told me about some major crises in her life when they occurred and had asked me to pray for her. I wondered, If she believes I’m going to hell, why would she want me to pray for her?

Possibly one reason was that she had heard about – she had seen – my prayers getting answered. Whatever the reason, from what I could see, in my opinion, she was praying to the wrong god.

“Whom do you pray to?” seems like a simple question, and one would think Christians would have one answer to that question. But more and more I am encountering people who claim the name of Jesus who occasionally consult with someone else. Today let’s look at one example:

MARY (the mother of Jesus)

From the beginning of her story, Mary described herself as “the handmaid [servant] of the Lord.” (Luke 1:39) And inasmuch as she obeyed her Master, she was “highly favored.” But then, we are all called to be the Lord’s servants, and through our obedience we can be highly favored, too.

Mary said,

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” (Luke 1:47 -49)

Here in Mary’s famous song, she again described herself as God’s servant, and she described Him as her Savior.

Still, many people mistakenly elevate Mary over other mortals. It happened in Jesus’ day. But Jesus corrected that faulty thinking.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:27-28

Jesus wasn’t saying Mary wasn’t blessed – she was! He was saying she was blessed because she heard the word of God and obeyed it. And according to Jesus, we can hear, obey, and be blessed as well. No, we aren’t perfect, but neither was Mary.

On at least one occasion during Jesus’ ministry, Mary and Jesus’ brothers thought He had lost His mind. They came to take Him home, possibly to keep Him from embarrassing the family.

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” – Mark 3:21

Matthew elaborated:

Someone told [Jesus], “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:46-50)

Jesus made obeying God and doing His will priority over natural human relationships.

Mary was a godly woman who obeyed God’s word when she was called upon to bear the awesome responsibility and privilege of being the human mother of the Son of God. In this she is a great example to all of us. But Mary herself wouldn’t want us to give her a place in our hearts that rivals Jesus. She does not want our prayers; she cannot answer our prayers. (As she is in heaven with Jesus, her will and His are one and the same, anyway.) If Mary were to speak to us today, she would say, as she did at the wedding in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

Are there others that we mistakenly pray to and unwittingly commit idolatry?

Prayer: Lord God, You are the only true and living God, and we are Yours alone. Root out of our hearts any misguided loyalties and the error of putting Your people on pedestals where they don’t belong. Set our minds and hearts fully on You. Jesus our Savior, make us Your servants and Yours alone, now and forever. Amen.

Going, Going, Gone … Better!

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. – John 14:2

Last week I wrote about a trip back to our former home in Michigan, when we discovered that thirty years of work my husband had lovingly put into the house had been undone; the new owners had new ideas for their home that were apparently different from ours. We had come just after the house had been totally gutted, so it had been a bit of a shock, to say the least.

What I didn’t tell about was the next time I saw the house.

I was in Port Huron for a book signing and stopped by my former next-door neighbor’s for a visit. After she and I had caught up on one another’s lives, I was walking back to my car and noticed how nice our old yard looked. It was a beautiful day, so I pulled out my phone to snap some pictures to show Marty when I got home.

I was casually walking along the edge of the yard, trying not to be conspicuous, when I heard a woman’s voice ask, “May I help you?” I stammered my explanation. The lady graciously said I was welcome to take as many pictures as I wanted, then asked if I’d like to come in.

This “tour” was light years different from the one Marty and I had taken months before. Suppressing a gasp, I asked if I could take more pictures, and again permission was granted with a smile.

I felt as though I were taking pictures for House Beautiful magazine – the new decor was stunning. The wall between the kitchen and dining room had been knocked out – something we had discussed doing but had kept procrastinating over the years. The kitchen now had a panoramic view of the lake, especially since the new owners had cut down the weeping birch and cherry tree, which every spring had bloomed so beautifully we could never bring ourselves to remove them.

One of the closets in the master bedroom had been opened up and transformed into a coffee bar, for those mornings you just don’t want to go downstairs before your first jolt of caffeine and would prefer to sip a latte while watching the sunrise over the lake. (Why didn’t we think of that?)

The huge attic had been carpeted and made into the grandchildren’s quarters (There was enough room for a kickball game up there.) The soft blues and greens throughout the house gave it an idyllic, summer-home feel. (I’m not sure how that felt in the dead of winter, but as I was wandering through it that August day, it was heavenly.)

More descriptions wouldn’t do justice to the gorgeous house I was seeing. As much as I loved and appreciated our home of 30+ years, I had to admit, this new version of it was amazing.

Seeing our old house again, first in its completely dismantled stage and then after its transformation, reminded me of the emotional rollercoaster I had always felt when reading C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle.

Of all the many books I have read to my children and grandchildren, the Chronicles of Narnia were among our very favorites. Over the years we read all seven books multiple times, until Narnia felt like our second home. The final book in the series, The Last Battle, takes place during the last days of Narnia.

SPOILER ALERT! A wicked ape has come up with a plot to deceive the other creatures of Narnia and take over the kingdom. With the help of a not-too-bright donkey, and later gaining allies among the disgruntled and the downright evil, the ape rises to power, oppressing and enslaving the innocent and recklessly bringing destruction to all the land, as he gathers wealth for himself at everyone else’s expense.

The story is more and more heart wrenching, as the situation gets darker and darker. Every time there seems to be a glimmer of hope, that hope is dashed, as evil moves in and take over again. In the end, it looks as though wrong has won, and Narnia is destroyed.

And yet, it’s not quite the end of the story after all. The children from our world, who have witnessed the last battle and the destruction of Narnia, are to find that they aren’t going back to their world, either. They learn that there has been a train accident, and they and their parents now belong to neither world anymore. They are to be reunited in a new Narnia – the real Narnia. They learn that the Narnia they have been experiencing was merely a shadow all along, and that this world is a mere foretaste of the world to come. The book ends with the “New Narnia,” with everything and everyone that made Narnia (and this world) wonderful, in a new paradise that now will last forever.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John wrote,

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)

For the Christian, this world is a mere shadow. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, and it will be glorious beyond our wildest imagination.

No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. – I Corinthians 2:9

We will all experience disappointment, loss, and grief in this life. People and places we love will be taken from us. Eventually our health, our strength, even our minds, will deteriorate and wind down. As they say, “Growing old isn’t for cowards!” It will seem to us at times that the life we’ve known and everything we’ve loved has been gutted and destroyed. But whatever our loss here, if we have put our faith in Jesus, the best is yet to come!

Prayer: Lord, You have promised us a new home in heaven, and at times we wish we could be there now! Help us to make the most of our time in this finite world, doing Your will and sharing the good news of the gospel with anyone and everyone along the way, until we take our last breath. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Going, Going, Gone.

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4: 14

As most of you know, my Florida “home away from home,” Sanibel Island, was hit by a devastating hurricane a few weeks ago. As my friends there keep me updated on the conditions, it makes me ponder how fragile and fleeting our lives are, and even more, our possessions.

I’m reminded of another day, a few years ago, when it became abruptly apparent that a chapter of our lives had been closed, and there was no going back.

Marty and I had lived in Port Huron, Michigan, for over thirty years. Needless to say, those three decades were a major season of our lives. When we had first moved there, Joanna and Ben had been six and three; by the time we moved to Louisville, Marty and I had both retired, Joanna and Ben were both married, Kelly had arrived, grown up, and left home, and we had four grandchildren.

Marty had poured a lot of time and love into the big house on Lake Huron. He has always been handy, and the more experience he’s had with remodeling, the more impressive his work is. During the time we lived on the lake, he had remodeled virtually every room of the house and repaved the patio. The basement had been turned into separate living quarters, with a bathroom and large bedroom/recreation room where Ben had lived for a while in his latter high school years. After he had moved out of the “lower level,” Kelly had moved in, the “man cave” colors changed to a different “girl” color on every wall. Bathrooms had been retiled, kitchen cabinets updated, and the foyer floors redone in stunning black marble, framed in cherry wood. Marty had rebuilt the bookshelves, paneling, and fireplace in the den, making it one of our favorite places for the family to “hang out.” He had added wainscoting to other rooms, making them generally more “classy.” I loved to show the various rooms to my friends. Marty’s creativity was evident in each one; he clearly had a gift.

The year after moving to Louisville, we went back to Port Huron to pick up some things that were in storage. While we were there, we decided to go for a nostalgic walk on the beach. After driving to the park in our old neighborhood, we made our way along the lakeshore, past the familiar houses of our former neighbors.

As we were passing our former home, we noticed someone out in the yard. He waved to us, and we waved back.

“Do you live here?” Marty called. The man replied that he did. We identified ourselves as the former owners of the house, and he invited us to come up. After a brief chat, he asked if we’d like to come in and see what he and his wife were doing to the place. Curious, we said, “Sure.”

I’m not sure we were prepared for what we saw.

The remodeling had just begun; the place had been gutted.

All the shelves, paneling, floors, cabinets, counters – ripped out and gone. Thirty years’ worth of Marty’s work had been undone. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye; he seemed to be taking it well – possibly better than I was.

As we walked back to the beach, I asked Marty if he was OK, and he said he was. “It’s their house now, they can do what they want.”

He was speaking the truth, of course, but I know that the truth doesn’t always line up with our emotions. A bit later, in the course of our conversation, he repeated, “It’s their house now.” I figured he was processing the experience. At least that’s what I would have been doing, if I’d just found out someone had bought the rights to all my books and decided to burn them all.

We got back to Louisville that Sunday, just in time for the evening prayer service. As we sang the first song, “All Glory Be to Christ,” I found myself tearing up at the appropriateness of the lyrics:

(To the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”)

Should nothing of our efforts stand, no legacy survive,

Unless the Lord does raise the house in vain its builders strive.

That Port Huron house is no longer ours. All that remains for us are the memories we have and cherish, the love that was poured out there, the children who were raised and loved; the Bible studies, the baptisms in the lake, the countless devotional times spent sitting by the water with my Bible, journal, and guitar; the birthday parties with our kids and their friends, beach parties with my students, favorite books read to the children and grandchildren by the fireplace; Thanksgiving gatherings, Christmas mornings, and Easter egg hunts. The legacy of those years is whatever impact was made on souls for eternity.

This is true for all of life, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.

I recently attended the funeral of a dear friend and listened to her family and friends give glowing tributes to her, memories of the ways in which she touched and impacted lives. Her legacy consists of those priceless, intangible treasures of the hearts and lives she changed for the better. I want to be like her, leaving the kind of imprint she left – the kind of legacy that is forever.

I want my life to count for Jesus. Nothing else matters.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for the gift of life. I don’t want to squander it on things that don’t last and don’t matter. Jesus, You gave Your life for my salvation; I want my redeemed life to count for Your kingdom. Lead me daily in devotion and service to You, in Your name, Amen.

One Last Smile – For Now

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. – I Corinthians 15:42-44

Therefore encourage each other with these words. – I Thessalonians 4:18

The cabin I’d been assigned to was a dingy, greyish brown. On the floor was an unexplained puddle of what looked and smelled like urine. I was a little put off by having to clean it up, but at the same time I reminded myself that this was nothing compared with what my friends on Sanibel Island are having to deal with, post-Ian. I had already heard tales of houses filled with sludge smelling like sewage, ruining virtually everything. So, stifling my complaints, I grabbed a rag and started mopping up the whatever-it-was, hoping I could get it cleaned up before anyone else arrived.

No such luck. An attractive, well-dressed woman came through the door, greeted me, sidestepped the soggy rags, grabbed something, and went back out.

It was then that I heard the animated voices of women singing, talking, and laughing. I stepped outside to see what appeared to be a women’s retreat being held outdoors. It was a gorgeous day – warm and sunny with a light breeze. The grass was such an intense green it was almost unrealistic. Chairs were set out for the ladies, and a long table was filled with every kind of sweet treat that I can’t eat in this life, although I know, someday in my new body I’m going to enjoy all that stuff! The pastries looked not only delicious, but delightfully festive, as well – decorated with brightly colored flowers, fruits, and sprinkles.

I was immediately drawn to this group and their delightful fellowship. Most of the faces were vaguely familiar from church, but there was one I knew very well. K looked my way, and her face broke into that joyful smile that always makes me instantly happy, as her expression invited me to join them.

K was, in a word, radiant. The sun reflected off her hair as if it were pure gold. Her long, chiffon garment fluttered in the breeze, its pastel colors rippling like dancing rainbows.

Since all these ladies had Bibles, I told K I was going to grab my Bible and would be right back. She smiled approvingly.

As I reentered the dingy cabin to look for my Bible, I stopped in my tracks as it suddenly occurred to me…

Wait ... Didn’t K die a few days ago?

Grabbing my Bible, I returned to the group of ladies, who were still talking enthusiastically among themselves. I searched their faces for K, but she wasn’t there...

As I woke up from my dream, one of my favorite songs was playing in my head:

Mine are Keys to Zion’s city, where beside the King I walk,

For there my heart has found its treasure; Christ is mine forevermore.”

Marty and I had been in Michigan most of the summer, and every time I’d been back to Louisville for a few days, I had tried to get together with K. I hadn’t been able to see her, first because she was busy, then she wasn’t feeling well, then she was in another country getting cancer treatments that she couldn’t get in the States. The last time I was home, she was too sick to see anyone. Next thing I knew, the church was sending emails with the sad news.

Her funeral is tomorrow.

It broke my heart that I hadn’t been able to see K one last time, nor to say goodbye to her. I considered her one of my best friends at my church, and I always loved the hours we’d spent together, talking, telling “God stories,” and praying for each other and our families. Even just sitting with K and her husband at church was a blessing.

Looking back at my dream, I think in a way the Lord was letting me have that “one last time” to see her – although when I get to where she is, there will be many more! And it occurred to me that even during this “one last time” together, we still hadn’t said goodbye!

But then, with Jesus, there really aren’t “goodbyes,” are there? Just “see-ya-laters.”

I’m on my way to K’s visitation now. I’ll see her family and friends. We’ll hug, and we’ll cry, and we’ll miss her so … But we all know where she is and what she’s doing. She’s smiling that radiant smile, singing the praises of the Lord she loves so much, basking in His love and glory, and enjoying her new body, forever without sickness, weakness or pain.

Someday I’ll be there, too. K and I will sit and talk and laugh and sing, and share “God stories” for a few hours … or a few centuries…

(I might even eat some doughnuts.)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how can we thank You for loving us so much that You were willing to die for us, so we could live eternally with You? Thank You for the peace that comes from knowing that whatever happens here, this life is not all there is. Someday we’ll step out of this dingy, fallen world with its stench of sin, into the glory of the new heaven and the new earth, into light and life and joy and eternal fellowship with one another, and most of all, with You, our loving Savior. In Your name, Amen.

Open Letter from an Ian Survivor

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. – Psalm 46:1-3

This letter from our Sanibel pastor is a little longer than my usual posts, but I wanted to share it with you, as it reflects his heart and the hearts of so many of our brothers and sisters in the area. As you read, please continue to pray for those folks, that they will keep shining for Jesus!

Dear Sanibel Church Family,

It’s Sunday morning, Oct 2, 4:30 am. I’m writing this from a hotel bathroom so as not to wake my wife. I couldn’t have imagined a week ago that this is where I would be today.

Normally on a Sunday morning, I would be waking up around 5:30 am or so and head out for a beach walk with my poodle to pray and think through the sermon I had spent all week preparing. This Sunday in particular would have been the beginning of a new sermon series in Daniel, followed by the Lord’s Supper in our last one-service gathering.

But instead, I’m sitting in a hotel bathroom.

I don’t have a house. My earthly possessions can now fit in my truck. I can’t go to my favorite beach. I have no idea when I will preach again in my pulpit on Sanibel to my beloved congregation. And no, I didn’t get around to studying Daniel much this week.

Where are you this morning?

Some of you are also in hotels on the east coast. Some are staying with family and friends, wondering how long the arrangement will work. Others are up north watching this disaster from a distance, filled with more questions than answers, and plagued by a vexing sense of helplessness. Some are in the Ft Myers area without power or internet or consistent cell service. They can’t even read this email. Some are stuck in shelters at Shell Point because the storm surge wiped out most of the cars there. Some . . . I don’t know where they are.

Is it sinking in yet or are you still in shock? The feelings and thoughts come in waves.

I haven’t had much time or capacity to reflect on the events of the past week. Most of my mental energy has been spent on trying to coordinate efforts, solve problems and find people. But this morning, sitting in my bathroom office unable to sleep, I find myself in a rare moment of contemplation. I’m thinking about Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,

  a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

2 Therefore we will not be afraid though the earth trembles

  and the mountains topple into the depth of the sea,

3 though the water roars and foams

  and the mountains quake with it turmoil.

The Psalmist meant the roaring sea as a metaphor for turmoil and danger, particularly the danger of hostile nations around Israel. But this week we saw the literal referent for that metaphor. We saw the sea rise up and swallow homes, cars, bridges and lives. The storm cut the causeway islands in half. The incredible power of the sea flung boats and cars all over Iona. Ft Myers beach is completely devastated.

The Psalm describes an earth-shattering ocean storm. These verses will never again be an abstraction for us.

Yet we must not forget how the Psalm begins. “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.” God is our refuge. No storm touches God. God needs no insurance policy because he reigns above the flood. He is the only safe place. God is our strength. God never loses power or fuel. The Lord doesn’t feel anxious or perturbed and has no troubled thoughts about the future. Our heavenly Father is not passing through phases of shock, grief and despair. The Triune God dwells in perfect peace, joy and delight at all times. He is not exhausted or depleted. A helper who is always found. Unlike us, our God is not helpless. He isn’t stuck watching the news, imagining himself renting a boat so he can sneak onto the island and do something. He is our helper who is always found in times of trouble. Trouble comes and goes. Hurricanes pass. But our helper never changes or leaves us. Even when our future is uncertain and our lives have been completely overturned, we know these things about God. He is almighty, he is eternal and he loves us.

No wonder the Psalmist can look into the tempest and say “Therefore we will not be afraid.” The psalmist is not in denial about the power of the storm. Rather he beholds the greatness and power and lovingkindness of our Lord toward us. God is infinitely willing and able to help his storm-tossed people. The fury of hurricane Ian is a gentle breeze compared to the might of our savior God.

And if the Psalmist knew these things about the Lord, how much more should we who live in light of the cross. Our Lord Jesus has rendered the ultimate aid. He bore the terrifying storm of God’s wrath to save us from our sins. The cross is our refuge. Jesus is our strength. He is risen and ever present to help us. Let us go to his throne boldly for mercy and grace.

This faith in the Lord as our refuge, strength, and help gives us an internal strength that stands in stark contrast to the chaos of the storm:

4 There is a river—its streams delight the city of God,

  the holy dwelling place of the Most High.

5 God is within her, she will not be toppled,

  God will help her when the morning dawns.

Yes, there is a raging ocean. But remember there is also a river. From our Lord flows peace and life. We have been shaken but because the  Lord is within us, we will not topple.

Look to the Lord brothers and sisters. We won’t topple. We won’t collapse. Sanibel Community Church still stands—and I’m not talking about the building on Periwinkle.

And this stream isn’t just for us. The Lord wants his living waters to flow out of our lives into the lives of others. I bet even in the pain and confusion of this past week, the thought has crossed your mind, “How will the Lord use this to advance the gospel and display his glory?” Keep asking that question. Turn it into a prayer.

God’s calling on his people to be salt and light and to bear witness to Jesus has not changed. Our mission remains intact. We are still here to multiply maturing disciples of Jesus and healthy churches for the glory of God and the good of the world. All that has changed are the circumstances and contexts where God is calling our congregation to execute that mission.

On Wednesday as the storm raged, I was sitting in a mall in Boca Raton trying to get internet. One of the stores had a TV with news coverage of the storm. Starved for information I walked over to watch with a few others. We started talking and I told them I was a Sanibel refugee. The strangers around me stood in shock as I described what little I knew was happening on Sanibel, Captive and Ft Myers.

The conversation ended, and I returned to my computer. A few minutes later one of the store employees came over and said, “I’m sorry but I just have to ask. Why are you so calm? You’re losing everything and yet you seem so nonchalant.” It was a funny question because I didn’t feel calm or nonchalant. Yet that’s what he perceived.

So I started to explain, “Well, I’m a Christian, and I pastor a church…” I didn’t get to finish my sentence. His face lit up and he said, “Of course! You have God. I got it! It all makes sense.” And he walked away smiling.

I bet there are lots of conversations like that waiting for us in the coming weeks and months.

I pray today that wherever you are, you may take time to sit beside the river of God and be filled with his peace. And then take his Word, his gospel, and his love to a helpless and hopeless world that’s still sinking.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Jeramie

Defying the Storms

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone wo hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Jesus (Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:24-27)

DISCLAIMER: I want to state right off the bat that this will not be a post about how disasters like the recent one punish wicked people and leave good people standing. There are cases where someone survives against all odds, but that only proves that God is merciful. In fact, it is only by the grace of God that we haven’t all been wiped out by now. “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

As some of you know, we have a time-share in Sanibel Island, Florida, and have been going there for many years. We attend an outstanding church there with deeply committed people. When I think of Sanibel, I think of that church, with its original tiny chapel over 100 years old, where the die-hard traditionalists meet early Sunday morning for a brief service and communion. I think of their second sanctuary, now the fellowship hall, where Bible studies and special events like the missions breakfast are held, and the large sanctuary that was lovingly built and dedicated a few years ago to accommodate the swelling congregation. (My life verse and signature are somewhere in the walls, along with many others.) This is where we’d go for glorious worship and preaching on Sunday mornings – “contemporary” (with a band) at 9:00, “traditional” (with a choir) at 11:00. I think of the beautifully landscaped courtyard with its palm trees, flowers, and waterfalls, where the flock would gather in the sunshine for coffee and fellowship between services and where every February missionaries would stand at their booths, giving out literature and describing what the Lord is doing in their corner of the world.

When my friends first started sharing with me the news reports about the approaching tropical storm, becoming a hurricane, our condo entered my mind briefly, but my thoughts and prayers centered around my beloved church and the people who make up the Church – the Body of Christ – on Sanibel Island. And while we all prayed the hurricane would turn away and go out to the Gulf and dissipate, we knew that prayers like these don’t always get answered the way we want them to.

Friday I was sent these “before and after” pictures of the lighthouse on our beautiful island …

These photos are not evidence that God is powerless or uncaring, but rather, proof that we live in a fallen world.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:22

Later that same day I received this picture of our beloved church …

After seeing the pictures of the lighthouse, I couldn’t believe the church building was still standing. The flowers and palm fronds are gone, the courtyard a mass of mud, but the church is still standing. Even the crosses on the roof remain intact, under an expansive blue sky, like the unshakeable promises of God, pointing heavenward.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking the building is fine and that there won’t be massive water damage (as in “mold everywhere”) by the time any repair teams get there. The causeway connecting Sanibel to the mainland is destroyed, so it may be a year or more before the island can be reached other than by boat. Once trucks can finally cross, there will no doubt be a need for renovations of virtually everything.

No, it it’s not the building that inspires me. This photo to me is a picture of the resiliency of the people of Sanibel Community Church, and the Body of Christ (the universal Church) in general. Jesus said those who hear His words and obey them will be LIKE a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the house stood firm in the storms. The strength I see is not of the building, but of the spirits of God’s people, even as they are battered and worn when “life happens.”

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in humanity. I expect in the coming days we will see varying reactions to the devastation. My friends who evacuated before the hurricane are already eager to get back to the area, not just so they can start rebuilding their lives, but to see how they can help the Church help the community. Other congregations in the area – those on the mainland whose buildings are still usable – have immediately reached out to SCC, offering their facilities for meetings (SCC is meeting for worship in one of them tonight.) and to help the displaced church staff find housing. While local authorities have to deal with looters, and social media trolls argue politics from a safe distance, Christ-followers are giving of themselves, reflecting the overcoming love of God. They are the ones whose lives are built on the Rock – on Jesus.

(By the way, did you know the name “Ian” means “God is gracious”?)

Prayer: Father, we look at this fallen world, with nature groaning as in the pains of childbirth, and we can feel our lostness. Considering our collective sin, we know it is only by Your mercy that You haven’t destroyed us all. As we cling to our comforts and our “stuff,” give us divine perspective. Give us right priorities – to use things and love people, not the other way around. And whatever tomorrow brings, help us to rest secure in knowing that our eternity is in Your hands, through Your Son Jesus, amen.