Heaven Is Rejoicing!

 

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photo –  wfmynews2.com

Billy Graham passed on to his eternal reward yesterday. Heaven is rejoicing!

I was 11 years old in 1962 when I had the privilege of hearing Rev. Graham preach. (along with the 50,000 or so other people who were there at McCormick Place in Chicago) I will always remember the power of his message. “For God so loved the world…”

In thinking about the legacy that Billy Graham has left, I have two personal memories that stand out.

The first memory surrounds the crusade mentioned above.

My parents had attended the training to counsel individuals who responded to the invitation at the end of the crusade to accept Jesus as Lord and savior. This training included people from all over Chicago and the suburbs representing various denominations and churches. Billy Graham required pastors and church leaders, Catholics and Protestant to come together and commit to cooperation and participation in planning, volunteering, and participating in all aspects of the crusade. If the local churches couldn’t commit to working together, Billy Graham would not hold a crusade in that city.

This required religious leaders to put aside sectarian differences for the importance of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Literally hundreds of churches joined together involving thousands of Christians. What an example for being one Body!

My family attended College Church in Wheaton, just west of Chicago. My father was a very loyal person and this extended to our family’s involvement in church. We did not attend other churches, even for special events. If the doors to College Church were open – we were there. Yet my parents felt this crusade merited our family’s involvement.

Attending the Billy Graham Crusade was an eye-opening experience for me. Seeing thousands of people singing and praising was awe-inspiring. All these people were worshiping together! The choir was made up of several hundred people led by Cliff Barrows. Seeing individuals of every race and ethnicity gathered in one place to worship offered me my first glimpse of the enormity and diversity of the Body of Christ.

The second memory is from my teen years, during the racial turmoil of the late 1960’s.

Billy Graham made it a priority to include black Christians front and center on the platform at his crusades. These spiritual brothers and sisters were embraced by Billy Graham and Graham’s actions set an example for all Christians – “we are one in Christ”.

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photo – billygraham.org

 

I remember being so pleased by the fact that Billy Graham had Andre Crouch and the Disciples sing for one of the crusades. They were my favorite singing group! Their pride in their race, and more importantly their savior, Jesus Christ was evident. Rev. Graham practiced what he preached when it came to demonstrating the fact that …  God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Billy Graham was not perfect – he boldly acknowledged,including himself “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23  He then shared the truth that we become new creations when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

He left a legacy of life long (99 years long) commitment to serving the God he loved.

Heaven is rejoicing!

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Nesting

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In winter, when all the leaves are off the trees, you see things that are not visible when foliage is full. We have found several nests recently and looking at their structure causes amazement and wonder. Birds are master builders using various materials to form nests that perfectly meet the needs of their species.

The small nest in the picture above has sticks that form the outside shape, then grasses, and an inside layer of fine, soft fibers. Perfectly suited for this small bird’s eggs.

Nests are made in a wide variety of sizes and materials. We found one that was almost exclusively sticks, nothing soft or cushiony about it. A humming bird nest found in our forsythia bush is tiny, just as the birds who built it are.

I can see some large nests very high in the poplar tress on the ridge behind our house. I would love to see inside the nests and see how they are constructed. I am not sure what kind of birds built these nests, but they must be large.

I will  NOT be climbing any ladders to check them out. Please Phil, don’t get your ladder out!

Phil is engaging in his yearly perusal of garden catalogs. He has already ordered some seeds and is planning where he will plant things this year. I think Phil especially enjoys doing this because of the anticipation of a harvest. That is a long way off from our current winter weather, but Phil loves being outside and planning the garden is a sign to him that winter will end and spring, summer, and fall will come in succession.

Jesus refers to planting in this passage in Luke 13: 18-20 AMP

18 So this led Him to say, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 

19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the sky found shelter and nested in its branches.”

What struck me about this passage that Jesus used to describe the kingdom of God is the result of the man’s planting.

I would assume he planted mustard seeds to get mustard. (which by the way is my favorite condiment) The verses do not say anything about the man planting seeds to get a tree so that birds could nest in it! 

Yet that is just what happened, and what Jesus compared to the kingdom of God.

What this spoke to me was the fact that we as “gardeners”  will plant “seeds”, but the end results may be very different than we planned. Or, there may be additional results that are totally unexpected!

This is so true with children and grandchildren, isn’t it?

How I want to embrace this aspect of the Kingdom of God.

God’s kingdom is the place where God reigns – where God’s authority rules.

That place must be my heart.

I must be willing to let “seeds” I plant produce mustard, or grow into large trees so that others can find shelter and nest.

I will plant – God is in charge of the results.

God’s will – God’s way.

 

In My Garden with God – 3

 

In My Garden with God

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Many of us who seek to truly fellowship with God have a place where we sense His presence more fully then we do in other places. I am not referring here to times of corporate worship where God’s presence certainly is evident.   John 2 tells us “He inhabits the praises of His people”.

I mean that place where we sense God and know that feeling is Him. I have two friends that have told me they feel this way at the beach. They love to walk along the water, feel the breeze and salt air, and bask in His presence. Others feel that presence hiking or fishing.

One of my all time favorite lines in a movie is in Chariots of Fire when Olympic runner, Eric Liddlle, tells his sister why he runs. “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

I feel God’s presence in our garden.

That may seem strange to write about gardens now when we have had such very cold temperatures and the plants are dormant. Let me explain.

We had a big snow last month and the snow was wet and heavy. It broke off several branches, particularly large branches in a weeping willow tree that grows next to the creek. Phil was out cutting up some of the downed trees and I asked him to trim the broken parts of that tree. He did so, even though it is one of his favorite trees.

If we had left the broken branches dangling from the tree, come spring it would be an unsightly mess. The dead limbs along side the fresh new leaves of spring would ruin the natural beauty of that graceful weeping willow.

As I was hauling the cut limbs to toss over the bank, (I LOVE living in the mountains), I sensed God impressing me with this truth – “That is why I have to prune my children.”

That thought took me on a flight of spiritual insight. God has to “cut away” the dead, broken, damaged parts of our lives so that new, healthy growth can take place in the right season. Right now, during winter, all our plants are dormant, but we don’t dig them up and throw all the plants away! Good things are happening!

Dormancy is crucial in the life of plants. They rest, develop deeper roots, and take in moisture. Pruning at this time allows the plant to have fewer branches, so the limited energy of the plant goes to strengthening what is left.

God does that to His children.

Jesus says in John 15: 1- 4

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

When I feel like God is cutting away, pruning my life, I must trust that as the Master gardener, He knows what He is doing.

I must wait to see what appears in spring……

Overcoming Evil

It has happened again.

A senseless killing of innocent people. In a church while worshiping, no less.

Where is the God who these folks were praying to?

Does He hear?

Does He care?

These questions flooded my mind yesterday as I heard the news of the tragic shooting in the little town in Texas. A small, unincorporated community where everyone knows each other. The LAST place one would expect such a tragic occurrence.

Just like the place I live.

We know most all our neighbors and wave when they drive by.

I sat in a place of worship yesterday morning, just as those people in Texas did. So did our children and grandchildren in their various locations, surrounded by friends and family.

Christians gather regularly around the world to worship, pray, and learn from Biblical teaching and fellowship.

So did those people in Texas.

I can’t help but think “Why?”

God tells us in Jeremiah 17: 9-10

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

There is evil in the hearts of some individuals. We don’t understand it. But these verses assure me that God knows, and that He will avenge the ones responsible.

But what about the innocent victims? Those hurting family and friends of those killed and wounded? Why did God allow this?

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis addresses this very question. In his chapter The Rival Conceptions of God Lewis writes the following –

“Of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’

“My argument against God,” Lewis says, “was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?”

This is why God became flesh – in the form of man – Jesus – to redeem this cruel, broken world. Jesus is the hope of the world.

This realization does not change the very real suffering of those people in Texas. It does not change the very real hurt and loss of individuals throughout the world suffering from human trafficking, abuse, neglect, or cruelty.

It does give hope for the future. God wants to bring each person into the Light of His love, grace and restoration.

Denying the existence of God because one sees the real and terrible suffering of this life does nothing to alleviate, diminish, or explain that suffering.

Our grandsons dress up as “super heroes” ready to vanquish the evil in their back yard. Don’t we wish it was that simple? Jesus has promised to be with us through all the battles we face.

Right before Jesus was beaten and crucified He told his disciples the following – John 16:33 –

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus wants to give us hope and peace in the midst of the suffering of this world.

We must pray – and hold on to hope.

 

 

 

 

Arise, SHINE!

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah 60:1-3

Have you ever had something happen to you that seems unique? You feel like you are the very first person to experience it.

Then you share it with someone and they say “Oh, yes. I had that happen to me last week.”  – and they go on to describe JUST what you thought was a first.

Sometimes I feel God does that with me concerning spiritual truth. I will read something in Scripture and sense an illumination of understanding.

Wow! I new revelation for me! Then…

  • I am in a service and the preacher teaches on that very Scripture
  • I turn on the radio and someone shares my very insight
  • At Bible study a speaker shares in the video (which was made at least year or two previous) the very new, freshinsight I just had this week

So, I can either dismiss my excitement over “my fresh revelation” OR I can realize that

God may be trying to get my attention!

I think it is prudent to do the latter. In my over 60 years of being a Christian, God has faithfully used various means to lead me into Truth.

The fact that we Christians are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD and that we must LET OUR LIGHT SHINE  is the Truth that God is impressing me with every where I turn.

Tuesday night at our home group, God spoke to us through Janice that it is dark all around us, but we have the Light of the world.

Now, what does that mean? I know this message is not just for me, (although I sense I am certainly being held accountable) since I am hearing it in church, on the radio, at the Community Women’s Bible Study, our Home Group, and in my personal time with God.

I must respond.

I must let the Light of Jesus shine in all my interactions with others, starting at home. Then I must let my Light shine wherever I go – every day, every place I go.

I also know that my small Light is greatly multiplied in its effect when it is joined with other Lights. We saw this clearly illustrated at the lighthouses we recently visited on the Outer Banks. There was one light, but many lenses that reflected and multiplied the amount of light so that the effect could be viewed for many miles. That greater light had saved many lives over the years!

When we Christians arise and let our Light shine together – the effect will be so much greater!

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Let us arise, and shine the Light together!

How Great is the Darkness?

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We woke this morning to the horrifying news of another shooting. I was planning on writing today about the darkness that seems to be permeating our world. Now it seems even more urgent.

What is happening?

I heard a message at church Wednesday from Joe Ewing, a pastor and Bible teacher from Scotland. His words stirred me and have been ringing in my mind and heart ever since.

“Don’t despair as the world around us gets darker and darker. We as Christians have the Light of the World!  The light shines brightest when it is dark. Let your light shine, Church!”

Instead of wringing my hands, and lamenting the sad state of our world (which indeed is very bad) I need to let my light shine.

What does this mean?

Pastor Ewing shared from Isaiah 60:1-5 which says –

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 The context of this passage is a very dark time in Israel. The prophet Isaiah wants Israel to know that their hope is in God.

But where is God in the midst of the darkness?

The Light is Jesus, our hope of salvation. Jesus is the Light the world needs. Jesus told us to let our light shine in darkness. Jesus taught us to

  • love instead of hate
  • forgive instead of retaliate
  • give instead of take
  • share instead of selfishness

Paul says the following at a time he has been beaten and thrown in prison. It was a dark time. II Corinthians 4:5-7

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I don’t understand the darkness, but I do know the Light. In this time of darkness, I MUST let my light shine. I will keep my eyes on Jesus. Jesus is the Light, the hope of the world.

The darker this world gets, the brighter the LIGHT will shine.

Arise, let our Light shine!

 

Feeling Overwhelmed

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” the devastation is overwhelming!”

How do we process catastrophic events when we feel helpless to understand the suffering, much less do something about it?

I felt that way after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 – 16 years ago today.  I felt that way last month when the severe storms hit Texas. Now Florida is being flooded and facing high wind damage. This storm is not over, as it travels north and west, so the wide-ranging effects are still pending.

What should my response be as Christian, as a person who feels deeply for those who have suffered and those who are suffering right now?

Have you ever thought – What can I DO ?- feeling for those who are suffering is not enough!

Jesus had been teaching and healing people who were following him. There was a huge crowd and it was getting time to address a real need – the physical hunger of the people.

John recalls it this way – John 6:5 –

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

I think this story has a powerful message for me when I am faced with an overwhelming need.

First, Jesus recognized that the people were hungry, and He didn’t send them away. In Matthew’s account of this same story – one of the disciples suggests sending the multitude away to get food for themselves.

  • I must recognize what the need is  – not “send them away”.

Secondly, Jesus looked around for what was available right there at that time. A boy had 5 loaves and 2 fish. Bless his mother for packing his lunch! Bless that boy for not eating it ahead of time! Jesus took what was available.

  • I must use what I have available to meet a need. I should not respond like Philip did and bemoan the fact that “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”   I must not think that my contribution is too small to make a difference.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed and gave thanks for those two small fish and those 5 loaves of bread.  God multiplied. God was in charge of the results!

  • I must be faithful to offer what I can. I should be thankful with what I have to share no matter how small it is.  God is faithful to accomplish His will, even multiplying a small offering if He wills.

I am praying for all those suffering around us. I am asking God to show me what I have available to share. I am thanking God for all He is doing and will do in this time of devastating loss.