Have you ever said, “I can’t forgive myself”

There are three realities that need to be worked through in order to forgive myself.

  1. Guilt – the reality of being morally unjustified in the hurt I caused, especially before my holy God
  2. Restitution – the very real responsibility I have to restore what I’ve taken, or repay what I’ve broken
  3. Shame – my deep soul stain of unworthiness, ugliness, and fear of rejection

226256bf69baaa647fecfd65edfe2adc pinterest (GardensDesign_com)Guilt arises because I’ve no moral justification for doing what I did, especially before my holy God who holds every life sacred and is exalted as the ultimate judge over all matters. The remedy is singular. To be free from guilt, I must recognize that ultimately only God can forgive sin, and accept humbly what he has to offer. My friend’s forgiveness does not pardon my guilt, nor will any act of forgiveness toward myself. My only option is to accept God’s forgiveness through Christ.

Restitution is appropriate and honorable.  But restitution can only go so far. Usually what is taken away or destroyed can never be completely restored by the offender.  But what I can do to make restitution, I should.  When I do, my responsibility toward the offender returns to respecting and serving him as my neighbor – like every other neighbor I have.

Shame is another matter altogether.  A sense of guilt is taken away when I rest in God’s mercy. The responsibility of restitution is over when I’ve done what I can to make amends.  But the shame cast over my soul is another matter because it’s the sense of unworthiness and ugliness that now grips my soul.

In shame, I see myself as unlovable – especially to myself. Another way of saying I can’t forgive myself is to say I cannot love who I’ve become, based on what I’ve done. That’s the problem of shame. I may fear I am likely to cause the same injuries again, and I certainly fear that I won’t be found acceptable by those I value the most.  Shame colors me so deeply at that point that I can’t imagine ever being free again to enjoy being the person God has made me to be.

How am I finally freed from shame and able to smile again at the unique person God has created in me? 

1912898824-How_do_I_forgive_myself quotesgram_comLove is the answer.  The Scriptures teach us that God’s perfect love casts out fear, and over and over again calls us to forgive one another.  This is an extreme, radical kind of loving that can heal my guilty soul at the deepest level – where the pool of shame I’m hiding in is deep and dark.

So, my shame-covered soul begins to move from living in the stagnant, stinking waters of shame to living in the life-giving stream of love that flows from the heart of God.  I say, “Please God forgive me.” And He does.  I plead, “Please God, LOVE me,” and miracle of miracles, I discover that He does!  I say to the one I’ve offended, “Please forgive me.” And in God’s grace, he may.  I wonder if I’m lovable, and miracle of miracles, God puts people in my life who choose to respect me as a human being and go beyond that to love me in tangible ways. It’s then, that I am able to once again be thankful for who I am in God’s creation.  I no longer feel any need to justify myself, or make myself lovable because simply, I AM loved.

David Ewert (Thursday, February 1, 2018)

A month of Bible verses for reflection and growth toward being once again fully, freely alive!

  1. Genesis 33:1-17
  2. Genesis 50:15-21
  3. Exodus 22:1, 3-6, 14
  4. Leviticus 6:2-5
  5. Psalm 19:12-14
  6. Psalm 32
  7. Psalm 51
  8. Psalm 103
  9. Psalm 139:7-16, 23-24
  10. Isaiah 6:6-8
  11. Isaiah 30:15
  12. Isaiah 44:21-23
  13. Matthew 6:9-15
  14. Mark 12:29-31
  15. Luke 5:31-32
  16. Luke 19:1-10
  17. Luke 17:3-5
  18. John 8:1-11
  19. John 21:15-23
  20. Acts 3:18-20
  21. Romans 3:9-26
  22. Romans 10:9-10
  23. 2 Corinthians 7:5-13
  24. Galatians 6:1-5
  25. Ephesians 3:14-21
  26. Ephesians 4:25-32
  27. Ephesians 5:15-21
  28. Philippians 2:1-8, 3:7-21
  29. Philemon 1:10-20
  30. 1 John 4:7-21

Christmas lives again!

Have you ever noticed that what’s the same year after year is not always the same year after year? Have you noticed how fresh & new something so old and familiar as Christmas can feel?

Get your fire backThink about the way God paints beauty into His magnificent creations.  He will often repeat a theme or a subject (that daffodil, that cloud, that sunrise, that snowflake, that wave), but each time we experience it, it’s unique in some way.   Isn’t it in the moment of revelation and awakening of those things that the blaze of beauty catches our breath?  Seeing a photo of a blue-green wave cresting is wonderful, but it’s not the same as seeing the wave. God’s extravagant displays of love and glory are meant to be tasted in real time, today, in this moment we breathe by His grace.

We may try to immortalize those moments, but we really can’t. The beauty is not a thing we can set in stone, but something that disappears as quickly as we look away.  We turn to look again, and it’s gone.  Those flowers we marvel at wilt away, the cloud drifts or changes into some other fantastic shape, the sunrise warms to noonday, the snowflake melts, and the wave crashes.  We’re not meant to immortalize beauty in photos or recordings, but be reminded by the photo to  look for it again, now, in the growing, ever-changing world we live in today.

And so we come to times like Christmas.

The same artists sing the same tunes over and over again on the radio or TV. In those repetitions, they’re like the photos we take, trying to catch the essence or beauty and grace we see and frame in a picture forever.  But after a week or two, we start to get bored by it all – and maybe we should.

What makes Christmas come alive again, as ours did this year?  Somebody said they had been challenged to concentrate on giving presence, not presents to their friends and family.  I believe the clue to enjoying every long-held, cherished tradition lies hidden in that encouragement.

  • This Christmas morning I realize that although most of our Christmas décor is out of a trunk, it is never put on display in the same way.  My wife Julia, in her zeal to put herself into the holiday reflects her Creator in this.  She changes the old décor into something new by fitting it to our present space and tastes.  The main tree has a different theme. The furniture and the candles are arranged in different spots.  And so everywhere I look, I see her – her touch, her grace, her enthusiasm for bringing the traditions forward into this moment once again.
  • 2018 christmas business card frontYesterday, we enjoyed such an awesome Christmas Eve together – in all three services and a reception, from the morning worship hour until midnight candlelight Communion! What struck me is how fresh & new something so old and familiar can feel. Last night when our church pianist played old carols, they seemed new, and then I realized they were! They were new to THAT moment, just as the precious awareness of Christ’s love was again new to THAT moment, and this moment, and the next…

How does Christmas live again? 

Christmas is as fresh and unique as the people who give it to the world today.  The only way for Christmas to live again is to make it a living, in-the-moment experience, with all the love and energy  and faith we can pour into it. We don’t just look at the nativity set on the mantle.  We go out into the cold night to gaze in wonder at the “Living” Nativity.  We don’t just listen to the carols played and sung again and again on the radio, we go to church and hear them FIRST HAND sung by newly assembled choirs and older, more humble church musicians.  We don’t pretend to enjoy gift-giving like we always have, we today mold our gifts to the way our loved ones are today  – those grandsons that are now a year older, those shut-ins that can no longer get out to see the Living Nativity.

2014318_StudioJRU_AllThingsNewPrintableI love the vision of an eternity with the Lord that rests on the foundation of beauty – beauty that’s always new.  In the introduction to the eternal kingdom of Christ we’re told God makes all things new, in that moment, forever.  We can’t be bored then, when God displays His beauty in eternal glory because it will be a living, breathing forever new thing!

And surely we don’t have to be bored today. Christmas can be a thing of beauty again, if only we’ll stop settling for simply repeating and begin reliving, today.

For further inspiration along these lines, check out Pastor Dirk Gieser’s Christmas Eve message at http://www.ercrca.org/sermons.

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“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ 5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 6 He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.'” Revelation 21:4-6 (NIV)

“Remember” in the Bible:  God instructed His people to remember days like the Sabbath and annual events like the Passover – as though they were living it for the first time.  “The Hebrew word for remembering is zakhor, meaning “you shall call to mind.”  It means more than merely recalling something in the past, but suggests actively focusing the mind upon something in the present.” (www.hebrew4christians.com)

Pauline

img20171217_04552268-003This early morning after Pauline’s quiet death yesterday afternoon has been such a mixture of anger and concern over the incredible load of suffering she carried because of MS, and the immense relief I feel that she is free of all of that now. My soul is burdened with weariness and sadness, but in the midst of it there is peace that God has her and life willl go on for all of us until it’s our time also.

My flesh wants to complain to God and ask what’s the point of it all – the suffering, the struggle, the death, the grief, but my spirit must yield to his good and perfect and acceptable will. What Kerri-Sue quoted on Facebook for me from Romans 8:18 comforts me: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Over the years, so many beautiful things how come into my life because of my amazing sister Pauline. She is the “happy music” in my long term memory, from days long ago when she gave me a love of music in piano lessons. She would say, “David, I am so glad you’re going to grow up to be a man because we need men to sing and play God’s praises. You can be like King David of Israel and bring a blessing to many people.” I imagine the heart of praise showing up in how I worship today is probably because I always longed to be the man that she dreamed I could become.

img20171217_04552268-002She was always the oldest sister, so I suppose it was natural that she would become a counselor to my dad and mom in their hardest moments and deepest struggles. Pauline was a constant source of encouragement to my dad after his leg amputation and the loss of mom to heart attack. Now in my older years, I can see that her devotion to them was not just a normal response to being the older sister, but a choice, a deeply loving choice to stay near them and to fight for them. My deep appreciation to her for those years of constant care and attention to their needs is beyond words.

I cherish the way Pauline would pamper me with her sour cream raisin pie, date bars and cream-bathed lima beans. I’ll never forget her loving smile and the love in her voice when she said my name.

How many times I have said to my soul, “David if Pauline can stay faithful to Christ, hurting like she does, so can you!” She was a continual Beacon of Hope in my quest to act in faith during times of loss and suffering. And so here I am this morning, wanting to walk in this day in the spirit of Grace that my sister exhib1472725_10202628918186909_2045534552_n-001ited so often.

24058763_10210727193161946_514252581082750938_n-001My prayers go out to my brother and her husband, Art, and her six children – Jim, Paula, Bonnie, Terry, Nolan, and Tyrone, and their families. All  of you are continually on my mind, as I wait on the Lord to do miracles of grace in your lives and provide for your need for wisdom and strength as you put the finishing touches on Pauline’s life.

13427789_10206639549893419_6245828837550442054_n-001We all are, as Pauline was, human beings filled with desire and longing, struggling with sins of selfishness and fears over this or that. But in the end Jesus took her life and turned it into something beautiful. Now the glory that she walks in with him has put everything in perspective and she is quiet in his love and his care forever.

Those of us who remain rest in hope Jesus will do the same with us.

World-class Cooking with Leftovers

It might have been last night when we had this conversation:

“Let’s make a salad for supper.”

“Ugh! This lettuce is gooey!”

“Okay, well then how about soup from the vegetable drawer?”

“Well, the carrots are limp and the celery is streaked with brown, the cucumbers are soft and the leftover peas are lifeless.”

“What now? What can you make from a refrigerator stocked with wilted veggies?”

“Not much, but we better get this sorted and cleaned out before we go shopping.”

Have you noticed that all the great cooking shows on TV these days are stocked with the freshest, best-looking food? There is not one brown streak to be found anywhere ― and even the mushrooms were picked that morning. The chef comes in and voila, the perfect dish is presented to the judges who gush over it, exclaiming they have never had something so delicious. It is great competition, but I wonder if it has any practical value for me in my kitchen.

I think we should start lobbying for a show called World-class Cooking with Leftovers.” The host would say to the contestants, “Your challenge today is to cook something good from these ingredients – the stuff we’ve raided from your friend’s refrigerators down and around the block.”

The contestants would then receive inferior veggies and discounted meats to work with. The winner of that competition would certainly be welcome in my house, anytime, because he or she would have proven that a good, editable meal can be created using imperfect ingredients. It might not be as perfect as a dish prepared from perfect food, but we would have to say that chef can do wonders with even the leftovers.

My friends and I are a lot like the inferior food leftover in my icebox. You might say we’ve been in the frig too long and may even be getting close to being thrown out.  I am imperfect in body, soul, and mind; living in an imperfect house in an imperfect town with family and friends who are imperfect; attending a church that is imperfect and picking up job after job that just doesn’t seem to fit who I’d like to be and what I’d like to do with my life.

I have to admit that after all this time I sometimes still long to do something exactly right, say something exactly right, and look exactly right – in other words, to make a perfect life. In those moments I want a job that fits me, energy that is boundless, and love and accomplishment oozing out of everything I do. But what can anyone do with imperfect ingredients in an imperfect kitchen with imperfect utensils? I’ve tried making something that tastes good out of my life, and many times have ended up pining away precious moments wishing I were a better man and life made more sense.

The really cool thing about all this here and now is that we have someone other than ourselves that we can invite into our lives and homes and jobs, to take what is imperfect and make something good out of it.

That someone is the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes leftovers and makes masterpieces that some day the world will marvel over and praise – “contest winning recipes” if you please, that taste really good and are the best we could hope for from what is leftover from our self-effort yesterday.

God has only imperfect ingredients with which to work. Yet, miracle of miracles, He is a master at doing the best and most loving thing that can be done with those ingredients.

“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (MSG)

Perhaps you’ve been praying, expecting God to do the perfect thing in an imperfect world. Why be surprised when result of our praying isn’t the perfect solution we were salivating over in our imagination? Could we have done any better? Is there any other so-called god that can do better, given the leftovers of our lives? NO!

God will have perfect people in a perfect world to work with one day.  Imagine that! Yes, imagine what God will do with us when everything is once again perfect, but in the meantime, we must trust Him to do the best with us, as we are, in the leftover world we have created.

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:41-44 (NASB)

“I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. 3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.’ The Enthroned continued, ‘Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.’” Revelation 21:1-5 (MSG)

David Ewert

Saturday, November 11, 2017

God Is Good All The Time

God is goodIn 1971 we visited my uncles and aunts in Kansas. Uncle Eli took us to a home that was being broken up after the death of the husband and it had a huge library that was being dismantled to be donated to the Christian school in the area. Uncle Eli said we could take whatever books we wanted. I found a little devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, that I have read through dozens of years. The first few years I argued with Chambers over a lot of things. Over the years, however, I quit arguing as I grew in my faith and deepened in my understanding of God. Now I add notes to each day along with my prayers that arise from Chamber’s writings. He says that God brings things into our lives, not just for us, but for us to learn lessons that He intends us to use as we share the love and life of God with those around us. We are to take the lessons He teaches us and pass them on, but the lessons come, not as head knowledge, but as experiences that change our lives and drive God’s truths deep inside of us.

If you know me at all, you know I am a storyteller. I think it came from growing up in a preacher’s family where, when events happened, we would comment, “There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.” Events unfold in stories to my mind. As a child I was often accused of lying, for my quirky way of seeing the world didn’t appeal to people who saw it in black and white details. In fact, even my husband used to try to correct my stories until one day God showed him that even he didn’t see all the specifics of an event. Only God knew the whole story and my way of seeing was as valid as David’s facts-only base of viewing life.

It is with this storytelling basis that I venture to share with you some of the truths God has taught me over the years.

One of the most basic lessons I’ve learned is that God is good all the time. This is a lesson I’ve learned, not necessarily from the highs of my life, but usually from the hard things I’ve faced.

As a writer, the easiest way I pray is by writing letters to God. I have stacks of notebook that go back over forty years. As I have read through those notebook I’ve seen many prayers that God did not answer. I pleaded with God many times to remedy a problem in my life or to give me something I longed to receive and it appeared that He ignored my requests. But as I’ve gone over these prayers years later I discovered something. God did not ignore me, He simply knew me better than I knew myself. There are verses in Romans 8:25-27 that say, “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” I have learned that when I pray, the Holy Spirit within me says, “Father, she doesn’t understand what she is asking. This is really the true desire of her heart,” and He rewords the prayer according to the will of God and according to my deepest longings. That is the prayer God answers. Let me give you an example.

In the early eighties we wanted to buy a house near Lake Zurich, Illinois where we had been living for over six years. During that time we lived in four different houses and we were tired of living-in with people or renting. Both options left us bound by other people’s rules. I pleaded with God to allow us to buy a home close to the church where David was the associate pastor and near the park district where I was teaching preschool. It didn’t happen. As I read those prayers years later, I thanked God that He hadn’t answered my pleadings. One year later, God moved us out of the Chicago area to Champaign, Illinois where we not only purchased two houses in our twelve years there, but He allowed us to build one and have the fun of picking out the design and all the furnishings. Had we purchased one in Lake Zurich, it would have been a hassle to sell it in the timeframe we had for moving and after one year in the financial climate of the early eighties, it would have been a huge financial loss for us. God’s plan was much better and gave me the creative outlet I was craving.

In the late seventies my great-aunt Suzanne had one child, Patty, and she had four children. Patty’s husband, Don, was in the National Guard reserves and away for two weeks so Patty decided to visit him. On the Sunday before she left, she talked to some friends at church and asked, “What do you do when your children want to play funeral?” On Wednesday night at church Patty mentioned to her friends that she felt the need to go to each of her children that week and make sure they had personally said “Yes” to Jesus. On Saturday, when they were traveling to Minnesota to visit Don, they hit a semi-truck head on and were all killed instantly. How does that show that God is good? As friends related their last conversations with Patty to my aunt Suzanne, she realized that God not only prepared her daughter and grandchildren to meet Him, but they had left behind a clear testimony that Patty and all four of her children loved God and were now they were safely and forever with Him in heaven and that Suzanne would definitely see them again. Inside her grief, Aunt Suzanne had the wonderful hope of being together once more and that brought her peace in the center of her pain. In the middle of it all God sustained Don as well and brought him through without bitterness to a place of peace and joy.

Our family has been riddled by tragedies yet God’s peace and love has flowed over us and His goodness has shone brightly. It has taught us that God’s goodness doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it does mean that He will love us, hold us, and lead us through the trial to victory on the other side. He pours out His peace, joy and grace in the middle of everything. He works all things together for our good and His glory as we trust in Him.

Today I struggle with a terminal illness. It is not what I wanted or expected in my life. Yet God’s hand of goodness overflows. He gave wonderful physicians, free medication that would have been impossible to afford on our own, and already He has extended my life for almost a year beyond what the doctor’s told me I would have. During this time, He gives me strength for the things I need to do, joy in the wonderful moments with my husband and family, and peace that tells me that He is the one in charge of my life. This has made life more precious than I ever imagined possible. He has proved once again that He is good all the time.

Some people say God doesn’t want us to have pain and anytime it comes it is from the enemy. I don’t believe that for a moment. I was teaching a club for children and the memory verse for the day was John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” I asked the children what promise of God was in the verse, thinking that God had promised peace and to overcome the world. Instead, one of the girls answered, “Tribulation.” I did a double-take, but she was exactly right. God disciplines us, brings trials to teach us that His grace is sufficient, and allows sufferings so we can join in the sufferings of Christ.

David has had the privilege of teaching leaders of the underground church in places around the world. In one group David led, several had just a month before been imprisoned for their faith. One man was taken by the guard and told he was to be beaten to death. As the beating was happening, the man began to laugh. It made the guard hit him harder. The harder he was hit, the more the man laughed. Disgusted that the beating was just bringing the man joy, the guard threw him back in his cell. When his friends asked him what happened, he said as he was being beaten, he remembered the verse from Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The man said he realized he was bearing the yoke of Jesus and sharing in His sufferings, and that filled him with joy. That joy saved his life. A week later they were all released from prison by a miracle and a month later were in the class with David.

David told the men he had not expected them to be such fun-loving, joyful people after all they went through. They told David they pray for persecution to come to the American Church, for they believe it is only in persecution and great trial that we come to understand the great love of God.

But God is good in joyful times as well as trials. He gave me the very best husband in the world even though, in the beginning, I wondered about His gift. As He has grown us up and together, I’ve come to marvel at the wonderful gift He gave us in our marriage. His ability to put just the right people in our path, to give us gifts just as we need them most, and to bring opportunities we never thought possible into our lives have often left us gasping for breath.

One incident was when a woman called us from Austria and asked if she could stay with us while her daughter checked out the University of Illinois. They came and then wanted to go to the University of Indiana. On Sunday after church we were just heading out the door when the phone rang. It was a friend from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Conference Center asking if we could pick up someone at the Champaign bus depot and bring him to Decatur, Illinois where our friend could pick him up. We said we could, especially as we were just heading out the door to drive to Decatur for lunch. In our tiny Toyota, Corkie, her daughter Heather and I squeezed in the back seat while David and the young man sat in front doing small talk to get acquainted. The young man told us he had been living in Russia working for a man who was part of a new political party. He wanted to know what clubs American high schools had, so, being a Christian, the young man mentioned Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His boss stopped him and told him to go to America and find out how to get Fellowship of Christian Athletes in all the schools of Russia. (This was just as the Wall was about to come down.) He had been disappointed because FCA is only a stateside organization. Corkie, our new friend in the back seat chimed in. She and her husband were in charge of Campus Crusade for Christ in Europe, especially in training people behind the Iron Curtain in case the Wall ever fell. She told the young man they had trained leaders for Athletes In Action all through Russia, but no contacts to get it into the schools. In our car the two traded information and as you know from history, the Wall fell, and Campus Crusade for Christ moved into the schools of Russia with the Jesus movie and thousands came to Christ. We sat in wonder at the goodness of God to let us have a tiny part in that great miracle. We planned nothing. God did it all.

God is good all the time. In pain, in trial, in joy and in the unexpected. God is at work for our good and His glory. And He makes it all good.

The AND of God’s Grace Is Multiplication

 

20140616_194148

Old AND Young

Have you ever noticed how many ANDS God has put into life?

There are so many ANDS we hardly take notice. Yet seeing them again, we take heart and find God gifts to be more than enough to go through anything “with grace.

There is both…
darkness AND light,
winter AND spring,
weariness AND rest,
parents AND children,
planting AND reaping,
frowns AND smiles,
dropping leaves AND blooming flowers,
valleys AND mountains,
desserts AND oceans,
farms AND towns,

20140707_114455

Mountain AND Valley

going AND coming,
sin AND mercy,
duty AND reward,
calling AND direction,
need AND sufficiency,
ebb AND flow,
Jesus AND me.

Recently I had the opportunity to share a moment with some children. I asked a 7 year-old girl what is one plus one. She said, “Two!” After congratulating her, I then asked a 10 year-old boy what is one AND one. He said, “Eleven.” I was surprised at his answer, figuring that he would say “two.” But he answered correctly, and notice the exciting difference the little word “and” gives us. A “plus” leads to simple addition, but an “and” can provide many more possibilities.

God’s grace comes pouring into our lives in the multiplication His “ands” create. In other words, His grace is a source of limitless possible outcomes to every situation because as Jesus said, “WITH God all things are possible!”

God’s word calls us to give cheerfully something good to every day, AND assures us that God’s super-abundant grace makes that possible! The Apostle Paul wrote, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”  2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (ESV)

We notice that we suffer weakness from “thorns,” but do we also notice that God comes with us, taking our weakness and in it displaying His power to bring good out of bad and life out of death? The greatest AND of all is “Jesus and me.” “Concerning this [thorn in the flesh] I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”   2 Corinthians 12:8b-9 (NASB)

God’s ANDS are multiplications that lead us to see the huge difference He alone can make in our lives.

Today there may be trouble, hardship, persecution, serious lack of resources, and mortal danger, but for the Christian those things are NEVER singular and the end of the matter. There is always an “AND” of grace enabling us to overcome the fear with faith, the hopelessness with anticipation, and the evil with love. “But [And] in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us!” Romans 8:35-37 (NASB)
God’s grace multiplies the possibilities found in forgiveness, prayers for healing and loving redemption, and the simple act of getting up in the morning with smiles on our faces.

Thanks be to God!

“They were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’” Mark 10:26-27 (NASB)

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’” Mark 14:35-36 (NASB)

“And Jesus said to him, ‘“If You can?” All things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’” Mark 9:23-24 (NASB)

For added inspiration in your gratitude for the ANDS of life, check out this song by Dennis Jernigan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cc4BaIlVC-k.

 

Would you rather carry your god?

We can live one of two ways. One way is the way of idolatry in which we create gods we try to carry ourselves, and the other way is surrender to  being carried by the Living God Himself.

bel and nebo on donkeysThe idolatry described Isaiah 46:1 is almost comical. “Bel and Nebo wobble and duck, as their images sway on the backs of oxen and donkeys—such a heavy burden for the weary animals—as they are carried about.” (Isaiah 46:1, The Voice). This is an apt description of how we humans do our best to carry those things we worship in place of God Himself. It’s as though we’re a herd of oxen and donkeys barely able to carry our heavy burdens, as we head down the road to destruction. It really is not something about which to smile.

W. Pat Cunningham describes idolatry at http://www.sermoncentral.com as turning to some other reality, one without a true face. He writes, “God’s face is a face of love, but it is a love that shows itself according to a timetable that God Himself sets. We want everything good, and we want it NOW. When God’s self-revelation is tardy by our watches, or when God demands something hard of us, we are tempted to turn to some other reality, one without a true face, instead. That is the definition of idolatry. It might not be a physical statue, but rather an object of pleasure — art, music, sex, or even our own reputation.”

Isn’t it ludicrous to try to carry all this stuff? It is as though we try to carry God Himself, and finding that is impossible, we create a god we think we can carry.  The inevitable result, however, is to wobble our way down the road.  We end up really tired, totally lost, and utterly miserable.

The futility of carrying those burdens is not what God wants for us. In Isaiah 46:3-5, God paints a completely different picture than the one we try to paint for ourselves — one meant to bring us to totally rest in Him and find the only life worth living. Instead of YOU and ME carrying our gods, He reminds us that HE will carry us – when we rest in Him by faith.

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?” (NASB)

I like the part about being carried even in the years of gray hair! In other words, there is never aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA time when God is not offering to be our all in all — to take up every burden we carry on Himself, to teach us about resting in Him, and to give us finally His own heart of peace. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NASB)carry me through pinterest

You cannot carry God, and it is senseless to try to carry the gods of this world.  If you try, you will end up wobbling down the road under the weight of it all.

Why not choose His way, and let Him carry you?

“He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The Lord alone guided him, And there was no foreign god with him.” Deuteronomy 32:10-12 (NASB)

“There is none like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to your help, And through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms; And He drove out the enemy from before you, And said, ‘Destroy!’ So Israel dwells in security, The fountain of Jacob secluded, In a land of grain and new wine; His heavens also drop down dew.” Deuteronomy 33:26-28 (NASB)

No Easter Bunnies or Daffodils in the Story

(Written by David Ewert)
The Easter season is awash with beautiful sentiment and sweet pictures, as a recent search for Hallmark Cards to send to my sisters revealed. However, that is not the real foundation of my faith this morning.

It is notable that most everything in the testimony to Christ’s death and resurrection is so factual. Where are the symbols of springtime and new life we’re so fond of today? Where is the poetic sweetness? Where are the cute bunnies and fields of daffodils?

The most poetic passages I can find of the Passion Week are Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Romans 8:31-39. From those passages, the gigantic implications of that week for our lives shine forth in poetry that absolutely soars to the heights and depths of soulful expression. But even there, the bunnies and daffodils are missing, and I, for one, am not sorry.

I am so glad the biblical accounts are factual. The record of Christ’s death and resurrection rings true because it points to  real-time events and not emotional interpretations of those events. It is because of this that my hope rises this morning and I can be sure my resurrection from death is also actually true.

Everything I believe rests on a solid foundation of truth. Therefore, I am free. I can freely embrace today’s very real journey in which we taste real pain and loss, and I can enjoy fun-filled carefree moments that include the chocolates and the laughter of childreIMG_20170401_105610445n. Because the facts of the Lord Jesus are in evidence forever, I am even free to wax poetic and imagine new ways to celebrate the beauty and life-creating power in those facts. Because I see the evidences of His resurrection so clearly, I can now recognize and enjoy fully the many, many ways in which God reminds me of those realities.

So, bring on the yellow daffodils, baskets of eggs bedded in fake green grass, and all the rest, but remember this first and be truly glad: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!!

“Now, my brothers, I want to speak about the Gospel which I have previously preached to you, which you accepted, in which you are at present standing, and by which, if you remain faithful to the message I gave you, your salvation is being worked out—unless, of course, your faith had no meaning behind it at all. For I passed on to you Corinthians first of all the message I had myself received—that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (PHILLIPS)

It’s mercy, not understanding, that we crave (David Ewert)

You’re younger, full of energy, and still in possession of a healthy body and mind. How then do you relate with understanding to those you love who are chronically or terminally ill? To add to the difficulty, they may be much older. How then can you ever hope to understand what they’re going through?

The all-encompassing nature of chronic illness and the way it disrupts life and plans for your loved one may be very difficult to understand if you’re not experiencing it. But lacking understanding doesn’t mean you don’t have an opportunity to respond with grace to their situation. You do have choices that can help them immensely and at the same time, help you begin to understand what they are facing. Your choices will include mercy, patience, and kindness: mercy, because you’ll need to forgive their fumbling with new, overwhelming limitations; patience, because you’ll suffer long with their slowness; and kindness, because their wounding may draw away your time and energy.

We are often asked, “How’s it going?” The question is from well-meaning friends and neighbors who know we live day in and day out with Julia suffering from 20160722_135250-002a progressive lung disease called IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis). The disease is typically terminal in 2-5 years. Julia has lived for almost two years since being diagnosed with the disease and has stabilized at a level that allows Julia to have about 48% of her lungs in use.

What if deep breathing is no longer possible? The benefits of deep, belly breathing are many. Your stress reduces as toxins are flushed out of your body. Your mental focus, posture and quality of sleep improve. You reduce your risk of cancer, raise your rate of metabolism and lower your cholesterol. But what if deep breathing is no longer possible?

In an effort to help understanding, I challenge you with healthy lungs to breathe shallow with the top part of your lungs for 5 minutes, at a faster rate than you normally breathe. I doubt you can breathe like that for more than a minute or two. In shallow breathing the body switches into a flight or fight mode and begins to tire quickly. The brain cries out for more oxygen and focuses on the need to find air. Now, add to that experiment leaning over to tie your shoes, add the dust and humidity in the air, add the normal aging process, add lack of sleep, add etc. I doubt anyone who isn’t forced to live with limited breath can truly understand from experience what it’s really like.

We know it may be impossible for you to understand what it’s like to live with a chronic illness, but that’s not what we hope from you. Mercy, patience and kindness are what we crave most in our hardest moments.

There are days when the radical losses in energy and freedom of movement are almost more than we can bear. There are days when the new normal of dizziness, mounting aches and pains, lack of sleep, lack of memory and mental concentration, and isolation from the world rushing by bring fear: fear that we’re losing who we are; fear that we’re no longer loveable; fear that we’re no longer useful; fear that we’ll ever figure out how to live with this thing that’s got us in a headlock, squeezing energy and time out of all we deem wonderful and good. And on those days, it’s not lack of understanding in our loved ones that we crave so much as grace.

When those suffering the trying moment of a chronic illness are met with unforgiveness, impatience and aloofness they can come to believe that no amount of words of explanation or apology can ever be enough. Their need to justify themselves may become all-consuming, and equally the most desperate endeavor they consider in seeking relief from their fear of losing you too.

Please don’t misunderstand my intentions here. I’m not complaining, but rejoicing in what we’ve been given on the hardest days.

You see, most days we find much to rejoice in because God’s grace is so evident. Since the diagnosis of IPF, He’s given Julia and me more days together than we first imagined possible. He’s given us the Scriptures that continually renew us in faith and hope. He’s taught us so much about trusting Him and finding Him to be deeper and better and greater than we ever imagined He could be. But mostly, there’s you, our beloved children and friends. Your mercy, patience and kindness mean more than you can possibly imagine. Thank you for bringing God’s grace to us as we set our face forward and rise up to face another day.

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

Colossians 3:12-13 (NLT)

Check Your Foundations

(an article I wrote in 2010)
Shore Acres has to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. We visited it this week on a two day trip to the coast. The flowers in the Shore Acres’ garden gave promise of what will happen here in a matter of weeks. The brights bursts of color surrounding the reflecting pond, make everything twice as enchanting. Since our house has been inundated by bad colds, sinus and bronchial infections for about three months, the partially open buds on the flowering trees spoke loudly to us that there is a promise of spring and newness just around the corner. The beauty of it all spoke hope into our hearts.

As we stood on the viewing patio watching the waves hit the rocks and fly thirty feet above the cliffs, the people around us pointed to a ledge across an inlet where someone wearing a light blue jacket was perched on the edge of an overhanging rock taking pictures of the spray coming down over their head. I realized it was Emily, the young woman who lives with us and her friend Bethany who had come to the coast with us. When I gasp, the woman next to me ask, “Do you know them?”

While cameras snapped and the viewers oohed and aahed at the huge bursts of spray, my husband David set off to get the girls off the cliff. From our vantage point, a dista20150927_172946nce away, they looked like they were in great danger as we could see that the precipice they were sitting on had already lost the bottom of it’s foundations to the sea and was merely a large bit of rock jutting out from a more solid cliff.

At the actual spot the girls were sitting, things looked quite different. They had simply kept climbing out to the edge to get a better picture. It appeared to them to be solid ground, a very safe place to sit and watch the spectacular water show the ocean was providing. It was only later when they viewed the spot from the security of the paved section surrounded by protecting walls where the rest of us had been standing that they realized why the everyone had thought them in danger.

This morning as I sat down to write this column, I thought how life is so often like that experience. We often make decisions to do things that seem logical, practical and completely safe. It is only after the fact that we look back and realize we hadn’t taken the most important details into consideration–things that from a distance make the decisions appear totally wrong.

Holms on Homes, an HGTV program, portrays people who have hired individuals to remodel their homes only to lose money to unscrupulous contractors. Mike Holms comes to the rescue, uncovering the shoddy work and fixing the problems. Most of the home owners had believed they’d found a person they could trust to tackle their projects. In good faith they paid out the money to contractors they’d selected through research or referral, only to have everything fall apart. In hind sight they realized they’d asked the wrong questions or overlooked some obvious red flags. Fortunately for some, Holms appears and makes it all better. Unfortunately for others in the same situation but not chosen to be on the television program, the burden of the wrong choices hang over them the rest of their lives.

I have a number of friends who married people who did not share their foundational beliefs about God. It didn’t seem so important at the time because they were in love and the idea of spending their lives with this wonderful person, this best friend, promised a life of security and a great family. They felt as safe and secure as those girls did out on the cliff. Now, years later, the fact that the most basic thing about them could not be shared with their mate over the years has made them warn others that foundations are the most important part of making a marriage work. With the wisdom they have now, they would have chosen differently. Sitting alone at church, seeing their children struggle with faith has been heartbreaking for them.

Making wise decisions is not easy. We need to know what questions to ask, how to evaluate for ourselves what is right. It’s a good idea to get the input of people who can see from a different perspective, from those who have learned from making wrong choices themselves or from those who can look ahead with clearer vision.

Just as Emily and Bethany realized, what looks safe at the moment may not be when viewed from a distance. A strong foundation under you is important.