Peace

john-14-27OK, so maybe I’m bragging a little, but a mom’s entitled. Right?

My son is an amazing dad, and to watch as his three little kids run to him for comfort blesses me beyond belief. Tears disappear as he cuddles and comforts, for in his arms they feel safe and loved; in his arms they have peace.

From an adult perspective, the traumas that send a child fleeing to a parent for comfort may seem very insignificant; but an ‘owie’, hurt feelings, sibling squabbles, a scary dream, anything that shatters his/her peaceful world seems as big a deal to them  as do the things that shatter ours.

As 2017 looms large on the horizon, there are certainly a lot of issues with which to be concerned. Whether our problems are personal, national, or international; there is much that would make us yearn for a place of rest and safety. Fortunately, such a place does exist, and we can rush headlong into the loving arms of our Father to be comforted just as readily as my grandchildren run to my son. Jesus understood this well, as He encouraged His disciples:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 32-33)

About a hundred and fourteen years ago, Cleland B. McAfee wrote “Near to the Heart of God” from a place of personal grief and loss. Modeling Jesus, he also knew from Whom his strength came:

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.
Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God;
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.
There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.
There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Over 2000 years ago, God was there for Jesus’ disciples; over a century ago He was there for Mr. McAfee; and He is still there for us today. May we all rest in His peace today, tomorrow, and throughout 2017.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Standing In Faith

Barbara ParkerAs we approach Christmas, many of us reach out to others a bit more than usual, perhaps re-connecting with people we haven’t been in touch with lately; perhaps finding ways to help those who are less fortunate; perhaps greeting total strangers with a, “Merry Christmas.” Also, as one year concludes and a new one approaches, we often find ourselves in a self-evaluation mode. We examine what have we accomplished as well as what should we do differently next year, and such a process is scriptural:

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5

I’d like to do a bit of both in this post that doubles as an announcement to the Standing In Faith group on LinkedIn and an invitation to join us, offering first a quick review of our group, and then sharing with old friends and new, the message of hope the Lord has given me.

The Standing In Faith discussion group began as a leap of faith on my part in March 2011. New to LinkedIn and not a big fan of social media, it was quite a surprise when the Lord impressed me to form the group, and from the very beginning He has had full ownership. This is not my group—it is His, and I’m simply His group manager. There have been several times that I’ve wanted to shut it down because it seemed as if it was going nowhere and accomplishing nothing, but His permission for that to happen was never given. Now, in retrospect, I am in awe of what He is doing, and I’m well aware that He is accomplishing His work through the group in ways that I will never be aware of this side of eternity, which is very exciting. Our growth during 2015 has been astounding, and there are new members every day from nations around the world. This is an international outreach such as I never could’ve imagined, and I welcome all of our new members and pray that the fellowship we have here will bless and encourage you in your Christian walk.

From the beginning, the Lord designed Standing In Faith around the passion He has given me for the Body of Christ to live by faith and to operate in unity, and our stated purpose is, “To encourage Christians to live by faith and not by sight, building each another up in the unity of faith that we share in Christ Jesus.”

With that purpose in mind, there are a couple of things about this group that may differ from other groups; things that don’t make us any better or worse, but just different. First is that the Lord has led me to accept everyone who requests membership without any pre-screening, just as He is willing to accept all who come to Him. Second, while we often discuss our differences of opinion, we do not enter into divisive debates or arguments, and no comments are allowed that denigrate the person or faith of another. This can pose a huge dilemma for me as the “referee”, and I must rely strictly on the Lord’s leadership regarding which discussions and comments to allow and which ones to deny, so I would appreciate your prayers for His wisdom in this regard, as well as your understanding and forgiveness if I make a mistake in judgment. I do not agree with everything that is posted here, nor will you, but instead of taking offense and arguing with every statement, please respond from a spirit of love that displays the grace and mercy of the Lord. We are not all “on the same page” doctrinally, but instead of allowing the enemy to separate us as has been done for centuries, we consciously choose to set our differences aside and focus on Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

As you may be aware, LinkedIn has recently re-designed much in regard to groups, and both the appearance and the function has been affected. Visually, it is easier to quickly scan through discussions, but it is also harder to get the full impact of a discussion without choosing the option for “more” in order to read the entire text of the comments. I would encourage everyone to dig deeper into the “more” of our discussions to get the full benefit of what each person has to say. Also, the space allotted for text has been diminished, so it is more important than ever to try to make a point succinctly.

Previously, the group was open and a request to join received automatic approval, but now every membership request comes to me first. As mentioned before, none are turned away, but any member’s contributions may still be designated for pre-approval if they are deemed to be divisive or off the topic of faith in Jesus; and any individual may be completely banned from the group at my discretion (this has only happened with 3 people whose obvious intent was disruption and destruction). Also, please be aware that with this new system, for reasons I certainly do not understand, LinkedIn is flagging as inappropriate many entries that are fully acceptable, so please be patient if your submission doesn’t appear immediately. I try to turn everything around within 24 hours or sooner, but occasionally that isn’t possible.

Please review the group rules since there have been a few changes to remain in alignment with LinkedIn’s way of doing things. Also, please remember that we do not focus on personal agendas, make political statements, or doctrinal positions; but we discuss the traditional Christian values of the majority. That said, it is difficult to completely avoid the political arena since it has such a huge impact on our lives, but our goal is to approach any such discussions with the intent of illuminating God’s truth and not man’s opinion.

Enough review, and on to our Hope! This morning, the Lord highlighted some phrases to me from Hebrews 3 that are relevant to Standing In Faith.

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession…[who] is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope…Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Our “today” is a day in which hearts have become hard throughout the world. Jesus warnings of end times events are occurring right before our eyes. His words (Matthew 24:4-14) resonate with what we see and hear daily:

“See that no one leads you astray.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

We are not to despair! Buried in a passage where many accentuate the negative, is one of the most promising phrases in scripture. “See that you are not alarmed,” isn’t just an impossible suggestion, for Jesus would never have advised something we cannot accomplish. In Him we have hope, He is our strength and our refuge, and we need not fear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3-7

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalms 46:1

At Christmas we often hear people saying that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that’s true; but I’d take it a bit farther to declare that Jesus is the reason for every season in our lives. Our very existence here on earth is designed to bring honor and glory to Him, and the fact that we are here “today” is by His design, and He has a purpose for each of our lives.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalms 139:16

So what does this have to do with Standing In Faith? Go back to the Hebrews passage from which the Lord spoke to me today, for this is the re-affirmation of our purpose:

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

May our Lord be with you all, may He bless and keep you throughout this and every season, and may He make you a blessing to others as you all are to me. Merry Christmas to all, along with my prayers and best wishes that in the year to come each person will find their strength in Him and will learn to stand in faith as never before. My prayer for each of us is from Hebrews 4:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…Let us hold fast our confession…Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

 

 

A Stubborn Streak

Sheba circleStubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen.  For many years you were patient with them.  By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets.  Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples.  But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.  Nehemiah 9:30-31

Pugs are notorious for being stubborn.  So, how is that any different from most of us?  Not much.

If we’re out for a walk and Sheba decides she’s gone far enough, she sits down, digs in with her hind legs, and refuses to go even one more step; but turn around toward home and all of a sudden she’s ready to go.  Just don’t try to trick her and go on past the front gate because there will once again be a pug planted on the sidewalk!  She doesn’t realize her stubbornness often causes her to miss out on a lot of loving because we invariably run into neighbors who want to pamper her with attention as soon as they see her.

How often do I choose to go my own way instead of following God’s plan?  As long as He cooperates everything is fine, but if it’s uncomfortable, or if I just don’t want to do it, or if I think I have a better way; I may dig in and refuse to move.  And, like Sheba, I may miss the treat that’s just around the next corner.

So, I ask myself, how many blessings have I missed by being stubborn and wanting things to either happen my way or no way at all?  How often have I settled for less than the best?

Lonely? Never Again!!!

d9a4398f81a12bd0ac69fde82a8cb3c1-2Isolated in an exam room while waiting for my doctor (who was running very late!), I was a victim of the ‘canned music’ that played throughout the office.  I must admit, it wasn’t too bad for a baby boomer like me, since most of the tunes were those I enjoyed in years gone by.

God often speaks to me by causing a song to begin playing in my head, so I’ve become very careful about what music I listen to, not wanting a re-play of something I’ve heard recently to ‘get stuck’ and drown out what He might want to say.  For example, have you ever had a particularly obnoxious jingle from a television commercial lodge itself in your brain?  Over, and over, and over those words repeat, and nothing seems to erase the recording except time.  I’d much rather listen to His Melodies of Love, which I’ve written about previously.

But on this day, my ears were subjected to one tune after another that spoke of loneliness, loss, and depression.  Initially it was the whining words of Bob Dylan:

Go ’way from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed
I’m not the one you want, babe
I’m not the one you need
You say you’re lookin’ for someone
Never weak but always strong
To protect you an’ defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain’t me, babe
No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe
It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe

What a contrast to God’s promises!

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.  Deuteronomy 31:6

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Next there was the amazing voice of Sam Cooke belting out Another Saturday Night, a song I’ve always enjoyed, but one that is nevertheless an expression of loneliness.

Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause i just got paid
How I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way

Such terrible loneliness was also expressed by Bobby Vinton:

Lonely, I’m Mr. Lonely
I have nobody for my own
I am so lonely, I’m Mr. Lonely
Wish I had someone to call on the phone

When we live in the truth of the absolute presence of the Lord, loneliness is vanquished.  it has no chance against the word of God, as expressed in Psalm 139: 1-12:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me,and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

Finally, and perhaps the saddest commentary of all, John Lennon’s Help poured out through the speakers.  The song was released in 1965, and blasted incessantly from every radio on its way to the top of the charts.  A year later, I remember clearly my disappointment and revulsion when Lennon declared that God is dead and that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.  Aligned with the things of the world, and delving into drugs, sex, and New Age philosophies for his help, it’s doubtful that he ever found what he really needed before his murder in 1980, at just forty years of age.  Our lives do not have to be a such a hopeless testimony of loneliness because we can find our help in Jesus.  All we have to do is ask Him in.

My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

On A Leash

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119: 10-11

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Sheba loves her collar and her leash.  After a bath, she gets very excited about having her collar replaced.  Why?  I don’t know.  But the leash I do understand—that means she gets to go out for a walk, and there’s nothing she loves more.  When she was younger she’d run away if she escaped without a leash, carelessly darting out in the street or playing hide and seek in a neighbor’s yard, daring us to chase her.  But maybe somewhere along the line she’s learned that it’s for her protection, because now—even without the leash—she stays close by, not wanting to stray too far from her master.

What a lesson for me! How I cherish my “leash”—the never changing Word of God. The more time I spend with it, the more I never want to be away from it, for God’s Word is where I go for comfort and direction when I’m tired or frustrated, alone or afraid.  Full of promises of God’s love that will forever amaze me; its truths pull me away from harmful temptations and give me strength to stand in the face of illness or loss, disappointment or persecution.

I love the description of “my leash” in The Message version of Hebrews 4:12-13,:

God means what he says. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey.

Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what. It draws me ever closer to my Master—and like Sheba, I never want to stray too far.

The Wonder of Our God

 

Cousins Barbara Eva Leonard Eddie etc 1955 corrected

 

Growing up, we lived near the families of two of my dad’s brothers and I was close to a couple of cousins who were about my age. As my younger siblings began arriving, so did younger cousins—all of whom we considered the “little kids.” It’s amazing how distant five or six years seem during our formative years, and how such age differences shrink into insignificance as adults.

Crystal was one of the little kids, so after my family moved away when I was seventeen we lost touch for many years. About five years ago Crystal started calling occasionally and we’d talk awhile, but still didn’t know one another well. Eventually though, we discovered that we are both passionate about God in a way that many others in our extended family are not; and a spiritual bond began to form.

The last few years have been very difficult for Crystal, with catastrophic illnesses plaguing her husband that have left him permanently disabled; a multitude of other cascading problems; and, in just the last year, she lost both parents as well as two of other close family members. Sinking into a place of deep despair, she continued crying out to God and, as always, He has been faithful. I share the background of Crystal’s difficulties to illustrate the wonder of the sufficiency of our Lord, even in the midst of our most desperate times. In her words…

Super close up of delicate blue wildflower blank Ava - Copy

I was walking the puppies, and out near the edge of our mowed lawn is the wilder part where the more natural grasses grow up to a height of about 18 inches.

It’s early spring and the wildflowers have just started to bloom here and there. Over the years, as I’ve taken photos of our flowers, I’ve found that some of my very favorites are the tiny wild flowers. At first glance, looking down at them from about five feet above, they don’t look all that impressive. But when I bend down and focus on the tiny blooms, some not more than an inch across, I am amazed to see the glorious details of the little petals and stamens, complete with pollen.

This day, walking near the edge of the lawn, I noticed a lone grouping of three fronds of one of these little Missouri wildflowers. It was white and delicate with little yellow stamens.

I wondered, “Will this little flower survive without anyone but the good Lord up above watering it and caring for it?” I also pondered the question, “What good will this little flower be?  If I hadn’t just happened to walk out here, nobody would even have enjoyed its beauty.”

Just then, a huge black-and-yellow-striped bumblebee, about an inch long and a half-inch wide, buzzed in and landed on the tiny wildflower. This is the kind of bumblebee I used to see growing up in Northern California where we used to love to catch them in the lupine bushes in quart glass Mason jars because we always liked to hear them “sing” as they buzzed.

It was always fun to find one that had lots of pollen dots on its back legs, gathered and distributed along its travels. I’ve since learned that many flowers don’t pollinate unless a bee comes along to do it for them.

So, here was this little lone wildflower and I watched, mesmerized, as the big bumblebee adeptly and carefully visited each and every little open petal.

I felt ashamed that I had so quickly judged the seemingly insignificant wildflower. I wasn’t the only one to enjoy its beauty—I was but one of many, including the Good Lord up above, the angels, and all the other birds and bees flying about.

Suddenly I didn’t feel like such a lone wildflower living out in the wilderness. The Spirit spoke to me and said that I am never alone, but that God Himself always makes plans to visit me and deposit within me bits of Himself, where they can stay forever, producing His life. Then, as I am filled with Him, I can be like the bumblebee and spread the beauty of His love to other flowers (people) I come in contact with.

May we all decide now to be like industrious little bumblebees, pollinating with His life all the wildflowers and cultivated flowers with whom the LORD allows us to interact.  We do this by sharing His light; by walking in His light. We do this by not reacting badly, even when others do so. We do this when we shine with His glory because we have been swimming in it ourselves, and it just exudes out of us effortlessly.

What wonderful details and symmetry God has placed on our little blue planet!

So today, praise Him, especially if you identify with being a lone little wildflower living out in the wilderness because…

He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10

 

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

David—shepherd boy, youngest son, killer of Goliath, companion of King Saul, warrior, king—a man who loved God passionately, a man who committed the most heinous sins yet turned to God in repentance and received forgiveness, a man who poured out his heart as he wrote many of the psalms that grace the pages of our Bibles.  He had the ability to assign words to his thoughts and feelings that would endure for thousands of years, remaining as relevant to our lives today as they were when he penned them.

I was pondering how I could adequately describe David’s writing talent—how could I put into words his ability to communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions that can often be so hard to express?  I asked the LORD, and immediately as Simon and Garfunkel’s song, Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water, began playing in my mind I realized I could come up with no better description.

More times than I can count, in the midst of my despair, I have turned to David’s words for comfort.  And, also more times that I can count, when my own words have seemed inadequate to express the majesty of God and His creation, David once again so clearly illustrated my heart.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:1-6