Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cardboard Prison

When I was very young I would often sit in a corner and think.  It wasn’t because I was in trouble – I was just a very introspective kind of person, even as a child.  And often my dad would ask, “What are you doing, Mary?”  “Oh, just thinking.”  “What are you thinking about?”  “Ooh, nothing…”   “Well, how do you know when you’re finished?”  and I’d usually let out a little giggle, and be off to do something else.

It is often said that the times that people are most reflective about their lives   is during times of stillness, when in the quiet all they have is their thoughts.  Imagine with me if you will, that we are peering into thoughts of someone who is in that place of reflection.  Now before we go there, let me say that this person whose thoughts we are about to delve into IS NOT ME.  It is a fictional person we’ll call Alex.  Alex can be representative of anybody.  So without further ado, let’s see what is on Alex’s mind:


Tomorrow is my birthday.  "Happy birthday to me, Alex ... I'll be fifty-three..."  And what have I done with my life?  I’ve had three failed marriages.  My first one was right out of high school.  I was young and dumb, you know, and had no business being married.  Then there was number two.  And that’s how I felt after a while.  Nothing I did seemed to be good enough.  And my last one – I was left cold.  I came home one day to a house full of furniture, and a note saying that our marriage was not worth saving.  I don’t understand where things went wrong …

Financially, things could be worse.  I might not live in the neighborhood I’d like to live in, don’t drive a new car every seven years.  I’ve changed careers more than a couple of times.  Right now I’m in a job that … let’s say I don’t dread going to it every day.  It looks like I’ll have to work longer than I’d like to before I can afford to retire.  But at least I have a job, a place to live, and can put food on my table.

And I have my health.  But even that scares me.  Last year a co-worker of mine learned she has MS.  My younger brother died from a heart attack in January.  Jack was so young – only 47.  Mom was my age when she died from cancer.  It so difficult for me to watch her suffer like that – she fought so hard up until the end.  And Dad’s Alzheimer’s has progressed – if you can call it “progress” – to the point where he doesn’t recognize anybody.  He used to be my biggest fan, and it hurts so much that he doesn’t know me…. I don’t want to be a burden to my daughters.  Ever.

My girls.  They have their own families and live in other states now.  I did the best I could with them, but sometimes I think I should have done more.   I’ve been trying to save some money so I can go see the grandkids this summer – they’re growing so fast!  But with prices for everything going up, and my job cutting back, and now my car going on the fritz … it’s always something …

I’m afraid of getting old.  But I definitely don’t want to die. I’m not ready to.  Still, I can’t help thinking, Is this all there is?  Growing up I was taught to be my own person, to make my own decisions, to create my own destiny. … I’ve lived my life as a pretty decent person.  But when I look at what I have, I feel like I don’t have much of a life at all.  I'm "alive," but I feel so ... ...


I remember during my college days there were these groups on campus with signs that said "Are you saved?"   Me?  Saved?  From what?   For what?  What kind of offbeat question is that?  "Are you saved?"

I didn't know any of those students very well.  I had a class with one or two of them, but outside of school, we ran in different circles.  And I never asked them about this “being saved” thing.  I'd just keep walking by, puffing away on my Marlbroro cigarette as I'd make my way to my next class.  I didn't want to get involved in their religious mumbo-jumbo. Besides, I didn't need “saving”.  I went to church and Sunday school when I was growing up.  I wasn’t a trouble-maker or anything like that.  I was a good enough person, and that was good enough for me.

One of those girls from college – her name is Laura, we had a chemistry lab class together back in the day – I'd see her around town throughout the years.  She always seemed ... different.  Even back then.  Not in a bad way.  Just, I don't know, different.  It was as though she had a handle on life, you know?  Even after I dropped school our paths would cross, but not in a way where we'd connect.  We'd say hi at the grocery store, make eye-contact at the gym, that kind of thing.  Our kids knew each other, but only as schoolmates.  Her kids were in the grades between my girls.  Her children seemed “different” too.  Even when they were teenagers.  They dressed more conservatively than most kids.  Modest, but not dowdy, you know?  They didn't party.  They were actually respectful to their parents!  I don't know what their grades were like, but they still managed to be popular. …  I don't get it.  My two seemed so out of control at times.  My girls and I are about as close as Alaska and Zimbabwe.

I saw Laura and her husband not long ago having dinner at that little Italian place DiMangi’s.  I don’t know how long they’ve been together now.  Must be more than 25 years ... and they still adore each other!  You can tell it’s not an act.  I don’t remember anyone ever looking at me the way they were looking at each other.  Genuine love that looks deep into the soul.  How could they do that?  I've struck out, three times, and never even came close to having what they seem to have with each other.

I’ve made lots of mistakes and bad decisions over the years, and look where it got me.  Life doesn’t give do-overs.  Hopefully I still have a lot of life to live though.  I want my life to get better, not worse.  I wonder –  how I can have just part of what Laura has?   


Let’s come out of Alex’s thoughts, and back to here-and-now. 

Alex, the person whose thoughts we eavesdropped on could be anybody who is struggling through life without Jesus.  Perhaps Alex reminded you of someone you know.  Perhaps Alex reminded you of you.

Very often when we think of spreading the Gospel we think of sharing with those with visible needs, such as the homeless, the troublemakers, the addicted … people who are much different from us.  But in John 3:16, it is clear that Jesus was not selective about whom he came to save. 

“For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”  

But Jesus did not leave it up to us who we ought to share the gospel with.  His final instructions to his disciples in Acts 1:8, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  That covers a lot of territory!  But notice where Jesus said his disciples would start – in Jerusalem.  Right where they were, in their own neighborhood, being witnesses to people who they already knew and who knew them.  

To be a witness is to attest to things that you personally have seen, heard, and experienced.  The “Laura” in our story was doing what Jesus commanded us to do.  She was a witness at school, and later in the town where she lived, and in her relationships with her husband and children.  Alex saw that, and recognized something in Laura’s life that he did not have.  But Alex was “stuck” in life, wanting more but not knowing how to get it.  

That place of being “stuck” reminds me of a comic strip I saw many years ago.  It’s one of those single-panel comics.  In it is a picture of a man sitting in a cardboard box, with bars cut out of the front of the box, like a prison.  The man has paper chain between his wrists, like the paper chains you make out of construction paper at Christmas time.  And the caption below the comic reads, 

"Mr. Boffo" by Joe Martin

“Handcuffed to the bars of a cardboard prison, he waits out his time like the fool that he is.”

Here is a man who is free to leave his prison any time he wants.  The chains holding him are construction paper – he can rip them apart with hardly any effort.  The bars in the box are cardboard – he can pull them apart and walk out between the bars any time he wants.  Yet there he remains, “stuck” in prison.  It is as though he does not know he can be free.  No one has told him.  If he has been told, he has rejected the news.  Until he believes he can be free, he remains in prison, serving a life sentence.

You don’t go to prison for being a “good” person.  You end up in prison when you do something wrong.  When you do something wrong, it’s called “sin”.  Let’s see what Jesus says about that.  In John 8:34, Jesus said:

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Alex did not do anything horribly wrong in his life.  But Alex did admit to doing some wrong things and making poor decisions.  That is sin.  Alex is a sinner.  And as a sinner, he is not a free person.  Not unless he knows who can set him free.  And that is Jesus.

Now, we know Jesus is not physically here on earth.  But there are witnesses to what Jesus has done in their lives.  If Jesus has impacted us in any way, you and I are witnesses.  And what does a witness do?  Tells what they know.  What do we know?  Jesus can change our lives.  Who can you and I help by telling?  People who are in “cardboard prisons.”  Who do we know in a “cardboard prison”?  Alex.  And who does Alex represent?  Anyone we know who does not know Jesus.


There was a time in my life that I was like Alex.  Not exactly the same story, mind you.  I wasn’t 53 – I was more like 23 or so.  I too saw the tables set up on the college campus, and I too thought, why do I need to be “saved”?  Like Alex, was not a troublemaker, but I had made some mistakes, and had a few failures of my own.  I too was looking for someone who could look deep into my soul and still love ME. 

My “Laura” was a man named Jeff and his wife Debie.  I met Jeff and Debie through a guy I had dated for a couple of years.  The more I got to know Jeff and Debie, the more I could see they were different from most people I knew.  They were not perfect, but they had this unusual assurance about them.  They had a sense of joy, and peace, and gentleness that I didn’t see in the world around me.  I wanted those qualities in my life.  

The relationship I was in at the time eventually ended, but I remained friends with Jeff and Debie for quite some time.  They invited me to go to church with them.  The first few times they did, I made lame excuses why I couldn’t go.  I had to work – at 3:00 that afternoon.  I was out the night before – but not really that late.   But they kept inviting.  I even used the excuse, “If I showed up at a church, the roof would cave in!”  But eventually I thought, I’ll go just once.  What have I got to lose?  So I went.  And through Jeff and Debie I was introduced to the One who could free me.  They introduced me to Jesus.  The same Jesus who made a blind man to see.  The same Jesus who looks deep into my soul and still love ME.  The same Jesus who could set me free from a cardboard prison.  The same Jesus who, while I was a sinner, died on a cross so I could have life.  And my life has never been the same since.

Who is your “Laura” that introduced you to Jesus?  I want to encourage you to thank them or do something to honor them for what they did, even if you have lost contact with them.  But more importantly, who is your “Alex” that is still serving a life sentence in a “cardboard prison”?  Just as Alex needs Laura to tell him he can be free, just as I needed Jeff and Debie, Your Alex needs YOU to introduce him or her to Jesus. 

If you had the key to open Alex’s prison, it would be unfair not to give it to him, right?  Jesus is that key.  The difference between a life sentence in a cardboard prison, and living a life of freedom in Christ is to humbly come before the Lord, and say, “Jesus, I come to you as a sinner.  I confess to you that I have made mistakes and poor decisions in my life.  I am sorry.  Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving me of my sins, and freeing me from my cardboard prison.  I turn to You to be my Lord and Savior.”  

Brothers and sisters, know this:  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed!   Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


A baby quilt for Amilcar
A couple of years ago I received an email from a lady named Cheryl who I shared a room with on a retreat a year or so prior.  She was going on a mission trip, and was asking for several items – pencils and paper, potholders, clothes, financial support, blankets .... 

At the time, our Helping Hands (then called Binky Patrol) had some extra blankets on hand, and we agreed we could send for this mission trip.  At the time, all we knew was they were going to a mission in El Salvador, and that they would be used to bless people.  When we later received a thank you letter and update from the mission’s founder, Cordelia, I learned more about Cordelia and what the purpose of the Mission.

When Cordlia was very young girl, her mother gave shelter to a young lady with a six month old daughter.  The young lady was full of blood because her drunken husband had beaten her up.  This sight impacted Cordelia so much that she remembers it to this day.  Seeing her mother help so many elderly and single mothers fueled her passion to start Bethlehem Inn Missions.  Bethlehem Inn Missions gives shelter to the elderly, to single mothers and their children, and to orhpans so that they can have a place to call home.

Cordelia and her husband Irv have made it their life's work to use Bethlehem Inn Missions to help those Salvadorians who have been forgotten – the very poor living in mountain regions.  People such as these live in dire poverty.  The shelter, food, and basic services which most persons take for granted elsewhere are not available to El Salvador's destitute.  Their goal is to change this scenario by providing the basic necessities of life, as well as to bring as many as they can to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And through connections that could only have been arranged by God, our little church in Long Beach has been able to minister to the elderly, single mothers and their children, and to orphans in El Salvador, a nation whose very name means “The Savior.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why I Love Jesus

There is a popular hymn that is taught in Sunday school classes all over America.  As I type the words, and as you read them, we can hear young children singing, “Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me!”  Yes, Jesus loves me, and I love Jesus.  
Bible verses such as “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), “God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), and the assurance of pardon in 1John 1:9, the promise of forgiveness and restoration to a right standing with God when we confess our sins (“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us of all unrighteousness”)  do not begin to scratch the surface of why Jesus is worthy of my love.  Nor do they adequately explain why I love Him.  To be honest, I don’t think anything can, but I will try. 
It is one thing to love Jesus because of what I learned as a child.  When I was growing up, I believed in Jesus and knew who He is.  I knew He was the Son of God, that He died on a cross for my sins, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.  I knew I was supposed to love Jesus, but I loved Him as though he were a family member whom I had never met.  I knew about Him, but nothing more.  It was not until I was in my mid-20’s that my knowledge of Jesus started to become a relationship with the Son of the Living God.   Love takes on a whole new depth and dimension when it is experienced in a deeply personal way. 
There have been many times throughout the years when I have encountered Jesus in ways that have deeply touched me.  The “Jesus Encounter” that most profoundly ignited my love for the Lord is rooted in a time when I saw myself as insignificant to others and to the world around me.  You may say I was having a “pity-party”; I would say it was more like a “pity-palooza.”  In the midst of my feeling lonely and isolated, Jesus used a story being told on a radio broadcast at that very moment to change my heart.  The story was similar to the widow who dropped the two copper coins in the offering box (Luke 21:1-4).  I realized that no matter how low I see myself, I still have value.  I have a purpose.  I have a valuable contribution to make.  
Jesus first loved me.  God sent Jesus so by believing in Him, I would have eternal life.  Jesus died on a cross as payment for my sins, even though I did not deserve such mercy.  When I confess my sins I am forgiven, and I have right standing with God because of Jesus.  Through Jesus I have value, and have a contribution to make that will glorify God.  These are reasons why I love Jesus!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

There's an app for that ...

Cell phones.  Life was fine without them, right?  True, but after having one for a while you realize how useful they are if you happen to damage or misplace yours.  Like I did.  Mine was not one of the newfangled iPhones or a Droid or anything that “smart.”  In comparison, you might call it a “dumb-phone”.  But it did have some handydandy features that I did use quite a bit.  I could call people and receive calls, of course.  My phone had an alarm clock, which kept me from napping too long on my lunch break at work.  There was a calculator that I could use to quickly split a check at a restaurant six ways, including the tip.  I could even download music or podcasts to my phone and use it as an mp3 player.  And those features are just a few that came pre-loaded on the phone!

 Over time I did add some software applications, called “apps”, to make my cell phone more useful to me.  Things like some custom ringtones, so I could wake from my lunchtime naps to the sound of “WOW – WaHaHaHow – WOW – All I can say is WOW!”  (if that doesn’t get your attention, not much else would.)  The King James Bible was always with me, even if the print was tiny and it was difficult to navigate through the books.  And speaking of navigation, I am so thankful for the app that gives turn-by-turn directions to get me through the roundabouts of Ladera Ranch, otherwise I’d still be trying to find my way home from the party Julie hosted in 2011!   

Even if you and I had the same model of cell phone, the apps on your phone would probably be different from what I have on mine.  You may work in the medical field, and have a medical dictionary app on yours.  I’m not much into taking pictures, but you might use Instagram to share pictures of your grandbabies.  And for when boredom strikes, you might play Words With Friends, but not with me because I’ll be reading something on the Nook app.

In a way, you and I are like cell phones.  God made us all in His image and likeness, but made each of us unique, in that we all have different inherent strengths, or different apps, so to speak.  Those apps are often referred to as “spiritual gifts.”  These spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit, that Spirit of God that comes alive in us when we believe in Jesus.  The same Spirit that gives you your spiritual gifts is the same Spirit that gives me mine.  He gives them to each person, just as he decides.  Some people have the gift of healing, such as nurses, doctors, health care professionals.  Someone else might have the gift of wisdom.  Many people have the gift of faith – they know God continuously works wonders in the lives of people.  There are those who have an innate passion for teaching, or for working behind the scenes to help make programs work.  Those who make visitors welcome in their homes are known for their gift of hospitality.  When you have a spiritual gift, it’s as though you have a pre-loaded app for what you love to do, and you do it well.

Our spiritual gifts are to be used, not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those around us.  Back to the cell phone illustration.  Whether we have smart-phones or dumb-phones, the features and apps are useful if they are, well, used.  I did not realize until very recently that I could check my email and reply from the palm of my hand. Well, that’s not exactly true.  Now that I think of it, I did sort of know about doing email from my phone, knew it could benefit me, but never bothered to put it to use.  In the 2 ½ years I’ve had my phone, it just now occurred to me how many times I could have sent an email mid-day to bless somebody who could have used an encouraging word. 

The topic of spiritual gifts is one wher I could go on and on.  Just as there are some half a million apps you can download to your smart-phone, there are probably as many gifts the Holy Spirit can load in to those who believe in Jesus.  Many gifts may be similar, but each one has its own distinct nuances, just as individual as the one who receives the gift.  If you wish to explore this subject further and learn more about what your unique spiritual gifts are and how you might use them to benefit others, I would be willing and honored to help guide you in this endeavor.


Mary from the Prairie

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How To "Do" Peace

Imagine that you are watching a beauty pageant.  After the beauty portion, the swimsuit and evening gown modeling competition, and talent competitions, five finalists are selected.  And then probably the most nervewracking part of the evening:  The Interview Question.
“If you are crowned Miss Beautiful of the Universe, what would you like to work toward during your reign?”

A common answer you may hear would be “World Peace.”

Peace.  In over 3,500 years of recorded history of the world there have been only about 300 years where there has not been a military conflict somewhere on this planet.  Peace is gained when one side, or both sides, surrender something and an agreement or treaty is drawn up.  But even with peace treaties we still don’t get it right – over the course of history more than 8,000 treaties of peace, meant to last forever, have been broken.  The average time they remained in force?  Two years.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict.  We all have conflict in our lives – it is part of the human experience.  Peace, generally speaking, is “a state of quiet tranquility, or freedom from disturbance or agitation.”  We so often want to try to find peace through our circumstances, so we keep asking God to change them. We think that “If this were different – my finances, my health, my parent’s health, my relationship with my spouse, my kids, my boss, my neighbors, or whatever “this” is – then my life would be much more at peace.”  But you know what?  Our circumstances are always changing.  Just when one thing finally starts to go right, Bam!  Something else rises up to take a turn at being the “this” that we want to change. 

It’s pretty evident that peace is not something that “just happens.”  Our scripture reading this morning gives us a blueprint of some things we can “do” that will bring us peace. 

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Did you get that?  God wants us to make our requests known to Him!  He wants us to tell him want we want.  But, think about it - if God is omniscient, if He knows everything about us and about our lives, past, present and future, why then do we have to tell Him what we want?  Let me give an example.

It’s tax season.  Many people don’t like to file their tax returns, but for most of us it is something that needs to be done every year.  Part of the tax return, even if you are single and filing the EZ form, is claiming a deduction.  Everyone gets a “standard deduction.”  If you have children, you can claim a deduction for each child.  If you own a home, or a business, or for many other circumstances, you can claim more deductions.  The IRS knows this, and is willing to give you these deductions, as long as they are according to the law.  But they won’t automatically grant them.  The IRS won’t call you up or send you a letter reminding you that you have two children instead of one, or that you paid interest on your mortgage.  You have to Ask for the deductions when you file your tax return.  

God knows we have requests.  He expects that of us.  And he wants to grant those requests to us according to His will.  But He wants us to ask Him, by prayer and petition.  We all know that prayer is our dialog with God – confessing our sins to God, thanking Him, making requests, listening for His answer.  Petition, also called “supplication,” is a part of prayer.  Supplication is where we make a sincere fervent plea, asking God for what we desire for Him to do.  

Supplications are made in our humility, where we recognize and acknowledge our place before the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of the universe and admitting that we can’t fix our faults and foibles on our own.  It is giving our hopes and hurts, our wants and worries / to the God who created us, the same God who knows past, present and future, the same God who has a plan for our lives and can work all things for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose.  Supplication is our surrender to the King of kings, agreeing once again to allow His will to be done in and through our lives, on earth as it is in heaven.

God wants us to bring our requests to him, fervently and with humility.  He also wants to ask in thanksgiving.  We all know that thanksgiving is more than what we do around the table the fourth Thursday of November every year.  It’s more than “Thank you, God, for family, health, food, friends, etc.”  Thanksgiving is the expression of gratitude.  Gratitude is that feeling we have whenever we experience a kindness.  

Giving thanks is just as important as our supplications.  That is why our boxes we pass around with the attendance books have pink Prayer Requests for our supplications, and yellow Praise Reports for our thanksgivings.  To give an example of how important giving thanks is, let me share this story:

One year a pastor was giving his Report to the congregation, remembering the people who had been called home by the Lord during the previous year.  This happened to be during a time when many young men were enlisting in the Navy and going off to war.  In his report the pastor included “Nine persons lost at sea.”  When the congregation reacted with shock and amazement, the pastor replied, “Well, eleven persons requested prayers for those going to sea, and only two asked me to give thanks for a safe return.  So I assumed the remaining nine were lost at sea.”

Every day we have things that don’t go our way.  Some of it is little, some can be pretty significant.  And there are some days where we might feel we haven’t experienced a single kindness at all, which makes it difficult to give thanks to God for anything.  What then?

Let’s continue in Scripture where we left off:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:9)

There are many things in our lives that fit one or more of those descriptions.  A baby’s smile; your child or grandchild’s laughter, the beauty of nature, the way your dog greets you when you come home.  But only one person fits all of that criteria perfectly, all of the time:  Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  The same Jesus who left the splendor of heaven to be born in a smelly stable.  The same Jesus who gave sight to blind men, and commanded the lame to walk.  The same Jesus who turned gallons of water into wine, and who walked upon the sea.  He alone is true, noble, right, and pure.  He is lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of all our praise.  He rose from the dead and left the grave empty, but he has never left his throne! 

Let me share one more story, and I will close.  

In the late 1800s the people of Argentina and Chile were in conflict over the boundary between the two nations.  Tensions rose because of the mistrust between the two countries. In 1900, when on the verge of war, King Edward VII of Great Britain was called in to mediate.  A diplomatic breakthrough was reached, and on May 28, 1903 the two governments signed a treaty ending the conflict. 

During the celebration that followed, Angela Oliveira Cezar de Costa, a well-connected member of society who had done much to bring about that peace, commissioned a 26-foot high bronze statue of Jesus Christ  to be placed at the summit of Uspallata Pass in the Andes Mountains.  This was no easy task – the Uspallata Pass is at the 12,500 ft elevation, has year round snow, and the statue had to be transported in pieces by train and by mule.  Once everything got to the summit the statue had to be pieced together and mounted on its 18 ft granite base that also had to be transported up the mountain.  

At the dedication ceremony on March 13, 1904 - during their summer - the statue was presented to the world as a sign of the victory of good will.  On its base there is a plaque inscribed in Spanish that reads “Sooner shall these mountain crags crumble to dust than Chile and Argentina shall break this peace which at the feet of Christ the Redeemer they have sworn to maintain."  More than 100 years later the treaty is still in force, and the monument stands today as a reminder that only Christ can bring real peace to the world.

Around 700 B.C., the prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of a special child.  This child would be known as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  We know that Isaiah was talking about Jesus.  The night before Jesus was to give his life on the cross so that we may have eternal life, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  

Peace comes from surrender.  The peace of God that surpasses understanding comes when we surrender our lives to Christ, the Prince of Peace. 

We will soon be singing the hymn “I Surrender All.” Too frequently we sing hymns to the Lord without thinking about the words.  Right now I want you to close your eyes, and as I read the words, reflect on what it means to surrender all to Jesus.

I Surrender All
All to Jesus, I surrender;   
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,   
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;   
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;   
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus, I surrender;   
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,   
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus, I surrender;   
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;   
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;   
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!  
Glory, glory, to His Name!

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Savior,
I surrender all.

In your bulletin there is a piece of paper with the heading “I Surrender.”  As we close out our service, I invite you to write down a word or a phrase, or more than one, representing a burden, or burdens, you wish to surrender to the Lord, and praise Him that He wants us to release them.  It may be worry about something outside of your control.  Or something you need to change about yourself but can’t do on your own.  Or you may want to surrender your heart to Jesus.  Whatever it may be, to symbolize a total surrender, I invite you to drop that paper with your burdens written on it into the shredder.  

Receive God’s peace this very day.  Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The beauty of a rainbow

I like to watch children at play.  Their imaginations and curiosity are truly unlimited.  They will fight fires as easily as they blow out birthday candles, dance like Cinderella at the prince’s ball, they stomp in rain puddles just to see how high water can splash, and at the end of the day feel like superheroes because theirs is a world of pure absolute joy, where ability and pleasure flawlessly click.  Their true colors shine.

That is, until they realize they are being watched.  Suddenly the fire is bigger than the firefighter; Cinderella is afraid she will miss a dance step; puddle stomping becomes a cardinal sin because of the mess it may create.  Ability and pleasure suddenly clash, and the superhero now is the one in need of being rescued.  True colors that were shining a few moments ago have suddenly faded.

What gives someone the right to cast shadows on the true colors of a child’s imagination?  Ok, proper boundaries are necessary, as with the puddle stomping boy-wonder, but with every puddle?  And at what age is it appropriate for imagination and curiosity to be dimmed? 
The thing we do that brings us pure absolute joy, where we feel like we are truly in our element, when our ability and pleasure flawlessly click – That is a gift from God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are told in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given by the same Spirit.  There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord. There are different ways to work. But the same God makes it possible for all of us to have all those different things.   The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all.”

Your “click” may be cooking.  It may be listening to people’s problems, or giving comfort to someone going through a rough patch.  Maybe it’s dancing, or painting, or working with wood.  You might be a person who is in a position where you can give financially to a favorite cause, and enjoy doing so.  Or a teacher whose joy is watching a student’s face light up when they understand something for the first time.  Whatever your joy is, it is often something you would do for free, although getting paid for it wouldn’t be so bad either. 
When we do these things that bring us joy, our true colors shine.  As I close, I leave you with this ponder:

If everyone does the things that bring them joy, and does those for the benefit of others and for the glory of God instead of just themselves, how brilliant would the resulting rainbow of true colors be?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

It's a Great Big Universe

The other day I was pondering how vast and enormous the universe is in comparison to you and me.  As the song says, "It's a great big universe, and we're all really puny / We're just tiny little specks, about the size of Mickey Rooney ..."

Yet even though we may be tiny specks in a great big universe, ponder this:  The entire universe is a tiny speck in the palm of the hand of God.  How really puny are we, really, if we are just tiny little specks on a tiny speck in the hand Omnipotence?  That is enough to make most people feel at least a little bit insignificant.

The good news is the truth of the matter is, even though we are micro-Mickey Rooney-sized specks, we have captured God's attention!  In a time long, long before Mickey Rooney walked the earth, the king of Israel, David, pondered the size of man in comparison to the size of the God of the universe:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in the whole earth!
You have made your glory higher than the heavens.
You have made sure that children and infants praise you.
You have done it because of your enemies.
You have done it to put a stop to their talk.

I think about the heavens.
I think about the moon and stars that you have set in place.

What is a human being that you think about him?
What is a son of man that you take care of him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings.
You placed on him a crown of glory and honor.

You made human beings the rulers over all that your hands have created. 
You put everything under their control.
They rule over all flocks and herds and over the wild animals.
They rule over the birds of the air and over the fish in the ocean.
They rule over everything that swims in the oceans.

Lord, our Lord, how  majestic is your name in the whole earth!
Psalm 8 (New International Readers Version)

I don't know about you, but I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the Creator of the universe noticing puny me, let alone loving me the way He does! 

It's big and black and inky, and we're all small and dinky.  It's a big universe, and we're not! 
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in the wole earth!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ain't Technology Grand?

Ain’t technology grand?

About ten years ago I was part of a team sent by my company to teach employees how to use an upgraded computer program.  The computers we had been using were very cumbersome, and obsolete to the point where they had to be replaced in order to be upgraded.  As I was learning about this new system, I wanted to try to test its limits.  I tried whatever I could think of to make it crash.  I discovered that no matter what, even if I were able to interrupt the flow of information to the computer for a while, that flow of information could be restored, and things would be back to business as usual.  The fact that the computer’s information pipeline could not be permanently broken was reassuring.  Employees who were not familiar with technology did not have to be afraid of causing the company to implode from a few clicks of the mouse.  Even if they did cause an accidental implosion, all we had to do was call the company’s techno-geeks that run the computer system.  A few minutes later it would be up and running again, good as new.

Ponder this:

God’s love for us works the same way.  All of us, in our own way, have tried to test the limits of His love for us.  We do and think things that interrupt our communication with God, perhaps some things where we believed God could not love us again.  Maybe we believed that if we went into a church ever again, the doors would crash down. 

The Bible tells us that God’s love for us does not crash.  Even though our fellowship with God can be interrupted, his love for us cannot.  The apostle Paul wrote, “I am absolutely sure that not even death or life can separate us from God's love. Not even angels or demons, the present or the future, or any powers can do that.  Not even the highest places or the lowest, or anything else in all creation can do that. Nothing at all can ever separate us from God's love because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done.”  

That’s right – no matter what we do wrong, God still loves us.  And when we do something wrong and want to make things right again, we tell Him.  By his death on the cross, Jesus made a way for us to bring our relationship back online with God.  If we admit that we have sinned, he will forgive us our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure, good as new!

Ain’t God grand?