Sunday, July 21, 2013

Stories ... We all have one ...

Isaiah 20:2- At that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

In this passage God sends Isaiah to give a warning to Israel.  In addition to using words, God instructs Isaiah to do something more.  God instructs him to walk naked and barefoot for three years!   Certainly, Isaiah felt uncomfortable about what he was being called to do, but remained obedient.  The message, Isaiah was delivering far outweighed the embarrassment of being uncovered.

Sometimes when we feel the prompting of God’s Spirit to share how Jesus has changed our lives we may feel uncomfortable with what God is asking us to do.  We may feel embarrassed or ashamed to “expose” our past to others for fear that we may be ridiculed or rejected if people knew what we would rather keep hidden. 

We all have parts of our lives we are ashamed of, ways of life that we have turned from because of what Jesus has done in us.  It’s been said everyone has a story of their faith journey, and that every story is part of God’s story.  God’s story is not meant to remain hidden, but shared.  When we share our past with others in the light of how Jesus transformed us, we share with them the truth that God loves us as we are, but does not want us to remain in the shame of our past.  It is through Jesus that we are forgiven and set free!

Ponderings for reflection …
*What in my life has changed because of Jesus?
*Have I ever shared that with anybody?
*With whom can I share the story of how Jesus changed me?  (If you feel uncomfortable, share with a pastor or another trusted Christian.)

Sunday, May 05, 2013


Psalm 145:3  Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

All throughout history there have been men and woman who were considered great for one reason or another.  Thomas Edison was a great inventor; Madame Curie, a great scientist; Michael Jordan, a great basketball player.  Those who grew up in the 30’s and 40’s are said to be of the Greatest Generation.  And I can’t forget - Al and Martha Thuente are great parents (I ought to know – they’re mine)! 

Usually what makes a person great is his or her accomplishments or reputation of doing good things.  But a person’s deeds and goodness have a limit.  No matter how great someone is, he can  only know so much, can do so much, can give so much, because his wisdom, ability and resources are finite.  Greatness can only be so great. 

When we think of God, his greatness is limitless.  Even the greatest of men could not have created the world we live in.  After all, how is it possible for man create anything if he himself had not yet been created?  Only God could create our world!  King Solomon, the wisest man of all time, was not wise by his own doing.  His wisdom was granted as an answer to his prayer to our all-knowing God!  When Jesus told his disciples to take a poor boy’s lunch of bread and fish and feed thousands of hungry men, women and children, everybody present learned that you can’t out-give God!  And God’s great unfailing love for our less-than-great selves is such that he would rather come to earth in the form of one of us (Jesus) and die as punishment for our sins for us, than to spend eternity without us.

The accolades for the great things men and women do will eventually fade, whereas God’s glory never will.  God deserves all of our praise now, and forevermore!

God, your power, knowledge and love are greater than we can begin to imagine.  We thank you for sending Jesus to come and die for our sins so that we never have to be separated from your love.  By far, this is the greatest gift we could ever receive from you!  Let us be people of praise, and tell of your greatness today and every day!  Amen.

What makes somebody great?  What great thing God has done in your life?  Who can you tell today about God’s greatness?  Blessings,  Mary J

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Forsaken Savior

All throughout scripture God assures of us the promise that He is always with us.  He gave that promise to Jacob, to Joshua, the people of Israel.  And Jesus gave us that same promise before his ascension into heaven.  Not only is God’s presence promised to us, but also His love, the patient, kind, faithful, enduring, never-failing love, is ours as well.  The passage that says it in a way no other does – spells it out, if you will – is Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These words are a wonderful assurance of how secure my relationship with the Father truly is.  Ever since I have known and experienced God’s love, I cannot imagine life without it.  I have not even tried to imagine. 

That is, until last night.  Last night’s Good Friday “Come Thirsty” Good Friday service centered around the last sayings of Jesus.
"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" 
In that moment Jesus had taken upon himself all of the sins of the world.  In that moment the wrath of God was poured out upon His only Son.

In that moment the assurance of God’s love, the oneness of the Son with the Father, was abruptly, violently, merciless taken from Jesus.

As the congregation listened and meditated on the message as it was being delivered, I imagined, what would it be like if every single promise the Bible gives us were taken from me, abruptly, violently, mercilessly? 

What would it be like if the God – the One who by His Holy Spirit lives inside of me – left my life without so much as a good-bye note?

Panic.  Anguish.  Inconsolable grief.

The physical suffering of Jesus was not enough to satisfy the wrath of God’s judgment.  The Savior experienced the heart-wrenching emotional and spiritual agony the Father must feel when we choose to live in an unrepentant broken relationship with Him.

Jesus, you suffered the anguish of separation from the Father’s love.  You did it for me, so I would never have to know the pain of such abandonment and forsakenness.  The promises of your presence and love mean much more now than ever before.  Your love for me is deeper, higher, wider than I can ever comprehend.  I thank you more than my words can ever express.  Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Home Renovation

Psalm 139:23-24  Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The apartment where I live is on the edge of a fairly upscale neighborhood.  The homeowners have for generations taken pride in their property, keeping their houses in top condition and their landscaping in beautiful shape.  Except for one.  This particular house is on a double-sized lot, boasts 6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, an elevator(!) and guest/maid quarters, making it much larger than the neighboring homes.  In talking to some neighbors I learned that the owner was an older man who lived there.  His wife died years ago and their two sons have lives of their own in different parts of the country.  I do not know what kind of work the man did for a living, but I am told he was the male version of the “crazy cat lady,” at one time having over 20 cats!  He eventually became ill and could no longer maintain the home.  The house had fallen into a serious state of disrepair.  After the man was taken away by ambulance the condition inside and out had become so deteriorated and rat-infested that the city had to condemn the property.  This once beautiful home had become the neighborhood’s version of a “haunted mansion”.

The house "before" renovations
(but cleaned up for the probate sale)

About six months ago there was new activity at the house.  Rooms were being gutted out.  Trees and bushes that had become overgrown were trimmed back.  Trash dumpsters were on the street, filled with debris.  About a month or so I drove by in the evening and saw the lights on inside, even though it was evident the house was not yet occupied by new owners.  But the changes were happening.  The house now has a “For Sale” sign in the yard.  This past weekend the realtor held an Open House, so I stopped by to see the results of the transformation that had taken place.  The transformation is stunning!  The plumbing and electrical systems were replaced.  New flooring was installed, the landscaping now rivals other million dollar homes, and the kitchen has new state-of-the-art amenities.   And I am told they expect the elevator to be fully operational by the time the home is sold to a new family!

All spic n span, inside and out!

When I think of the transformation of this home (mansion) I can’t help but think of how the transformation by Jesus in our own lives is evident when we choose to become Followers of Jesus.  The Bible tells us that when we believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ our salvation is sealed; however, transformation from Fan to Follower is not a “once and done” deal.  Often our transformation means we must allow the Holy Spirit to “gut out” and replace certain things in our lives, such as unhealthy lifestyles, the entertainment we choose, sometimes even our jobs or relationships.  To maintain those changes we must surrender ourselves daily to prayer, Bible study, and to the will of God.  To neglect these things is to allow our lives to eventually deteriorate. But the good news is when we recognize and confess our state of disrepair (sin) to Jesus, he is faithful to forgive us and restore us from all unrighteousness!

And so my fellow ponderers, I offer these questions to you:
  • ·       What areas of my life do I need to allow Jesus to gut-out and renovate?
  • ·       Are there any renovated parts of my life that need to be cleaned up before they fall into disrepair?
  • ·       When others look at my life today as a Follower of Jesus, do others notice a difference from when I was only a Fan?

Dear God, we thank you that we can come to you just as we are yet you love us so much you do not want us to remain in our state of sin and disrepair forever.  Show us the rooms in our “homes” that need to be gutted out.  Ignite your Spirit within us that we may be constantly renewed as Followers of Christ.  Amen.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

... And the rest ...

(I've decided to pull out some blog posts from the archives ... this one is from July, 2006 ... )

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested  from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. - Genesis 2:1-3

God rested. I read this passage, and wondered, How does God rest? I asked a Really Good Friend this question. He told me, "God sits in his La-Z-Boy recliner with the remote control, and surfs through 1,000 channels and still can't find anything good to watch!"

hmm.... Man is created in the image and likeness of God ... but I was looking for an answer from the deeper end of the Think Tank...

Our lives can be hectic at times. Whenever I finish a task when I am at work, I take a moment to reflect upon what I did. These fleeting moments of rest are sometimes mini-celebrations. Usually, it's a very brief "Yet, that report is finished!" or "Woo-hoo, I have an empty folder!" And on Friday afternoon when the office door closes behind me, the celebration really starts!

While God was creating the world, he paused at the end of the day to reflect upon the goodness of what he had done. It was a time of to contemplate the satisfaction of a task completed. Then after he finished creating the universe, he made an entire day holy, a day of rest.

Rest is a paradox. It is an activity (a "do-ing" thing) in which we stop do-ing. When we "do" rest, or actively rest, we can just "be" with God.  And God gives us the thing we do -- "rest." Even in resting, we still are doing something. When we rest in God, we are doing what is pleasing to Him. That is when we experience the love, peace, joy, and comfort that comes from being in God's presence.  

In Jeremiah 6:16, we are told "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Jesus tells us, ""Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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). The Message translation refers to Jesus' invitation as "learning the unforced rythms of grace." Wow!

But going back to my original question. How does God rest? True, God never stops working in our lives or in the world around us. He never grows tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28), and does not need to stop to be rejuvenated.

Parents find a peaceful and joyful sense of rest when their child comes to them, cuddles in their arms and says "I love you" (without the follow-up question "Can I have ... "). I think in the same way, God rests when we go to him open-armed and empty-handed, with pure love, adoration, and devotion for him, and seek rest in his loving arms.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Last week we celebrated Christmas, and the coming of the Christ Child, the Savior promised by God to bring hope, joy, love and peace to the world.  Christmas often brings with it thoughts and images of family gatherings around a dinner table with turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and all sorts of other wonderful food.  All of the children can’t wait to show off their favorite gift that Santa left under the tree.  And all is right with the world, because everyone overflows with genuine love for each other, even love for the nerdy brother-in-law. 

There are many, many people who look forward Christmas as their favorite time of year.  But how many know someone whose tree was a little thin on the gifts this year?  Whose family gathering was tense because of strained relationships?  Whose dinner table had one less chair than previous years?  Or whose reality failed to meet what they expected Christmas ought to be?

The Bible passage of Isaiah 61:1-3 is a prophecy, a promise from God, that He will send someone to give us something better.  The “something better” – better than even the best Christmas you could have – is Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  In fact, the name “Christ” or “Messiah” means “Anointed One.”  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth he stood up in the synagogue, opened a scroll and read the words from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me. He has anointed me…” 

Anointed?  What’s that?  Well, in short, to be “anointed” means you are set apart and empowered by the Holy Spirit for a particular purpose for God and God’s kingdom. When we ordain and install deacons and elders we lay hands on them, and pray for God’s anointing on them, for His leading and guidance.  I am part of a team that organizes retreats and Christian camps in Southern California.  At our retreats when a speaker comes forward to deliver a message, the leaders also come forward to lay hands on him or her and ask for God’s anointing on the speaker and the message.  When God’s anointing is on the speaker, God gives him or her, the words to deeply touch the hearts of the people who are listening.   When we are aware of God’s anointing, the Holy Spirit takes what we’re doing and brings it to a higher level.  There is no gift better than Jesus' anointing our lives; our ministry; our church; our anointed calling in life.

Jesus Christ had the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord upon him like no one before, and like no one since  Let’s take a closer look at how the work that Jesus was anointed for, gives us something better in our lives: 

I. Jesus was Anointed for proclaiming the good news  A long-time friend of mine wrote a play about a character from the Old West.  After a couple of years of research and writing, he was finally able to publish it on Amazon a couple of months ago.  Great news, right?  I thought so too, when I heard it later from a mutual friend.  But as good as the news of this achievement was, it would have meant so much more to hear it from the author himself, wouldn’t you agree?
During the days of Isaiah when the prophecy was given, God’s people were living in exile, in a pattern of sin.  They had turned their backs on God, worshipping and placing their trust in false gods.  Their actions put a separation between them  and the God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into their own land.  Even in this separation, God still loved them and wanted to be in a relationship with His people, but not in their sinful state.  Who better to send than Jesus – God in the flesh – to give us the good news that through believing in him, and asking for and receiving forgiveness for our sins, we can have a life in fellowship with the God who loves us!  We do not have Jesus physically here on earth with us, but we have the next-best thing:  the Bible, God’s love letter to us.

II. Jesus was Anointed for helping the brokenhearted  Part of our nature as humans is to love and hope and dream. To do these things is to share our heart, and that takes trust – trust that your heart will be kept safe.  But we live in a broken world.  Relationships fail.  Hopes shatter.  Dreams lead to disappointment.  When that happens the result is a broken heart.  I don’t know about you, but when I’ve dealt with my own heartbreak, all I wanted to do was hide in a cave and not come out, because I don’t know who or what to trust any more.

As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
Because He was my friend.
But then instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How could you be so slow”
“My child,” He said, “What could I do?
You never did let go.”

Jesus wants to heal our hearts.  He tells us, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”  Trust involves letting go of our hurts, so we can receive the “something better” that God wants to give us.

III. Jesus was Anointed for helping those held captive become free  Captivity can come in many forms.  There are those who are held in prison, some for many years or even a life sentence.  Or captivity can be extended illness, restricting your ability to get out of your home.  Or it may be a metaphorical prison, such as living with guilt or shame.  One of the worst forms of captivity is because of circumstances you have absolutely no control over.

In 1985 Terry Anderson was the chief Mideast Correspondent, based in Lebanon, for the Associated Press.  On March 16 of that year, after finishing a tennis game, Anderson was kidnapped at gunpoint, placed in the trunk of a car, and taken to a secret location known only to his captors.  He was held hostage for nearly seven years.  For the first twenty-four days he was chained to his cot, blindfolded.  Imagine being kidnapped by – you don’t know who – and held – you don’t know where – chained and blindfolded for over three weeks, with just your thoughts, mostly of your family and whether you will see them again.  I don’t know about you, but I’d go literally crazy from that kind of agony!  Not long before his kidnapping, Terry Anderson was an agnostic who was beginning to seek God.  He pleaded for a Bible, not knowing what his Islamic captors would do. 

In an interview after some time after his release, Anderson says, “The next day, something thudded on my cot.  My chains were loosened; I sat up.  The blindfold was removed, but a blanket was put over my head so I couldn’t see anything but the book on my lap.  It was a Bible, (hold up a pew Bible) the Revised Standard Version, red cover.”  For the next seven years of his captivity, he scoured the Bible, book by book, page by page, reading it probably 50 times.  Each time he found something new to sustain him.  Although he was not physically free, Terry Anderson knew that through Jesus he had a freedom that nothing else could give him.

In John chapter 6 Jesus was giving some teaching that many followers found difficult, and many turned away and deserted him.  At that point, Jesus asked his disciples, “Are you also going to leave?”  Peter recognized Jesus offered something better.  He said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  We believe, and we know you are the Christ – the Anointed One – the Son of God.” 

IV. Anointed for proclaiming God's favor  We all have favorites.  A favorite movie – mine is “Finding Neverland”;  or a favorite time of year – Autumn!  A favorite pair of jeans … and it feels good to be someone’s favorite.  We might have a favorite actor, or pastor, or athlete … or favorite friend.  I actually have a t-shirt that says “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite!”

Now, God does not have favorites – he loves everyone the same.  But there are times where it sure feels like you’re the favorite.  I remember when I was looking to change jobs. I was told I was good at what I did, but I was not happy.  I was in a position and a career track where the next step would be a promotion.  In fact at that time I was invited to apply for positions that would be a step up.  After much prayer and input from many people who knew me well, I knew that was not the course God wanted me to take.  I decided to find a position that was a step backward.  It was not an easy decision.  Besides the step down in income, I was also concerned with what people might say about me taking a demotion as “something better.”  But you know what?  I felt like I was really God’s favorite – Opportunities came up at the perfect time, for the perfect job, for the perfect office, and no one questioned why I was taking the step back.  In fact, there were many coworkers who told me they admired me for doing it! 

I believe that a big part of why I felt so favored was because I was seeking the Lord’s guidance every step of the way.  But God’s favor isn’t only for when we make big decisions.  It’s in the everyday stuff as well.  When someone favors you, they do things for you and give you special privileges they don’t give to anyone else.  In Matthew 6, Jesus invites us to look at God’s provision and beauty in the world around us.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  “See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?”  God favors us so much that he offers us something he does not offer any other beings, including Satan and the angels that rebelled with him.  He offers us salvation through Jesus Christ, even when we turned our backs on him.  For when we were still sinners, Christ died --- for US!  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  God favors us so much, he wants us to spend eternity with him in heaven!

V. Anointed for comforting those who mourn  
We all remember the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut just two weeks ago.   To the town of Newtown this was their 9-11.  As a nation our hearts broke for the victims and their families, and for the innocence lost.  As we struggle to make sense of it all, some might ask, “Where is God?” 

When Lazarus died and Jesus arrived days later, Lazarus’ sister Mary fell at his feet, weeping. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  Jesus wept too. 

In times of loss, we do often question “why.”  Just as important – probably even more important – than answers is just having someone who will come beside you, put their arm around you, and allow you to simply grieve.  Did you know that God keeps track of our sorrows? That our very tears are so important to God that he keeps them in a bottle in heaven?  Psalm 34 tells us, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  God is right here, right with us, in the midst.  When our heart breaks, God’s heart breaks just as much, or even more. 

But death is not the end.  Jesus told Martha and Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Do you believe?  There are two possible answers.  Yes, or No.  A “no” answer leaves a sense of lostness, helplessness, hopelessness.  Their beloved is gone – and there are no words to comfort the ones left behind.

Yet, for those who do believe, for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, there is cause for much gladness and joy. Because of Christ we have the hope – no, the promise! – that we will see our cherished ones again.   He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Jesus gives us something better.  A better life as we speak of His good news.  A better life as we help the brokenhearted.  A better life to help those who are captive become free.  A better life to experience God's favor and share it with others.  A better life as we comfort those who mourn. Christ anoints us to do all this!!