I Got Nothin”

Twirling a pen in my hand I just sat there. I stared at the card in front of me, waiting for an idea, for something, anything, to say. A few words popped into my brain but they seemed trite and shallow. So I sat there, staring at the card waiting for the right words but I got nothin’.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to sign way too many greeting cards. Generally I like choosing and signing cards but this most recent batch were all for the unhappy occasions of life: Get Well, Thinking of You, and the saddest, With Sympathy.

What is there to say when the news is bad/sad? When you know the person receiving the card is struggling and in pain, physically, emotionally or both? What do you say when the person is standing in front of you with tears in their eyes?

Other peoples pain can take us by surprise, leaving us at a loss for words, uncertain how to acknowledge their sorrow, how to support, not knowing what to say or do. My heart hurts for the other person and I have that sinking feeling of frustration; that any words I might say trivialize their pain. There are times when silence is best, a hug, a comforting touch might be all that is needed and wanted but there has to be some verbal or written response, some words of understanding, some acknowledgement…

In the midst of pain our hearts cry out for comfort, for an answer or reason, for hope that the pain serves some purpose and that life is not meaningless. I always pause; I don’t want to say or write anything stupid and I don’t want to make the situation worse. I want to be sincere and genuine; I can’t know exactly how the other person feels but I do know what it feels like to lose someone, to be afraid, to worry. I want my few words to be comforting, positive and hopeful.

The Bible has a lot to say about pain and suffering. Jesus is described as a man of sorrows; He knows what if feels like to be lonely, rejected, mocked and tortured. Many of the psalms are vivid descriptions of the authors’ fears, despair and pain. Many of those who wrote and are written about in the Bible experienced great loss and prolonged suffering.

Through all of the sorrow and challenge in the Bible runs a long and unbroken thread of hope; the hope of a better life, of an eternal home, of a promised Messiah, of blessing, of purpose. The hope spoken of and demonstrated in familiar Bible stories is not just a vague wish but also the absolute certainty that God has permitted every experience, good and bad. It is a sure hope for those who trust Him and believe in Jesus that God has a plan and His plan is for our good.

But, sometimes God’s Word is not welcomed or wanted and even openly opposed. It makes me profoundly sad that His words of comfort and strength cannot be shared and that is why it has been so difficult to sign the cards, to say the words. All the “acceptable” words, the “politically correct” words (whatever those are) have no real meaning or substance and everything the world offers is only temporary.

When I cannot share the hope of heaven, the love of God, His plan, His comfort, His peace, His presence, His eternal and greater purpose there truly is no meaningful hope I can offer, no words of lasting comfort.   Apart from God, from Jesus and His Word,

I got nothin’…

 

Whom have I in heaven but you and besides you I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25, 26

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bursting the Bubble

Bubble – noun –anything lacking firmness, substance or permanence; an illusion or delusion.

Every day we get reminders our world is a dangerous place. Home invasions, car jacking’s, terrorist bombs are tragic and terrifying daily occurrences. Bomb sniffing dogs, home alarm systems, gates, fences, and security guards are in place to feed our cherished illusion of safety and security. We are shocked when these “foolproof” systems fail and rush to blame someone/thing/agency. Some of our safety nets are more ordinary and seem justifiable; investing for retirement, eating the right foods, not eating the “wrong” things, endless warning labels.

For three years Jesus had traveled, taught and lived in close and constant contact with his 12 disciples. He had told them His time with them was short; He knew He was hours away from betrayal and a horrific public death yet they still just did not get it (Luke 22:24 – 38). They continued to think Jesus was going to be a glorious and majestic King who would deliver the nation of Israel from Rome’s oppressive rule; their bubble was about to burst.

So they argue about which of them was regarded as the greatest (v24). Don’t you just love how easy it is to relate to these men? How quickly the “self” and pride rears it’s ugly head? We hear about a co-workers promotion and, to our shame, our very first thought is, “Oh but I work just as hard/harder than they do!”

Peter, the disciple most likely to put his foot in his mouth, boldly declares that he is ready to follow Jesus to prison and death (v33) but Jesus knows his weakness and, very soon, Peter will know it too. God allows trials and testing to burst our bubble of self-confidence, independence and strength; to reveal our desperate need to depend on Him and to increase our faith.

Jesus reminds Peter (v35) of the time He had sent him out into the world with nothing yet, Peter was taken care of; Jesus kept the twelve close, in a bubble of protection and provision, they did not fully understand all He had told them and were ignorant of the future. That is all about to change.

The disciples point out the two swords they have in their possession and Jesus ends the discussion abruptly, “It is enough.” (v38)

What is “enough”? The swords? No way can two swords deter the well-trained and armed Roman soldiers. Talking? Was Jesus angry at their thick heads and foolishness, tired of explanations? I don’t think so. As I read this story again it struck me in a new way.

Jesus death and resurrection burst the bubble of safety; the veil was torn and access to the most holy place was exposed for all to see. The torn veil, truth exposed, means the moment of decision is at hand and each person must choose to accept or reject Jesus. The disciples were about to be sent out into their world to pour out all that Jesus had poured into them for the past years.

Like these men, we can choose; we can stay within our safety bubble or pick up our weapons, step out in faith and follow Jesus.

We delude ourselves by thinking earthly and man-made systems, walls and fences, big bank accounts and airport scanners keep us safe and secure.   We often live as if doing the “right thing” (whatever THAT is) gives us a guarantee and complete protection. The bubble of people-pleasing safety, of shortsighted living, of trusting emotions instead of truth, of trusting myself is the greatest illusion.

Jesus’ abrupt “enough” is His instruction to take my great treasure (Jesus Himself) and invest my time and energy in the only real security and safety; my guaranteed eternity in heaven.  My weapons (the Word and the Spirit) will sustain the life of faith I am called to live and tools I can and should share with anyone and everyone.

“Enough” is my daily challenge. Oh Lord, show me how to live a life that demonstrates my belief that You are enough. Keep my heart and mind focused only on You!

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3

 

Keep it Light

DISSIPATION
noun
1.the act of dissipating.
2.the state of being dissipated; dispersion; disintegration.
3.a wasting by misuse: the dissipation of a fortune.
4.mental distraction; amusement; diversion.
5.dissolute way of living, especially excessive drinking of liquor;intemperance.
6.Physics, Mechanics. a process in which energy is used or lost without accomplishing useful work, as friction causing loss of mechanical energy.
If you knew a major storm was coming, what would be your words of warning and advice to your family and close friends?  Probably, you would give them some practical suggestions; store some food and water, gas up your car, maybe consider evacuating to safety.  Jesus, in Luke Chapter 21,  informs the disciples that devastating destruction is coming, He issues a storm warning.

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;”  Luke 21:34

Jesus warning to all His disciples is to prepare, to be on guard and alert, to live expectantly.  But His concern is not for the practical, the material, but for the heart…always the heart…

  • Not weighted down with dissipation – keep your heart from wasting itself on things that do not matter.  God created a wonderful world and He wants us to enjoy it but when fun becomes our priority we are left empty.
  • and drunkenness – avoid over-indulgence in anything and everything that replaces God in our affections.  Jesus is referring directly to becoming drunk on alcohol but we can become addicted to anything: shopping, TV, food, etc.
  • and the worries of life – when a heart is full of worry it is full of pain, unable to function well.  Life has many problems and challenges but God does not want us to worry ; He want us to trust Him in and for everything  (Matthew 6:25-34).

I love how Jesus groups these three “problem children” together – dissipation, drunkenness, and worry.  All result in wasted time, energy and effort.  Like a gerbil in a wheel, spinning at top speed, going nowhere. The only way to keep going is to go faster but it is a waste.  The combination of dissipation, drunkenness, and worry are like heavy rocks that we carry with us everywhere.  These burdens consume our energy and thoughts and become the focus of our lives.  We are so busy carrying the “rocks” we don’t pay attention to anything or anyone else.  Our hearts are dragged down, damaged and crushed by the weight…

Jesus’ storm warning causes me to look into my heart.  How much time do I waste in a day?  Time is NOT a renewable resource!  Is my energy focused on indulging myself or does it flow outward to others.  How do I “spend” my time and energy?  Am I more focused on people or on myself and things?  Does what I am doing bring me closer to God of pull me away from Him?  Worry, is the worst of the three in some ways.  It is so easy to convince ourselves that with all that is going on in the world, we should be worried.  There are so many terrible things that can happen, we feel like worry makes sense, right?  WRONG!  My worry always indicates my lack of trust in God’s plan, purpose and care in my life.  Worry is a gigantic weight around my neck that hurts my back, makes my heart work too hard, and paralyzes me, causing me to be useless and ineffective.   Worst of all, worry is a sign of unbelief…

Oh Lord, help me keep you first in my heart.  There is no substitute for you, anything but you is a shadow.  Help me to properly balance work, rest and the enjoyment of the life you have graciously given me.  Help me trust you and keep my mind at peace.  Keep me light-hearted…

 

Too Many Lemons

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” 

Bah, Humbug!

We all know disappointments are one of life’s unpleasant certainties.  There are times things just do not work out the way we hoped or planned, sometimes it WILL rain on your parade.  People disappoint us, they don’t meet our expectations, they don’t keep commitments, they leave.  We can disappoint ourselves when we fail, when we hurt someone we care about, when we give up, again…

I hate that saying about lemonade out of lemons.  There are times you simply cannot make lemonade out of a bitter disappointment so what can you do when your heart is breaking and your spirit is crushed by disappointment?

Run to God – when Jesus finally arrives after Lazarus was already entombed, Martha goes out to Him immediately, she expresses her disappointment vehemently and asks Jesus to make it right.  God knows everything that is happening and He has allowed the situation; get honest with Him, pour out your disappointment to Him, ask Him for what you want.

Rest – God performs an amazing miracle through Elijah yet Elijah runs and hides when he hears that Jezebel wants him dead.  Full of despair and disappointment, Elijah asks God to let him die.  The Lord provides food, shade and time of rest and recuperation for him.  I have a tendency to try to work around disappointments, my mind spins as I attempt to figure out some alternate plan.  I’m learning to wait on God; He never sleeps and is ever active in my life.  His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts.  He has plans I know nothing about and it is much bigger than me.  I need to let His plan unfold; to stop trying to manipulate my solution and wait on His, trusting that it is for my good and His glory.

Remain – during His most desperate hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus closest disciples fell asleep as He pleaded with the Father.  You can hear the disappointment in His voice when He confronts them about their inability to stay awake even for a single hour.  Abandoned by those He trusted most, Jesus remains.  He knows what He must do, He knows He will face it alone.  Ultimately, even if we have friends and supporters to encourage us when disappointments come, we face them alone..

Resolve – Jesus looked into the eyes of His betrayer, Judas and, just hours after His arrest, He looks into Peter’s eyes as Peter denies knowing Him.  Jesus never wavered in His love for those who betrayed and denied Him.  My resolve to forgive, to lovingly confront and to continue to love those who disappoint me has to come from God.  My flesh screams for justice, for fairness and, even, to inflict hurt in return.  God wants to change the way I think so His light can shine through my tears as I become more like Jesus.

And that is ultimate end of disappointment, choosing to remain, to face it alone, to put one foot in front of the other and walk through it when my heart is breaking.   Disappointments may crush me for a time but God always gives me the resolve to see them as delays not devastation, as a change in plan, a chance to try a new plan.  Some big disappointments have turned out to be the best thing ever.  God shows me the depth of my own sinfulness when my disappointment is a result of someone else’s actions – I have to confess, I have been a Peter.  Disappointments remind me that I am totally dependent on God, He will never disappointment me I and need to stay on His path wherever and however it may lead.

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  Sometimes that is true but not all the time.  Sometimes I’m in the mood to make a chocolate shake!

 

 

 

 

My Two Cents

Ever been inside a large, crowded casino? It is an assault on the senses – colors, people and noise. Slot machines dominate with music, bells, beeps and the sound of coins. Coins dropping into the trays below with every win – over and over and over…

Jesus is in the temple of Jerusalem (Luke 20), teaching and preaching the gospel to the people. The temple would have been very crowded; it was days before the Passover, the highest holy day for Jews, many would have made the journey to the city to remember God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage with the Passover meal.

Jesus must be been in the Court of the Women, off to the side is the Temple Treasury. History records that the Temple Treasury was an area set apart to receive offerings. There were thirteen boxes set around the walls and each box had a large, trumpet-like opening; the faithful would put their coins into these trumpets. In my mind it must have sounded a lot like a casino floor minus the beeps and bells.   In the midst of all this noise, the press of people, Jesus notices a single woman (Luke 21).

A poor widow who puts her two tiny coins into the opening and walks away. The tiny tinkle made by her little coins was probably lost in the cacophony of the larger and more numerous coins of other givers yet Jesus sees and hears her. If the story ended right at that moment it would be enough for me because this incident is one of those that makes me love Jesus. Women in Jesus’ day were looked down upon, men did not speak or even look at women in public, they were on the edge of society but Jesus changed that – He spoke to women, He looked them in the eye, He treated women with respect and honor – I love this about Jesus!

Jesus also observed the rich putting their coins; He was watching HOW they gave. Many of them made a big show of their generosity; they wanted to be noticed and to be known as big givers. Jesus had just warned His disciples about these religious phonies who wanted the admiration of the people but “devoured” widows by taking advantage of their desperation.

Jesus commends the widow, not for the AMOUNT of her gift, but for it’s COST. Those two tiny coins were all she had to give and it cost her everything to give them. She gives in obedience and out of love, not seeking any notice or reward.  She had to work her way through the crowd to put her coins in, being jostled, and possibly scorned or mocked as she pushed up to the trumpet.

The widow’s gift causes me to examine my own heart towards giving. What is my true motivation for giving?  Do I only give when it is easy/comfortable? Do I give with a poor or begrudging attitude?   Is my gift for “show”, because I have to or because I want to.  Slot machines no longer accept or pay out in actual coins.  When you collect your winnings a paper receipt prints out which you can use in another machine or redeem for cash.  As the receipt is printing you hear the sound of coins dropping into a tray – it is an illusion, a sham.  Jesus saw what was phony, He saw what was real – Oh God, help me be real…

Search me, O 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…Psalm 139:23

 

When Your World Quakes…

Before…

Routine keeps me on time, on task, nothing forgotten.  Mental to-do list of who, what, where, when and how.  Small warning signs of trouble may be ignored but this time, God was speaking, preparing for the test and trial.  I knew something was coming, I did not know what.  Easy to praise the Lord when life is going according to my plan but much too easy to coast and think, “I got this…”

During…

The major interruption.  The unexpected, unplanned, unanticipated event; not on my schedule.  All routine out the window, calendar useless, reminders, lists, obligations, email alerts all ignored.

The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. Psalm 18:4, 5

Trying to breathe, to remain calm, to put two coherent thoughts together.  Who to call/text?  There is one, the One who is above all others.  In these moments, I can only fall at His feet.  Heart pounding, I open His Word…

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. … In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple,
and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.Psalm 18:1 – 3, 6

This enemy is bigger than any ever imagined and foundations are cracking, rendered powerless, without knowledge, adrift without a schedule or plan to follow.  Refusing to dwell on what might happen, what could happen, what is the worst that could happen; choosing to focus on the One Who gave His permission for this trial, this test.

Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, … He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. Psalm 18:7, 9 – 10

God rushes in, He allows every earthquake to accomplish His purposes and He stands at the epicenter with His arms wide.  He gives strength to bear my burden, He sends Aarons and Hurs to keep my arms strong and heart lifted to Him.

He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. Psalm 18:16 – 19

The quake was strong, intense and thankfully short.  There were aftershocks that occurred without warning; they were accompanied by shortness of breath, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and ability to focus, a constant sense of anxiety.  God, His character, His Word, His Truth needed to be repeated, often, and deeply planted to recognize and reject the lies, to slow the breathing, to quiet the mind.

As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped. Psalm 18:30 – 36

After…

Back on schedule with minor, manageable, interruptions; they are welcome after all the rocking and rolling.  God chose to deliver and give what was requested, He was gracious and merciful to me.  Ultimately He gave the one thing He always and consistently gives, His gave according to His will and purpose.  Would I be praising the Lord as much if my request did not agree with His will?  Difficult to say, I like to think I would and I know I would trust Him to lead me through whatever He allows and I know there will always be another quake. Lord, help me continue to sing…

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of my salvation, … He delivers me from my enemies; surely You lift me above those who rise up against me..Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to Your name. Psalm 46 – 49

What’s That Smell?

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?  For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 17

Sometimes when I am reading I wonder why the author wrote what he/she wrote?  I just wish I could ask the author to clarify what I am reading so I can understand it better; to explain to me what the words on the page mean and what difference they should make in my life.   God, who inspired men to write the Bible has given that gift to His children.  As I read The Word I can have an immediate, on-going dialogue with the author, God, as I reading – no other book, no other author can do that, no other book or author even invites that ceaseless conversation.

So, when given the assignment to read and pray through the verses above from 2 Corinthians, I knew I had some questions that I needed God to answer:

  • How do I “manifest the sweet aroma of Him in every place”?
  • How do I become “the fragrance of Christ”?
  • Or in simpler terms – How can I smell like Jesus to everyone, everywhere, all the time?

Aromatherapy is not a new thing but for some reason using essential oils for theraputic purposes seems to be enjoying renewed popularity among many women I know so I started to think about how these oils are made.  Most of them are made by pressing or crushing organic materials to extract the fragrant oil they contain; sometimes heat is applied to release the fragrance; the resulting essential oil has a powerful and pervasive smell.  The oil is not released on it’s own; the perfumer applies the pressure and must know when and how to apply the correct pressure. God was showing me that crushing is required and the original material will be destoyed but the result is a sweet aroma.

God kept answering my questions by reminding me that pleasant fragrances are attractive, they make me want more, they can be comforting and soothing. Fragrance has the power to bring back memories and the sense of smell is more effective than any other senses in bringing back past experiences.  An aroma is invisible, like a breeze it moves through unseen but if not refreshed somehow it can become stale or lose strength.

Then God said, “Turn here…”

Therefore, thus says the Lord,
“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesman. Jeremiah 15:19

Here was another part of my answer.  I need to allow God to transform me into a new person by changing the way I think (Romans 12:2). God will separate the precious from the worthless as I am “crushed”, purified and refined.  My part is to return to Him, read His Word, talk to Him about His Word and ask Him to seal His Word in my mind and heart.  God is the master perfumer, as He is applying pressure, the fragrance of Christ will be released and I will be able to “manifest the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ” as Jesus flows through me and I speak and act like Him, becoming His spokeswoman.

Those who catch a whiff of my “Jesus fragrance” will have one of two responses; they will be offended because it smells like death and judgment to them or they will be delighted because they recognize the smell of life.  But the way my fragrance is perceived by others is not up to me because it is not me pouring it out but Jesus!  I am completely free to stand and allow my sweet aroma to flow everywhere I go and to breathe it back in again.  Any time my scent weakens He will restore it to full strength!

God gives me a choice, will I turn to Him and trust Him to extract the sweet aroma of Christ His way or will I continue to go my own, unscented or worse, malodorous, way.

Or in simpler terms – my fragrance can either be sweet and proclaim Christ or it can stink things up!

What’s that smell?  JESUS!  Yeah – ain’t it sweet!

Back At It!

One thing about life that I know for certain is that nothing is certain!  Life suddenly got crazy busy and I found that there was little time and no energy for writing or reading and commenting on others’ blogs but, happy to say, I’m back…

Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?  Lamentations 3:37

One of the most challenging truths of the Christian life is knowing that nothing happens without God’s permission.  The good, the bad, the ugly, the bitter and the sweet – any and all of it, God allows in our lives.

You probably know the story of Job; he is the supreme example of a man whom God allowed to be tested and tried with every possible calamity.  A man upright and blameless, God permits Satan to test him.  First, much of Job’s livestock is stolen and the rest burned; the raiders kill all but one of the servants responsible for watching and caring for the herds of oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels.  Next, Job’s seven sons and three daughters die when a windstorm causes the collapse of the house where they were having dinner. Job is then afflicted with sores over his entire body and his wife, in her grief, tells Job to curse God and die – being dead has got to be better than being in this mess!

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  Job 2:10

And that is the key, we believe the lie and the liar who whispers that a God who is really good would never allow trouble, grief, struggles or pain into our lives.  The same liar that persuaded Eve to bite the fruit tries to convince us that a “little” sin is ok because God does not want us to be “unhappy”.

Now don’t miss this, over and over the Bible gives examples of people pleading with God to relieve their pain and suffering and God answers; much of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to healing.  Job honestly poured his heart out to God and asked Him more than once why he had even been born.  God knows it all, there is no point in holding anything back from Him so pray for your difficult circumstances to change and remember that God may want to change you.

I know God has allowed me to learn more about myself during trials than at any other times.  I have learned how dependent I am on Him, how weak I am, how much pride is hidden in my heart.  Adversity has shown me my strength, helped me understand His grace, and developed my faith in Him.  Pressing through adversity with acceptance brings Him glory.

Yep, the past few weeks have been busier than usual with a lot of things, many of them really great and memorable; all of them an opportunity to witness God’s goodness all the time.  Thanks God, for ALL of it!

Dead Man Walking – Luke 8

Have you ever eaten those frozen pot pies?  I have not eaten one in years but I used to love the chicken ones.  One of my early cooking attempts was baking a couple of them for an easy summer dinner for the family.  I had put a few of them on a cookie sheet and anxiously waited for them to finish baking.  As I took them out of the oven my hand brushed the pan.  I recoiled and dropped the pot pies, spilling them on the door of the oven and the floor, the pies exploded.  The contents hit my bare legs (I had shorts on) and it felt like hot lava. I screamed and jumped back – too late.  I had second and third degree burns on my upper left thigh.  For a long time I was afraid to use the oven.

Jesus has just calmed the storm in Luke 8 and in verse 26, Jesus and his disciples are back in the boat.  I can tell you that after being in those waves and wind the last thing I would have wanted to do was get back into the boat but that is not Jesus.  He goes where and when His father tells Him and the safest place to be is with Jesus.  They land in the Gadara (or Gerasene depending on your translation) and meet a demon possessed man.  Jesus does not seem surprised or dismayed by this man or his appearance – Jesus knows what is going on with him; He knows what is going on with me.

Luke 8 and Mark 5 taken together paint a picture of a man who was seemed more inhuman than human.  The man was naked and incredibly strong, he had been bound with chains but they could not hold or subdue him.  He was scarred and bleeding; he cut himself with sharp stones.  He screamed constantly.  He lived in the tombs among the dead bodies.  There is no record of how long he suffered in this condition but I picture his filthy, matted hair and beard and the nearly visible stench of his unwashed body and of death.  I would have recoiled and fled in terror. Jesus strides in; this is the fearless, warrior Jesus who has come to fight for this lost man, the Jesus who will come back to fight for His bride, who fights for me.

The demons possessing the man cry out when they see and recognize Jesus and they call Him by name, Jesus, Son of the Most High God.  These evil creatures know who He is yet how many in that day, how many today, still do not recognize Him, refuse to recognize Him.  Someday every knee will bow as they recognize Him when He comes again in glory and power.  The demons would rather be sent into some nearby pigs than sent into the abyss, the place of eternal torment.  It is sad to hear some today claim that they are not afraid of hell, that they prefer hell to heaven; these demons know what that really means, they understood the seriousness and the finality of eternal separation from God.

The herdsman run away, full of fear.  The townspeople come to investigate and ask Jesus to leave.  What are they all afraid of? Losing the pigs and the income they represented?  Are they afraid of change?  A genuine encounter with Jesus will cause a change and some are more focused on what they may have to give up than on what they might gain by yielding to Christ; fear holds many back but perfect love casts out fear and Jesus love is so perfect!  So Jesus leaves, He will not stay where He is not wanted.

The man, now dressed and in his right mind, begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus instructs him to go back to his home, to tell of the great things Jesus had done.  I am so glad this story is recorded for us.  Once upon a time, I was one of the walking dead. I was afraid that if I trusted Jesus I might lose out on the fun of life; I worried about what I might have to give up.   I was in chains and full of scars, now I am free in Christ, He broke the chains, He bears my scars.  All around me are dead men, and women, but they don’t know that apart from Christ they are dead.  Jesus came intentionally to the demon possessed man of Gadara to heal his mind, his tortured spirit, to set him free.  Jesus comes today to heal and free the captives, to bring those walking in eternal death to eternal life.  Only Jesus can do this, only Jesus…

Nothing Test

“i’m starving!”, you say when you walk in the door at the end of a long day at work or school.  Are you really starving?  Did you eat at all today?  Probably, but maybe not.  Did you eat yesterday?  Very likely.  The “I’m starving” complaint is quickly followed by it’s annoying companion, “There’s nothing to eat in this house.”  This is most often uttered in front of the wide-open refrigerator.  Are your shelves and fridge completely and totally bare?  Probably not but, possibly.  Is there breakfast cereal, some almost out of date milk? Then there is food to eat in your house, it’s just not the food you want to eat!

Hunger by choice or circumstance is a very real problem everywhere but for most of us in present day America, food is always available for purchase or can be found for free/low-cost.  We are told regularly and often the average American is eating too much and obesity is considered by many to be a serious health issue.

Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. Ruth 1:1

Famine is a devastating, extreme and wide-spread shortage of food.  There has never been a famine in America.  Gratefully, most of us don’t have any idea what it means to be truly starving.  In a time of famine, the cupboards are literally bare.  There is no food of any kind available to anyone for any price. Famine drives people to extreme lengths to obtain food for themselves and their children.

This famine drives a man, Elimelech, to leave Bethlehem with his wife and two sons and travel to the land of Moab.  Elimelech chose Moab, and while there, he dies, leaving his wife Naomi a widow.  His sons marry Moabite women and then, the sons die. Naomi is bereft of her two children and her husband.  Naomi, hearing that there is food in Bethlehem decides to return home alone.  Her two daughters in law insist on going with her and Naomi urges them to stay in their own land with their own people; one daughter in law agrees but the other, Ruth, refuses to be parted from Naomi.  The two women, mother in law and daughter in law travel to Bethlehem.  Naomi is so crushed in spirit, she now insists on being called ‘Mara’, which means, bitter.

Even in a time of famine and loss, there is blessing.  Naomi/Mara refused to see the blessing of her faithful daughter in law, Ruth who traveled with her, leaving her own people and culture behind.

When you are completely empty it makes logical sense to go somewhere, anywhere, to get full. God allowed the famine into their lives and he allows famine to overtake us.  Maybe your famine is the loss of a loved one, loneliness and sadness is crushing your soul. Perhaps you are experiencing a famine of work, you need a job desperately.  You just don’t feel connected to God, your prayers seem to go unanswered, a time of spiritual famine.  Whatever your present famine, be careful  where or who you go to fill yourself up.  Many things and people promise fullness and don’t deliver.  Elimelech chose Moab, a land of idolatry, it is much easier to turn to the world and things of the world in a time of famine, don’t turn to an idol, turn to God.

God will sometimes strip us of everything, allow the famine to test us.  What will we do when we have nothing left?  Will we turn to Him, depend on Him or look to the world or our own resources to “get us through”?  Trials are an opportunity and we have the choice to become ‘mara’/bitter or better.  Unlike Ruth and Naomi, who had no idea if or how things would work out, we know the outcome of their story.  The famine they experienced was not a coincidence and if you are in a time of famine, of being stripped to nothing, this is not a coincidence for you either.

Moving to Florida was, for me, a small famine.  I was stripped (by choice) of familiar people, places and things.  It forced me to look to God for comfort, strength and peace.  God was getting ready to do something amazing for them and through them. God has given my many new friends, a job and now I can find my way around pretty well in my new neighborhood.  God had a plan and a purpose in their famine and bitterness and He has a plan and purpose for me and you in our “test of having nothing”.  Naomi and Ruth did not see it – we rarely do – but God calls us to keep moving, take the next step and to rely on Him – it’s called Trust!