Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jesus Saves

The other night I had a hard time falling asleep. I stayed up later than normal, reading, and when I finally crawled under the covers and turned out the light I couldn't fall asleep. I tossed and turned for a long time as thoughts rolled around my head. I was thinking about Fritz, remembering the night of the calling hours, the funeral, standing at the front of the room greeting friends and family who came to see us. Crying with some, laughing with a few. I was thinking about our neighbor Skip. I was shocked to learn that he died of a heart attack in his sleep a few days earlier. The girls have been friends with his daughter for years, and I would frequently stop and talk with Skip when I was out walking the dog. We would always talk about God. The girls and I felt like we should show them our support by going to the calling hours. It was hard. As soon as we pulled into the funeral home I was fighting to hold back the tears. Same funeral home. Same gentlemen at the door. Same room where Fritz had been. I was frozen. I felt like I couldn't move to walk up the aisle, to stand in front of the casket and to greet his wife and daughter. Everything came flooding back to me as if I had been transported through time and I was back where we were six months ago. The thoughts and memories tossed and turned in my mind as I tossed and turned in my bed that night.
Skip never spoke as if he thought of himself as a Christian but he always had lots of questions and seemed to like talking about God with me. I enjoyed talking with him as well but knew the worst thing I could do was to say something that caused him to walk away from God instead of to God. I wanted Skip to know that God loves him and that He saves His people.
A few months ago Pastor Daniel was teaching from the book of Romans. Romans chapter eight. One Sunday I fervently scribbled notes about 'no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.' Rom. 8:1. Skip is so hard on himself. He would mention that he is doing better than he used to but he would slip back into his old ways. Skip is really intense. Highly emotional. But he had such a compassionate, tender heart for those he loved. I would tell him that God is gracious and extends His love to all. (Sometimes we find ourselves in the most unexpected circumstances when we realize we are right where God wants us in order to use us.)
As I listened to the sermon that Sunday and scribbled my notes as fast as I could, my mind kept going back to the conversation I had with Skip the day before. We stood talking for a long time. I came home from church and took out a notecard and began re-writing my notes from the sermon in a letter to Skip. God had put Skip on my mind that day and I knew if I did not immediately obey....I would disobey. I tucked the note I had written about our freedom in Christ and tucked it into a Lifepoint Church bible to give to him. I just wanted him to know that if he indeed is in Christ, then he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. And there is no condemnation. I leashed up the dog and started out walking  towards his house. That afternoon the neighborhood was quiet, no one to talk to. So I decided to stick the note and the bible in his mailbox. As I walked away I wondered when I would see him again and talk some more. I never did.
As I lay there trying to sleep the other night I was praying for Skip's wife and daughters that God will fill their lives with the peace of knowing Him, the God who saves His people. I was also thinking about my friend Sue. She is battling cancer for the second time. I pray that God will do a miracle in her body and save her. Afterall, that is God's specialty, saving His people. That is exactly what His name Jehovah Y'shua means. God who is saving His people. You could translate it to say, Jesus saves. Romans chapter eight teaches us that He doesn't always save people from disease or heart attack, but he saves people from sin, a life of eternal separation from Him. He doesn't always save people from the death of the body, but he does save people from the sinful nature which leads to the death of our spirit. The sinful nature is in each of us from the time we were born. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. The sinful nature is hostile to God and does not submit to God. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. In this hope we are saved.
We are saved by placing our hope in Jesus. Jesus who saves. Jesus saves. Y'shua is the God who is saving His people. He saves us because He loves us! Neither death nor life, not angels or demons, the present nor the future, nor any powers. Not height or depth or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He promises life and peace.
As I tossed and turned these thoughts in my mind that night I thanked God that He is saving Fritz, and Skip, and my friend Sue, and me and you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Embracing the New Year

The Christmas tree was dragged into the woods leaving a thick trail of needles on the floor behind. Boxes of lights and ornaments have been pushed far back into the closet under the stairs. The fireplace is now bare, stripped of the colorful cards that have adorned it for weeks. Dick Clark looks and sounds as if he is plastic, dressed in a tuxedo, spray tanned and propped up in the midst of Time Square. The confetti went up and the ball came down at midnight. Right on schedule. Christmas is gone. The new year is here. I am faced with finding and embracing a new season. A new life. The wonder and magic of Christmas, the peace and joy of times spent with family, the hope of seeing the ones you love are now fading into last year. I don't feel happy.
I must walk into my new year, my new life.
I have been studying the life of Abraham with the ladies in my bible study group. On the morning of Christmas eve I was reading and praying when God spoke very clearly to me. I had been thinking about the long journey Abraham had been on. He started out in Mesopotamia, the land of Ur which is where modern day Iraq is located. After God told him He wanted him to go to a place he did not yet know, he left Ur and traveled to Haran (modern day Turkey) and then headed south to Canaan (the land that would become Israel). Because of a famine in the land, he continued further and went to Egypt. After a long stay in Egypt, he turned around and went back to Canaan where God came to him in a vision. God promised to give the land to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham had arrived at his destination. Not once, but twice. Traveling with his wife, Sarai and his nephew, Lot and all their possessions, over thousands of miles he had finally reached his destination. Setting out to obey a God he did not know, he learned to follow through his disobedience as much as his obedience. The  traveled on donkeys and camels, through deserts and mountains, for years looking for a place they did not know. Where did they sleep at night? What did they eat? What kept them from being food for the jackals at night? Where was God and why was it so difficult to know where he wanted them to go and what he wanted them to do? They had no children of their own. Their nephew, Lot was an orphan. They had no place to go and they didn't know where they were supposed to be heading. They only knew one thing, that God had said 'go to a place I will show you', so they went looking. When they arrived in Canaan the second time, after taking a side trip to Egypt which was the result of disobedience and not fully trusting in God they had acquired much livestock and many possessions. Abram and Lot felt it was necessary to go their separate ways so they would each have enough space for their flocks and herds. By this time Abraham and Sarai were old, well passed childbearing age. God came to Abraham in a vision at night and promised that not only would the land belong to him but that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This was unbelievable. Outrageous. But Abraham believed Him.
In all the years that had passed while on this journey, Abraham had been getting to know God. As God revealed Himself to Abraham, he began to understand God's character, first as the creator God, then as the provider and protector. Abraham began to worship God as his understanding deepened. He built and altar and called on His Name. As Abraham called on the Name of the Lord his heart was strengthened and his faith grew. He had not always been obedient, but he learned from each mistake and continued on his journey with God. He came to know God's sovereignty and called on Him as The Most High God. He recognized that God is the possessor of heaven and earth. He also came to understand that God is the One who could rescue him from his enemies and give victory in battle. When Abraham and his men went to rescue Lot from the hand of the enemy, God was his shield and his reward.
As Abraham stood with God under the stars that night, Abraham knew he had arrived at a new place in the journey. God had big plans for him. Even though the road had been long, and the journey hard, Abraham knew it was God who had been with him along the way to strengthen and help him. He was ready to embrace the new life God had for him.
'He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Gen. 15:6
He believed God for descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. He believed Him for the land, as far as he could see; to the north, the south, east and west. He believed God for a new life. A new beginning. A new year.
On Christmas eve morning I was pondering all that I had learned about Abraham. I began praying, telling God that I wanted to believe Him like Abraham did. My journey has been long and hard, like yours I'm sure, and like Abraham's. Also like Abraham, God has revealed Himself to me along the way and I have learned to call on His Name. I too have arrived at a new place in my journey. A time of new beginning. New  hope. New life. Perhaps you have too. I asked God what I was supposed to believe Him for. I am certain that neither land nor descendants is what God is promising to me, so I asked Him. "God what promise do you want ME to believe you for?" I no sooner finished asking the question before God spoke the answer to me. As clear as day I heard His Word say to me, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
Let that sink in for a minute.
When I was tired from the journey,
feeling alone and afraid,
maybe even a little resentful and angry that I have to leave my old life behind,
God spoke to my heart and said, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU."
As I step over the bridge,
over the threshold into a new year, into a new life,
God has promised He is with me.
I am believing God as I step forward into 2012.