Life Out of Death: Easter 2019

I’m looking forward to my flowers blooming outside. Meanwhile, I will content myself with indoor flowers, like this hibiscus. I wasn’t sure if my plant would bloom again, after being dormant for so long and having problems with buds dropping and not looking so healthy. But it seems to have come to life recently and is budding and blooming. It reminds me of that Easter long ago, when things looked pretty bleak for Jesus and his disciples. All their dreams seemed to come crashing down on that cross. The future looked pretty hopeless. Yet Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, in triumph over death, sin, and Satan. From death came life…resurrection life, abundant life, eternal life. We see this principle of life out of death played out in our world, not just in spring when new plants spring forth after the deadness of winter, but in our lives as well. We die a million mini-deaths in our lifetime: deaths to our hopes, dreams, expectations. Yet out of each loss, each death, Jesus is at work to bring life to us, to create something new and beautiful in our lives. Things may look dead and hopeless for a season, but Resurrection morning is coming! Thank you, Lord, that you are risen! Happy Easter!

God’s plan or ours?

Our pastor preached about Mary the mother of Jesus about a month ago and I’ve been thinking about that message ever since. He spoke about the difference between asking God to bless what I am doing and stepping into what God is doing. When the angel appeared to Mary with the news that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and become pregnant with a son, she had a choice to make: whether she would step into God’s plan for her or not. God was inviting Mary into His story. He was sending His son as the savior of the world, and he wanted him to be born through the virgin Mary. That was his plan, but I want you to think about it from Mary’s perspective. Although the scriptures don’t say a lot about what Mary thought or felt, I think her life was quite a roller coaster ride. It probably did not follow the script she would have written and prayed for. I think her life illustrates the reality that God’s plan is often quite different than the one we envision and want him to bless, but his plan is best and will accomplish his eternal purposes. Our prayers are often our attempt to convince God to bless our plans, but I believe that he wants us to align ourselves in prayer with what he is doing in and around us.

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes for a few minutes. Here was this Jewish girl, probably a teenager, engaged to be married to Joseph. What might her dreams have been? Probably to be happily married to Joseph, have many babies, live comfortably, and enjoy old age with Joseph and her grandchildren. She may also have longed for a deliverer to break the Jewish people free from their Roman oppressors. Perhaps Mary prayed for God to bless her upcoming marriage, family, and nation. She probably did not realize the adventure she was about to participate in.

It started when she was engaged to Joseph, and an angel shows up to give her the life-changing announcement that she has found favor with God and  will give birth to  Jesus (Luke 1:26-56). So Mary is basically freaking out when the angel first greets her. Then when she’s told that she’s going to give birth to a son, she’s totally confused. Like, how is this going to happen when I’m still a virgin? The angel explains that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and reassures her that God still does miraculous things by telling her that her barren older cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant. Then in v. 38, Mary submits to God’s plan and accepts that this crazy circumstance is God’s will for her. She then visits Elizabeth and gets confirmation and encouragement from Elizabeth. A song of praise comes from Mary’s mouth and heart as she declares her gratefulness and trust in the Lord and exalts his character.

So as God breaks into Mary’s life with His story, Mary goes from shock to confusion to surrender to praise. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been through that sequence a few times. Shock, confusion, surrender, praise. We have our nice little ideas about how we’d like God to work in our lives and bless us, but then God answers our prayer with a crisis that we didn’t ask for. He has something different in mind; something that is going to further His eternal purposes, not just make us happy and comfortable.

I’m sure that Mary’s adjustment to God’s will was a process that involved many peaks and valleys. How many of the people in Mary’s town would have believed that she was a pregnant virgin? I’m sure that some looked down on her. Think of what it must have been like to raise a perfect child as your firstborn. Pretty cool. But Mary had at least 7 more children, who weren’t perfect. That probably generated some interesting sibling rivalry that Mary had to manage. There was the time that the family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and on the way home realized that they had lost Jesus, who was about 12 years old at the time. Time to freak out again! But when she and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, teaching the teachers, they were amazed. Who is this special child?

He learned his father’s carpentry trade and then began at the age of 30 to preach, teach, and heal people. How proud of her son she must have been. Then, when Jesus was only 33 years old, she had to watch him suffer and be brutally killed. Her husband, Joseph, had probably died by then, judging by Jesus’ instruction to John to take care of Mary in his stead. So she lost her husband, and now her firstborn son is hanging on the cross. That was probably not what she had prayed for. It was probably not what she expected as a faithful woman of God. Then came the amazement of the resurrection and outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Wow! This is incredible! Between those two events, Jesus leaves her again…to ascend to heaven.

What can we learn from Mary’s life? That God has a plan, and he invites us to be part of it. It’s going to be an adventure! And it’s probably not what we would have planned or prayed for! And when we hit a crisis, once we’ve recovered from the shock of it and the confusion of wondering what we did to deserve this, we can accept that this is God’s will for us, and we can surrender to him and pray for *His* plan to prosper. And God will put a song of praise in our hearts!

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38

 

Annunciation 39

 

 

Encourage a Homeschooling Mom Today

Homeschooling can be a very rewarding journey, but at times, the mothers who invest in their children’s education can feel discouraged, inadequate, or anxious about their children. May I suggest something to encourage them?

  1. Tell them that you appreciate what they are doing for their children.
  2. Treat them to some self-care time (a spa gift certificate; watching their children for an afternoon while they do something they enjoy; arrange with hubby a surprise girls’ getaway)
  3. Pray for them regularly. Ask what their specific prayer requests are and pray with them.
  4. Make yourself available to listen to them and be a friend.
  5. If she is struggling with negative thought patterns, consider buying my devotional book  Stress-free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking. It will help her to focus on the truths of God’s Word instead of the lies that she is being tempted to believe.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

A Prayer for the New School Year

 

Dear Lord,

As a new school year begins, we acknowledge our need for your wisdom, grace, and guidance in our lives and those of our students. We thank you that you love us, have a wonderful plan for our lives, and are working all things together for our good. Thank you for the new things we will learn this year. I pray for both students and teachers, that you will open our eyes to the marvelous things you have created, bring us to a greater realization of how precious we are to you, and help us develop our God-given abilities to serve this world that you love dearly. Let us know your direction when we are confused, your comfort when we are grieving loss, your power in our weakness, and your reassuring presence when we are feeling anxious. We love you, praise you, and pray that you will be glorified in our lives. Amen.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, And he will direct your paths.” (Prov. 3:5,6)

There is Hope (Thoughts on Ecclesiastes Part II)

fuschia tears resized 1600 x 1067 for blogIn “Why is there so much despair in the world?”, I wrote that in the first 2 chapters of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon showed how empty life can be when you live from a temporal perspective. Solomon described the restlessness in a person’s soul that can only be relieved in a relationship with God. As I shared in that blogpost, “no accomplishment, experience, possession or relationship can satisfy our deepest needs. Only God can.”

In Ecclesiastes 3, we read a well-quoted passage about there being a time or season for everything. “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” This passage teaches the seasons, or cycles of life. There is a time for everything, and God is ultimately in control of these seasons or cycles. They include both happy and sad occasions. This is the reality of life: it is a tapestry of both good and evil; joy and suffering.

What does the writer tell us about God in the light of this reality?

    1. He has made everything beautiful in its time. In other words, even in the most tragic circumstances, the Lord will bring out beauty. As we read in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Mercy and brotherly compassion shine the brightest in the darkest of trials.

     

    1. He has put eternity into man’s heart. Deep within the human heart is the understanding that there is more to life than just living a materialistic existence. There is an awareness of a creator, an afterlife, morality, and a desire for meaning and purpose beyond the temporal. We have needs for security, love, and significance that cause us to desire and seek the Lover of our souls, the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who created us with those needs and can uniquely satisfy them. During times of joy or difficulty, we can depend on God’s love for us.

     

    1. Whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. This tells us that God’s work is eternal, complete, and secure. Faith in Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross guarantees us eternal life. Nothing can be added to it (eg. our good works) and nothing can be taken from it (“It is finished” Jesus declared when he had paid the penalty for our sins). No one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands (John 10:28,29). We may go through difficulties in this life, but if we have placed our trust in Jesus, our salvation is secure.

     

    1. God will judge the righteous and the wicked in his time. Although we see injustice and corruption on earth now, we can be assured that God also sees, and one day justice will prevail.

     

    1. He has gifted us with the privilege of eating and drinking and enjoying the fruits of our labor while on this earth. Although these are not our purpose in life, they are blessings from God to be appreciated.

     

    These truths give us hope, not despair. We can enjoy the blessings of God and his presence while we are on this earth and look forward to living eternally with Him where there will be no more sin, evil, oppression, suffering, or death. Now that’s something to rejoice in!

Why is there so much despair in the world?

despairEcclesiastes is a strange book. King Solomon, son of David, the wisest and richest man in the world wrote it. But it reads like such a tale of woe and despair, for a man who had everything and knew the Lord. How are we to understand it?

The first couple of chapters sound like a familiar song to those prone to depression. What is the meaning of life, anyway? What does all my labor get me? Nothing, I tell you; nothing. It’s all vanity (a waste of time). Solomon didn’t deny himself any pleasure. I mean, he delighted in wine, women, and song to his heart’s content, but strangely, he found that…. his heart was not content. There was temporary pleasure, but it left him lacking. He pursued riches, beauty, and accomplishments, but despite all he did and how hard he worked, it gave him no satisfaction or meaning. Over and over, he complained how meaningless it all was. “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” Ecclesiastes 2:11

King Solomon was the wisest person alive, but as he contemplated that, he realized that both the wise and the foolish eventually die. As he wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:16-23,

“For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten. So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless–like chasing the wind. I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.”

Solomon’s tirade exposes the thinking of someone who lives in the temporal, not the eternal. If there is no such thing as eternity; if there is not a loving, personal God who fills our life with purpose and meaning; then, yes, there is much reason to despair. As Solomon declared in Ecc.1:14,15, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered.”

This is the logical conclusion of living “under the sun”. When our lives are limited to what we can see, the here and now, then life loses its meaning. The best we can do is work hard, try to do good, have fun, and hope that we get lucky. This is essentially the conclusion that Solomon came to in Ecclesiastes 2:24. “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.”

Solomon was declaring that without the Lord, this is the best attitude one can have towards life. And that is the prevailing worldview, I’d say. Work hard, try to do good, have fun, and hope that you get lucky. Many people resign themselves to the thought that there’s nothing more to life than this.

But others, perhaps the thinkers in society, know that there is more. They are aware of the emptiness in their soul. Perhaps like Solomon, they’ve had wealth, notoriety, and pleasures, but they have left that person unsatisfied. Why are so many famous, accomplished, well-liked people committing suicide these days? What causes someone like Robin Williams or Anthony Bourdain to end their life? Is it because they are disillusioned? Did they buy into the fantasy that if you work hard, do good, enjoy yourself, and gain wealth and experiences, that the hunger in your soul will be satisfied by those things? Perhaps after doing all those things, they felt just as empty as before. Perhaps they never understood what Augustine of Hippo discovered 16 centuries prior: that “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you”. Only a relationship with the living God, the Lord Jesus Christ, can satisfy that restlessness in our soul. Only He can love us unconditionally, and provide us with the meaning, purpose, security, and peace that our hearts long for. No accomplishment, experience, possession or relationship can satisfy our deepest needs. Only God can.

What about you? Are you living an “under the sun” existence, or are you living “in the Son”?

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:9,10

“Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.” 2 John 1:3

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

 

 

 

 

 

First Anniversary!

in print1st anniversary blog with url resized

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been one year already since I started this blog. It’s been interesting to see how people from all over the world have visited, read, commented, liked or followed the blog posts I’ve written. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my little corner of the blogosphere! I hope that something has brought you insight or encouragement.

I’ve been surprised at the wide range of people that have viewed and read my posts. I see that my audience is much wider than Christian homeschool moms! But if you are a homeschool mom and are needing a little extra encouragement right now, why not consider buying my homeschool devotional Stress-free Homeschooling: 31 days to a Healthier Way of Thinking? It was highly recommended by Old Schoolhouse magazine and is available in print and as an e-book. Even those who do not homeschool have found it to be helpful. Happy reading!

10 Truths to Meditate upon to Give You Rest in 2018

It’s that time of the year again: a time for fresh starts and hopeful resolutions to meet those goals that haven’t been met in previous years. I’m not against New Year’s resolutions; they have their place. I don’t make them anymore, though. I found they were often no more than wishful thinking or aborted new habits. Instead, I want to enter this new year not with a list of things I should change, but rather with a list of those unchanging truths that I can rest in.

That’s a curious approach, you may be thinking. Perhaps…but I see in scripture an interesting pattern: God did the work of creation, including creating man on the 6th day, his crowning achievement, then he rested on the 7th day. Man was created, then entered into the rest of God and all the benefits of God’s creative work. When God came to earth as man, in the Lord Jesus Christ, he completed his redemptive work on the cross, rested from his finished work, and we entered into that rest and all the benefits of God’s redemptive work. We have work to do, too; there are changes to be made in our lives; but all that begins from a position of rest in God’s work. We cannot transform our own hearts or do anything of eternal significance without the power of God initiating it.

So, from that perspective, I want to rest in the unchanging truths of God. Here are some that I would like to anchor my life on:

  1. I am deeply, personally, unconditionally loved by the creator of this universe. (Jer.31:3, John 15:9)
  2. I have worth, not because of anything I may have done or will do, but simply because the Lord has declared me as precious in his sight. (Isa. 43:4, 1 Peter 1:18,19, 2 Tim. 1:9)
  3. I have a purpose on this earth for which I have been uniquely crafted. (Rom. 12:6-8, 2 Cor. 9:8)
  4. God is good, is trustworthy, and is working everything out for my good and His glory. (Rom. 8:28, 1 Cor 1:9, John 10:11)
  5. Suffering is a necessary part of life, but the Lord is my comfort during trials. (2 Cor. 1:3-6)
  6. His Word is eternal; not one word of his promises has or will ever fail. (Ps. 119:89, 1 Kings 8:56)
  7. I can pour out my heart to the Lord and he always hears me and answers my prayers. (Jer. 33:3, Psalm 62:8)
  8. As a believer, I am a needed member of God’s family, the church, which reflects God’s presence. (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Cor. 12)
  9. I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me to overcome my spiritual enemies. (1 John 4:4, Rom. 8:9-11, Rom. 5:5)
  10. I have a wonderful inheritance reserved for me in heaven, my eternal home, where there will be no more death, sickness, sin, sorrow, or pain. (Rev. 21:1-7, 1 Peter 1:4, John 14:3)

These are the unchanging truths that I wish to meditate on, appreciate, and trust in for 2018. I believe that in doing so, I will make myself available to the Lord to make those changes in me that will bring him glory.

 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 NLT

Faith or fear?

Is your life based on faith or fear? That is the question I’ve been pondering lately. Certainly, there are many legitimate things to fear in today’s world. Terrorism, war, environmental catastrophe, children going astray or becoming addicted, health concerns, sexual assault, and identity theft, to name a few dangers, are a present reality, and fear of any of these things is not irrational.

Despite these very real dangers in our lives, the Bible exhorts us in many verses to not be afraid. The question is: why not? Doesn’t the Lord understand that these are genuine possibilities in our world? Yes, the Lord knows better than anyone what is in the heart of man and what he is capable of, but he encourages us to look beyond what we see or what might happen to who he is.

Psalm 100:5 gives us three reasons to live by faith rather than fear. It says “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Rather than focusing on all the terrible things that are happening or could happen to us, the Lord wants us to turn our eyes to him and his character. He is good; he is always loving; and he is forever faithful. That means that even when tragedy strikes, he will be demonstrating his goodness, love, and faithfulness to us. He will not allow anything to happen to us that will not ultimately be for our good and his glory. He will walk with us through difficulties, strengthening and encouraging us. In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

What are the consequences of living by fear or by faith? Fear leads a person to be overwhelmed, troubled, weak, discouraged, hopeless, and reluctant to do what is right. Yet we are told in scripture that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement.” (2 Timothy 1:7) We can choose to walk by faith, not sight. Over and over in the Bible we are exhorted to fear the Lord, not man. In other words, trust God in the light of potential or present difficulties. God assures us in Deuteronomy 31:8 “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” When we choose to live by faith instead of fear, our hearts are filled with gratitude, joy, rest, courage, peace, and hope. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to live.

%d bloggers like this: