Monday, April 23, 2012

A Furious Squall

I could definitely relate to their predicament, even though I haven’t stepped into a boat lately. I felt like I was with the disciples as I read Mark 4:37-41 the other day. Their lesson became mine.
We were on the water far from land; a furious squall threatened to overturn our boat. The waves crashed, tossing us to and fro, no matter how hard we rowed. We were drenched and cold, and even though we bailed vigorously, water began to fill the boat.

I shouted above the wind, “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?”

He calmly strode from His resting place and rebuked the unruly waters, “Quiet! Be still!” Suddenly, it was. He turned to me and asked, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

What could I say? I was numb with shame and awe.

We are still in the boat, still far from land, but I have a new realization. I see who is with us. It is Jesus, who commands the wind and the waves. He is the Creator of all. He is my Savior. We will make it to shore, because Jesus is on board.

If you are facing a storm today, I pray you will experience His calming presence with you. He may still the waters tossing your boat, or He may choose to give you peace instead, while the storm continues to rage. Either way, He can be trusted. Stay in the boat with Him and He will get you to shore.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When You Feel Offended

It’s not something we talk about much at church. But on occasion we do or say something to offend one another. And, since we’re human, it hurts. Changes in the church are times rich with opportunity for offending others.

The word ‘offend’ means: to hurt someone’s feelings, or cause resentment, irritation, or anger. When someone offends us we feel insulted, hurt, upset, slighted, snubbed. We especially take offense when what we have to offer is not appreciated, welcome, and sometimes even angrily resisted.

I have to admit that change is hard for me. I want to feel valued and needed in my church family. However, the dynamics of a church family grow and change, just as the dynamics of a biological family changes throughout different seasons of life. Programs and methods that once met needs in the community become outdated. Our message doesn’t change, but as our society changes, the way we reach people needs to adjust. And change.

So what do I do if I feel left out, not invited to participate in the look or sound geared to reaching the next generation? What do I do with the gifts God has given me to use; do they cease to be gifts if they are not the in thing? And what do I do with my hurt feelings?

There's really only two choices:

#1 – I can be offended. I can nurse these feelings by complaining to others. I can hold a grudge, let it affect the purity of my worship, and cease supporting and contributing to the ongoing work of the Church.

#2 – I can talk to Jesus about my feelings and let Him lead me where He wants me to go. I can seek new outlets for using my gifts in ways that will bless others. I can seek a fresh perspective on worship and contribute to unity in the Body. Above all, keep the main thing the main thing: seeking to glorify God in everything I do, proclaim His message, love the family of God, and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in this generation.

On Sunday, my pastor challenged us with this quote: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you won’t always have what you’ve always had.” He reminded us that if we insist on “doing church” they way it’s always been done, our culture will see our message as old fashioned and irrelevant and we will lose the people God has given into our care. And our church will die.

Jesus stirred things up and offended the religious leaders of His day. They were expecting the Messiah to come as a military king and rescue them from human domination. He came as their spiritual King to rescue them from the domination of sin, offering forgiveness to all mankind. He said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me (Matthew 11:2-6, NKJ).

That’s a little convicting. So for me, and any of you who are struggling with changes in your life or church, I offer these words from the Lord from the New Living translation:

Don’t Build Walls: Proverbs 17:19 says - Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin; anyone who trusts in high walls invites disaster.

Value Unity: Proverbs 18:19 says - An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.

Ask God What Is Offensive to Him and Change It: Psalm 139:24 says - Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Let Him Release You From All Offenses : Isaiah 44:22 says – “I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”

Dearest Lord Jesus, instead of asking you to bless what I want to do, help me ask what you want in your church today and to enthusiastically participate in your work. Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Got Figs?

The familiar Dairy Association ad asks us if we’ve Got Milk? Well, not to offend the cows of Tillamook or anything, but Jesus asks us an even more important question: Got Figs? Or more importantly, “Got Fruit?”

His cousin John the Baptist came before Jesus with a clear and powerful message, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, walk the talk. If you claim to be a God-follower – a disciple of Jesus Christ - then it should show in the way you live.

Jesus amplified this lesson using a fig tree. “As they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it… In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots” (Mark 11:12-14, 20).

At first, this seems rather extreme. Most of us get a little cranky when we’re hungry, but we don’t go around cursing vending machines that don’t release products when we plug in our coins. Oh, well, maybe we do. But anyway, back to the story.

The reason Jesus responded so forcefully was not because He was hungry for figs, but because of His holy yearning to see spiritual fruit. Fig trees aren’t supposed to bear fruit until June, when they have fully leafed out. It was unusual that this tree already had leaves in April; a sign it should also have fruit. But it didn’t. It was false advertising. And that’s the point Jesus was trying to make.

The Scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law were all about show – wearing long tasseled robes, praying public prayers, elaborate ceremonial cleansing, and prescribing 613 laws God had not commanded. They didn’t do these things because of a consuming love for God or their fellow man; they made a show of religion because they were preening in their own glory. And Jesus made it clear that’s not what God wants.

The fruits of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we have the “leaves” of Christianity, those are the characteristics that should be growing in our life. This can sound intimidating. After all, who can be all that? Nobody. That’s why they’re the fruit of the Spirit. We can’t squeeze them out by our own power. But if we are rooted in Christ, He will make them grow.

I like what Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (emphasis mine).

If we trust God and put our confidence in Him; if we drink in the Word and put down roots of faith – we will not fear hard times; our leaves will be beautiful; and we will bear fruit!

Like our own little Miss Figgy pictured above, we may start out slowly (last year she bore her very first fig). But the more we grow in the Lord, the more fruit He will produce in our lives. We will fulfill our purpose and God will be as delighted with us as my husband and I are with Miss Figgy’s progress. Even more so.

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Egg-stra Special Easter Part Eight: Plus Recipe for Sugar Cookie Crosses

A New Way to Look at Finances

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

Actually, this last entry of my Easter series should be titled “Waste or Worship?” God took me in a completely unexpected turn on this topic from when I first planned this series. That’s alright though; it’s His prerogative. It’s His blog. I’m just along for the ride.

Yesterday I read Mark 14 and it tells the story of a woman who poured an entire jar of expensive perfume on Jesus out of gratitude for what He had done. He was having dinner at Simon the Leper’s with a bunch of people when she “interrupted.” (I can’t help but wonder – why would people risk gathering at a leper’s home unless Jesus had healed him? Seems like Simon should have been in line with some perfume too!)

Jesus’ disciples were appalled. “Why is she wasting that perfume? That’s worth a year’s wages! She could have sold it and given the money to the poor; now it’s gone. Squandered.”

But Jesus defended her, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:6-9).

It’s the same with everything God gives us. We can either waste it or use it to worship Him. However, others cannot always give a correct judgment of which one we have done. From the perspective of many, this woman’s gift seemed wasteful, but to Jesus, it was a tender and lavish preparation for His burial. How He must have treasured this expression of honor and affection! It wouldn’t be long before He faced betrayal, the sting of death, and separation from His Father.

Jesus’ words to her put a stamp of approval on her actions. How can we tell if the way we use our money and resources is waste or worship? A lot of it depends on our motive; why do we do what we do? In light of the cross and the new life it brings to us, every choice we make is either an expression of love for Him, or a tangent into selfishness.

Some questions we can ask ourselves:
·         Do I buy because of need, or because I never feel like I  have enough?
·         Do I purchase to impress others?
·         Am I giving out of love for Jesus, or because it’s what I’m supposed to do?
·         Do I buy lavish gifts to buy friendship or approval?
·         Am I living beyond my means and not saving so I can give to others in need?
·         Am I keeping what I should spend, or spending when I should save for the future?
·         What would Jesus say about the way I use the resources He has given me?

So often, we make the Christian life into a complicated list of rules. Jesus boils it down to a very simple equation. Are we pouring ourselves out on what does not last? Or are we pouring ourselves out in worship of Him?

Sugar Cookie Crosses: Everyone seems to love sugar cookies; they’re yummy for any holiday. This recipe has a unique almond flavor, which I love. Use an official cookie cutter, or freehand your own crosses and decorate with abandon!

Sugar Cookies (Betty Crocker Cookbook)

1 ½ c powdered sugar
1 c butter, softened
1 egg
1 t vanilla
½ t almond extract
2 ½ c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cream of tartar

 Mix powdered sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Add flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

 Heat oven to 375°. Divide dough in half. Roll out one half at a time on floured surface and cut into crosses.

Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake until edges are brown, 7-8 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

Makes about 5 dozen.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An Egg-stra Special Easter Part Seven: Plus Recipe for Easter Story Cookies

A New View of Work and Leisure

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17
I’m grateful my parents brought me up with a healthy attitude about work as well as play time. They have a strong work ethic, but also modeled how to enjoy leisure time. Even so, I sometimes find myself getting sucked into the worldly view of work and play.

Too often, work is seen as drudgery and leisure activities are promoted as the only exciting part of life, but both are gifts from God. Imagine if all we ever did was play. It would no longer be a well deserved break from work. In fact, we would find ways to make it into work (and many people manage to do just that). They mix things up - playing at work and working at play. On the other hand, if all we ever did was work, we would burn out. Work would cease to be a privilege. Our energy, enthusiasm, and imagination would dramatically drop off.

God created us with a need for both, and all through the Bible He reminds us to seek balance. Scripture says God participates in both work and rest and we are created in His image. God wants our work to be a pleasure and benefit to us. He is a God of joy and likes to see His children living an abundant life. He wants us to have good, clean fun – enjoying Him, and all He has created.

The work Jesus did on the cross relieves us of the burden of earning our way to heaven. When Jesus gave up His Spirit on the cross and said, “It is finished,” it was.

That takes the pressure off us. Now we can enjoy both work time and play time. We can be grateful for both, fully present with the people and tasks at hand, and seek to honor God whatever we’re doing.
A few things I know for sure:
·         Gives us a sense of purpose
·         Builds our self-esteem
·         Enables us to provide for our own needs
·         Gives us a resource for giving
·         Reveals God’s character in us

Rest and Play:
·         Refreshes our bodies, spirits, minds, and emotions
·         Bring pleasure and build memories
·         Give us time with friends and family
·         Reveals God’s character in us
When Christ lives in us, He daily teaches us new things and a better perspective. When we see our work and our leisure time as from Him and for Him, both become a privilege and a pleasure. In Him, we are whole and balanced. That is His will for us.

Easter Story Cookies: These are a fun treat to make with your family or friends the night before Easter. Their ingredients tell the amazing story of what Jesus did for us.

1 c whole pecans
1 t vinegar
3 egg whites
Pinch salt
1 c sugar
  • Preheat oven to 300° (important to do first!)and grab your Bible.
  • Place pecans in Ziploc baggie and let children beat them with a wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. Read John 19:1-3.
  • Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 t in a mixing bowl. Explain that on the cross when Jesus was thirsty, He was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30. 
  • Add egg whites to the vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave up His life to give us life. Read John 10:10-11
  • Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears Jesus’ followers shed and the bitterness of our sin. Read Luke 23:27.
  • So far, the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16.
  • Beat on high with a mixer for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks form. Explain that white represents how pure we can be in God’s eyes if we are cleansed by Jesus. Read Isa. 1:18 and John 3:1-3.
  • Fold in broken nuts. Drop mixture on cookie sheet covered with waxed paper a teaspoon at a time. Each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matt. 27:57-60.
  • Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF.
  • Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door, just as Jesus’ tomb was sealed. Read matt. 27:65-66.
  • Go to bed. Talk about how sad it is to leave the cookies in the oven. Jesus’ followers were grief stricken when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20 and 22.
  • On Easter morning open the oven and hand out the cookies. Notice the cracked surface before you take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb empty. Read Matt. 28:1-9.