SEASONED WITH KINDNESS

I signed into my WordPress account the other day and was looking through the blog feed.  From time to time, interesting things pop up, new stuff can be learned, and I find new blogs I want to read.  As I was scrolling,  “The Courage To Be Open”, the title of this blog really caught my attention.

As Christians we are called to be salt and light, but we are also called to be kind, compassionate, gracious, and loving – in other words, to be like Jesus.  Throughout the four gospels, I do not recall Jesus speaking harshly or in a condemning manner to anyone else besides the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious “authorities” of the time.

I know that there are very strongly and passionately held beliefs regarding the subject matter this blog talks about, but I would challenge each of us as Christians to take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul:

“Let your speech at all times be gracious (pleasant and winsome), seasoned [as it were] with salt, [so that you may never be at a loss] to know how you ought to answer anyone [who puts a question to you].”
Colossians 4:6 (Amplified Bible).

Despite our personal feelings and opinions, we should always speak with grace first.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,],”  II Timothy 2:24-25 (NIV)

What do we accomplish by speaking out so quickly in judgment?  What right do we have to inflict so much damage with our words?

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”  Proverbs 18:21 (Amplified Bible)

Our words, when they are not spoken with grace but rather with judgment and condemnation, bring about a death in the heart of the hearer.  How many of these “deaths” does it take before the spirit of the hearer is irreparably damaged?

People of God, let us show the love of Jesus to all that we meet.  After all, according to the Scriptures,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23, NIV).

There is no disclaimer included…ALL have sinned and ALL fall short.  While this does not nullify our right to have a strong or differing opinion, it also does not give us the right to judge the heart of the person or to tear them down with our words.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen… 32  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” 
(Ephesians 4:29, 32)

If you come across a fellow believer who is hurting or a person whose orientation or lifestyle you do not approve of, take the time to care for that heart.  Regardless of who we are, where we come from, or what we have done, we all want the same thing – to be accepted for who we and to be loved.  Perhaps, through your love, their heart will be opened and, if there is work to be done or things in their life to be corrected, the Holy Spirit will then have a willing vessel through which to work – you.

Dare to be open.  Dare to be the one who makes a difference, even if it is in just one life.  After all, for that one person, the results of your kindness can change their whole world.

In case you would like to read more, the following verses would be good to look into as well.

Proverbs 15:1
Romans 14:10-12
Proverbs 10:12
Galatians 6:1-3
Luke 6:38
Luke 6:31

The Dawning Of Grace

As I walked through the living room the other morning something caught my eye through the large window, which just happens to face the morning sun. A most beautiful display of red and orange was shining through the blind and panels. Of course, if it is this beautiful on the inside, it had to be even more so on the outside. I stepped outside the front door and beheld one of God’s most beautiful works of art! The sky looked as though it was on fire and it was streaking not only from side to side, but all over the sky. The magnificent pattern of color displayed was beyond description. Of course, being a great lover of sunsets and sunrises, I had to take a picture. But this sunrise was a little different than most – it kept on growing and changing. It ended up taking three different pictures that morning through different stages as it continued to change as the sun rose and the clouds added their part to the portrait. The fresh white snow on the ground provided a beautiful base to this unique and original piece of art displayed by the Artist of Time Himself. While I was in a hurry that morning (as I usually am), I was stunned by the beauty I was beholding and so grateful that the Father took the time to create this moment for me – a moment of peace to be shared with Him.

The day after I enjoyed this wonder expression in color, I was chatting with a friend. In the past, we had talked about the different metaphors contained in the concept of “daybreak” and the different aspects of our lives that can be like the dawning of a new day. (A few weeks prior, she had loved one pass away and she had reflected on the incredible daybreak this cherished soul must have had when she entered into her heavenly rest.) We started talking about daybreaks, sunrises, and new beginnings once again, and I told her about this sunrise I had witness the day before. It was then she presented an idea I had not thought of before….. Isn’t Christmas like a sunrise as well? Her next comment basically told me I should write about that.

This simple question posed has resonated in my heart ever since that chat. The more I think about it, the more I come to understand just how right she is. Since it is a few days before Christmas, please allow me to share with you my thoughts about that wonderful sunrise the Father designed in more ways than just one over 2000 years ago. (One fact that is important to keep in mind throughout this post is that, according to the Jewish calendar, the day is considered to be from sunset to sunset.)

On that most holy of nights, Jesus came into a dark and sleeping world (both physically and spiritually), and His arrival was proclaimed with lots of light. His birth was announced by a host of angels to a group of lowly shepherds, a new star began the wise kings on their journey, and a mother who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. On that night, The Light of the World became Emmanuel, God with us. The Morning Star arose in our world dispelling the darkness from those would accept it, awakening those whose hearts were open to His call, and fulfilling all that the Father designed for His presence with us to fulfill. This Light of the World, which would become our salvation, had come to live among us.

While He came without pomp and circumstance and a traditional fanfare one would expect from a secular king, both Heaven and creation announced His birth. An angel presented the proclamation to this humble group of men that the Messiah had been born. Suddenly, a great company of heavenly angles appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14) Obviously, these men were chosen by the Father to receive this proclamation because as soon as the angels departed, they hurried to Bethlehem to witness for themselves what the angels said – to see their long-awaited and promised Messiah with their own eyes. The dawn of His Light broke into their souls and they left the place where He lay to proclaim the glorious news of His arrival and share what they had been told by the angel. According to the Scriptures, all who heard what the shepherds had to say were amazed by the story. But Mary wasn’t amazed. What happens next in the story I find quite fabulous. The shepherds came and saw, they went and told, but that was not enough for them. They kept on glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard – for it was just as they had been told. The Light of Messiah dawned in their hearts and they were not the same.

While they did not arrive on the night He was born, a new star was born and they were watching. The three wise men from the east saw His star when it arose in the night sky and they followed it. When they went to King Herod looking for this new king that had been born (they already knew that the star was for a King), he sent them to Bethlehem because that is where the Messiah was prophesied to be born. When they left Herod,”… they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:9, 10). When they entered the house, they saw Him. The Scripture account tells us that they saw the child and His mother – the saw the Morning Star, the Light of the world, first. It goes on to tell us that the first thing they did was not to proceed with introductions, discuss the weather, or talk about how uncomfortable it can be ride on a camel’s back for a couple of years, but rather they bowed down and worshiped Him. These kings from the east, these wise men who had traveled so far, bowed down and worshiped Him. The Light from the Star had dawned in their hearts and their response was to search, to follow, and to bow in worship. Once they worshiped Him, then they presented their prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Scripture tells us that “…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19). After all, her heart was the first place where the Light first dawned. When the angel Gabriel appeared to her saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26), she was trouble by his words. He told her to not be afraid and then proceeded to tell her how she was to conceive, carry, and give birth to the Son of God. He told her how this miracle of God would take would take place and that she was to call Him Jesus (Yeshua), for He would save His people from their sin. (Yeshua means salvation). It was her open and obedient heart that gave her the courage to answer the angel Gabriel with her simple statement of faith, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38) The Light of the presence of God first born in her heart out of faith would be born from her body as the words of the angels were accomplished and prophecies from long ago were fulfilled. That Light remained in her heart as that is where she treasured and cherished that took place.

In my opinion, this Sonrise of Christmas was the dawning of the new age of grace. This moment in time would pave the way for us to come to the Father. He first came to us to show us how much He loves us, to experience life as one of us, to be us. The night of His birth became the dawning of our redemption. It was the first of the three greatest dawnings this world has ever seen and will ever know.

The second of such events, the second Sonrise, was the one that would complete and accomplish the work began with the gift of His birth and it was then presented it to the world. His death and resurrection was not only the sealing moment of our salvation, but it also happened to be the beginning of a new week (ironic that God would plan it that way?) The first day of the week became the first day of grace for those of us who, though we are Gentiles, have been grafted into The Vine because of this Sonrise. “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!…” (Luke 24:1-6) The Son rose from the darkness of the grave and death and hell were defeated.

The third such Sonrise that this world will witness is yet to come. One day, our Lord will return! His feet will touch down on the earth once again in the same manner in which His disciples saw Him leave. At that time, all will know that He is Lord, that He is the Light of the World, that He is the Messiah!

So now, my friend, have you allowed the Light of His love to rise in your heart? Have you allowed Him to start a new day in your life? Have you allowed Him to paint your life with the colors of His love and to mold you as His own unique work of art? If you have not, I pray that you allow the Light that was proclaimed to the world by angels, witnessed and proclaimed by shepherds, followed and worshiped by wise men, and treasured by Mary to rise within you today. Allow Him to dispel the darkness with His light, allow Him to awaken your slumbering soul with the presence of His heart, allow Him to revive within you the purpose for which you were created. Let this Christmas be the dawning of a new life in Jesus Christ. He is Emmanuel, God with us and that is where He chooses to dwell – among His people. After all, He loves you so much that He was willing to not just die for you and came back from the dead for you, but He will return once again to take us home – to our ultimate home with Him.

Let us not forget the true meaning for celebrating Christmas. The gift of His birth, His love, and His life is truly the greatest gift of all – and it is offered freely to all who would come.

Merry CHRISTmas.

A Walk Through MY Bible

I wonder how many people are like me in terms of their relationship with their Bible (the sentimental value that the physical items has to them). I was about to start reading my Bible the other day, but, before I opened it up, I really stopped and looked at it. It would appear as though I had not actually “seen” my Bible in a long time even though I read it every day. If you will indulge me, I want to share my “anchor” with you. Please join me on a walk through My Bible and I pray that as you read this you might find some encouragement along the way – and perhaps something you can tuck inside your heart.

As I picked up the Word of God that night, I actually stopped to look at the physical, touchable representation of God’s love for us that I call my own – this book that, although printed and bound by man, contains the Words spoken by the Almighty, the history of His Chosen People, and the ministry/passion of Jesus Christ. Just as I call Them my own (My Father, My Jesus, My Savior, My Adonai, etc), I call this Book my own – my name is even embossed in gold letters on the front cover.

My, the stories this book could tell if it could speak of things external…. I received this Bible as a gift in 1989. Despite the years of wear, a tattered cover, and broken edges, it is irreplaceable. I have thought about buying a new one from time to time, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to even shop for another one. There are notes in the margins, highlighted passages, underlines here and there, and several notes and mementos tucked inside the pages. It has survived being dropped, melted candy bars, small children, desperate grasps during times of heartache, tear stains, and having the cover and spine taped back on/together on more than one occasion.

If you open the cover, you will find names and dates of people I have care about over the years. Marriage information, births celebrated, and deaths mourned are contained within the pages that have required the application of carefully placed tape in order to keep this well-used section together. Further within the pages, you will find notes, poetry, a picture, a little music. What amazes me about these tidbits of paper that I find tucked inside is not only the content of the paper, but also the passage it resides beside.

The first stop flipping through the pages is II Samuel 15. This is where Absalom wins the heart of the people of Israel, basically takes over the throne, and King David runs away. In this place resides a poem written for me by a dear friend many years ago:

Just a reminder of the job you’re to do
To keep His light shinning – bright and true.
His love is so deep, so vast, and so wide
Just open your arms and there you’ll abide.
Whenever you feel the need to waiver of fall
Just look to His light and send out a call.
He’s always beside you and never you cry
Because even though you might fail, He loves how you try.
Always praying for you. —

But it does not end there. After all, what would a piece of paper be without notes on the back? Notes regarding healing from sickness and sin as well as Scriptures relevant to things I was going through in my life at the time this poem was given to me stand as a reminder of how, even though sin had taken over the throne of my heart, God was victorious in the end.

The next piece is one of my favorites. It is a written in the form of a haiku (not my favorite format for poetry), but it is profound. I think I cut it out of a Sunday School lesson many years ago.

Trapped by Mark Weinrich

Helpless
bird, don’t battle
the window. I could show
you the opened door, if you’d just
“Be still.”

I find it ironic that this poem would reside where it does. It has been there so long that I do not even remember placing it inside, but it is at II Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” If we can but allow Him to show us the open door, depending on where we are in our lives, this might just be the very door we need to walk through, the door that leads to repentance and healing.

II Chronicles 20 finds a prayer egg that was prayerfully and randomly dropped into the Bible in 1991. The prayer contained on the tiny piece of paper was answered seven months later in 1992, and was regarding a damaged relationship with a former friend. The first place my eye draws to on these pages is to verse 15 (“…Be not afraid nor dismayed…for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”) and verse 17 (Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you….”). As I let the problem go and allowed the Lord to have His way, He did just as He said He would do. The battle for the heart was not mine to fight, but it was mine to stand firm, be still, pray, and watch Him move in the situation. Granted, this was nothing like the situation Jehoshaphat was in, but God still showed Himself to be faithful.

A bookmark with the simple statement that “Even when clouds of pain seem to hide the face of God, we are never hidden from God’s love” marks the place in Psalms that reminds us that God will defend us and we can shout for joy because of that. (Psalm 5:11)

A few more pages into the book of Psalms finds a wonderful verse written out from a different translation (Psalm 27:4, TLB – “The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in His temple, living in His presence every day of my life, delighting in His incomparable perfections and glory.”), and the caring heart penny reminds us that “God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” (Psalm 68:6)

Isaiah 50 finds another note from a dear friend reminding me of the transience of our trials. I am not sure if it taken from a Max Lucado book word for word or if it was something she wrote (it has been way too long to remember), but it is thought-provoking nonetheless. “Our days on earth are like a shadow. Each man’s life is but a breath. You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. It‘s a short journey even though it seems eternal. Just think how good it will be when we get home. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Therefore, we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are becoming renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” What a wonderful reminder of where our eyes need to be fixed up set beside a powerful reminder of just a glimpse of what He endured for us.

Another short, but poignant poem can be found at the sight of a most encouraging passage. Jeremiah 29:11-13 gives us the promise that God’s intentions for us are good, that He will be found when we seek Him, and that He will hear when we pray.

While all of these are inspirational, touching, and contain very fond memories, my favorite thing that I found in my Bible is the scrap of music at Matthew 24:12-13. When I realized where this music was, I was really surprised by the verse. (“and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold, but he that shall endure until the end, the same shall be saved.”) I didn’t really get it for a few – at least until I sat down to write this. It was then that it dawned on me just appropriate it was that I would shove this scrap of sheet music for “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory” into my Bible in this location. So long as His joy is my strength, His love is my light, and His Word is my foundation, my love for Him will not wax cold regardless of the mess surrounding me. “It is joy unspeakable and full of glory. Oh the half has never yet be told!” And one day, it finally will be. What a day that will be!

The passage regarding the good Samaritan (Luke 10:31-37) is where a picture of my two nieces sits from probably 11 years ago or so. Good memories of a good day….

Many scraps of paper, scribbled notes, Scripture studies waiting to be finished or reviewed are scattered throughout my Bible, but these are the one that mean the most to my heart. These are the ones through which the heart of God speaks to the hurting heart within me. These are things that He has given to me as a gift, as a way of remembering better times when my heart is broken and a reminder of His providence through the dark times when the ways is light and easy. They are reminders that I have been loved, I have been cared for, I have been cherished by people He has sent my way. All of these are reminders located inside the Book that contains the grandest reminder of all.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NIV

Just to think that our God loves and cherishes us so much that He took the time to inspire men He selected to write down His words, HIStory, and that these very words have been cherished, guarded, and passed down through time to those of us who now stand guard over our own hearts and cherish this gift He has carefully designed, planned, and given to us – a gift of not just salvation, but of His own heart.

I will leave you with one thought. If a complete stranger were to find your Bible, what do you think it would say to them? Would it appear brand new, never opened, perhaps a little dusty? Or, does it look like an old friend, worn from the years, but yet loved and treasured. Cherish His Word my friends. After all, it is His heart in tangible physical form
– a gift from His heart to yours.

A Legacy? How Will You Be Remembered?

The recent passing of a friend has caused me to stop and think about perspectives and priorities. More importantly, though, it has brought back to mind the concept of our legacy. When we are finally called home and the pain and trials of this earthly life are over, what will those left behind have to say about the life we have lived? Will they be able to say that their lives have been better for having known us or that – even more importantly – they know Jesus just a little better, see Him just a little clearer because of His working in our lives? Is this something we can leave behind us while we still walk the earth or something that is only realized after we are gone?

To those of you blessed enough to have children, do you tend to overlook or take them for granted? Children are a blank canvas given to us by the Artist of Time Himself. He provides the colors and brushes but leaves the art of putting brush to canvas to us. The work of art they become depends on how we allow the Master Artist to guide our brushes and color selection. When the masterpiece is finished, it is our legacy. It is the evidence of His faithfulness in our lives and how we lived out our faith – laid out in living, breathing color.

To those of you with friendships that are cherished, when was the last time you told that person how you felt about them? Do you just assume that they “know” how awesome you think they are and why they are such a valued and treasured part of your life? Friendships are the Lord’s way of touching our hearts in a special way. They are a gift directly from the Father’s heart to help us along the journey. Let us never take for granted the colors they add to our lives, the ways in which the Father will use them to shape us in His image, or miss the realization that a true friend from the Father gives us a glimpse into His heart for us if we will take the time to look. The friendships we leave behind once we are gone are another part of our legacy. May we love enough, be honest enough, and faithful enough to be of use to the Master Artist in adding color and shape to another’s life as their canvas becomes a part of ours and His legacy becomes the dominant feature of the work.

In much the same way, we are Jesus’ legacy. When we accept Him as Lord and Savior, we take the brush that is in our hands and place it in His. We allow Him to color our lives with His love and to contour and sculpt us with His grace. When we think we know what color should come next, it is usually then that the work of art takes a turn for the less-than-admirable. What He does with our hues once we hand the brush back to Him is beyond expectation. He takes our mistakes and stubbornness and uses them to His glory – and our growth. It becomes a beautiful segment on the portrait of grace painted over our lives.

Through the Word, we are able to know Jesus’ legacy and all He has touched, but what about you? What legacy are you leaving behind? If you were on trial for living a life washed in the blood of Jesus, guided by grace, and painted by the hand of the Master, would there be enough evidence to convict you?