We are all One in Christ Jesus

Love one another

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

I remember when the Berlin wall came down. It was a historical moment. Here is a little snippet of Reagan’s infamous “tear down that wall” speech:

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent– and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Jesus was the original “wall leveler.” He smashed walls right and left, and it got Him into a lot of trouble. He addressed women, as equals, he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He mingled with the rich and poor and he approached lepers and the outcasts of society. He never refused anyone who came to Him.

It’s been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross and I believe that. There are no levels in Christianity, you either are or you aren’t. We are all clinging to the cross each and every day if we are to be honest with ourselves. I don’t know why, but we tend to grade each other and ourselves, but Jesus never does. God really doesn’t care how many times a week we go to church. He cares about the motives of our hearts. This needs to be said.

Paul spoke about walls and divisions when people in the church were starting to break themselves up in different “camps.” And we tend to do the same thing with our Pastors and each other. It’s just human nature I guess.

But this is the truth…….we are all in just as much of a dire and desperate need of Jesus as when we first believed. If we think differently, then we are deceiving ourselves. Most of the time, we fall somewhere between Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and the prodigal son and Peter when he hacked off the Roman’s ear. They were all in different places in their journey throughout their lives and so are we.

Christianity is simply this, that each day we come anew to the cross. Each day we celebrate a new Resurrection from death to life. Each day we try our best and admit our utter failure in ourselves and our utter belief in Jesus.

Jesus is praying for unity. He is praying that we love, and forgive. We are all on a journey to meet Jesus face to face someday. This means you, if you have ever said yes to Him. Look around, there are no “Super-Christians” here. Just people who have humbled themselves and responded to the Invitation.

In the quiet of night when only God saw.

In the middle of a church service.

With your arms around a fellow believer.

Even after you said you never would.

You get up, and you go. Against the odds, with all eyes upon you.

This means you, if you’ve ever felt the lump in your throat and tears spill over at Amazing Grace, or How Great Thou Art.

If you’ve ever known the unmistakable tug of the Spirit in the middle of the day.

This means you, even if you haven’t darkened the door of a church in a while. He knows you’re His and there is nothing you can do to change that.

You, who no longer have to be judge jury executioner of your own life, that’s so exhausting isn’t it?

I love how the Message puts Romans 3:21-24:

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

I like to think of it like this. When you are out on a hike, there is a kind of rule. It’s unspoken but it’s there. I like to call it the grace of the trail. We are all on different levels, but we respect each other just for being out there under God’s blue sky. We give each other grace, we step aside so the faster ones can pass. Always, we try to greet each other with a smile of encouragement.

This is what we need to do as for each other as believers.

So grab a walking stick and come along with me. Extending a hand of Grace is a lot easier at the foot of the cross, the trail-head always starts there.

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The Power of Memory

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Prayer for today: Oh Lord, help. I have no idea how this year is going to go, but thank you in advance for blazing a trail before us…….You have never let us down yet. Amen

This morning in prayer it struck me that one of the best gifts we can hand down to our children and others in our lives is to provide them with good memories. Kids will forget the gifts they unwrapped in a few days time, but they will never forget the times you spent together whether good or bad.

This weekend, I had an occasion to relive some old memories and add some new ones to the collection. My cousin and her husband came for a visit, and so did Elaine’s nephew. We had a great time reliving all those old times, in fact they surrounded us as our companions as a backdrop as we laughed and talked and filled each other in on the past few years.

I guess maybe you don’t think too much about memory until you care for someone who has had theirs stolen like Joyce had. What would it be like to lose those memories that make up a life? Wouldn’t it be like losing your life? Memories make up so much of who we are. Memory is the sum of what makes us individuals in many ways. You and I might hear the same song and that same song conjures up altogether different images in our minds.

While you might think of a pleasant time growing up in a little Spanish village, maybe images of little old men and women opening their shops, sweeping in the warmth of the sun. I might borrow a memory from my Mom in the 1940’s when she told me about going out to meet the trains and wave to the soldiers as went off to war. And what a powerful thing, when we share those memories, they mingle together like a little bit of magic and yours become a little of mine and vice versa.

If you share a life with someone then you share a wealth of memories and moments where you might look at each other at the exact same time and say, “Do you remember that time?” Those same memories that can bring such sharp grief after they’re gone, can turn soft and healing with time and provide great comfort.

Memories have tremendous power to grip us for good or ill. Sometimes holding us hostage for years. Sometimes sending us to rehab or the psychiatrists couch. Sometimes they’re the only thing that keeps us from losing our grip.

A further thought is that worry is like a perverted form of memory because worry conjures up things that haven’t even happened yet. It’s borrowing negative from a future that may or may not even come to reality. It is tiresome and burdensome and renders you useless to the present and unable to be fully there for those around you.

It’s why Jesus cautions us so often about worry. He knows how destructive it is. It never leads to peace. He beckons us to turn and look back down the road He’s already led us, so our minds can settle again. He has promised everything we need for today, He only asks us to keep walking in His direction.

I am thanking Joyce today for the gratitude I have for my memories. Elaine has her remains now. It’s a very odd thing to see them on her shelf, someone I knew so well even though I know she isn’t there. I also know that someday I will come to the same state, unless Jesus comes back before that happens. And I hope that I will still be teaching someone something, like Joyce continues to teach me.

We are all in this together, thank God.

Because I can’t seem to forget her face……….

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Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven………Jesus

I sit here after listening, reading, fearing and going back and forth all morning on Facebook and the news. Part of me is so torn. Part of me wants to jump up and down in favor of Donald Trump’s great wall. The part of me that is patriot American wants to drop bombs and use military might to decimate isis (no caps for them). Part of me remembers some of my family who fought against Germany. I also remember my Mom saying they really didn’t know what was happening over there to the Jews. All they saw were trains filled with people on the movie newsreels while they waited for the movie to start.

There is such confusion in my heart and soul and in the heart and soul of the whole world right now. But one thing I know is always true. Certain things will always be right. Jesus lived out a life that said:

Just because it’s safe, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.

Today would have been my Grandmother’s Birthday. She had a story too, like this little girl. Her family was fleeing Russia and they came to America when she was only six months old. I even found the ship register where they signed in. I know, times were different then. They all went to Ellis Island and got screened and processed, and who knows what else.

And I hate the idea of that evil coming over here, I just hate it. 

But I can’t forget her face. Maybe because something about her reminds me of my niece. And her face is the face of pure innocence. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like her.

In a world where it’s hard to even know who or what to root for anymore, one thing remains. God calls us to love even those who persecute us. There is no wiggle room in that much as I try to get around it. As Pandora plays “Lead me to the Cross” I think of the converted Muslims I heard about in Germany. Churches are filling up, for the first time in years is what I heard. I hope it’s true but I don’t know. I can only assume they are tired of living under a dead religion, they are reaching out for the One who gives life.

But even if they stay Muslim and are in need of help and hope, food and shelter, as Christians can we turn our backs on them, their children in good conscience? Even if some even seek to do us harm? I am asking right along with you…….

Only God knows how this will all go, but one thing is for certain. He will make good come from it.

He always does somehow.

The face of isis is just a new face for an old evil and we don’t even have to pull his mask off to know who it is. As Christians we know how to face down the enemy, the one who only comes to kill, steal and destroy.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

The apostle Paul (when he was still Saul) was dragging Christians out of their homes until he was blinded on the road to Damascus.

Of such were some of you………

It’s time to pray for all of us, to ask God for wisdom. It’s the only place I know where to start.

If you want to put a face on some refugees and here their stories, go here. 

And pray for wisdom, along with me?

photo credit: via David Rupert

 

25 Days of Thankful Day #2: Freedom

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Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;  that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Colossians 4:2-4

I am most thankful today for the freedom that many courageous people over the years have fought and died for. The freedom to walk around in my own home in safety and peace. To do all the simple chores around the house that I do take for granted. The freedom to pray without fear of someone pounding on the door waiting to arrest me. Freedom to go to work….drive my car…..go to the gym.

Freedom from fear of being kicked out of my homeland.

All over the world there are people who were living and working and enjoying freedom just like me. They were prospering in all kinds of different jobs for which they were trained. They educated themselves to better their community. They enjoyed success. They were raising families. Today they are in refugee camps. Their homeland was wrestled away from them violently, their old freedoms are only a memory. They watched their churches and homes be bombed or torn down and some of their Pastors arrested or killed.

My blogger friend David Rupert answered God’s call and went over to those camps. He went into the danger zone and interviewed many of these people. You can read their stories here on his blog. What they have been through, I can scarcely imagine. And yet, in their eyes you can still see joy, and you can see the bond that can never be broken. Because even though they have lost everything, they have their faith and they have their God and each other.

I so appreciate his courage for going over there to bring back their stories because now when I am going about my day doing what I am still so free to do, I think of them. And I pray for them.

Now it’s not just something that is happening somewhere else, it’s something that’s happening to my brothers and sisters in Christ who someday I will meet in Heaven. I can only hope and pray I would be as courageous and strong as they have been if I were put in the same position.

I truly hope I never have to find out.

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Resurrection in the Desert

There was a chill in the air this morning that sparked a feeling of being awakened to new life. It conjured all kinds of memories of fall and the holidays and warm socks and pumpkin pie and sugar cookies at Christmas, and Bach playing while fire-colored leaves twist and fall like rain to the earth. There were a few days earlier this fall where it was chilly, but we knew those times were flukes fashioned to tease us, because we still had a few triple digits to come after.

Now, however, the chill and the hope are real because we know that the monstrous heat is gone, having released its death grip on us until next year.

While most of America turned their clocks back, our clocks remained steadfastly fixed where they were. Arizona is one of a few rebel states that doesn’t participate in daylight savings time. There is a little self-satisfied pride that comes with this I think. A kind of thumbing our nose at everyone else, because it’s the one little independence we still have to separate us from the status quo. Maybe that’s just me.

 This morning I walked in the dark with a sweatshirt, a welcome change. Fall here means that life begins again. Winter visitors come back and spruce up their yards and repairs are made to bicycles and fireplaces and BBQ’s alike spark to life. Everyone comes outside.

Advent feels closer. Even saying it conjures peace. Soon I will put my little Christmas tree in the shop so I can have my quiet time with its cheery brightness sparkling from the little shelf where it shines to remind me of when Christ came near, when He touched down on this earth so long ago. And how He prays for me from the depths of the unapproachable Light of Heaven even at this moment.

Yes. It’s good, this time of year.

We Arizonans know it maybe more than most.

I turned Christmas music on today but it felt like betraying Thanksgiving, so I settled for some David Nevue on Pandora. It fit.

What are You Waiting for?

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The end and culmination of all things is near. Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him.] 1 Peter 4:7

As I sat this morning in the quiet, my thoughts traveled back through the years to a maroon pew and a summer night. It wasn’t any particular church night,  just a culmination of all of them I guess. I heard the melody of a hymn that I can’t quite place but I wish I knew what the title was. I may have to do a search later, it might be “Calling Today.”  I see the organist at the front, her name was Amy and I see her flowing robes spilling over the bench. I smile when I remember what my Grandma used to say after Amy got her divorce…….”She should be in the back of the church, not up there playing the organ.”

I remember those warm summer nights. The world seemed different then. Across the tracks on the east side, the gangs hadn’t moved in yet. There wasn’t much difference from the east side than the west. The local bakeries were still open. I hear the bell over the door. You could still buy German pastries and fresh sourdough bread that they would bring out in the mornings. The smell was overpowering. I can still see those loaves stacked in the baskets by the cash register, and the trays of long johns and crullers. That was before all the big grocery stores came in.

I long for the simplicity of those times. It seems everyone is waiting for something to get better. Or change. I can see it in the faces of the people. I see it in the faces of some of the refugees on the news. They are waiting to go home, waiting for peace. The world has gone askew. Everywhere, someone is waiting for something, for someone.

If I could just get out of this hospital bed……

If they would just die so I could get my life back…..

If they would just come back to me……

Waiting for birth, waiting for death. Waiting for financial freedom, waiting for the ship to come in. Deep down we sense that things have gone terribly wrong. The whole world is waiting, holding its breath. But here’s what I can tell you for sure. Whatever you are waiting for can be fulfilled in just One person. All of your deepest longings can be fulfilled in that same One person. He came once before and He’s coming again. This is the most important part:

Whatever or whoever you are waiting for doesn’t matter if you don’t know Him.

All the pieces are falling into place just the way He has arranged it. The stage is set in motion. It has been since the beginning of time. But the days are growing darker, even though there is still so much good in the world. Hope remains. Against the backdrop of world events and everything else we see in the news, Scripture speaks with a new authority. Unfortunately, just as many people aren’t listening. Listen to what Scripture says about our times:

Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people. 2 Timothy 3 (The Message)

It’s time to turn toward the Light folks.

For He says,

At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.”

Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— 2 Corinthians 6:2

Whatever you are longing for, He’s the God who can bring it. Eventually, He is coming to restore all things to what they were in the beginning, back before everything went to hell in a hand-basket. This is not a pipe dream, this is a promise. But until then, let God pitch a tent of peace in your heart and know that whatever you are waiting for will indeed come at the right time.

I have a deposit that’s already been put in my account, safer than any bank or savings and loan. And you can have it too.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13,14

The wait is over.

Miracle at the DMV

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Yesterday we went on a little “adventure” at the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles. I volunteered to go along with Elaine as she attempted to straighten out her CDL license paperwork which was mysteriously “not in the system” even though it was mailed on time. I don’t think anyone should have to go to the DMV alone, so I went along for the ride. Well, actually I went along for the “wait.” As it turns out, the computer system goes down quite regularly there, especially on Mondays and Fridays, which would explain why her paperwork was somewhere floating around in cyber-space.

We walked down a little hallway into the “CDL” section which was a little room filled with plastic chairs which had seen better days. They needed a good scrubbing with bleach which they had never seen, and there were odd marks on the walls. The line was already forming but there were a few chairs left so we took the two available and settled in for the wait. About 20 minutes in, they announced that the “system was down” and it could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 6 hours.

They offered to hand out some slips whereby we could go to breakfast and come back, assuring our place in line but we opted to stay for the long haul and I began praying that the system would come up sooner rather than later. Well, I should say most of the time I was praying, some of the time I was commiserating along with everyone else. We got a little ticket that said we were number 25. The little display screen that showed the number being served was miserably dead. We waited for a flicker of life.

Meanwhile the poor lady that was behind the counter (I wouldn’t have wanted that job for all the tea in China) was displaying an enormous amount of fortitude and goodwill. Not to mention patience. We sat and played Trivia and Words with Friends back and forth and I in turn observed, as I always do, the people around me. It never fails. There’s always one in the room who isn’t clear and doesn’t listen to the announcements. And there is always at least one who constantly questions the whole entire system.

As I looked around, I thought, these are working people who just want to do their jobs. None of them were being paid to be there and probably most of them couldn’t afford to be off work for the day. But there we all were in earthly purgatory, helpless and at the mercy of the SYSTEM. The guy sitting in front of us was alternately looking at scantily clad women on his phone. The other guy, mister “stand up and sit back down” was reading a book called, “I hope they have beer in Hell.” I wanted to tell him I was almost positive they didn’t and that he most assuredly didn’t want to go there even if they did.

As I looked around, I found myself thinking, each life here is precious to God. None of us looked like anything close to miraculous but as we live and breathe we are. I wanted to stand up and tell them all that Jesus loved them. From the one speaking in broken English, to the one who looked like he just crawled out of bed, and the one wearing the T-shirt that said, “Beer is proof that God loves us.” And everyone in between, even me.

Then, to make things even more bizarre, they made another announcement that it had started to rain and that, “Due to the rain, there will be no road driving tests.” What?? Don’t people drive in the rain? We all looked at each other with a sense of bewilderment. If that were the case in other states, such as Oregon or Washington, then nobody would ever be granted a driving license.

I leaned toward Elaine and whispered, “At least this time there is no pesticide guy.” No joke, last time we went to the Apache Junction DMV a guy came in with one of those pesticide tanks on his back and proceeded to spray the entire room, including and around people’s feet where they were standing at booths taking the written driving tests! The bizarre thing was, no one paid much attention as the smell wafted around us.”

After about an hour, a miracle occurred and the system blinked to life. They made the announcement and the display screen flickered to life. It said now serving “1.” Number one went back into another room and we didn’t hear anything else for an hour. Then they started calling more numbers. They skipped a bunch, and finally they called Elaine up, gave her a gold stamp of approval and said three magic words, “You’re all set.” Apparently, once the system came back up it found her in it. And no payment was needed to have it reinstated. (Miracle number two.)

We thanked the lady profusely for how she handled the customers, and the situation at hand and she beamed in gratitude.

Everyone waiting seemed to be happy for us, all those nylon short clad, dirty Levi, greasy haired clan of men collectively clapped and cheered when Elaine announced, “Since we are all friends now I guess I can leave.” I gave the victory sign, smiled and said, “Good luck.”

And peace be with you……….