Sunlight and rain

Credit: JC

By Snow

“When they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
from Luke 23:33-34

The above is a powerful statement. Jesus has been beaten, flogged, nailed to a cross, and tortured in various other ways as well. However, He asks God to forgive His tormentors. While He is suffering, dying for all of our sins, Jesus thinks not of Himself but of those who are killing Him. He thinks not of vengeance but of mercy.

This sets Jesus apart from any other would-be deities – at least the ones that I’ve ever heard about, anyway. Looking at Greek mythology, for example, would Apollo have asked his father, Zeus, to forgive humans who were torturing him? No. The lightning bolts simply would have started raining down. End of problem.

Not Jesus. He asks His Father to forgive His tormentors. Stop and think about that action. The beauty of it. It is the inverse Kingdom come to life. What an incredible example Jesus sets. He lives up to His own words, for during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated:

“Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”
from Matthew 5:44-45

Do you want to break the chains ensnaring you with your enemies? Love them. Though it is difficult to achieve, if you love your enemies, they no longer have any control over you. They want you to react, to stray from your values, from your God. Instead, you love them, and in so doing, you rise above and declaw them.

Paul explains in a much more eloquent fashion than I can:

“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. […] Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord. Instead, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
Romans 12:14,17-21

It is only natural to want revenge in certain situations, but you are misplacing your energy. Do you really think any revenge you come up with is going to be superior to what God can deliver in His righteous anger? “I will take revenge,” He says. Let Him handle it. Trust Him.

I try not to label people as “enemies” in my life, for even that gives them energy, but there are certainly some individuals that come to mind who have, from my perspective, either hurt or attempted to hurt me or loved ones over the years. Inspired by the words of Jesus in Luke 23:34, I have started praying for them. No matter what they did or attempted to do, none of them have committed atrocities like the tormentors of Jesus, so surely I can be as forgiving as He was?

Easier said than done, though, and I struggle each time. My Bible Study Partner suggests one approach is to pray to see them as God does. How can we see them through the eyes of God, rather than our human eyes? Doing so can lead to a new perspective and a different heart when dealing with them. You may find pity or sadness for them, rather than responsive hurt or anger.

Even if I am able to accomplish the above, I must admit, however, that I doubt I could have the presence of mind to be as gracious while in the midst of undergoing torture like Jesus did. “Jesus is perfect, so of course He responds perfectly” I think to myself, looking to excuse what I suspect my own failings would be in such a situation.

Then, another Biblical example flashes to mind (thanks, Holy Spirit). In the early days of the church, in the aftermath of Jesus’s death and resurrection, Stephen is persecuted for being a follower of Jesus. While in the process of being stoned to death and becoming the first Christian to die for his faith, Stephen – as imperfectly human as you or I – follows the example of Christ:

“He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.”
Acts of the Apostles 7:60

Jesus and Stephen have set a high standard for us. As with many of the ideals of the Bible, loving your “enemy” is best achieved by starting small and working at it each day. Think of someone who “torments” you in some way. Begin praying for that individual today. Feel how it changes your perspective of him or her. Feel how it changes you.

Thank you for reading. May Jesus bless you.

A word without meaning?

Flowers
Credit: JC

By Snow

“Love” has become an overused word. Oh we love everything these days. Movies and phones and snacks, whatever. You name it, there’s someone out there who loves it.

Has “love,” then, lost all meaning? I experience such deep feelings for my true love that the word has seemed inadequate. For months, I searched in vain for a new, more descriptive word to express my feelings for her.

As always, scripture held the answer:

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”
1 John 4:16

God is love. Love is God. Though we might apply it incorrectly to inanimate objects, there is no better word to be found than “love” to describe the intense emotion that binds one heart to another – no matter if it is love for Jesus, your mom, your kids, your true love, or your best friend.

A love rooted in Jesus is pure and strong. And why wouldn’t it be? For He is not only the source of love, He is love. He also showed us how to love. For who could love more than the One who sacrificed Himself so that our sins would be forgiven and we could live with Him for eternity?

God is love
Credit: Snow

Heavenly Father,

Please bless those reading these words and show them examples of Your love in their lives. May they love You and others as intensely as You love us. If they do not already know You, may You lead them to salvation.

In the holy name of Jesus I pray.

Amen

* * *

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

You are always loved

By Snow

In my first week of being saved, back in June, my Bible Study Partner (BSP) instructed me to read Romans 8 repeatedly, especially verses 38 and 39. I hold these verses close to my heart.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39

The power of these two verses still amazes me. We know that God is omnipresent – He exists everywhere at once. My pastor recently pointed out that God is not more in one place than another. He is just as much on Mars as He is in the holiest church on Earth.

This also means that God is just as much in the darkest, seediest places on Earth, too. He is constantly with all of us. He is with us when we are at our best, and He is with us when we are at our worst. No matter what sin we commit, He is still there. God is love, so we are always surrounded by love.

Take a moment to think about that. No matter how alone you may feel. No matter how dark the world may seem, you are constantly surrounded by love, because you are surrounded by God.

God is everywhere – which means He is even inside you. You are filled with His love at any given moment. Close your eyes and feel Him. Feel His love for you and for all of His creations.

Nothing can take His love away from you. Nothing. No one. He manifests that love in many ways, the most enduring of which was the gift of His only son, Jesus, to the world so that He could die for our sins and we might have everlasting life.

Not only does God exist in all places at once, He also exists in all times at once. That concept may be hard for us to understand, but the end result is He has always loved you, He loves you now, and He always will love you. Nothing can destroy this. No action you take. No action anyone else takes. His love for you is eternal. That is why He wants you to have eternal life, to live in the Perfect Place, Heaven, with Him. That is why He sent His son. For you. His love for you is that vast.

To accept that eternal gift of life, there is one action you must take, though. There is one thing you must do, friend. You must accept Jesus Christ in your heart as your savior (John 3:16). That’s it. If you do not already walk with Jesus, I pray that you take a moment to consider opening your heart to Him. No, you are not perfect. That is why He came here, after all. He came here for you. Let Him in. He is already with you. He always has been. Just open your heart. Your life will change.

Tree
Credit: JC

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”
1 John 4:16-19

Having established that we are constantly surrounded and filled with God’s love, our next step is to trust that love, trust God. I admit, I still struggle with this one. There are certain events in my life that I want to happen sooner than later. However, I must allow His plan for me to unfold at His speed, not mine. This is difficult for me. I am rationally aware that He knows better than me. After all, He is omniscient – all-knowing. I am not always rational, though. Especially when I can’t see the path forward.

Of course, He sees the path. He makes the path. He is the path forward. When something seems impossible to me, I try to remember that it surely is less difficult than creating the entire universe. Nothing is impossible for Him, and I must trust Him.

God is love, and God is perfect, so of course God’s love for us is perfect. By obeying God, by “being Jesus” here on Earth, even our own love – for ourselves, for others, for God – can move towards perfection.

A story for another day, but for years I allowed fear to control me. It consumed me, and I did not even realize it most of the time. The opposite of fear is love. Let love control you, not fear.

You are never alone. Jesus is with you. You are always loved. Always.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you in 2019 as He has blessed me in 2018, for I have never before experienced such joy.

The ultimate gift

By Snow

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14

Merry Christmas Eve Eve! As a child, I was always so excited by this date. My mom often allowed my little sister and me to exchange our gifts to one another on Christmas Eve. Usually around December 21 or 22, we would both start trying to push this timeline up a bit. Once or twice, Mom acquiesced, and we managed to give each other our presents on Christmas Eve Eve.

The most fun for me was seeing my sister’s reaction to what I gave her. While my funds were limited, I always hoped to find just the right present for her. They were small things, but our gifts to one another meant so much to both of us. I still remember many of the presents she gave me, and I even have a couple of them. There was the small Transformers airplane. The Michael Jordan basketball game. The electronic stopwatch/hippo game.

All these years later, my favorite part of gift exchange is seeing the other person when I think I have found just the right thing. As for me, my favorite gifts to receive are those from the heart. Something handmade or symbolic of a special time. Or, my most cherished gift of all, a letter. Things that cost little to nothing in terms of money, but are priceless to me.

This is my first year celebrating Christmas after being saved a little over six months ago. As you might expect, I see Christmas through a different lens now. It is hard for me to get wrapped up in all of the shopping hoopla anymore. I feel very detached from the “shopping days” element of Christmas. I see people rushing around, cutting each other off in traffic and worse in the parking lots. Peace on Earth? Good will towards one another? Not during the Christmas shopping season, it seems.

Most years, I hibernate from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, only leaving the house to go to work due to how people behave. If I did otherwise go out, I would usually have someone else drive me, as I was afraid.

This year, I try not to let fear control me. I am a child of God! I will go where I need or want to go. I dove right into the traffic on Friday and Saturday, and I did fine. That may sound like a non-event, but for someone who is normally as anxious as I am while driving, it is an accomplishment, particularly in this frantic time of year. I feel different now.

I even went into a very crowded Target store yesterday to buy one $10 item, and I had not even mentally prepared for it. As people shoved and pushed past me, the anxiety that would normally rise up within me in such circumstances stayed away.

I am not naive enough to think that my anxiety is magically gone this week, but I do feel different.

Writing these posts is always so fascinating to me. I had not planned to cover anxiety again this week, yet here I am. Wherever the words take me.

When did Christmas become so much about shopping and so little about Jesus Christ? This has apparently been the case for quite some time. “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas” proclaimed the titular character in A Charlie Brown Christmas. That was back in 1965, before my time. If Christmas was considered too commercial back then, what is it 53 years later?

What would poor Charlie Brown think of Christmas in 2018? One where Thanksgiving is but a gate to a shopping frenzy? One where towers of Amazon boxes await on our front porches each day? One where “Christmas Day” is often referred to only as “Holiday.” As in, “Holiday Sale 2018!!!” Christmas has not only been commercialized, but it has been genericized.

“Holiday” of course derives from “holy day,” and Christmas is the most holiest of days. It represents when the Son of God first came to our world to live as a human. After teaching, healing, and feeding so many, He gave all of us the ultimate gift, His precious blood. For He sacrificed Himself for our sins so that we who believe in Him would be right with God. He was then resurrected from the dead and walked the Earth again, before ascending back to Heaven to sit at His Father’s side. Yet, He remains with us always as well, for we are blessed to walk with Him today.

Nativity scene
Credit: JC

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16

This is, of course, a famous verse, but it is always worth revisiting. Read it again. Christianity in its pure form, as documented in the New Testament, is as inclusive as can be. Whosever believes will have eternal life. That is the only requirement. Nothing else matters. Any sin you have committed. Any commandment you have broken. Even if you have broken all ten of them. Believe in Him, give your heart to Him, and you are forgiven. Forever. Believe in Him, truly believe, and your life will change. Mine changed, and it is still changing. I see the entire world through new eyes.

I see a world that we have wrecked, yet His creations continue to shine through. I see an imperfect but wonderful world. I see a world that needs us to continue His work. By opening our hearts, He can work through us.

Jesus gave up his life for us, so that we might eternally live. So that we who sin might have a chance to make it to the Perfect Place after all. He has paid off the debts of our sins. What other Christmas gift could possibly compare? The question is, have you accepted His gift? It is not available from Amazon.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you. Have a merry Christmas!

Stepping stone to eternity

Cross on a mountaintop
Credit: JC

By Snow

“By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.”
Ephesians 3:7

As with all of our resources, time actually belongs to God. We are to follow His will in how to use it (Ephesians 5:15-17). Before I was saved, I considered faith a very private matter. Though I held a belief in God, it was not something I usually discussed with people. Oh sure, I would say the typical, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” when someone encountered a tragedy, but what did that really mean?

After being saved a few months ago, I initially wanted to remain in a kind of “bubble.” I still considered faith to be very private, so I avoided discussing the many changes that were happening in my life with anyone besides my Bible Study Partner (BSP).

Only recently, with the encouragement of my BSP, have I started to find my way out of this bubble in small but rapidly growing ways, including by starting this blog. I am also mentioning Jesus to people in my life. Last week, for instance, I finally told my siblings and other family members about being saved, and they were all very supportive.

As a follower of Jesus, I have the awesome responsibility and privilege of representing Him. As Paul states above in his letter to the Ephesians, part of that responsibility – through the grace of God – is to share the gospel, the Good News that the suffering and death of Jesus for our sins, His resurrection, and His ascension back to Heaven make those who believe and accept Him right with God (1 John 4:9-10).

It does not matter who you are – age, education, ethnicity, race, nationality, financial status, or background. It does not matter what you have done in your past, for He already knew your every failure when He chose to die on the cross for you.

He knows everything there is to know about you. Everything. He loves you, and if you believe in Him, you will experience that love in so many new ways, including eternal life. Once you accept this Gift, no one can take it away from you. No one (Romans 8:38-39).

I owe my eternal life to Jesus. Any physical or emotional pain that I experience here is nothing compared to the pain He experienced sacrificing Himself on the cross for my sins. I belong to Him, I serve Him, and I love Him.

When someone needs His hand, I pray to Jesus for her or him. He already knows all needs, so the praying is really for my benefit as part of my personal relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Life is a stepping stone to eternity – Heaven for those who are saved. In this life, we have choices. How to live? What to believe? Who to follow? I choose to believe in and follow Jesus. I choose to obey Him as best I can, despite my many failings.

I choose to begin making the most of my time here on this stepping stone.

Thank you for reading. God bless you.

I am a failure

By Snow

Of those I have read so far, one of my favorite books of the Bible is James. However, I struggle with the below passage:

“For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, ‘You must not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You must not murder.’ So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.”
James 2:10-11

I definitely grasp that a person is guilty by breaking any of the commandments. What is more difficult for me to comprehend is that a person who has broken a single commandment is just as guilty as a person who has broken all ten. How can this be?

I am often perplexed by binary questions, the kind looking for simple “Yes” or “No” answers. I grapple with this passage, then, because “Do you obey God’s law?” is the ultimate binary question.

Either we obey the commandments or we do not. “Yes, but. . . .” is not a valid answer, nor is “I obey the ones that are easy” or “I obey the most important ones.” What we are really saying with those kinds of responses is, “I obey the ones I choose.” Which means we are arrogant enough to think we know better than our all-knowing God.

Do I obey God’s law?

No.

I sin every day. Even when I am on my very best behavior and have the greatest day ever, I sin. I have broken over half of the commandments, many of them repeatedly. Even after being saved, I still break God’s law.

What is wrong with me?

The answer to that question is simple. I am human. There was only one perfect man, and our imperfect ancestors crucified him.

Fallen tree in the woods
Credit: JC

Jesus is also the answer for my sins, though. The perfect man without sin served as the ultimate sacrifice for all of us imperfect, sinful humans.

No matter how hard I try, even if He granted me a blank slate today, I will never be able to obey all of God’s commandments. I will fail and sin, as I have to this point in my life. Over and over. When it comes to obeying God’s law, I am a failure, and I always will be.

By accepting Jesus into my heart, I have been absolved of my failures.

Since I will always fail and yet be forgiven, does this mean I might as well break all of the commandments (Romans 6:15)?

Jesus suffered on the cross for me, for all of us.

Do I really want to be disrespectful to His sacrifice by using His love as an escape clause?

Now, there’s a binary question that I can answer without struggle: No.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.