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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Part 3: Living Out Love

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:11

As Jesus was on the cross, people continued to mock Him saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God." (Matthew 27:42-43) But Jesus, after they crucified Him, prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) Are we this quick to forgive those who have wronged us?

Technically, we were among those who cried out "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" We might never have said those exact words, but how many times do we deny Christ by our actions, thoughts, and motives each day? But God did the unthinkable for us: Romans 5:6-8 says, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

So how can we as sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God continue to live as though we have not? When someone ridicules us or treats us unfairly, what do we do? We do unto them as they did unto us. People, I am pretty sure that what Jesus went through was not at all fair. That should have been you and me on that cross! Yet we can whine and moan and complain because someone else was treated with more respect or given more than we were?!

How different does this say we are from the world? Didn't Jesus say that people will know that we are His disciples by how we love one another? Are we not to love with the same love which Jesus has lavished upon us (John 13:34-35)?  G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “It is crucified man that can preach the cross.  Said Thomas ‘except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails…I will not believe.’…what Thomas said of Christ, the world is saying about the church.  And the world is also saying to every preacher:  Unless I see in your hands the print of the nails, I will not believe.  It is true.  It is the man…who has died with Christ…that can preach the cross of Christ.” People are watching us. What are we saying through our lives- through how we love? Are we being true witnesses of the Gospel or are we giving a wrong impression?

Peter gives an excellent explanation of how and why our lives ought to follow the example of Christ in 1 Peter 2:18-25. "Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." 

Brothers and sisters, I am not saying that it is easy to love others the way Christ loved us. And I by no means have even come close to understanding and applying this to my own life, BUT this is what we should strive for. We have been given too much to neglect it, and I believe that if we focus on the greatness of Christ's love for us that He will graciously empower us to love like Him.

Christ-like love is unfading. That kind of love NEVER fails, because it is not about how good we are today or how bad we are tomorrow. I don't know about you, but I want to love like that.

Lord, help us to understand the magnitude of Your love for us so that we may love others in the same way in order to give them the hope of the Greatest Love Story Of All Time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Part 2: Love Manifested

Our solution to this problem is in Jesus Christ - God's love manifested. God stepped down from Heaven and became a man, the Man Jesus Christ. He was born in a humble manger (a feeding trough). He lived a selfless life of service and compassion. He loved God the Father with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, fulfilling all the law and standards of God. Once the appointed time had come, Jesus was beaten, flogged, ridiculed, and crucified. He took our sin upon Himself. This caused God the Father to turn His face away from Jesus and pour out all His wrath on Him because of our sin. For the first time, Jesus felt what it was like for His fellowship with the Creator to be broken, and it was excruciating. Yet, Jesus did this willingly because of His great love for us. The Bible says, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. We can now be legally justified and forgiven because our sin has been paid for by the blood of Christ. He is our substitute!

That is not the end though... Three days after Jesus died, God raised Him from the dead! Now He sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us. And one day He will come back to take us to Heaven where we will worship Him forever!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Part 1: Life Without Love

What you are about to read may shock some of you, but it is essential if we are to understand the magnitude of what is truly the Greatest Love Story Of All Time. 

Right after God created the heavens and the earth, He created man in His own image. God put Adam and Eve (the first man and woman) in the garden of Eden, and He gave them access to every tree in the garden of Eden except for one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now up to this point in time, Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with the Creator of the universe. But one day, the devil came disguised as a serpent and deceived Eve. She took the fruit of the forbidden tree and ate it. She also gave some to Adam who ate it as well. Then God came to them and talked with them about what they had done. As a result of their disobedience He made them leave the garden and their perfect relationship with their Creator was broken.

You might be wondering why such harsh punishment for eating some fruit? What is the big deal? But you see, it is not just about them eating the fruit. There was a deeper heart issue behind their disobedience. When they ate that fruit, they were rebelling against their Creator. Apparently the mere satisfaction of a moment was more appealing to them than perfect fellowship with God, the One who created them. 

I heard a preacher once who described disobedience as the creation pointing his or her finger at the Creator and saying, "No, I will not obey You!" So, it doesn't matter how small we view the sin; all types of sin are a direct disobedience to the Creator of the universe and that is the highest offense!

All of us as human beings are from Adam. Therefore we have inherited the sinful nature that came from him. The Bible says that we were born into sin and that we come out of the womb as sinners. Psalm 51:5. It is our nature to sin. We are full of envy, murder (see Matthew 5), strife, deceit, malice, idolatry, and all kinds of selfishness (just to name a few). And the wages of sin is death, hell, and eternal separation from God. (Rom. 6:23, Matt. 5:29, Isaiah 59:2)

Maybe you understand that you have sinned against God, but "Hey, that's ok because God will just forgive you, right?" Wrong. Not only is God a forgiving God, but He is also a holy and just God. Therefore He cannot let sin slide or He wouldn't be just anymore. And because He is holy, He cannot even look upon sin, much less condone it (Habakkuk 1:13). Sin has to be punished!

This is a serious problem for all of us!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Greatest Love Story Of All Time

Join me this weekend in a three part series on The Greatest Love Story Of All Time. The first part of this series sets the stage for the other two parts. In the second part, we will see the love manifested. And finally, the third part will hopefully leave us with a challenge in how we are to live out what is truly The Greatest Love Story Of All Time.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What if?

I try to read my Bible every day but if I were honest, I would have to say that there are times they are just words on a page. Sure, here and there a verse might capture my attention, bringing conviction, encouragement, or joy. But I read so much to retain so little.

I was listening to a pastor by the name of Dr. Elias Medeiros last night. During his sermon he went on to tell the story of Joseph in his own words. As he started to report the story to us, he interrupted himself and said, "I am just going to read it so that you may be convicted!" That statement made me think: What if every time we read the Scriptures there was conviction - whether conviction for repentance or a renewed passion for Christ?

In one of my recent posts, I shared the Scripture about the generation that seeks God. What if all of us would truly let God speak to us when we read His Word? What if every time we came away from God's Word we had a renewed passion for Him and acted upon it? If we did this, I believe that Christ, through us, would turn our communities upside down. But that starts with me. That starts with you. 

I would encourage you all to read this blog post by Mitchell Bontrager. In it, Mitchell talks about how "hungering and thirsting for righteousness" doesn't come over night. We have to develop an appetite for it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Let's Be That Generation

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah ~ Psalm 24:3-6

Let's be that generation!!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

John Paton And His Father

“My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence - my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl's down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: "God bless you, my son! Your father's God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!"
Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him - gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I rounded the corner and out of sight in instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return - his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.” ~ John Paton (Pages 25-26) 

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The Cheerleader

The Cheerleader

I’ve never really been afraid of tornadoes. You see, I’m an Arkansas girl, born and raised. I remember the thrilling nights as a kid when my mother pulled us from our beds and we’d spend what seemed like all night giggling under a mattress in the hall with flashlights and teddy bears. It was fun.
And I’ve seen the aftermath, the piles of rubble, the death counts on the news. But you see, I’m an optimist. And all these things I have seen from an emotional distance. So the prevailing theme to them all is the hope that humans are able to cling to, the stories of survival. So I’ve never really been afraid of tornadoes.
So on Sunday, April 27, when the weather man said the forecast was a mix for disaster, we decided we’d go ahead with our move to Vilonia anyway. We already had the UHaul. The house was in boxes. The helping hands had signed up. Our new house has a concrete basement. We’ll be safe, we thought.
We were.
While 20 people ate hot dogs and potato salad in the basement, the wall cloud blew over our mountain to the valley beyond it. The TV showed the eye of the storm directly over Cody Ln. And I stood on the front porch and saw the sucking black sky twirl in the distance. And for the first time that day, a fear swelled up because I knew that street. Because I’d traveled over the mountain just days before to that street. I’d stood in a house with a red door with my precious friend April, while our sons played in the yard. I’d marveled at her garden patch and seedlings and thought how much I loved her when she’d showed me her Hobby Lobby project, letters that spelled “Smith” above the door jam. “I spaced them out,” she said, “because I didn’t want to copy you.”
I couldn’t reach her. The storm had moved on but she wasn’t answering. We prayed for them as the minutes passed. Five, then ten, then the rain stopped and the sky stilled. But she didn’t answer my calls. “Call Daniel,” I told Miah. But he grabbed the keys instead. He and Jud got in the truck and left. I don’t know….I think he knew somehow. The way he was praying…it was different. He wasn’t asking for safety but for peace and I found it odd. I was afraid.
Time passed. He should have been there but the phone kept reaching voicemail. She wasn’t answering and now he wasn’t either. The group of guys that had been unloading our Uhaul left to go help. My texts to him grew in desperation.
Did it hit them?
Are they ok?
Honey, are they ok?
Please tell me if it hit them.
Please tell me they are ok.
Are they hurt?
Are they alive?
Miah, please tell me they are alive.
And then he responded. “I can’t.”
A blur. Calls to our pastor’s wife. Praying. Crying. And then another message “April and Daniel are alive right now but the boys are gone, honey”.
I don’t know what else happened for a while. My face was on the floor and my sister was there hugging me. Stephanie and I, both mothers, both friends of April, wailed. And only one prayer, a prayer more desperate than any I have ever prayed in my life, left my lips. “God, please, not this for her.”
It’s been a long couple of days. Little sleep. Lots of calls and messages. A group of men from the church went to the site and gathered what they could of the Smiths’ belongings. The house is completely gone.

Back in the fall, April and Daniel were still living in Sherwood. They received a 30 day notice that they needed to move so the owner of their home could sell it. She started to worry but in true April-fashion, she said “I know God will provide”. Just a week or so later she told me about the house they had found in Vilonia, about how perfect it was. The owners wanted to work with them to get them in it. It was just. so. perfect. It even had the red front door she had always wanted.
So, you see, I was angry. Because I knew God put them in that house. And it was no act of violence or human mistake that took their sons’ lives. It was an EF4 tornado, a mile wide, and it sucked everything that seemed so perfect off the foundation that God had given. I was SO angry.
I’ve always called her the cheerleader. Because she was one once, in a pom poms and pyramids sense, but because she still is now, in a bible and faith sense. She is who I call when my faith is stretched. And every time I hang up the phone, I’ve been reminded of how big and how good and how strong my God is.
I spent these angry couple of days questioning why God would take those boys and why he would take the best cheerleader he had. Because who could still cheer for their God after this?
The thing is though, my faith is not April’s faith. It never has been.
Last night, we walked in the hospital room to see her. While Jeremiah and I held her hands and kissed her face, she wept. She had questions about that night. She had heard that Jeremiah found the boys and she told him she was comforted it was him because she knew he would have prayed over them. We all cried. A wise, young friend of ours sent us a message of encouragement yesterday that we were able to share with April.

She shared the following scriptures:

Isaiah 55: 8-11
8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavensand stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

Jeremiah shared with her what a comfort it was for him to think that everyone is here for a purpose, for God’s purpose not for our own fulfillment. And when their purpose is reached, they GET to go home. He repeated Taylor’s words to her, “How incredible it was that Tyler and Cameron were able to serve their purpose in such a short time, when it takes some people 100 years”. I told her how angry I had been, grappling with the truth that this was allowed, arranged even.
And my beautiful friend, my cheerleader, laid in the hospital bed with her broken legs and battered, beautiful face and held my hands and told me not to be angry because her God is good. She knew that her sons had fulfilled their purpose in life and that they were with the father now. Tyler has always talked about heaven. About how he can’t wait to get there. She said she thought it was because he heard them saying how wonderful it would be…some day. But he looked at her Sunday afternoon, before the storm, and told her he was ready to go to heaven. “Will you miss me?” he asked her. “Well yes,” she said, “but let’s not talk like that now.” “How long will you miss me?” he persisted. And she just smiled and said, “I guess until I see you again.”
“I have peace,” she told me last night through her tears, “I know I have more pain to go through that I probably can understand. But I have supernatural peace. I don’t know what God has for me and my husband that our boys couldn’t be here for, but I do know that He is good. His plan is good.”
I don’t understand this kind of faith. Because I think every parent who has heard this story since Sunday has wondered, “How do you live through that?”
For those of you who have been worried about April and Daniel, worried that they would not be the same, that they could not carry on past this loss, please don’t worry any more. I have seen her hope. It is anchored in eternity. It is the kind of hope that saves people. And that’s not just the optimist in me talking. For those of you wondering how a mother could serve a God that might allow this, understand that Tyler and Cameron knew Jesus. Just a couple of weeks ago, they led a friend to Christ. They aren’t over. Their story hasn’t reached the end. They aren’t even really gone. They’ve just moved for now. And we will miss them. Like April told Tyler on his last day on earth, we will miss them until we see them again, April and Daniel more than any of us.
While none of us understand it, we must take up her lead and know that even still, God is good. And we must understand that while we may love these boys, God loves them infinitely more. He loves them perfectly. And with his knowledge of the lives and futures of the Smiths, God took them home.
But he left their mom and dad. Somehow, though every bit of that house was ripped from the foundation, April and Daniel will live. They will tell this story and honor Tyler and Cameron’s lives. Masses of people will know Jesus because of this story. Because we cannot fathom this strength.
When I left the hospital last night, I just cried and thought “She is so strong. She is so faithful. She is so selfless. She is so beautiful”. And it hit me. April is all of these things because she allows herself, even in the midst of this tragedy, to be a reflection of our strong, faithful, selfless, beautiful Savior.
They are greatly broken. But they will mend. They haven’t fulfilled what God has for them yet. But they will. Because while she could be angry, and she may be at some point, she is holding tight to the only thing she has left:
The truth that GOD IS GOOD. ALL THE TIME.

I asked her if I could take her photo, so she could have it later when she told her story.
She told me to show you all now. And to tell you… her God can overcome even this. 

My friend. Who remains the most beautiful woman I know.
April, the cheerleader.