Posts Tagged Religion & Spirituality

Tests

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

These are indeed testing times in and out of school settings.  During this season, the young people are stressed–everything they have learned since the beginning of the school year will decide their next move.  Even the brightest students seem concerned.  On this day, the building is eerily quiet as the students complete their examinations.  Shortly after, they learn their grades.  One group of  students asks a young man his grade. He replies, “a 70” and they laugh. He immediately responds, “at least I passed.” Isn’t that really what’s important?  That you make the grade.  That you recall everything you have learned and have done your best?

Admittedly, these are difficult times for everyone everywhere, but why are we surprised?  Jesus warned His Disciples that times would be hard and that their faith would be tested.  Tests, even for Christian believers are hard, but they are necessary to check and assess our spiritual growth and to measure our faith.  In essence, to prove whether we truly believe what we profess or simply profess that we believe.

Through the years, I have discovered that God works best in difficult times. I have found too, that no matter what I am going through, God has already made a way for me.  I have no doubt that I have been anointed to finish my course and I will never quit.  In fact, I have been through too much to give up now.   Friends, storms will come, so you might as well prepare.  I am sure we would prefer they didn’t, but it is not our destiny for God to remove obstacles from our lives.  That’s our desire.  Grace is our destiny.  The One who allows our tests also proctors and grades them. And one thing I can tell you with assurance is that not only is our God fair but is faithful!

Tests, trials, and especially storms, are to strengthen our faith in the One who controls all things.  Strangely enough, there are lessons in every painful circumstance, situation, and trying moment. Life is a grand classroom of learning experiences. We must be attentive and study, study, study because there will be no makeup exams or “do overs.”

Once we know something, we become accountable for what we know and at various points in life we will be tested on that knowledge.  The grade will not matter. What will matter is that we have done our best on the test.  “Testing times” are times to realize that the God who brought us through one test, if God wills, can bring us through the next and the next.  And if we have faithfully done our very best, then we can look for the greatest passing grade — Well done!!

The “enemy of our souls” told Job (one of God’s great men of faith), “I am going to break you with your test,” but God said, “No, I’m going to make you with it.” Job excelled to the end, graduated with Honors, and assures us with his enduring testimony, “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10 (NIV)

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1st collector for TD Jakes – This Test Is Your Storm
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Celebrate Life

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”  John 3:16 (New International Translation)*

Finally, after many years of preaching and teaching, I can now truthfully say, I fully understand “God’s redemptive plan of salvation.” I see clearly now that the cross was not merely a postlude to Christ’s passion, but was the prelude to an abundant new life in Him. Yes, He was crucified. He died and was buried, but more importantly – He was raised!

Unfortunately, it is not until this time of the year that I honestly recollect that the One who had no sins accepted mine –that the Son who had never been separated from His Father chose to die not just for my sins but for the sins of the entire world. By God’s Grace, Jesus, knowing the end before the beginning, did not shrink from His purpose to endure the cross.  I am truly grateful that He sacrificed His life so we could live and I acknowledge the incredibly wonderful thing He has done!

During this season especially, I recollect those fateful days of Jesus’ great sacrifice.  How His Disciples abandoned Him and His solitary walk to His destiny.  I picture Him praying in the Garden and imagine His painful cries to His Father.  I envision His suffering on the cross. I hear the mocking crowd of His enemies saying, “crucify Him” when only a few days before cried “crown  Him.”  I see one hurting who spent his last earthly days, healing and helping. Forgive me Lord, when I forget and boast of anything but your Cross.  Please allow me to honor you by saying, “thank you for your compassion and your faithfulness.”  “Thank you for exchanging your life for mine, and most of all, thank you for being the way to eternal life!Mere thanks-giving seems such a shallow and inadequate expression to the One who gave His all, so I will honor you Lord with “thanks-living.”

John 11:25, 26 (NIV) records,“Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die . . . .”  This truth empowers me to press through and to continually praise God in the face of every challenge, struggle, or loss. It reminds me that “all things are possible with God and that nothing can separate me from God’s Love–not even death” (Romans 8:37-39)!! 

I was particularly moved by this video of the last public performance of my favorite Gospel artist, Bishop Walter Hawkins, who passed away shortly afterwards. It is not a performance, but an offering to his Creator.  Bishop Hawkins faithfully used his gifts to honor and glorify God to the day he died.  The man and the message exemplify total faith and trust in God and God’s care for His children. Someone has wisely said, “Life is God’s gift to us—what we do with it is our gift to Him.”

Father, I
appreciate
and proudly celebrate the glorious wonderful, marvelous thing you have done.   Have a Blessed Resurrection (Easter) Sunday. Celebrate yourselves — celebrate each other — celebrate the gift of life, and most of all — celebrate the Giver!  

*emphasis added

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Perfect Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
St. John 14:27 (New International Translation)

As I sit at my desk watching the tree on my front lawn move furiously in the wind — a tornado watch has been issued and the dark clouds look ominous.  Suddenly, my computer screen fades to black and the higher speed internet I just ordered is indicating that the system is down. I have to postpone again — this already late post I am entitling “Perfect Peace.”

I continue to wait for the system to restart and I reflect on the past week that has been particularly Blessed — all plans flowed effortlessly.  But today, as I attempt to get back on schedule and to write this post — things are falling apart.  Could it be a reminder that when all is well with me and mine that I simply take life for granted?  Could it be that I have been so busy being busy that I forgot to remember what is truly important to the Lord?  I have not listened to the news.  I have not thought of the wars and other disquieting situations at home and abroad — that is: not until this hour of angst in my own world.  As I continue to wait and reflect on God’s goodness — as suddenly and abruptly as they began — the winds calm, my tree stills, the sun returns and so do the lights on my modem — lesson learned!  Peacefully, I get back to work.  Isn’t it amazing how the Father gets our attention!!

Jesus tried to tell His disciples from the beginning that this day would come, but they would not hear Him.  He knew they were upset by the talk of betrayal and the thought of His leaving them.  He knew what they would face in the coming days, and He was concerned about the effect his death would have on them.  So, He tries to get them to understand why it has to happen. Jesus knew His time was at hand and the end had come, but He was ready for it. We saw in the Garden, how He dreaded the pain, but we also saw how He kept His eye on the joy beyond the pain.  That is the picture of “peace in its perfection” that He bequeathed to them and to us.

During this High and Holy season of celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, let us remember amidst all the chaotic noise and constant upheaval of this world, we (His followers) own a legacy from the “Prince of Peace!”  “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) 

 

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A Clean Slate

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God . . . .”  Romans 3:23 (KJV)

Our lives were full of faults, failings, weaknesses, and mistakes, but Jesus, on the cross, covered every wrong and made it right with His very Blood.  His sacrifice declared us not guilty and justified us before God.  His offering wiped completely clean the slate of our errors! Each of us can now stand before God without a mark of displeasure. I like the way Joyce Meyer (one of my favorite televangelist) describes it.  She says, “it is to be made as if you never sinned.” Picture, if you can, an empty blackboard, a blank slate, or in today’s terms an empty whiteboard or smartboard that was filled with mistakes, hate, unforgiveness, indifference, ingratitude, and much worse — all gone.  Then picture yourself, no matter your age, as fresh as a newborn babe, and you can see the magnitude of Christ’s precious gift.   

There is something about a clean slate. It just begs to be written on. Just realizing the option and privilege to — at any time — at any age — in any condition–no matter what you’ve done — start over, is strangely wonderful.    To be able to imprint something honorable with your life — with never a reference to your past, is indescribable.  To realize no matter what you have been or done — the account is balanced and the debt paid, is extraordinary.  

Every time I think about Christ’s sacrifice, I love the Lord even more.  I can hardly believe that God loved me in spite of me, knowing what I was and even what I would become.  There was no trial, judge, jury, fine or penalty for my offenses, simply a love that would not let me go. Thank you Lord, for your Grace and your Mercy when it was justice that suited our case. Just as the songwriter wrote, I sing today, “O How I love Jesus.”  “O How I Love Jesus.”  “O How I love Jesus.”  “Because He first loved me.”  Yes, Jesus paid it all on the Cross and wiped every slate clean.  And with gratitude I rejoice to say, “since Jesus died for me, surely I can live for Him!!!

This post is for those who may feel helpless, hopeless, unloved, or unworthy of Christ’s love.   I want you to know you are the very reason Jesus gave His life.  Jesus said, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) That’s the depth of the love displayed on the Cross. Please listen as gifted singer, preacher, pastor, Smokie Norful seals the message of this post. 

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Stuff and Things

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, “. . . a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Luke 12:15 (NIV)

God has a way of reminding us how Blessed we are.  He allows us to accumulate what I call, “stuff and things,” to see whether we will prize them over our relationship with Him and to remind us that we are merely stewards over “every good and perfect gift that ultimately comes from the Lord.”

This parable the Lord relates in Luke 12:16-21 clearly shows how easily we take God’s goodness for granted.  A  man who is already rich, is further Blessed with an uncommonly plentiful harvest of fruit to the point he feels he has no place to put them all.  Rather than share his Blessing with others, he decides to pull down his older smaller barns and to build larger ones to accommodate this great yield of fruit.  He convinces himself that this harvest is so great he will not have to worry about planting again for many years to come and that all he has to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy life from now on.  Then comes the reality check in verses 20-21:  “But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

The aim of life is appreciation. There is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them, if you have less appreciation of them. — G.K. Chesterton

I have been truly Blessed all my life.  The Blessings of God have flowed freely. But I discovered, if you are not careful when “things” come too easily, you can take them and their source for granted.  That’s where I found myself, especially, these past few years — full and forgetful about how good God has already been to me and mine.  So, tests and challenges came fast and furiously — one after the other to remind me.  And, it was not until I was on the verge of losing everything including my health and sanity that I cried unto the Lord, please help me.  And just as with the Psalmist, He inclined His ear and heard me.  I immediately re-ordered my priorities and placed God first again in my life, and strangely enough “stuff and things” are not as important. Better still,  I have found complete satisfaction in my relationship with God and those I love.

What I have tried to say is, at the end of the day, there are some truths we must live to learn.  I learned never to place anything or anyone above my love for the Lord.   Even more, I was reminded, that while I may no longer be rich according to the world’s standards with “stuff and things,” I have always been Blessed and highly favored by a  GOOD GOD who is GOOD ALL OF THE TIME!

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Are We There Yet?

Pocket watch, savonette-type.

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“. . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . .”  Hebrews 12:1 (RSV)

As we age and see the passing on of others (especially those younger than ourselves), we cannot ignore the tendency to stop and consider our own mortality.  We begin to think about, and try to calculate, our remaining days and how they will end.  We memorialize and celebrate every milestone, birthday, and anniversary, and wonder whether we will see another, and if so, where we are we headed from there.  We waste precious time asking ourselves the question posed in the Movie, “Are we there yet?” But that question only begs other questions:  Do we know where we are going?  Where is “there”?  Will we know when we’ve arrived?  And, more importantly, why are we always in such a hurry to get “there”? 

Why are we so obsessed over youth and beauty and things beyond our control?  Why is it that so many of us (young and not so young) anxiously try to “capture,” “cover,” “lift,” “stretch,” “remove,” “tuck,” “staple,” and “shrink” “the hands of time,” to no avail.  Wisdom should come with age, but we all know just because our hair is gray does not mean that we are wise.  To understand that God is the Author and the Writer of Time, who writes it however, whenever, and wherever God wills– that’s wisdom.

I discovered years ago, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and age is only a number.  Every day that I am above ground and can feel my pulse is a good day.  It is another opportunity to give God my best.  I am grateful for my joys as well as my pain, for both have made me grow.  As a matter of fact, it was my tears and sorrows that taught me:  “It is not until you have been “seasoned” by God’s Grace in the sands of life’s struggles that you become salt.  And, it is only when you have matriculated in life’s “School of Suffering,” that you truly have something worth sharing!

I am in the “winter” of my years now and (for you young folk–that’s any age past 60).  But I’m proud to say, “I don’t look like what I’ve been through.”  I have no regrets and I am more committed today than ever to finish my course.   God has never left nor forsaken me and continues to beckon me towards my destiny.

So, I am not preoccupied with my destination — I am clearly focused on my journey.  Because the only thing that will matter at the end of the day is my goal:  to hear my Lord say, “Well done, “good” and “faithful” servant.”  Until then, I will keep “pressing towards the mark  for the prize of  the high calling in Christ Jesus.”  I’ve got my “best” track shoes on and — I AM GOING TO RUN UNTIL I FINISH!!

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