Monday, June 29, 2009

Mary's Little Boy

My daughter and her family recently relocated to North Carolina to be closer to me. Right now they are spending some time with me while they arrange for housing, job transfers and, possibly, new employment. It is such a joy to have my grandsons around--to listen to their stories and to be a daily part of their lives.
I must say, though, that I had forgotten what a handful little boys can be. My home is now filled with cars, trucks, Transformers, Star Wars figures, video games, legos, marbles, swords and shields, in addition to Veggie Tale movies, Ironman, Batman and Superman. Zorro and the Man In the Iron Mask round out their favorites. A lot of pretending to be any of the above mentioned superheroes takes place along with acting out their favorite Bible characters such as King David (their personal favorite), Moses, Noah and Daniel. I have heard more Bible stories recently than I have in years. I have also had more hugs and kisses, more snuggling, and more "I love you" said to me than I could ever imagine. This is the joy of children--this is what makes the world a wonderful place to be. The unconditional love of a child is worth more than all of earth's treasures.
As I slipped upstairs, long after they were in their beds, just to catch a glimpse of their sleeping faces, I wondered about another little boy. I wondered if his mother ever just sat and watched him sleep not knowing the awful death she would watch Him endure. I wondered about Mary's little boy.
We are so programmed to think of Jesus as the Son of God--the last Lamb of Calvary--the one who gave His life so we might live free from the bondage of sin. We think of Him as the healer, the deliverer, the miracle worker and, indeed, He was all of those things. He was, to all who followed Him, more than just a man. He was flesh and bone, yet He carried within Him the divine genetics of His father. He was the Son of God but He was also Mary's little boy--a fact we often overlook.
I am sure that, to the casual observer, Jesus was just like any other child. I know He must have laughed and cried, wanting His mother to kiss away His hurts. I am sure there were times He was as mischievious as all His other boyhood friends. The carpenter shop must have rung with his childish laughter and Mary and Joseph surely laughed along with Him. Did He run along the shores of Galilee with His cousin, John, before they were old enough to fulfill their destinies? And, I wonder, did Mary slip to the side of His bed, just to gaze lovingly upon the face of her child while He slept?
Later, did Mary watch with a sense of dread as her son left to begin a ministry that would surely lead to His own sacrifice? How many times did she cry out to the Divine Father of her child and beg Him to change His plans? How deep was her agony at the possiblity that each time she saw her son, it could very well be her last? Finally, how many times did she have to yield her fears, her dreads, her mother's desire to spare her son---how many times did she yield to the will of God?
In the movie, "The Passion of the Christ", there is a scene that depicts Mary's heart so beautifully. As Jesus stumbles under the weight of the cross, Mary is watching. Her mind flashes back to a memory of Jesus as a child--the child stumbles and falls. Mary immediately rushes to Him, picks Him up and says, "Mother is here.". How she must have yearned to rush to Him as He fell beneath the wooden cross, wipe away the bloody sweat from His brow, throw her arms of love around Him and whisper, "Mother is here". But she could not. Mary had to do the unthinkable--she had to leave her son alone--she had to let Him die so that you and I would have a chance for eternal life, free of the chains of our sinful nature.
I only have one son. He has been such a joy to me and has filled my life with beautiful memories from his birth until this very day. I cannot imagine a life without John in it. To those who have lost a child I can only say that I cannot begin to think of the awful pain and sorrow it must surely bring to your heart. When I think of Mary and the awfulness of watching her only child suffer and die on a cross, my heart breaks and I cannot stop the tears from falling. I am sure the memories of a lifetime flooded her mind during the six hours Jesus hung on the cross. I am certain she thought of every detail of His life with her and mourned His death in a way that no one else could.
When I think of these things, the mess on my living room floor doesn't seem so bad. The whirlwind of superheroes and the Veggie Tales blaring throughout the house becomes so much more tolerable. The little hands that reach for mine, the child's arms that wrap themselves around my neck, the sticky fingerprints on the piano keys--all remind me that there is nothing more precious than a child's life. How wonderful it is to be loved by a child! I have been so blessed by my children and now to have grandchildren--it is an additional blessing I love and cherish.
Tonight I will make my way up the stairs, quietly as I can, and I will look at the faces of two little boys. I will sit there and watch them sleep for a while. I will watch their little chests rise and fall just to make sure they are breathing okay. I will lean over and kiss their cheeks lightly so that, God forbid, I won't wake them. I will thank God for them and the blessing of their love. Then I will thank God for another little boy--a little boy who loved me enough that He was willing to die for me--a little boy who became the reason I am called a child of
God--a little boy named Jesus. Mary's little boy.

In Grace,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Makes Us Strong

My pastor recently ministered on the subject of "The Goodness of God". He spoke about why God has such kindness towards us and why He continues to extend to us blessing after blessing. It was a wonderful message full of hope and expectation. It left me counting the many blessings God has given me. He then made a statement that left me thinking about my adversity as well, but in a different way, "Resistance is what makes us strong. You never encounter resistance when you are doing the wrong thing. It is only when we choose to do the right thing that we encounter resistance from the enemy". It was a new concept for me. I knew about resisting but I had never, for some reason, identified it as something that would make me strong. It usually left me feeling spiritually drained.
I then thought about my son. John was always disappointed as a teenager that he was not as tall as he wanted to be. He was also very thin (not necessarily a bad thing) and not all that strong. John was, and still is, very strong in his personal beliefs and in his faith but was not overly strong physically. When he graduated from high school, though, he got a job at a local fitness center. There he began lifting weights and following a regimen that he still follows today. As a result of that, John developed musculature and strength that he had not had before. I think the word we would use today is "buffed". John is 5'9" and has tremendous physical strength---all because he used resistance to develop his body.
I use the example of my son because it brings to mind the benefit of really resisting against another force. I have never seen a time when the body of Christ is suffering as it is today. We are pushed by life into areas we do not wish to go. We are facing the ravages of illness and disease, the loss of those we love, financial adversity, job losses, and a world that is changing too rapidly for comfort. It is easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed. It is easy to feel like throwing in the towel when life becomes this painful. Faith and trust become harder to maintain. Resisting the urge to give in is a battle we feel we cannot fight.
If I may refer to scripture, we are not told to fight--we are told to resist. We develop ourselves spiritually through resistance against any thought or action that would place us against the will of God. We become stronger in our faith and our ability to trust our wonderful God when we resist any "principality or power" that would pull us away from the shelter of His love and provision.
Dear friends, faith is hardest to find when we are in the midst of situations we do not understand. It is harder to trust when it seems all is going wrong and there seems to be no way out. God's path for us is not always easy, but it is always worth it. Through all of our most difficult times, He is there. We learn what God is capable of doing for us when we resist the forces of evil and stand with the promises of God. We then lift the spiritual weights that strengthen us and enable us to go further in our walk with God.
I must confess I have not always been successful in resistance. There have been times when I have felt so stretched and so overwhelmed by my circumstances and the sorrows of my life that I have allowed myself to become untouched by God. I refused to listen to His words of comfort because I felt He was being unfair with the events He had allowed to come into my life. I lacked understanding of God's ability to make even the most dreaded of life's events bearable. I am reminded of a situation that was breaking my heart and becoming so painful that I felt I was being suffocated by its weight. I finally went to God in desperation and prayed, "God, if you can't take this away from me, please make it bearable". The situation did not change but I did. Many times we yearn to escape from the agony of what we are enduring but we cannot circumvent the issue with an "around" kind of faith. The only faith that will work is a "through" kind of faith; a "though God slay me I will trust Him" kind of faith. This kind of faith is resistance at its best. It develops us into the faith warriors we need to be.
So dear friends, I urge you to stay the course. You will meet resistance, of that I am certain. It is the enemy's purpose to keep us from experiencing the will of God for our lives. But, no matter what the test, never give up. Resistance training is not easy but the reward is worth it. Andre Crouch says it like this, "If I never had a problem, I'd never know that God could solve them. I'd never know what faith in God can do". The greater the resistance, the stronger the faith--the stronger the faith, the more it can do. Resistance training--it's a faith thing.

In Grace,

Friday, June 19, 2009

He Did It All For Me

I have been thinking a lot today about the wonderful things people in my life have done for me. I have recalled so many words and deeds--my heart is full with the memories.
I could not possibly detail all the things Mother and Daddy have done for me. In addition to the material things I've received from them, I've been blessed to have their wisdom, their counsel, and their love. I have been so fortunate--they have been so good to me. I love them so much.
My brothers have been my best friends and my closest confidants. I learned from them to respect another's opinion when it differs from my own. I learned give and take for, much to my childish distress, it wasn't always about me. Most of all, I learned that no matter what happens in life, the ties that bind a loving family can never be broken. My brothers gave me that security--the life cords that bind us together will always hold tight.
From my children I have received joy untold and the pleasure of being the mother of two marvelous gifts of God. They have tested my faith at times--tested my temper at other times--stretched the limits of my sanity--but have always loved me. They have done more to fill my life with hope and love than I could possibly tell.
My precious grandsons are my blessed assurance--my certainty that the legacy of faith I have cherished all these years will continue long after I am gone. They give me inspiration with their childlike faith and love. Oh, how I love those little boys.
In case I have not stated it adequately, the people God has allowed to enter my life have given me so much. They have done everything in their power to make my life a lovely place to be. Yet the one thing that secures my destiny is something that cannot be given by earthly beings. No human could do what needed to be done to secure my eternal life. But God did.
As I have written before, I knew from babyhood that Jesus was sent to die for the sins of the world. I knew He came to change the lives of us, weak humanity, into the overcomers we were meant to be. In the process, He also enabled us to lay aside the mantle of our sins and shame and to become "new creatures" through his love and mercy. He did it all so that we could have it all--eternity in His heavenly city and a life in this mortal frame free from the bondage of sin. What can I say about a Saviour who would willingly do for me what I could not do for myself? A dear friend summed it up with a chorus that says, "He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay--I needed someone to wash my sins away." How glorious is the thought that I am loved enough, cared for enough, embraced by God enough, that He would wash me clean of the sin from which I could not cleanse myself? Oh, what a Saviour.
I am always remembering the words of songs which have lifted me over the years. For days the following ones have been on my heart:

"He did it all for me,
Each drop of blood was shed for even me.
When the Saviour cried,
Bowed His head and died,
He did it all for me."

How humbling is the thought that the Saviour of Heaven would willingly, because of His great love toward us, take our sins to the cross and, along with Himself, nail them there on our behalf. What love our Jesus possessed! To pray the prayer, "...nevertheless, not my will but thine be done...", knowing He was facing certain death and persecution, yet He was willing because of His unfailing love. He is, indeed, my Lord and Saviour. He is the beat of my heart.
Yes, I possess many things today and hold many possessions dear to my heart. I have many friends and loved ones who have done so much for me. My family would willingly give their lives to protect me and I would do the same for them. But, though they would lay down their lives for me, and as much as they love me, they could not remit my sins--they could not wash them away. Jesus did it all. He took the shame, the blame, and the pain so that you and I could walk in newness of life. He secured our souls with His own blood. I know He died for all but I am especially certain that He died for me. He did it all for me--my heart's desire is to give my all to Him.

In Grace,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just A Glove

I have always loved wearing gloves. When I was a little girl, I could hardly wait for Easter Sunday so that I could put on my new, white gloves to wear with my special outfit. Mother always bought me such dainty ones, sometimes trimmed with pretty lace edging or a lovely pearl button that would fasten over the wrist. I loved putting them on and feeling the satin smoothness of the fabric cover my hand.
My first pair of gloves as an adult was worn with a lovely blue dress and my first pair of high heeled shoes. I thought it was one of the lovliest outfits I had ever worn. I received many compliments that day and felt like such a "proper" young lady with my white gloves and heels. Years later, when wearing gloves to church on Sunday became a thing of the past, I insisted on carrying mine along with my purse--I just could not bear to part with my lovely white gloves.
As time passed, I difted away from carrying gloves and, unfortunately, forgot about them altogether. That is, until I attended a Ladies' Retreat in West Virginia. One of the ladies of the church sang a song that brought back my adoration of gloves. She sang a song entitled "Keep Me In Your Will". It's a beautiful song about finding, and staying in, the will of God so that we don't get in His way as He moves in our lives. The words and music are so beautiful and the message so profound. It was the words of the second verse, though, that left such an impact on my memory:

"Remind me, Lord, I'm just a glove
Into which you place your hand.
Not my will but thine be done,
Though I don't understand.
The best laid plans I've made
Somehow always go astray.
Keep me in your will
So I won't be in your way."

"Remind me Lord, I'm just a glove". I thought back to the days when I wore gloves. I remembered putting them on, adjusting the fingers and, if needed, fastening the button over my wrist. After that, I just enjoyed the wearing. Whatever my hands wanted to do, the gloves just went along. My gloved hands carried out my every wish--they carried my purse, they held my hymnal, they laid silently in my lap, and they reached out to grasp another's hand in greeting. Not one time did the gloves ever resist what my hand wanted them to do. Once I placed my hands in the gloves, they came to life and did exactly as they were bidden to do. Alone, in the drawer of my dresser, my gloves could do nothing, be nothing, accomplish nothing. But once placed on my hands, they could accomplish whatever I desired.
Isn't that just the way we should be when it comes to doing the will of the God we love and serve? Shouldn't we be the glove? Shouldn't we be the ones that wrap ourselves around the hand of God in such a way that He can do whatever He chooses to in our lives and we will submit to His purpose without thinking how much better we could do the job? When we remove ourselves from the hand of God--when we follow our own way instead of His--when we allow our own futile efforts to replace His Divine will--we are no longer the glove. We become self-willed, yearning for our own way and our own path.
This yielding is not easy. We are sometimes fearful to yield to the Lord because we are afraid He will not give us the answer or solution we desire. But, if we can remember that His will is much more perfect than ours--if we can believe that all things do, indeed, work for our good--then we can become the glove. We can have all that we desire in God as He works through us and for us.
I still love wearing gloves. I think a pair of white kid leather gloves with pearl buttons is one of the most beautiful accessories a suit will ever have. A lovely pair of white satin gloves, reaching above the elbow, will make an evening gown even more stunning than ever. But me, with God moving in and through my life, is even more dazzling than any earthly glove could possible be. Me, the glove--God, the hand. What an amazing design. I hope He wears me proudly.

In Grace,

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keep On Keeping On

As a pastor's child, it has been my priviledge to meet many wonderful people. Some of them were known from my childhood and some from my older years. One of the most memorable figures I knew and loved as a child was Rev. Wiley Neal.
It could be depended on, regardless of which hymn was sung or what text was ministered, that Rev. Neal would witness at the end of every service. His face would reflect the joy he felt in his heart as he gave his testimony and reflected on the evening's message. It was not unusual for him to raise his hands and give praise to the Lord as he spoke. Many times he would sing his testimony with a voice that was surprisingly strong for a gentleman in his seventies.
Rev. Neal not only rejoiced in the Lord in the sanctuary, but also in his home. Many times as a child I visited his home with my parents. He never failed to touch my heart with how lovingly he spoke about the Lord he served. He would sit in his rocker in the living room and share with my parents how God had blessed him throughout the years he had known the Lord. I recall my father sitting across from him and hanging on his every word for not only was Rev. Neal a godly man, he was also a fine teacher and Daddy often spoke of how inspired he was by Rev. Neal's insight.
As a child, I adored my elderly friend. He took time to talk with me and made me feel important. I felt comfortable asking him questions for he was so kind and patient in answering me. I came to love and trust him because of his loving spirit and his gentleness towards me. He became a grandfather figure to me when my own grandfather passed away. He encouraged me to love the Lord and to always strive to be the best that I could be. I adored him.
My fondest memory of him comes from the words he uttered at the end of every testimony. He would always close with the words, "Pray for me that I can keep on keeping on.". I asked him once what he meant when he said that. Very gently he explained that, no matter what came his way--good or bad--he wanted to keep on serving the Lord until his death. He wanted to keep on being all that he felt God wanted him to be. He told me that, even though he was an old man, he still wanted to do all he could to lead others to the Lord. He wanted everyone he came in contact with to be able to see the love of God in him and to want to know God as a result. He just wanted to keep on doing God's will.
My heart was so broken when Rev. Neal passed. Such a void was left in the lives of all of us who knew and loved him. It took us a while to get used to closing our services without hearing that sweet voice at the end. He left behind such a legacy--such an example. All of us who knew him were blessed to have done so.
So now, I think about my own relationship with God. I realize that I have been so blessed to have had not only a family I love and cherish, but the influence of tremendous men and women of faith. Men and women who lived their faith every single day of their lives and who have left behind a legacy that continues to inspire me on a daily basis. Because of Wiley Neal, I have learned the importance of "keeping on". In the face of all adversity, I want to keep on. In the midst of every storm, I want to keep on. In gain or loss, joy or sorrow, I want to keep on. For it is in the "keeping on" that we come to know Him as the God of all comfort, the lifter of our heads, the strong and mighty tower, the refuge from the storm.
Oh, may I have the spiritual strength and courage to continue on for the God I love so dearly--the God who has led me through much storm and adversity--the God who has been the truest friend I have ever known. May I have the determination to press on and remain at His side, sheltered in His arms.
I look forward to the day when I see Rev. Neal again and hear that rich, sweet voice say to me, "You made it, little one.". My glad reply will be the words I heard so often as a child. I don't think I will be able to resist a smile as I look at him and say, "Yes, I made it through. I just kept on 'keeping on'."

In Grace,