Lenten Thoughts – Paradise

Paradise…I don’t often think on this concept. I’ve heard some people say that paradise is another word for heaven or is the ultimate place to live. That all things will be good there. That maybe it was like the Garden of Eden before sin entered.

Can you imagine Paradise? Is it something that we’ll be able to see and care for, I wonder…or is it more of a state of being?

I haven’t decided myself if Paradise is a place, an idea, or a state of being. Perhaps it’s something so big that we can’t comprehend it. As I said, it’s not something I think about often.

When I do start pondering about paradise, I wonder if it is more than just a place, a physical place…perhaps it’s more of a spiritual place. Though for some reason, I can’t shake the hope that paradise is both.

Perhaps, if it is a physical place, we’ll get a sense like Frodo did upon nearing the Undying Lands.

“Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing…it seemed to him that…the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” (Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien)

It just sounds so beautiful and calming. It sounds like a place where there are no worries, no tears, no death, no pain…just beauty and the freedom to glorify God.

When I do think of paradise, I hope that it is something like that….in that it is a place that you can just sense that there is no evil there because you are in the presence of God.

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I guess that’s what it is to me…finally being in the presence of God and being at peace knowing that His word has accomplished what He pleased and that it prospered in you as He sent it to do. (Isaiah 55:11)

Jesus said, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Perhaps that’s why I think of Paradise in the two ways I’ve mentioned.

  1. Paradise means being able to be with God, completely.
  2. Paradise is a specific place where we can be in God’s presence.

It reminds me of a hymn we used to sing at my Southern Baptist church where I grew up.

“No more crying there, We are going to see the King (verse 2)…No more dying there, We are going to see the King (verse 3)” – Soon and Very Soon by Andrae Crouch (#247 in Park Place Hymnals)

I loved that song when I was younger. I loved the idea of a place where I wouldn’t cry anymore because that meant there wouldn’t be a reason for tears – no hurts, no anger, no jealousy, no death…I wanted a place like that because I shed tears for everyone that was hurting. I knew that when I reached that place, my heart wouldn’t be breaking because of the pain and evil in the world.

That is my hope still. So I sing with the saints:

“What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And I look upon His face – the One who saved me by His grace;

When He takes me by the hand, and leads me through the Promised Land,

What a day, glorious day, that will be.”

-What a Day That Will Be, Jim Hill (#243 in Park Place Hymnal)

 

*Written for Park Place Church of God

 

Lenten Thoughts – Forgiven

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“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be face-to-face with Jesus when He said those words? Your sins are forgiven.

These words provide freedom from the chains that bind us. Jesus said them to the woman who anointed Him with oil (Luke 7). He said them to the the paralytic lowered through the roof (Luke 5). And when we come to Him, He says those words to us too.

I like to imagine meeting Jesus and hearing those words. “Your sins are forgiven.”

I imagine that it is like a wild animal being returned to its natural state of being, free in its habitat.

I like to imagine that it’s like one of scenes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. Specifically, the part where Eustace is desperately trying to return himself to human form. He longs to be how he’s supposed to be. But he can’t do it himself no matter how much he scratches and pulls at his skin and scales. He can’t free himself from the form of a dragon.

We cannot free ourselves from the chains of sin by our own power. This I believe with my whole heart. It takes the Great Lion coming and breaking those chains (or in Eustace’s case, stripping the layers of skin) to free us. It is how He shows us that we are forgiven.

When Aslan strips Eustace of his dragon form and returns him to his human state it’s like he’s saying “your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.”

When Eustace was freed from his dragon form, he was free to trust Aslan and do His work. When Jesus says that our sins are forgiven, we are free to return to our calling to glorify God.

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This is exactly what the paralytic man did. “Immediately he rose up…and departed to his own house glorifying God” (NKJV) or, as the amplified version reads, he “went away to his house, recognizing and praising and thanking God.” (Luke 5:25)

Being forgiven allows us to come alongside Paul in saying “forgetting what lies behind [all that has been forgiven] and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14)

Because Christ has forgiven me, I am free to forget the past and free to strive for the day when I get to meet Him. I am free to press on in the calling He has placed on my life. I am free to love and I am free to forgive.

*Written for Park Place Church of God

Pride – Human or Godly?

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

This is one of the first verses that springs to mind when someone mentions pride to me. Why does it come before destruction? What is it about pride that leads to a fall?  Why does the LORD despise a “proud look” (Proverbs 6:17, NKJV)?

This pride that I’m talking about is human pride. This is the kind of pride that often rules our lives. As I see it, there are two kinds of pride. The first is human pride. The second is a god-given pride.

Human pride leads us to sin. It tries to take control of the throne of your life. It hides in the background guiding your decisions, emotions, reactions, and much more. Ultimately, when not careful, pride can become your god, an idol in your life, without you even realizing it. God says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28). Pride says ‘I can do this on my own. I don’t need anyone!’ It can be blatant or hidden. For many Christians, it seems that pride shows up in unexpected ways. Pride can be the source of bitterness, hypocrisy, judging, even in the displaying of spiritual gifts. I would say, and believe others would agree, that pride is the source of vanity or lack of vanity. Vanity in turn causes many of the self-image, self-depreciation, and other such views of self that impact so many people. This human pride of ours, it can destroy us. Human pride deceives (Jeremiah 49:16), leads to downfall and ruins lives (Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4), causes unfaithfulness (1 and 2 Kings are great testaments to this), and is an abomination to the LORD – most of the prophets in the Old Testament write of this, Isaiah and Jeremiah are full of God’s denouncements because of Israel’s pride. Are you letting your pride destroy your relationship with God and other people? You may have to ponder and meditate on it to discover how pride is influencing you. Where does your pride cause you to be haughty, arrogant, willful, or otherwise ungodly?

I do believe that there is a healthy kind of pride. This pride comes from God and actually builds us up. It’s a humble pride that is seated completely in God. I believe that it is built on your faith in God and the trust in your relationship with him. It’s a pride that magnifies God. It’s innocent and simple in that it brings joy to self and to the beholder. It doesn’t cause haughtiness or arrogance, it doesn’t give you a ‘big head’ or anything like that. It doesn’t compare you to anyone else or their work. Godly pride is a gift that Satan twisted, just like so many other beautiful things God gave us. It causes you to respect yourself and others equally rather than viewing yourself as better than others. It’s not conceited or disdainful, but takes pleasure in good things being done.

I want to have godly pride that builds me up, brings me joy, helps me to respect myself, and shows people how beautiful God is. I don’t want a pride that could destroy my life much less my relationship with God. What about you? How prideful are you? Human pride or godly pride? More than that, who does your pride focus on glorifying? If you can answer that, you’ll know where you are and maybe know that it’s time for some changes.

My Summer in Philippians 2

This summer I spent a lot of time in Philippians chapter 2. I think God was trying to tell me something. It started in May.

In Sunday school, before summer camp started, we studied Philippians 2:1-5, 12-18. This is what the Scripture passage says (ESV).

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

When I first got to camp, I shared this passage with my co-workers wanting to encourage all of us to work as a team. Little did I know that this would be our Thursday Scripture every week of the summer. Each week something different stood out to me, or caught my attention. I don’t remember all of it because I didn’t write it down, but I remember some and wanted to share about my summer at Asbury Hills.

 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Thinking alike, but not in a bandwagon way. We are to have the mind of Christ, love the way God loves, and work together in unity. Machines, offices, teams, etc. all work better when the members are ‘on the same page.’ Differences cause rifts, hurt feelings, and many other types of trouble. When we are working together, as Christians working together in Christ, everything runs more smoothly.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Selfish ambition and conceit both signify one of the seven deadly sins…pride. It means that you’re “looking out for #1”, that you think about yourself and what you want to do more than about others. It’s all about “me, myself, and I.” Pride says that ‘I am more important than anyone, (in extreme cases – even God).’ Paul tells us here to be humble. That we should think of others more than we think of ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we should stop taking care of ourselves, but we should not be so focused on ourselves that we don’t notice what others are going through. We need to look at everyone through God’s eyes.

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. In other words, this journey with God, our salvation walk, is not going to be a nice little walk in the park. It’s going to be a rough road at times. There will most likely be cause for fear and trembling. But it’s okay! God is the one who is working in us. He will lead you through the hard times and the good times. We have no promise that being a Christian will be easy, but we have the promise that God is with us. For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints (Psalm 37:28). When we let Him, God works His will in our lives.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13 He is there when we look for Him. His plans are good, all we have to do is believe that and trust Him in all things. But we have to remember, He is God and He will do what He wills. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8 

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, Now there’s a tough one! ALL THINGS without grumbling, complaining, whining, arguing, fussing, objections…well, I think you get the picture. All things, without any of that. That’s one to think on…I know I complain about quite a bit. Homework, teachers, people I know, food, chores, social time or lack thereof, work, and the list goes on. I wonder if my list of complaints is shorter or longer than my list of things I’m grateful for. What about yours?

Why are we supposed to do all things without complaining?  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, So we can be pure.. God washes us clean, but we have to do our part in doing His will. Sharing the Gospel, sharing His message of love. Doing things without complaint makes you stand out, in a good way. In the midst of everyone’s arguing, complaining, disputes, and hateful words…it’s a breath of fresh air. A light shining in the darkness. That’s what we are to be. But we can’t do that if we’re acting as the world acts.

Soo…how do we do all of this? By holding fast to the word of life! The word of life is Jesus. Jesus said I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. We can’t do any of it on our own. Sure, I can try to do everything without complaining, to be a light in the world, to put others before myself. But I will fail in my own power. I need to let God work in me and focus on Him and His Word if I want to do His will.

This summer was a challenge, I will readily admit. But it opened my eyes to the things I complain and grouse about. It showed me where I’ve been putting myself first, where I’d decided I was more important than God. Spending weeks on a passage of Scripture may seem repetitive and boring, but I promise you that if you do it with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a lot of trust, God will show you things you didn’t realize about yourself.

A Dancer’s Perspective of Ephesians 6:10-17

The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

When I read this, I kept coming back to vs. 10. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
“Be strong”…this is repeated throughout the Bible. I’ve been reading through the Bible and that’s always the encouragement given to new leaders. Joshua, Solomon, the Israelites and many others were encouraged to ‘be strong’, ‘be very strong’, ‘be strong and courageous”. It was used to encourage, to build up, and to prepare for battle.
We assume we know what strength is. I looked it up, and it encompasses more than we usually think of.
Strong: sure, firm, not feeble or faint, immune to attack, incapable of being tampered with, secure, of good quality and condition, solidly built, having or wielding force or authority, potent
Strength: endurance, durability, potency, effectiveness, persuasiveness, specialty, forcefulness
To be strong in the Lord means to make him our refuge, to rely on Him through the calm and through the storm. It means to hold on and endure all kinds of battles, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Being strong in the Lord gives us authority, how else do you think the apostles and prophets were able to perform miracles? It gives us a potency that cannot be reckoned with.
The verses about the “full armor of God” give us the ground work, the foundation for being strong in the Lord.
As a dancer, this really clicked with me. Dancers spend hours upon hours training. We have to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared. We batter ourselves and push our bodies to do things that are often not natural, though it is possible. Only rarely do we have “good days” when most, not all, of our movements were almost up to par. It wears you down. And it doesn’t pay a lot. You spend months preparing for a show, and you’re only on stage for 15-30 minutes. Then, you start all over again! Only the strong – strong of heart, mind, soul, and body – survive this routine years in the training. Why, would you torture yourself like this?? For me, It’s because I love dance. It’s my language, it’s how I pray, it’s how I worship, it’s how I de-stress.
So, why would you be strong in the Lord? Why would you suffer through spiritual battles struggling against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms? Because of love. Because you love the One who made you and died for you. And because He tells us that we don’t have to be strong, He’s strong for us and he lets us use that “mighty power.” Being strong in the Lord is what it is to be faithful to Him.
My question for you is this: how strong is your foundation? Have you gotten your armor together and put it on? Righteousness? Truth? Faith? Salvation? The Gospel of peace? The Word? Have you set your strength with the strongest One there is? I pray that you have for nothing is impossible with God.
Thank you!