The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:16–19, 23-25)

Digging deeper into word translations:

     consider – take inventory
     firstfruits – a beginning of

So what?

Romans 8 has the whole good news of Jesus in one chapter. Love this chapter! 

But there has been one piece that has confused me. “…fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him…” 

Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all. So that can’t be what Paul means here. But if I add what he said in Colossians, it makes it clearer.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Col 1:24)

Paul adds the thought that it’s for the church. There is a purpose to our suffering. Just like there was for Jesus. The church. 

As JB Phillips said “you have been adopted into the very family circle of God.” We continue here. We suffer here. We “groan inwardly” here. For family. For brothers and sisters who have not joined us yet. 

The Lord knows exactly what he asks of us. He was here. He knows. He has gifted us wth his Spirit to give us all we need – to strengthen and guide us. The Holy Spirit helps us to take that inventory, look to the future, and focus on the glory. He is the first gift of that glory to come.

And then when the day comes and he returns 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

Praise God!

No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Rom 4:20-25)

Digging deeper in the translation of some words:

waver – separate from
promise – a legal term denoting a promise to do or give something – not  secured by negotiation
counted – to reckon, count, compute, calculate
righteousness – standing the test of God’s judgment
justification – a declaration of right or justice; a judicial sentence

So what?

Abraham received a promise from  God that seemed impossible – a son when he was 100 years old. But he didn’t waver. He hung on tight to the promise because God himself made it. He believed that God was able to do what he promised. 

That faith was counted as righteousness. In other words, it was added to the plus side of his account.  None of us can meet God’s standards. But God “tested” Abraham’s account and found faith in his promises. It equaled righteousness in God’s eyes.

And not for Abraham alone. It is counted for us, too. We must believe that Jesus death was enough to pay for our sins. And that his resurrection – belief in our living Savior – is enough to make us right in God’s eyes. 

When God looks at me, he sees me with my Savior. When you think about it, it’s just as hard to believe as the promise to Abraham. Why would God and Jesus do that? And why me? I can’t really answer those questions. I can only say “But he did.” And that’s all I need to say. 

He did. And I’ll hang on tight!

You’ve heard the Good News of Jesus. You’ve believed and “given your life to Christ.” Is that it? Are we done here?

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Eph 1:16-21)

According to Paul we’re not done – we have a whole-life’s work to do. Elsewhere he called it a race to be won.

Paul prays for the Ephesians. Giving thanks and remembering them. Then he goes on to say:

  • That God may give you the Spirit of wisdom (specifically the kind of wisdom that comes from experience – practical wisdom)
  • and revelation (uncovering, unveiling) in the knowledge (the kind of knowledge requiring active participation of the learner) of him
  • that the eyes for your heart will be enlightened (clear to all)
  • that you may know (understand) the hope he’s called you to
  • what are the riches of his inheritance
  • what is the greatness of his power

He describes a building knowledge. He uses different words that in English are just “knowledge.” Behind that one word is some very different meanings.

1. Knowledge from experience. That means that you’ve used it. That the knowledge has grown through practice. It’s practical, It’s useful.

2. Then he mentions revelation. The unveiling of what had been hidden. That leads to another kind of knowledge. This one involves our work. The learner is working with God to understand and grow. To take what has been unveiled and make their own.

3. All of this is to get to the last “know”. That you understand the gift of hope he’s given. And the riches of your inheritance. And the greatness of his power.

Why does it all lead to understanding the gift, the inheritance and the greatness? Those things sound so passive. If it was the end of the story, it would seem like kind of a letdown, wouldn’t it? But, think about it. Understanding the gift, the riches, and the greatness gives us the incentive to continue. It gives us our purpose and focus. A lens to see everything through. To work to know more. To understand more. To start again with more experience knowledge. More learning knowledge. And more understanding knowledge. Continuing to keep in step with the Spirit.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:25)

I was asked to tell my story and how I cope for our Women’s Retreat last weekend. I thot I would post it here, too.

Up front is really not my gift. They asked me to tell my story and how I cope.

We all suffer something. It may be because of our own choices. It may be from medical mistakes. A lot of times it comes from something way beyond our control.

I grew up in a family of hermits. I heard “don’t trust anyone” “don’t get close to anyone – they’ll hurt you.”  My brother was the smallest kid in the neighborhood. One day the guys would play with him and the next day they’d beat him up. I was even told that I was named for my Grandmother so that she would like me – and then told that it didn’t work. After she died I had my name legally changed.

You’ve probably heard the saying “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” I had decided to become a witch so that I could get even for hurts that I knew would come. I had no people skills – didn’t relate to people.

So how does someone like me come to Christ?

He knows exactly what each of us needs and he provides it. For me it was a book – that old novel In His Steps. And then a real life miracle. Finally, I was able to trust him.

Then I met a guy while I was working at the seminary. I looked into his eyes and knew he was a safe place. He has become my friend, my husband and my pastor. He does it all! He and the Lord were very patient as they helped me out of my dark hole.

My family disowned me after that. I never got a reason for it. When you’re in a family, you don’t always see how dysfunctional it is. I didn’t. Being disowned is a strange feeling. It’s like a piece of the floor fell away. You have to find new places to plant your feet.

I began working on my genealogy – to try to understand my family. Just in my father’s side I found one generation where the mother died in childbirth and all the young children were raised by neighbors. The next generation was one of those pregnancy-had-to-get-married ones. They lived separately for decades before one of them committed suicide. The next generation saw the wife stricken with MS and the father deserting the family. The kids were raised in an abusive relative’s home. One of the children is now in her 80’s and I’m told she still can not bring herself to talk about what happened.

But the Lord broke that sad cycle when he adopted me. My favorite verse is in Romans: “you have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, ‘Father, my Father.’”  (Rom 8:15 Phillips) Just like any other adoption – it’s about finding, choosing and loving. It’s personal. And it changes you. You begin to become more like your new Father and to fit more and more into his family.

There are some who will tell you all your problems are solved when you accept Christ. But we all know that really isn’t true.

It’s true that when Jesus returns God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain. For all those former things are past and gone.  (Rev 21:4 Phillips) But not now. We live with the same dysfunctional families, sicknesses, abuse – the same hurts as everyone else.

Some of you know that I have developed MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities). It’s an oversensitive immune system. I’m not sure what caused it – although there are a lot of suspects.

  • I grew up with two heavy smokers.
  • I worked for a while in an office in the basement of a mall. There was no air filtration back then. Everyone smoked. You could see the air. The office manager died of cancer. I left when I realized I had a cold – all the time.
  • Our first church was in southern New Jersey at the time when they sued Philadelphia for all the pollution coming across. And we were still there when the 3 Mile Island nuclear accident happened.

I recently heard that the wife of one of the Assistant Pastors while we were in NJ has the same problem – only worse – she doesn’t get to church – she rarely leaves her house.

MCS means that I have asthmatic reactions to perfumes, cleaning fumes, scented candles – essentially if I can smell it, I’ll react to it. It means that lots of homes, stores and even people are poison. Sometimes I wear a mask. Other times I just have to leave.

They call people like me “canaries” after the birds coal miners used to take into the mines with them. When the poor birds keeled over they knew to run – there was poison gas. We live in a time when there are more than 1,000 new chemicals introduced into our environment every year – with no data on how they will affect people.

So, how do I handle it?
I have to believe and I have to trust. I have been adopted into a family. My Father loves me. Nothing can touch me unless he wants it to. That’s where I begin.

Now I look back on my hermit childhood and I can see God’s hand in it. I spent a lot of time alone. As a kid I spent hours alone in all kinds of books. I still love books. And now with Kindle and iBooks there are no ink or paper smells!

For years I lead Bible Studies for teen girls and then women. But as my condition got worse I found other things to do. When He closed one door there was always another one for me to walk through.

  • I designed the banners and made all but two of them. They hung in the auditorium when we worshiped there. Some of them are in the Narthex rooms now.
  • I taught myself copy-writing and editing so I could work on various incarnations of the church newsletter as well as a women’s newsletter and one for Sunday School teachers.
  • When Glenn wanted a website that would give people an impression of SPEP, I studied websites and writing for the web and took on the website.
  • And then there’s Glenn. He is a talk thinker – so I listen alot. I support and encourage and I pray. And he tells me I give him his best ideas!

And one last thing:

We have silk flowers at Christmas and Easter now, but for years I couldn’t attend services around the most important times of the year because lilies and poinsettias filled the sanctuary – it was beautiful – but poison.  Each Sunday I would drive to church, not be able to stay and drive back home.

Finally, one Christmas Eve I drove home in tears. I just didn’t understand why he would shut me out. But that wasn’t his plan.

He lead Karen Kirk to buy silk flowers. Then he led the media guys to stream the services. Even more important – he led me to a verse that has come to be very special to me.

It has given me a reason. And more than that, he’s given me a purpose. It’s Col 1:24: Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (NIV)

It sounded like heresy the first time I read it – that Jesus didn’t do enough. Paul had to mean something else.

I finally got it: our suffering is not just about us. It’s about that new family. We have brothers and sisters who haven’t been adopted yet. He will not return until they hear. Until they join us. Peter said: Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (2 Peter 3:15)

The world hurts. We hurt. For their sake.

God has shown me that waiting is how we fulfill the sufferings of Christ. We continue to hurt from our own sins. From the sins of others. Or just because the world is cursed.

He has asked us to wait – and our waiting works the work of God. I have been dealing with this for more than 30 years. I wonder how many of you have come to Christ in that time. It works the work of God.

Bette Midler once sang:
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
It’s just not true. God is not looking from some great height –  where nothing touches him. He doesn’t just see everything as beautiful because he doesn’t get close enough to see that it isn’t.

He is with us. He is in us. He knows exactly what He’s asking of us. He’s not called “a man of sorrows” for nothing. He knows what hurts. He knows exactly how much it hurts. He hurts with us. And he cries with us.

He won’t allow the hurting to go on even one second more than it needs to for that last child to come to him.

It’s important for me to remember what my suffering is for – actually – who it’s for. And …

I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”  (Rom 8:38 Phillips)

He lived with the stigma of illegitimacy.

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

At that time, boys were known as their father’s son – not their mother’s. He was about 30 years old, but the town still judged him by it. How would that have affected him. How was he treated? What difference did it make when he was in class in the synagogue? How did it affect his business? How many times did he have to deal with them “taking offense at him.”

And did it make a difference in how he dealt with others? Could that be one reason why he touched people? He didn’t need to touch them to heal them. He could heal from a distance – like he did with a centurion’s servant.

Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
(Luke 7:10)

But outcasts – like lepers – he touched. They may not have been touched for years. Even those who loved them didn’t get close enough to touch them.

But Jesus did.

I wonder … could that have meant as much as the healing?

As I look at Luke and read Mary’s story. And look at Matthew and read Joseph’s side of the story. Some interesting things strike me.

Both Mary and Joseph believed what the angel said to them. I guess, if I actually saw an angel, I wouldn’t doubt what he said either. But what he said to each of them was so big – and they were not. They weren’t royal. They weren’t rich. They weren’t even the top tier in their own village. They were ordinary people.

Jesus – on the outside – seemed just as ordinary. He didn’t seem any different from any other child. (Except, maybe that it says he was obedient!) He had a family tree – a line that could be traced. He learned and carried on the family business.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.(Luke 2:51)
Isn’t this the carpenter? (Mark 6:3a)

He seemed so ordinary, that when he began his ministry, his mother forgot the bigness of the promise:

“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)

So many times I’m stopped. I try to argue or correct and end up in a totally different place – with what I wanted to do undone. He didn’t get distracted. He didn’t leave those he was talking to and try to convince his family. He just said:

“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

His brother ended up the head of the church in Jerusalem. Is there a lesson here?

Waiting

I love waiting, don’t you?

It’s mind numbing. You run out of things to think about – especially since whatever it is you think – you can’t do anything about until you can move on. If you’re waiting in a store line, you see all kinds of personal details from someone’s life that you have no business knowing. At the doctor’s office you’re told to get there 15 minutes early – so you actually get to wait even longer – looking at more personal details (only they tend to be historical there). There are any number of waiting scenarios.

I just love it.

That’s why this has always been hard for me:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1Th. 4:16-17)

I realized I was thinking of just another line – others ahead of me again. But since Sunday’s sermon I have been thinking about the Lord’s return. (maybe today!) And it’s occurred to me that it won’t be waiting like I’m used to.

It will be a celebration.

Can you hear it? Can you see it? Trumpets. Jesus. Joy. Celebrating those who have gone before. Just imagine the applause. And all the cheering.

Bring it on!

Fences

There is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does – maybe more. (Parker J. Palmer, quoted in The Intentional Woman)

That quote struck me when I read it and it still does every time I read it again. When I pray for guidance, I look for opportunities or open doors. It’s what comes naturally. But what if closed doors are guidance? And what if fences that have no doors at all are guidance, too?

Every life has its fences. And there are lots of different kinds. I can try to ignore the fence, but walking into it really hurts. I can beat it with my fists until I’m exhausted. I can scream and yell until I’m hoarse. I can cry and mourn the loss of freedom. But the fence remains. Why?

Paul knew. His “thorn in the flesh” was frustrating and kept him from the things he wanted to do. He was an Apostle. You would think that God would have opened every door and torn down every fence to make the way clear for him. But He didn’t.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:8-9a)

How would it change the way we respond to illness, disability and all the other fences if we thought of them as guidance? Would we sit down and just wait for it to be over? Or would we actually look for what is inside the fence? If it is God’s guidance, then I have to believe that there is something for me right where I am – inside the fence.

And, if His power is made perfect in weakness, then what I do inside the fence actually shows God’s power more than all the things I would like to do outside it.

(from 2004)

We don’t know a whole lot about Eve. Her personalty. Her lifestyle. Not even exactly how many children she had. But there are some things we do know. She failed big time. It turned out not to be just a bite of fruit. Her whole life changed. And, when Adam followed her, everyone else’s life changed too. But I read something interesting recently:

“Eve lived with the consequences of sin in her home but she was not paralyzed by the past. She accepted God’s forgiveness and lived in expectation of the promised Savior.” (Women of the Bible, Eunice Faith Priddy)

It’s so easy to be paralyzed by the past. To relive it. To punish ourselves over and over. Her sin was so big – so far reaching. Why wasn’t she paralyzed?

Everything she heard about God before came though Adam. But after the fall she heard God for herself. She heard his voice. She heard his word – his promise spoken for her. And she took God at his word. She focused on that promise and held on for dear life.

But, to do that, she had to accept God’s forgiveness. Sometimes that’s the hardest part. How can God forgive us when we can’t forgive ourselves? And then how can we hold on to a promise that rests on his forgiveness?

Consequences and sorrow follow sin. God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that there won’t be any. And it doesn’t mean you’re not forgiven. But he will not leave you alone to deal with them. Focus on promises not the pain.

For Eve, it meant that leaves were not clothing enough – she had to watch animals slaughtered – death was required. And one son killed another. But she didn’t stay focused on the consequences, she focused on the promise.

When Cain was born she said: “I have gotten* a man with the help of the LORD.”  (Gen 4:1). When Seth was born she said: “God has appointed* for me another offspring instead of Abel…” (Gen 4:25) It makes me wonder if she said something similar every time a son was born.

She continued to look for that “he” of the promise:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring* and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”  (Gen 3:15)

Follow Eve’s example:

  • focus on his words – they are true – regardless of our feelings
  • then live in expectation
  • put one foot in front of the other and follow where he leads

 

I had fallen out of my family’s tree.

I didn’t know any extended family growing up – just heard some stories from my mother. And I seem to have been disowned by some of my family – I’m not sure why. I got into genealogy to try to understand those whys of my family.

I have found some answers but, I’ve been more surprised to find that there are people who have gotten into my heart.

There’s the guy taken by pirates who ended up taking the ship and bringing the pirates to justice. But there’s also the mother who killed herself when her baby was about a year old – they didn’t know about postpartum depression in colonial times. I hurt for her.

I recently got a message from a cousin I didn’t know. He had information on our grandmother. She died of Multiple Sclerosis. She went into a state facility in the 1930’s and was there for 20 years. I looked up the treatment she would have received and I’ve been in tears for her. It’s one of those times when I wish I could go back in time and do … something.

So, I am slowly climbing back into the tree and I’ve found that it isn’t just about solving puzzles, filling in dates or finding cemetery stones. It’s getting to know people. It’s sharing their lives long after they thought anyone would.

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