Paradise Found

Then [the criminal] said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  Luke 23: 42-43

True confession:  Sometimes, in the midst of busyness or boredom, my imagination takes me to glorious travel destinations.  Maybe it’s a beach, usually there are beautiful flowers and a serene setting; it’s always a peaceful place or somewhere that conjures up pleasurable memories.

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Do you crave some peace and relaxation?  Maybe you have crazy toddlers running around the house.  Or maybe you’re the one running the kids all over town to practices and events.  Perhaps you’re working full-time and trying to manage your home at the same time.  You might even be retired and still finding yourself busy, or even stressed, on a daily basis. 

Peace is a universal need for all people of all ages.  How do I know this?  Because God has put eternity in all of our hearts.  Without God, our hearts are restless.

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.  --Augustine

The repentant thief got this.  He understood that Jesus was Lord and able to save him from his sins, and that Jesus would return to His kingdom that very day.

Can you humble yourself and say the same thing?  Do you believe that you are a sinner in need of Christ saving you?  The sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross is the reason we can now have peace.

Instead of imagining Paradise when we’re stressed and overwhelmed, we can soften our hearts and depend upon Jesus for all of our needs.  No fantasy work needed; truth is found in Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, and the life and there is no other way to the Father except through Him. 

If you are hearing this message today, do not harden your hearts.  Respond in faith and you will join Jesus in Paradise when this life is over.  You’ll have a peace that passes all understanding in this lifetime as well.

Behold, now is the day of salvation.  2 Corinthians 6: 2

Love, Wendy

Pride Kills Joy

In preparation for Easter, as Wendy posts on Tuesdays about the Joy set before Christ, I will post on Fridays about 7 things that kill joy and the antidote God prescribes against each. I am using the help of a book by desiring God ministries called Killjoys.

Our family sat around the campfire under a black and starlit, Michigan sky. After the flurry of helping get marshmallows roasted and slapped between crackers for every child, there was a lull.  I started to make myself a s'more. I toasted my marshmallows well-enough, I unwrapped my chocolate pieces, then reached quick to get my graham crackers.

Eww! Something not right in that box.

Did one of the kids drop a sticky marshmallow in it? Hmmmn, Nope. What I felt wasn't sticky.

What did I feel? It was smooth...and cool...and SLIMY. What on earth could be smooth and cool and slimy...and in my graham cracker box?

I high-stepped myself over to the light to see exactly what it was.

As I looked down to check out the box, two sets of beady eyes on sticks seemed to look back at me. I can't really stomach critters at a distance little lone on my food, staring up at me. I proceeded to throw the box down and carry on like a true girly-girl. Eww! Eww! Eww!

Of course we took a picture. Disgusting, right?

So what do two giant garden slugs (googled it) have to do with how Pride Kills Joy, you may ask?

As I thought about this slug-encounter afterwards, I couldn't put my finger on why I was so grossed out. Other than all of the obvious reasons, I guess it came down to these slugs' insidious way of creeping up and around in the pitch black. Did they smell the food from the treeline? Was it pure accident that they slinked into our graham cracker box? Whatever the case, it seemed very deliberate and it creeped me out.

I thought of a talk I had heard about sin and how it doesn't usually grow in bounds and leaps, but rather slyly enters our lives in careful creeps. I guess all sin can do this, but maybe none quite like the sin of pride. Pride can straight up, rear it's ugly head like a boasting loudmouth, but it can also show up like a creeping, insidious slug.

Pride may be the one sin that is most often with us and always near--no matter what our life looks like. You can be moving along faithfully: serving others joyfully, keeping in step with the Spirit, or speaking the truth in love....and then you mindlessly stick your hand in the proverbial graham cracker box and BAM! you find pride has slinked into your thoughts and mind, and is staring you in the face.

Pride can be hard to spot, much less kill. Jonathan Edwards said

pride is "the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all sins."*

To say we don't struggle with pride is--well--prideful, right? So can we be honest and just say at the outset that we all have some dose of pride to address regularly? You might be asking, what is wrong with that? That is just a healthy self-esteem. Or maybe you are saying to yourself, I have a terrible sense of self. How could that be called pride?

In truth, self-promotion and self-absorption or, on the flip side, self-abasement and self-deprecation are all a sense of being consumed with the wrong thing in life....our SELF. God did not create us and save us to worship nor be consumed by our Selves. He created us and made us to follow him so that we would worship HIM in spirit and truth and this makes him known among the nations.

If we seek to follow the way of Christ, we have to consider the sheer humility that the author of our faith exhibited. He left his glory in heaven--glory we cannot begin to fathom. His glory is such that when seen--even in the smallest amounts,  men remove shoes and bow down, they recognize their unclean lips and tear their clothes in repentance, they cry out "Woe is me, I am undone!" That is some kind of holy, glory!

Jesus laid aside that kind of glory and honor and humbled himself to be born of a woman, born under law. He yielded himself to the constraints of time, fatigue, hunger, sickness, temptation, shame, scoffing and finally, crucifixion. That is humility.

We know God opposes the proud.

"For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up--and it shall be brought low" (Isaiah 2:12)

"The Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:11)

But He gives grace to the humble.

It is good for us to feel how dependent we are spiritually, because then we will see the world and ourselves rightly.*

Scripture teaches the antidote for pride is humility...self-forgetfulness. In thinking of ourselves less and of Him rightly, we are kept at the foot of the cross. It is in recognizing we have done nothing that qualifies us for the gift of eternal life, but because of His great mercy, we are saved and changed.  All glory to God!

One of the first steps in coming to Christ is the fear of the Lord. It is the beginning of wisdom and the endpoint of pride. It recognizes there is no salvation apart from Jesus and it cries out "remember me when you enter your kingdom."

But there should also be a continual battle in the heart and mind of the Christian to combat pride. In talking with others--and I know in my own life, the fight against pride must increase as we gain in years and experience, because pride can grow easily in the soil of age and victory. Humility requires deliberate and continual actions which put one's Self at the end of the line, which esteems others better than one's Self, which lays down one's Self and picks up her cross to follow Christ, day by day, moment by moment. Fighting pride requires that we simultaneously pluck out our prideful thoughts/actions and plant the truth of God's word and his glory in our hearts and minds. So very difficult, but so very fruitful. So say the promises of God!

For our part, we must pray and ask the Spirit to open our eyes to more of God's glory, so that we are ever more in awe of him and ever less in awe of ourselves.*

In Christ's love,

Erika

*Quotes from Killjoys; Chapter 2; Pride, by Jason Meyer

The Joy in Forgiveness

"Smitten, stricken, and afflicted, see Him dying on the tree!  Tis the Christ by man rejected, yes, my soul, 'tis He, 'tis He."  Jesus Christ, the One who was born for this very thing, endured the cross, despised the shame of it, because of the joy set before Him.

With the celebration of Christ's resurrection in nearly forty days from now, the church season of Lent will commence tomorrow.  My earnest desire during this period of preparation is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to myself each day:  through speaking it in prayer, through writing out Scriptures detailing it, through meditating on it.  In doing so, I hope that my every day life is changed because my focus will be fixed on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

As Jesus hung on the tree of shame, He uttered several phrases that I plan to highlight on this blog's Tuesday posts during Lent.  Beginning with Luke 23: 34:

Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do."

Mocked, beaten to almost-death, and soon-to-be-forsaken by His Father as Jesus took our sins upon Himself, this divine Man asks God to forgive the haters.  Every time I read this and think about the times I want to withhold forgiveness, I can't help but imagine when the last time I was mocked, beaten and forsaken by God the Father.  (That would be, um, never.) Yet, here is Jesus, among His first words as He is nailed to the despicable cross, forgiving His tormentors.

Let that soak in for a minute.

How could anyone do that?  I mean, can you forgive that woman who said something rude to you?  Or your husband when he seemed to ignore your needs?  Or how about the person who hurt your child's feelings the other day?  We're so focused on the little offenses that hit us daily that we can't even fathom forgiving people out for our blood.

Don't belittle the application to us as we read Jesus' words.  Yes, He was perfectly obedient to His Father.  No, we cannot be.  Don't belittle our response to Jesus' example here, though.  Jesus asked for forgiveness because He knew that God could do this.  He trusted God fully to take care of the situation in His sovereign way.  And, Jesus knew that He was dying on that cross so that these men of long ago, and men and women of today and the future, could be forgiven of our sins!

Knowing Christ's accomplishment on the cross--to die in our place, take our sins before the Father in our place, endure His wrath upon those sins in our place, defeat death in our place, secure us His righteousness in our place--must cause us to be grateful!  We could never dream of doing any of this on our own.  Our works are as filthy rags, they are nothing apart from Jesus Christ.  We are indebted to His perfect sacrifice.

And yet we somehow act as the Matthew 18 Unforgiving Servant and hold forgiveness over another even though we've been freely forgiven.

It's a rare woman who doesn't struggle with bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness at some point in her life.  Seek the Lord, ask Him to point this out to you, and then quickly slay it!  Because of Christ's death, God forgives us and restores us to Himself.  I praise Him!  We have no business as professing Christians to hold onto unforgiveness.  Now, go and sin no more.  Reap the joy that is found in forgiveness.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.     Hebrews 12: 1-2

Love, Wendy

("Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted"  words by Thomas Kelly, Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture, 1804)