Saturday, March 14, 2009

Uh-oh. Made you yawn.

Ohhh…arrr…hoo-ahhh-mmm! That felt good. But why did this text-yawn make you yawn? You haven’t yet? You will soon.

Animals, fish, and human fetuses yawn. Some people think we yawn because we’re sleep-deprived, decompressing after stress, or stabilizing ear pressure. Others guess that yawning is actually a physiological mechanism to concentrate attention when we’re just not personally involved (bored). Some of us yawn more often on a dark and cloudy day, during soft and slow music—or in a committee meeting!

In a 2007 issue of the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology (bedtime reading?), researcher Andrew C. Gallup unequivocally states that yawning is contagious, and postulates that yawning cools the brain so it can operate more efficiently. (Since heat is an energy transfer, maybe our brains are smokin’ hot from processing the journal article.)

Remember the illustration of the pig and the chicken at breakfast time. The chicken is involved in contributing the egg to the menu, but the pig is truly committed to providing the bacon. (Some doctors say that humans should be wholly committed to fruits and grains in the morning.)

We don’t often yawn when we’re physically, intellectually, or emotionally engaged—truly committed. When we’re telling a personal story, we’re full of energy and enthusiasm. Jesus said that when we’re witnessing before authorities, God will provide the words for us. Even when we’re comforting and encouraging people in Jesus’ name, we’re energized. Yawning usually won’t happen at times like that.

The word “enthusiasm” is rooted in Greek “en theos,” translated “God within” or “possessed by God.” Although it’s nearly impossible to describe to an unbeliever, believers share the experience of God speaking to our hearts. It may be actual words and sentences, a conviction, the urge to action, a visual image, the memory of a similar situation, or an entirely new concept that never before entered your mind. When God speaks, you are enthused.

Enthusiasm should be as contagious as yawns. When it is that “catchy,” it’s called “evangelism.” When we know Jesus as the Friend who intensely loves us from eternity past to eternity future, we cannot be blasé or indolent. His commission to preach the good news of salvation by grace is not an easy task—but He gives us the tools to do His bidding.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” Hebrews 6:10-12 NIV.

The Lord wants to possess you—inhabit you. Look at the enthusiasm He calls you to in Deuteronomy 30:8-10 The Message, “And you will make a new start, listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I'm commanding you today. God, your God, will outdo himself in making things go well for you: you'll have babies, get calves, grow crops, and enjoy an all-around good life. Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors. But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.”

Totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back. That’s how God blesses us, and that’s the love He desires from us. We’ll forget all about yawning.

Related links (Especially the “interesting yawning facts” sidebar!)

Visions and revelations

A recent paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science detailed archaeological discoveries from villages of the 16th-century Taino Indians of Cuba. The substance for which Tainos traded all the gold of their Colombian heritage was loved for its iridescence, reddish hue, exotic origins, and connection to the supernatural realm. They called it turey, for heaven. The metal they craved was an alloy of zinc and copper: brass on the shoelaces of the Spanish explorers.

A television news story reported that alcohol is prohibited in U.S. military camps in Iraq. So how do some soldiers relax and let down their crew-cut hair? With cigar-appreciation evenings. “A good cigar is heaven,” rhapsodized one warrior, as he released a cloud of toxic exhaust. (Smoking one cigar may equal the “hit” of up to three packs of cigarettes.

An older brother traded his posterity and share in a vast estate for a bowl of lentils cooked by his younger brother. The first king of Israel put an end to his own reign and dynasty—for some sheep and cattle of a conquered hilltop village. A younger son wished his father dead so he could spend his part of the estate on riotous living, but he ended up hungrier than pigs.

Surely God blesses us with wonderful things, people, and situations that are the best experience we can have on this planet, but these blessings are only a reflection or shadow of the glorious experience to come in heaven.

Paul talked about visions and sight in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. He had been snatched away to heaven, whether bodily or in spirit he didn’t know, and he had seen and heard things that were inexpressible, even unutterable. He wasn’t allowed to talk about it, he said.

The visions and revelations of heaven he received were so glorious that he’d been given a handicap to keep him from being conceited. Many Bible experts believe that the “thorn in the flesh” was eye problems or partial blindness, a result of Paul’s Damascus Road experience, or a remnant of his many scrapes with death. In Galatians 6:11 NIV, he wrote, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” which some scholars believe to be an indication that he was sight-impaired. You know how painful it is to have just an eyelash or bit of chaff in your eyes. It might as well be a thorn!

Paul believed that the handicap which weakened him made him completely dependent on Jesus Christ, who paradoxically made him strong. Paul was so empty of self that there was only room for the strength and power of the Lord. If the handicap was poor vision, even near-blindness, then Jesus provided the painless, unimpeded, telescopic and microscopic vision that Paul lacked.

Because of Jesus, Paul saw the most important visions and revelations: the things of God. He used his spiritual sight to focus on “things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:8, 9, The Message.

Paul would never have compared brass or cigars to the “third heaven,” or Paradise, the very presence of God beyond the atmosphere and outer space. He would never have traded soup or livestock for his eternal heritage. Paul considered riches and worldly pleasures as dung, refuse to be flung away, so that he may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Paul’s eyes were zoomed in on Christ, the source of eternal life, the One who has gone to prepare a place for His beloved children.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to fling away the worst, the ugly, the cursed, and cling only to the things that God’s eyes show us? Things so beautiful, blessed, and praiseworthy that we have no words for them; things outside our dimension, like colors and vibrations invisible to our “naked” eye; or so invisibly small or so far from our reckoning that we forget their presence.

God shows us, by glimpses of joy in our little world, visions of what He can hardly wait to introduce to us. When we take pleasure in the laugh of a child, the warmth of an embrace, the scent of rain on the desert, the bliss of chocolate, or the fiery sunset after a blustery day, we have treasures. They’re gifts given to us by a loving Father, who invites us to lay our heads on His shoulder and listen to His heart beating with love.

Mmm, that’s heaven.

Streams in the desert

Friends asked on a private forum, “What is heaven-on-earth to you?”

Here are some of the answers:

When my son laughs with complete and utter abandon—for any reason.
The herbs and vegetables we've grown from seeds on our front porch.
Being with people who love and care about me.
Sweet pineapple and cottage cheese in the same bowl.
Heaven is being in the arms of someone who loves me for me.
Seeing the pure glee of children as you enter a house and they drop everything, scream your name, and run toward you with open arms and hug your leg so hard (before you can get your shoes off and drop your bags) that you almost fall over!
Heaven is warm: a nice warm cup of cocoa, a cuddly blanket by a warm fire, a warm and cozy bed, a warm embrace.
Heaven is a cat laying on your chest purring loudly, and a dog licking your toes withhis warm tongue.
It’s the scent of citrus blossoms on a meandering breeze.
Heaven is immersion in a pipe organ concert in a European cathedral.
Licking a spoon of hot peach jam made from home-grown peaches.
A Heath-covered Klondike ice cream bar.
The middle of a great book.
The moment you realize you're being used by God to help another.
The Milky Way seen from the floor of the Grand Canyon.
Heaven on earth is the scent of spring rain on creosote in the Arizona desert, with its multicolor lightning, chiaroscuro clouds that dwarf the highest mountains, the sweet herbal scents, the germination of poppies and daisies so fast you can almost see it, and watching dry gullies fill with flash floods that recede to pools where frogs and fish miraculously appear from the reconstituted earth.

The Lord loves a desert storm, too! Isaiah 35:1-7 NLT tells of God’s ideal party for those He loves and redeems. Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days. The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses. Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon, as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon. There the Lord will display his glory, the splendor of our God. With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland. The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where desert jackals once lived.

Streams in the desert. For those who live in a land of plenteous water, this may not resonate within. But to people born and raised in a desert, water does beautiful and miraculous things. It springs from a rock. It washes away impurity. It falls from the sky and makes the air and earth sparkle. It is a display of the glory and splendor of God. To the Israelites of the exodus and their Egyptian oppressors, to the Jews exiled to Assyria and Mesopotamia, to anyone who experiences a drought, God has often used the medium of water, indispensable to human life, as a metaphor for Himself. He is the living water and the river of life.

In Isaiah 43:19-21 NIV, the Lord says, See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

If you’ve recently experienced violent storms and are facing deep and wide rivers in your life, remember that God provides a way through them (Isaiah 43:2), because He loves you. You are precious and honored in His sight! Rivers are not barriers when He leads the way, but channels of blessing and life-giving nutrients.

Jesus said that the water He gives will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” Isaiah 35:3,4 NLT.

God loves us and is coming to save us. That is heaven on earth. That is good news. That is the gospel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your report card: “plays well with others”

A teacher wrote on her web page that she had “thrown the whole concept of ‘grading’ out the window and will now be awarding final marks based on attractiveness and charm.” Spoken, tongue in cheek, like the experienced teacher and mom that she is!

Isn’t it what you suspected of some of your teachers and many of your classmates and colleagues, though? When teams were chosen for games or work assignments, did you hope not to be among the last two grudgingly picked? What if you were the last job candidate standing, only because the others were ex-cons or tax evaders? Would you get “voted off” the island? Some people say they won’t use Internet dating sites because of rampant superficiality and judgments based on outward appearance. How mortifying to be graded on how you compare with others, instead of the special experience, knowledge, potential, and character you bring to the table.

You must admit that that’s the way of the world. The best-dressed, the slim, the young, the suntanned blonde, the popular – they always get the dates, the jobs, and the awards. Good Morning America found that indeed, men would not make passes at girls who wear glasses, at least not until they’d interacted socially a few times. We really are judged on appearance and behavior, attractiveness and charm, not necessarily on how we’ve performed or our potential to improve a situation. And there’s always a cuter person than you to compete with.

Yes, that’s the way of the world. But we, thank God, are not of this world! In fact, we are foreigners traveling here, and the kingdom of God (a spiritual realm) is our home. Our Lord “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV.

In times of perceived injustice or disappointment, anyone who’s part of a church fellowship has heard this old saw (and may have used it, too!): “Don’t look at the people – look at Jesus!” This is meant to be an encouragement or comfort, but when you think about it carefully, it’s neither. We are not perfect people. We are wounded. We are sin-sick and in need of healing. But we are Christ’s body, joined together under Jesus, our head. If we can’t look at the members of Christ’s body and see Him represented, then something is very wrong. We have a responsibility, as individuals and as part of the whole, to uphold one another. Stones and mortar. Muscle cells and collagen. Papier maché and glue. Up and up – to the sky.

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-7 NIV.

Notice that none of those “worthy” characteristics is a work of the flesh that we can check off our personal report cards as having earned a score or progressed to another grade level. They are qualities that are gifts of the Holy Spirit. They constitute inner beauty and soul value, not, as the teacher joked, “attractiveness and charm.”

When we think of evangelism, we think first of tent meetings, PowerPoint sermons in a city church or under the stars in Ghana, and mass baptisms. We think of mission projects that support outreach by ministering to physical needs as Jesus did in His messianic role. But nurture is evangelism, too, and although it can mean continued Bible studies or chapel building, nurture as evangelism is about building up human relationships. Building up a family of God that respects, supports, advocates, protects, and feeds its own relatives. Without nurture, we shrivel and die. We need to think about the other side of the report card, the side about community service, our interaction with teachers and classmates, our ability to “play well with others.”

The final exam of this life (Matthew 25) is not your presentation of doctrine, prophetic interpretation, or skill in making appeals, but your heart’s response to the weak, the helpless, the trapped, the sick. It’s not what you know or how you performed, but Who you know and what He performed.

What does the Lord see when He makes our report card and looks at the heart? We often suspect that He’s writing out D’s and F’s for behavior and correct theology. But because of His grace, forgiveness, and mercy, He sees the tender heart of flesh that He has healed of its stony hardness. He sees the soft place where He writes His will for our daily lives. He sees how far we’ve progressed in life lessons. He takes delight in us, sings and dances over us, and not only gives a passing grade (“Whew! I barely squeaked through the pearly gates!”), but gives us a commencement, award ceremony, celebratory banquet, a crown – and eternity to continue our discovery of grace.

All things new

The rush of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are over. The deadlines of finishing work projects, gift-preparation and gift-giving, making last-minute tax deductible arrangements, cooking the feasts—all in the past. The guests have gone home, the decorations have been removed, and your waistline is back at last January’s measurement, when you did your previous crash course in power-walking and dieting. The daylight lasts a few minutes longer now. It’s time to paint the kitchen, rearrange the garage or attic, prune the rose canes, approve the budget at work or church or home, start a new school term… renewal time. Start over.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them. Matthew 9:35-36 NIV.

Think of that! Jesus renewed all the towns and villages by healing every disease and sickness, and showing His compassion. He made every diabetic and cancer sufferer free from disease (and the painful treatments). He gave sight to the blind and even the presbyopics! He turned the asthmatics into distance runners. He took those afflicted by demons and mental illness, and let their human spirits soar free and unafraid. He made the handicapped into dancers, and those disfigured by skin disease had bodies as fresh as the day they were born. He preached the good news that the kingdom’s gates were open to all whom God loves.

Renewal is one of the greatest gifts the Lord gives us. When He forgives our sins, He doesn’t file them so He can drag them out and zap us with guilt the next time we mess up. He throws them away in an inaccessible place, and He forgets them. That is truly a miracle, because I remember my sins, and Satan certainly brings them up again and again. But God declares that my sins are forgiven and that He has wiped them from my account. Gone. Poof!

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people…And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:33-34 NLT.

How we love the Lord for forgiving and forgetting! That’s where we find healing and renewal: in the knowledge that Jesus has paid the penalty for our rebellion, and that He remembers our sins no more. He said that even if a mother could forget the infant at her breast, God could not forget us, His beloved, because He has engraved us on the palms of His hands—the nail prints.

In this new year, come back to Jesus. Ask Him deep in your heart, where He’ll write His will for you: that you be buried in Him, and Him in you, forever.

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 NLT.
All things—new. What a promise. It’s trustworthy and true.

Come. Sit. Stay. Stand. Shake hands.Fetch. Play dead.(Stuff you do at church)

You might think I’m continuing the saga of dog behavior. But last month’s message was actually about God’s unfathomable love for us. And this one isn’t about dogs at all.

I grew up in a church-involved family. When I was little, our congregation met in the Christian school’s gymnasium, and we sat on taupe metal folding chairs. My brother and I could not talk or fidget. Those services seemed to take hours, considering our stubby little legs were dangling above the floor. The services seemed more interesting after I was elected a church pianist at age 10, because I was actively involved instead of a spectator.

Our web site coordinator, Laura, said that the last time she sat in the church transept (the families-with-fidgety-kids section), her five-year-old and a little friend, instead of going on a sanctioned mission to help with the offering collection or to listen to a story, actually ran downstairs to play tag. Laura figuratively collared and leashed them, and walked the naughty puppies back upstairs to obedience class.

Sometimes church attendance is like an obedience class. We learn the rules, like where not to be seen doing bad things like chewing on the pew (or, um, a church member). We learned to come every week on time, bathed and brushed. To sit. To stay and not fidget. To fetch an offering check to the deacon. To shake hands at the greeting time. To howl on command during the music. To play dead during the sermon—oops, not during the sermon, but certainly on Tuesday night, when someone wants help at a committee meeting.

Is any of that “proper” behavior meaningful to the Lord? Is that what He wants: churchy acts? We’ve kept the commandments and lived morally pure and physically healthy, without even a traffic violation. We’ve volunteered for the church in many roles, attended every meeting through the week, contributed offerings and service year after year. We’ve got catechismic responses, when the doctrines are discussed. We’re pretty good then, right? Exceptionally good, compared to many folks that spring to mind.

When the rich young man (Matthew 19) came to Jesus and said that he’d kept all the commandments since his youth, and asked what more needed to be done for salvation, Jesus commended him, but said to go and sell his possessions to benefit the poor, and then come and follow Jesus. So was salvation earned by behaving well plus helping the poor? Or was Jesus saying to throw—even waste!—every self-saving act and self-preserving resource to the winds, and fall at His feet in utter dependence on His sovereign mercy?

Being “good” without divinely-inspired love is unnecessary noise (1 Corinthians 13). All my “righteousness,” because it is of my own devising, is meaningless. It’s worse than that, really, because I’m so blinded by my own lack of “badness” and so full of pride in my respectability and all the points I’ve won, that I can’t see how truly arrogant and needy I am. Jesus told a parable of a man who accumulated much wealth, but when the man congratulated himself, there was no one to listen. Family and friends had been discarded or tossed away.

Being good is not the opposite of being bad. On a bar chart, you’d put badness at the bottom and paint it black; and moral, respectable behavior fractionally above it, painted dark gray. But where’s the pure white marker, the divine nature? It’s off the scale. Won’t fit on the paper. Because that goodness is nothing we can work for or even aspire to on our own. Only God is good. Only God gives the “goodness” that counts. When He creates a new heart within us (Psalm 51), He pronounces it “Good,” in the same way that He did of all His work at the Creation. That is grace.

To “sit pretty” in church or live a moral, respectable life is only a false sacrifice. “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” 1 Samuel 15:22 KJV.

What does God require of us? To obey His law of agape love for God and man, certainly. “ Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV. To be like Him: humble, merciful, generous in giving and forgiving, loving, compassionate (Micah 6:8). To reflect His light not only to those around us, but even to our own worst critics—ourselves. To worship Him not in the way we think it ought to be, in a “worship service” of tasteful music and an educational sermon, but the way He modeled: in loving service to His people—all the people He died for, even the ones we don’t approve of.

What are you doing at church? Sitting pretty, or helping the Shepherd round up those strays?

Black and white, day and night

It was past 11 p.m. on a Sunday that started at 5:30 a.m. with a dog walk, playing the organ for a Methodist congregation, and yard work—all before noon. In the evening, I had bottled 19 pints of mulberry jam, and my feet were killing me. Evie, my black and white Border collie, indicated that she needed to go outside, so instead of accompanying her as usual, I sent her out to the fenced back yard and continued to clean the kitchen before I went to bed. Evie made a growl-and-chase sound as she often does for a stray cat or a pedestrian outside the fence. (My pet has delusions of being a guard dog.)

I took out the trash, then brought Evie back in. My dog ground her face on the scatter rugs and rushed around the family room, blinking her eyes. I looked at her closely, and saw a yellow-brown substance on her white face, smelled an odor that far exceeded that of bug killer, decided that my dog was the carrier of the smell, and put her back outside. It’s said that a dog’s sense of smell is 1000 times more acute than a human’s. If she smelled that terrible to me, then how much more must she have been in distress with the scent right on her muzzle?

The “stray cat” turned out to be Pepé Le Peu, a cute, furry, black and white—skunk. My house is in a built-up suburb, but it’s four blocks from a dry river bed, superhighway to coyotes, possums, skunks, and wild creatures that roam the neighborhoods. Apparently, summer is a great season to be thieving vermin—if you like ripening tomatoes, avocados, peaches, and berries!

Naughty Evie had recently found fallen, overripe avocados and rolled in them: twice in one week. (Right, a black and white and green dog!) So the dog shampoo was already on the patio table. I poured a large amount into my hands and slathered it on Evie’s face and mane. She was clearly not happy at that, but I wasn’t finished. I brought her into the house and put her in the bathtub with the flexible shower head. I waited a moment until the water was warm, then started spraying the stink and dirt off my dog. She was even more unhappy, but I did more shampoo treatments and rinses, and Evie produced many showers of dog shampoo and water until I was also soaked. I towel-dried my dog on the bedroom floor, and brushed her long coat so it wouldn’t mat. At 12:15, I tossed the rugs and dog towels into the washing machine with plenty of detergent. At 1:00 a.m., I crawled into bed, almost too tired to sleep. I’d removed 85 percent of the odor, but various treatments would follow, including expensive skunk-deodorizer enzymes.

We often think of God’s love as conditional: If we keep the commandments, color within the lines, excel at our jobs, raise brilliant children, are successful in our careers, and win the Marathon because of our superior diet and exercise, God must really love us! We think we smell like the Mr. Lincoln rose, a heady perfume.

“If ” we’ve sinned, made mistakes, or come up short of expectations, we’re apt to think less of ourselves, that our efforts are failures, and that we need to hide from God until we straighten ourselves. He won’t bless us, love us, or listen to our prayers unless we’re perfect, or the best, or at least trying to be good. We come up smelling skunked. So God must love us less, right?

The answer, paradoxical to human thought, is NO. He cannot demonstrate His love for us in any greater way than this: while we were still stinking of skunk odor, He took the effects of our nasty scent on Himself, so that we could be washed brilliantly clean and be imparted the beauty and perfume of the Rose of Sharon.

Not only does God love us infinitely more than our wildest imaginings, He cannot love us less! That is a difficult thought for me, mired as I am in legalism and behavior-oriented religiosity. But Christ died to free us from that slavery to sin and legalism, and set us free to understand that His grace is limitless—in both directions on the continuum. He cannot love me more, He is incapable of loving me less. Praise His holy name.

God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:8-11 NIV.

When my dog reeked of skunk, did I love her less? Did I yell at her or spank her? Of course not! In fact, when she was deep in trouble, I was more caring and solicitous than ever. At risk of taking malodorous substance on myself, I tenderly groomed Evie, hours after my appointed bedtime. I murmured to her that I loved my doggie. But my experience is a molecule in the vast ocean of God’s love.

How much more the Father loves His children, even when we’re covered in sinful or rebellious acts. How He longs to wash us, and create new hearts and righteous spirits within us. Not because of who we are or what we’ve done, good or bad, but because of Who He is and what He’s done.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? ... absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. Romans 8:31-39 MSG.

Remembering our liberties

I don’t know anyone who perished in a war. My grandfathers and relatives survived world wars and Vietnam. As a child, Memorial Day meant that my parents purchased little paper poppy lapel pins from disabled veterans, we had the day off school, the public pool opened for the first time since last September, and we could sniff delightedly as Dad cooked on the charcoal grill. As a teen, I remember my cousin’s wife taking flowers to her father’s grave, and that school graduations were held on this weekend. As an adult, Memorial Day meant the first legal holiday off work since mid-February, and that there were discounts at the mall or car-sales lot. Now that I’ve traveled to a few countries, I see that every village and large city has a war memorial in a public park or in a cathedral chantry.

Even though I don’t personally know fallen soldiers, I can reflect upon what their sacrifice has purchased for me and for millions of others: civil and religious liberty; a safe and peaceful lifestyle here even when wars rage across the world; the ability to work every day to make enough money to have my own home and help support my local church and worldwide evangelism and mission projects. Those soldiers’ legacy has given me the heart to pray for those who are suffering from war and its many evils, and for innocents who are forced from their homes, or kidnapped and told to kill or be killed.

Thanks be to God for creating courageous and hard-working men and women, soldiers dedicated not to the destruction and misery that war brings, but the peace and restoration that comes after. Thank you, Lord, for their sacrifice not only of their suffering and death on foreign soil, but for the life they could have enjoyed back home. Memorial Day can remind me of Your sacrifice that purchased my eternal liberty from sin and death.

"So you'll go out in joy, you'll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause. No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thornbushes, but stately pines—Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God." Isaiah 55:12-13, The Message.


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