Category Archive: Grace

Agents of Peace

The harmonies of the old hymn filled the chapel with full, rich tones. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that I, and those with whom I grew up, learned to sing, to harmonize, to make beautiful music as we raised our voices and hearts in praise to God. It was a part of our culture, our worldview, our worship. Now we raised our voices together in harmony at the memorial service of a dear friend.

I’ve often thought that, while sermons and words reach my mind, music touches my soul.

And how we need something to touch our souls in these uncertain days, when mass shootings have killed 32 in the past week and a half. Many here in California, in Texas and Ohio are traumatized and fearful as they deal with the senseless loss of loved ones and the trauma of being in the line of fire.

Others have written about the solutions, and I don’t intend to take on that subject here.

But we as believers need to be salt and light in the midst of this carnage. How can we help? Can we reach out to someone who has been hurt, by these shootings or by something else, and minister peace and love to them?

Our pastor said Sunday that Christianity is not a subculture but a counterculture. We are priests who are desperately needed in a culture of hate.

One of the songs that ministered to me in a significant way when I went through a turbulent time personally says,

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry

Keep me safe till the storm passes by
Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me…

-Written by Thomas Mosie Lister

How can we be priests and agents of peace in a hate-filled world?

We can pray. Jesus turned to the Father in every circumstance, praising him, asking his help, and acting in obedience to the Father’s direction. Sometimes we think prayer is the least we can do. If we are praying along with the Father’s heart, it may be the most important thing we do.

We can be agents of peace in our own neighborhoods, seeking healthy, building relationships and encouraging others, whether they are children, younger adults, or seniors whom God brings into our lives. When there are disagreements we can look for positive resolutions that build bridges with our neighbors. When our neighbor didn’t like the solar equipment on the side of our house that she sees regularly, Don said “I think we can come up with a good solution,” and built a lovely latticed box to surround the equipment. My Don was an agent of peace and our neighbor, and the homeowners’ association, are delighted with the outcome.

What other ways have you found to be an agent of God’s peace and love in your world? I’d love to hear what solutions you’ve found.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.…”

Philippians 4:6-8, Berean Study Bible

You Never Know …

After the meeting, a blonde woman approached me.

“I wanted to meet you because we’ve driven here side by side several times,” she smiled.

I smiled back. “We have?”

“Yes, a week or so ago we were next to each other at Silver Creek Boulevard. I waved, but you didn’t see me.”

“Well, hi. I’m Carol, and now I’ll watch for you!”

As Susan and I chatted about where we live, I thought, here’s a woman who’s seen me in my car, on the road, and I was oblivious. If I had noticed her I think I would have recognized her from our weekly meetings, although it may have taken me a minute to remember where I knew her from!

We never know, do we … anyone could be watching. Was I picking my teeth? Singing along with the radio or a CD? Looking angry about some traffic impingement?

He gave His life for me, and for you

There’s a cross sticker on my car. Did I reflect the Christ I love, or did someone say “Ooh, if that’s a Christian …”

I know I sin and make mistakes and get angry inappropriately at times. But my heart wants to walk the talk, wants my actions to support my words and my professions of faith.

So next time I’m in my car, I’m going to watch for who’s around me; I’m also going to try to ensure I’m not doing anything for which I would be embarrassed if someone said “I saw you when you were …”

Most important, the Father sees me at all times. He knows, not just the embarrassing stuff that comes out at times, but my heart. He knows when my thoughts and the intent of my heart would embarrass me no end if I were standing face to face with him. And yet, I am in his presence–always. He is never far from me and knows me completely.

But he gives his grace. His love is so great that his grace covers me, whether I’m making a small, embarrassing mistake or a larger one that impacts many. A bigger mistake may cause great pain to self and others, and to the Lord, who grieves over our sin. But grace is available once I agree with God that I have sinned.

“But if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I John 1:9

Confession results, not only in forgiveness, but also in cleansing, making me like new in God’s eyes. Cleansed, forgiven, whole, accepted in the beloved! Joy!

Aftermath

I’ve reflected this week on the joy of last weekend’s reunion with former mission colleagues, of reconciliation, of hearts that never stopped loving each other despite misunderstandings, miscommunication, and directives not to talk with person(s) who left the ministry.

And while we were honest and vulnerable, this was not a leader-bashing weekend. We are all fallen sinners, saved by grace. And despite the flaws of the leadership, God used that ministry to bring hope and healing to many who chose to follow Christ. And for that I am deeply thankful.

At the time I left L.A., I think we lacked a real understanding of grace. So, from the leadership on down, we (myself included) tried to mold others into a certain image, forgetting that God has created us with minds that question, gifts that differ and cause us to view the world uniquely.

One woman talked about the hurt of feeling she never measured up because her artistic, creative temperament didn’t fit the square hole she was supposed to fill.

Another was falsely accused of stealing.

And because our system had a strict top-down heirarchy, pressure flowed downhill even as questions or doubts were passed upward. So if I said something negative to my “uplink,” she had a responsibility to report that to the President.

We were told not to discuss questions or problems outside the ministry because “‘they’ wouldn’t understand.” Burdened and feeling bound, I talked to my older brother about my concerns that last Christmas. He recommended counseling. But the response I got when I mentioned that was “I thought you promised not to talk to your family about this.” So I couldn’t get perspective on the issues that troubled me.

About ten days later my questions came to a head and I left.

But challenges don’t stop when we leave one situation for another. Their shape may change, but we must continue to lean into God because there is little that is certain in our world other than his love, grace, and presence. Pain inevitably comes. But God is able to use it, to comfort us so that with His comfort we can comfort others (II Cor. 1:3-5).

We all carry the scars of hurt, damaged relationships, of loss, unfulfilled hopes and dreams for ourselves or for family members. And as this group of women shared beyond our stories of leaving the ministry, we heard each other’s pain — wayward children, grandchildren making choices they may regret later, marriage and physical challenges — and we stopped to pray over individuals.

A few weeks after I left the ministry 38 years ago, I attended a church in northern California. From the pulpit, one of the pastors shared that there was a theological difference between the head pastors and two young ministers. After prayer and discussion with these two, they agreed this was a significant difference and the two were released from the church staff.

The pastor told the congregation the truth without sugar-coating it or demeaning these young men. He spoke with compassion and expressed continuing love for these two. I cried through the whole service because this separation was handled with love, compassion and honesty. Few of us who have separated from ministries have experienced that. Remaining staff members may be told untruths or half truths, as they were in my case. People may be told not to communicate with those who left, thereby leaving questions and misunderstandings that grow and multiply among those left behind.

But God is still sovereign. Nothing is a surprise to him. This morning I read:

“Trust that I know what I’m doing–that I can bring good out of everything you encounter, everything you endure. Don’t let your past or present suffering contaminate your view of the future. I am the Lord of your future, and I have good things in store for you. I alone know the things I am planning for you–to give you a future and a hope.

JESUS TODAY, p 40

One of my nephews was baptized on Easter Sunday a few years ago. I asked why now. What had changed. His answer? “I finally found a church where it was okay to ask questions.” We need to welcome questions and seek answers together before the Lord. We may need input from others like Board members or counselors. We may continue to serve. Or there may be good reasons to go our separate ways. But let’s be open and honest about these issues, rather than holding them in secret.

Burdens shared are lifted, as we experienced together last weekend. But we have to say yes…yes to being vulnerable, to sharing deeply with those we love, to recognizing and appreciating our differences. This reunion could have come sooner for me. I was invited to a staff wedding several years after I left. I wasn’t ready to face those who had hurt or shunned me, and declined the invitation. This time when Katie texted to ask if I had an interest, my response was immediate. “Absolutely, yes!” I was ready. And God was and is good.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

The weekend was healing, unifying. Going forward, we will seek to understand each other, we will honor those who serve with us, we will respect differences and encourage real communication. And we will continue to love each other.

Home

Jesus, Lord and Savior, is alive!

My seven-year old grand nephew stepped into the house.

“He is risen,” I said to his parents. With a brilliant smile, young Cole responded. “He is risen indeed!”

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Oh, how I delighted in hearing this child echo those precious words. The Cross is empty, and Jesus is alive! In conquering death, He gave us hope, for now and eternity.

Bill and Gloria Gaither penned these familiar words.

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”

I’m reading a wonderful novel in which a 29-year old mother of three, engaged to a kind, loving man after having been in an abusive marriage, dies without warning. Here’s how the author, ___, describes her death.

“She turned away, and in the space of a breath, her spirit defied the bounds of the room’s four walls, the roof of the house, then the limits of earth and the boundaries of the heavens themselves.

“She became aware of a holy presence, surrounding her, embracing her. And a beloved voice that spoke a name she did not know, yet somehow recognized as her own.

“She moved closer, into the arms of the One who beckoned. And in that moment she knew.

“She was home.”

A NEST OF SPARROWS, Deborah Raney

Home!

Raney reminds us that death is not just a leaving, an end, but a going toward.

I cherish my life, filled with love, family, friends, the beauty of nature, our home and dog, memories, laughter, worship, joy, challenges, opportunities to learn and grow and give. And yet, “I can only imagine” what that sense of wholeness, of being “home” will be like when I pass from this earth to eternity and see Jesus face to face. And I won’t want to leave the ultimate joy and pleasure of being in God’s presence.

May you have hope today because He lives!

She was home.

Amazing Grace

So we’ve sold our former home, and emptied it of the hundreds of tools my dear husband had organized in one of the garage bays. We’ve cleared out my mother’s apartment and she’s settling into the Assisted Living Center well, albeit adjusting to the changes, in her new digs.

We’ve donated hutches, armoires, clothing, and more, that we hope will help someone else along their journey.

We’ve worked together with family to accomplish all this, working around schedules and other priorities to get the jobs done.

We’ve prayed for strength and grace, rested when we could, and have received grace each day to go at it again. I was reminded this week of when my late husband was in the hospital. I was exhausted at the end of every long and intense day. Yet the next morning I would be ready to do it again, with joy.

God’s mercies truly are new every morning; He is faithful! (Zephaniah 3:17)

I couldn’t have done all this without a lot of help, especially from my wonderful Don, who had his own priorities to deal with in emptying out the old garage. He’s loaded, lifted, loved Mom, worked with his son and my brother and his son-in-law, and has been more gracious than I through it all. My sister-in-law and I spent several afternoons packing together; and our nephew and grandnephew both worked with us. When I’ve been discouraged, feeling like there was no end in sight, Don has listened and encouraged me that this season would end.

And we’ve experienced small graces along the way, which have again shown God’s faithful character and attention to our needs. I think of the friend of my mother’s who said she would take everything we wanted to give her … and did, including about 12 full boxes of cooking utensils and other items can no longer use or store, planters, tables, and potting soil. Don and I were amazed at how much Patty and her friend got into their pickup, and relieved to have these items picked up, many of which were going to Patty’s church to help others.

And Mom’s sweet neighbor Connie who, despite her own need for a cane, got down and cleared out some of Mom’s kitchen cupboards, making a pile for Goodwill in the process.

Or Mom’s Bernina sewing machine, which I posted online Thursday evening and sold Friday morning, our last day at Mom’s apartment before turning in the key. How perfect that in God’s timing someone saw it and wanted it right away!

As the week progressed Don and I began to see an end to the pressure, the time crunch, which allowed us to begin to relax. Sometimes rest doesn’t come when we feel the need is greatest; but when it does come it is so very sweet and renewing.

“For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2, NASB)

As I’ve pondered my own stress due to multiple demands on my mental, physical and emotional energies, I’ve thought of the persecuted Church around the world. When missionary Tom Randall was falsely imprisoned in the Philippines, sick and weak in body, he led Bible studies and a number of men committed their lives to Jesus Christ within the walls of that prison. And when his jailers came to tell him he was being released, Tom asked if they would allow him to stay in prison one more night and day so he could teach the men one more time before leaving. That’s God’s grace in spades!

Many are dealing with the ongoing daily stress of threat, imprisonment, torture, loss. Their needs go so far beyond mine. I pray that in their circumstances they too will experience little graces that express God’s faithfulness to them, His promise never to leave nor forsake them. His promise that there is hope beyond this life that is sweeter than anything we could hope for here. His presence that sustains and comforts and yes, gives strength that is supernatural despite horrific circumstances.

Won’t you join me in praying for these persecuted saints?

God bless and guide you today in all your thoughts, actions, and decisions. May His name be glorified!