O Lord, You are my nearest kinsman ….. (January 2013)

Each one of us comes to God with a past. In turning our life over to him, we give him our entire self, including our past losses and shame. We hand over to him every moment of disgrace, every tear we have ever cried, every word we wish we could take back, all the broken promises, the loneliness, all the dreams that died, the dashed hopes, the broken relationships, our successes and  failures — all of our yesterdays and the scars they have left in our life.

Under Old Testament law, if someone lost freedom, property, or spouse because of a disaster or a debt, the next of kin was looked to as a “redeemer.” If property had been lost because of inability to pay, the redeemer would pay for it and return it to the original owner. If a woman lost her husband, the redeemer would marry her, providing her with protection and love. God tells us, “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer. … For the lord has called you back from your grief” (Isaiah 54:4-6).

God is our Redeemer, the restorer of our losses. He is Lord of all, even of our days and our dreams in the past. When we give God the past, he can make up for all we have lost. He can rid us of the shame and fill the empty places in our heart.

Tenebrae – remembering the darkness ….. (April 2013)

It has been said that in order to fully appreciate the light, one must have experienced darkness; to fully appreciate the sweet one must have known the bitterness; to fully appreciate love, one must have tasted rejection; to fully understand joy, one must have experienced grief; and so on and on and on. Personally, I can’t testify as to whether those thoughts are universally axiomatic, but I can testify that in the spiritual realm of personal experience, I believe they are true.

I know I never really appreciated what being alive could mean to me until I had my encounter(s) with Jesus. Living was existing until I met Christ. Now I am appreciating life more and more as I grow in him. Hope was wishful thinking until the Spirit of the living God came to me and began to open an evermore certain knowledge of the future to me. Again, on and on and on.

Maybe that’s one thing that makes Tenebrae service so moving. We spend a little time each year to focus on the darkness of that hour in order that we might appreciate the expectation of resurrection all the more.

Some have said to me that they don’t want to think of their past sins, they just want to focus on his forgiveness. As for me, I don’t enjoy recalling the weakness of my natural self, or my history of falling short. I certainly don’t want to dwell on those things, but I am thankful that they creep into my awareness occasionally. Those memories help me to bask in the joy of his forgiveness and appreciate his boundless mercy and love all the more. I don’t ever want to forget where I came from lest I begin to take for granted where he has promised to lead me and carry me. I have stood on the strength of my own willfulness and discovered just how weak it makes me. I have relied on my own wisdom many times and have come to various degrees of ruin. I have tasted the fruit of self-reliance and have been utterly defeated. Remembering that I am dust encourages me all the more to cling to hope in his faithfulness and strength.

Those dark memories help me to remain open to others when they are overwhelmed with remorse and regret. I can understand (in part) their pain and I know their despair. I have walked in those sandals and do walk in them repeatedly. It makes the promise of mercy and release so much more precious.

Someday when I stand in front of his glorious presence, face-to-face, I will crumble in shame and sorrow ….. until he reaches his hand to me and lifts me up in grace and forgiveness and I will be overwhelmed with thanksgiving and praise. My voice, like yours, will sing a new song of worship. Oh, how great a love! How magnificent is your mercy! O, Blessed Redeemer, how wondrous is your loving kindness. I will glory in your life-giving covenant, your boundless compassion and your gentle ways.

It is easy to understand how we can spend eternity rejoicing in our God when I have seen myself and then beheld his majesty. It makes sense to arise in adoration and gratitude forever.

I don’t ever want to forget that this is my message – and yours. Not that God eagerly awaits judging the poor, bankrupted sinner, but that he eagerly desires to uplift, heal, cleanse and bless. May our message always be one of hope and good news to the downtrodden and broken, like we.

Still in the fight ……. (February 2013)

I get many things in my electronic inbox. Some are worthy of deletion on sight, some are worthy of reading, and some are worthy of passing along.The following came to me several weeks ago from a local pastor acquaintance of mine, Pastor Steve Sabol. It, like many of his e-mails, is worthy of passing along. Because many of us do not have email, I elected to pass this one along via the Calvary Connexion. Enjoy.

“I have in my possession this letter from a struggling and frustrated brother in Christ. See if you can relate to the cry of his heart…

‘…If I know the will of God, but still can’t keep it, and if the power of my Shadow keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, my Shadow is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?’

Now for the surprise… Those words come to us via the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 7:17-24. Wow! The author of 13 books of the New Testament, the performer of incredible miracles, and yet he struggled so with his Shadow. Did he give up? Was he fatalistic? Hardly! He finished his lament with these words…

‘The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of my Shadow to do something totally different.’ (Romans 7:25)

You and I can find the same place of grace, confidence and hope that Paul found 2,000 years ago, if we place our dependence on God’s supernatural power and not our own will power. You and I HAVE failed, and often! But let’s look at those failures as practice shots, not death blows. Step up to the plate, the game is still on.”

Amen, Steve. This is a life still being lived, a fight being fought, a goal for which we are still striving. It’s not over, and our Shepherd is not finished with us yet. Grateful for his forgiveness and depending upon him, we press on toward the mark.

Things prepared in secret ….. (December 2012)

Can you feel it in the air?  Can you hear it in some people’s voices and see it in their eyes?  It seems to be everywhere.  The lyricist put it this way, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love.  Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas’.”  It really is a favourite time of year for many folks, and with good reason.  Virtually everyone (whatever their motivations might be) is trying to spread the “holiday spirit.”  It’s romantic, it’s fun, it’s picturesque, and it’s filled with traditions that spark warm reveries of love shared with family and friends.  Wow, what a charged and lively environment!

People are going about preparing their Christmas surprises.  Meals are being planned, presents are being stealthily acquired and secretly wrapped, stashed in unexpected places awaiting the designated hour when all will be revealed.  We are gathering our best for our most loved and, soon, it will be that time — the great and marvelous day arrives and we are united, loved, and touched in intimate and tender ways again.

Kind of like the first Christmas.  Father, too, was preparing all – not saying much.  His wonderful gift of love was being prepared in an unlikely place while all preparation was being meticulously accomplished.

Then, on the appointed day, the gift is unveiled and we are united, loved, and touched in intimate and tender ways.  Home.  Together.  A family again.  Something we haven’t felt nor seen in millennia.  True, some who were watching, listening, being faithful were awaiting the glorious day, but most of us were quite surprised.  His best was given for His loved.  And we’ve been living in the warmth of the memory of that day for centuries.  For some of us, it makes us long for the next time He will unveil His gift again, and we will all be home, a family, united . . . finally.

May the memory of Christmas past and the hope of reunion tomorrow warm your celebrations of love, family, and giving today.

Merry Christmas. Love,       George

Letting go ……. (November 2012)

My, how hard it is to let go!  I am not sure if it stems from the human need to possess, lust to control, or just from our need to feel needed and important.  Maybe it’s just that when we care about something, it’s hard to trust the care of that person or thing to someone else.  I think that it’s too complicated an emotion to attribute to one root cause.  It is likely a combination of all these things — and more.

Parents find it difficult to relinquish control of their children’s lives, letting them make decisions contrary to loving counsel, and letting them make their own (sometimes expensive) mistakes.  Entrepreneurs often strain when it comes time to turn over the business to a Board of Directors.  Career people often find retirement an emotional hardship because they must surrender authority, influence and ownership of their turf.  Sometimes we define our own lives in terms of what we build.  So, when we must let go, we lose our sense of identity and worth.  Many grieving people struggle to let go of all they associate with the loved one they lost.  I have known families who maintained shrines to deceased loved ones for decades.  Letting go can be very difficult.

I am one who finds it difficult to let go.  (Is that a personality fault?)  Letting my girls grow up and make decisions of their own was sometimes very strenuous.  Watching them leave home and head off to college and the independence that went with it was hard.  Burying old friends is always difficult — I still visit with some of them from time to time in my dreams.  Turning more and more over to the care of Elders and Deacons is also stressful.  But if the Church is to grow, it must take on its own life and vision.  Recently, I was convicted that it was time to surrender control of Practical Compassion to a new Board of Directors.  Another one of my little creations stepped out on its own.  It was time to let go, and it was hard.

I think the biggest contributor to the difficulty of letting go is caring.  We love and we care about so many people and things.  We are concerned over them and we want them to be safe.  We enjoy the relationships we have savoured with such relish for so long, and change means letting go of what was to embrace what will be (or may never be again) …… an unknown, different future.

I am boggled at our Father’s maturity and wholeness of character.  Knowing (at least in part) how much He loves us, He still resists controlling His created children.  He could make such better decisions for us.  He could make us behave so much more righteously, walk so much more productively, choose so much more wisely.  Knowing our Shepherd genuinely cherishes us, He still lets go enough to allow us our freedom, even though we so often foolishly use it and squander our potential joy.  Hmmm.  Maybe it’s supposed to be hard to let go.  Maybe that’s just another way that we are created in His likeness.  Maybe it’s a good thing to care about something to the point that letting go is difficult.  I wonder if I’ll ever grow up enough so that letting go is hard for all the right reasons …….

The Cedars of Lebanon

About 15 years ago, unsure of whether I had made the right decision in re-locating our family from California to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, I took a long walk one early Saturday morning to inquire of the Lord. I recall looking out into the thick forest near our house and seeing no cedar trees. Jokingly, I asked the Lord, “Where are all the cedars of Lebanon?” The Lord answered immediately, “You are the cedars of Lebanon.” A sudden assurance came over me that my family and I were right where God wanted us to be. I hurried home to do research on the cedars of Lebanon. From scriptures such as Ps. 92:12-15, Hosea 14:5-7, Ezek. 31:3, Ps. 104:16-17 and Isaiah 2:15, I learned that these cedars are planted in the house of God; flourish in His courts; proclaim His uprightness; send down deep roots; grow very tall and overshadow their forests; give off a wonderful fragrance; provide shade for men and a place for birds to nest; and continue to bear fruit in old age. These trees are rot-resistant and knot-free and, hence, are ideal for building purposes. They were used to build David’s palace (II Sam. 5:11) and Solomon’s temple (I Kings 6:9).

Although this word from the Lord provided me personal guidance and much assurance and encouragement, I am not narcissistic enough to believe that this word was only for me and my family. Ps. 92:12-15 says, “The righteous will…grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” All who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ are “the righteous” (II Cor. 5:21). We are all cedars of Lebanon. Let us be encouraged and continue to grow and be the cedars of Lebanon He has called us to be!

Questions at the edge of eternity

When John Todd, a nineteenth-century clergyman, was six years old, both his parents died. A kind-hearted aunt raised him until he left home to study for the ministry. Later, this aunt became seriously ill, and in distress she wrote Todd a letter. Would death mean the end of everything, or could she hope for something beyond? Here, condensed from The Autobiography of John Todd, is the letter he sent in reply:

“It is now thirty-five years since I, as a boy of six, was left quite alone in the world. You sent me word you would give me a home and be a kind mother to me. I have never forgotten the day I made the long journey to your house. I can still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming for me yourself, you sent your servant, Caesar, to fetch me.

“I remember my tears and anxiety as, perched high on your horse and clinging tight to Caesar, I rode off to my new home. Night fell before we finished the journey, and I became lonely and afraid. ‘Do you think she’ll go to bed before we get there?’ I asked Caesar. ‘Oh no!’ he said reassuringly, ‘She’ll stay up for you. When we get out o’ these here woods, you’ll see her candle shinin’ in the window.’

“Presently we did ride out into the clearing, and there, sure enough, was your candle. I remember you were waiting at the door, that you put your arms close about me-a tired and bewildered little boy. You had a fire burning on the hearth, a hot supper waiting on the stove. After supper you took me to my new room, heard me say my prayers, and then sat beside me till I fell asleep.

“Some day soon God will send for you, to take you to a new home. Don’t fear the summons, the strange journey, or the messenger of death. God can be trusted to do as much for you as you were kind enough to do for me so many years ago. At the end of the road you will find love and a welcome awaiting, and you will be safe in God’s care.”

 - The Autobiography of John Todd

On recognizing success when we see it

Amos 7:14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah: ‘I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees; and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said unto me: Go, prophesy unto My people Israel. {JPS}

Amos was a man who was comfortable and successful at being who and what he was, an owner of sycamore groves and a sheep farmer. His daily life was settled and predictable; he was good at doing what he had chosen to do with his life and was content with going about the daily routine of being Amos. Then the Lord invaded his life with opportunities and a ministry that was light years outside his comfort zone.

A resident of Judah, Amos was told to go the Israel and prophesy there. Not only was he to prophesy, but he was to deliver a message which would be unpopular, harsh, and judgmental. The King of Israel would regard Amos as an interloper and an enemy.

I have often pondered how these men and women of G-d felt about being given these “opportunities.” Were they always seen as opportunities, I wonder? Were they perceived as gifts from G-d, or were there mixed feelings about being called to something so far outside their normal realms of experiences?

Stretching our personal borders is often a difficult process for us humans. I wonder how Amos felt as he trod the road to Bethel from Tekoa. Was he nervous? Excited? Scared? Was he filled with questions and doubt? Did he question whether he had really heard from G-d or whether his own imagination had tricked him? What awaited him in Israel? How would he deliver his message? What would he say? How would he say it? To whom would he say it, and what would be their responses? Would he be killed, laughed out of town, ridiculed, or worse – ignored?

Yet Amos did exactly what the Lord had set before him to do. We are not told of his emotions, his outlook, his fears or confidences. We are only told that he went. He was obedient to the still, small voice within him. The result was that the message was delivered – not just to Bethel and Amaziah, but to us as well. Truth for all time was spoken, and the people of G-d received the Word of the Lord. Success! Regardless of how things might have turned out – success! Even if he had been killed, ridiculed, laughed out of town or ignored – there would still have been success! Why? Because the success would have been the obedience and the task accomplished. If he were obedient, success was impossible to avoid. Other people’s responses, even his own safety or humiliation were irrelevant to the outcome. He had already succeeded!

When we evaluate success, we entertain the notion that seeing the results we anticipated or realizing the goals we had intended to achieve is the measuring standard. In truth, it is not. Success is determined by submission to our Master and obedience to His word. When Yeshua went to the cross, everything attested to the illusion that his ministry had not succeeded. Yet, in his obedience, he did succeed, and G-d made the intended result happen. Disciples, when we are submissive to our G-d and obedient to his direction, we are already achievers.

Your inheritance – by Stephan Bihoreau

Lev 20:24 “But I said to you, “you will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Have you ever found yourself short of getting G-d’s inheritance for lack of faith in Him? Have you ever found yourself, for lack of faith in G-d, decrying Him, denigrating Him, disparaging Him, discrediting Him, misrepresenting Him and impugning Him by distorting the situation?

If you are, you will find yourself in the sandals of 10 out of the 12 spies who scouted the land of Canaan with a mission to bring a report back to Moses. G-d gave four simple commands to the Israelites to “Go up and take possession of it (the Land of Canaan)…” and he said “do not be afraid: do not be discouraged.” (Deut 19:2)

So why would one “scout the land” to know whether or not the inheritance is good or bad? G-d does not give poison gift to his children.

In Mat 25:34 “Come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” In Colossians 1:14 “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

It is in the Lord’s presence that we experience redemption and forgiveness of sins. But somehow, we can make the way difficult for ourselves to be in His presence even when what we experienced has been good. The spies after scouting the Land had wonderful things to say at first but because of the Anakites living there, 10 spies got so scared that they started to blow the story of out proportion. They lost faith in the One who brought them there.

Who is the Anakite in our life that keeps us from fully entering the promise land, who makes us discredit G-d and by doing so bring other people down with us? Why is this defeatist attitude controlling us? G-d already performed miracles in our life with mighty powers. We know His strength, and yet we do not want to listen to him. We know His Heart, and yet we decry Him. Whatever is our Anakite in our life: envy, rage, lies, rebellion, meanness, addictions…, we can overcome the enemy with the power and presence of G-d. Let’s not attempt to do it on our own without God’s presence because like the Israelites, we will be overcome. So, let’s go up and take possession of our inheritance with G-d’s presence. Sometimes, the very presence of G-d is plenty sufficient to drive out the Anakites in our life without raising a single finger. So next time G-d give us an assignment, let’s not scout out the land to weigh the good or bad of G-d’s gift to us, let’s simply obey His commands and let’s go up with Him and take possession in “always giving thanks to G-d the father for everything.” Eph 5:19.

Recognizing success when we see it

Amos 7:14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah: ‘I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees; and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said unto me: Go, prophesy unto My people Israel. {JPS}

Amos was a man who was comfortable and successful at being who and what he was, an owner of sycamore groves and a sheep farmer. His daily life was settled and predictable; he was good at doing what he had chosen to do with his life and was content with going about the daily routine of being Amos. Then the Lord invaded his life with opportunities and a ministry that was light years outside his comfort zone.

A resident of Judah, Amos was told to go the Israel and prophesy there. Not only was he to prophesy, but he was to deliver a message which would be unpopular, harsh, and judgmental. The King of Israel would regard Amos as an interloper and an enemy.

I have often pondered how these men and women of G-d felt about being given these “opportunities.” Were they always seen as opportunities, I wonder? Were they perceived as gifts from G-d, or were there mixed feelings about being called to something so far outside their normal realms of experiences?

Stretching our personal borders is often a difficult process for us humans. I wonder how Amos felt as he trod the road to Bethel from Tekoa. Was he nervous? Excited? Scared? Was he filled with questions and doubt? Did he question whether he had really heard from G-d or whether his own imagination had tricked him? What awaited him in Israel? How would he deliver his message? What would he say? How would he say it? To whom would he say it, and what would be their responses? Would he be killed, laughed out of town, ridiculed, or worse – ignored?

Yet Amos did exactly what the Lord had set before him to do. We are not told of his emotions, his outlook, his fears or confidences. We are only told that he went. He was obedient to the still, small voice within him. The result was that the message was delivered – not just to Bethel and Amaziah, but to us as well. Truth for all time was spoken, and the people of G-d received the Word of the Lord. Success! Regardless of how things might have turned out – success! Even if he had been killed, ridiculed, laughed out of town or ignored – there would still have been success! Why? Because the success would have been the obedience and the task accomplished. If he were obedient, success was impossible to avoid. Other people’s responses, even his own safety or humiliation were irrelevant to the outcome. He had already succeeded!

When we evaluate success, we entertain the notion that seeing the results we anticipated or realizing the goals we had intended to achieve is the measuring standard. In truth, it is not. Success is determined by submission to our Master and obedience to His word. When Yeshua went to the cross, everything attested to the illusion that his ministry had not succeeded. Yet, in his obedience, he did succeed, and G-d made the intended result happen. Disciples, when we are submissive to our G-d and obedient to his direction, we are already achievers.