Life.

Life.  That is the only word that comes to my mind at this moment.  I reflect back on the last month or so of changes in my life, also leading me to think back on my childhood and everything else in between, and I have come to this one conclusion: Life.

Life is living – the happy, sad and challenging times.  It is not perfect.  Don’t beat yourself up trying to make it perfect, or even fair.  We have a perfect Savior in Jesus Christ, and that is all we need to make sense of our sometimes tangled lives.

Life is relationships.  Put down the stuff.  Jesus Christ was all about relationships.  Jesus did not continue to dwell on our past sins and transgressions, but rather what are we going to do right now.  If you want to have an idea of what God is truly like, just look at Jesus’ life and actions.  Love, relationships, restoration, living.  He never sought fame or things.  Jesus knew what was truly important and lasting in this life.  Only the One claiming to be Son of God Himself could have led such a perfect example.

Life is temporal and eternal.  I know that sounds like a contradiction, and maybe it is for a little while.  Life on this earth will end, and probably unexpectedly.  If that is all there was, it would be terribly unfair and cruel.  But the God of life, love and relationships did not create us that way.  We have a choice.  Choose to follow the God of life.  It makes all the difference at a funeral.

My Dad ~ 1930-2017

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life.  I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
– John the Evangelist, 1 John 5:11-13

I know this testimony is true.  I saw it.

My dad laid in the hospital bed of the Intensive Care Unit after having a massive stroke.  IV tubes and oxygen machines were hooked up to him.  He could correctly answer a few questions while laying there, but his mind seemed to be mostly reminiscent of past times in the 1950’s and 60’s.  He was restless and tried to get out of the bed, pulling off his tubes.  My dad never even wanted to be in a wheelchair so I understood.  He was a Navy veteran and strong to the end.  But there was also something else.

I stood beside my Dad’s hospital bed.  He wasn’t able to move his arms very much or focus on people’s faces.  Then suddenly he began reaching his arms up into the air, to the left of where I was standing, and grasping both hands in an open-and-close movement as if he was trying to hold onto something.  He saw something the rest of us did not.  Maybe it was the angels waiting to take him home, or maybe it was Jesus comforting and speaking to him.  It is life’s great mystery that we will not be privileged to know until it is our time.  But I do want to know the God of eternal life and His Son Jesus at that time.

After that, my Dad was more peaceful.  A few days later he spoke his last words, “Goodnight“, and slipped peacefully into the loving arms of Jesus in heaven.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up.”  Then the disciples said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.”  So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
– John 11:11-15

In Jesus’ Words: The woman’s story told around the world (Matthew 26:6-13)

 

We worry and we complain.  We get upset when we are inconvenienced.  I know how easy it is to get caught up in it, and before we know it, the moment in time has passed us by.  But one day, if we are so lucky to live long enough, we will probably see things differently.  The petty arguments, the spilled milk, even the bad grade or that terrible boss, no longer seem to matter.  They are long gone.  It is in the laughter, the beauty, the living in the present, where we begin to cherish what life is really about.  This next story about Jesus is just that.  It is one of the few stories that is mentioned in all four gospels of the Bible, except for the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection.  One reason for the significance of this story is told in Jesus’ own words: “I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”

I believe what captures the essence of this story is the pure joy of the moment, epitomizing the true meaning of life, the ultimate show of repentance, and resting in the peaceful presence and forgiveness of Jesus.  Jesus came to restore humanity and to be a light and a path out of the darkness of this world.  This woman knew that.

~ Matthew 26:6-13  Anointing at Bethany ~

While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had a serious skin disease, a woman approached Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil. She poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial. I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”

In Jesus’ Words: Words for Life (Matthew 16:23-28)

life-is-the-word-typographyThe answer to life and all its riddles can be found in these few statements that Jesus made to his disciples right before he predicted his death.  These are so good, that it is better just to let Jesus’ words stand by themselves.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16, verse 23)

God’s concerns for us go beyond just merely human concerns.  God is concerned with our soul.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (verse 24-25)

If you try to save yourself through dependence on yourself instead of God, then you will ultimately lose your life for eternity.

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (verse 26)

Nothing.  Everything on this earth is temporary except for our soul, which is neither created by this earth or bound to it.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (verse 27)

Not punishment, but rewards!  For those of us who accept Jesus as our Savior, we have no punishment because Jesus has already taken our punishment.  Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes and sins.  Think on your possible rewards in heaven instead – your attitudes to others, your kind actions, your sacrifice to others.  These good deeds, however small, will not go unnoticed or unrewarded in heaven.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (verse 28)

The completeness of Jesus coming into his kingdom is marked by his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and then coming back to us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that everyone who hears these words will believe them, and that you will ask Jesus to make Himself known to you, and then enjoy knowing that no matter what may happen in this life, you are saved and protected by God, you are loved by God, and that you will one day get to see His Father’s glory with all his angels.

feet with waves cropped

In Jesus’ Words: It’s not about the bread (Matthew 16:1-12)

bread-of-life“Don’t you remember?”, Jesus asks his disciples.
Silence.
“It’s not about the bread.”  (shaking his head)
“Oh, now we get it!”, exclaim the disciples.
Jesus smiles and laughs to himself.

That’s how I like to imagine the conversation went in Matthew 16. It’s kind of an odd passage for Matthew to interject in the middle of his writing, but it shows the human nature of Jesus, with emotions and personality, and an enormous capacity to care about people.  He was also God in human form, for no one else could do what Jesus did without fault.  He came out of heaven to live among the poor and destitute, the pagan and the wicked.  Why?  To let people know it’s not just about the bread!  There is more to life.

~ Matthew 16:1-12  The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees ~

The Pharisees and Sadducees approached, and as a test, asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven.

He answered them: “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’  You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.  An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  Then He left them and went away.

The disciples reached the other shore, and they had forgotten to take bread.

Then Jesus told them, “Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

And they discussed among themselves, “We didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of this, Jesus said, “You of little faith! Why are you discussing among yourselves that you do not have bread?  Don’t you understand yet?  Don’t you remember the five loaves for the 5,000 and how many baskets you collected?  Or the seven loaves for the 4,000 and how many large baskets you collected?  Why is it you don’t understand that when I told you, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,’ it wasn’t about bread?”  Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

This new year, as we get to go another round of life, and experience the joys and challenges in all that we call life, I hope we will remember Jesus’ words, “It’s not about the bread.” (or the money or job or setbacks or even wrongdoings).  It’s about life and what is in our hearts, and those things we cherish that cannot be taken away, and about trusting God in good things to come.feet with waves cropped

In Jesus’ Words: Enter through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-23)

door5(one of the most photographed gates ~ built in 1888 in  St. Augustine, Florida)

We live in an age of mob mentality and contradictions.  We, as a nation, cry out that all lives matter, which indeed they do, yet many will blindly follow a crowd by destroying and burning property and bringing harm to others.  Women scream for the right to do what they want with their own bodies, but individualism in others is not valued.  What I have noticed most in watching people on the news lately is that they are not thinking for themselves.  It’s a crowd mentality, and we have a fear of being left out of the crowd.  But Jesus warns us about being left out of the Kingdom.  He says we should not go to the wide gate where lots of people travel.  Find the narrow gate and the few, and there you will find life!  You’ll recognize it by its fruit – love, joy, peace and goodness.

As I continue on my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament, this next passage toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount is as timely and relevant today as it was when Jesus first spoke these words:

~ Matthew 7:13-23  Enter through the narrow gate ~

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it.  How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves.  You’ll recognize them by their fruit.  Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’  Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you!  Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!”

The last part is one of the saddest statements Jesus makes.  “On that day, many will cry out ‘Lord, Lord!’  It is one of those statements that I believe many people think it is meant for someone else and does not apply to them.  But there are many people who like to play it safe just in case – one foot in, one foot out.  Just enough church so they don’t go against God, but not enough to make a change in their lives.  Sadly, I have some dear friends that fall into this category.  They want to believe and probably do to some extent, but they don’t want to give up their lifestyle and make some hard choices.  But we cannot live a life away from God and follow God at the same time.  Jesus asks us to give up ourselves and follow Him, and it is by that change in our hearts and our thinking, that brings us to Jesus in a personal way.  And on that day, Jesus will say, I have walked with you, and you with me. Come in!

feet with waves cropped