Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus in Our Messes

Someone once asked me, "What good is it to be a Christian? I still have messes in my life."

I thought about something that had happened in my life years ago. I was sure it would make me ineffective as a minister. But you know what I discovered?

I soon found myself ministering to more people than ever. People opened up to me about their own problems in a way they never had before. They could see that having Jesus with me in the midst of my mess made a wonderful difference, and they wanted Him in their lives too.

So I answered that person by saying, "We are not exempt from troubles just because we are Christians. We are all human and have messy lives, but I'd rather have my messes with Jesus than without Him." And I quoted what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

How many Christians believe the lie that God can't use them unless their lives are perfect and they are spiritually strong? They think that because they haven't straightened out all their own messes, they can't possibly tell their friends and loved ones about Christ. They are paralyzed by thinking their friends will say,"You haven't done very well in your own life. Why should I listen to you?"

The truth is, Christians are not perfect, just forgiven and saved by God's grace. We don't have to wait until we become spiritual giants to tell people about Jesus. We don't have to pretend to be perfect. That approach won't fool anyone. If we are honest about our struggles, telling how Jesus is giving us the strength to overcome, others may just want what we have found.

So, let your warts show and loudly proclaim what Jesus is doing in your life. Remember, the Christian life is a growing process for all of us.

Beside Still Waters, third book in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is coming soon. 

After her last living relative dies, a destitute young Boston woman accepts a teaching position in the harsh 1915 Yukon Territory, but when tragedy strikes again, she must find a new reason to live.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Is God Just Another Gadget?

Years ago, I got hooked on entering Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. But to enter, I have flipped through pages and pages of gadgets advertised to make life easier. And I must say, I have collected a few. Some have actually been quite useful, but others just take up space. I don't throw them away, though, because someday they might come in handy, I tell myself.

Most Americans try to find ways to make chores easier and life more comfortable. And we've been quite inventive. Trying to minimize our pain and maximize our pleasure is not bad. But when we expect life to be easy because we're Christians, we set ourselves up to believe the lie that God, like a gadget, is there to make our lives easier.

But life is not easy. Even for Christians, it's often downright difficult. Accepting that fact, however, will make life less difficult for us.

That sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? 

Jesus told His disciples to expect trouble in this life. In the next breath, He told them to "take heart." Why? Because He has overcome the world and wants to impart His peace to us.

A song by Annie Johnson Flint, "What God Hath Promised," has spoken to my heart in times of trouble. It goes like this:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, troubles and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing kindness, undying love.

Twice orphaned, Annie Johnson Flint was forced to give up her career in teaching after only two years when severe arthritis crippled her and put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. To endure the long days of suffering, she took up a pen into her twisted and stiff fingers and wrote many encouraging poems, articles, and letters. This poem was set to music and has appeared in many hymnals, blessing many people over the years.

As Annie Johnson Flint learned, if we don't face and accept the truth that life is difficult, we will become angry, bitter, and confused, thinking God has failed us. She chose to allow her suffering to make her better not bitter. And she became a blessing to many people.

True Christian living demands tremendous sacrifice, and that often causes pain along with the joy. Romans 8:28 promises that God will "work all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." God doesn't promise us a rose garden, but He does promise to be with us in our troubles, giving us His strength and peace, and to use the struggles to make us into the image of His Son (v. 29).

Life is not easy. It is tough and full of hardships and frustrations. Instead of letting trouble make us sour and bitter, let's use it as a stepping stone to becoming sweeter and better. As the saying goes, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

The third book in my Alaskan Waters Trilogy of historical Christian fiction, Beside Still Waters, is now at the publishers and will be available in the spring. Watch for further information. Beside Still Waters continues the saga of the loves, tragedies, and second chances of a Norwegian immigrant family who must battle the beautiful but often dangerous waters of early twentieth century Southeast Alaska. Can Violet allow the trials and suffering in her life to make her better not bitter?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

You Don't Have To!

For years I struggled with being overweight. I often said, "I have to go on a diet." I tried many diets, but nothing worked.

Finally, I decided to just try to eat better. Instead of saying, "I can't eat this, and I can't eat that," I ate what I wanted but in moderation. In the next several years, I lost a significant number of pounds.

For some reason, when we feel we have to do something, it becomes a drudgery. When we do what we want to do, it becomes fun.

Are there any "have to" statements you make frequently? such as, "I have to go to work." Or, "I have clean my house." Or, "I have to pay my bills." Or, "I have to_____________."

The truth is, we don't have to do anything! God created us with free will--the freedom to make choices.

One time while I was working on a year-long writing assignment, I suddenly faced a traumatic crisis in my life. I later told someone that, as difficult as it was at the time, I had to complete that assignment, and I did. I was taken aback when he said, "No, you didn't have to. You could have let it go. You chose to complete it."

Of course, there are consequences to our choices. If I hadn't chosen to complete that assignment, my reputation as a dependable writer would have been ruined. I wouldn't have been paid, and so on.

And there are consequences to our spiritual choices that affect our present as well as our eternal welfare. We are free to see our options and take responsibility for our choices.

Before Jesus came to earth, the Law of Moses demanded that people follow certain rituals in order to please God. But Christ's death on the cross set us free from the impossible demands of the Mosaic law. We are free to love and serve God.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Dark Gate

In 1939, Hitler's armies marched across Europe, and England's future looked very dark. On Christmas Day, a week before the beginning of the new year, King George VI addressed his people and urged them to have faith and to trust in God. He quoted them a poem, the story of which is basically this:

A man was standing in front of a gate, which represented the new year. It looked very dark inside the gate. An angel stood next to the man, and the man said to the angel, "It is awfully dark in there. I can't see anything through the gate. Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown."

The angel replied, "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way. Enter through the gate into the new year without fear. The Lord will be with you."

So the man went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And God led him toward the hills and the breaking of day.

The future can indeed be very dark sometimes. The news is full of frightening prognostications. Whether we are entering into a new year or a new day or a new experience, what we need to do is to put our hand into the Hand of God, have faith in Him, and trust Him completely. Then we can enter into the future without fear, knowing that He is with us.

The Apostle Paul had come to the last days of his life. He was alone and in prison, awaiting his execution for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the midst of those trying circumstances he wrote what was probably the last letter he would pen to his son in the faith and coworker in the ministry, Timothy. Was he disheartened? Was he depressed? No! In that hour he could write words that would ring down through the centuries and encourage all those who read them:

Are you in a dark place today? Do you know that same certainty that Paul knew? You can As the old gospel song says, simply "put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the waters." He is standing right there beside you with His hand outstretched, just waiting for you to slip your hand into His. He knows the way. He's walked it himself. And He will guide you safely Home.