Saturday, December 29, 2007

Praise Report - The TV

This was so good I have to share it...

Most of you know that our TV room has been in disrepair for quite a while (like 2 years!) Since last April, the ceiling had collapsed and it has been unusable. We were grateful that the room had a door so we could close it off but especially with an active toddler in our house, we missed the extra room, and the TV/DVD player! And we had bought a new TV as a family Christmas present only last year.

Well, with only weeks to spare before Christmas, the room was finally done! Clean and fixed, we moved the sofa, TV and other stuff back into it. One week later, our new TV stopped working.

The first repairman said he would charge $95 just to take the TV to his shop. But the second repairman suggested we take it back to where we bought it, which was Costco.

Now get this---we go to Costco with no receipt and they said they would REPLACE it! So we drag the broken TV back to Costco, and pick out another, same brand, same size, and it costs $400 less. So we now have a NEW TV and $400 from Costco to buy whatever! (PS, this was grandfathered because we bought it last year... this year the returns for electronics is only 3 months!!)

Al and I bought the TV home and spent time in prayer thanking God for His provision.

We have been praying for provision (this will be Al's 3rd year in a row with no raise and I had been feeling guilty for purchases that perhaps we didn't absolutely need, like this TV) and God had really came through in this. Truthfully, I have been less than faithful in praying for provision when we needed it, thinking I needed to figure it out myself. But God obviously wanted to bless us in a unique way all His own, so that only HE could get the GLORY.

He is so good, and so faithful even when we are so stubborn. It's a wonderful thing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

broken down walls

He said, the Pastor had a message for you today.

The text was Judges 4, the story of Deborah. Impossible situation, but God had a plan. The people of God stepped out in faith and obedience and the Lord won the victory.

And the question then was, who is the enemy who is too big for you but not too big for God? Is God asking you to step out in obedience? Sometimes we stand and pray when God will move if only we would step out.

Where do I need to step out?

You know, I aways take these things too seriously. So I stood there and thought and thought and cried.

But I have no Deborah, telling me the specific word of the Lord in my life. My enemy is not in chariots. This message is not for me. I cannot even tell who the enemy is!!

I am standing naked in the chill. My walls are broken down. I hang my head afraid to lift it and look. Where is my enemy coming from? Who is my friend? Is the enemy inside of me? Like Job, I want to take the shards of the pot and scrape myself of my sin, anything to get the stain and stench off of me. But is it me?

Is it you?

No one is wearing signs and I cannot tell as I stand and shiver in my house of broken down walls. And even if I rebuild the walls, where are the boundaries? Who do I leave in? Who do I put out? How do I know?

I'm all out of faith, this is how I feel
I'm cold and I am shamed lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed into something real
I'm wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn
You're a little late, I'm already torn

Beloved, tell me, let me lean back into You. Tell me who, show me the way, like the calm women's voice.

Left turn followed by a right turn.

I have gotten into a black hole again and do not even know the way out. Like I am underwater so far and so black I cannot tell up from down.

Recalculating route.

Tell me today, where to turn. Confirm Your voice with me. I am afraid and lost and cold.

Get me out of here, take me home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the stroller is outside

and so continues the saga of my battle with co-dependency.

My therapist suggested we both re-read Co-Dependent No More again together. Although neither of my parents were alcoholics or drug-users, I show many signs of the co-dependent personality as defined in this book. I read with interest the tendencies and issues of the co-dependent. But nothing is more telling than what happens day to day in my house.

For example, the stroller is outside. Since yesterday. I had been reminding her to bring it in, but today, as I see it damp and sitting in the rain at 10:30 pm, I realize that I am not helping. I so want to drag it into the house. Then it will dry and be safe. Or I want to remind her. Just my way of looking at the world.

Barbara Ruglio, Princess of Co-Dependent Kingdom.

Like the garbage at church, it started subtly. PJoe took out the garbage, and somehow, it became my job to remind him. Actually, we did it together every Wednesday after lunch as a kind of bonding experience only two dedicated church workers could understand, going through the building from top to bottom, collecting bags, replacing trash liners, dragging the big plastic trash containers to the curb. I would pay money actually, to do this with him again!

Then Joe went for his first liver transplant, Jeff had surgery on his wrist and somehow from a mistaken sense of wanting to help, I continued the chore on my own for way too long. I would point out that it was inappropriate for me to be needing to do this, but things would never change. No matter how many times I brought it up.

Finally, it occurred to me that even if the garbage stayed on the side of the church building for weeks, no one would really expect me to clean it up.

So I stopped. And that is exactly what happened. Several times it did pile up and no one asked me to clean it. And the people who did have to clean it, well, I guess it got them to remember to do it.

Last week, I looked and saw the garbage out on the curb and realized that I had forgotten even which day was garbage day. I'm healed! Yippeee! Until the next issue.

Now this may sound goofy to you. Actually, unless you think I work with meanies, no one ever asked me nor really expected me to take the garbage out. Only I did.

The same with the stroller. I love Gio but he is not my baby. It is not my stroller. If it gets wet or stolen, it is not my problem. No one asked for it to be my problem, and as long as I fix this for her, she will never remember to take it in. My daughter is not a meanie. Only a normal 19 year old girl with way too much responsibility for her slender shoulders. And as much as I want to help her, comfort her, console her, this is not the way.

The only way past this is a wet stroller.

Is there a Bible verse for this? If there is, please comment it back to me, I'd appreciate it!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Roll Away the Stone

Psalm 32

When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.

4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

He's forgiven me. I have confessed and although the temptations still dog me, He has forgiven me.

I need to believe that.

My sin, my troubles, are like a huge boulder, rolling towards me, threatening to crush me. It is too big for me, I cannot push it away. It is too fast. I cannot out run it.

But my Lord and my God is an awesome God. He is enormous, much larger than anything. He is more powerful, more merciful, more loving than I can even imagine.

So I crawl up onto His lap and leave my burden there. He will not forget it. He will not ignore it. I am not ignoring my responsibility here, I am acting in the most responsible manner because I am leaving it with the ONLY One who can manage it.

And as I roll the stone off my back, I feel such a relief. The stone, a huge boulder to me, is like a grain of sand to Him, my Mighty God and Savior.

So roll away the stone, onto Him.

6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Come down from the roof

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her...

2 Samuel 11:2-3

Where are your rooftops? Beth Moore asks us in her devotional journal on David.

The siren's song of sweetness sings, but it is idols of romance and laughter--of pride and fame and fortune and adventure--it masks and cries over the joy, love, peace, security from Christ alone. He says---seek first the Kingdom.

Father, he is on the rooftop and he is summoning me. But You alone are King and I must not go. It might not be wrong of me to bathe on the rooftop--but just because he summons me--I need not go. Hold me, Beloved. Be my everything.

Later Beth says "Confessing wrong thoughts stops sin in the first stages, before it comes out of our mouths and then directs our actions...we are wise to aggressively confess our mediate on Him and His Word!"

And He says to me...

"No weekly therapy can replace daily bathing yourself in My Word and allowing Me to deeply love you. Present your sinful thoughts to Me. I love you. I already know them. I am not surprised or shocked, only saddened at your reluctance to lay them at My feet.

Come, My daughter, come. Let Me speak tenderly to you of My forgiveness and mercy, My provision and care, My great love for you. What more must I do to express it that you would believe? Turn and trust Me! I have given you everything."

I wrote it in my journal but needed to say it again. Maybe again and again to myself. I have been shaken because I have be negligent in my devotion to His Word each day. I am weary because I have not refreshed myself in Him.

Come, my Beloved. Help me down from the roof and hold me. Hold me. Be my Everything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Prepare the Lamb

This story takes place between John 11 and 12.

Martha and Mary are in the kitchen. Martha is at the counter chopping vegetables and humming a song. Mary is sitting on a stool, looking sad and worried. During their conversation, Martha continues working. Mary continues to sit.

Martha leaves the counter and leans out the back door, shouting, "What did you say? Yes, the best lamb, the fattest lamb. Yes, that one! Trim it and roast it. Yes, it is a big celebration and many are joining us. Yes, yes, and please hurry. They will be here soon!"

She looks over at Mary. "Mary, dear, why do you look so sad and depressed? We have so much to celebrate. Remember? Our brother Lazarus is alive and Jesus and all his followers will be here shortly for the meal. Why are you sitting there moping?"

Mary looks up. "Martha, don’t you understand what is going to happen soon? Didn’t you hear what Jesus said?"

Martha stops for a moment and looks into space. "Yes, I remember. He said something like, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.'" (1)

Martha sighs and continues, "I thought he meant at the Last Day.
I never imagined that he would, that he could, raise Lazarus once he was dead."

Mary shakes her head. "No, Martha. I meant the time when he said, 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.' (2) Or even before that, when we were with him when he fed the crowds and then later he told us, 'I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.' (3) Did you hear him then?

Martha replies, "Oh, Mary, what does that mean anyway? What are you talking about? You know, sometimes Jesus does not speak directly, but talks in parables. That was probably one of those times."

Mary replies, "No, Martha. He is going to die. That is what he is talking about. Haven’t you looked at his face? He looks so tired, and there is a heaviness about him that seems to penetrate to his soul. Like he is carrying the weight of the whole world on his shoulders."

Martha says, "Don’t be silly, girl. He is going to rescue us! He is the Messiah! He raised Lazarus from the dead! You were there! You saw. No, no, he must have meant something else."

Mary shakes her head. "No, Martha. That was exactly what he meant. I don’t really understand either, but the Pharisees are out to kill him, you know. You heard what Lazarus and his friends said last night! And after tonight, Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Almost like a Passover lamb."

Martha pauses, then shakes her head and laughs. "You have such an imagination girl! Passover lamb! What a thought! Look, we will die soon enough, but dear, tonight we celebrate! Can’t you think of something to do?"

Martha looks around the room and takes notice of the broom. She grabs it and gives it to Mary. "Here, why don’t you sweep the floor? Get your mind off things and it would sure help me!"

Mary takes the broom and sweeps, looking like her mind is miles away. She talks to herself, "Something to do…something to do...Yes, I must do something but what can I do?"

Mary brightens and turns to Martha, "Martha, do you remember the special gift that father left to me? It was a priceless perfume, a bottle of pure nard? Where is it?"

Martha looks up, quizzical. "The nard? What makes you think of that now? My, that nard is worth a year’s salary! It’s the in bedroom with the rest of our family valuables."

Mary looks up, stops sweeping, thinking.

Then there is a shout from outside: "The guests have arrived. The lamb is ready!"

Martha, turns and goes to the outside door. She goes out for a moment and returns with a platter. She looks behind to Mary as she walks past her to the family room, where the guests will be entering.

"Come on, Mary. We are ready now," Martha implores. "Please hurry and try to remember, this is a celebration! Smile!"

Martha goes out. From the other room, you can hear the sounds of people.

Mary looks and makes sure Martha is out of sight, then puts the broom down. She goes to the bedrooms and returns with the extensive-looking bottle of nard. She carefully turns it around and looks at it, holding it carefully to herself. She walks back to the front of the kitchen and says...

"Look, even the bottle is so beautiful! And when I break it open, the room will be filled with it’s fragrance! I know Martha won’t understand. I don’t think any of them will understand. But Jesus will. I have to give him this! It is my most dearest possession, I know, but even this will not be enough to show how much I love him. Before he leaves us, I need him to know, that he means everything to me."

She takes the bottle and goes out to meet the guests.

From the other room you can hear Martha say, "Oh hi Mary! It’s about time! Why don’t you come and help me? Where are you going? What are you doing?"

There is a sound of the bottle breaking.

"Mary!" Martha exclaims, "Was that the nard?"

And angry voice says, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." (4)

And then a different gentle voice, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told..." (5)

(1) John 11:25
(2) John 10:11
(3) John 6:51
(4) John 12:5
(5) Matthew 26:10-13

Friday, March 23, 2007

Swim or Drown

Do not be afraid, for I am with you... Isaiah 43:5

When the girls were small we were fortunate to have a family house at the beach. With all the water around, Al and I thought it was important for them to learn to swim. We did put them in swimming lessons but to supplement their lessons, I would play that fun game, Swim or Drown in our calm shallow bay.

How this game worked was I would take one daughter into bay where I could stand but she could not. I would tell her to swim to me, and as she approached I would step back. And back. And back. She would yell to me "Mommy, don't move." And I would smile and say back to her "Swim or drown!"

Before you call DYFS on me, let me point out that, both daughters survived to ages 17 and 19. Both can swim and my older one is a swim instructor and life guard at the YMCA. I would never play this game with other children, only my own. The trick with my own daughters was this: they knew I loved them and would do anything for them. They knew I would never let them drown. So while they huffed and squealed, they were never really afraid because they knew I might let them go under once, but I would never left them drown.

My walking backwards encouraged them to try when they otherwise would quit. My presence gave them confidence. And they knew for sure that I could swim.

Because we have had a busy ministry week at church, I was reminded of this game. I felt what God was playing Swim or Drown with us. Stretching us, allowing obstacles to be thrown in our way, walking backwards almost, to encourage us to know all that we can do in His power.

And when children get sick, cars get hit, people have other obligations and cannot help, roofs leak, technology limits us, even the size of our building constrains us, I huff and squeal and say, "Father, don't move." But our game make us stronger. Builds our faith. Reveals His power. Demonstrates His willingness to use us broken vessels for His glory.

Despite the trouble and confusion, His presence gives us confidence. And we know for sure He can swim.

And yes, I am tired when it's over, but I always want to play again. Join me, won't you?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Free Coffee, Free Mercy

This morning I stopped at StarBucks. I needed a caffeine jolt and decided to treat myself. There was a longer line than usual, but I was willing to wait. When I ordered my small coffee, I found out why there was a line. The smiling man behind the counter said, "Good news! Today is National Coffee Day and your small coffee is free!"

I looked doubtful and so he continued his well-practiced speech. "Yes, today, between the hours of 10 am and 12 noon, at any StarBucks, you will receive your small coffees free." He finished pouring my coffee and placed it on the counter. I continued to look at him, mouth hanging open, I suspect, wondering what the catch was. It sounded too good to be true. "Do you want anything else?" he asked.

"No," I replied, willing the test the waters, thinking he was going to say I had to buy something else in order to get the free coffee. "I only wanted coffee."

"Ok," he said, grinning broadly and handing it to me, "Thanks and have a great day."

I walked out of there shaking my head. I still couldn't quite believe it. But I was thinking, "Gee, what a great marketing trick! We should try this where I work!"

I work in a church. And I thought, yes, we do this too. All the time.

Every day, all day, and all night too, God gives away mercy and grace for free. That's the good news. For the asking is love and acceptance, forgiveness of sins. Every tear will be wiped away. Every wound will be healed. We are offered an eternal relationship with the Creator of the universe. Just show up to enjoy community with the the King of kings and all His children. Joy, peace and life eternal.

Jesus Himself has poured the cup for you. There is no catch, nothing else to buy. Free, free for the asking.

Just one thing. Don't forget to drink it.

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14
BTW... At our church we do have free coffee and bagels, every Sunday, after services.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Al's Testimony, in his own words

On Friday, April 8, 2005, it was a chilly, raining morning. About 6 am, I was just finishing my route in Belmar, coming down Belmar Boulevard, and stopped at the light. The light changed for me to go and I proceeded. When I was crossing the third lane on the highway, lights on the right side of the truck caught my eye. I saw an 18-wheeler bearing down on me, coming into my front side door. I made a hard left and the truck hit my front right door, only a couple of feet away from where I sat. The impact sent me and my truck flying about 160 feet into the grassy fields towards the NJ Power and Light gas lines, which the truck narrowly missed.

As I went flying in the truck, a angel of the Lord helped me to have a soft landing in the cab. When I picked myself up, I asked myself, “why was I spared?” I was shaken but I only had a scratch on my hand. I felt that the Lord had spared me for some future purpose.

In the accident, when the angel gave me a soft landing, I felt like my heart was ripped open. In the next six months, I recovered from the physical shock of having the 18-wheeler barrel into me. After the first six months, and the shock subsided, the trauma to my heart began to to allow me to experience emotions that I had never felt before.

In the year that followed, my wife, Barb, and my daughters were confused as to exactly what was happening to me. There were days when I was angry for no apparent reason and other days when I showed love for everybody. I also remember at times, my love for Barb was changing from a physical attribute to more of an sentimental, emotional loving and caring. But as the months passed, it seemed like a roller coaster ride of different feelings that I had no control over.

Almost a year and a half later, on October 2, 2006, my uncle Donald suddenly died. At the wake, cousin Louise relayed this story to Barb and I.

The morning of Uncle Donald’s death, his son, my cousin Don, stopped by his house to try to convince my uncle to be more tenderhearted with Aunt Olga, his wife. But my uncle and aunt were having problems and my uncle had hardened his heart. He refused to heed my cousin and instead shouted, “I’m going to hell and I’m taking your mother with me!”

That evening, as he sat to watch TV, Uncle Donald had a massive heart attack and died. By the time the paramedics arrived, he was already gone.

When cousin Louise told us this story, my heart sank deep; it was badly hurting. By that time, I knew about accepting the Lord. Barb had been talking to me about this for a long time, but in that final month, she had been repeating this to me. I remember her emphasizing letting the Holy Spirit enter your heart and letting Him work from within.

But I wasn’t quite ready to give up my identity as a Ruglio.

My grandfather, Frank Ruglio, was a strong-willed person. Either he liked you or he didn’t and you always knew where you stood. He had a stubbornness and meanness at times but he also had a big heart. He also was intent to show he was the head-boss, which was something I always admired. He always knew what was the thing to to do at the time.

My father was the head of the family also. All or most decisions had to go through him for approval. My mom never questioned this. This was how I was raised. I thought these were great character traits to have and to show.

However, the problem with stubbornness is that you are not open to other people and their feelings. You are not open to the Holy Spirit either. You know best and that is just the way it is. This was the trait of my grandfather, and then my father and his brothers and it passed on to me and my brothers.

When Barb and I argued, it was always my logic against her feelings, and since they were only feelings, they were invalid to me. Once my heart was opened by my experience in the accident, I started to change inside. But the story of my Uncle Donald was the part that totally broke my heart.

On October 8, Barb and I left for the Poconos to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. She was reading a book by C.S. Lewis called The Great Divorce and we were still discussing the implications of what had happened to Uncle Donald.

The book illustrated, in a more meaningful way, how I was putting worldly idols in front of the Lord. It explained specific things that I had to do in order to accept the Lord into my heart. It explained how my life was full of sin, because idolatry was sin. I never really understood this before.

Also I had a heaviness in my heart because of my uncle. It just felt so sad that my uncle had said that just before he died and for some reason, I didn’t want to go that way. It just wasn’t right and it wasn’t what I wanted.

Barb and I continued to talk about it, and before she fell asleep, on October 10, she prayed with me, about accepting the Lord into my heart. She fell asleep, but I had a rough night. It was like a whirlwind came into my house, and it was throwing out things that no longer belonged. That whirlwind was the Holy Spirit. He changed my attitude, and I felt what I later read about in the Bible. He helped me to die to all the things that no longer belonged in my life. That night I promised to keep the Lord in my heart, for Him to be part of me. It was a very emotional night.

The next day, I had a peace and a different outlook. We went to a Poconos Christmas store and they sold items about the Lord Jesus and St Nick, but I felt repelled about the St Nick items, that he was stealing the attention that rightfully belonged to my Lord.

The next night the Holy Spirit returned to me for more house cleaning and afterwards a love and a peace totally overcame me that night.

I thought Barb knew what had happened to me, although I didn’t outright tell her. My feelings were so strong that I thought it showed. However, a week later, I realized that she didn’t know and this was how I told her.

She was standing at the sink with a cup of water in her hand. I stood up and took hold of her finger. “You can do this,” and I placed her finger in the water, “or you can drink it.” Then she knew.

All this time, I had been in a house surrounded by Bibles and believers, but I had never received it myself. Now, it was inside of me too. I had drank the Living Water.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Who is the enemy? Who is my Hero?

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

It is not them.

It is him, the enemy of my soul.
he wants me to despair
he wants me to give up
he wants me to think this is death and not only a valley.

It is not them.

It is Him, my Savior, Beloved Jesus, Mighty God, Love of my soul
He fills me with HOPE
He is Stronger than my enemy
He is Trustworthy and True
He is the Giver of Life
He will build His church
He is Victorious!

I must tell Him -- He is Able

I must trust Him -- He will Do It

No one else
No one else
No one

Because You alone are Lord.

They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God. Isaiah 37:19-20

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Confessions of a Control-Freak

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5

How many times have I read this, but suddenly reading this yesterday, it made new sense.

As a control-freak, I must confess that judgment is the first leg of the journey to control. First you look at what someone else is doing with a critical eye. You see how they could do it so much better (your way, of course!) and then you try to figure out how you can convince them (read: control them) to doing it your better way. For their own good, of course.

As an aggressive control freak, I am up front and in your face about it. I have friends however (and of course, I love you dearly!) who are much more subtle about it. I call them, (affectionately!) passive-aggressive. I love my mother-in-law's middle of the road technique. She starts those conversations with "I don't want to tell you what to do, but..." You just have to giggle because she is just cute.

Here, our Beloved Jesus tells us not to judge, but He implies that you can help someone else, but only after you have been through it yourself.

Having teenagers is like that. It is easy to watch a friend struggling with a rebellious teen and say "You should do ..." as long as all your own kids are in grade school. Or if none of your own kids developed a rebellious streak in their teens. If you have really suffered through this yourself, you would be much more likely to listen to your troubled friends while you are hugging and weeping over them and then pray earnestly for them.

First take the plank out of your own eye.

When you have finally seen your own plank, when you have experienced how difficult it is to get it out and keep it out, how much you must depend on Christ to do it, then and only then, can you be of any real service to your sister who has a speck in her eye. If you have not experienced it yourself, you just have NO IDEA. Really.

Jesus, Beloved, forgive me for so often judging. You tell us that Your yoke is easy and that means for us control-freaks that You only will be judging us for us, not for them. Your easy yoke does not include fixing them, only ourselves. And then only with Your divine help!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

23 Minutes in Hell - A book report

There is something singularly compelling about a personal account. And that is what is so intriguing about this book by Bill Weise. And whether or not we choose to believe his experience, we cannot discount the scriptures that support his story, and there are many.

But it is his personal story that will make your hair stand on end. Hell is not something we like to think about, much less talk about. It is a negative reason to choose Christ when there are so many positive reasons. In a culture where it is wrong to suggest that anything is absolutely wrong, the concepts of judgment and punishment are not popular.

Unfortunately, they are also true.

And so I present to you my thoughts of this book.

Bill, a newlywed and a believer at the time, was taken from his bed in the middle of the night and spent 23 minutes in the depth of hell, afterwards was rescued by Christ Himself and instructed to tell his story to a world where his story would not be popular. It was not just hot there. Bill was left naked, was beaten by huge demons, tortured by heat, noise and smells that made him yearn for death, but it could never come. There was no escape, no respite from the terror and loneliness. He was protected from some of its pain and some of it was removed from his memory because no one could experience such torment and live.

Hell is a place devoid of the love and mercy of God, because it is God Himself who is love and mercy. Hell is a place devoid of comfort and peace and beauty because God Himself is comfort and peace and beauty.

People have a choice. God desires only our true love and there can be no truth to love without free choice. So He leaves us free to choose Him. Or not.

When we choose God, we go to live in His house. Heaven is our true home. I was recounting to Al yesterday why I studied the Bible for 7 years before I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. It was like I was willing to date Jesus, but I didn't want to marry Him. To visit with Him on occasion was ok for me, but I wasn't ready to commit myself totally, all my life to Him. It was only when I said Yes to Jesus, that I was able to receive His Holy Spirit and become a citizen of Heaven. It is only the Bride of Christ that can return to the home of her Beloved.

When others reject God , they can only spend eternity where God is not. And that is hell. And I am thinking that the only reason why hell is like that is because it is totally devoid of God and His Spirit and His people.

While reading Bill's book, I found myself thinking of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I liked Bill's description of hell better. While The Great Divorce's hell seemed vague and only mildly uncomfortable, Bill's count was franker, harsher certainly, but more realistic and unfortunately, accurate to the scriptures if incredible to be believed.

What do we do with this? Should we run and tell our families and friends..."you need to repent or you will go to hell and it's a really bad place?" Well, maybe not.

Certainly though, it was an urgent reminder that evangelism is urgently important.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Haunted Look, the Smile of Grace

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

I looked in your eyes today and I knew you needed help. Last week you looked that way, and today, only more so. That haunted look, I know so well. I see it in the mirror.

You did not know, but our Beloved sent you to me, because He knows my struggles and my sins. He knew I would understand and that by hearing my thoughts come from your mouth, that I would see this in a different way, as He does.

Sharing your sorrow and your tears, I see I am not alone.

Can it be possible, Beloved, that You too struggled with this particular sin as You walked on the earth? It seems impossible, yet does not scripture tell us You were tempted in every way?

We do not want this temptation, but it is the burden You have given us to bear. This temptation may indeed be the thorn in our flesh You give us to make us humble and You intend to never take it away.

But we can still smile, and it is not phony, because You will hold us in Your hand, You will forgive us when we wander to close to the edge, and You will not let us fall. We smile because You are with us and we trust You. And no matter what, You love us. No matter what.

Thank you for bringing us together this morning and allowing us to see we are not alone. And to help me recall, You are with us too.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hand over the machete

The winds have changed and suddenly, I am not longer the leader.

I never wanted to be the leader. Not really. I just kept turning around and all these lost-looking people were behind me. Maybe it was my gift of helps that made me decide to be what they needed. Sheep without a shepherd.

Being a leader was like having a bunch of people following you in the jungle. You are the one in front, with the machete, cutting through the undergrowth. There are no maps, only branches smacking you in the face and you slice into the brush, praying that you are leading these others in the right direction.

I was the spiritual leader in my home, a leader in women's ministries and often I would find myself as the senior person in the church building with the others looking at me for direction--as if I had any. I often thought I ended up in that position because everyone else had taken a step back.

Now, I find myself trailing more to the back of the crowd. I am ready to hand over my machete. My husband now ready to take over the spiritual headship of our home, the others in church moving up to the front of the line, or maybe it's just me being tired and older and moving towards the back.

Following Al reminds me of our younger days when we would ride his motor cycle. I would ride with him in front, me behind, arms around his waist, leaning my head on his back, watching the scenery pass, safe from the wind. All I had to do was the lean in the direction he leaned, and not pull in the opposite direction. No matter where we went or how fast the scenery passed me, I always felt safe, because I trusted Al.

That's what I want to do now, Lord. Lean in towards the way You are leaning. I want to be protected from the wind. I want to hand over my machete. I want to trust You.

I never asked to be the leader, Father. You thrust it upon me and now You have taken it away. It's all ok with me.

Maybe this time of following is a preparation for a later time of leadership for me. Maybe the time of leadership I experienced was preparation for this time of following. Whatever way it will become, I trust You, Lord to have great and wonderful plans.

Have Your way with us.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Secrets.  Even You have them, Father.  You hide eternity 
in Your hand and then release it, day by day.

The ones that I know now, I am so glad they were hidden.  
Worlds turned upside down--but You always knew.  
You knew yet in Your mercy kept it secret.

And yet there are more to reveal, next week, next month, 
next year, even tomorrow.  
We can only count on Your constant love.

And so we too must love constant.  We must cover each 
other's sins with a multitude of love.  
Forgive, forget, move on.

It will never be the way it was.  
But we have yet to see what it will be.

It is a secret, hidden in Your hand that You release 
day by day.

Not yet, You say.  Stay by Me.  
It looks like the end but it is not yet.  
It will be as clear as the light across the heavens.  
You will not miss it.

Stay close by Me.  Don't rush ahead. 

humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God

that He might exalt you in due time

casting all your cares on Him

because He cares for you...1 Peter 5:6-7

you got a problem with ME?

Jesus said... "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

Luke 17:3-4

I have a friend who periodically has melancholy moods. This used to bother me but eventually I started to ask my friend the question..."do I need to appologize for something today?"

The response was always no. Actually my friend was good at telling me right away when I did or said something hurtful. Eventually I stopped asking, confident that if what was wrong was about me, my friend would have told me.

How freeing this is!

I tend toward introspection. Something said in passing conversation can make me wonder about my relationship with a friend. Sometimes, all it takes is a look.

But does the instruction of Matthew 18:15 (If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.) work in reverse? If my brother does not tell me my fault, does that mean that I can assume there is none? If my brother is truely my brother in Christ, can I not trust that he will forgive me?

When he does not forgive me, that is his burden and not mine. I mean, after I have confessed and repented, is there more I need to do?

Beloved, I have done my best to heal this and reconcile, and whatever they have now in their heart, must be dealt with by You.

The burden of unforgiven sin is great. A favorite counselor of ours said in a recent teaching, "When you are angry and you bury it, you bury it alive." How true! And after a while, it leaks.

Beloved, I must rest that if I do right from now on in these areas, You will deal with the hearts of others.

You are mighty, You love me, You love them and I trust You.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Buzybody? Who me?

Several weeks ago our pastor preached on 1 Thes 4:9-12. The title of his message was “Fanatics, Busybodies and Loafers.” It was painful to listen to.

This week, in our Bible study, we are at 1 Peter 4:14-15. In it, Peter tells his flock, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you…but let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer or as a busybody in other people's matters.” Great. Here Peter does not group busybodies with loafers but with murderers and thieves. It’s hard to miss his meaning.

When I was a teen, I went to church with my friends on Sundays. We would walk there, sit in the back and try to keep quiet, because where we churched, being quiet in church was the norm. So we would say to each other “don’t laugh,” and that would always send us into a torrent of giggles.

Why is it that rules, in and of themselves, have no power? In fact, they almost beg us to break them! What then gives us power to obey Christ?

Another sermon was one that I found more helpful. The title of it was “Drinking Seawater” and it was about sexual immorality. I found even the title more encouraging, because in it, pastor was not simply identifying the sin, but telling us all why the pursuit of the sin was so damaging to us. Drinking seawater is just how it is to engage in sexual immorality. It looks good, it looks like it would quench your thirst and it certainly is plentiful. But in truth, it only makes you more thirsty, and in the end, will kill you.

Sometimes when we can uncover God’s truth in a matter, it can help free us from the power over a sin. In this case, being a busybody.

If I am Princess Busybody, my mom was the Queen. It’s so hard to break a generational habit, because with the habit we have been trained in the falsehoods that perpetuate it. Even though I did not want to become like my mother, she has taught me all the lies that make her that way. So let’s shine some light on the subject and get back to the truth.

  • First lie…I’m only trying to help. No. I am trying to control the situation. I do not like how it’s turning out and I want to fix it, fit them, know what is going to happen, be prepared.

    God is in control. If it is their issue, He will talk to them about it and not you. If He doesn’t like how it’s turning out, He is well able to fix it. If He needs you to be prepared, He can prepare you too. If He wants you to be unprepared, you can be unprepared and still survive. It is ok.
  • Next lie…They need my help. No. You are not smarter than them, more educated, better prepared. If they want your help or advice, they can ask you. If they do not, they may want to figure it out by themselves.

    When we do for others, sometimes they feel incompetent and unable to care for themselves. They will never learn how to take care of their own business if we are always in it.
  • Last and biggest lie…If I don’t help, something awful will happen. Well, maybe. But it doesn’t matter. Sometimes this is the only way people learn and to take away their opportunity to fail is to stunt their growth. When people make mistakes, even if they are close to us, like our children, our husband, we are NOT responsible for it.
When I worry about other people’s business, I can neglect my own. Instead of approaching the Throne of Grace in prayer, I spin my wheels trying to think of ways to convince people of my ideas. Instead of resting in the sovereignty of God, I thrash around in my mind needlessly and God’s peace alludes me.

On That Day, Jesus will not ask me how others did in their lives. He will only ask me about my own. In some cases, I should share my thoughts, but only in humility, gentleness and love. And then, once or twice is usually enough. After that, the Lord of Hosts is well able to use my words and repeat them to others if they have merit and purpose in His Kingdom.

Murderers, thieves and busybodies. How seriously You take this matter, Beloved! Perhaps I should take it more seriously too and seek forgiveness and obedience in this matter. Because not only will You not hold me responsible for other’s behavior, but You will most definitely hold me responsible for mine!

Discovering God's Will for My Life

In any relationship, the only way to know how to please the other person is to spend time with them. For example, this Christmas I noticed it was easier to select a gift for my co-workers and close girl friends than some of my family members. I just had spent, recently, much more time around my friends than some of my family, even though I knew my family much longer. I was more in tune with them.

Likewise, the only way to know how to please God is to spend time with Him. Like you would your friends, you listen to them, you do things with them, you observe them in different arenas of life, and as you do, you will discover how they drink their coffee, if they are larks or night owls, if they check their email regularly or if they leave their cell phone on as they drive home from work.

When we spend time with God, in Bible reading, prayer, worship, service to His children, we learn about Him.

The other factor is God is constantly preparing us for the next adventure. He wastes nothing. No activity, no event, no pain, no joy is wasted in your training, your sanctification, to use the official “churchy” word. As my brother Gabe said yesterday, “As soon as Maria (his daughter) was borne, I embarked on this journey of training her. Everything I did, as I did it, I thought of how I would use it to teach her a new lesson about life.” God is like that. Everything can be a life lesson for us, if we are open to it.

So that brings us to the next important step: we need to do everything with all our might, opening our heart to the lesson in it our Heavenly Father has for us. If we focus on the thing “in your hand” (Exodus 4:1-5) then He will train us for the next thing. He has told us to train our children “when you walk by the way,” (Duet 6:7) and likewise, He trains us. If worry about pursuing the “next step” we may miss what He has for us now, that we need to prepare us for that step. God’s word is a light for our feet (Psalm 119:105) – meaning that we get enough light for the next step only most times. When we rush ahead or we can miss the necessary preparation.

Often it’s so hard to wait on God. But we need to wait for His timing in all things. Recently I went to a service where we remembered our youth pastor, PJoe, who went to be with the Lord a year ago. The night before, in response to preparation work we were doing for this service, I had blogged about PJoe, but I was not sure it was appropriate to read it. But I emailed it to Pastor Jeff, who was presiding over the service, and then tucked it away so I had it with me. Later, at the service, Pastor Jeff sat nearby me, and during one of the closing parts he looked at me and nodded. And so I felt confident to get up next and read what I had written.

This incident touched me as representative of how it can work well to seek God’s will:

  1. Serve God: I was busy making preparations for PJoe’s service and then, while doing that, God spoke to me. When we are doing the right thing, even when others may misunderstand or be angry, we are always on safe ground. Even if others do not notice, God always sees and rewards us.
  2. Do what God prompts you to do: I went home and wrote the blog entry.
  3. Check your spirit and your gift: I sent it to Pastor Jeff, to make sure I was on the right track. I let myself be accountable to someone with wisdom and integrity. For a change, I was gentle and humble, not self-righteous and pushy.
  4. Be prepared: I brought the blog with me to the service.
  5. Wait for the nod: I was prepared to speak, or not, not depending on my reasons or my feelings, but was waiting on God.
  6. Move out in confidence and courage: Got up and shared my blog with those who had come. And it didn’t matter the feed-back I got, really, I needed then to do God’s will only, in obedience.

Often we can feel that a person or situation can block God’s will for our lives, but that does agree with scripture which teaches us that no trial, no person, can interfere with God’s plans for us (Rom 8:37). God is sovereign. There is no trial we encounter that God is taken back by, that God has not counted in His great plans for us. Look at the life of Job, where God has literally pulled back the curtain and allowed us to see His conversation with Satan before He allows him to interfere with Job’s life (Job 1:6-12). Look at the life of Joseph; he was treated so cruelly by his own brothers and in the end his testimony was “God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20).

We can embrace every trial knowing that God sees, He is in control, and He will work it out. When we rest in that knowledge, we can experience the peace that passes understanding.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

True Beauty

Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty.

What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.
1 Peter 3:1-6 MSG

Yesterday my friend Donna was telling me that she had a asthma attack in the middle of the night.

"It's hard to call 911 when you are by yourself having an asthma attack," I told her.

"Yes and it's even harder to answer the door when you are lying on the floor," she replied.

Always practical and a nurse besides, Donna continued on about how she did not want to be found dead in that way, "with drool running down my chin, no make up and in my bathrobe."

I promised her that if I ever found her dead, I would clean her up, touch up her make-up and put on her favorite outfit. What a true friend.

Donna is the most beautiful woman I know. She has a true beauty that is delightful to be around and gaze upon. Her gentle, compassionate, sweet spirit is utterly captivating. She has the beauty that only comes from devotion to and connection with our Beloved Jesus.

One of the movies that has most disturbed me was one called Death Becomes Her, with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn playing two jealous, conniving women who allow a spell to be cast upon them that gives them eternal physical life and perfect physical beauty. The catch? They are really dead and cannot no longer die. In the end of the movie, their physical beauty succumbs to the accidents and wear and tear of the world and they look hideous. In trying to become beautiful, they became more and more ugly. And their ugliness was permanent, as they could never leave their outward bodies and embrace death. Their anger, jealousy and bitterness made them miserable.

The way we make ourselves beautiful is by being in the presence of the True Beautiful One, Jesus. As we read His love letters to us, as we tell Him our deepest secrets and fears in prayer, as we adore Him in worship, as we serve His children here on the earth, His beauty rubs off on us and we are made more and more beautiful too.

Ok, truth be told sometimes we, with the stress of life, lose our sweet spirit and and we allow pride, anger and doubt to creep in. But more and more, as we walk with my Beloved, that happens less and less.

One day you may find me dead. You can clean me up, make me up, dress me up, and put me in a pretty box if that would comfort you. Or you can give my left over shell to science and medicine or burn me to ashes. It's all the same to me.

Because then I'll be in the arms then of my Beloved Jesus and mine will have been made a perfect beauty.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Remembering PJoe

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them...

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Who can say if I've been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better

Because I knew you...
I have been changed for good.
(For Good - from the Broadway play Wicked)

Tomorrow night we will spend an evening remembering our dear friend and pastor, Joe Fields.

Joe was so many different things, all wrapped into one quirky package.

He was a mere boy really, and that was the best part of him. He was young enough to be my son, well, if I had him really, really young. He loved jokes and games and legos. He laughed out loud, sang off key in the hallways, left dirty dishes in the sink. He would do whatever you asked him. We would take out the garbage together. We would line up the chairs in the sanctuary together. We would go to Costco and buy tons of food and jam it into my car together. No job was too messy for Joe to enjoy with you. And just being with Joe made any job enjoyable.

I have two daughters and never longed for a son. Until I met Joe and realized what a great thing I had missed out on.

Joe was a wonderful man of God. He had incredible far-reaching wisdom for one so young. For a young man so sick, he was really the most healthy person I knew. He understood how to relate to people and he knew how important that was. He knew his Bible and how to explain it in simple terms. He knew how to talk about God to my teens, and he knew when and how to talk about their life issues too. Joe was great with teens, he was great with old people. He could keep up with Celia and I in discussion, yet do the boy thing with Jim and the youth boys. And he loved playing with his baby Ethan. His range was awesome.

Joe was a man of passion. He was passionate about God, his work, his family, his friends, and he had lots of them. He was not half way about it at all. He may have had a lot of commitments, but he was a man of commitment and integrity. He had the rare gift of knowing what he was about, knowing where he was going and knowing why he was going there. He may have not had a lot of money but he was rich beyond measure in his friendship and his peace.

Joe was a man of wisdom. One of the worst parts about me dealing with Christina being pregnant initially was that I could not tell Joe. He would have known what to tell me and her. He always had great sense about life, about people, about God.

Joe leaving has left a big hole. There is the hole of the youth pastor that we never filled. Who could replace this man? There is a hole in our office, and more than just an empty room. It seems like the staff has never been the same since. Or maybe it's just me who has never been the same...

What do you say about such things? How do you recover from such a loss? How do you go on?

Tonight Ken and I were in the Fellowship Hall watching the slide show, photos of Joe, alive and happy with all of his friends, I said, "I can't believe he's dead."

And Ken replied, "He's not. He's just not here."

Part of the trouble with trying to get my mind around what has happened is that Joe periodically would go away to the hospital, get better, and then come back to us. It is hard to believe still, that he is not just away and will soon be coming back.

But that is the definitive truth. He'd not dead. He is just not here. He is coming back.

And, as the song says, he has left a hand-print on our hearts. Us who have known Joe will never be the same. We are changed, for good. His love for Christ and his love for us has changed us.

Joe did not have any outstanding gifts, as the world would recognize. He could not play an instrument or sing. He was not an outstanding orator, or doctor or athlete. He was just a man who with all his heart and soul did good. And he cannot be stopped. Death cannot stop Joe, and he knew that. He knew that if he obeyed His Heavenly Father, not only would he live forever with Him, but his legacy would live forever too.

And it will. With us.

1 Peter 3:13-18

If with heart and soul you're doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you're still better off.

Don't give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master.

Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They'll end up realizing that they're the ones who need a bath.

It's better to suffer for doing good, if that's what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That's what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others' sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.