Van Gogh and Me: Pursuing Our Vocations

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Self-portrait

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh contains much spiritual treasure.

Van Gogh originally set out to follow in his father’s footsteps as a pastor, but for reasons that are only somewhat revealed, it didn’t work out.  During this period of preparation for ministry, Van Gogh describes a foreboding sense –

These are really happy days I spend here, but still it is a happiness and quiet which I do not quite trust.  Man is not easily content: now he finds things too easy and then again he is not contented enough.

Though not terribly dissatisfied, Van Gogh senses something is missing.  Something is not quite right.  He wonders if this “dis-ease” could have a spiritual basis.

There may be a time in life when one is tired of everything and feels as if all one does is wrong, and there may be some truth in it — do you think this is a feeling one must try to forget and to banish, or is it ‘the longing for God,’ which one must not fear, but cherish to see if it may bring us some good?  Is it ‘the longing for God’ which leads us to make a choice which we never regret?

One thing I’ve noted early in this collection of letters to his brother Theo is that when Van Gogh describes something about pastoral ministry, his words are distant and generic.  When he describes the visual world or artistic representations of them, however, he comes alive.

As we have in our Brabant the underbrush of oak, and in Holland the willows, so you can see here the blackthorn hedges around the gardens, fields, and meadows.  With the snow the effect just now is of black characters on white paper, like the pages of the Gospel.

After a disruptive experience in his academic pursuit of a pastoral vocation, Van Gogh moves to Brussels where, thanks to a small stipend from his father and monies from Theo, he is able to eek out a living while devoting himself to his art.  He first concentrates on studying and copying the masters where he tries to “understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious matters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God.”

Ultimately, he picks up his pencil and finds great relief.

Though every day difficulties come up and new ones will present themselves, I cannot tell you how happy I am to have to taken up drawing again.  I have been thinking of it for a long time, but I always considered the thing impossible and beyond my reach.  But now, though I feel my weakness and my painful dependency in many things, I have recovered my mental balance, and day by day my energy increases.

I relate to the tension between Van Gogh’s material needs and his vocation. In historical hindsight, he was beyond question created to be a painter. Yet in his lifetime he sold no paintings. Had it not been for the patronage of his devoted brother Theo, he would have starved.

By the grace of God, I managed to maintain a career in pastoral ministry for almost two decades. At times, working together with many faithful parishioners, much fruit was borne. Other seasons were quite barren. I’m confident that as a minister, I faithfully presented God’s Word weekly and daily represented (in my own weak way) the Spirit of Christ.

I am grateful that, again by God’s grace, this career has provided materially for me and my family. But I confess it was more consuming spiritually than fulfilling and took a tremendous psychological toil on my already fragile mind.

Now, I am pursuing another vocation within the realm of faith and mental illness.  Were it not for the generous patronage of people God provides to support my efforts, I could not go on.  But with God’s help and support from the community of faith, I will find my way to best offer myself as a living sacrifice to the glory of the Lord.

Only the Only (based on Jeremiah 1.4-10)

God has a plan for your life. You may not know it. You may not want to face it. Like the prophet Jeremiah, you may be called to speak what people don’t want to hear. Or maybe, it’s your calling to be a team-player, to help wherever help is needed. The important thing is to know and remember that your life has meaning, has a purpose thanks to the creative hand of God.

Jeremiah is called to be a prophet among the nations. His target audience is much larger than just the Hebrew people. He is to speak among the nations: Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt and Judah. To each he is to speak the word of God. We can imagine how this task could seem overwhelming, we can understand why Jeremiah protests:

“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,”

The translation here is somewhat murky. To be a boy in the Hebrew language meant to be of marriageable age, but as yet unmarried. Jeremiah protests to God that he does not have the experience. “I am too young. I lack the wisdom of my elders. Who would listen to me?”

I can understand Jeremiah’s hesitancy. I, for one can’t stand doing tasks for which I feel unprepared. I don’t like stretching my limits for fear I’ll mess it up. Like with plumbing. Last week, I boldly decided to fix the leak in our bathtub faucet. I jumped right in and started removing screws and bolts, thinking that eventually, the culprit, the source of the leak would magically appear.

I was right. Not just a drip, but a flowing stream began to burst through the pipes until I found the thing that shuts it off. Fortunately, a neighbor kindly helped me fix what damage I’d done.

I can understand Jeremiah’s protest, “I’m only a boy.” “I don’t know how to do it.”

But God responds immediately to Jeremiah, “Do not say, `I am only a boy’ for you shall go to all whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”

The source of the message Jeremiah speaks comes from God. God will give him the words to speak. He is only to be an instrument through which the word of God will pass. In the process, he will grow to maturity and collect wisdom along the way. His fears will be allayed. He will develop his capacity to lean on God in tough moments:

“…for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth, says Jeremiah; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah as a prophet does not have much human authority. He is not figured into the royal chain-of-command. His authority comes solely from God. It is the authority to discern lies and speak the truth of God’s word, a living truth that creates life and destroys all that gets in the way.

So why does God choose Jeremiah? This is one of those mysterious questions that can never be fully answered, but I think part of Jeremiah’s calling comes from his own humility, “I am only a boy.” He knows his limits or, said better, he doesn’t try to promote himself and wind up over his head.

Likewise, Jeremiah is able to represent the people before God. Like Moses before him, he is an effective middle-man. He does not cower in God’s presence, but communicates honestly and directly. He is a fine dialogue-partner with God, which is one mark of a true prophet.

Jeremiah moves from his limitations, “I am only a boy.” to being received by God as a prophet and anointed to carry out whatever task God has for him to do. He doesn’t linger in his “only-ness.”

At first Jeremiah tries to hide behind his “only-ness“. “Nobody will listen to me. What impact will I have? It’s easy to get caught up in the logic of this. You might think the world is such a big place and I’m only one person, what difference could I make? Together, we may say, “We are only a small church, there’s only so much we can do.

Not only do we hide behind our “only-ness,” but we can use the “only-ness” to discount others and shield ourselves from truth. “You are only a child, we can’t expect much from you.” “You are only a woman. You can’t be a church leader.” We have also limited our older adults by saying in kind ways, “You can only do so much.”

The truth is, God calls only “the only.” Throughout the Bible, we see God actively calling persons with limits, either personal or social. People we may not have chosen if given the choice. Women and men, boys and girls who seem to have no special talents or gifts, no great education or training are appointed by God to carry out God’s work in the world.

We are called, in our work, at home, and in the church. God calls us, limits and all, to witness to the love of God in Christ. To respond as Jeremiah responds, limits and all.

Our hope is that in accepting our call, we are never alone. God gave Jeremiah the strength to meet each challenge. This is the promise of Scripture. No matter how difficult the task, no matter how persecuted prophets become, they are never alone. God does not abandon them, but walks beside them and gives them courage to speak and act.

I hope the promise of this passage gives you the courage to step out of your “only-ness” The call of God comes to all who believe, not just prophets or pastors, not just deacons or elders. God speaks to all. It may be hard to hear, though, when you are hiding behind your “only-ness.”

I am only a child.

I am only a farmer.

I am only a home maker,

I am only a working man or woman.

It’s not that we are only this or that, but that we are every bit a child of God. This is what makes the difference. God calls only the only to be children of God and represent God in the world.

Knowing this, we can face the world and the challenges it brings. If someone tries to say you are “only this” or “only that” know that God calls only the only, that God will put the words in our mouths and give us the courage to speak.

Spiritualinspiration: www.facebook.com/naeemcallaway

The Family that Prays Together: The Pursuit of Happiness (11)

It was after 10 by the time the family settled Steven into room 313.  They stood in a semi-circle around his bed.

“Well Dad, I think you’ve got everything you need.  We should let you get some rest.”  She smiled and patted him on the shoulder.  “Mom’s flight lands around 8.  I’ll bring her over as soon as I can.  You just get a good night’s rest and we’ll be here before you know it.”

Steven returned her smile.  “Thank you.”

“Is there anything else you want, Dad?” asked David.

“Well, if it’s not asking too much, I wonder if you all might join me in prayer?”

David looked down.  Monica and Philip turned to Robert.  “I think that would be great.”

Steven reached over and grabbed his Bible.  He handed it to David.  “First, David, would you read some verses of a Psalm?”

David took the Bible reluctantly.  “I don’t know… any particular one?”

“I’ll let you choose.  They’re all good.”

David turned to the middle of the Bible and thumbed through the pages.

“How about this?  Psalm 139, verses 1-14 –

O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

David gently handed the Bible back to Steven.

“Thank you, David.”

David bowed his head.

“Now, Philip, why don’t you read a prayer from this book,” handing him The Valley of Vision.

“Sure, Grandpa.”  Steven placed the book in Philip’s hand and he carefully looked through the pages.

“Here’s one…”

Thou art the blessed God, happy in Thyself, source of happiness in Thy creatures, my maker, benefactor, proprietor, upholder. Thou hast produced and sustained me, supported and indulged me, saved and kept me; Thou art in every situation able to meet my needs and miseries. 

May I live by Thee, live for Thee, never be satisfied with my Christian progress but as I resemble Christ; and may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct grow hourly in my life. Let Thy unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience, and render my duty my delight. If others deem my faith folly, my meekness infirmity, my zeal madness, my hope delusion, my actions hypocrisy, may I rejoice to suffer for Thy name. 

Keep me walking steadfastly towards the country of everlasting delights, that paradise-land which is my true inheritance. Support me by the strength of heaven that I may never turn back, or desire false pleasures that will disappear into nothing.  As I pursue my heavenly journey by Thy grace let me be known as a man with no aim but that of a burning desire for Thee, and the good and salvation of my fellow men. 

Philip handed the book back to Steven and he placed it on the bedside table.  “Now, Robert, would you be willing to say a prayer?”

“I’d be honored,” he said, with confidence, “Let’s pray together… Dear Father in heaven, you know all things good for us.  We look to you tonight for comfort, encouragement, and healing.  You have a great plan for us and we only see through a glass darkly.  Inspire us to follow your Way, to do our best and trust you with the rest.”  He paused.  “Bring Rachel safely home.  And unite us all in your love, through Christ our Savior.”

Steven looked up at Robert.  “That was beautiful.”

Robert smiled.  “Well, we’d better get on our way.  Call us if you need anything.”

“Thank you.  I’ll be just fine.”

They each moved toward the door.  David was the last to leave.  As he was about to pass through the doorway, he turned back.

He looked over to his father, “I love you, Dad.”

Steven looked back at him.  “I love you too, Son.”

I am so thankful for my precious, Godly parents who instilled this in each and every one of their children & the importance of being Rooted  in Christ.  Regardless of any difference we had through the years, we will stand alone when we meet our maker & can only answer for our own actions. I cannot imagine trying to give God an excuse for being ugly, disobedient, etc. Dear Lord, please help me to not miss an opportunity to share this.

Fight Fire with Fire (based on Luke 12.49-56)

Peace is an important word, a valuable concept throughout the Bible. In Genesis, Abram is promised peace to dwell in the land God gives him and his ancestors. A Psalmist is able to rest comfortably at night “as I lie down and sleep in peace.” Jesus reassures the wandering disciples when he says, “Peace I leave you. My peace I give you.” The writer of Ephesians goes so far as to declare the good news of Jesus Christ as “the gospel of peace.”

Jesus is often viewed as a “peacemaker.” He is good at settling disputes. He helps uncover hidden meaning behind what seem petty concerns. He is able to lead a diverse group of disciples into Jerusalem despite the obstacles religious leaders place in his way.

So how are we to understand it when Jesus says in Luke, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Homes will be broken. Families will turn against each other. Surely this will not be the case. How can this be good news? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be a peacemaker, not a peace-breaker?

As we dig deeper into Lukan text we uncover at least two more difficult truths spoken by Jesus.

One is fire. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

The other is when Jesus berates the gathered crowd, calling them hypocrites who “know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but don’t know how to interpret the time.

This brief passage suggests, if you want to follow Jesus you can expect fiery stress, the break-down of your family life and the prospect of being ignored, persecuted, even condemned. Not an attractive offer, huh?

Jesus is trying to give us a fair expectation for those who wish to follow him. Don’t expect that it will be easy road. Discipleship is a hard row to hoe.

Yet, we are encouraged by companionship along the way. Jesus knows where we’ve been, knows where we are and knows where we’re going. As we look into this passage, let the Spirit unfold this truth in our hearts.

First, let’s look at the fire. Fire separates and divides. Fire destroys that which can not endure and strengthens or refines that which can endure. We don’t often think of Jesus in terms of fire. We must distinguish the fire of Christ, which is intended to purge from the flames of Satan, which are designed to destroy. One writer points to the paradox of this fire about which Jesus spoke.

“There is the fire of judgment and purification, the fire of divine anger and of divine love, and there is the fire of the Holy Spirit.”

Fire changes matter; energy is released. This power is needed to battle with sin. On our own, we could never resist temptation. Through the Holy Spirit in and around us, we gain power. There is great power in fire when it is used properly.

Likewise, fire purges. The Holy Spirit works within us to make us stronger, to rid ourselves of past wrongs. This process is called “sanctification.” It is “becoming more like Christ as you live by faith through years of experience.” With each trial we endure, for all the fires in our lives, our faith grows stronger.

Fire also provides light. We no longer walk in the darkness if we carry the light of the Holy Spirit with us. This light reveals to us the truth, little by little from scripture and through daily prayer. Our job is to study the Bible, to be teachable, available, and to obey; to walk in the light the Spirit gives us. We must make use of this light, for light received brings more light, light rejected brings only darkness. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Finally, this fire the Spirit of Christ imparts to us is the fire of passion. Passionate faith keeps us from growing weary in small, seemingly unimportant tasks which wear our motivation thin. In the midst of your fatigue, let this fiery passion to believe under gird all you say and do. Fight fire with fire.

One writer, commenting on the use of fire in this passage, writes:

“The purpose of Jesus is to bring fire which refines the permanent and destroys the temporary.”

This passage on families depicts this tension, this division. Certain followers of the Way had become rejected by their families. Some were resented. Others ignored. Some were ridiculed. Others were harassed. In the months and years to come, this tension escalated such that many believers would lose their lives claiming their identity as Christians.

Jesus reminds us, just so we know, faith requires us to let go of many things and one of them is clinging to family life as we have known it. Seek first the kingdom of God and then all things will be added. In time, I believe, family tensions will be reduced and your family life enhanced – if you put your faith first.

In spite of all the obstacles we must cross — violence, division, fire, God will never abandon us. Our God reaches out where no god would go. God willingly sends Jesus-fully human, fully God, to help us in our predicament, to give us strength and encouragement. To give us the faith to believe when we want to give up. Fight fire with fire, in the name of Christ.

phoenix_final07_by_eedenartwork-d5mohzq.jpg (1024×773)

Prayer of Moses and Me (from Exodus 15.1-2)

I will sing to the LORD,

     for he has triumphed gloriously;

  the horse and his rider

     he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my song,

     and he has become my salvation;

  this is my God, and I will praise him,

  my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15.1-21)

LORD, I praise you for your mighty love. You have protected me from enemies within, among, and around. You have declared victory over powerful armies and principalities. Nothing compares to you in strength and power. You have not only defeated my enemies, you have utterly destroyed them. They no longer have power over my life.

You, LORD, and you alone, are my strength and my song. You give me the strength to get up in the morning, to complete tasks during the day, and to get the rest I need at night. You are my song. Through you, I am inspired to create. This lifts my spirit and adds beautiful melody to my mediocre existence.

In Jesus Christ, you have become my salvation. You entered into my life so I could be free of sin and death. I now have the promise of abundant life, now and forever. Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that I can spend eternity with you.

You, gracious God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — have adopted me into your family. I am now your child and for this I praise you, as Jesus did. My Abba — Papa.

You are not only my God, but the God of my spiritual ancestors. One day, in your own good time, I will leave behind this world where I have no home and come home to you and your people, from all lands and countless generations and we will find delight in praising you.

Christian Art The Lord is My Strength  MADE to by graceforgrace, $58.00

Grace at Two

Grace passes by without a sound

I can hear, but I can’t follow.

She sighs and runs away.

Listening for me to chase her.

Grace looks around with a smile

I can see, but can’t capture.

She climbs on my lap and looks in my eyes

Watching her image in me.

Grace plays with her friends.

I feel without touching her.

She runs up the slide and turns to find me

Holding her life in my hands.

happiness- i chose this picture because i like that it has a little vintage look and its outdoors, i also love how the child is holding a cat because i love animals.

God Speaks to Me Through SPAM

I am a firm believer that God is able to speak to us “in many and various ways”.  Why just today, I was reading the messages in my SPAM folder and here is what God said to me (and what I say back to God).

nice job writing this up in a manner that most people can understand

hey i did not understand what are you saying about. somewhat i understood on that basis i don’t agree with this. thanks for posting

I don’t know, God, it sounds like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.  I guess you mean I’m on the right track, but sometimes you don’t get where I’m coming from (or agree with me when you do).  I appreciate you gratefully hanging around while I sort this out.

good website and happy messages. i like it. thank you master!

Now, God, you don’t have to get sarcastic.  I get that I can sometimes seem like a know-it-all, but I know you are really in charge.

this text is very well written, you must be a really intelligent person, keep up the good work

And I thank you for the brains You gave me.  I will do my best.

this website is recommended for all ages, as it contains good and informative stuff

I suppose that means I can give my blog a “G” rating, huh?  Get it?  “G”-rating?

This is a message to the admin. Your website is missing out on at least 300 visitors per day. I have found a company which offers to dramatically increase your traffic to your website: ________.  They offer 1,000 free visitors during their free trial period and I managed to get over 30,000 visitors per month using their services, you could also get lot more targeted traffic than you have now. Hope this helps :)  Take care.

Hey, you can’t fool me.   This message isn’t from God, it’s from one of those religious marketers pretending to be God.  Put the Holy One back on.

Unquestionably imagine that that you stated. Your favourite justification appeared to be on the net the easiest thing to take into account of.

I say to you, I definitely get annoyed at the same time as other people consider issues that they plainly do not understand about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also outlined out the whole thing with
no need side effect, other folks can take a signal.

Will probably be again to get more. Thank you.

I know exactly what you mean, Lord.  I will try to keep telling it like it is.

please when you’re posting, do it carefully not to say the wrong thing

OK, God, I’ll do my best.

your articles are highly appreciated from me and some people i know, good work

Thank you, Most Holy One, that means a great deal to me.

SPAMMER ALERT! Check ALL your GROUP BOARDS for Robbie Tan, Theo Mackay, Caitlin Duckett, Gary Wahl and Tashia Boykin. This person is one and the same and is spamming many many group boards with selling merchandise and UGG boots. I have reported them all but you need to delete them from your group boards. I only found FIVE but there could be more. Please do this today. I care about all of you. This needs to stop! Thanks, Annette

(originally published February 11, 2013)

I’ve Had Enough! (based on Isaiah 1.1, 10-20)

True prophets speak the truth no matter what the cost. The Word of God burns inside them until they have no choice but to speak. Through stories, dreams, visions, God speaks through prophets that others may hear and hold onto the promise or heed the warning.

In the Bible, true prophets are a mixed breed. Some are royal advisors. Some are outlaws, opposing unjust rule. Some are simple farmers, or shepherds, like the prophet Amos. The credential for becoming a prophet is not wealth or intelligence or popularity. For each prophetic occasion, God hand-picks the prophet who will deliver the authentic message from God to the people. At times this was a message of hope, reminding the exiled community of God’s covenant promise. This message was encouraging, uplifting:

“Hey, things won’t be like this forever. Keep moving forward. God is with you.”

Other times it was a word of warning:

“Straighten your ways. Remain faithful to God’s covenant. Follow the commandments and teach them to your children.”

Isaiah was a prophet with a long career. In his day, he delivered a number of prophecies: some hopeful, others challenging. Isaiah also had a band of followers, or, “prophets in training” who faithfully recorded prophecies they had learned from their teacher. The book of Isaiah contains many of these prophetic messages.

Much like his contemporaries: Amos, Hosea, and Micah, Isaiah attacks social injustice as that which is most indicative of Judah’s tenuous relationship with God. We find this in our passage today.

First, in verse 10, Isaiah brings to mind the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of how failure to listen to God can cause great ]destruction. The book of Genesis contains the story of Sodom and Gommorah. These cities, once great, had ignored their covenant with God and followed the desires of their flesh. They would not confess their sin or seek to change their behavior, so God destroyed the cities. This destruction is mentioned in other prophecies. It serves as a warning for a community which might lose their values and begin to abuse their privileges as people of God.

Before anything else, we need to strengthen our relationships: with God, with each other, with ourselves.

This is the most important facet of worship, not what you sacrifice on the altar. The message continues:

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord.

What good does it do to go through the motions of worship and not let it take root in your heart? This does not say we should do away with worship or drastically alter its form. God is not saying we need to throw worship out with the diluted water, but to infuse it with meaning, allowing it to reform our lives.

“I’ve had enough,” says God. Stop bringing me animals to sacrifice and start bringing yourselves as living sacrifices.”

When we live our lives in accordance with God’s will, all else with fall into place. When we offer the best we have to the Lord, our return is great. This makes a difference in how we worship. Our songs become more joyful. Our silence becomes more refreshing. Our words take on new meaning.

Before any worship reform could be successful, the Israelites needed to become more faithful in their relationships and less comfortable in their rituals. We can learn to hide behind our rituals and lose sight of Christ in each other.

In Christ, we have God’s greatest sacrifice of all…a sacrifice that you and I can only begin to fathom. This sacrifice of love can keep us going when we feel we’re in a rut or spinning our wheels. In Christ, relationships give birth to rituals that further infuse our relationships with both joy and meaning. Giving ourselves to Christ, and being obedient servants of God, we will do more than we ever thought possible.

Isaiah speaks for the distinctive tradition of Israel and shows us that the way to make the Lord willing to grant wishes is not more and costlier sacrifices – but through moral obedience. This is our living sacrifice that only grows as we grow.

As one writer puts it,

“God is more concerned about right relations than with scrupulous regard for public worship.”

Certainly, God cares about both, but when we are faced with the difficult choice, even personal piety takes a back seat to righteousness. When our choice is whether to do the loving thing or the proper thing, God says, “Love, as I have loved you.”

Consider the story of the Good Samaritan. Those who were scrupulous about worship ignored the man in the ditch, while the Good Samaritan cared for him. Jesus knew how important it was to heal, to comfort, to care.

When there develops a violent contrast between what we do in church and what we do in our daily lives, worship can become a spectacle, a hollow mockery. Our piety becomes hypocrisy.

For our worship to be pleasing to God, we need to offer the praise of lives which in justice, righteousness, unselfishness, and purity, reveal God’s character and will.”

In return for this praise, God will reveal more to us to lead lives worthy of praise, God living through us Isaiah offers us a glimpse of the divine. In verse 18:

“Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

Let’s get down to business. Let’s get a few things straight. God desires that we approach as one accused might approach the judge. This image may seem harsh, yet we find immediately that God as judge is not trying to punish us, but to extend us mercy. Certainly, Israel must take responsibility for its sins, all of us do; but this should not impede our coming before God and relying on God’s mercy.

God here is a righteous judge, who extends mercy and offers encouragement,

It’s up to us. It’s down to you.

Finally, for our worship to make us whole, we need forgiveness. We need the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ our Savior. Jesus paid the sacrifice for us. All we need to live faithfully is to turn our hearts and minds to Christ and let him take over.

Before worship, let Christ build bridges where there have been walls, confess wrongs and accept God’s forgiveness as you extend forgiveness to others.

During worship, praise God with all you have, give God the best you have to offer.

After worship, carry the Spirit of Christ with you, spreading the love of God wherever you go.

As we do these things, our worship will be transformed by the power of God. We will hear it in our singing, feel it in our prayers, and cherish it in our silence.

The Doctor Is In: The Pursuit of Happiness (10)

It was almost 8 p.m. when the doctor arrived with the results of the tests.

“Mr. Jacobson, I’m Dr. Luke Hanson,” he said, shuffling a clipboard to one hand and offering his other.  Steven reached out and they shook hands.

“The results of your EKG and Cat Scan came back.  They show no signs of any abnormalities.  There’s nothing we can detect medically that would explain why you blacked out.”  He looked up from his clipboard and into Steven’s face.

“Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”

Steven looked up.  “I don’t think so… I…”

Monica cautiously interrupted, “My mother has been out of town for a few day.  Dad really depends on her…  The past few days there’s… been a lot of changes.”

“Well, the body reacts to stress in some strange ways,” he said to Monica.  “Have you noticed any lingering memory loss?”

Monica looked at David, then at her father.  “Dad remembers most of what happened at the art museum, up until a few moments before he blacked out.  He is confused about some things, though.”

“Like what?” asked the doctor.  Steven looked over at her.

“He doesn’t remember my mother leaving town last Saturday.  He wondered why she wasn’t here with us.”

The doctor turned to Steven.  “Mr. Jacobson, have you and your wife been under a lot of stress lately?”

Steven looked away, as if trying to capture a scene in the distance.  “I… can’t remember.  I don’t think so.  We’ve been married over 43 years now.  Every married couple goes through stress, I suppose.  But I can’t think of anything unusual.”

“Can you remember the last time you spoke to your wife?”

Steven kept looking into the distance.  A tear began to form in his eyes.  “I just… can’t… remember.”

Dr. Hanson touched him on the shoulder, “That’s okay.  I think we’ve covered enough for now.  Some things just can’t be explained easily.  Medically speaking, you seem to be in good health.  I do want to keep you a day or two for observation.  There should be a bed ready upstairs soon.  Does that sound good?”

“That’s fine,” said Steven.

“Very good, then.  I’ll see you some time tomorrow.  Is there anything you need in the meantime?”

“I can’t think of anything.”

“Okay then.  You take care of yourself, Mr. Jacobson.”   He turned to Monica and David. “If you have any questions or concerns, the nurses know how to reach me.”

“Thank you, doctor,” said David.  Monica nodded her head and smiled.

Monica moved closer to her father.  “Well, Dad, we might as well get prepared for a good night’s rest.  How about I call Robert?  He and Philip can bring you some comfortable pajamas and a robe.  Is there anything else you want?”

“Could they bring my Bible and prayer book from my night stand?”

“Sure thing.  Anything else?” asked Monica.

“Could you call your mother?”

Monica paused.  “I will,” she paused, “Yes, I will.  Right away.”  She knelt down and kissed him on the forehead.  Then, turning to David, she asked,

“Are you able to stay until we get Dad settled?”

“Absolutely.  We’ll catch up on old times.”

Monica made her way out of the room.  David moved beside his father’s bed.

“Can I get you anything, Dad?  A drink?  Or something to eat? You must be famished.”

“I am a little hungry, now that you mention it.”

“I’ll ask if they can scrounge up something.  Filet mignon sound good?”

Steven smiled.  “No, just locusts and wild honey for me.”

David laughed as he made his way to the nurses’ station.

11 Decisions you'll have to make right after your birth and need in your birthing plan

Escape from Death: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

Our God is a God who saves;

from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death. (Psalm 68:20)

In the years since my suicide attempt I’ve had a great deal of time to reflect on its meaning and the purpose of my life then and now. At times, I’ve described it as a one-time fluke. I had never before nor have I since been seriously suicidal. But the attempt was more than a fluke. It was an attack.

It was a spiritual attack from an enemy who wants nothing more than to get God’s children to give up. It was an attack for which I was ill-prepared despite decades of study and devotion. It was an attack I pray never comes again though I know it could. I know I need to be devotionally disciplined on a daily basis in case I am attacked again.

The most important part of the story of my suicide attempt is not what happened before I took the pills, but afterward. I managed to escape death thanks to God, the God of my salvation.

This is the part of the story I need to always remember and tell others. I faced death and, by the grace of God, have lived to tell about it.

Even as I write this, I realize that not everyone is rescued, at least in this life. I think of Matthew Warren who, only a week ago today, took his own life. I think of something his father Rick said – even on that day Matthew was playing family games and having a good time.

It is true that some people with mental illnesses don’t survive deathly attacks. I can’t make sense of it, but I do believe God is still our salvation, that God has a saving purpose for all His children. Mental illness is a mystery we may never solve, not a puzzle we can piece together.

The best we can do is look to the Lord – who is our rock and our salvation, our best and only hope – in this life and beyond. In Jesus Christ, God brings us back from the grave. We escape the death that is the sure sentence of our sin to enjoy life with Christ and with all God’s children forever.

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. For a signed copy, directly from the author, write to me — tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .