What Does it Mean to Carry One’s Cross

In the Gospel reading last Sunday we read that Jesus told us to “take up {our} cross and follow Me” or we are not considered worthy to gain the rewards of being a believer (Matt. 10:38).

That sounds like such an intimidating command, too awful and difficult to follow.  And the disciples at the time didn’t even know what that entailed because it was before Jesus was crucified on a cross. Did Jesus mean it literally that He expected them, and all of us, to also be crucified as He was about to be? I don’t think so.

Our “crosses” take many forms, and I believe what Jesus was telling all of us was that being a follower wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. All of our prayers wouldn’t be instantly answered just because we say we believe in Jesus. We aren’t immune to contracting illness or suffering physical pain.  And people wouldn’t often agree with what we believe or the standard of lifestyle we lead based on the Commandments.  Standing up for what Jesus preached would go against societal norms so it would provoke some ridicule or embarrassment (or even persecution and martyrdom as the apostles faced).

Yet that is exactly what Jesus was trying to tell the apostles. Pick up those crosses and follow Him anyway, for that would lead to joy and eternal reward. By following the commands to love and forgive we show others how to also love and forgive. By showing humility and happiness even while undergoing physical strain we show our trust in a higher power. By patiently persevering in prayer even when it seems our prayers aren’t being heard we are usually granted greater blessings eventually.

 In this tumultuous, divisive time in our history we Christians can lead the way by showing that all lives matter.  We can make the tough right decisions that show respect for all life. We should demonstrate kindness as dignity is deserved by everyone. Whether that is by joining peaceful protests in honor of pro-life and anti-racism, wearing a mask in public, or by being constantly kind while being stuck at home with the same family members day after day. 

To carry a cross also means to carry a burden or to persevere in difficulty with hope and joy. It means to take an injustice without arguing back. To listen patiently to an elderly parent repeat the same story for the third time in an hour. To sacrifice extra things when so many are unemployed. To not complain over trivial inconveniences or major trials.

We are to live with joy and smiles in all circumstances, following Jesus’ example. Then to give God the glory and reason for our smile so others may know where we get it and want it too!

Positive Spin on Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is a popular chapter used at many Christian funerals. There is a peacefulness and comfort meant to be conveyed that God is there for us even when someone has died. In these days when not only are there more funerals, but they can’t be held with the same attendance and services as usual, this upbeat version of this popular Bible chapter may be encouraging to many of you:

The Lord is my Shepherd ~ That’s Relationship!

I shall not want ~ That’s Supply!

He makes me to lie down in green pastures ~ That’s Rest!

He leads me beside the still waters ~ That’s Refreshment!

He restores my soul ~ That’s Healing!

He leads me in the paths of righteousness ~ That’s Guidance!

For His name’s sake ~ That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ~ That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil ~ That’s Protection!

For You are with me ~ That’s Faithfulness!

Your rod and Your staff they comfort me ~ That’s Discipline!

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies ~ That’s Hope!

You anoint my head with oil ~ That’s Consecration!

My cup runs over ~ That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life ~ That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord ~ That’s Security!

Forever ~ That’s Eternity!

Face it, the Lord thinks you are special.

Although silent, Joseph had many attributes worth copying

Joseph was chosen by God as a special foster-father for His One and Only Son while Jesus lived on earth. He served such an important role in Jesus’ life and yet there aren’t any words of his recorded in the Bible.  It is believed that he died before Jesus started His public preaching ministry at age 30, which would explain why he isn’t a part of any of those stories in the Gospels.

Yet what is recorded about him tells us a lot. Mary spent considerable time with the apostles during Jesus’ ministry – at the wedding in Cana, when Jesus came to visit Nazareth, and most importantly during the Passion, death, resurrection and after the Ascension. It is probable that during those quiet, nervous days in the upper room between Jesus’ death and resurrection that Mary would have shared stories of Jesus’ younger days with the other followers who wouldn’t have known Him, or Joseph, back then.

What we know about Joseph from what is in the Bible is that he lived these worthy qualities:

Just – Matthew calls Joseph a “just man” (Matt. 1:19). He didn’t want to bring public humiliation on Mary because he cared for her and her reputation. From that one-word description we can infer that Joseph was an honest, caring, fair, merciful man. Those are all wonderful attributes worth copying.

Faithful – we know the story about Jesus staying behind in the Temples of Jerusalem after celebrating the Passover with his family (Luke 2: 41-50), which means Joseph made sure to raise Jesus to know and live by the rules of their Jewish faith. We also know he and Mary took baby Jesus to the Temple according to their presentation rites to make a sacrifice on Jesus’ behalf (Matt. 1:19, Luke 2:41). Joseph certainly knew the Old Testament prophecy that the coming Messiah would be born to a virgin (Is.7:14) since he accepted the angel’s explanation and took Mary to be his wife. So Joseph knew and followed the faith of his ancestors and would have led his family to also follow a faith-filled life.

Obedient – whenever he heard from an angel in his dreams, Joseph never hesitated to do as they commanded. All three times Joseph immediately obeyed God’s wishes and acted upon them (Matt 1:20, 2:13, 2:19). He even got up and “left in the middle of the night” right after awaking from the dream to take his family to Egypt, an unknown and unfamiliar land very far away.

Courageous – walking his 8-month pregnant wife all the way to Bethlehem to fulfill the required census, then his wife and young son many hundreds of miles to Egypt to save them from King Herod’s tirade, took courage and strength. The roads would have been treacherous and most likely bandits were frequently around those travel routes, yet he persevered knowing he was responsible for his precious family’s survival (Luke 2:4).

Protective – no matter where they lived Joseph provided for their physical needs by working and giving them a home. He was also protective of their emotional needs, like when he considered “quietly divorcing Mary” when he heard she was pregnant to protect her from being stoned (Matt. 1:19). Likely there were many times he had to protect Jesus because he was different from other boys his age while growing up.

Trusting – Joseph was extremely trusting of the visitations of the angels, the words of Simeon about Jesus (Luke 2:25-35), and doing whatever God commanded of him. Luke says, ”Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.” He took his role of fatherhood to the Son of God very seriously and trusted God would give him the skills necessary.

Humble – Joseph was willing to do as he was expected to raise up Jesus as a good father even though he knew he wasn’t really his biological father. He didn’t need to be front and center of these recorded events yet he was very much an important part of Jesus’ childhood.

Loving – the fact that Mary wanted the stories of Jesus’ youth and Joseph’s part passed on through the disciples shows what a loving relationship they shared. She only had good things to say about what a good father, family leader, provider and protector he was for her and Jesus.

These qualities of such a silent warrior are certainly worth living by!

One Bible verse that says it all!

Paul writes to his friends at Philippi while in prison in Rome. He has so many more ideas he wants to preach to the churches he started so he uses his pen to get his thoughts and admonitions out to them. He opens this particular letter with such an all-encompassing command, that it could easily be a prayer we recite to start our daily Christian lives:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  (Philippians 1:9)

There is so many wonderful ideas conveyed in this one prayerful sentence, I’d like to break it down piece by piece:

  1. Paul starts by focusing on love, which is the main message and reason Jesus came to earth ~ to share God’s love, to redeem us by His love, and to encourage us to live our lives full of love for ourselves and others. If we love God we should want to treat everyone lovingly as our way of thanking God.
  2. Paul says we are to grow in knowledge and discernment. How do we do that? By reading Scriptures and learning what Jesus says about His Father and how to live godly. By praying regularly and asking for wisdom and awareness of God’s will for us and the strength and courage to carry it out.
  3. Paul tells us to think about the things of God that will make us more like Him. As he says in chapter 4:8 of this letter, keep in mind things that are “true, noble, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” By filling our minds with positive thoughts we will talk and behave with good intentions and behavior.
  4. Paul tells us to be sincere and without offense. This includes being honest, caring, respectful and giving to others. It means to treat others as we would have them treat us, regardless of the color of our skin or the sins they have committed (we are all sinners!).
  5. Paul wants us to fill our minds and bodies with the good things God puts out there for us, “the fruits of righteousness.” By filling ourselves with goodness, we will hopefully only put out good things to others.
  6. We do all of this for the glory and praise of God. This summarizes the purpose of life, we were born out of God’s love, and we are to live in thanksgiving by doing everything for His glory. Not just going to church weekly, but everything we do should be to glorify Him.

This is Paul’s prayer to his beloved followers in Philippi, as well as to us. May we live this prayer today and every day in God’s love and gratitude!

God Blesses Us Even In Our Suffering

There are so many blessings and good things occurring all around us even in these crazy pandemic days. Our local newspaper puts a long story on page two every day of some positive acts of kindness they have heard of going on in the world in reaction to the pandemic. Families are spending downtime in creative ways together, and especially enjoying daily dinners around the table once again. People are seeking ways to connect to God and their churches through the internet, and as such are able to experience a greater variety of ways to grow in their faith.

There are many people who are struggling too, either in fear due to their fragile health or those of their elderly loved ones, or just due to the social distancing and loneliness being sheltered at home. To those people I reach out with these ideas of the blessings that can still be found when we suffer which I heard recently at a retreat.

God gives us 5 C’s when we suffer:

  1. Courage ~ struggling through tough times gives us courage and strength as we get through each day, each hour. With God’s help we can look at these times as opportunities to grow in courage as we accomplish little daily victories of worrying less and coping better.
  2. Calm ~ God provides peace to those who seek Him. If we remember to look to Him when we are anxious He will calm our fears and provide ways to overcome – whether it is through inspiring Scripture verses, distractions, answers to prayers, ways to keep busy or the love of friends and family. Which leads to #3…
  3. Companionship ~ when others find out we are suffering, it brings out their generosity and desire to help. Therapy groups and spiritual staff are available to guide you through anything. Families strive harder to find ways to reach out in new and creative ways.
  4. Compassion ~ suffering leads to receiving compassion from others as well as a desire to share what you have learned with others going through similar circumstances. The empathy given and received helps us grow as loving Christians.
  5. New Commitments ~ in strange times of suffering, especially now, our routines are forcibly altered. The things we used to regularly do we can’t, and now we are having to do different things we aren’t used to. The slowing down of our usual busy days has been a blessing to families, allowing time to create new routines and activities played together. Even new commitments of doctor visits or chemo treatments can bring new relationships and benefits.

Suffering is never our choice or something we would wish on anyone. Pandemics bring about a unified situation of suffering in that this is a rare time when everyone is suffering from the same cause, just in different ways and degrees. But there is always a silver lining in that even in our suffering God provides many blessings if we just look for them.

Of course the greatest blessing to ever come out of a traumatic event is the Resurrection of Jesus that we just celebrated on Easter! Mary and the disciples rebounded from an awful weekend after His death to years of joy celebrating His rising. May we always remember the hope of the beautiful reward of that one recovery from suffering that brings joy to all believers. Alleluia!

How to be Christ to others while maintaining physical distance

As our world revolves uncertainly around this virus and people begin to reemerge from their homes slowly, we are still striving for new ways to reach out to others. As I mentioned last week, we need to show kindness and respect others’ decisions on how to personally handle this transition time.

The pregnancy center I volunteer at has remained open to girls who need baby supplies, but without the consultations and witnessing talks that were required in order to receive them. That was my role and I miss it terribly, but I am not quite ready to return if they resume their previous requirements anytime soon. However; instead of volunteering my time I have decided to donate funds to their cause.

How else can we serve others in this unusual time of history as Christ calls us in Matthew 25: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit the imprisoned.  In these days of staying home, how can we reach out safely and be the hands and feet of Christ through our words and actions?

We can make phone calls, mail letters, cards and gifts, drop off food to the elderly and clothing to shelters, pay for a subscription to a spiritual magazine or Bible for the imprisoned, make monetary donations to charity organizations who help the poor.  Reach out especially to the people you know living alone. Make sure they know they can call on you anytime and help them know how to receive physical and spiritual assistance, especially if they don’t have access to the internet.

It is important to still take care of yourself and your immediate family you live with, as this extended closeness can cause impatience and tensions within your home. Remember what a blessing it is to have this time together and serve them with joyful love and compassion. Overlook those pesky pet peeves they exhibit, cook them their favorite foods, write a Bible verse on a card on your refrigerator for all to see, give everyone a little extra space, don’t nag about going for a walk again. Most importantly, make sure to take good care of yourself allowing time for spiritual, emotional and physical growth.  Take a few extra moments each day to pray for everyone affected by this pandemic.

Prayer: Help me Lord to find one way to reach out to someone different today and serve them as Your Loving Son would want me to.

Be enthusiastic, but be kind

My girlfriend asked who my favorite character from the series “The Chosen” is (the series I wrote about a couple of weeks ago). I immediately answered it was Peter. I just loved how they portrayed Peter as such an enthusiastic, energetic, spontaneous, social man who seemed popular among his peers. These traits come straight from the bible in the actions and words of Peter ~ when Peter “immediately left his net and followed Jesus” (Matt. 4:20). “Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water” (Matt. 14:29). “Simon Peter (boldly) answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'” (Matt. 16:16). “Lord, let us make here three tabernacles” (Matt 16:4). Can’t you just sense the energy and spontaneity in a person like that?!

In the series, once Peter accepted Jesus’ offer to follow Him, his enthusiasm to start telling people who Jesus really is was astounding. He wanted the world to know and couldn’t wait to tell everyone. He wanted Jesus to share too and was getting frustrated when Jesus kept telling him to be patient, it wasn’t His time yet to reveal it to the world. But when Jesus lets the woman at the well run back to town proclaiming she has met the Messiah, Peter gets all excited because that means he doesn’t have to be silent anymore and can tell everyone he wants his Good News.

I love that enthusiasm and being on fire for Jesus. I long to be that way and enthusiastically tell everyone I know where my joy and peace comes from, and the hope of eternal salvation regardless of these current circumstances. While in quarantine, I am doing what I can with this blog, writing letters weekly, calling people regularly and sharing positive Christian messages that I come across on the internet.

Now that our state of Ohio has begun loosening the shut-down guidelines, there is a mixture of attitudes of how far to take this or if it is too early. The variety of opinions is amazing, and sometimes it is hard to respond because I fluctuate myself from being excited to get out and concerned about exposure. I want to be like Peter and confidently run out there and not worry about getting infected, spontaneously evangelizing every chance I can. But maybe it isn’t time to be like Peter just yet outside our homes. We are all excited to return to our churches, but we must also realize it will be different due to wearing masks, sitting every other pew, and probably not receiving Communion the same way.

The different opinions and feelings people have about this pandemic are everywhere, and the most important thing we can do is be respectful of others. We are all in different places in our journey of life, our health conditions, our relationships and our faith. It is not our place to judge others’ actions or feelings. This post I saw on Facebook last week sums it up beautifully, since we can’t all be like Peter, the best thing we can do is be kind to everyone and keep praying for the world to recover quickly. God Bless.

“Just a thought… As governors are trying to figure out how to ease back into normal, please remember:

🛑 Some people don’t agree with the state opening…. that’s okay. Be kind.

🏡 Some people are still planning to stay home…. that’s okay. Be kind.

🦠 Some are still scared of getting the virus and a second wave happening….that’s okay. Be kind.

💰 Some are sighing with relief to go back to work knowing they may not lose their business or their homes….that’s okay. Be kind.

👩🏾‍⚕️Some are thankful they can finally have a surgery they have put off….that’s okay. Be kind.

📝 Some will be able to attend interviews after weeks without a job….that’s okay. Be kind.

😷 Some will wear masks for weeks….that’s okay. Be kind.

💅🏻 Some people will rush out to get the hair or nails done…. that’s okay. Be kind.

❤️ The point is, everyone has different viewpoints/feelings and that’s okay. Be kind.

We each have a different story. If you need to stay home, stay home. But be kind .

If you need to go out, just respect others when in public and be kind!

Don’t judge fellow humans because you’re not in their story. We all are in different mental states than we were months ago. So remember, be kind.”

Eye Contact is so important, especially while wearing masks!

While being sheltered in home we watched the recently released series about Jesus called “The Chosen.”  It is a very well-made 8-episode series more about the people close to Jesus in His early ministry who are very much impacted by Him. While revealing Christ’s divinity, it more so gives a beautiful glimpse at His realistic humanity. We enjoyed it and appreciate “seeing” the disciples and other characters from the Bible during their daily lives full of emotion.

Several specific scenes struck me with new realizations about these important people. One scene especially hit me due to this time of limited contact with others in public, and everyone further isolating themselves by wearing masks.

The incident in “The Chosen”, which comes from Mark 1:40-45, involves Jesus being approached by a leper. Much like those of us walking around grocery stores wearing masks and being afraid to touch surfaces that others have touched out of fear that they may have the virus on them, the apostles immediately jumped back and covered their faces when the leper appeared. They were afraid to get anywhere near the man who was covered in sores and obviously suffering from the contagious, deadly disease. They even tried to pull Jesus back and remind Him that He shouldn’t get any closer to the leper lest they all may be infected.

Yet Jesus looked right at the man, then heard him implore, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” The man fell down to his knees in tears, so humbled yet excited to have caught up to the man he believed could heal him since he had seen/heard of the few miracles Jesus had already performed early in His ministry.

Seeing the man’s faith, humility and desperation, Jesus was “moved with compassion” (vs 41). In the episode, you could just see the concern on Jesus’ face, and the desire to heal the man in order to reward his faith. Jesus walked toward him and also knelt down to the man’s level so that His eyes were locked on the man’s eyes. Then Jesus reached out to put His hands on both of his shoulders in such a gentle, caring way it made the man cry even harder, as he probably hadn’t felt human touch or been looked right in the eyes in many years.

Of course, we all know what happened next, Jesus said, “I am wiling; be cleansed.” And with that the leper’s sores closed up and the man was made completely healthy again. The disciples’ jaws dropped wide open, others cried or fell to their knees in awe. In the show, Jesus brought the man up to his feet so they could hug; then he asked one of his disciples to give up their tunic so as to give the man a respectable covering over his tattered sore-pocked one. Even that was an added sign of compassion the others hadn’t even thought of.

This scene makes me want to be more compassionate with strangers in public instead of fearful. Yes, I will continue to wear a mask, but I won’t hide behind it or let it make me afraid to reach out to others verbally and with eye contact and smiles.  Especially those hard workers putting themselves at risk every day they work to provide supplies for the rest of us.

God never leaves us

God is everywhere. He is in the empty churches, and the churches of our homes. He is surrounding us in the nature of spring – flowers and trees budding, birds chirping, temperatures warming. God is in the hospitals, COVID testing tents, grocery stores, and delivery trucks. Most importantly, God is in our hearts.

During stressful times, it may be difficult to find God or feel His presence. Rest assured, He is there because He is everywhere and cares for all of creation. If you are struggling to find Him, pray about it and ask Him to reveal His presence to you.

In Genesis 28:16, Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place.”

Jacob was sent to Haran by his mother Rachel to escape the evil intentions of his brother Isaac. Jacob was uncertain about leaving home, this new city, and how he was going to find a wife. It was in Haran, on his first night, that Jacob had an amazing dream that God came to him and promised him many descendants and much success.

When Jacob woke up, even though it was just a dream, he proclaimed that the place he was in must be holy. He sensed God’s presence there, and was reassured that he was surrounded by God’s love. In his dream God told Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go;…I will not leave you.” (Gen. 28:15)

God promises us the same ~ He will always be with us, no matter what the circumstances or where we go. We just need to have faith in His promise, trust that He is present everywhere and loves us beyond measure!

Jesus Loves You!

“God You don’t need me,

Somehow You want me,

Oh, how You love me,

Somehow that frees me

to open my hands up

and give You control.

You’re behind and before me
Oh, help me believe

The King of Heaven wants me.

So this world has lost its grip on me.”

Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North, “Control” heard on RaisingHope Concert 4/19/20

I watched this benefit concert in its entirety and enjoyed the at-home video performances and messages from the many spiritual singers and speakers.  It was this chorus of a song I had never heard that stood out to me and really touched my heart. Simple, yet deep and inspiring.

God doesn’t need us, but He loves us because He loves all of His creations. He cares about each of us and cherishes us. He wants us to be happy. His love runs so deep it is unfathomable to us.

In this time of unusual and sometimes scary circumstances, it is easy to get uptight and wonder why we are going through this and where God is in all of it. Yet we all are living now in this time and place and are meant to be here. And God wants us to know He is here now with us each step of the way too. He is in control, not us. All we have to do is remember that God loves us, and it helps let go of the things that weigh us down.

“Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits, and live forever?” (Hebrews 12:9)

It is our duty as Christians to surrender to God and let Him have control over our lives. We are supposed to trust in His providence. I love that line, “So this world has lost its grip on me.” If we truly surrender our worries and fears over to God then nothing will upset us for long.

Picture yourself resting in Jesus’ loving arms instead of lying in a hospital bed. Imagine Him singing this song to you and hugging you.  The King of Heaven does want you! May that bring you comfort and peace.