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Love

The recent events in our country make me sad. They even make me angry. For over 35 years, I have tried to teach youth about love. The one Bible verse that more people know than any other is John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Right there, in a nutshell, is the message of our God. He love us. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to suffer and die for us. Any parent knows what a sacrifice that is. To know that your child is going to suffer because of someone else’s sin, and yet to allow it – that has to be the hardest thing in the world. But it speaks volumes about love. If God had not done that, we would all be “perishing” because of our sin.

Based on that type of love, we, as Christians, are also commanded to love others. 1 John 4:7-8: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

These are the things I have tried to share with all the teenagers I have encountered in my ministry: God love us, and we are to love Him and love other people. I have helped them to brainstorm about ways to show love; I have fussed at them whenever thoughtlessly racist names or remarks come from their mouths; I have taught lessons, showed videos, and lead Bible studies dealing with what it means to love our fellow human beings.

In my heart, I have hoped that our country and our world was moving forward and progressing in understanding one another, and that some of the racist attitudes and actions of the past were put behind us. I have joyously worshipped and studied with people of all races, and I have disdained groups and organizations that perpetuated hatred and violence. Despite the publicized stories to the contrary, I have steadfastly continued to believe that our society is moving in the right direction in terms of unity and fellowship.

This past week has sorely tested that belief. It saddens me to know that there are still people who look at another person and hate them just because of how they look. (Whether it is race, body type, tattoos, hair style, obvious mental or physical disabilities, or economic status) It makes me angry to know that some of these people will do intentional bodily harm to those who are different, and believe that it is their right to do so. It angers me to the point that I myself am perilously close to hating those people.

When I find myself thinking about someone and wishing them harm, I know I have crossed a line. In my times of prayer these last few days, God has reminded me that we are to be about love. NO, I do not love the actions or attitudes of those who spew hate and do violence. NO, I do not love the wedge of division that these people attempt to drive between us as human beings. But, I will pray for them. I will continue to do all I can to spread the message of love in the face of all the hate we are being subjected to. For, I believe that if anyone accepts the love of God that has been freely offered, that love has the power to change a person – both attitudes and actions. So, as sad as I am, and yes, even as angry as I am, I will continue to preach the message of love. I pray to God that more people will hear it!

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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Pride

In less than 24 hours, our mission group will be on our way to Guatemala. We are excited about the trip, and some are a bit anxious. For some, it will be their first time on a plane; for many, their first time traveling internationally. Please keep us in your prayers. We leave tomorrow, June 16, and return on June 24.

This morning, my devotion was about pride. It talked about how the world tends to teach us that we are entitled to pride, but the Bible warns us about it. The devotion was based on the story of Haman in the book of Esther. Haman though he was “hot stuff” because he was second in command to the king. So, he had a law passed that everyone had to bow down to him. Basically, he set himself up to be worshipped as a god. However, there was one man who would not bow down. Mordecai was a Jew who worshipped the true God and refused to worship Haman. Because of his pride, Haman decided that Mordecai and all the Jews should be put to death. That’s not how things turned out, however, because the one true God intervened. Pride ended up costing Haman his life. The final takeaway of the devotion was “Let’s take a hard look at our motives today to be sure that it’s God we’re elevating, and not ourselves.”

Focus is important. Whatever you might be proud of, realize that it is nothing compared to God. Whatever we do, wherever we go, there is only One God, and we are not Him. As I was praying about our upcoming mission trip, my prayers ran in three distinct directions. 1. I pray for the safety of our team, as we travel and as we minister. 2. I pray for unity and fellowship among our team and those we work with. 3. I pray that our team sees this trip for what it is – an opportunity to help spread the Love of God. I pray that we don’t look at it as an adventure or just another trip. I pray that we don’t consider ourselves more important than the mission itself. Please join me in prayer for these things.

Yes, I am proud of this group for what we are undertaking. But, I pray that God will continue to remind me that HE is the reason for this trip, and the only thing that matters is the work we do for Him while we are there.

You can check my Facebook page for updates while we are gone.

Karen

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Holy Week

This week we are celebrating Holy Week – the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth. Typically during this week we focus on how Jesus and His disciples spent those days. We began on Sunday, focusing on the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. During this week, we will likely look at the cleansing of the Temple, the cursing of the fig tree, the parables and teachings of Jesus during that week, Jesus being anointed by perfume, the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ arrest, trial, and torture. We will finish by looking at the crucifixion itself, in anticipation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

These are all events of that last week that we discuss, and we study, and we analyze in an attempt to understand what it was like to be a part of Jesus’ last days here on earth. But, this year, I am thinking more about the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of all those involved in these events. I am trying to imagine how it felt to stand among that cheering crowd, watching Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. If I were one of Jesus’ followers, would I feel proud and justified when it seemed the whole world finally recognized His importance? Did the disciples think, “See, Jesus, all that stuff you said about death and persecution can’t be true. The people love you!”?

I wonder how the people accepted the parables and teachings that Jesus gave them that week. Did they understand the prophetic nature of what He was saying? What would I have thought if I were at the table when the woman came in and broke the jar of perfume over Jesus’ feet? Would I have agreed with the disciples, being indignant over the obvious waste of money and resources, or would I have recognized the beauty and worship inherent in that act?

I wonder if the same people who cheered for Jesus on Sunday were part of that mob who, on Friday, yelled, “Crucify Him!” I would like to know what they were thinking. Were they just caught up in the mob mentality, going along with the group, or had something happened to change their mind about Jesus in less than a week?

I feel like I know how Peter felt when the rooster crowed that morning. Always bold and outspoken, Peter had declared so bravely that he would NEVER disown Jesus. When that rooster crowed, and Peter realized that he had denied knowing Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would, I’m sure that instantly, Peter was not only filled with shame, remorse, and regret, but maybe a bit of wonder that Jesus had known.

Most of all, I think about the thoughts that went through Jesus’ mind that week. I know that He was fully human and fully divine, and that makes me wonder how His mind worked. From His prayer in the garden, we know that He didn’t want to go through with the pain and suffering of the cross, but He subjugated His will to His Father’s. Being God, I’m sure He knew everything that was coming, but I wonder if He sometimes balked at it. Did His humanity make Him a bit angry that week, knowing what He was about to go through for these people who didn’t even care for Him? Did He try to figure out some way for God’s will to be done without Judas betraying Him? As a man,  he had these twelve disciples who were closer to Him than anyone. Was He frustrated that they didn’t understand His teaching? Although He knew the pain and suffering was coming, was the divine side of Him happy because He would soon be with His Father again?

I know that I’ll never really have any of these answers. It’s probably best that I don’t understand it all. But, thinking about things in this way helps me to put myself in the middle of this week we call Holy Week, and try to make some sense of how I am feeling. It’s a bit of an enigma for me. When I try to identify with the man Jesus who walked on this earth; who had friends and family; who taught others; who would soon go through so much pain and suffering; and who knew it was coming, yet allowed it to happen, I am profoundly sad. It hurts my heart to realize the terrible agony and humiliation that Jesus suffered for me. And yet, at the same time, my heart is full of joy and triumph because I know that only because of Jesus’ pain and suffering, followed by His resurrection, can I have the promise of eternal life! At one moment, my heart feels the hurt and the joy of what Holy Week symbolizes. To me, it is an enigma.

Let me be the first to say – a few days early – Happy Resurrection Sunday. He is Risen!

Karen

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Questioning

This year has started off a bit strangely, and I am a bit tired. In the first three months of 2017, sickness and death have been rampant. The flu has hit hard in my area. So far, my family, my youth group, my church, and I have been afflicted with the flu, bronchitis, and sinus infection. (Sometimes all at once) In addition, my daughter is pregnant, and has had a VERY difficult time with it. Also, my father has been having a problem with his platelets dropping, requiring frequent monitoring, a biopsy, other tests, visits to oncologists, and treatment attempts. So, in these first few months of 2017, I have driven either to my daughter’s house (200 miles one way) or to my parents’ house (240 miles) most every week. Sometimes I’ve done both in one week.

As a result of either funerals, my sickness, or other conflicts, we have sometimes had to cancel or reschedule youth events. Because of that, and other reasons, attendance has suffered. Some of the kids have been pretty sick as well, and youth sports are in full swing. Also, as most Youth Ministers have noticed, when kids hit 16 or 17, get a driver’s license, get a job, and start dating, youth group often becomes less of a priority. (NOTE: I know this is not true for ALL youth- it’s just a general trend in youth ministry) 

Anyway, with all of that going on, and with me being a bit tired from my life, discouragement began to seep into my mind. I wondered just how important the youth group really is to the youth. I wondered if we were being effective at all. I just felt a bit frustrated.

And then it happened. Last month, three of our youth had occasion to give their testimony to our church family in worship. As I listened to them talk about their life, their salvation, and problems they have faced ( everything from divorced parents to toxic relationships, depression, and even suicidal thoughts), these youth all had a common theme. All three of them said that what had gotten them through their problems was God, and their church family. Two of them specifically mentioned the youth group, and how the friends they met there supported them, loved them, and prayed for them as they helped them through the worst times of their lives.

When I heard this, I realized that the youth group is important. Regardless of how many show up at Bible study, regardless of how engaged they are in that study, the youth group has given them something they desperately need – someone to depend on in times of need. Hearing those youth talk about how much the youth group means to them, I recognized that what I think is important in youth group might not be what is important to them. And I felt good that our group is able to offer that support.

So, we continue on. We plan, we publicize, we pray, and we leave the results to God. If only half (or less) of the group shows up, I try to remember that they are where they need to be, and that this group is meeting some needs.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Lent

Today is Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras! But, unless you are in New Orleans, or another city with a big parade, that probably doesn’t mean much to you. That means that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the season of Lent. . I have to confess that sometimes Lent has confused me a bit. I did not grow up in a church or family that celebrated Lent. Occasionally, one of my friends at school would say something about giving up soda or chocolate for Lent, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. I didn’t know why they would give up such wonderful things that they clearly enjoyed, just to get ready for Easter. It didn’t make sense to me. Maybe some of you have experienced these same thoughts and feelings. Baptists have not historically practiced Lent. In fact, I grew up thinking that Lent was clearly a Catholic observance, and something that I didn’t need to know about.

However, as an adult, I became more involved in the practices of the Christian calendar in the church, including Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. So, I had to do a bit of research to find out what Lent was all about. I’ve learned quite a bit about this season which, to me, involves three things: preparation, repentance, and remembrance.

First, as Lent leads up to Easter, we must prepare our hearts for Easter. At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and the new life that He gives us because of the resurrection. Preparing our hearts for Easter involves clearing away the clutter in our lives in order to make room for that new life. This is where the practice of “giving up” something for Lent comes in. If we give up something that occupies a space in our life, and replace it by thinking of and meditating on Christ, that helps us to prepare for the celebration of His resurrection.

Second, Lent is a season of repentance. In order to prepare for Easter, we need to repent of the things in our lives that should not be there. These may be things we give up for Lent or not. During Lent, we should all examine our lives closely, asking God to show us sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions that we need to repent of and expunge from our lives.

Third, Lent is a time of remembrance. Spend some time this season remembering Jesus Christ – His life, His death, His resurrection. Focus on the sacrifices that He made for us. In other words, remember what the first Easter was all about, and what led up to it. Historically, Lent is also a time to remember your own baptism. Remember the decision that brought you to that event. Remember the feeling of joy and contentment that it brought. Remember what your baptism said to those around you – that you are now a Child of the King.

This year at Lent, use the next 46 days to dwell on some of these things. Prepare your heart for Easter, through repentance and remembrance. Be sure you will be ready on Easter Sunday to celebrate Christ’s resurrection fully!

Karen

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Crazy Love

I have to confess. I was struggling. Really struggling. I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I want so much to come up with the right words to say or to write, and no matter what I compose, it just seems to fall flat. I keep trying to fix it, and I keep failing. It’s such a struggle!

Right now, my youth group is doing a study on the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Frances Chan. If you haven’t read it, this is an amazing book. One of the best books I’ve read in many years. I first read it soon after it was published, in 2008. It really impacted my life. Since then, I have twice tried to lead a study on the book with a group of youth.

Because the book is so important to me, I desperately want to be able to express that importance to the youth. I mean, the whole premise of the book, that God loves us like crazy, and that, in response, we are to love God and other people like crazy is the very foundation of what I believe as a Christian. I want the youth to understand how amazing it is that the God of the universe; the creator of the world, cares enough to love us and want to spend time with us. To me, that is an amazing fact! I want to be able to explain to them how awesome this God is, and how in awe of Him we should be.

So, there I sat. Re-reading the chapter for this week’s lesson, trying to put down on paper how I would approach the study, and struggling. I was struggling to discover some profound words or phrases that would help them “get it.” I was struggling to put into words Who God is to me, and why they should feel the same way. I was struggling to figure out how to engage a room full of teenagers, and keep them from getting that glassy-eyed look that says, “I know, I know. I heard you, but it just doesn’t make any difference in my life.”

And then, I saw it. The few sentences that made all the difference. They were right there in the very book that I was going to teach from. No, they weren’t magic words that would ensure that I would get through to the youth. Instead, these words assured me that I probably never will find the right words to describe Who God is, and that’s ok. Here’s the quote that changed the way I was thinking about teaching. “Many Spirit-filled authors have exhausted the thesaurus in order to describe God with the glory He deserves. His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” 

I just needed to stop and realize that Who God is cannot be fully described. Words, in fact, cannot contain Him. (That is hard for me to comprehend, because so much of what I do is all about words.) Instead of struggling over what I am going to say as I teach the next lesson, I need to spend more time praying for the youth. I need to pray that they will “get it.” As hard as I try (and I will still try) to explain how wonderful the crazy love of God is, they will never fully understand it until it grabs hold of them. I just pray that they will be paying attention to the Spirit when that happens. So, I’m going to shift my teaching a bit. Yes, I’m going to continue to talk about how awesome God’s crazy love is. But, I’m also going to tell them that they need to experience this crazy love for themselves in order to realize how awesome it is.

Crazy love – that GOD would love ME and desire to spend time with ME. That’s something I pray we would all feel the wonder of – even if we can’t explain it!

Karen

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Focus

This year my Christmas tree looks a little different than usual. It is not perfectly straight, but leans a bit to the left. Out of the six strands of lights on  my tree, one small section is blinking all by itself, while the rest are burning steady. A few of my usual ornaments are missing, and most of the ornaments and icicles are clustered near the bottom of the tree.

Now, I am certainly not a perfectionist – far from it. But usually, I would continue to work on my tree to make it look a bit more symmetrical. But this year, I have decided t leave it like it is. The reason for this strange decision on my part is what the tree reminds me of.

When I see the tree leaning, it reminds me of the struggles my dad and I had getting it into the stand, and how Mom, Dad, my daughter, and I all tried to help get it straight. (We didn’t quite make it, but we tried.)

The story of the blinking lights is a little longer, but suffice it to say, it reminds me that my daughter was here, telling me about lights that were or were not blinking. (Again, it didn’t turn out quite like we planned, but we tried.)

The missing ornaments are due to the tiny fingers of my 2-year-old granddaughter, as are the clustered icicles near the bottom of the tree.

So, when I look at my tree, I could focus on the imperfections, and fret over the fact that it does not look like a tree from a magazine. Alternatively, I can focus on what these things mean – that my family was with me when we got the tree and put it up this year. I can use these trivial flaws to remind me of the fun and fellowship that we had as we decorated the tree. See, it’s all a matter of focus. And it’s my choice what I focus on – the problems or the memories. This year I am choosing the memories.christmas-tree

I find that the same is true of the Christmas season as a whole. How we approach the season, and how we react to it is all a matter of focus. For me, as for most people, the Christmas season is very busy, and if I am not careful, I find myself focusing more on the events that I need to prepare for or attend, the gifts I need to buy and wrap, and the food I want to cook than on the true meaning of Christmas. When I consciously slow down and spend time in prayer, thanking Jesus for coming to earth to save me, I find that my enjoyment of the season increases greatly. I have to remind myself to listen to Christmas music, be fully present in the Christmas church services, and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. How about you? Where is your focus this Christmas?

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Posted by on December 9, 2016 in Uncategorized