ALWAYS SOMETHING THERE TO REMIND ME

Ji Seong-ho left his homeland in 2006. He says he crossed thousands of miles on crutches after enduring years of hunger, grievous injuries from falling on train tracks, and torture at the hands of North Korean police.*

"I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come," Trump said during his State of the Union speech. (Ji Seong-ho was there)

To some extent, we can be defined by the things we keep and those we don’t. 

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LABORERS IN THE HARVEST

Perhaps, like me, you have seen it many times: new believers, very excited about what Jesus had done for them, and what God has revealed to them, riding appropriately high on this new hope, excited about their new understanding about salvation and abut finding repentance, forgiveness, and peace, and just sure God wants them hired by a church or ministry. Perhaps, as a longtime believer you have a new, renewed or even long-standing passion to share you “hope of glory” with others via what might be considered some form of full-time ministry. 

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MOVE OR DIE

Recently, I was watching an episode from the Science Nature Page that showed the connection between physical activity and brain health. 

The video gave a summary of a medical study that found that people who are inactive, especially if they are unable to do load-bearing exercise, including bed-ridden people and even astronauts on long trips into space, not only lost muscle mass, but their body chemistry was altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system was adversely impacted. It found that limiting physical activity, even if all other activity was normal, decreased the number of neuro stem cells by 70%.

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DYSTOPIAN WORLD

Apparently, we humans have a very dim view of our ability to actually better the world we live in or to rule it in peace and kindness, let alone love. According to Hollywood movies and the books some of those movies are based on the future for mankind is bleak. Literally, every futuristic movie I researched paints a dystopian future, mostly of our own making

We see our efforts to cure disease potentially going very wrong:

  • I Am Legend

  • Planet of the Apes

  • The Maze Runner series

  • World War Z, The Walking Dead and every other zombie movie or TV show.

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BROTHER VS BROTHER

Recently, I has sharing coffee with my younger sister on her porch and chatting about church stuff. She mentioned that she had a hard time with a previous church pastor because he had lived such a perfect life. He’d grown up a believer, never strayed from the faith, married in the faith, was stilled married to that woman of faith and served side-by-side with his wife in a Dallas-area mega church. She did not think this pastor had never sinned, she just wondered how someone whose life was always focused on obedience could ever connect to “real” sinners who had made some painful, life-wrecking mistakes. 

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m thinking two things: (1) I wish someone would complain that I was too unstained by sin to relate to normal folks and (2) this reminds me of the non-prodigal brother of Luke 15:11-32.

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THE VIOLENT DEMISE OF SIN

I am not one who believes that doctors are out to keep you sick. I believe they are motivated to remove disease where they can and manage symptoms where they cannot. They often advise us on what we can do to get or stay healthy, but too often are faced with folks who are going to keep having jelly donuts, bacon and Frappuccino’s for breakfast and then come to the doctor for medication for pre-diabetes and high blood pressure.

However, I think that doctors are never more motivated to violently rid someone of a particular disease then when it comes to cancer. And, let’s face it, I speak from experience here. I have lost both of my parents and one sibling to this disease. Of the five remaining siblings, three of us battle skin cancer regularly.

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FAKE NEWS

All the best lies include a modicum of truth. It’s what makes them so believable, so alluring, so tempting to believe. A half-truth, they say, is more effective that a whole lie.

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear the accusation of “fake news” from one side of the political spectrum or the other. I think it might eventually come to define this decade. 

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UBER, LYFT AND CURB ENTER A RACE

When it rains in New York City, getting a cab is nearly impossible. I mean, I see people in cabs and I wonder, “How did he get a cab?” but I never see an empty cab. Finding a cab on a rainy day in NYC feels like chasing after the wind.

So, on a rainy Wednesday in May, I gave myself 40 minutes for a 20 minute drive and I used the official app of the NYC cab system, Curb, to schedule a cab. The Curb app kept looking, looking, looking, to no avail – not an available cab in all of NYC, apparently. But, no worries, I opened the Uber app and checked there. Uber said the nearest driver was 17 minutes away. Nope. So, I opened up the Lyft app and was told it would be 11 minutes. I had already chewed up 5 of my 40 minutes but it would have to do. I scheduled the Lyft driver.

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A HEM OF THE GARMENT RELATIONSHIP

If you haven’t heard it before, or if you’ve heard it before but don’t believe it, let me start off by saying that God, the Father, Creator, Life-giver, and Jesus Christ, Messiah, Lord and High Priest want an intimate, personal relationship with you. I hope that sinks in to the core of your heart and mind and impacts every thought, every decision, every moment of your life. It is one of the greatest revelations of Christianity – we, mere mortals, can commune with, have a direct, personal and intimate relationship with God. 

If you have trouble believing this as fact, believing it in a way that impacts your life, let me offer a couple of proofs from Jesus’ time in human form on this earth, which, I feel, support this amazing truth.

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SORRY, NOT SORRY

Apologies are all the rage in the business world these days – at least talking about them – who owes one, who is offering one, who did a good job, whose apology was worse than the thing they did wrong. Facebook has been under fire lately for data breaches, business leaders for harassment, airlines for mishandling (or manhandling) passengers – and rightly so. When someone, or even some business does wrong, an apology is the start to doing better next time. 

However, far too many apologies boil down to “sorry, not sorry.” As Christians, the standard for our own apology tours is much higher.

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NEVER BETTER THEN WHEN WE ARE TOGETHER

“Women come together best at a birth.” This is a line spoken by the midwife in the book I’m listening to called “The Last Midwife,” written by Sandra Dallas (published by St. Martin’s Griffin). As the midwife looked around the room, she saw the mother, mother-in-law, and two sisters of the woman in labor, moping her brow, giving her sips of water, working on a quilt for the baby and cooing words of comfort and support during the rigors of labor. When the baby came, every woman in the room rejoiced as if the labor had been her own, because they were in it together.

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THE ANSWER, ACCORDING TO PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST

Wes and I recently saw the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. In just four words, I can sum up the theme and message of the film, as it impacted me: love is the answer. 

If you think it is hard being a Christian now, you may feel differently after seeing this movie. There are definitely places in the world where Christians suffer great persecution today. The USA is not one of those places. In that, we are greatly blessed. However, perhaps our growth in this fruit of the spirit, love, is a bit stunted or at least in danger of being stunted because of that lack. 

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OUT OF THIS WORLD

IN this world, but not OF it. That is one of the messages and focuses of the prayer of Christ Jesus before His crucifixion. 

John17:6, 9, 11, 13-15 [NIV] 6 I have revealed You to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to me and they have obeyed Your word. ... 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours. ... 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave me, so that they may be one as We are one. ... 13 I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. 14 I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. 

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EFFECTIVE AS OF TODAY

Life cycles through good times and bad for each of us individually. Right now, so many, many people I know are suffering trials and troubles. Our prayer list at church is long. I am on a couple of email lists for prayer requests and via a variety of personal and group connections my Facebook feed is full of prayer request as well. Cancer, terrorist attacks, school shooters, miscarriages, divorce, job loss, natural disasters, car wrecks, and so much more. We pray for them all, don’t we? We labor long and hard in pleading with our Heavenly Father for relief for friends and family, church brethren, neighbors and strangers.

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UNBALANCED

We are always getting advice on being balanced. Fitness experts encourage us to get the right amount of exercise with a mix of weights and cardio and stretching. Nutrition experts tell us that a good diet includes a balanced amount of protein and carbohydrates, healthy fats, etc. There are a wealth of self-help books and videos focused on creating a work-life balance. Balance is important.

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BY VIOLENCE

Have you ever made sausage? Or watched it being made? Me neither, but I understand the implication in saying something is “like making sausage.” The end result is good, but the process is messy – even violent. If you think of the fact that the animal is first killed, then bled, then put through the grinder…  Well, let me just say that I prefer my turkey sausage in a package, all cleaned up and ready for cooking.

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MURDEROUS PROFIT

I was reading Proverbs recently and this segment just floors me.

Proverbs 1:10-18 [CSB] My son, if sinners entice you, don't be persuaded. If they say, Come with us! Let's set an ambush and kill someone. Let's attack some innocent person just for fun!  "Let's swallow them alive, like Sheol, whole, like those who go down to the Pit.  "We'll find all kinds of valuable property and fill our houses with plunder.  "Throw in your lot with us, and we'll all share the loot" -- My son, don't travel that road with them or set foot on their path, because their feet run toward evil and they hurry to shed blood.  It is useless to spread a net where any bird can see it, but they set an ambush to kill themselves; they attack their own lives.  

Was it really that frequent of an occurrence that Solomon had to be worried that his son might just run into a group of people who were like, “hey, let’s go kill somebody for fun and profit?” Not for revenge. Not for religious or national supremacy – just for the “fun” of it. That would be pretty shocking even in this day and age!

But things take a turn at Verse 19, where it says, “Such are the paths of all who make profit dishonestly; it takes the lives of those who receive it.” While I doubt a band of sinners will ever entice me to murder for money and sport, the temptation to profit dishonestly is pretty common in the world around us. 

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REALLY STRANGER THINGS

In the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” there is an “alternate dimension” that they call the “upside down.” It is a world that is dark and scary and ugly, ruled by an evil creature out to destroy anyone or anything it that crosses its path. It hunts in the real world and drags its prey into its own upside down world in order to destroy it. 

{NOTE: I don’t think you have to have seen the show in order to grasp the parallels I want to draw from it. And, don’t worry, if you are still catching up on season 1, there are no spoilers.}

demogorgan.png

How is this fictional tale of an evil Demogorgon, dweller in darkness, destroyer of mankind, not the true story of life today in this world under the age and rule of Satan?! 1 Peter 5:8 [ESV] warns us: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Given the chance, Satan would love to drag us into his world, where carnal minds rule and his deceptive thinking pitches the opposite (or upside down) of what God, our loving Father, has told us is good and right. 

Jesus warns us all about this aspect of Satan’s upside down ways. John 8:44 [ESV] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The New Testament has a lot to say about our real world of darkness and its conflict with or contrast to God’s way of the light. Ephesians 5:6-8, 11 [ESV] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light ... 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

1 Thessalonians 5:5 [ESV] For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.

1 Peter 2:9 [ESV] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

In “Stranger Things,” when Will Byers disappears into the “upside down,” his mother, Joyce, his brother, Jonathan, and his friends, Mike, Lucas and Dustin, all immediately begin searching for him. Hopefully, you have church family that will help you if you fall out of the way and need to be brought back to the truth. 

We are admonished by James to do just that. James 5:19-20 [ESV] My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The good news for us is that God and Jesus are searching for the lost right now. They are offering beauty and light, peace and hope, love and mercy in this world run by the Demogorgon – oops, I mean Satan. And when we believers lose our way, they seek to bring us back as well. 

There is a saying that goes, “the truth is stranger than fiction,” and I believe this applies here. The Netflix folks came up with a fantasy tale of the struggle with darkness and dark forces. We believers understand that there once was a real conflict between God and Lucifer whose darkness became complete as he turned from an angel of light to the bringer of darkness, Satan. Although that battle was lost when Satan was flung to the earth, we believers understand that the war was over once Jesus won through His death and resurrection. 

Maybe Satan hasn’t finished catching up on the story. Or maybe he has but still hopes he can rewrite the ending at least for some of us, because he is still on the attack.

We believers understand that there is a real struggle going on in each of us to destroy the darkness by means of the Light of the World, Jesus, living in us through the Holy Spirit. And we believers understand that we need to be out there, rescuing others from the upside-down, by means of preaching the gospel and living a life of shining light. We do this also by giving forgiveness to anyone who wrongs us, by showing love even when we know we won’t get it back, and by sewing peace no matter what evil creature or plot twist lurks around the corner, trying to distract us or cause us to give up.

Truth really is stranger than fiction. But the plan of God remains the answer to these really stranger things. That is a story well worth telling again and again.

I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions.  You can write to me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org

GOD’S ECONOMY

I’m facilitating a new women’s Bible group. We are doing the Tony Evans study titled Kingdom Woman. In the opening video of this series, Evans goes into great detail about the value of each woman to God, no matter what they have been through in life, using the analogy of a $100 bill – no matter if you wrinkle it, stomp it into the ground, spit on it or tear it in half, it is still a $100 bill. 

Many women are hungry to hear, know and understand their place in God’s heart and plan. Evans outlines that the woman was first God’s and then God took her to man to be a his wife, and that she is always subject to Him first and to her husband only so long as he follows God.  

It is true that in mankind’s history, and in many cultures still, men have oppressed women and used their God-given authority to “lord it over” at the least and physically, mentally or emotionally abuse them at the worst.

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REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW

On Saturday, February 3, 2018, family and friends gathered for the memorial service of my brother, Toney John Schmidt. Only 50 years old, he succumbed to a more than four-year battle with cancer of the brain. Toney wanted two songs played at his funeral – “I Can Only Imagine,” (Casting Crowns) and “I Did It My Way” (an old Frank Sinatra version with Toney signing along). The latter seems unusual unless you knew Toney.

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