Suit up!

The Avengers* are supposed to be “earth’s mightiest heroes.” When they first come together, you might think their mightiest talents lie in irritating and provoking each other, as they practice mostly verbal battles among themselves. In one scene, Iron Man and Captain America are pushing each other to the limit and “Cap” goads Iron Man by telling him to put his suit on so they can fight each other. Immediately after taunting, “Put on the suit,” an explosion occurs near them, throwing them across the room. In that instant, they realize they have a common enemy and they immediately become united. Cap once again says, “Put on the suit.” But this is no longer a taunt – it is a plea for Iron Man to arm himself and fight alongside his fellow hero against the enemy. Amazing how a common threat can pull people together, isn’t it?

I used this scene to demonstrate to my sons how they should encourage each other instead of taunting and irritating each other, because the truth is that they have a common enemy. He may not make himself known quite so dramatically in our everyday lives. He can be quite stealth. So far, we have not had any bombs exploding in our apartment. But our enemy wants to sow seeds of discord and anger in our home and distract us from appreciating the gift of each other. And we so easily forget his presence and play along with his games. We need to remind ourselves of Paul’s teaching in Galatians 5:13-15, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

This lesson surfaced again today as we studied current events. Our brother in Christ, Pastor Saeed Abedini, is a 33-year-old American citizen who is imprisoned in the worst prison in Iran. He is horribly mistreated, endures long periods in solitary confinement, and his frequent beatings have now likely caused internal bleeding—yet he is denied any medical attention. He has been sentenced to eight years in Evin prison. Without a miracle from the Lord, it seems unlikely he could endure such treatment and neglect for that long.

In spite of the horror around him, Saeed rejoices that the body of Christ has come to see a common enemy, and they are uniting against that enemy. Saeed was able to get the following message out to his family: “I heard that the persecution, my arrest and imprisonment has united churches from different denominations, from different cities and countries, that would never come together because of their differences. You don’t know how happy I was in the Lord and rejoiced knowing that in my chains the body of Christ has chained together and is brought to action and prayer.” He signed the letter, “With many thanks for your continued and faithful prayers, Servant of our Lord in chains for Jesus Christ, Saeed.”

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We have reason to rejoice with Pastor Saeed. As he says, there are some churches that will not come together except in adversity. It is sad that this is true of the body of Christ. As we come together in this heartbreaking situation and pray for Saeed’s release from prison, may we also commit to stay united and continue to fight together for right and for our Lord, instead of giving glory to our enemy by sowing conflict with each other.

Please do pray for Pastor Saeed. And please pray for unity in the body. If each one of us proclaims, “Let there be peace [in the body of Christ] and let it begin with me,” imagine the difference it could make. If we stop wasting time on petty differences and start fighting together in prayer against the enemy of our souls, we may be surprised at what miracles God allows in our lives.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” 1 Peter 5:8. I don’t want to be devoured, and I don’t want anyone else to be either. Put on the suit, brothers and sisters, and let’s stand together.

 

*As God’s name is taken in vain in this movie, I only recommend watching it on a Clearplay DVD player.

Unity picture taken from International Churches of Christ (ICOC) Co-operation Churches website http://www.icoc.org.

 

Daughters of the King

I live in an apartment in a house that is dubbed The Castle because of its appearance. So, some of my friends occasionally refer to me as Princess Penny. The truth is that I am a princess, but it’s not because of where I live. A princess cannot be defined by her housing arrangements, her clothing, her looks, her hobbies or her habits. We all have different talents and abilities, different shapes and sizes, different dreams and desires. A princess is not defined by how successful she is, how much money she has, how good her grades or job reviews are, how popular she is, how good her cooking is or how clean her house is. A princess is defined simply as the daughter of a king or the bride of a prince. You have been chosen to be both!

Before the creation of the world, God decided that you should be a part of His master plan. He planned everything about you—how tall you would be, what color hair and eyes you would have, whether or not you would have freckles. Just as with Adam and Eve, He planned you and thought His plan was very good. You may not agree with all of the decisions He made for you, but you can rest in the fact that He knows you better than you know yourself— and everything about you was planned for your good and for His glory.

Psalm 139:13-16 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depth of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

So, you see, you were created by God for a specific purpose. God doesn’t make mistakes, and you definitely weren’t an afterthought. God thought of you and thought what a great idea you would be, so He made you. I am so glad that He made each one of us so very different from each other.

Since God is the King of Kings, you are, as His daughter, a princess!

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You are probably familiar with princesses such as Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Add your name to that list. Now you may say “I don’t feel very much like a princess.” But, really your feelings don’t change the truth. You are a daughter. Even if your parents are no longer living, you are still a daughter. You have to be or you wouldn’t exist. Many of you are also a sister. So what does it feel like to be a daughter? A sister?

I bet, if you are honest, you would say that sometimes you really enjoy being in your family and sometimes you really don’t. But, in spite of your feelings, you are still a part of that family.

I am a mom. I have three amazing sons. I am always their mom and I always love them, but I could not say just one way that it feels like to be their mom. There are moments of amazing joy—like when you first hold your new baby or when your child runs to you and says “I love you.” There are moments of great pain—like just bringing them into this world in the first place—that’s a pretty painful process. It is also painful when you see someone else being mean to your child or when your children choose to disobey you.

I have found that sometimes being a mom feels like being kidnapped by aliens. I remember once when my children were younger, my one son thought it would be a great idea to trap a bug that was crawling across the bathroom floor. Now, I am all for getting rid of the bugs that enter my house. But I am not always sure that I like the techniques. There is something rather unsettling about walking into the bathroom and finding your son chasing a bug across the bathroom floor with your hair brush! I just wonder how many times my brush has been run across that floor or had unsuspecting bugs caught between the bristles. I really can’t think about that one too much.

The same son has always enjoyed experimenting with everything. One Sunday in church, when he was a little boy, he decided it would be fun to floss his teeth with my hair! So, I do often feel a bit exasperated. But my children have also used my hair for a comfort when they were babies. My youngest son was sick a lot as a baby and somehow having my hair rubbed against his cheek made him feel better. That made me feel very special. So, there are times of laughter and tears—and times of joy and fears.

Sometimes our feelings are just wrong. There was one time when my children were really young that I really felt like a mom. I was grocery shopping without the boys, which didn’t happen often. I was walking along the aisle when a nice older lady approached me. She smiled at me and said “You’re a mom, aren’t you?” I was touched. I was amazed. How did she know? Does it just radiate from me? I proudly told her I was. She smiled and said, “It shows.” Before I could get too much pleasure out of that statement, however, she pointed to my shoulder. I looked down and discovered that it was covered in dried snot! On that day, being a mom felt a lot like being a used tissue.

There simply is not one way to feel as a mom, a daughter, a sister or as a princess.  The truth is that you were designed to be a princess no matter how you feel.

Of course, we must remember that no woman is a princess who refuses the prince. Who would have written a book about Cinderella if she said “Oh, no thank you. I’d rather stay here scrubbing floors and wearing rags.” Which would you rather do? Go to the ball in a beautiful gown, be loved by a handsome prince and live happily ever after—or live in a harsh environment, wearing rags and working, working, working but never getting anywhere?

Believe it or not, that is a choice each one of us has to make. I am hopeful that you have already decided which life you would rather have. You are the only one who can decide if you will be a princess. If you aren’t sure if you are God’s daughter, let’s settle that from the beginning. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world (that’s you!) that He gave His only begotten son (Jesus) that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 1:12 says “to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

God loves you and wants you to be his daughter. He loves you so much that he sent his son, Jesus—the only perfect man to ever walk this earth— to give His life to fight off your enemy and save your life. He wants you to accept His love for you and love Him in return.  Have you accepted the invitation of your prince? If not, today is the day. Admit that you have sinned, claim his forgiveness and give Him control of your life. If Rapunzel had not believed the prince’s words and promise to rescue her, she would still be trapped in the tower to this day! Don’t spend one more day in your dungeon. Let Jesus be your prince and experience life as the princess you were designed to be. Perhaps you have doubts. Be honest about it. Pray something like this, “Well, God, I’m not really sure about you. But I know I have problems and I need help. I want to be a princess. I want to know the truth. If you are real and if you love me, please show yourself to me; help me to believe. I want to accept the sacrifice that Jesus has made for me and be your princess, but I need faith to believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

There is no competition with Jesus. He isn’t looking for His one and only. He loves every one of us the same!  As a good friend likes to remind me, “You’re His favorite.” And I remind her that she is also His favorite. He wants to be your favorite, too. Will you let Him? I guarantee you, if you accept His invitation, your life will never be the same again!

“The King is enthralled by your beauty. Honor Him, for He is your Lord” Psalm 45:11.

Called to Love

Sometimes I am really disturbed by the reactions I hear or read from people about others who do not share their worldview. It breaks my heart to hear people talk hatefully about the Boston bombers—rejoicing that no cemetery will provide a final resting place for the one—and hoping for retaliation upon the other. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not condoning what they did—it was very wrong. One died for his actions, and the other must pay the penalty for his actions. But if we decide that hatred can be justified toward them because of their beliefs and actions, then how are we any different? After all, the reason they want Americans to suffer is because we don’t line up with their worldview. We can’t condemn that kind of logic on one hand and then support it on the other. While some people rejoice at the thought of what awful things may await Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in prison, I agree with Brother Dave, who said that his desire is for Dzhokhar to meet someone in prison who will tell him of the love of Jesus. I am praying for just that.

In other recent news, Jason Collins has come out as the NBA’s first openly gay player. Do I agree with his lifestyle? No. Do I think he should be treated harshly because of it? No. I agree with Washington Redskins’ Quarterback Kirk Cousins who said, “I think we need to show love to every single person on this Earth. Jesus showed love to everybody, and whether it was Mary Magdalene, who was a prostitute and had seven demons inside her, he showed love to her, and he didn’t have a problem with her. Jesus called on a tax collector, Matthew, to be one of his disciples, and while many Jewish people had a problem with Matthew, Jesus didn’t have a problem with Matthew. What Jesus wanted was for Matthew to grow. At the end of the day, anybody in our locker room who is struggling with something and isn’t perfect—which would be everybody in the locker room—my attitude would be that I want to show love to them in a way that shows them Jesus, and hope that they can encounter the same love that I encountered from Jesus that saved my life.”

In any given day, we interact with people who see things differently than we do. Perhaps the difference is something as simple as team loyalty. Perhaps you disagree politically, or perhaps your issues go much deeper. We often encounter people who are living foolish and destructive lives. As followers of Christ, we believe that He set forth a standard by which His people should live. It is our desire to see others live in the freedom, joy, peace and grace that He brings. Instead of looking at what is different in others, I think we should focus on what is the same—that every human being was created by God for a unique purpose, and that each one of us is seeking unconditional love. Instead of pointing out what we think is wrong with someone else, let’s point them to the One who can fulfill that deep human longing for love. As a good friend of mine recently said, “Non-Christians don’t have to smoke, drink liquor, or hook up sexually with whomever they please in order to be separated from God.  They are already separated, and need to turn to God by faith in Jesus.  When I talk to folks who are sinning, I try to make Jesus the subject of my conversation, not their sin.  I’m not the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to convict folks of their sin, of Jesus’ righteousness, and of judgment to come (John 16:8). [I choose] to talk about how lovely Jesus is.”

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I would like to challenge you to do something. Whenever you find yourself disagreeing with someone else, take time to pray for that person. Commit to spend more time praying for that person than you spend talking about—or posting about—him or her. Pray that God will give you forgiveness to offer to others who have hurt you. I’m talking about everyone from your neighbor to your co-worker to the politician who most drives you crazy. When you stand in the checkout line and see tabloid headlines about movie stars, instead of shaking your head at the latest pictures, or taking the time to read trash about the stars, take that as an opportunity to pray for those in the headline—and while you are at it, pray for the person who wrote it. Imagine what impact we could have on this world if we prayed more than we gossiped!

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what I think about others—or their worldviews. What matters is what God says about them. He is the only one who should judge people—and in fact he will judge each person. In order to stand before our righteous God, we need a relationship with Jesus Christ, whose blood covers our sins. Our life’s purpose should be to lead others to Him and that glorious forgiveness. So, when we look at others, let’s follow His command to love one another—especially those who differ from us:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:43-48.

I have had beautiful examples of this kind of love in my life. Today marks the anniversary of the murder of a beautiful young woman who was my cousin. A lesbian became jealous because her lover had befriended my cousin. Assuming that this would upset her relationship, the woman (along with an accomplice) planned and carried out the brutal murder of my cousin. It was all a terrible misunderstanding, as my cousin was not a lesbian. That misunderstanding, and the horrific response to it, led to the end of one young life, and a lifetime of imprisonment for two others. My cousin’s family wanted the murderer and her accomplice to receive punishment for what they did. And justice was served. However, the family also extended forgiveness to the murderers, and told them of God’s love for them. This kind of love does not come naturally from a human heart. It is the love of God shining through human hearts to other human hearts. Are we called to anything less?

Jesus said, “A new command I give you—Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35.

She knew her boy!

My family recently visited the Thomas Edison Museum in Edison, NJ. Though the museum  only consists of two rooms, we were delighted with all that we saw and learned. The tour guides were very interesting and packed a lot of information into the one-hour presentation. It was fun to experiment with a telegraph machine and electrical circuits, and to hear music on phonographs, etc. I highly recommend the museum.

Perhaps my favorite part of the tour was seeing a picture of Thomas Edison’s mother, Nancy. I had heard her story before, but was only too happy to hear it again. Thomas had entered school at the age of seven. Within twelve weeks of beginning school, Thomas was declared “addled” by his teacher, who felt he was not capable of learning. But, as the tour guide said, “[Nancy] knew her boy.” Instead of giving up hope in Thomas, his mother decided to teach him at home. His father also took a great interest in Thomas’ education, encouraging him to read great literature—and paying him a dime for every book he read. By the time he was twelve years old, Thomas had already started his own newspaper, and he used his earnings to start his own chemical laboratory in the basement of his parents’ home.

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(Nancy Edison)

Over his lifetime, Thomas Edison accumulated 2,332 patents worldwide, with 1,093 of those in the United States—a record which still stands today. Our lives are touched each day by things that Edison invented or perfected. He had an amazing attitude about learning and did not easily give up. He believed, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” After trying 1,000 different elements in the light bulb without success, Thomas was asked if he considered the project a failure. He did not. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways that won’t work.” His perseverance paid off for each of us. How different our lives might be if Thomas’ parents had believed that he was incapable of learning, and had not challenged him to be all that he could be.

Thomas Edison’s life is a great example to each of us to not discount the value or potential of any human being. God created each person with a unique purpose, and God never makes mistakes. When you look at the children around you—and the adults for that matter—strive to see them with God’s eyes. For God “created [their] inmost being; [He] knit [them] together in [their] mother’s womb . . . [they are] fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:13-14. Who are we to judge any person’s worth or ability to contribute to society? “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7.

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” We are not formed using cookie cutters. Not every child will excel in a traditional classroom. Not every child’s talents lie in academics. I enjoyed reading “The Nine Types of Intelligence” outlined by Howard Gardner. I could immediately see that one of my sons is word smart, another is nature and music smart and another is number/reasoning smart—each very different, yet each very intelligent and designed to impact this world in amazing ways. How boring it would be if they were exactly the same. When it comes to viewing my children—or anyone else—I agree with another Albert Einstein saying, “I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.”

As a mother and a homeschooler, I am so blessed by Thomas Edison’s story. The love and encouragement of his parents allowed him to soar and do far more than anyone would have imagined. Who knows what great plans God has for my children? I’m excited to be able to encourage them on to do their very best—to use all the talents God has given to them for His glory and the good of mankind. Who can you encourage to aim high today? Perhaps you need the encouragement yourself!

“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” -Thomas Edison

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” Colossians 3:17.