You Can Always Come Home

HOME SWEET HOME.  Those three simple words engage the senses.  They conjure up images of loved ones, the home place, your childhood tree swing.  Perhaps you associate it with the smell of apple pie, your favorite birthday meal, or your mother’s perfume.  Or maybe you can close your eyes and hear your father whistling while he’s working on the car.  We want to fill our own homes with that same sense of belonging and rightness, so we intentionally create good memories for our own families:  laughter around the dinner table, nightly devotionals, loving touches, and sweet traditions.  Home is synonymous with comfort and security.  When we’re away from it, we long for it.  Not every earthly home is ideal, but many would agree that “there’s no place like home.”

Thank God for the home He provides for His family!  He must want us to enjoy that same sense of love and security because He gives us a home to enjoy now and one to look forward to in eternity.  When I close my eyes and think of my church family, I can’t help but recall warm hugs, precious memories, dear songs, and loving support.  No matter where we live, we have a home made up of Christian family.  What a blessing!  I can’t imagine trying to get through this life without it.  Jesus promises a heavenly home with our Father (John 14:1-3).  This one will be big enough to accommodate all of our loved ones.  There will be no goodbyes or sad memories (Rev. 21:3-4).  It will be the ultimate Home Sweet Home.

As dear as home is, some choose to walk away from it.  Whatever the reason for it (indifference, rebellion, sin), the absence is keenly felt by the Father and family.  I ran across a song recently called, “You Can Always Come Home.”  It is based on the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  In that passage, Jesus tells a parable of a young man who chose to leave home to experience the world.  He lived wildly and recklessly.  He cared not for his reputation or his family name.  But his new lifestyle brought no satisfaction.  The thrill was short-lived as he found himself broken and alone.  That’s when he thought of home and his wayward heart longed to return.   This passage never gets old for me.  My breath catches every time I read of his father running to meet him.  His father didn’t say, “You made your bed; now you have to lie in it.”  He didn’t say, “What do you have to say for yourself?!”  He most certainly didn’t say, “I don’t know you,” or “You’re no son of mine.”  Instead, every action on his part said, “Welcome home, my son.

I have loved ones who have wandered away.   I pray they will long for home and make the journey back, regardless of time or distance.  As the song pleads, “Remember, you can always come home.”

My own heart has struggled with seasons of waywardness.  May I always be drawn to the real love and security offered by my Father.  May HOME remain my favorite place to be.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of Stone

Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart.

By Kathy Pollard

I know what a stony heart feels like, don’t you?

  • It’s when I am indifferent to the needs of others.
  • It’s when I am disengaged in worship week after week.
  • It’s when I’ve been involved in sin and my conscience is no longer pricked.
  • It’s when I withhold forgiveness.
  • It’s when I no longer hunger for the Word.
  • It’s when I stop thinking souls.
  • It’s when Calvary doesn’t move me.
  • It’s when my heart has become divided instead of devoted.

It is an unhappy thing when you know your heart has hardened in any of these areas but you lack the desire or discipline to do anything about it.  Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart.  Perhaps you can tell you’ve drifted away from God, or you’ve allowed your connection to your church family to grow cold.  When that happens, it’s easy to become disheartened, discouraged with yourself, or indifferent in your spiritual walk.  Have you ever looked in the mirror and asked, “What’s the matter with me?  How did I get here?”

Listen to what God said to His people.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God gave this beautiful promise to people who had misrepresented His holy name.  They weren’t acting like people who belonged to Him.  Those who saw them acknowledged their hypocrisy.  In modern terms they said, “They call themselves ‘Christians’ but they don’t act like it” (v. 20).  Yet God still wanted their heart.  He wanted to redeem them and give them His Spirit (v. 27).

This encourages me.  There are times when my heart problem is obvious to others.  But there are times when only I am aware of the hardening while I continue to go through the motions.  Either way, I can know that God still desires to cleanse me and save me (v. 29, 33).  God is willing to act on my behalf for my good (notice all the “I will” statements He makes in v. 23-38).  This may not be pleasant at first.  It may be in the form of exposed sin or an unhappy trial.  But I can see how necessary it is to shake me out of my complacency.  It reminds me of the song, “Break my heart, dear Lord.”  I am thankful for the opportunities God gives me to soften my heart again.

 

Most People Complain Once a Minute

By Kathy Pollard

According to an article published in Entrepreneur a couple of months ago, “most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation.”  I’ll be paying more attention to my speech to make sure I don’t fall under the category of “most people,” but even if I don’t voice a complaint in my conversations I wonder if I think it?  The article goes on to show the negative effects of complaining:

  • It rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.
  • It becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
  • It damages other areas of your brain.
  • It raises stress levels.
  • It lowers your immune system.
  • It’s contagious.  Like second hand smoke, it negatively affects those around you.

The article states that the solution to complaining is “to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.”    “When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something you’re grateful for.”  Gratitude:

  • Reduces stress levels
  • Improves mood, energy, and productivity
  • Lowers anxiety

I imagine gratitude is also contagious and will positively affect those around you.

I find it interesting that this nonreligious article (based on scientific research) is simply confirming what God has been telling us all along.  “Do all things without grumbling or complaining” (Phil. 2:14).  Instead, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:15,17; Eph. 5:20).  It doesn’t surprise me that it’s been proven that complaining is bad for our health and gratitude is good for our health.  As the saying goes, “When God says, ‘Thou shalt not,’ He’s really saying, ‘Do yourself a favor.'”

The article suggests that, over time, complaining or gratitude can become a way of life.  This means my words may reveal more to others than I intended.  They reveal my heart and all that I choose to focus on (Luke 6:45; Prov. 4:23).  My words affect more than I intended.  They affect my own health and even the health of those around me.   Complaining or gratitude.  This simple, daily choice has great impact.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord”

(Psalm 19:14).

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What the Promised Land did for Me

The most frequently asked question since our return home from Israel has been, “What was your favorite part?”  That is nearly impossible to answer.  There were too many wonderful experiences and highlights, each of them meaningful for different reasons.

I can say for certain that it was my “trip of a lifetime” and that it impacted me in multiple ways.  I am most thankful for three of those ways:

It strengthened my faith in the Word.

No doubt about it, the places and people we read about in the Bible are REAL.  Archaeologists continue to uncover locations, discover documents, and learn about practices that prove the truth of God’s Word.

For example, the Bible mentions a place called “Sha’arayim,” which means “two gates” (Josh. 15:36; 1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Chron. 4:31).  Scoffers declared this unlikely as no Judaean city ever had more than one gate, according to archaeological discoveries.  But in 2007, an entire fortified city was unearthed having, not one, but two major gates.  It overlooks the Elah Valley, confirming the Bible’s mention of it in the account of David and Goliath.

I knew the Bible was accurate and reliable.  But it is so faith-building to have that truth confirmed by walking through the MANY “proofs” that populate the land of Israel!

It enhanced my understanding.

David took refuge in “the stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:3,4).  Masada (which means “stronghold”) was a city that sat atop a steep hill out in the middle of an arid wilderness, overlooking the Dead Sea.  It’s location made it easy to see approaching enemies.  It had a “snake path” up the side that could handle only two people wide at a time.  It was impressive!  Scholars believe that this was David’s stronghold.  Now when I read about it, I will be able to see it.

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 31:1-3

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First view of Masada

 

And when I read about David hiding in caves in Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4), I will be able to see it.  I understand how easy it was to do that in a land dotted with large, hidden caves.  Adullam means “refuge.”

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One of the caves at Adullam

When I read about Jesus praying at Gethsemane (Matt. 26), I will be able to picture Him among the twisted trunks of the olive trees.  I can now see exactly where He pleaded with His Father.

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Olive trees in Gethsemane

There are so many accounts that have come alive in my mind!  I can add extra senses (sight, sounds, smells, touch….) to my understanding.

It engaged my heart.

You don’t have to go to Israel to be touched by the love stories in the Word.

(How can you read about God’s call to Abraham to take his son and offer him, and then God’s deliverance and provision when He rewarded Abraham’s obedient faith without being moved?)

But I had the opportunity to go to Beersheba.  It’s in the middle of the Negev desert.  It’s where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and planted a tamarisk tree (Gen. 21), where he sent Hagar into the wilderness, and where he went to live after God said, “Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you….” (Gen. 22).  I looked all around me and imagined the account playing out in front of my eyes.

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Beersheba

I had the opportunity to visit the two proposed sites of the Garden Tomb.  While at the first one, I read John’s gospel account of the empty tomb.  I looked at the rock tomb in front of me and read of Mary standing there weeping, of Jesus approaching her and calling her by name, and of her declaration to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

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The Garden Tomb

There were so many emotional moments as we walked through the land of Israel.  I imagine part of that had to do with stepping away from the distractions of the world and immersing myself in the unfolding story of God’s redemption and love.  My heart was revived.

I pray that I will remember that I don’t have to go to Israel to do that.  I can still shut out the world’s distractions and immerse myself in the beautiful and powerful message of God’s love. 

There’s a Sea in Galilee

I wish I were better with words.  I’m going to try to convey what’s filling my heart but I know the words will fall short.

For the past six days I have been in Israel with my husband and our dear friends, John and Carla Moore.  The experience has far exceeded my expectations.  I’ve visited Beersheba where Abraham lived and probably received the call to offer up his son.  I’ve stood in the very valley in which David ran to meet Goliath (and even pulled five smooth stones from the same brook he did).  I’ve explored the impressive sites of Masada and Megiddo.  I’ve seen the wildernesses and the Shephelah.  And so much more.

I knew I’d love it all.  I can already tell that I will never read my Bible the same again.  I knew I’d learn more about geography, archaeology, and history.  What I wasn’t expecting was the soul-searching that would accompany it.

I’ve been impressed with the courage, bravery, faith, and trust of God’s people in harsh environments or overwhelming odds.  Would I be brave in the same situation?  Would I trust God when I couldn’t see my way through?  It’s been good, so good, to hold my heart up for examination.

But today was something special.  Today we went to the Sea.  We hiked up a path to the top of Mount Arbel.  There were sheer cliffs along the way.  When we crested the top and took in the view of the Sea of Galilee and its northern shore, it was as if all the noises around me faded away and I could only hear my own breathing.  My heartbeat slowed as it dawned on me what I was actually viewing.

Up to this point, we’ve visited places where great men and women of God have lived out their faith.  Today we came to the place where the Son of God lived out His faith so He could walk with us through ours.  I saw the towns where He taught in the synagogues.  I saw the shoreline where He called His disciples and where He would later have breakfast with them.   I stared at the waves on which He walked and imagined the storms that He calmed.  Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount here.  He healed here.

As the four of us took it all in, John led us in a verse of “How Great Thou Art.”  Then he prayed a beautiful, heartfelt prayer of praise.  I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Jesus prayed in the very same spot when He would go up on the mount by Himself.  Jesus.  My Jesus.  Today, and the next couple of days, I am walking where He walked.

So many things happened by the Sea on the Sea in the life of Christ.  The same sea is surrounded by bustling and thriving towns today.  The same sea is filled with boats.

I am walking where He walked and in awe of that fact.  But what would He want me to see here?  The Sea?  As impressive as it all is–the cliffs, mountains, villages, and the blue, blue water–there are people all around the Sea who still need to see Jesus in their midst.

Only one place on earth is where Jesus walked but every place on earth is where He wants us to go and tell others about Him.

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I Was Such a Taker Yesterday

I felt like I was on the receiving end all day long.  I went to bed last night with a full heart and an overwhelming love and gratitude for God and His family.  Here’s a sample of what I got:

  • A sermon that served as a reminder of God’s merciful grace and His presence in my life.  It seemed tailor-made for me.
  • Lots of warm hugs
  • Some sisters specifically asked how I was doing with my boys leaving home.  They hugged me and told me they were thinking about me.
  • A couple of friends know of a confidential situation that is weighing on me.  They took the time to listen and assured me of their prayers.
  • A new Christian led a public prayer for the first time.  It was heart-felt and beautiful.  I was reminded of God’s power to transform lives.  I was filled with joy and grinned all the way through the prayer.
  • A couple of men responded to the invitation yesterday morning.  Others went up to sit with them on the front row to offer support.  I love that.  It makes me feel good.
  • Last night a godly, faithful widow responded to the invitation.  She mentioned a specific sin she struggled with and asked for forgiveness and help to overcome it.  I was so touched by her humility and courage.  My love and respect for her grew even more.  She went forward to ask for help but I wonder if she knows how much she helped me?
  • The fellowship seemed to linger longer yesterday.  We stood in the parking lot “forever” chatting.  No one seemed in a hurry to head home.  We talked about nothing overly significant…just flowers, school, our kids.  On the way home I told Neal how dear it is to just share LIFE with so many fellow Christians.

The tone of this post is completely self-focused.  And really, I left some things out that I was able to take away from yesterday.  The focus of our coming together to worship shouldn’t be “what can I get out of this?”  “Does it meet my needs?”  We are to gather together to GIVE.  We’re to bring our hearts to God (Matt. 15:8,9).  We’re to bring our sacrificial offering (2 Cor. 9:7).   We’re to encourage and exhort one another (Heb. 10:24,25).  We’re to offer up praise (Acts 2:41-47).  And yet, I couldn’t help but notice all that I GOT.

Yesterday wasn’t an isolated case.  I always “get” when I gather with fellow Christians to worship and learn and grow.  Even though my purpose and focus should be on bringing, giving, and offering, it’s amazing how I can leave with a heart so full of everything I have taken in.  It reminds me of the saying, “You can’t out-give God” (Luke 6:38).

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

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They Love Me, Too

One thing I love about the Lord’s church is the fact that we are family.  We are brothers and sisters united by the precious blood of Christ.  That means no matter where we go, we can find family.

This past week Neal and I have been with the Hollywood Rd. church of Christ in Houma, LA.  We both feel like we have been among true family and gained true friends.  In the body of Christ, it doesn’t take long to form heart connections!  The Christians here are warm, friendly, and giving.  It is obvious they love being together.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

It was easy for Neal and I to identify that common love in the church here.  We are Christians coming in among fellow Christians.  But what does the world see?

Tuesday night one of the members brought a guest to the gospel meeting going on this week.  The guest showed up early enough to enjoy the meal we had together first.  What was his impression?  What did his first glimpse of  the Lord’s church reveal?  I am so thankful that we learned the answer to those questions.  Last night we found out that this visitor went to work the next day talking about his experience.  He said, “Those people not only love Jesus, they love me, too.”

A higher compliment to the church here in Houma could not be paid!  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?  Isn’t the goal of every church to be so loving that visitors walk away with the impression of being loved? This visitor knew that he was taken in and loved because the Christians here love Jesus.  What’s their secret here?  How did a one-time visit leave such an impression on this man?  I know the answer to that, too, because I saw it unfold.  He was greeted warmly, he was hugged, and he was served.  This visitor knew the Christians here love Jesus because they acted like Jesus.

I hope I remember this for a long time.  I am so convicted by this simple experience.  I am challenged to do my part in my home church to make visitors feel loved.

What impression are people left with when they visit your home congregation?  How do you make them feel?  May we all do our part to make sure others “know we are Christians by our love.”

Those people not only love Jesus, they love me, too.

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David & Kathy Jones, a couple who lives out the love of Christ here in Houma, LA!