Monday, June 29, 2015

Staying Strong on the Blue Planet


Recently, I watched an episode of “The Blue Planet,” a British nature documentary. I could watch these programs all day until it comes to those predator/prey scenes. They’re a heart-breaking reality of survival, and I usually turn the channel before the predator captures its quarry. In this episode, a pod of orca hunt a gray whale mother and baby, working together with amazing precision and perseverance. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away. They were targeting the baby, separating her from her mother, keeping her from getting precious air, and exhausting both her and her mother, chasing them for seven long hours. Finally, the baby succumbed to the orcas, her blood staining the waves that washed over her body. As her baby became a feast for the orcas, the mother swam away alone.

Knowing the intelligence and emotional acumen of whales, I wondered if mothers who lose their babies to predators cry tears that mix with the same waters where their babies' blood flows. I also imagined the vocal cries of both the mother and baby during those long hours of torment. Why didn’t other whales come to their aid? Why were they left to fight alone? With my heart for God’s creatures being what it is, the images stayed with me for quite some time. 

The world we live in and the circumstances we face are much like the pod of orcas. The things we see, hear, and experience weary us. In case you’ve not noticed, there is a continuous barrage against our faith. I heard recently about how termites are so effective. Like the orcas, they are relentless. Tiny in size, they can only take small bites of their host- perhaps your house. But in numbers and with dogged determination, their destructive abilities are amazing. 

Over the years, there has been a slow, steady process of social and cultural shift away from righteousness established by God to what is perceived to be right by humans. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Little by little, clarity and discernment regarding right and wrong have become so gray, many in the body of Christ have fallen prey to the world’s fallen perceptions. And in case you’ve not noticed, the slope has become exceedingly slippery and every godly, moral, righteous stance is looked upon as hate, stupidity, antiquated, and bizarre at best. It’s like we are whales in a pod of killer orcas who work tirelessly to attempt to drown the passion, steadfastness, and boldness of every believer. And it would seem that it’s working. But there’s another reality.

It can be viewed as a dark time in history- much like the days of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah. And yet, God is raising up a remnant- perhaps even separating and calling out those who will stand firm in the truth without wavering. For those who can endure to the end, they will inherit the promise! For those who endure, they are here for such a time as this. Notice how the United States is no where mentioned in the end time prophesies. I believe it is because this nation will have fallen so far from grace and its heritage that it becomes a third world nation. However, the Word and the Truth will endure and triumph! Those remnant warriors will be rewarded and be led by Jesus himself into that final victory! We need not dismay. We need not be weary, lose our passion, or be afraid of what men might say or do. We will never be left alone to fight the enemies who try to break us down and lead us to our death. We need only to cling firmly to him! And with him, we have been made MORE than conquerors!

Isaiah 40:28-31 
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Ephesians 6:10-12 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Church: A matter of life or death?


“…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25
In the time we live, it is imperative that we continue to draw strength from one another, sharpening one another, and encouraging one another to be all that we can be in the Kingdom of God. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the past decade or so, there has been a growing movement for believers to end their relationship with the organized church, finding alternatives to “assembling together.”
With my own perspective about church life, I may have one reason why church attendance by passionate believers has declined. From the pulpit, I’ve heard pastors make such proclamations as, “The church you choose is a matter of life or death!” I believed this whole-heartedly until I didn’t believe it at all.
Our main nutrition should be our intimate, daily relationship with the Lord. We should be growing and building ourselves up in our most holy faith. The organized church should be like a vitamin supplement. It adds to our diet, but without it, we shouldn’t starve. It feeds us that extra meal that boosts our metabolism and fuels the fire we’ve already gotten started in our passionate pursuit of God on our own.
However, if we assume that our organized church attendance is our main meal, we are going to be left hungry on several counts. First, most of us attend once or twice a week. What if we only ate one or two meals a week? Enough said.
Secondly, church is run and attended by humans. With that being stated, many things can happen in the company of a group of people.

·         The pastor may retire, and a new pastor may replace him whose vision is different from your own.

·         The vision of the ministry may change and not be in line with yours.

·         Your vision may change and not be in line with the vision of that organization.

·         The pastor or leaders may begin to lead the congregation in ways you are not in agreement with.

·         The pastor may make grievous errors that directly affect you and your family.

·         There may be serious hurt between you and another congregant, and it is not handled well by the leadership.

·         The church may move to a new location that makes it more difficult for you to attend.

These are only a few of the many things that might occur to the place that you’ve determined is “life or death” to your spiritual walk.  What then would this mean to you and your family? Your main source of sustenance would be lost or broken, and you may determine, like so many already have, to quit attending church altogether. To make a building and a gathering of people our all-in-all is a great error on our part, and we are often taught from the pulpit that this is essential to our health and well-being. While attending church may be important, it is much more important to develop our relationship with God outside of the building.
With hindsight being 20/20, I encourage you to enjoy your church and church family. Get involved and help when and where you can. However, make sure that it is a good, healthy addition to your daily intake of time with God and his word. Never, ever make church and church going your main meal for the entire week! God deserves more of you than a short, obligatory weekly visit!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Easter Chocolate - On Sale Now! But at What Cost?

I’m a self-proclaimed chocoholic. In fact, I’ve referred to myself as such long before it was common to do so. At the expense of dating myself, that word was in my vocabulary before the popularity of the internet!

I’ve eaten my share of what was my favorite chocolate bar—Nestles Crunch. When I was in high school, it was revealed that there were abuses in Third World nations by the Nestles Corp where they were taking advantage of poor mothers and children. I’ve boycotted Nestles Corp and their subsidiary companies for decades because they’ve never apologized for those abuses. They simply changed them over the years.
I thought I was doing better with Hersheys, Cadbury, Mars and others. That was until I learned that about 72% of all chocolate sold in the USA is made from cocoa harvested by slaves, many of whom are children in West Africa. These slaves are generational. They are born into and work the cocoa fields all their lives with no hope of education or a better life. They are refused basic human comforts you and I take for granted while their owners profit from the harvest from the free labor provided.
I may be a chocoholic, but first, I am human. Those who suffer are part of my family. I cannot, in good conscience, promote, foster or ignore the miserable plight of the precious people who are forced to live in squalor while I munch on candy made so dishonorably.
As I began to do my homework, I found a site called free2work.org. The site has a search menu that grades companies on how well they meet international Free Trade standards for products such as chocolate, jeans, shoes, toys, sports equipment, and many others. When you check it out, scroll down to “chocolate” and see how well your favorite brand does. The site also details what criteria must be met for each grade given. For example, with chocolate, each grade includes how the company rates in their policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights. It is a great tool to determine how the company or brand meets each standard.
When purchasing chocolate at a store or market, I always check the packaging. Most companies using Free Trade cocoa are proud to share that information with customers. If a product is in question, our smart phones are an ideal way to access a wealth of information on a company’s policies. The choices we make determine our “slavery footprint.” This simply means that we can reduce the number of slaves that work for us by the way we shop. (Let that sink in a minute…)  You can determine your current slavery footprint at slaveryfootprint.org. (Caveat- it can be a rude wake up call to realize how many slaves produced the things we own. But don’t we owe it to our brothers and sisters around the world to make sure we are buying slave-free products?)
With Easter just around the corner, many of us will be looking to fill our children’s baskets with chocolate bunnies and eggs. There are many Free Trade Chocolates from which to choose.  Divine Chocolate, which is one of my favorites, is on the top of the list. You’ll also find most Free Trade chocolates are organic. Listen, buying Free Trade can be pricey, but to coin a phrase, “It may cost more, but it won’t cost someone else their freedom.” That makes it worth the price!
About the author: Kathy Lebron is the founder and director of Sparrow’s Hope for Girls, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the lives and rebuilding the futures of young survivors of domestic, minor sex trafficking in the Greater NY area. Check out their Facebook page or email Kathy at sparrowshopeinc@aol.com for more information.
Other Resources:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Blizzard Warning and Rotten Oranges


We had just bought a bag of oranges from our local fruit and vegetable market, and we didn’t realize the problem at first. My daughter sneezed every time she was in the kitchen. My face itched and my eyes watered. The fumes from an orange-gone-bad began to infuse the room with its pungent fragrance.

My husband discovered the mold-encrusted orange last night, double bagged the entire bag of fruit, and threw it in the kitchen trash. Problem solved. Well, not so much. This morning, I went into the kitchen and discovered that the mold spores continued to invade the kitchen and dining rooms. I opened the back door for several long, cold minutes to air out the area, but the double bagging didn’t stop the odor from permeating two floors of the house. The only way to get rid of the issue was to get the oranges out of the house, which I did post haste. Now, problem solved for good.

After the orange cleansing, I was on my way to work with this blizzard warning blaring on every radio station. The National Weather Service is promising that at least two feet of snow will invade our world. As I drove, I noticed that the local Department of Transportation has already been salting the highways and ramps. With two to three inches falling per hour, I wonder how futile is this attempt at preparation. No amount of salt or sand will make the roads safe for travelers in the next 24 hours.  

And then these two completely different things came together in my mind. What is there in my life that I’ve been covering up, double-bagging but leaving in my “house?” Have I been trying, in vain, to deodorize and air out issues that need to be taken to the curb? For me, it’s evident that those things have been like that rotten orange. Until I get rid of them entirely, the moldy spores will continue to contaminate any good fruit I may have.

And in other words, what have I been trying to “salt?” The roads I’ve been taking may be the right ones, but am I trying to salt away a blizzard of things that need to be dealt with?

I know the answer for myself. But I share with you because I daresay that I’m not the only one holding onto rotten fruit and attempting to hide a blizzard. And these can be things that we think we’ve already dealt with. For example: Forgiving someone who may or may not deserve it. Letting go of bitterness and resentment. Forgiving yourself, and learning to love yourself and see yourself as God sees you. (1 John 3:1, Ps. 139:14) Each of us needs to allow God into these and any stony places in our hearts so they can be made flesh again. (Ezek 36.26)

Listen, I believe the Lord would have us to know that He loves us with an everlasting love. He sings over us with JOY! He gives us a hope and a future. He’s made the most monumental sacrifice anyone could ever make because of love. He's ready, willing, and able to lead, guide, and love us into the truth that will set us free.

It’s time to stop salting our blizzards and give Him our rotten fruit. He will turn our sorrow into dancing, and He’s ready to make something beautiful out of our lives!
 
Something Beautiful
Bill Gaither

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
But he made something beautiful of my life

If there ever were dreams
That were lofty and noble
They were my dreams at the start
And hope for life's best were the hopes
That I harbor down deep in my heart
But my dreams turned to ashes
And my castles all crumbled, my fortune turned to loss
So I wrapped it all in the rags of life
And laid it at the cross.