In His Time, He Makes All Things Beautiful By Dr. Eva Anita Ragwan

In His time, He makes all things beautiful

In His time, He makes all things beautifulHow often have you heard this phrase: In His time, He will make all things beautiful? Somebody may have mentioned this to you at the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, through illness, a family conflict, a son or daughter lost to the world or any such dire circumstance. Many times, you want to shoot back, “Ya right!” or “Really now?” or “How can death ever be beautiful?” or “But why is God putting me through this in the first place?”

When you are in the midst of circumstances like the above, you feel a sense of disconnect from God. Sometimes there is also anger, frustration and feelings of hopelessness. The Psalmist went through exactly those feelings when he asks God in Psalms 13 (paraphrased): Why have you abandoned me? Why are you allowing my enemies to beat me? Why are you not listening to my prayers? Have you forgotten me? I feel like I am in a slimy pit and each time I try to climb to the top, I fall right back down. Why are you not helping me get out?

As a family therapist, I have learned that even though we may be Christians, these are fair questions. Our feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, even with God, are acceptable. God would rather us be authentic than hide our feelings and pretend that all is okay, that we are too blessed to be stressed. You see, when we are honest, and say what we feel, it helps us process our negative experiences/feelings. This results in a lighter mind and not only provides us with the ability to move forward in a more positive way but opens our minds to the working of God’s Spirit.

The psalmist David did that. We notice how, after he processed his anger in Psalms 13, he was able to say in Psalms 14, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” and in Psalms 16, “In you O Lord do I take refuge for apart from You I have nothing good” and then we all know how he highlights the beauty of belonging to God in Psalms 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing

Life is filled with positive and negative experiences. As we live out our Christian faith, we do this dance of questioning, fearing, losing hope, wondering but we must come back to trusting, believing, hoping. What helped David, the Psalmist do this dance so effectively was that, come what may and no matter what the state of his mind was in, he never ceased talking to God, he never ceased praying.

Are you grappling with something in your life today? Are you wondering if God is really out there listening to your cries for mercy or are you, like the Psalmist wondering if God has abandoned you? Speak to God, share your innermost thoughts (even those of anger and disappointment) with Him and watch your burden get lighter as you learn to trust him again. And yes, you may hate me for saying this but In His time, he does make all things beautiful.

The Beauty of God’s Unconditional Love by Dr. Eva Ragwan

Intentional Christian Living

Intentional Christian LivingThis evening our Son and Daughter-in-law are hosting a Reveal Party for the rest of us in the family. During the party, we all will get to know the news that they were given yesterday, that is, whether our soon coming grand-baby is going to be a boy or a girl. Leading up to this event, we all had our say as to what baby we thought it was going to be. There are some who are convinced it is a girl and others are equally convinced it is a boy. Rodney and I participated in guessing the gender for the fun of it, but we let the soon-to-be parents know that the gender of the baby does not matter to us. This baby is going to bring us such great joy and we are going to return that with unconditional love, or so we think. In our humane-ness, can we ever fully love unconditionally?

This morning, I read on CNN online of a young girl who was poisoned and burned alive. Shockingly, her Mother was part of the group who murdered this girl. It was called a Honor Killing and was supposedly done out of love. How tainted we are as humans!!!!

On Sunday, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Facebook will be filled with notes of love and appreciation for moms all over the world. Mothers are the ones that seem to come close to that unconditional love, that Agape Love that we hear about in scripture. Washington Irving, a preacher and poet wrote: “A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts”.

So, we have this contrast of the Mother who would murder her own daughter in a honor killing calling such an act Love and the mother who we would describe, like Mr. Irving, as one who loves so profoundly. What I am saying is that our love, no matter where it lies on the spectrum, is always tainted. Only God can love us with an Agape, God type love. No matter our race, color, size, age, gender, personality, spiritual standing etc, God loves Me and You unconditionally. Amazing. God Loves ME. GOD loves me!! God LOVES me!!!Romans 8:38 reads:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate Me from the love of God – neither family, nor friends, nor race, nor color, nor age, nor gender, nor spiritual standing, nor height, nor depth, absolutely nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. Beautiful, Unconditional Love.

When You Feel Like Quitting

Intentional Christian Living

Intentional Christian LivingAs a result of pressure and ​excess stress that is faced in the ministry, statistics ​show​ that 50% of ordained ministers across denominational lines are out of the pulpit within 5 years. Here in the USA 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each and every month.

There are many Christians who also quit on God. The stress that comes with
​un​answered prayers, financial​ strains​, relationship issues, etc., gnaw away at our relationship with God and we are sometimes at the point where we want to throw in the towel. Have you felt like that?

To quit means to give up or resign; let go; relinquish

I remember during my seminary days there were​ at least three ​occasions​ when I almost quit​ due to some of these stressors.​

The post-resurrection of Jesus provides an account of Peter who wanted to quit. In fact he did, but fortunately he was rescued from this. As we know of the account of his denial of Jesus despite his declaration of loyalty to Jesus.

In Matthew 28:7 the resurrected Lord had promised that he would meet up with the disciples in Galilee. They went to Galilee and waited and waited and waited.

What did Peter do. He decided to go fishing. He became impatient and went fishing. Now there was nothing wrong in ​him ​going fishing. H​owever, it seems that he had this feeling of quitting. He was having one of those days​ when you feel so low, you feel like quitting. ​When he said, “I am going fishing”, the Greek word used to convey what Peter said was hupago (hoop-ag’-o), this is an interesting word that literally means “I retire.” Peter is ready to quit preaching and go back to what he knew best, fishing.

Peter was looking back, he tried to go back to his comfort zone. He began to think, “Hey if this ministry thing doesn’t work out I can always go back to where I left off.”

We may not know exactly what God has planned for our lives now. But you can bet that you will not want to miss it, and we will never know what his best was if we quit.

Notice what Jesus did in the life of Peter. Jesus made him a great leader – Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

When you feel like quitting, reflect on Peter’s experience found in God’s Word.

Breakfast With Jesus

Breakfast With Jesus

Breakfast With JesusSometimes our words and actions cause​ us to feel what Peter felt after he let Jesus down. We should not be surprised when this happens. If we recognize the level of our depravity, we will know that no matter how much self-confidence we possess, there are times we will say or do things that will make us feel like Peter. Earlier Peter pledged his loyalty to Jesus but his self-confidence did not come to rescue when tested. The gravity of his betrayal of Jesus made him want to go away, t​o go away from what he was called to do – a fisher of men.

I am quite certain that he felt defeated and I am sure this devastated him. He​, Peter, had let the Christ down​ at a moment of weakness ​and did not admit to his association with Christ.

“You are not also one of His disciples, are you?”
He denied it and said, “I am not!”

It is easy for us to sit in judgement of Peter. ​Yet there may be many ​times when we ​too may have  ​disowned Jesus ​during our own times of testing and weakness. ​Yet, during those times, Jesus shows up and d​oes for us​ what he did ​for​ Peter. ​He reconnects with us because he knows just how defeated we feel, just like he reconnected with Peter.​

Here’s how this played out. Peter denies Jesus after promising not to. When he realizes what he has done he feels so defeated and discouraged that he distances himself​. He ​goes ​fishing with the hope of escaping​ these feelings. To add to his woes, his fishing expedition did not go well too. Jesus is on the shore waiting for Peter and the others. He has breakfast prepared but more than that he was wanting to reconnect with Peter to rescue him from his misery of being a defeated person to a person who is restored​,​ to being​ not just a fisherman but​ a fisher of men.

Jesus enters into conversation with him about loyalty. Jesus asks Peter if he loves (agape) him. Peters responds twice affirming his love but with the word (phileo). Agape love is the highest form of love and is unconditional – sacrificial. Peter’s phileo love was a brother​ly​, friendship​ type of​ love. Although Peter did not affirm agape love, he later demonstrates this. After he is restored, he leaves the comforts of his Galilean home and the fishing boat​;​​ and​ returns to Jerusalem to speak of the risen Jesus.

​Whether we are in ministry or not, there are times when we feel like we have let the Lord down. We choose to isolate ourselves from others in order to cope with our feelings of sadness, depression, guilt etc. We sometimes abandon the calling that God has placed on our lives. Rest assured that Christ is waiting to reconnect with you. If you open your heart and your mind, you will find him in the most unexpected places, on the shore perhaps, with breakfast, waiting for you…..​

When Jesus Shows Up

Intentional Christian Living

Intentional Christian LivingI am not surprised to find the raw emotions of people described in scripture. After all as human persons we possess emotive feelings. There are many situations in our everyday living that cause us to experience different emotions. Words such as happy, sad, angry, excited, upset etc. describe how we feel. It is interesting to observe how this is played out in the Easter Story. Let’s look at Mary at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday: She​ arrived there two days ​after witnessing Christ’s death. How traumatizing the whole experience ​must have been for her, watching her son being beaten and crucified to death. To add to her trauma, she finds that Jesus’s body had disappeared, the body which she was hoping to embalm one last time and perhaps spend a few quiet moments with her loved one to grieve and come to terms with this loss.​

Mary began crying because she​ thought that someone had taken Jesus away and robbed her of this one last ritual, robbed her of her moments of grieving for this son whom she loved so much. ​You see when we are in an emotional state, we do not always think and act rationally. Sometimes, we think about the worst possibility. ​At other times people trivialize the​ feelings of those affected​ and dismiss the person as being weak. Jesus himself showed his emotion at the death of Lazarus. Jesus wept. ​So when a person is in such a psychological state, it is perfectly normal for a behavioral or expressive response to take place.

What does​Jesus do? ​He shows up in the midst of that state and helps bring about a changed behavior. Notice in John 20: 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”) and then in John 20:18:Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”

The presence of God in our lives helps us to be grounded so that when we become aware that God is with us, our emotions, which at first may be that of sadness, anger, bitterness, etc, can be turned into hope, joy, peace etc and we seek to tell others of this change that took place because of Jesus showing up.

Doubting Thomas – It’s Okay To Want To Know More

Doubting Thomas - It's Okay to Want to Know MoreVery often we tend to view Thomas, who is referred to as the “Doubting Thomas” a​s not one of the best disciples​. ​This is ​ because of his response to the disciples who informed him that they saw Jesus after his resurrection​ which is seen here: ​ John 20:25, “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” How many times have you and I doubted? I know I have. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith and doubt is not unbelief.

Thomas did not evidence disbelief in Jesus. Far from it. He was committed to Jesus. When he hear​s​ that​ Jesus ​was planning on going​​ to go ​to a place where ​he would likely be killed, Thomas s​ays​, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). This is far from a person who did not believe in Jesus. He was a believer and a follower of Christ. He did not doubt that Jesus was for real​. What he ​was doubtful about was whether ​Jesus​ actually​ rose from the dead. What he wanted was proof of his resurrection. If you are in the academia, and present your hypothesis to your professor in your thesis or dissertation, she/he will expect you to prove or to test your hypothesis.

Thomas was no different. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself.​ ​We must allow Thomas the space to ask questions. I want to be clear with regard to this issue, I am not referring to doubt with regard to our prayers whe​n​ we ask God​ for something then doubt Him. Doubt about the person you are are praying to and doubt about whether God will answer your prayer are two different issues. ​When Thomas doubted Jesus’s resurrection, I believe he was not doubting his faith in Jesus but was asking the relevant questions in order to believe. ​We too ask questions sometimes, questions like the following: “Lord, will you ever heal my child​? ​​Lord, ​will I get that job that I have been waiting ​on for over a year? ​​Lord, ​why is it Christian’s are being persecuted? Like, Thomas, we ​believe in Jesus but we ​questions life’s difficult experiences in the light of God’s intervention. John invites us to be part of this story ​because ​

Thomas’ story is our story as well as we try to understand how God’s goodness tallies with some of ​our​ experiences.
In Thomas’ case God does show​​ up and answers his questions. You and I too, will see how God will show up in life’s challenging experiences​, maybe not in the way we want Him to, but he always shows up. ​Asking questions will not make you any less of a follower of Christ.

What Happens When We Die?

Devotion

We have just been through a very significant week in the Christian calendar.  ​During this week, our hearts and minds were more​ focused on Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. For me, the news of the death of my aunt just​ week ​prior, led me to ponder on the impact of Christ’s resurrection on my aunt as well as​ on all those who died in the Lord.

My pondering led me to preach on this​ topic on Easter Sunday. The resurrection of Christ meant that death dies and life lives. You see death reigned from the time Adam sinned. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” ​Since then ​everyone has been subjected to death​ but Jesus came and gave death a knock-out blow and defeated it.

The two very important part​s of our identity as humans ​are the body and soul. When a person dies, that identity seems to be broken where the body is buried only to decompose and the soul leaves to be with the Lord. Seems like a disconnect, right? Not true! That body will decompose, but will rise​ again as a transformed body, not a different body. In other words we will have the same body.

Let’s consider three references that show this fact:

Christ was raised in the same body He had before He died. We know this because the tomb was empty (Luke 24:1-6) and because His resurrected body retained scars from the crucifixion (John 20:25, 27). (disciples thought they saw a ghost – he asked them for something to eat) Since Christ’s resurrection is the pattern that our resurrection will follow (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:49), we too will also be raised with the same body.

This is is also evident from the very meaning of the term “resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:13, etc.). The phrase means: that which is dead (namely, our body) is made alive. If the same body that died is not the body that was raised, Paul could not call it the “resurrection of the dead.” It would not be a resurrection at all.

Third, the phrase “the dead will be raised” (1 Cor. 15:52) also communicates this. It is said that “If God meant to start all over with no continuity between the body I have now on earth and the one I will have, why would Paul say ‘the dead will be raised’? Why would he not say, ‘the dead will not be raised (since they are decomposed and their molecules are scattered into plants and animals for a thousand miles) and so God will start from scratch’? He did not say that, because it is not true”

The Resurrection means life lives. When someone dies in the Lord, we will see them again with not with a different body but the same body which God has transformed. So, I will see my aunt, my parents, brother and family and friends.

How is such knowledge shaping how you understand death and how to live daily for Christ?

Tyler Perry’s “The Passion” Live on TV – Afterthoughts

Tyler Perry's The Passion Live on TV - afterthoughts.

Last night my wife and I watched Tyler Perry’s production of The Passion on TV. This live event from New Orleans, although presented in a Hollywood style, captured the essence of the passion of Christ and I believe touched many. Although Tyler avoided ​discussing some current challenges​​, ​the show ​did speak to what people are experiencing in their everyday lives. We were reminded again of betrayal, denial, violence, sadness, abuse of power, and abandonment but ​more importantly, we were reminded about​ the message of hope, forgiveness, and love ​that can be found in Christ.​

For me, it was not just about the production and presentation of The Passion by Tyler Perry, it was God’s grace in Tyler. Here’s an American actor, producer, director, screenwriter, playwright, author, and songwriter, using the gospel genre to communicate the gospel to the world. Wealth and fame is not impeding or preventing him from intentionally living the Christian faith. Given the fact that the industry that he is in is not very kind to the Christian faith, he did not shy away from ​shar​ing about​ the life changing message of the gospel. It is so encouraging to observe a rich ​and successful celebrity like Mr. Tyler Perry place his​ hope on God and not on riches.

 
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17

Good News

bible-879073_640Last Friday the doctor’s office called to let me know the results of some tests I took earlier in the week. I was unavailable to take the call and when I did call, the office was closed. I had to wait until today (Monday) to get the results. Throughout the weekend, I kept thinking about ​the​ news I will be receiving.​ Last year I had some health challenges, including two kidney stone hospitalizations so I was concerned about the results.​

​This morning, when I called, the lady who answered said: “I have good news, for you, sir. Your results are all good.” I was so relieved. After I heard those words, my racing heart slowed down, my shaky voice cleared and I responded with several “thank yous”. I was very happy to announce these results to my wife.

As a believer in Christ, I cannot help but think about the biblical teaching of the good news of the gospel. In the New Testament the word group for good news appears 133 times. There’s euangelion (good news), euangelizo (proclaim good news), and euangelistes (one who proclaim​s​ good news).​ ​Since we learn that there’s a heraldic element to it, we must make this known to others. Some use this good news as a code of ethics or treat it as simply a divine rehabilitation program for the world. Though the good news grounds these, it has to be announced and must be understood that it is an accomplished and finished work of Christ. This will lead to individual and communal renewal.

 

​”​But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.​”
​ Acts 8:12

Ubuntu and Christian Living

Intentional Christian Living​Ubuntu and Christian Living​

I was at the hospital today to  get an x-ray and ultrasound. It was such a pleasure to have staff that were ​so courteous. The ​lady​ who conducted the ultrasound ​took the time to​ spend​ a few minutes talking with me after the procedure. She extended her kindness to me. In a highly individualistic society where we live by the principle of ​independence and self-reliance​, we tend to​ lose what it means to be human.

Being human means to connect with others. I so often look at and am challenged by the early believers in Acts and how they lived out their faith by deeply caring for others and sharing their resources for the benefit of the community​. While their social and cultural context is different from ours, we can still embrace this biblical model for living. In Southern Africa there is a Zulu word Ubuntu which in a sense, describes how the people of the early church lived. Ubuntu literally means “human-ness”, and is often translated as “humanity towards others” Practicing this idea of Ubuntu will certainly promote social cohesion but if lived out with a biblical understanding of the Gospel, the outcome will have a greater impact. Can you imagine the impact if Ubuntu is taken further than merely promoting being kind to one another; if it also included reflecting and pointing to Christ?

Acts 2:44-46, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”

Ephesians 4: 32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”