The Least of These

Christ has called us, through His deep compassion, to care for those who lack even the simple things in life. He left for us an example. We are first to be like Jesus, we are to help the weaker and teach them to do the same as they grow and change. Jesus said in John 13:15, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Again in Matthew 25:40 he said, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Who are “the least of these?” They are those who have so little, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. They are the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, jobless, and sick and it goes on and on. It can seem so overwhelming when you don’t know where your next meal for your family will come from. It can be so devastating to be laid off after 40 years of service and to find they will not be awarding pensions, even though you paid into it all those years. And, where are you going to find a good job at your age? I can only imagine how humiliating it must be to stand on the side of a road bearing a sign that reads, “Homeless, will work for food.” Yet everyone ignores your sign, jibes you, and now you even have the threat you will be beaten up or worse.

These are they! These are the least. Each time God leads us on the path wherein we turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to those all around us who are hurting, we should bow our heads in shame. God has called each of us to several specific callings before he died on Calvary. I find he has called us first to share Christ with those who do not know Him. We are commanded in Matthew 28:19,20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We, as Christians should take this command and work as if Christ will return in the next hour. There are so many different ways we can reach out to a sick and dying world. There are a couple of ways my husband and I reach out to the homeless. One of those ways is when we see someone who is homeless, we go to the nearest sandwich shop and buy them a sandwich, drink and also give them a New Testament with Psalms. We will also pass out New Testaments with Psalms when we see someone destitute on a street corner and a couple of dollars for a sandwich.

Most feel you shouldn’t give a homeless or vagrant money for they may spend it on alcohol or drugs. One thing I have learned over the past 34 years that I have been serving Christ is to do what God asks me to do. For me to anything less is disobedience. And, as for obedience, God is pleased when we are obedient. In 2 Corinthians 7:15 it states, “And his affections are greater for you as he remembers the obedience of you all.”

I encourage you to take on the compassion of Christ and care for the least among many who are in the pit of despair. There are many reasons they find themselves in the pit, (e.g., drugs, alcohol, lust, gambling, etc. and etc.). It is easy to stand up and point our finger and cast judgment on them. However, how much nobler is the one who picks his neighbor up from the ground, dusts him off and sets him on higher ground and in alignment with the One who died for his sins. How much better for him to know and believe that Christ died to get him out of that miry pit. Please, next time you see a homeless or less fortunate, look beyond the world’s view and prejudices and see them through Christ’s eyes. Your reward will be an eternal one…with the Father.

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Ministry of Thorns

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

Scripture does not tell us what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was and I believe that it is intentional because we all have thorns we must receive and bear.  So, what are we to do with them?  How do we take a disability, an illness, cancer, diabetes, grief, depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, anger, bitterness, resentment, traumatic events, and so many other thorns and allow them to be used?  How can we trust Jesus’ sufficient grace?  I’m not certain of the answer to these questions in their entirety.

Jesus promised that His grace is sufficient for us and that in our weakness, He would be strong, but how do we accept the thorn and trust that sufficiency?

I know so many who are suffering with some of the thorns I listed above.  I am thinking specifically of my friend, Katrina, whose thorn is acute myeloid leukemia.  She has been through one course of chemotherapy, and all that comes with such treatment.  She has been surrounded in prayer.  She has trusted and relied fully on God for His healing.  Yet, today she told us that her bone marrow biopsy came back positive and she has to undergo yet another round of chemotherapy.

Katrina’s love for our Savior proclaimed, “I will trust Him!”  She is accepting that His grace is sufficient for her.  In that trusting and in that accepting and in that declaration, she has accepted Jesus ministry of thorns for herself.  God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has entrusted this thorn to Katrina.  I know that in this, she will give Him the glory.

I have read, many times, Hannah Hurnard’s book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places.  In it, the main character, Much-Afraid, is also given a thorn that had to pierce her heart:

“She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn… ‘The seed looks very sharp,’ she said shrinkingly. ’Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?’

He answered gently, ‘It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.’

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. ’When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,’ and a strange new courage entered her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, ‘Please plant the seed here in my heart.’

His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, ‘Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.’

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, ‘It is so happy to love,’ and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes shown. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all.”

I have learned from this and God’s Word that thorns, although painful, must be.  They aren’t placed to cripple us, but to grow in us Himself.  If we allow them, we will have placed in us His love and our lives can be used for His glory.  It is not always easy to bear a thorn, but when we do….when we trust…when we “don’t quit,” as Katrina would say, we bear in our lives, hearts, in our very souls a ministry of thorns.

The ministry of thorns is temporal and earthly, but it is truly a Kingdom Work and this work can only be performed by us who bear the thorns and trust His grace.  Do not be discouraged, if the dailiness threatens to conquer — be strong — and walk in your ministry of thorns for His grace is truly sufficient.

Authentically His

My thoughts on authenticity, legalism, liberty in Christ, and grace:

As we come off of the recent Halloween weekend, I am bombarded by my thoughts one why? I am not asking, “Why does America observe and celebrate it?” though it does beg the question. I am asking why do followers of Christ observe, celebrate, and participate in it? Some of my thoughts have been “out loud” and I have been accused of being legalistic and judgmental. I understand the accusation, but I disagree with it and here is why.

The day I accepted Christ it was because I became acutely aware of my sin and Christ’s redemptive work for that sin. In that moment, I humbled myself before the Cross of Christ and begged His forgiveness and salvation. I have not once regretted that decision in 34 years. Jesus didn’t just save me to keep from the eternal flames of Hell, but to complete His perfect work in me, use me to bring glory and honor to Himself, and to keep me from being eternally separated from Him. With so great a salvation comes also a great responsibility and that is to become less like me and the world, become more like Jesus, and make disciples.

I believe an important part of reflecting Jesus is living authentically. This is something I am vulnerably aware of on a daily basis. When I encounter others, whether they are brothers and sisters in Christ or in need of this Jesus, I am unashamedly honest in who I am and Whose I am. I never (or at least try to never) pretend to be something or someone I am not. My flaws are disclosed openly and often with examination. While Jesus’ work started in me the day I turned from my sin, it continues in me daily. The truth is that it is hour-by-hour because there are many days that my flaws and struggles threaten to consume me and I am always fully reliant on Him. My hope is that if someone can see that life is hard and, though I follow Jesus, I am far from perfect and He is far from finished with me.

As I grow in Christ, my prayer is that each day of growth and sanctification takes me further from my sin and closer to His glory. This I have found to be the truest testing of my faith because honestly, as God reveals more of my sin in me and as I submit to His refining the world and most often other Believers accuse me of “legalism” or “judgmentalism” because I am turning from the sin that, as Scripture reveals, “so easily besets me.” (Hebrews 12:1)

For instance, my husband and I were convicted about 16 years ago regarding viewing of movies and certain television programs. At first we were convicted not to view or patron movies or television programs that blaspheme the Name of the Lord. As we weeded those out and became obedient to Christ in that area of our life, the Lord convicted us regarding profanity, nudity, and many other things that are also present in movies and programs. We felt the Lord telling us that,”If you would not participate in these sins in your own life, why do you find it acceptable to sit and watch them?” It was quite revealing to us and we felt that complete obedience meant we could no longer partake in this everyday activity that our friends and family participated in.

As we began declining invitations to the movies, we were immediately accused of being legalistic and in our perceived legalism, they felt judged. It is very discouraging to be accused by brothers and sisters in Christ when we are only “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and striving to be obedient in those things God was asking of us. God ultimately reminded us that we are only called to be obedient to Him, in ALL things, and not be conformed to the world. Which brings me to the reason I felt I needed to write this blog in the first place.

One of the things we have been convicted of is Halloween. Now this is a testy matter, too, like movies. There is one thing most Christians do not like and will wound other Christians on quicker than you can blink and that is taking away their “fun.”

We have never tried to make a big deal of not observing Halloween, we just quit observing it…simple. We did not make a big announcement, “Hear ye, hear ye, the Provencher family is no longer observing Halloween and they believe any Christian who does it from here on out is a sinner going straight to the pits of Hell.” No, that is not our style….just like with our conviction on movies. However, when asked about Halloween for example, “Are you passing out candy, will you come to our costume party, do you allow your son to go ‘trick or treating?'” the answer is honest and, “no.” Of course, then we are asked a litany of questions and then promptly accused, AGAIN, of being legalistic and naturally we are again judging them.

Then come the questions about our liberty in Christ, the mission field we are ignoring, and that we are supposed to be in the world, but not of it. So, if I may quickly address each of these:

Liberty in Christ

In Galatians 5:1, Paul said, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Paul was not giving us permission to do whatever we want, he was speaking to being in a yoke of bondage to the law.  There were Jewish leaders trying to put on Gentiles the yoke of bondage to the Jewish laws.  Paul makes this clear in Galatians 2:4, “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.”  Further, Paul warns us in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”  Paul also gives us a stern warning in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

Ignoring the Mission Field

The only thing I really think when I hear or read this statement is that other Believers are attempting to use emotional, guilt inducing, and unfair extortion on me.  We are all at different places in our walks with Christ and what I have been convicted of by Him is NOT your conviction.  James 4:17 says, “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  For me to turn and do those things that a Holy God has specifically asked ME to stop doing would be willful disobedience and a sin.

For YOU to guilt me or attempt to extort me into turning back to sin is deplorable.

In the World But Not Of It

Honestly, this one is loaded.  What does that truly mean and where is that proverbial line that we should not cross?  I would answer it with Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1-3, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

How can I present myself, my body, as a living and HOLY sacrifice, acceptable to God if I am being willfully disobedient to those things He has called me from?  I vow that I cannot.  That same verse goes on to tell me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.  Renewing — a refreshing, a new learning, SANCTIFICATION —  that word means, “to make holy or to set apart.”

I want to be like Him — I want to be set apart.  For me that means obeying when He convicts me, trusting when He compels me, and leaning — not on my own understanding — but, acknowledging Him — then He promises to make my paths straight — and what did Jesus say about straight and narrow paths, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  Matthew 7:14

While we might have liberty to go to movies and participate in worldly festivities is it needful?  Do we, as Believers, have to be limited to the world’s idea of fun?  Are we being authentic and wise by doing these things?  How can we make true disciples of Christ and show them a need for the Savior, if we are just like them?

These are questions that each of us can only examine in our own hearts.  However, it is not legalistic or judgmental to serve Jesus, as He has called me.  Grace abounds the more, but even grace needs balance.

A Grafting, For April

As she puttered in the garden
tending flowers and plucking weeds,
she noticed a trend occurring
like none she had never seen.

Her garden from ages ago
had bloomed with such pretty flowers
but of late they had faded
and scorched in the Florida sun.

She tried grafting in new flowers
to those that had withered and threatened to die.
Yet none of the grafts had taken
and she about had given up and died.

Then God in His infinite mercy
stooped down and planted anew
a flower like none ever seen
with petals of brilliant hue.

Oh, how she loved this new flower
and tended with love and care.
But she feared that it too would wither
and leave an emptiness there.

He whispered, “My child, won’t you trust me
with this flower so new and so rare?
I have given it with great expectation,
won’t you let me graft it there?”

As He pointed to my heart, I trembled
because grafting is painful and sore.
It desperately leaves you vulnerable
and asks of you so much more.

Though fear overtook my heart,
I knew I wanted it so
and I opened my heart with trepidation
and allowed Him to do His work.

At first the grafting was weak
but as days grew into weeks and more
a flower burst forth in great beauty
promising friendship that would last and grow.

Now summer has faded into fall
and the grafting, oh how sweet the love
that friendship has grown and bloomed
and my heart is content with His gift from above.