Author Archives: jansuwilkinson

About jansuwilkinson

God created us so unbelievably complex. As an addiction counselor, I am privileged to hear and hold in trust the unique stories of immortal beings whom God loves. When reflecting on my own journey, I am curious about the narrative, the timing, the burst of meaning, the unanswered enigmas of every day. Yet there is one simple truth: love is why we are here. Reading and spilling ink with fellow writers of 66 Books in 2023 promises to be an immersion into the Divine love found on page after page of God's Word. Lead us deeper in, Lord Jesus!

Exodus 2-4; Luke 17; Psalm 88

Exodus 2-4. Pharaoh’s daughter knew that Moses was a Hebrew child. She allowed her maidens to seek out the Hebrew mother to nurse the child. Pharaoh’s daughter even paid the mother of Moses to care for him. Moses was then educated to be an Egyptian prince and lived a life of luxury among royalty before the moment when his eyes were open to the shameful treatment of his Hebrew brethren. Moses fled Egypt, not because God sent him away, but because he murdered an Egyptian and Pharaoh sought to kill him. Moses seemed content afterward, relieved to live among the Midianites, herding sheep and raising a family. But then the burning bush appeared.

Just when you think your life is moving along smoothly, God may call you to experience the unimaginable. Maybe even call you back to your Egypt. When you are called, do you answer, “Here am I, Lord?” Or after learning what may be required, do you plead as Moses did, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send”? (My emphasis in italics.) I, too, am faced with ‘going around the mountain’ again, re-experiencing challenges that I thought were past. I am not sure that I want to go there again.

That thought causes me to ask myself, how well am I listening to God? Will I argue as Moses did and merit God’s anger? For like a parent instructing an unruly child or like a boss chastising an uninspired employee, God had to command Moses – “Now you shall speak; I will teach you what you shall do; And you shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs.” (My emphasis in italics.) Whew! God could not be clearer than that. And like Moses, I would have shut my mouth at that point and did what I was told. But do I believe that God is with me now, and am I ready to do His bidding?

Luke 17. Jesus loves me. Many Scriptures describe that unfathomable love. However, Jesus also instructed His disciples through parables and analysis of events in their journeys, often employing negatives or consequences of wrong thinking. For example, Jesus warned that judgment awaited false teachers and those who harbor unforgiveness. He debunked discrimination by healing other people hated by the Jews. He tied faith and duty to humility, refuting any expectation for reward and honor. Jesus also warned that the coming of the Son of Man will be a stark reality of judgment.

If I take on these tasks that God has called me to complete, am I ready to have my biases and opinions challenged? Christ will have no other way than to follow Him precisely as He commands. Can I do so wholeheartedly? Thankfully, I am assured that I am not alone in this. I have the words of Christ, His compassion and understanding, and His Holy Spirit guiding me into all truth. He will keep me focused and clear out the old man thoughts and behaviors. Christ will create a clean heart in me.

Psalm 88. If the Old and New Testament Scriptures in today’s reading end with Heman’s song in Psalm 88, I might faulter in my hope that all will be well with my soul. Let’s say that I genuinely want to follow God’s plan even if the plan takes me back to my Egypt. I am not so foolish to think that the road will be smooth or that I will not be brought through challenging experiences. ‘This isn’t my first rodeo,’ as my Texas buddies would say. Yet, Heman’s laments point out that the darkness can grow so deep as to nearly snuff out the light. He even asks God, “Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Shall Your wonders be known in the dark?”

What I know about this depth of despair is the same as Heman proclaims. But my hope is not shattered by the circumstances of past, present, or future tragedy. Rather, I confess my faith in God’s saving goodness. I cry out with Heman, “O Lord, God of my salvation…”

I recently watched a movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ. Most of the movie was dark and disparaging. The Christians were being fed to the lions in Nero’s “circus.” Paul was in prison, often beaten or whipped. Some Christians were led into taking revenge, killing Roamn soldiers. Even the muted lighting during most of the movie indicated despair, hiding, and fearfulness. Yet, the Apostle Paul interjects truths into that darkness, such as, “If Christ had not risen from the dead, then our preaching is useless, and so is our faith.” My favorite line from the movie spoken by Paul is this: “It is Christ himself that looks upon you and shatters your defenses and, in that moment, you will understand that you are completely known by God…and you are completely loved. I will pray that moment comes to you.”

Prayer. Whatever works created beforehand that I shall walk through, I pray to be completely known by You, my God. Your love, Your presence, and Your promises are all that matters. That is my declaration of trust and faith in knowing Your goodness. Calm my soul, give me the courage to continue this journey with You here on earth. I wait for You, my Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.

jansuwilkinson

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Genesis 24-26; Luke 7; Psalm 6

Genesis 24:12-15 “Then he said, ‘O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold here I stand by the well of water…let her be the one You have appointed… And it happened, before he had finished speaking that behold…the young woman was very beautiful…” Genesis 24:26 “Then the servant bowed down his head and worshiped the Lord. And he said, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and truth toward my master.'”

Prayer is one way we talk with God. And if we doubt His ear, listen to the words of Abraham’s servant. Even before He had finished asking God to give him success in his task to find a wife for Isaac, God sent Rebekah to the servant just as requested in every detail.

Some ask, ‘but why do we have to pray?’ Deliverance and mercy are not a given. Psalm 7:3-5 says, “O Lord my God, if I have done this: If there is iniquity in my hands, If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me, Or have plundered my enemy without cause; Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me; Yes, let him trample my life to the earth, And lay my honor in the dust.” Given the many times I fail at being kind, forgiving, and humble, I cannot be sure that I deserve divine help. Getting my heart attitude right is a pre-requisite in asking for God’s intervention. Psalm 7:9-10. “Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, But establish the just; For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds. My defense is of God, Who saves the upright in heart.”

Therefore, my faith in God’s deliverance cannot depend on my belief in my own goodness or good works. For even I do not always understand my own heart, what motivates me to speak or be silent, or what defenses I employ to salvage my dignity or get my way. Some days, loving God and doing right seem so clear, so pure, so easy. Other days, I am astounded at the little uglies that ooze out of small wounds still festering in my soul. What can I do about this? Luke tells a story about a certain centurion servant who was not a Hebrew, but who asked Jesus to heal his beloved servant. However, the centurion did not want Jesus to even enter his home. The man said, “Therefore, I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.” Being honest and open with God when I pray strips away the falsehood of self-righteousness.

Is this why I doubt my prayers are heard? Yes, and more to the point, I have sinned. Is my self-worth getting in the way of faith? Probably, though I will never be good enough to have earned the right to sit and talk to Jesus. Then is it possible to have faith in God’s goodness without being worthy? Yes, in fact, this is the Gospel. This sacrificial love from Christ given to me; His eyes of forgiveness looking tenderly at me; His powerful touch of healing and comfort reaching to the core of my needs and disregarding my inadequacy. Unconditional love because under no condition could I be good enough to deserve His love.

I wish I could promise Him that I will be the saint He has called me to be. Instead, I pray that He will keep making all things work together for my good, for I love God, and I believe He has called me according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 personalized for me). And since Christ justifies and intercedes for me, then no one can separate me from His love.

He listens to me then, not because of what I do, but because He loves me. Can you believe that simple childhood song, “Jesus loves me” is still the foundation of all that matters in this world? How much He loves me is my assurance in answered prayer.

Dear Lord Jesus,

You alone know my brokenness and my concerns. I lay them all at Your feet. You gift me strength and courage. You comfort me with peace that passes all understanding. You say that I am Yours. And I believe.

Jansuwilkinson

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Jude 1:17-25; Revelation 1-4

Jude 1:20-22 “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garments defiled by the flesh.”

Over 20 years ago, I interviewed before a panel of master therapists and educators who wanted to know why I wanted to become a counselor. All I could think of was, “I want to help others.” How naive – and thankfully, how common a thread this phrase is in what we term ‘the helping field’ of counseling. Back then I found inspiration in a picture that I still occasionally pull out of a desk drawer and study. A sketch of chaos in black and white. The picture depicts multiple individuals, couples, and groupings standing, sitting, fishing, dining, and strolling on this long pier on one side of stormy, tumultuous ocean waves. Bodies in the ocean are sinking, their arms outstretched; mouths gaping, terrified expressions on every face as they claw empty space, crying for help. Most folk on the pier are oblivious to the drowning screams for rescue. One couple is sitting at a cafe table drinking wine; a man is fishing with his back to the crisis; a few people standing on the pier are looking toward the turbulent ocean but with eyes downcast or frowning at one another, deep in contemplation or distracted by arguing. Only a few are trying to save the lost. One is tossing a lifebuoy, and a couple of others are on their knees stretching and calling to those in the deep waters, grabbing at those outstretched hands.

I used to always see myself as one intent on saving the lost. Yet as I study this picture today, I can see myself in many of these other depicted characters. There are times when I just want to relax and avoid getting involved. I am sometimes too focused on my own problems to even notice the needs of others, or I believe that what I am doing is too important to important to take time for helping others. At other times, when I could help, I find myself judging their need as being a consequence of their poor choices. And there are times when I try to help but have no clue what to do or have few resources to offer. I am prone to get discouraged and do nothing, feeling inadequate.

I see myself drowning, too; sometimes just too tired to stay afloat. Jude, however, does not let me off the hook that easily. Sure, if pulling others out of the fire (or these Sunami waves) depends on my strength, wisdom, and even faithfulness, I will see little success in obeying God. Yet Jude instructs us to pray in the Spirit, stay in love with God, and seek His tender mercies. Then our renewed spirits will have prepared our hands and feet to rescue the lost.

Jude 1:24 “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.

So, as this year comes to a close, I am excited once more about the opportunities to serve God and His people. The Father’s mercy and grace propel us to do good works in His name. Praying and praising Him prepares our hearts willing to help, to love, to rescue, and to believe. As we fulfill our purpose in the New Year, let us be thankful for the love of Christ Jesus. And let our hearts be joyful in serving Christ who alone is Lord of all!

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Philippians 3-4; Colossians 1

Can we really relate to the tragedy of others?  Do we have the kind of faith that weathers storms that threaten to blow our preconceived notions about the goodness of God right out of the waters? Some days I think I’m doing all right holding onto the peace of God.  Then calendar reminders of unforgettable dates cause another walk through the tragedy of my own life, the day she died, retracing those steps to bury her ashes in the ocean, the three of us clinging to each other at such times each year…

There is a great hymn with the opening lines: “When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot I have taught myself to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” I’ve read that these lines were penned by Horatio Spafford, a Christian man who was a successful lawyer and loving husband and father to a son and four daughters. Within the span of two years, his son died, then the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of his investments, and a trip meant to bring comfort to his family ended horribly when his four daughters were killed in a collision of ships at sea while traveling with their mother to England.  A telegraph from his wife on that fateful day said, “Saved alone.” Spafford reportedly wrote the poem-prayer on his way to his grieving wife as he crossed the same waters where his four daughters drowned. Where did this strength come from?  His faith and peace were no mere human effort, I know.

For in my own strength, I fall to pieces.  But I, too, look up to my Comforter. In my Lord’s presence, I am held up, trusting that He will rise up and command the storms in my life to be still. Not fearing I am rejected or tossed aside by some apathetic god, but believing the following:

Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.” Further reading revealed that Horatio and his wife, Anna, had three more children, one son who died at the age of four from disease, and two daughters who lived to adulthood. Horatio’s religious views were also persecuted to the point of separating from the Presbyterian Church.  He and Anna then became philanthropists to the people in Jerusalem, and their work continued by others was said to play a critical role in supporting those communities during and after World War I. We cannot know what will come about in God’s kingdom through the tragedies in lives devoted to serving God, but we can be assured that all will be well.

I love the encouraging words from Paul to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things…And the God of peace will be with you.”

Peace to us all.

Janet

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Romans 5:12-8:25

Why should I live? That is the question that came to mind as I read Romans 5-8. Paul writes a theological piece here that on one hand is easy to grasp. “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” Simply paraphrased, we all sin because of Adam and now we can all be saved through Jesus Christ. So why the lengthy discourse? For me, the difficulty lies in understanding the part about walking out our salvation. This concept unlike the gift of eternal life reveals, like shards from a broken mirror, reflected multiple images of me failing miserably at trying to be a good Christian.

My assurance of eternal life is based on the foundation of salvation; that is, Christ’s bearing the weight of our sin, dying on the cross, and being resurrected from death. I am awestruck by God’s overwhelming love for me, so in response to the gift of salvation, I have strived to prove that I am worthy of His love. And I have judged the fervor of my love for Him on the works that I do or fail to do. Yet Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” The many will be made righteous indicates that a Christian depends on God’s help with walking out salvation. Does this mean that I am being made righteous through the one Man, Jesus Christ’s obedience, not my own? It would seem so. Other New Testament texts confirm that doing good works is evidence of our faith, but that these works do not save our immortal souls from death. James 2:18-24 states that we are justified by faith, and at the same time faith is perfected in good works. Likewise, Ephesians 2:8-10 contrasts the gift of salvation with the “good works” that “God prepared beforehand for us to walk in.” There is no contradiction in these texts, for they speak the same truth as Paul, describing a righteousness that saves and a righteousness that is based on the continual sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

I have been taught that good works are related to the time, money, and importance we give to activities for the church, such as supporting missionaries, gathering canned food for the homeless shelter, or buying a toy for the church giveaway during Christmas. Being charitable and helping others in tangible ways are certainly examples of loving others, and I try to do my share. I am finding, however, that even more than the outward signs of charity, my attitude and motivation for good works are important to this salvation walk. My Christ centered spirit knows to cry out to Father God. Yet, this mind and body wars against my spirit. In triggering situations, the righteousness of God is not always evident in my life. I can see this happening, but like a runaway train, I cannot always hit the brakes in time to avoid colliding with the object of my frustration. These words of John the Apostle convict me in these episodes of meanness, impatience, and stinginess. John said, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him,” (I John 3:18, 19).

These episodes are sin. The Apostle James uses strong language to convey the consequences of “full grown” sin. “Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death,” (James 1:14-15). Death in this passage refers to a physical death. How true this is in our lives. We bear the burden of unforgiveness, estrangement, or self-righteousness in the body – headaches, indigestion, tense muscles, high blood pressure, panic attacks, heart problems, etc. Thankfully, I am not given free rein to sin. More often, through humbling situations, being found obviously in error, or getting so out of sorts that even I can recognize the emptiness in all my rationalizations, the Holy Spirit pulls me back and turns me around to face Christ Jesus.

Instead of seeing disgust in the eyes of Jesus, however, I am overwhelmed with the gravity of my soul’s worth to this One who sees me, loves me, and has no intention of leaving me in my miserable state. He reminds me through His Holy Spirit that His perfect love, not my infrequent attempts at good works, is how I am being made righteous. He also gifts me with that same love for others that engenders all forms of charity, forbearance, and outward acts of mercy and grace. And isn’t this why we live?

Dear Lord God, it is here on earth that love is so needed. You have placed us here at this time for that very reason. To be loved by You, and to love others like You do. Help us, Lord, to be obedient to Your word and to walk out our salvation in love.

Janet

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