Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Rocco slowed down as he pulled onto his driveway. He could see the lights on in the kitchen and his sister Emmalyn setting the long table. He heard what sounded like a morning dove and stopped the car. Out of necessity, he had learned to be on guard for things out of place.
“Step out of the truck!” came the voice, not quite deep enough to be a grown man. “Move slowly and keep your hands where we can see them.”
Rocco obeyed and searched the sturdy boughs of the trees over the drive but could see no one. He should have come home earlier before it got dark. He shook his head as he firmly planted his feet on the dirt driveway. He had been in a gang, too, when he was a teenager. He heard one, two, and three soft drops onto the ground but they stayed deliberately out of sight. Next came the clumsy climbing out of the leafy branches. Within seconds came their hearty and jubilant war cry and the soft stings of three-dozen nerf bullets. Rocco threw his head back and laughed as eleven boys with painted faces surrounded him.
“We got you, Rocco!” the littlest one cried.
“Nice work, men!” the two oldest sent high-fives around the group.
“I’m glad to see you training your younger brothers,” Rocco smiled at Adam and Lance. The seventeen year olds stuck out their chests with pride.
The dinner bell rang and they all climbed in the bed of Rocco’s truck. They laughed each time Rocco intentionally hit a pothole.
Hugo, who was seven, jumped on his back as soon as he was out of the cab.
“I shot you!” he shouted.
“You’re a good shot, Hugo,” Rocco encouraged him.
“This is the first time they let me come! I told them since my birthday was last week and I was seven now, it was only fair that I come along.”
“Seven years old is practically a man, after all,” Rocco ruffled Hugo’s black curls as he set him down inside the front door.
“Rocco’s home!” came the squeal from seven-year-old Holly – Hugo’s twin – and eight-year-old Waverly. Rocco picked up both girls, one in each arm.
“Now what trouble have my littlest princesses gotten into today?” he asked.
“We helped Emmalyn make bread this afternoon,” Holly answered.
“Yes, I can see that,” Rocco laughed. “There’s flour in your hair.”
Waverly giggled. “We had some trouble with the mixer.”
Rocco kissed the girls on their heads, set them down, and watched them run back to the kitchen. All of the children stole his heart in their own unique way. Holly and Hugo had been with him since they were four. He had found them wandering around the back roads, along with their triplet, Howie. Howie was sick. They had done their best to help him heal but he only lived three months after coming to the orphanage. It was heartbreaking. Rocco hated the brokenness that existed in the world and hated even more that there was so little he could do about it.
“Buonasera,” Penelope said, coming around the corner.
“Buonsaera, principessa,” Rocco smiled at her and wrapped her in a bear hug. “I am so proud of you, Penelope,” he said.
“What for?” she asked against his chest. She loved the way he always smelled like sunshine and sweet tree bark.
“For how you have grown up to a strong woman full of grace, love, and mercy. You know who you are and I love that about you. That takes great strength.”
She looked up into his kind face. “You really think so?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitating. “You are special. Not all seventeen-year-olds are like that.” He pushed her blonde bangs off her face. Penelope was plain in comparison with Aurora, but there was a beauty that radiated from Penelope’s heart that could not be surpassed. He formally escorted her into the kitchen where everyone was scurrying around to put the last dishes on the table and get to their seats.
“Boys,” Rocco said to Victor and Hugo, “Wait for the ladies to sit before you do.”
“That’s everything,” Emmalyn said as she slid the last pot onto the table. She undid her apron, hung it over her chair, and sat down with a deep sigh. “Raven, Iris, and Juliette helped with dinner tonight,” she said and the other girls sat down, following her example.
“Thank you, girls,” Rocco said as he scooted his chair closer to the table. “It smells heavenly.” He reached his hands out and smiled as everyone joined hands around the table. “Father God,” he prayed. “Thank You for this day and this food. Help us to glorify You in everything we do. Help us to grow closer together and closer to You. Please help us find children who need a place to live. Jesus, thank You for Emmalyn, Adam, Lance, Penelope, Raven, Gareth, Iris, Duncan, Rook, Juliette, Olympia, Bess, Nicole, Corin, Shasta, Eponine, Felicity, Rowan, Leo, Victor, Terra, Waverly, Hugo, and Holly. Thank You for taking us in as Your sons and daughters. In Your name, Lord Jesus, Amen.”
“Amen,” was the chorus around the table and then the feast began.
“What did everyone do today?” Rocco asked.
“The older girls helped me make winter clothes this morning,” Emmalyn began.
“And we baked bread this afternoon,” Waverly reminded him.
“Duncan and Rook let us go with them when they took it to the homeless shelter in town,” Holly said around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
“Oh, did they?” Rocco asked and exchanged a glance with Emmalyn. “That was nice of the boys to take you along. Did you tell them thank you?”
“Thank you!” the girls said in unison.
“What’d you do today?” Iris asked.
“I planted three Rowan trees today, actually.”
“Me?” the ten-year-old asked.
“Yes, you,” Rocco smiled. “They’re still saplings but they’ll grow quickly.”
“Just like me!”
“Just like you,” Emmalyn laughed. “I’ve let out the hem of your pants four times already this year.”
Rowan beat his chest with pride. The rest of dinner passed with laughter. Everyone sat back in his or her seat, fully satisfied. Rocco could not help but notice that there were no leftovers. God always provided exactly enough – like manna from Heaven.
“Bess, would you hand me the bible, please?” he asked. The shy fourteen-year-old obeyed quietly. “Grazi, principessa,” he kissed her forehead when she handed it to him. She bowed her head in respect and went back to her seat. Bess had been with them for two years and rarely spoke. She had only told Emmalyn a little bit of the misfortune that had befallen her thus driving her to the streets. She had no father and that was enough for Rocco to make sure he was especially careful with her. They did not talk much – which was fine with Rocco; he was not a talkative man. He took her horseback riding and she would follow him around his early morning chores. She was wide-eyed, watching and learning from everything around her.
“Who remembers where we left off?” Emmalyn chimed.
Corin, who was twelve, sat up in his chair. “Isaiah just told King Hezekiah that all of his possessions would be taken by the Babylonians one day.”
“And some of his decedents, too,” Nicole, who was thirteen, added.
“Very good,” Rocco encouraged them. “Thank you. That was chapter thirty-nine of Isaiah. We’ll pick right back up with chapter forty. Everyone ready?” They all nodded. Rocco cleared his throat, prayed God would open the ears of their hearts, and began reading from the bible.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Rocco coughed, feeling all the dirt of today stuck in his throat. He took a drink of water. “Adam,” he said and passed the bible to his right. “Will you read, please?”
Adam sat up straighter. Rocco had loved watching him grow over the past ten years. Adam had been the first boy he had taken off the streets. It was a blessing to have watched his life. He had truly become a man. Rocco was proud of him. He cleared his throat and read in a clear, strong voice.
“A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’ You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those who have young.”
Rocco looked up when he heard a sniff across the table from him. Eponine, who was eleven, had her head bowed, but Rocco was sure the tears were coming from her. Rocco had found Eponine on the riverbank when she was just one-year-old.
“Jesus, please hold her in Your arms, close to Your heart,” he prayed sincerely. It had never been easy running an orphanage and he knew it would never become easy. He also knew, however, that it was right. He would not trade the heartache for the entire world because he knew he was making a difference in these children’s lives. If he could care for even one child and teach that child that there was a God in Heaven who loved him or her, then the heartache was worth it.
Adam passed the book to Lance, whom Adam had found unconscious at age thirteen. Lance pushed back his blonde curls and read clearly.
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed Him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way? Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing. To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare Him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A man too pour to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.”
Lance passed the book across the table to Emmalyn. Never having been to school, she read very slowly, despite being twenty-eight years old.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.”
Victor and Leo giggled. “Grasshopper!” one nine-year-old whispered to the other.
“He stretches out the heavens like a canopy; and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” Emmalyn passed the heavy bible back to Rocco.“‘To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Saturday, March 17, 2012
They came to the house and went up stairs to the room where a feast was being laid out for them. The men sat down heavily, tired from walking in the heat. Jesus saw a boy standing in the corner of the room, waiting to wait on them. He was young, full of life, and about to be old enough to be considered a man. Jesus went over to him. He went down on one knee so that He could look straight into the boy’s precious face. He quirked an eyebrow and smiled ever so slightly.
“Does your father know you’re up here?” Jesus asked with a mischievous tone. The boy’s countenance fell at being found out. He dropped his gaze.
“Some of my father’s servants are the same age as I am. I thought I could pretend to be one and be able to see You, Lord.”
Jesus smiled all the more. “And where are your father’s servants?”
“I told them to leave the house for a few hours and that I would serve you and your men,” the boy answered, still with his eyes downcast.
“Why do you want to serve Me?”
The boy raised his head cautiously and found the courage to meet Jesus’ eyes. “Because You are the Messiah,” he said quietly but boldly.
Jesus nodded, proud – not of His name – but of the boy’s faith. He wished His disciples would stop talking about meaningless drivel and learn from this youth.
“What is your name, brave one?”
“Stephen. Do You really think I am brave, Lord?” the boy asked with all the hope in the world waiting on Jesus’ verdict.
“Oh, yes,” Jesus answered strongly, holding Stephen by the arms. “You are brave, you are wise, and most of all, Stephen,” Jesus touched one finger to the boy’s chest, “You have a heart that longs to serve.”
Stephen’s young heart soared with pride and joy. The Messiah had said his name! The Messiah had called him brave! His friends could call him a coward but he would not listen to them anymore because if the Messiah had called him brave, he was brave.
“I can serve You, then?” Stephen asked, elated.
Jesus kissed his forehead. “Tonight I must do the serving because tonight is My last night with My brothers, My last night with My enemy.” Jesus saw Stephen’s face fall again. “But one day, Stephen,” Jesus lifted his head to look in his eyes, “You will serve Me in a great way. On that day, remember what I told you. Stephen, you are brave. And I will see you soon.” Jesus winked at the boy and sent him on his way.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Sunday, January 29, 2012
God did something really cool in small group tonight. It was one of those times when God shows up and something so beautiful happens that you can’t even talk or do anything but bask in His glory and might and love. His presence was tangible. He stirred in our hearts so we could feel the fluttering of angel wings. He opened up the eyes of our hearts just a little bit more so that we could grasp a tiny bit of what His love for us looks like and the only appropriate response is awe-filled tears of joy and humility. He loves me? Oh, yes, dear one, He loves you.
Our leader spoke tonight about Noah’s dad, Lamech. This story can be found in Exodus chapter 5. Lamech named his son Noah because it means peace and rest. Lamech thought Noah would be the one to deliver them all from the wickedness of the world. Lamech wanted Noah to be Jesus, the deliverer. As we all know, that didn’t happen. God unleashed His righteous judgment on the earth by sending a flood.
Our first discussion question asked us what it was we need rest from. It could be a sin struggle, a burden, a hurt, or a responsibility. Most of the girls were quick to say they needed rest from school, from the business and stress of every day life.
The next question asked us how we deal with these needs for rest. Most of the answers were to ignore it. That would not fix anything or give true peace. In fact, the girls admitted that it only made their work load seem more daunting, like a dark cloud constantly hanging over them.
Question three asked us what emotions stir up in us when we think about God’s judgment. Very quickly, we veered on to the topic of our sin, of condemnation, of Heaven and Hell, of the end times, of judgment day.
“What if I do something that sends me to Hell? What if I do something wrong? I’m so afraid. I imagine Hell like that feeling of knowing you’re falling but not being able to do anything about it forever. I am so afraid. I have so many doubts! What if I do something that sends me to Hell?”
I am here on this earth to declare exactly two things: that Jesus is the one, true, living God, and that He loves you.
That voice of accusation you hear in your head, that’s the devil. He’s lying to you. He wants you to believe that God couldn’t possibly love you. How God hates it when Satan tells you that lie! Can’t you see? Satan whispers that God doesn’t love you, that He will punish you, but Satan has no physical evidence to back up that theory. On the other hand, God says, “I love you,” and He does have actions to prove that! He sent Jesus to die on the cross, He came to propose to you, to bring you back, to rescue you. The crucifixion is the grandest public display of affection anyone could ever give you! “This is how far I will go for you!” Jesus is crying out as He hangs there. “I will cross the universe for you! I will travel through this world for you! I will put my life on the line. I will throw myself over top of you and cover you so the whip will fall on My back instead of yours. I will be tortured and I will do it with a smile in My heart because I’m thinking of you. I’m seeing your face in My mind’s eye and praising God because you and I will get to spend eternity together. Oh, My beloved. I will go through Hell for you. I will risk your rejection for the chance at holding you in My arms…these arms that placed the moon into the sky…for you…these hands that molded the stars…for you…”
Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to punish you. Jesus took all the punishment. He stands before you and declares that He has taken the punishment and that no sin can be held against you. Jesus stands in front of you and stretches out his arms, blocking you, shielding you from any punishment because He takes it on Himself. Romans 8:1 declares there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Colossians 1:22 says, "But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you HOLY in His sight, WITHOUT BLEMISH and FREE from accusation."
You are PURE. You are BLAMELESS because of Jesus' death. God does not punish you, ever. There will be natural consequences for your actions but it is not punishment from God. When God looks at you, He sees you walking down the aisle, clothed in a white wedding gown, radiating beauty. When He hung on that cross, He was thinking about that moment: you, walking down the aisle to Him, pure as can be. He faced death and He did so with joy because He knew that He'd get to spend eternity with YOU, His bride, His beloved. You are the princess of the Prince of Peace. He will satisfy all your needs. He will overwhelm you with His love. Oh, how He delights in you!
Zephaniah 3:14-17 says this, "Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, 'Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.'"
And so, we lift the cross, lift it high, lift it high. That is where we fix our eyes – on the love Jesus poured out. For His love is higher than the mountains we face, His love is stronger than the power of the grave. On and on and on it goes! It overwhelms and satisfies my soul! His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me…His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me!
It is not rest from schoolwork we need. It is rest from guilt and condemnation. And who better to give us that rest than the Prince of peace, Jesus?
Jesus, help me come to You first and only with my needs. You are my Prince of Peace. Who would be better to go to than You?