Monday, April 28, 2014

Josephine Faith Frost Marcucci: May 14, 1942 - April 26, 2014

We lost my big sister, Jodi, on Saturday morning. I want to thank all of you who have been praying for her. The good news is that she went in her sleep at home, free from pain, with her husband, Ed, her daughter, Gina, and Gina’s husband, Brian, at her side. That was how she wanted it it be. I’m so thankful to our gracious God that she did not suffer.

Jodi was an amazing woman who had a large presence. She was a supreme wife and mother, and was certainly the matriarch of our extended family. She will be remembered for raising four wonderful children, for encouraging and loving her 14 grandchildren, and for entertaining all of us with her hysterical stories. Being with Jodi was like being in the middle of an I Love Lucy episode! She made everything more fun! She was extremely bright and certainly opinionated (that is a Frost family trait). Jodi lived out loud, and she truly leaves a void in our lives!

Don and I will be flying back to Denver on Wednesday for her services on Thursday. We will return home late Thursday night. I would covet your prayers for strength and comfort for all the family. I am beyond exhausted, with a lingering cough that keeps me awake. I desperately need rest! I am praying that all of the Marcucci family would be drawn closer to God and would feel His physical presence with them. May Jesus be glorified by every word spoken.

I will return to begin our study of Hebrews next week.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jodi, single file. . .

I have missed being here in the mornings! I recently returned from Denver, where I spent my spring break with my eldest sister, Jodi. Many of you have been praying for her for the past three years as she has been fighting multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, and I’m so very grateful for that prayer support for her. She was told about four weeks ago that she has 4-6 weeks to live, because she has run out of chemo options, and her platelet and red blood cell counts are critically low. That news was delivered while our sister, Susie (sister #2 of 4), was visiting Jodi from Florida on her spring break. It was devastating!

Jodi’s children and grandchildren all descended on Denver to celebrate Jodi, and they had a very special reunion that affirmed Jodi’s place as the matriarch of the Marcucci clan (the reality is that she is also the matriarch of the entire extended Frost clan, my family). What a blessing it was for all of them to be together, laughing and crying as they shared stories of Jodi and thanked her for her impact in their lives. A week after they all departed, I arrived for a very special, quiet five-day visit with Jodi, and my brother-in-law, Ed, that was sprinkled with a few visits from close friends of Jodi, who arrived to say good-bye and bless her.

I have to say that Jodi and Ed are making this so easy for everyone who visits or calls. They are very open and frank about what is happening, and, as always, they maintain their sense of humor. Yesterday, I spoke with Jodi and she had just been told by her doctor that there is really no further treatments for her, although they will continue the platelet and red blood cell transfusions that are just keeping her alive, until she is ready to end them (at some point they will stop working, too). Thankfully, she is in no pain! God is gracious and merciful.

So, I have obviously been continuously praying for Jodi and thinking about her and reflecting on where she is right now. And while reading for the Bible study I am doing at my church, Stronger by Angela Thomas, the LORD gave me some insight into this period for Jodi. Angela Thomas was the speaker at our Women’s Retreat at the end of March, and her focus there and in this study is that on this journey between initial salvation, when we come to Christ, and when we finally arrive at our destination, eternity with Him, God is ALWAYS with us, giving us His presence and strength to make the pilgrimage.

The study last week specifically looked at how God strengthens us in the struggles common to all: with loneliness, temptation, stress, doubt, and in finding direction for our lives. I was particularly struck by Angela’s teaching on loneliness in light of Jodi’s battle. She quotes Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher of the 19th century on this subject:

No Believer traverses all the road to heaven in company. There must be lonely spots here and there, though the greater part of our heavenly pilgrimage is made cheerful by the society of fellow travelers. 

Christ’s sheep love to travel in flocks. [Isn’t that the truth??] We take sweet counsel together and walk to the House of God in company. Yet somewhere or other on the road, every Christian will find narrow paths and close places where pilgrims must march in single file. - Charles Spurgeon

This image of walking in single file jumped out at me! And I thought of Jodi. Even though she has been surrounded by family and friends, and sweet Ed is right by her side at all times, this final journey is being made in single file. She is the only one in the room doing the dying. We can’t do that with her. And this has been pretty much true of the past three years of her life. The day after she learned she had multiple myeloma, she received a phone call from her eldest daughter informing her that her youngest son, Justin, had died in bed of sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 35. Justin left two five-yr-old twin boys, a three-yr-old son, and his wife, Stephanie, was pregnant with their fourth, a girl.

When Jodi received this devastating double-punch of news within 24 hours, she and Ed were in Rome alone on a mission. She had no friends or family with her! They flew home as soon as they could, and after Justin’s funeral, the treatment for cancer began. She entered a hospital in Chicago (where her third child, Jared, was a resident doctor), and spent that entire summer of 2011 in isolation during her stem cell transplant. While she lay in that hospital, her second son, Jenner, who was living just five minutes away from her in Denver, moved with his family (five of her grandchildren) to Florida for a job! So, when she returned to Denver, she had lost the close contact of that part of her family. So many losses, so much to deal with - and all of that in single file.

I am so grateful that even in our single file moments, God NEVER leaves us. And in this final part of the journey, He promises to be right there, bringing us home to the unique place He has planned for us in Heaven!

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 NLT)

Please keep praying! I’m not giving up on a miracle yet! :) Next week we will begin the Book of Hebrews. There is so much to bless us in this book!  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Galatians 6:14-18 Boasting in the cross

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. 

From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen. (Galatians 6:14-18 NIV)

“Are you saved?” That question used to really tick me off! Even as a new believer. I found it exclusive, and, therefore, offensive. I thought it sounded like, “Are you in our special, members-only club?” But if a Christian is “boasting” about being saved, they are NOT boasting in themselves, but in the cross of Christ. We did NOTHING to deserve salvation, as the Bible makes abundantly clear:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 NIV) 

All of us have become like one who is unclean,

    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

    and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

 “No one is righteous—

    not even one.   
No one is truly wise;

    no one is seeking God.   
All have turned away;

    all have become useless.

No one does good,

    not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12 NLT)

That’s the bad news. And as my pastor, J.P. Jones always says, “You’ve gotta know the bad news before you know the good news.” What’s the good news? God sent His Son, Jesus to die in our place that we might be saved by believing in Him and the finished work of the cross. He saved us by grace. 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

Yesterday I was listening to Christian talk radio while driving to a meeting and heard a woman ask Greg Laurie how to answer the questions a friend had asked her. Her friend thought it was not fair that God would allow someone to live a life full of sin and self-indulgence, and then on his death bed receive Christ and still go to heaven. She just thought that could not be fair. If a Christian lives his entire life trusting and following God, how is that fair that someone gets to go to heaven at the eleventh hour???

Of course, I was in my car shouting the answer immediately, but I loved what Greg Laurie had to say about it. He immediately refuted the premise of her question by saying that deathbed confessions are more rare than people imagine. Someone who has lived their entire life turning away from God, has a hardened heart that is most likely NOT going to change at the last minute. However, because God is such a gracious and merciful God, sometimes that happens. He spoke about the thief on the cross, who was told, when he asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom, “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

Then Greg reminded the woman that what we DON’T want from God is “fair!” Because, if we were to get what is fair or required by justice, it would be the eternal death penalty! He explained the old definitions of justice, mercy, and grace.

Justice is getting what we deserve.

Mercy is NOT getting what we deserve.

Grace is getting what we DON’T deserve!

I’ll take grace every day! I can’t boast in myself or what I have done, but I will gladly boast in the cross of Christ - because that is where my salvation was accomplished and my eternal destiny determined. Thank you, LORD!!!  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Galatians 6:11-16 I’ll say it again. . .

Despite what my daughters might think about the aging of their mother, repeating oneself is NOT just a sign of senility! Repetition is a device used for emphasis and to indicate the importance of something. It is used throughout the Bible when a principle needs to be brought home. When Jesus said, “Verily, verily. . .” He was not just being redundant. He was indicating that what He was saying was of the utmost importance and the listeners had better pay attention.

Repetition is used in Isaiah 6, when the seraphim worship and declare who God is:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

    the whole earth is full of his glory.” 
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5)

This is the only trinitarian description of God. He is not called, “love, love, love” or “faithful, faithful, faithful.” While we cannot divide the nature of God into quantifiable separate qualities, I believe the seraphim's description is repeated because the LORD’s holiness trumps even the love. Regardless of what John Lennon wrote, love is NOT all we need in our God. God is not some hippie entity meditating on a hill saying, “Love ya, man!”

Isaiah wanted to impress upon us the absolute holiness of God which cannot be approached by sinful man. God’s love comes from a position of holiness. His mercy, grace, and justice flow from His holiness. Because He alone is holy, and we are not, He planned for our redemption from the beginning. So, to get our attention, the device of repetition expands our vision of God, and it caused Isaiah to see his own sinfulness and utter unworthiness.

So, what does that have to do with Galatians? Well, we are coming the end of this letter. And Paul is determined to tell the Galatians, and us, once more that it is all about grace:

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 

Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.  Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.  Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:11-16 NIV)

I have to give you Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of verses 12-15:

These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible! (The Message)

Paul reminds his readers that the Judaizers do NOT care about the spiritual well-being of the Galatians. They are just trying to win converts to their side. They don’t even keep the laws they are trying to impose on the Galatians. They pick and choose the laws they want to obey. [Hmm... sounds like us! We’ll follow the tithing to the penny, but that one about no premarital sex, that “fornication” law? Surely that is archaic and doesn’t apply to me! That’s for teenagers!]

So, at the risk of repeating myself, Paul was all about grace! He wasn’t about to sit still and allow the Galatians to be sidetracked by legalism. I think this topic needs one more go around. More on grace next time! :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Galatians 6:7-10 A bounteous harvest at just the right time!

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.  Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.  So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10 NLT)

These words are so familiar: you reap what you sow! Haven’t we all heard them or said them? In the current context of my sister Jodi’s condition, and having just come from a wonderful Women’s Retreat weekend, I’m finding some new meaning in these verses. The Bible tells us that we have been placed on Earth for a divine purpose. God has a plan for each of us, and it comes with a “use by” date.

 We are on a journey to our eternal home, and our goal is to arrive there to receive a “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If we have spent our lives focused on our own happiness, pleasure, fame, fortune, ALL of it will be left behind in a heap to be destroyed. But if our life has been about God’s plan and purpose for us, we will have an eternal harvest. The key is perseverance! Note the phrase in verse 9: “...if we don’t give up.”

Jodi has been surrounded this past week by her entire family who flew in to Denver to celebrate her. As I was in the mountains this weekend with Emmy and baby Georgia, the LORD impressed upon me the importance of the legacy we leave. Jodi is even now reaping a harvest of blessing in her family. She has such an amazing abundance in her children, their spouses, and in her MANY grandchildren - 14 natural and 6 married in).

While Emmy and I were standing together during worship, I was holding Georgia, our newest grandchild, and I just thanked God that the strong legacy of faith in Christ is being passed down to the new generations, due to the prayer warriors of generations who went before us. I leaned over and told Emmy, “In twenty years, when you are at retreat, singing praises with Penelope and Georgia, I want you to think about how much it meant to me to be at retreats with my girls.”

God is not mocked! Those who sow to discord and strife, will reap a harvest of bitterness and destruction. Those who sow to self will reap disaster. But those who continue to walk in the grace of God - those who, by HIS power, and strength, walk in the good works He has prepared for us - will reap to eternal life.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)

Walking in the Spirit will be walking in those good works, listening to His voice through prayer and the study of His Word. If we cling to, abide in Him, we will be able to walk the distance. We will reach the end of our journey to our eternal home with a harvest of abundance! Help us, LORD, to keep our eyes on You alone and to keep on walking, so that when we leave this earth, the harvest left behind for our loved ones will be to Your glory and for their eternal good. Amen!