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Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day: Saints or Sinners?

Have you ever wondered what St. Patrick’s Day is all about? What are we celebrating? Who was St. Patrick anyway, and why was he made a “saint”? And what does his “sainthood” have to do with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: parties, costumes, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, boozing it up, etc.?

What is “sainthood” all about? The term “saint” carries both admiration and stigmatization. We sometimes think of a “saint” as someone who is above reproach, but not quite human. Not someone you can tell a joke to, or pat on the back, or engage in conversation about fleshly struggles we are experiencing. A saint is thought of as someone who can’t be tempted to do something sinful, like you and I may be. But is that what being a saint really means?

The Catholic Church has granted “sainthood” to more than 10,000 former inhabitants of planet earth. Usually it happens after the person is dead, when he or she can’t be here to enjoy the honor accorded to them. Some of the saints have universal Catholic acclaim and others have only locally ascribed “sainthood”. One of those 10,000+ saints has been granted a memorial day celebrated all over the western world – St. Patrick of Ireland, who is perhaps the most well-known of all the officially recognized saints.

Though St. Patrick’s Day is usually associated with and celebrated by those of Irish descent,  St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland was born in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 387; he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland  March 17, 493 at age 106. His father, Calphurnius, was a member of a high ranking Roman family, and his mother, Conchessa, was a near-relative of St. Martin of Tours. So it appears that Patrick came from a family of saints and sinners, just like you and me.

At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim, Ireland, where for six years he tended his slave-master’s flocks. In his “Confessio” (his confession of faith, written in his old age) Patrick relates how this captivity put him in a place where he had time to realize his own sinfulness and his need for a relationship with God. This time in slavery led to his spiritual re-birth. His testimony is well worth the time to read it.

After a series of visions, dreams, escape from his captors, deliverance from roughneck sailors, and finally a return to his family, Patrick received a call from God through a vision, to return to Ireland to minister to the Irish people. He was then in his mid-twenties. Response to this call was the beginning of the rest of his life. Even though other missionaries had sought to Christianize Ireland, Patrick is credited with converting Ireland from pagan Druid demon worship to Christianity, almost single-handedly.  He was known as a gentle, soft-spoken man whose life was marked by long periods of prayer and fasting; out of that committed lifestyle was born a powerful force against the kingdom of spiritual darkness in pre-Christian Ireland. His “Confessio” summarizes his life and his beliefs.

There is much myth surrounding St. Patrick that has grown up over the centuries, such as his driving the snakes out of Ireland. But if snakes and scorpions are symbols of demonic spirits, as in Luke 10:19, then he indeed drove the snakes out of Ireland.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”

The promise in this verse was evidenced in St. Patrick’s life: he was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids and other enemies of the Faith. No fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives; on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains and sentenced to death. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by God.

Saint Patrick’s day was made an official feast day in the Catholic tradition in the early seventeenth century, but has gradually become a celebration of Irish culture in general. That which started out as a commemoration of the life of a saint, has devolved into a cultural celebration of mere “sinners”.

Even if St. Patrick had not received the “sainthood nod” from the Catholic Church, he would have still been a saint in God’s eyes; as is every Spirit-born, regenerated believer in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

In all of his New Testament writings, the apostle Paul refers to followers of Christ as “saints”. There are at least 45 references in the NT to the “saints”: Luke’s book of Acts, John’s book of Revelation, and each of Paul’s letters – all refer to God’s people as “saints”. If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, God considers you a “saint”.

Does this mean that we as saints never sin, never do anything wrong? No. Even the 10,000 “saints” of the Catholic Church were not perfect people. St. Patrick referred to himself as “a sinner . . . the least of all believers”.

We are not yet perfect “saints”. However, the Biblical designation of believers in Christ as “saints” sets a standard for us to live up to. Even though we still may sin and still occasionally do sin, we should not refer to ourselves as “sinners”, nor intentionally engage in sin – for this degrades what Jesus accomplished on the cross by dying to set us free. “Sinner” is not how God views His blood-bought children.

As Gal. 4:6-7 says:

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

Perhaps we should each view ourselves as St. Marcy, St. Mike, St. Roland, St. Bruce, St. Susan, St. whoever you are – members of God’s family, called to be “saints”, who re-present our Heavenly Father as we pass through life here on earth.

I hope this gives you something to think about today. And, oh, yes, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

©2012, Marcy Alves

re-posted 2013

Related Post:

St. Patrick Was a Protestant!!


Looking for Love?

“Single man looking for a chance at love with a faithful woman.”

This post appeared with a picture of a handsome young man in a uniform on an ad that popped up on one of my free email sites. I don’t know if it was just a come-on for an eager, available and lonely woman, or if it was a sincere search. But it started me thinking.

No, I’m not shopping for a new man; I already have a really great husband – a faithful best friend.

But I couldn’t help but wonder how many people today, both men and women, could identify with that ad? How many wish they had a faithful woman or a faithful man, a faithful wife or husband, even a faithful friend to come alongside them – to stand with them in difficult times.

And how many will be drawn in by such an ad, and will set out on a journey that may leave them even more lonely and disappointed than they were before?

The themes of love and faithfulness shifted in my thoughts from the world of romance to the realm of the spiritual. I thought of an ad that God might place on one of these email sites:

“Awesome God looking for a chance at love with a faithful woman or a faithful man.”


“Faithful God looking for a chance to demonstrate His love to those who are searching for a loving, faithful relationship.”

While not worded like the two preceding posts, such ads have appeared in a very special book; it’s the Bible and it is full of ads from God. Here are some of those God-posts:

Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”  (ESV)

Deut. 7:9 “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations . . .” (ESV)

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  (NRSV)

Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ . . .  and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me. (NRSV)

1 John 3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (NIV)

Anyone who responds to these God-posts will discover the One who is faithful to show His love to all who open up to His offer of a loving relationship. He will be there with you in those difficult time when no one else seems to hear your unspoken cries for help or understanding.

The Lord has said:

Heb. 13:5 “ I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Joshua 1:5   “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

How about you? Are you looking for someone who will be faithful to you and love you? It’s the cry of the human heart – and God is waiting to answer that call from your heart to His.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Photo by Mikhail Nekrasov/

Vegetable Garden Blues

Has your garden failed to produce after hours of labor: preparing the soil, planting, watering, hoeing, and weeding? Join my 2012 garden club and we can weep together.

I don’t know what was different this year from past years. My garden was rototilled and fertilized with organic fertilizer. Plants and seeds were purchased from the same farm store I use every year; planted about the same time (early-June).

The garden was watered when it didn’t rain, weeded and hoed semi-faithfully, and prayed-over a lot. There is usually a good return by now from some of my vegetable plants; so far this season – zilch.

My garden has been attacked by “critters”(a porcupine, deer, and a groundhog), bugs (some to eat the plants and others to eat the bugs that eat the plants) and weeds. I fought bravely to protect the garden, erected a makeshift fence, prepared and sprayed a natural bug killer, planted marigolds on the edges, spread critter repellent around the perimeter of the garden, and finally set a humane critter-trap – all to no avail (except for the trapped porcupine).

A garden takes lots of work – especially organic gardens. And some years it takes more work than others.

Working in the garden this year made me think about the Master Gardener – the one who works the garden of our hearts. He must have some fairly unproductive years, too. Mostly due to the condition of the soil.

First He has to prepare the soil: at just the right time, His plow-cuts the hardened ground and loosens it up so that it can receive the fertilizer and the seeds. The preparation of the soil can take years, depending on what has formed the ground of our lives – it’s usually a mixture of our life experiences, the deposits in our hearts from human relationships, personal encounters, and “stuff” that happens to us.

Then comes the fertilizer – which, strangely, is made from those same life experiences.  Good times and bad times; successes and failures; joys and sorrows; fulfilled dreams and disappointments, which God turns into compost when we commit them into His hands; aged, decayed, rotted things that He uses to enrich the soil, getting the most out of the mixture to produce the best fruit in us.

This is what is referred to in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Seeds are scattered into the soil through other people, things we read, view, and listen to; and in those silent thoughts relayed to us from the mind of the Master Gardener as we learn to be still and listen for His voice.

Then the Holy Spirit draws up water from the well inside us that never runs dry and irrigates our garden, causing the seeds to germinate. As the plants begin to pop up through the soil, the Son shines His light on them and over time fruit begins to form.

It’s all His work, not ours – until the weeds, bugs and critters appear in the garden He’s cultivating. It’s then that we participate in the work. The soil of the fallen human nature will bring forth all kinds of weeds, briars and creeping vines which have to be uprooted.

The easiest to remove are the vine plants; they twist and curl themselves around us and strangle or suck life from us if they are not caught early on. Their roots are not very deep, but it requires time to untangle them. They are like the thorny plants mentioned in Jesus’ parable about the seed and the soil in Matthew chapter 13 – which choke out the produce that has begun to grow. Just like our daily irritations and concerns which often choke out the spirit-fruit in the garden of our hearts.

Other weeds in my backyard garden are easily removed, having only shallow, surface roots. But there are a couple different kinds of weeds which have deep, thick roots, often 4 or 5 inches long. I have to dig them out with a trowel. If I don’t, the weeds keep growing back.

In our heart-soil, there are also weed roots that have been growing for a long time; they penetrate very deeply into our soil. Past hurts often leave deep wounds into which these roots bury themselves. Un-forgiveness toward others, ourselves, and God, causes those weeds to grow and keep coming back.

We often need help from our Master Gardener and fellow believers to help us dig out these deeply imbedded roots. If we don’t get rid of them, not only will they inhibit our spiritual growth, but will cause problems for others around us.

Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

And then, the bugs and critters that invade our spirit-garden, like the “birds of the air” in Matt. 13:4, swoop into the garden of our hearts and snatch away the seed, which the parable in Luke 8:11 defines as “the word of God”.  Jesus defines those “birds” as “the evil one” (Matt. 13:19) or “Satan” (Mark 4:15). These demonic thoughts from the spirit-world attempt to destroy the spiritual seed that is germinating in us. It’s important to hold onto the word of God as it comes to us in its various forms – letting it nourish our souls.

There is a contrast in Galatians 5 between the garden left to itself and the one that is cultivated by the Master Gardner, Jesus:

  • Gal. 5:19-21: the produce of the flesh:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

  • Gal. 5:22- 23: the fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

My prayer for those who want to live a life full of spiritual fruit (and for myself) is found in Philippians 1:9-11:

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

How’s your garden doing? Need help from the Master Gardener? He’s just a prayer and a surrender away.

©2012, Marcy Alves

Thoughts on Motherhood: How It Really Is

There are times when I run across something that has been forwarded (and forwarded, and forwarded, and forwarded) to me in an email that is a “keeper”.  I save them for future use. Sometimes I don’t know who originated it or who wrote the piece being forwarded. The Evolution of Motherhood is such a piece. I do not take any credit for it, except to have the sense of humor to enjoy it, the ability to recognize “truth” when I see it, and the “thoughtfulness” to share it with my readers. Let me know if there is a resonating chuckle of recognition out there – especially if you are a mother. 

The Evolution of Motherhood

by ??

Yes, parenthood changes everything. But parenthood also changes with each baby. Here are some of the ways having a second and third child differs from having your first:

 Your Clothes

  • 1st baby: You begin wearing maternity clothes as soon as your OB/GYN confirms your pregnancy.
  • 2nd baby: You wear your regular clothes for as long as possible.
  • 3rd baby: Your maternity clothes ARE your regular clothes.

The Baby’s Name

  • 1st baby: You pore over baby-name books and practice pronouncing and writing combinations of all your favorites.  You check out the meaning of the names.
  • 2nd baby: You name it after your mom or dad or favorite uncle or great aunt.
  • 3rd baby: You hear a name on the 11:00 news and it sounds kind of nice.

Preparing for the Birth

  • 1st baby: You practice your breathing religiously.
  • 2nd baby: You don’t bother practicing because you remember that last time, breathing didn’t do a thing.
  • 3rd baby: You ask for an epidural in your 8th month.

The Layette

  • 1st baby: You pre-wash your newborn’s clothes, color-coordinate them, and fold them neatly in the baby’s little bureau.
  • 2nd baby: You check to make sure that the clothes are clean and discard only the ones with the darkest stains.
  • 3rd baby: Baby boys can wear pink, can’t they?


  • 1st baby: At the first sign of distress – a whimper, a frown – you pick up the baby.
  • 2nd baby: You pick the baby up when her wails threaten to wake your firstborn.
  • 3rd baby: You teach your 3-year-old how to rewind the mechanical swing.


  • 1st baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics, Baby Swing, and Baby Story Hour.
  • 2nd baby: You take your infant to the park.
  • 3rd baby: You take your infant to the supermarket and the dry cleaner.

Going Out

  • 1st baby: The first time you leave your baby with a sitter, you call home 5 times.
  • 2nd baby: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to leave a number where you can be reached.
  • 3rd baby: You leave instructions for the sitter to call only if she sees blood.

At Home

  • 1st baby: You spend a good bit of every day just gazing at the baby.
  • 2nd baby: You spend a bit of every day watching to be sure your older child isn’t squeezing, poking, or hitting the baby.
  • 3rd baby: You realize little children love to watch TV – you finally get some free time.

Marcy’s ending note: There are just some times in life that you have to learn to laugh, and with motherhood those times are continuous. The longest laugh is when seeing your child take off on her own, with her accumulated “stuff”– followed immediately by a good cry in her empty room.

How’s motherhood treating you? Are you surviving or enjoying every moment? (Well, most of them.)

©2012, Marcy Alves

Embracing the Mess by Cathy Moryc Recine « Muse In The Valley…

When the Rocks Cry Out

Does anybody remember the “pet rock”? It came in a gift box, sometimes with straw for the rock to “sleep” on. They hit the market in 1975, lasted for 6 months and 1.5 million of them were  sold. It was in the ridiculous waste of money category. It just sat there and did nothing.

Earlier this week a friend dropped by with her two- year-old granddaughter and a frozen chicken pot-pie. She asked to use my micro to heat up a meal for the child, because the electricity was off at her house.

If you have raised a two-year old, you know they are very curious. My friend’s granddaughter is no exception – pick this up, touch that, throw that down to see if it bounces. You know the routine. And my house is definitely not “child-proof.”  This cute little curmudgeon happened to pick up a rock that rested on an antique green chest, located under my dining room window. No, she didn’t throw the rock at the window. She responded to my authoritative command and brought the rock to me. It’s not a “pet rock” – just something I use for a paper weight.

As I retrieved the rock from her tiny hands, I recalled something from my Scripture reading of the last week. It had to do with a special rock.

In the Old Testament book of Joshua there is an interesting passage in chapter 24. Joshua had just addressed the people of Israel – reminding them of their past and casting a vision for their future. He warned them of what would happen if they stopped following God and started following other “gods” in the land they had newly conquered. In response, the people all said, “We will serve the Lord!” Then came the interesting part about the rock.

Joshua 24:26-27  “On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God…”  ESV

This passage calls to mind something in the New Testament.  When Jesus was entering Jerusalem on his triumphal (and final) visit to that city, he had an interesting exchange with some Pharisees:

Luke 19:37-40  “ . . the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these [people] were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ ” ESV

There is another passage that deals with talking stones:

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house . . . You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many people: you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” Habakkuk 2:9-11

It seems from the Scriptures that what we think of as inanimate objects, such as rocks, not only could speak in a given situation, but also hear what is being said.

You’re probably thinking right about now that I am a bit kooky, or reading into Scripture. You may feel that the quoted Scriptures are metaphorical language which I’m taking too literally. I don’t think so – and I’ll tell you why.

Not far from where General George Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware exists a strange place. Within a forest sits an open field that is filled with rocks – no vegetation. The property of the rocks is what makes the location peculiar. It seems that when the rocks are struck lightly, they ring like bells. Because stones don’t usually ring – this is a mystery to science. These rocks are composed of the same type of materials that make up most of the crust of the earth. In this particular field, though all the rocks are made of the same materials, only 1/3 of them ring.

In 1965 a geologist names Richard Faas from Lafayette College in Easton, PA, took some of the rocks to his lab for testing. He found that when the rocks were stuck they created a series of tones at frequencies lower than the human ear can hear. He concluded that when the various tones of the rocks interact with each other, there is a sound high-pitched enough to be audible to the human ear. But, the specific physical mechanism in the rocks that rendered them able to make sounds could not be discovered. (Information from site of “The Unmuseum”)

Many years ago, I had an experience with sounds recorded on vinyl that amazed me:  I was playing an LP on my turntable when the phone rang in another room. I lifted the needle arm off the album to answer the phone. I forgot to turn off the record player, so the vinyl continued to spin on the turntable.

I later returned to the room and sat down to read. I heard music playing very faintly in the corner where the stereo player sat on a table. When I approached the record player, I noticed that a very pointy leaf-tip from a plant sitting on the same table was resting on the spinning record. It was releasing the sound of the music from the vinyl. It seemed that the sound was coming through the plant itself, for the leaf needle had no connection to the speakers.

We live in a strange and wonderful world, created by a mysterious and awesome God.

If sound can be captured in vinyl, on CD, DVD, and computer chips, carried on air waves, and released through the leaf of a plant, then surely it can be captured in the walls around us, in the rocks of the hills and in the trees of the forest.

I am amazed at God’s creation – surely as Isaiah 6:3 says of God the Creator, “. . .the whole earth is full of His glory!”

One day our Savior Jesus the Christ will return to earth. And in that day we’ll hear real “rock music”.

“. . . you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;  the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12 (NRSV)

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” Ps. 96:12-13 (NRSV)

Are you as amazed as I am about the world of God’s creation? Are you ready for the day when all creation will welcome our Savior’s return? Will you also welcome Him, the “rock of your salvation”?

©2012, Marcy Alves

Credit Cards Not Accepted

Last weekend David and I drove to VT for an overnight.  I was slated to speak for a Christian women’s group and we decided to combine the ministry with a visit with some friends who live in Newport Center, VT.

On the drive to VT on Sunday afternoon, I got a blog idea and reached for my purse where I always carry a small notebook and pen – only to discover that my purse was not there. To say this was a bit disconcerting is putting it mildly. For a woman, forgetting her purse is like missing an essential piece of clothing. It’s kind of a “naked” feeling.

My husband said not-to-worry, I wouldn’t need my purse because he was there. I reminded him that he was not going to be driving when I went to speak at the women’s group the next night and my driver’s license was in my purse at home. He told me to just be careful and drive slowly (I guess he meant, not my usual how-fast-can-I-drive–without- it-being-fast-enough-to-get-a-speeding-ticket).

We arrived at our destination about two hours later, got settled in our guest room and prepared to leave for dinner with our friends. Remembering that we were treating our friends to dinner, David reached into his pocket for his wallet to make sure he had brought the proper credit card with him, only to discover his wallet was not there. He then recalled that earlier that day he had used one of his credit cards in my car and had laid his wallet on the console. And there it remained – back at home.

So, here we were with no money or credit cards between the two of us. Our very gracious friends offered to treat us to dinner, which was very embarrassing, but under the circumstances, and since we were all hungry, we had no other solution.

There have been many times in each of our lives when we have been short on funds, but never been so thoroughly without resources. No money and no way to buy anything. It struck both of us that this is what many people face on a daily basis – no job, no money, no way to pay bills or buy even the most necessary supplies. It must be discouraging at the least, and frightening at the extreme.

Two days later we began our 2 ½ hour drive back home with a half-tank of gas. Though our friends would have gladly filled our gas tank, we decided to exercise our faith muscle. We arrived home with the tank registering empty. After stopping off at the house to pick up David’s wallet, we had enough gas to get to a local station for a fill-up.

As I thought back on the unusual turn of circumstance with our missing wallets, I was grateful that we discovered our lack of resources before receiving the bill at the restaurant.  I can only imagine our extreme embarrassment at not being able to pay.

In regard to our spiritual debt to God, there will be a day when the bill comes due. On that day, we will all discover we have left our wallets behind, with absolutely no provision of our own to purchase what we need. Good works won’t do it, moral lives won’t do it, “spiritual” service won’t do it. No amount of praying, witnessing, or genuflecting, or self-denial will meet the need.

No one can boast,“ I have earned my way in; I did it on my own.” For the Scriptures are clear:

Eph. 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We have to humble ourselves to receive His provision, His gift to us, just as David and I had to humble ourselves before our friends and let them treat us to the restaurant meal.

It’s also important to realize that God does not grade on the curve.  We are not in competition for a few admission tickets into the kingdom of God. We cannot clean up our act and offer our best selves to God. We are totally impoverished – nothing to offer of self or personal substance. There is only one way to God’s heart; one door through which we enter into his kingdom of eternal life.

John 10:7-9 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. . .  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

John 14:6 “Jesus said  . . .“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

No other way in, no layaway plan, and credit cards are not accepted on that day. But God the Father accepts us on the basis of the credit of His Son on our behalf, and on the humbling of ourselves to accept His provision.

1 John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

You can save yourself embarrassment later, by accepting His free offer now. Don’t wait until the bill comes due.

What’s in your wallet?

©2012, Marcy Alves

2 Books to Challenge and Encourage You

How important are books in your spiritual formation? Do you enjoy reading books that challenge you?

We were watching an episode of the TV reality show “Hoarders” recently that featured a married couple with an unusual “hoard”. They were book hoarders. Only a few years into their marriage the building of a personal “library” took off. Just 7 years into married life, when they made their first move from an apartment into a house, they had accumulated about 5,000 books. At the time of the recording of the Hoarder program, the couple had more than 200,000 books in their home – there was no room to move about, sit at a table, entertain guests, even to sleep together.

I am not bibliophilic, as this couple obviously was, but I do like to read. In fact, I usually have 2 to 4 books going simultaneously. I really can’t see the purpose in owning books if I don’t read them, use them for research, or resell them for profit. I read novels for relaxation, especially detective stories; health-related books that reinforce God’s plan for health; biographies; and books that encourage my spiritual growth. These are my favorite kinds of books.

There are two books which I have recently read for spiritual and personal growth that I would like to recommend to you:

1.  Whatever Happened to Worship? by A. W. Tozer

What an awesome book! This book is a compilation of messages preached by Tozer in a series to his church in Toronto in 1962 . Tozer’s desire was to write a book on worship before he died. Although he did not live to accomplish this, his sermons on worship were edited and put into book form. The book covers such topics as the necessity of the new birth for true worship, what is not true worship, being awed by the presence of God in worship, how feelings fit into worship, entering into worship through observing God’s creation, and the effects of Sunday worship on your life on Monday.

I’d like to share an excerpt from Tozer’s book, page 56:

In Europe many generations ago, the dear old saint of God, Brother Lawrence, was on his deathbed. Rapidly losing his physical strength, he witnessed to those gathered around him: “I am not dying. I am just doing what I have been doing for the past 40 years, and doing what I expect to be doing for all eternity!”

“What is that?” he was asked. He replied quickly, “I am worshipping the God I love!”

Worshipping God – that was primary for Brother Lawrence. He was also dying, but that was secondary. He knew why he had been born into this world – and he knew why he had been born again.

Tozer’s book has been a spirit-stimulator for me for the past couple of weeks.

2.  I Dare You to Change! Discover the Difference Between Dreaming of a Better Life and Living It, written by Bil (yes, the spelling is correct ) Cornelius, pastor of Bay Area Fellowship, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Cornelius’ book gives readers ten steps for achieving success in life through goal-setting. It deals with such things as breaking the cycle of failure, adopting a new attitude, being willing to change directions and plans, learning to face challenges, setting goals, etc.

Using insights from Gideon’s life-story in the Bible, this book is interesting reading. It offers practical application at the end of each chapter through an Action Plan page. On this page, readers are guided through a series of 3 questions relating to the chapter, to help them move ahead on each of the 10-steps. This book would be good to use as the basis for a support group, which could also offer a platform for outreach to un-churched people of almost any age.

Cornelius’ book challenged me as I read it while walking bi-weekly on my treadmill over the past month or so. My daily life is full of details that relate to our church (I’m a pastor’s wife – and as such my husband’s ancillary memory bank, a life-group leader, a worship team member, women’s prayer group facilitator, etc.), to my outside speaking commitments, to my home and marriage responsibilities, and to my writing vocation.

I am attempting to enter into Cornelius’ 10-step plan by completing little jobs that I have procrastinated on finishing for far too long, but which must be done to clear the way for concentrated focus on more important things – like completing at least one of the three books I’ve been writing.

I hope you will find these two recommended books to be helpful to your spiritual walk and encouraging to your personal development. There is also a piece I’ve written on putting-things-off (my personal challenge) which might help you to get moving while you still have time. See my post entitled: That’s the Thing

What are some books that you have read which have challenged and/or changed your life?

©2012, Marcy Alves

Recycled or Re-created?

I am unashamedly a “recycler”.  Not on the order of a hoarder who holds onto things for possible re-use that get buried under a pile of stuff, destined not to see the light of day again until after the funeral, when family members, kind friends, or hired hands begin to clean out the years of collected debris. No, I recycle weekly, monthly and for the “good stuff”, yearly at a summer yard sale.

We’ve been in “people ministries” for years, and much of what gathers dust at my house has been given to us by friends or grateful ministry recipients. Years ago I used an illustration in my spiritual re-birth testimony about having been a frog that was kissed by the Prince of Peace, which changed me into a princess in God’s kingdom. People began to send me frogs – ceramic frogs, cloth frogs, metal frogs, etc. But I’m digressing here.

Being an adamant recycler, I’m always amazed how frequently both technological and simple practical inventions, geared to make life “simpler” turn out to produce clutter – both in our lives and in our environment.

For instance:

  • Styrofoam cups, bowls and plates are not recyclable;
  • old computers (which really don’t have to be “old” by antique standards and are up-graded or outdated within two or more years) have a recycling charge at the dump, and are not biodegradable;
  • K-cups for one-cup coffee makers (which at the current rate of use will fill up most local land-fills in about a half-generation) are not recyclable unless you first dump out the used coffee grounds and pull out the fabric liner.
  • Cell phones, CDs, DVDs – what do we do with them? We bury them in our garbage bags, which are now mandatory in NH and color coded – no more familiar green garbage bags or lose trash in big trashcans. These bags are purchased from the state of NH to cover the cost of getting rid of our trash.
  • Auto oil containers (both plastic bottles and metal cans), old car batteries – the list could go on and on – are hard to get rid of for free.

Do you ever wonder why the manufacturers of such products as I listed above, don’t seem to have a plan for recycling? Why aren’t the producers of high tech and low tech products held responsible for getting rid of the “stuff” after it’s broken or outdated? Do you wonder how many more generations can inhabit planet earth and continue discarding un-recyclables, before there is no more space for the “stuff”?

I hope others will catch the vision to take care of what God made for us to enjoy – the beauties of natural wonder – a green earth and a blue sky; clean water to drink, wash with, and swim in.

I suppose a totally cluttered earth won’t happen in my lifetime, but I will remain a recycler until the end of me or the earth, whichever comes first.

There are some things that I have made a conscious decision not to recycle, such as bad attitudes, unkind behavior, bitterness, anger, revenge, hopelessness, meanness, despair, and discouragement. And I want to be responsible to clean up any of this stuff that I inadvertently spew into the atmosphere around me. Because, just as I care about my physical environment, I care about the spiritual environment around me.

Even though I’m into recycling, I’m so glad that God didn’t “recycle” me, causing me to come back in one form after another and go around for time after time. He “re-created” me through a spiritual re-birth: He gave me a new way of thinking, a new desire to make things around me better, a new zeal for life without all the clutter and clamor, and a clean heart and conscience – without guilt over old mistakes and sins.

2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

One day, when His work in me is complete, I’ll look like Jesus. As it says in Romans 8:28-29:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . .”

I only wish the creators of all the gadgets we are convinced we need to buy had a way to gather the discards and re-create them into something more useful than landfill. They should take a lesson from the Master inventor.

So what’s your story – are you recycled or re-ceated?

©2012, Marcy Alves

When to Hold ‘Em & When to Fold ‘Em

How’s your poker face? I am pretty good at bluffing in certain games, but the “game of life” takes more than a bluff to end up with a winning hand.

A framed embroidery wall picture which hangs in our guest bedroom reads: “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go”. And this balance is not always easy to maintain. Sometimes we need to hang-in-there when we feel like quitting, and other times we need to let-go when we just don’t want to give-up.

There is an old song recorded by Kenny Rogers called The Gambler; the chorus says:

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em

Know when to walk away, Know when to run.

You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.

There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

To “give-up” or to “hang-on”?  can play like a mental Ping-Pong game in the brain, until we get direction to bring us to a decision, and peace to keep us there. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

We recently visited an elderly woman in a nursing home, who had been in hospice for a few days. She had not eaten or taken in liquids during that time. When we entered her room, we expected to see an IV in her arm, but there was none. She was awakened by a nurse so that we could visit and pray for her. She breathed open-mouthed and her lips and tongue were very dry. Her eyes were fixed on whatever or whoever was directly in her line of sight.

Because she had asked not to be kept alive if her mind and body began to fail, she was not hooked up to an IV. When the nurse moved her head to adjust her pillow, the patient gave a little cry, so we know she could feel pain.

It was very difficult to see this once energetic old saint in such a condition. A few years back she had been my once-a-week prayer partner, meeting with me at the church office, and afterward sending out postcards to the specific families or individuals for whom we had prayed; she included words of encouragement and a Scripture on each card.

I have heard several reports of elderly people who seemed to be on their way out, who were merely dehydrated.  Even though my elderly friend had asked not to be kept alive artificially, everything in me wanted to hook-up an IV line and hydrate her frail little body to see if she would regain “presence” like the others had. But there is a time when you have to fold ‘em.

Not that I would want to keep anyone alive indefinitely – but I hesitate to surrender people to death, which the Scripture refers to as an enemy:

1 Corinthians 15:26 – “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Life is important to protect – the right to life is a God-given right. That’s why I cannot accept the philosophy of some religious or political ideologies in which suicide that results in the deaths of other people (so called “enemies”) is to be glorified or rewarded. Also, I cannot support cultural mores which permit destruction of unborn life. No god worth following would ask his followers to arbitrarily destroy life – neither their own lives, nor the lives of innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In such a culture of death, God continually calls us to life. The fragrance of Christ is the perfume of life that never loses its scent. Jesus came to conquer death. Maybe that’s why we fight to hold-on to life and not to give-in to disease, death, and the killing of the innocent. You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em.

However, fighting to hold on to what appears to be “life” is what keeps many people from entering into real Spirit-breathed life. We have met many people during our lifetime who have held-on to death, mistaking it for life; who, when they finally gave-up and died to self, discovered that they had not really been alive at all, until they received the life of Christ. When the hand you’ve been playing is continually a losing one, it’s time to get out of that game. Know when to fold ‘em; discover what’s really worth holding onto.

When it comes to the battle against evil forces in the unseen world, we need to suit-up in the spiritual armor, submit to God, resist the devil and learn to stand – stay in the game and hold the line.  We also need to recognize a bluff and to say to the enemy of our soul, “Game’s over.” Because when it comes to spiritual war games, Jesus has dealt us the winning hand.

Are you holding on to the a hand that will keep you from experiencing life, or are you letting go and allowing God to take over your game? You’ve got to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

©2012, Marcy Alves

Yesterday Has Been Cancelled

When’s the last time you received word that an event, or appointment, or meeting you were looking forward to was cancelled? How about a cancelled airline flight home for the holidays that kept you waiting in the airport lobby for an extra day?

Once, early on in my music career, I had been scheduled to be part of a warm-up performance for a popular singer named BJ Thomas. He recorded such songs as “Rain Drops Are Fallen on My Head”. Some of my friends had planned to attend that concert and I was so excited. But the concert was “unavoidably cancelled” just a few days before.

I have had weather-related cancellations since that long-ago concert, which I welcomed with a cup of hot chocolate, as the snow swirled in the wind outside my living-room window.

The word “cancellation” has been on my mind since early last week. At the end of our weekly women’s prayer time, as we sat quietly in the warm afterglow presence of the Lord, a song floated into my head, which I began to sing. It’s an old anthem entitled “Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”.  I had not sung that hymn for many years. Our church Sunday worship music consists mainly of contemporary worship songs and choruses.

The lyrics and melody of that old hymn stayed with me all week. One verse stood out in my mind and resonated with my spirit:

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,                                                                                                                                                      He sets the prisoner free.                                                                                                                                                                  His blood can make the foulest clean,                                                                                                                                                   His blood avails for me.

The particular line that has returned to me over and over again is “He breaks the power of cancelled sin”.

As I sat in our Sunday Celebration and listened to words that were shared from the congregation – words of praise, words of what God was doing in individual lives, words of struggle and submission – an awareness of the importance of that phrase, “the power of cancelled sin” exploded into my understanding, as a revelation from the Holy Spirit.

I believe that there are many people – both Spirit-born believers and those on-their-way-to-becoming-believers – who haven’t understood or believed that our sins have been cancelled by Jesus’ death on the cross. We don’t need to struggle any longer under the power of past sins.  And we don’t have to keep paying for them over and over again.

There are people to whom many bad things happen – often a procession of bad things throughout their lifetimes – people who feel that God is punishing them for the sins of their past. I do understand that when we break God’s laws, there are natural consequences:  jump from a plane without a parachute and you’ll discover such consequences; commit murder and there are definite consequences.

However, the Scripture does not support the idea that God punishes us over and over again for confessed sins that are under the blood of Jesus. For He, “breaks the power of cancelled sin”. In case you are thinking, that’s just a line from a song, I’d like to share a Scripture that supports the beautiful and significant verse of that song.

Col. 2:13-15 – “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the un-circumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [in Jesus].                          (English Standard Version)

Are you an ex-drug or ex-alcohol addict? You don’t have to exprience that addictive substance continually calling you back into your past sin. Were you a liar, a cheat, a sex-offender, an adulterer? Jesus has broken the power of that “cancelled sin”.  Satan no longer has a right to condemn you, hold you as a prisoner to that addiction or sin, or to continue to collect payment for the sins of your past. Christ hung on that cross to pay the full price – which cancels your debt – and to break the power of that sin. His death paid the debt – his resurrection settled the issue of who’s in control in the spirit realm.

In Colossians chapter three there are a couple lists of sins of the human nature which include: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying. Then, in  (Col. 3:7) the apostle Paul continues:

“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. . .” and then he adds: “ . . . you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col. 3:9)

So what’s the problem? Understanding and believing what God’s word says:

  • that the debt of our sin has been cancelled
  • that the power of that cancelled sin has been broken
  • that the one-time prisoner, has been set free

Let’s take this one step further:  often the penalties or consequences of unacknowledged, un-confessed sin show up in our minds (negative thinking, confused thoughts, frustrations, doubts); in our spirits (bad attitudes, hopelessness, anger, resentment, bitterness, control issues, judgementalism, un-forgiveness); in our reactions (fear, self-protection, anger, rage, revenge); and eventually in our physical bodies (all kinds of ailments, symptoms, and diseases).

These same things can also manifest in us when we fail to realize that the sins we have confessed are forgiven, and not simply forgiven, but cancelled. The enemy no longer has a right to wield power to harm us mentally, spiritually, or physically.  The power he has held over us, often even after conversion – is because we haven’t fully realized what our salvation has provided for us – “the broken power of cancelled sin”.

When we don’t know or believe that the power has been broken, we remain under bondage to past sin and its power, which has already been defeated by Christ Jesus on the cross.

Are you still suffering from the power of “cancelled sin”?

Yesterday has been cancelled. You don’t have to live in the past any longer. Believe it! Repeat it to yourself as often as you need to. Start living post crucifixion, post resurrection. Allow Christ to set the prisoner free and bring healing to mind, spirit, and body.

©2012, Marcy Alves

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