December 10, 2018

Life too random? Maybe some framework is needed . . .

A policeman is supposed to uphold law. He would have a tough time doing that if he didn’t know or agree with the law that he is upholding. A surgeon is supposed to open and fix whatever has gone wrong in a human body. She would have a tough time doing that if she didn’t know anatomy or agree with the way it is supposed to work.

Even an artist has a set of ‘rules’ that ensure the music or paintings produced is pleasing to the eye or ear, and every mother knows she cannot use chopped cranberries to replace the chocolate when her children expect chocolate chip cookies.

Laws, rules, standards make a framework for nearly everything. I spent most of Saturday trying to fix a problem with my hubby’s laptop. Computers are not fussy; they merely operate according to a set of on/off switches and they all need to agree with each other. Otherwise, the machine does not behave in an expected and acceptable manner.

The physical world would be chaos without this framework. It is no surprise that the spiritual realm also has a framework, a set of principles that keep Christians on track with God. Because of these, I am guided into a walk with Jesus Christ that not only pleases Him but gives me great joy.

In general, a major principle is believing that God exists. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Romans 1:19ff says that God makes this plain so we have no excuse for not believing it.

For those who accept that principle, two other principles come into play. One is that God loves us. This is most important, but also Satan’s target for an on-going lie. Deep in our hearts, we hear his suggestions every day. He points us to the trials of life, our messy culture, a trouble childhood or any number of negatives that seem to verify his lie. However, if we believe it and fail to abide by the reality of God’s love, we step outside that firm foundation and find ourselves unhappy and with all sorts of problems.

The second principle that believers in God need but struggle with is the one that says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We deny it, or pass the buck, or make excuses, but without agreeing with this one, we put ourselves outside the framework of spiritual stability. We cannot be godly people without admitting our need for His mercy, grace and forgiveness.
Rather than write a book on this topic, today’s devotional helps me jump to the one for me today. Jesus is talking to His disciples . . .

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:21–24)

Knowing the commands of God is vital. Keeping them is more so. Living within this framework requires effort on my part. I must read and study the Word of God. I also need to pay attention to life’s lessons. Even more important, I must keep short accounts because knowing the will of God is for those who regularly confess their sin. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Having a pure heart is about short accounts as well. I must stay in a place of continual cleansing, a cleansing that comes to those willing to see and acknowledge all sin and selfishness.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

The idea of God living in my heart is mind-boggling yet my astonishment soon gives way to the responsibility of it. Because He is here, always with me, always loving me, how can I not pay attention to what He says and what He wants of me? The liar would suggest that God is not here, not loving me and His principles are harmful, not for my good . . . which is another principle of God’s kingdom — He loves me and wants good for me, not evil.

Obviously, this framework is built and maintained in a battlefield, a place of spiritual warfare. If I am going to fight and win, I must stick to the Lord’s rules of engagement.

Lord Jesus, I’m so thankful today for the grace You give, grace that keeps me where You want me, grace that rebukes, corrects, teaches, and fits me for the place that I am in, the place that You are in with me. Thank You for making Your home in my heart and for being a wonderful homemaker who knows how to continually dust and clean. Most of all, thank You for Your Word that fills me with instruction but also with an increasing love for You.

December 9, 2018

The body knows a loss — the heart knows a great gain

Since coming home from the hospital, my heart is beating because of a small computer in my chest and a battery that keeps it going. I’ve felt fine physically but not emotionally. This is difficult to describe other than I’ve been abnormally and deeply sad.

I had all kinds of strange idea floating through my mind. God gives joy, but He seemed absent. Did a zapped node somehow disconnected my heart from the living God? With my heart running on a machine, am I still me? The enemy would like me to think that, but as I ponder these ideas, it is plainly bad theology to think that God is out of the picture, replaced by a machine.

I asked the Lord to show me what was going on. He reminded me of our son’s accident when he lost two fingers to a sawmill blade. He still ‘feels’ them and has no control over that sensation called phantom pain. This made me think about people who lose limbs and are fitted with artificial arm or legs. How does that affect them? How do they feel about their fake limb? Is it foreign? Or part of their body? Obviously, there is post-traumatic stress that is impossible to simply turn off. Was that my problem?

Persistent sadness is not normal for me. I’m a firm believer that emotions are related to how a person is thinking. That is, if I am thinking an error it will affect how I feel. In this case, the thoughts need to be exposed.

With all that in mind, I read this passage in today’s devotional. It is God speaking through the prophet Joel . . .

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.” (Joel 2:28–32)

Sometimes the biggest blessing comes from what the Bible does NOT say. God promises to pour out His Spirit on ALL flesh, not just those who have real limbs. He isn’t leaving out people with peg legs and artificial hands, nor those who wear glasses (to supplement eyes of flesh). In other words, a person’s body does not have to be perfect to qualify for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Was I thinking it was? (Not consciously, but many of us are caught in that trap, particularly women . . . ‘if only I had a perfect body’ . . . and it fuels the cosmetic and clothing industry.)

That led me to another verse where Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." (John 14:23)

God lives in me. It is not about the mechanics of my body but about the Holy Spirit who gave me a heart that loves and obeys Him. I could walk in sinful, selfish, even fleshy ways but my behavior is not about batteries or computers. I’m to say no to a heart that is determined to do its own thing, batteries or otherwise.

Somewhere in all this, it became clear that my body was unconsciously reacting to a loss. Then God reminded me of a favorite memorized verse. With this one, the grief and sadness lifted and joy returned . . .

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Jesus, what a wonder You are. You don’t concern yourself with the secondary source of power — a battery or a computer. You concentrate on giving grace that will enable me to yield to my primary source of life. Nothing, even machines can function without Your blessing on them. What matters to You is that I am yielded to You. So I am part human, part computer, but You have not changed. You are still my Savior, the same yesterday, today and forever!

December 8, 2018

Restoration is not always about getting my stuff back

Already a grandmother, we moved to Saskatchewan because my husband had work there. The location was near a well-known Bible college so I decided to sign up. The work was challenging but in less than three years, I had a bachelor’s degree in religious studies.

Besides writing research papers, students were assigned to various service projects. One of mine involved speaking at a senior’s residence. I used the following Scripture passage:

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:25–27)

People in Saskatchewan know the destructive power of grasshoppers. On one occasion, they were so thick that driving was almost impossible. What many of the folks in this nursing home didn’t know was how this promise of God in the OT applied to us today.

For Israel, the destruction may have been literal, but for those aging people, the years had robbed them of many things; health, family, meaningful work, and joy. They were a sad group, until they learned what the word “restore” means. It comes from a root word meaning completion and fulfillment — of entering a state of wholeness and unity, even a restored relationship — and is almost the same as ‘shalom’ — a very well-known Hebrew greeting of ‘peace be on you.’

I don’t remember exactly how I presented this promise, but I do remember seeing their faces relax into smiles. God was telling them that even though they suffered great losses, He would take care of them. Whatever they had gone through or were going through, they needed that reminder.

Today, this passage has another vivid illustration. My sister had a home, a business, did incredible art work, and became well-known in the city she lives in. In a few short years, she sold her business, her husband died, she sold her house, allowing her family to purge her belongings, including her well-stocked art studio and moved into a senior’s residence.

Is she happy? She has nothing of her life except 4-5 paintings and her clothing, but she is content, joyful, a blessing to those around her and a living example of God giving peace to His people even if all they once enjoyed is gone.

In my thinking, moving from here to heaven will be something like that. The past will be forgotten as I enter eternity with Jesus. All that I gained or lost here will not matter, even be forgotten. Like my sister, I will be content, happy and not even thinking about it.

Jesus, this promise goes beyond the physical to what You do for Your people as we wait on You. Our lives suffer losses and enjoy gains, but when You put our focus on Your grace, mercy and power, the rest of it has no significance. For that, I am grateful!