Friday, June 30, 2006

For Him --- and for me?

“For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.” (Isaiah 37:35, NKJV)

We watched the last game of the Stanley Cup playoffs at a retired pastor’s home and talked about God’s interest (or not) in hockey. The pastor thought that God was interested in fair play and that the joy of the game, as with all good things, came from the Lord. Then he remarked, with some humor, “But I never know who to pray for.”

God has an agenda that overarches the affairs of human beings. We want this or that, a win for our team included. However, God is doing things for His own sake and for the sake of His people. While foolish people might accuse God of being selfish, think about it—only God is worthy of all honor and glory. If He worked to glorify anything or anyone but Himself, He would be guilty of honoring a lesser god. Is that not idolatry?

My problem with that idea is that often I have no idea what will honor God, particularly when it comes to praying for things like hockey games or even our granddaughter’s soccer games. I want the home team to win, but there are no doubt people on the other side also praying for their home team. It seems safe to ask Him to do what will most glorify Himself.

He also governs the world for the sake of His servants. That is jaw-dropping. Who? Me? Last night I was thinking if the world realized, even if Christians realized, how far the forgiveness of God extends, our lives would be utterly transformed. Even knowing that “all my sins were nailed to the cross” hardly sinks in. If I am totally forgiven for everything—past, present and future sin—would I take it for granted and just do whatever I felt like? No. Being totally forgiven takes away the hardness, the determination to go my own way.

Forgiveness is just one aspect that I cannot fully understand of all that God has done for me. This verse reminds me that there are many more things He does for me that are beyond my finite mind. If He would defend a city for David’s sake, what does He defend for my sake?

These days I am acutely aware that He defends my mind. I’m at peace with that “peace that surpasses understanding” Paul wrote about in the New Testament. Only those who have experienced it can relate, but none of us really understand it. With storms all around, how can there be peace? But there is.

These days I am also aware that God is glorifying His own name. Praise for Him comes from my heart and mouth without effort on my part. He is giving it to me, and as I pass it on, He defends me—for His name’s sake, but also for me. This is an awesome God!

P.S. I thank God for the prayers and comments of His people. You too are a great blessing!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

He gives songs. . .

“Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you’. . . . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:4, NKJV)

This beloved passage motivated at least two contemporary songs, and it puts a song in my heart this morning. I needed it.

Sometimes God banishes sorrow that comes from unusual sources. Last night I called the family member who has been suffering from mental and spiritual problems to tell her about my husband’s medical diagnosis. Her sorrow was profound and eloquently expressed. She wants to see him, to be here, even though “I can’t do anything.” Her tears made me sad.

Bob called her again as soon as he came home. We both found that telling her this news almost as difficult as learning it ourselves. We wanted to scoop her up and comfort her. But the amazing part is the freedom we had to share our faith with her. This young person, who was entirely closed to truth over the past few months, has changed.

It started when she moved out of the place she was living (with a step-mother) and into a shared apartment. She phoned me then, even though she once said she would never talk to me again. (I’d shared gospel truth with her and she was angry.) God has been busy in her life, answering prayers for her.

This time when we talked about Jesus she listened, even saw the value of faith. We talked about the fact that everyone is terminal. Bob shared with her that we all need to be ready, to know where we stand with God. She listened.

Sometimes I pray for family and say, “Whatever it takes . . .” and know that God can produce disaster to bring someone to Himself. I also know that "whatever" might cost me personally. On the other end of the emotional scale, He reminds me of our eternal hope. He will come and save us, not necessarily from this illness and certainly not from physical death—it is appointed unto men once to die—but His salvation is from that judgment that follows death.

And what a glorious salvation it is! Isaiah 35 describes it as flowers in the desert, joy and singing, glory, excellence, strength, clarity of vision, perfect hearing, no illness or infirmity, springs of water, holiness, everlasting joy and gladness, no more sorrow.

I know where my mind will be today—singing the songs that begin, “Say to the fearful hearted . . .” and “The redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion . . . .”

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

In the eye of the storm

“A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” (Isaiah 32:2, NKJV)

Isaiah talks about a future where Israel will turn back to the One they have “deeply revolted” against. In that time, a king will “reign in righteousness” and princes will rule with justice. Christians have associated this verse to mean Jesus as the “Rock in a weary land” yet the verse seems to indicate good and righteous leaders who will be like Christ to the people. They are not the Rock who is Christ but “as the shadow of a great rock” and like Christ to those who are looking for refuge from the storms of life.

On our vacation we listened to Debbie Zepick’s CD. One song offers a word picture with the line, “In the eye of the storm there is peace.” It brought to mind those satellite photos of last year’s hurricanes in Florida. Our daughter was in Tampa during the big one that hit that city, and when I looked at the pictures of the storm, my heart lumped in my throat. That huge storm, covering the entire state, swirled around an eye that looked as evil as the clouds and wind encasing it, but the eye is the place of rest. If a city or a person could move with the eye, they would never experience the havoc of the storm.

Thanks to the Rock, thanks to those who are praying and encouraging us and acting as the shadow of that great Rock, we are hidden and covered in the eye of the storm. The peace of God is an amazing and awesome thing.

Another amazement is how God grabs my thinking and directs it to solid ideas instead of the frenzied fears that might happen. We’ve talked about mortality with family and friends as it is described in Scripture, not as humans sometimes foolishly think—that we will be here forever. Odd how that works. Everyone will die. That is a given. Not everyone knows where or when or even how, but most people push it away and live as if it will not happen. Stories are written about the notion “if you only had one day (or week or month or year) to live, what would change?” Lots.

My value system is going through a metamorphosis. I’m suddenly finding myself totally uninterested in trivia and details that previously would distract me for hours. Sorting out the to-do list is now easier. Wanting to be a hiding place and a cool drink for others makes more sense.

Bad news like “Guess what, you are going to be hit by a truck someday” is actually a reality check. As my husband always tells people, we are all terminal. Instead of the ‘practical atheism’ that lives as if it were not true, it’s far better to live with it in mind. We suddenly have found ourselves in that place—and are surprised that it is also the eye of the storm.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Two weeks rest!

As we adjust to the news of the week, our spirits are level, but our bodies are tired. Little did we know how good would be the timing of a two-week vacation! We leave in a few minutes, and although I'm taking my laptop, I might not be back online until the 28th.

R & R. Notice how nicely it rolls on the tongue!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Facing our mortality

“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.’” (Psalm 91:2, NKJV)

If the past few weeks Bible readings have been repetitive, I now know the reason. God emphasizes the importance of trusting Him because He already knew what we just found out. My husband has an elevated blood reading. After some tests, he was told this week that he has “chronic lymphocytic leukemia” a form of blood cancer which can progress slowly or rapidly. That means he as few as two or as long as 15-20 years. This type of leukemia messes up the blood cells that guard his immune system. He needs to have his blood monitored every four months and guard against getting over-tired or stressed because infections and other complications can be as big a danger. There is no cure for CLL.

So how do I think about this? His doctor is also our friend and a Christian. He called yesterday and said something about “grieving our mortality . . .” and we said together, “. . . and trust the Lord.”

Most of what I write for this blog may sound “pie in the sky” to some, or like an idealism that doesn’t work out in real life. This is not so. The Lord is a refuge and a fortress. When I bring the easy and the hard things of life to Him, He meets me and gives me peace and wisdom. I have no idea what the next months or years will hold (who does?), but I know He is in charge of our lives. My husband has always said, “Everyone is terminal” and he said it again this week. The issue is not that we die, but that we are ready.

So are we ready to meet the Lord? Yes. Are we ready to go through all of this? I’m not sure, but we are talking about the details, everything from the adequacy of our insurance to the down-sizing of our stuff.

At the end of this psalm, God says of those who trust Him, “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.”

He is with us, and He has shown us that His salvation means that the “long life”He promises may not be in this world, but in the next one it will last forever.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Show me a sign...

“Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” (Psalm 86:17, NKJV)

I’ve prayed this prayer. Once. Someone was working against me without reason. I had done nothing to that person, but that person was doing great harm to me.

The Lord heard me. What was plotted against me became the very thing that happened to the one who was plotting. I didn’t gloat. It was awful. But I found out something about God.

He cares about justice. He acts against my enemies when I call out to Him and refuse to do anything myself, like retaliation. He knows how to turn events around. He also knows the best way to deal with someone who has evil intentions, how to make them ashamed. He also knows how to do all this without making me feel like crowing about it. In fact, I felt sad that something so bad happened to that person, even though God determined it. He knew the right solution, one I would not have thought of, nor could have pulled off.

He also affirms that asking for a sign is sometimes okay. Most of the time He wants me to “walk by faith” not by sight. I am to trust Him, believe in His Word, not ask for indications that He is still with me, or is taking care of me. But sometimes, when my heart is overwhelmed and I am not sure of His will, I can ask for something from Him that shows me where I stand, or, in this case, that shows my enemies where they stand.

God continually amazes me with His ingenuity. His solutions to problems are always a surprise. Even if I am in the wrong and cry out for help, He knows how to correct me yet at the same time give me a hug. But when someone is harming me, He knows how to protect me and at the same time deal with their mean and unjust plans.

As the psalmist says, surely the Lord has helped and comforted me!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Want to have good things?

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11, NKJV)

I understand that He provides, protects, gives grace (undeserved favor) and glory to His people. But this verse also says that He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly. Grasping this part is a bit trickier.

Does “upright” mean righteous? If it does, the Bible is clear that no one is righteous. We all sin and fall short. God can declare us righteous through faith (admitting sin and trusting Jesus Christ to save us from eternal damnation) but living a totally righteous life is not possible. Instead, the dictionary says “upright” is not so much being perfect as it is living an honorable and honest life. When I fail, I must admit it, but my focus remains on honoring Christ by the way I live. That is being “upright.”

The perplexing part of the verse is that bit about “no good thing.” What good things will God give me?

In most minds, good things are comfort, quality of life, health, intelligence, talented, nice possessions, popularity, and being at the top of the heap in at least one area of life. I’m thinking, but cannot remember any promises in the Bible for those things. So then, what are the “good things” this verse talks about?

Since God is eternal, they are likely not temporary possessions or values, but things that last forever. The first eternal good thing that comes to mind is life itself, not physical breathing life (which is a good thing too) but that vibrancy that Jesus called “abundant life” and promises to all who follow Him. It’s hard to define. It is not quantity as much as quality, a life linked to God with His Spirit as a power supply, a life that continues after this body dies. Although this life is not earned by walking “uprightly” (it is more the reason I can),
I must live honestly and honorably to fully enjoy it.

The second good thing that I can think of is the character of Jesus Christ. God wants me to be like Him. In fact, He promises that “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). This good thing also lasts forever.

One more good thing is just the awareness of being connected with God. When I live uprightly, I’m quick to sense His presence, alert to hear His direction, more apt to pray in His will and receive answers. This sense of walking hand-in-hand with God Himself is maybe the greatest “good thing.” With it comes peace, joy, purpose and deep contentment.

I have experienced some discomfort, poverty and illness. I may not be the brightest person with the most talent, the most stuff, or the most friends. I am certainly not the “best” at anything. But God allows me to abide in Christ and Christ to live in me. With those “good things” I can handle missing out on that other stuff.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

When I grow up...

“Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” (Psalm 71:18, NKJV)

A few years ago I was in seminary, and old enough to be the mother of most of the students. During one class, a young man was curious about my motivation and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I still chuckle at the double entendre of his question, but my answer it has to be this verse from Psalm 71. My goal in life is to learn all I can about God and then pass on what I’ve learned.

The first person in my life who lived out this goal was Irene. She invited me to a Bible study in her home and taught me about God. At a time when I was worried what God might demand of me, Irene showed me His answer. Her husband of over fifty years had just died. At the grave side she leaned forward, almost as if she wanted to jump in with him. My heart ached for her. But then she turned around to face us, and her face was radiant with that unexplainable joy of the Lord. God gave her such peace during this loss that she became a comfort to those around us. She said, “I miss him, but realized most of my sorrow is just me feeling sorry for myself.”

Another example was my mother. She had Alzheimers but the Lord remained strong in her life. In the latter years, dad died and she had to move to various care facilities. Her attitude remained positive and gracious. One time a nurse was apologizing to her for the inadequate room she would be in until her other room was ready. My mom smiled and said, “It’s okay. I’ve been through a lot. I can handle this too.”

A third was Agnes. She was a sweet person, always positive, always praying for others. In her last years, she was struck down with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Nothing changed. Her personality remained positive, prayerful, strong in faith. Some people show me how to live; this remarkable woman showed me how to die.

I used to say my aim in life was “to become a sweet little old lady” and while I’d still like that, I’d like to be remembered as these women—a person who not only tells others but shows them what the power of God is like in a heart that is fully yielded to Him.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My greatest wealth...

“Then (Jesus) spoke a parable to them, saying, ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he though within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’” But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul will be required of you . . . .’” (Luke 12:16-20, NKJV)

Last night we watched the movie, The Marathon Man, about a shrewd survivor of WWII who was trying to get his hands on millions of dollars worth of diamonds in a New York safety deposit box. He risked his life to get the gems, and when he finally opened the box, he spilled them out on the table and gloried in them. This was an elderly man, not many years left to his life. (It turned out to be only hours.) He was guilty of war crimes and had been recognized minutes before in the largely Jewish community where he had tried to find out how much those stones were worth. He was a marked man. What possible good would all those diamonds do for him?

The segment with him fawning over the gems was almost a cartoon depicting greed and the foolishness that overwhelms those caught in it. This man could not see the folly of his obsession. All he could see were dollar signs. In the end, his grasping for the glitter caused him to fall on his own knife. He never enjoyed being very, very rich.

I’m not rich. We have enough, actually too much. I’ve been giving things away for some time. After a while, accumulation becomes a boat anchor, robbing life of the freedom of simplicity. Too much stuff equals complication.

I didn’t always feel like this. When I was younger, I wanted at least a big house, and thought about the ‘freedom’ of being able to buy anything I wanted. Yet I soon realized that the delight in a new purchase lasts about as long as the first time you have to clean it, repair it, even find a spot to put it. Money and stuff do not guarantee “eat, drink, and be merry” and “eat, drink, and be merry” do not guarantee satisfaction. As some kids have to touch the stove to learn that it is hot, I had to learn from both having and not having that neither one have anything to do with being joyful and contented.

The secret of both is the presence in my life of the most joyful and contented person who ever lived. When He is smiling, I can’t help it; I must smile too. When He is happy, His joy spills over into me. When He says, “I’ve got it under control,” every anxiety vanishes. A suitcase full of diamonds could never begin to match what I have in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Terrorist threats

“Preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the rebellion of the workers of iniquity . . . they shoot in secret at the blameless . . . .” (Psalm 64:1,2,4, NKJV)

The headlines in the past week focus on terrorists in Canada, a plot to blow up a prominent building, even target our Prime Minister. It seems a bit unreal. Most people in Canada feel safe and wonder why anyone would want to do such things to us. After all, we are an accepting, mild-mannered nation.

Some blame the government, saying if we were not a military presence in the Middle East, they would leave us alone. That is something like blaming the wife for the beatings her husband gives. Regardless of what Canada does, plotting to kill civilians cannot be considered as something they “deserve.” The Bible is clear that God will hold accountable those who do evil, regardless of any supposed provocation. And that shoe is on both feet.

This passage asks God to preserve us from fear. Sometimes fear is a worse enemy than the enemy. I find it interesting that the ethnic group to which these terrorists belong is now under suspicion. How odd. When a person of Irish or Hungarian or Dutch descent commits a crime, do we suddenly keep a sharper eye on all others from those countries?

Perhaps it isn’t the people group we fear; it is their ideology. Some of them seem to think that the only way to ‘win’ is by striking terror into the hearts of innocent people. Plot against a country in secret and make their ordinary citizens afraid. Win by intimidation.

The biblical antidote to fear is never retaliation or running away. Even though this passage mentions “hide me” it is not talking about fleeing to bomb shelters. In Scripture, asking God to hide me is about going into the presence of God. There, no matter what happens, I am sheltered from fear.

I’ve no presumptuous ideas that being in God’s care means nothing bad will happen to me. What I do know is that when I am abiding in Him, trusting Him, staying near Him, I’m not worried about what will or won’t happen. Of course I will not walk a dark alley in the middle of the night, or leave my house unlocked. That is foolish. But I will go to bed each night and sleep soundly, knowing that God is in charge.

This time the terrorists were caught before they did any harm. Will there be another time, another group that escape detection and actually does shoot at the blameless? Maybe. But being terrified of any enemy says ‘there is no God who loves us.’ Hiding in Him says otherwise.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

It's not what He does but who He is...

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble . . . . Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:1,10, NKJV)

Sometimes I can get so agitated about something that all I can hear is the noise of my worrying. What-ifs and what-am-I-going-to-dos rattle around inside me crowding out common sense, never mind any input the Holy Spirit wants to give me.

God says slow down. Stop. Be still. Quit flapping. Know first that I am here for you to run and a place where you can take refuge. Know also that I am strong, nothing is too hard for Me. Remember, I am abundantly available for you. Just listen. My voice is not a shout but a whisper.

It is true. He mouths His words, seldom shouts them. My anxiety and worrying easily muffle His reassurances. I have to stop all that, refocus on Him. Listen.

Over the past few weeks He is teaching me this, and building in me a stronger confidence. When I am still, bringing my biggest concerns before Him but focusing on Him not the concerns, He comes into that stillness with thoughts like, “I am in control. Do not fear.”

He does not say, “I will . . .” turning my attention to what I want Him to do, but “I am . . . .” making me think only of Him.

As I do, the rattling and agitation melt away. How can it not? God is here. Present, powerful, abundant, available. The fact that He simply is makes stillness powerful, silence a strength. Hiding in Him becomes an advance and not a retreat, and an observation post from which to see Him. With that, His answers to my prayers move into second place and God Himself is first in my heart.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Why do bad things happen to people of faith?

“In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever. But You have cast us off and put us to shame. . . .” (Psalm 44:8-9, NKJV)

The age-old question: why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? A book by the same name assumed that people could be good before God. The Bible never makes that assumption. We live in a world where the sinfulness of man results in lots of bad things. No one is immune, and the best we can do is put our trust in Him and ask Him to forgive our failings.

Yet the question remains. What is God doing when a person trusts Him and yet their life is filled with calamities and defeat? Why would God allow someone who praises Him and loves Him to suffer shame, to feel cast off?

I just finished reading the book of Job. Job was a righteous man because he trusted God. He demonstrated his faith by obeying the Lord. However, Satan was allowed by God to severely test Job. He lost everything including his children and his health. Even though he complained and questioned God, he never stopped believing in Him. At the end of the book, Job is restored and commended for his integrity.

Is it fair that God does allow bad things? Not if I think I somehow deserve any good things from God. But when I remember that He is merciful to me regardless of my sin and failure to measure up to His high standards, then I must be contrite before Him. He is God. He can do whatever He wants.

Not just that. He is also wise. Job serves as an example to all of us that no matter what happens, God is in charge and God can be trusted. He knows what He is doing, and He has our good in mind (Remember Romans 8:28-29!).

The psalmist knew how to respond to adversity and the feeling that God had abandoned His people. He boasted in God and praised His name. God had not changed. While circumstances go up and down like the waves of the sea, He is the same. His love is constant and His mercy endure forever.

I will ride the waves. Sometimes they will crash down on me; sometimes they will lift me high—but no matter what, God has given me a solid place to rest, and the promise that these ups and downs will serve a good purpose. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors, but) I can say with Job, “He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold!”

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Making sense of bad stuff

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NKJV)

This morning before I started reading I asked God to speak to a problem I have with what seems like a hopeless situation. I cannot change it. It is out of my control. (I’m not trying to be mysterious. As a Christian writer, I cannot describe in a blog some situations or name names that would expose or humiliate other people.)

So how do I react? What does He want from me in this? Nothing comes to mind. Instead I feel numb, blank, helpless.

His answer should not be a surprise. When I went to bed last night I thought about the way Jesus responded to situations. He could have controlled them, called in legions of angels, or just spoke a word, but most of the time He yielded to them. His humility was solidly rooted in trust. He knew that His heavenly Father was in charge. God controls all things. If the Father was allowing something to happen, He had good reason. Jesus surrendered, not to the situation or to His enemies, but to His Father. This is the definition of a meek and quiet spirit, not being walked on, but choosing God to trust and waiting for His direction.

There is an advantage in being heart-broken. When I’ve had sorrow from ruined relationships, felt devastated by a major loss, or crushed when someone I love was harmed or behaved badly, it has forced me to yield to God. Any circumstance that is totally out of my control produces a sense of helplessness, yet helplessness does not have to shake hands with defeat or resentment. Instead, I can contritely surrender to God who controls all things.

When I first became a Christian I was impressed by the promise in Romans 8:28, that God would work all things together for my good. It took a bit longer to realize that the ‘good’ He has in mind is that I become more like Jesus (see verse 29!)

So when stuff happens, the Father wants me to respond with faith in Him. He has good reasons for what He allows. He also wants my heart contrite, resting in the promise that He will make sense of the 'stuff' and that He will put ‘like-Jesus’ attitudes in me — during whatever is going on and long after it is over.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Does God care about hockey?

“No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety . . . . Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:16-19, NKJV)

Even though I don’t wear a team jersey or fly a team flag on my car, I am a Canadian hockey fan. I root for a team that just lost their most valuable player to an injury in the first game of the final playoff series for the Stanley Cup. I thought of them when I read this psalm.

No king, no person should think that their own power is all they have. Even with a great army, battles are lost. Even with strong muscles, defeat can happen. The reverse is also true. Gideon won a battle against an army too great to be counted — with only 300 men. David, a shepherd boy, defeated a fully armed giant of a man — with only a slingshot. Only? Both of them fought in the name of the Lord, and because He was with them, they won the battle. The size or strength of their enemies, or their own resources did not matter. My team could win without their super-star goalie.

What about battles involving parties that do not trust God and are without faith? Does God still control the outcome? The answer is found in His name. Lord of all means just that. There is nothing outside the power of God. I’m sure there are people praying for my team. Does that mean they will win? Maybe, but no doubt there are fans praying for the other team too.

Or does God even care about hockey?

I remember reading of a group that gathered to pray during WWII. Most of them prayed for victory. One of them prayed that God would “do whatever most glorified Jesus Christ.” While freedom and justice are important to God, it seems to me that that prayer hits His heart.

In the big scheme of things, sports can be a way to honor God, or they can be a distraction or a diversion from spiritual things. The psalmist says the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him and hope in His mercy, on those whose desire is to serve Him with their whole heart. God certainly is able to use even a hockey game to bring out spiritual fruit in the lives of His people. Win or lose, what really matters is that I remember to have the mind of Christ and act accordingly while I cheer for my team.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

A song in my heart

“You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7, NKJV)

There is a contemporary chorus inspired by this psalm. It goes something like this:
“You are my hiding place;
you always fill my heart
with songs of deliverance.
Whenever I am afraid
I will trust in You . . . .”

The first time I heard it I was terribly afraid. Something had happened to me that shattered my emotions and made mockery of all that I believed. Numb, yet life had to go on. One morning I was in a classroom, about to start a session on church history or something unrelated to the despair I was feeling. The professor entered the room and without a word walked over to the piano. He started to play. The rest of the class, who knew the chorus, began to sing.

The words washed over me like warm oil. God used them to fill my heart with His reassurance. He would deliver me. He was watching over me. I could hide in Him. I could trust Him even in this terrible situation.

The class sang the song a few other mornings, either with that same professor on the piano or one of the students before he arrived. I’ve not heard it since those days in that class, but it echos in my heart as a beautiful melody with certainly the most encouraging words. The promise from the Word of God itself became my song of deliverance.

The pressures of that trial endured for months, but during the darkest days, God brought His promise back to me in this melody. Even now, years later, the horror has faded to a memory, but the song still fills my heart, whether I am fearful or just want to praise His faithfulness.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Flattened speed bumps

Sometimes the puzzle gets recorded but not the solution.

After writing about the speed bumps, I spent some time in the Lord's presence. First He showed me why I was having so much trouble with these three things. The 'accuser' had me thinking that I'd done something wrong, but as always, I was fuzzy about it, not sure about any mistakes. In contrast, when the Holy Spirit shows me error, He is crystal clear. I know exactly what is wrong. The vagueness should have been my first clue that this was just another spiritual battle. As soon as God assured me that my judgments about these things were correct, the heaviness vanished and His joy returned.

Sometimes a sense of being wrong produces a sense of wanting to avoid God, but running to Him is exactly the thing to do. He may show me that I did something wrong, but like a good physician, His diagnosis and remedies are
not to be dreaded, but welcomed as perfect cures.

The interesting thing about this is that when God affirms my thoughts as 'being right' I have no desire to go to anyone and say "I told you so." Because He says — in that secret place of His presence — the matter is settled. If anything or anyone needs fixed or changed, He will do it. I can move on with the rest of today.

Speed bumps

“You shall hide (those who trust in You) in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; you shall keep them secretly in a (shelter) from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:2, 20, NKJV)

The past couple of days have been a challenge. Three things happened. First, my Bible class got scrambled by long discussion on two prayer requests (why can’t we just stop talking and pray?) and by several questions unrelated to our Bible study. The topic was derailed and because it was such a good topic with the possibility of great blessing to everyone, I felt ‘unfinished’ after class.

Second, several people were upset about something and instead of going to the person responsible, they were telling me. The same ‘ something’ annoyed me too, so it seemed up to me to speak to the person responsible. I did. That person was not receptive and did not agree that a change was needed.

Third, I’d asked another person their opinion of a creative work I’d done. He didn’t hear me right and thought I was showing him something another person did that I was supposed to fix. So his remarks were very negative and much more forceful than normal. I quickly realized he was saying what he thought I wanted to hear — criticism that would make me feel justified in redesigning the piece — rather than telling me what he really thought of it, or even having an opinion. He admitted that he didn’t even really look at it. I felt like an indulged annoyance, patronized, that my creative efforts are not important.

God says He will hide me in the secret place of His presence and shelter me from the words of others. I’m resisting that. It does not seem like a real solution, only one that ‘licks my wounds’ but does not heal them. I’d like to do the class over, have that person be thankful his mistake was corrected and change things, and hear the third one genuinely apologize for ‘patting me on the head.’ (He did offer a knee-jerk “I’m sorry,” however, that was not real either.)

I could toughen up by thinking things like, “It is not my fault. He sinned, not me” but that won’t work. However, hiding in the Lord makes me feel that I am not facing these things either. Yet I don’t want to resist God, although His presence right now feels like escapism instead of resolving anything. Still, what can I do about the sins of others? I can rebuke them, but that does not mean they will change or even admit they did wrong. Unless God convicts and changes them, their attitudes will still be part of their lives.

I can’t retaliate either, or turn back the clock. I can’t make someone repent. I can’t change someone’s character flaws. I can only hope that the Lord hears the cry of my heart. Maybe He will just change me.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

"I will never leave you, nor forsake you."

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10, NKJV)

My mother used to say that no matter what happened parents always love their children. Of course she spoke about herself, but she really thought that all parents were that way. She lived in a different era, yet even from Old Testament times, there were parents who did not always love their children.

The Bible has gruesome stories of cities under siege and the occupants without food. Some parents ate their children. In other cases, parents sacrificed their children to idols. Others abandoned their family. Even today, there are mothers and fathers with good intentions but their children feel as if they have been forsaken, not cared for, unloved. Even in the best of families, parents fail.

I’ve quoted this verse to teens whose mother was mentally ill and abusive; to a young woman whose mother had a string of live-in boy friends while her she was growing up; to a man whose father beat him; to children of workaholics who were never there for them. God knows the human situation. Whether good, mediocre, or outright horrible, parents are not perfect.

Everyone wants a perfect father, someone whose advice is always right, whose heart is always kind and forgiving, whose generosity comes through when most needed, whose shoulders are broad and whose strength is unparalleled. Is there such a man?

I’ve never seen one. My own dad was a good man. By the above description, he filled those requirements. But he is not here. He grew old, passed the prime of life, became feeble, and then died. Some days I would like to ask him his opinions, even only if he thinks it will rain today (he always knew), but he is not here.

This promise from Psalm 27 is true. God always takes care of me. He always treats me as a loving Father, offering instruction, rebuke, correction, help with how to live, even hints about the future so I will be prepared. He always takes care of my needs, including food and finances, and lets me know how much He loves me. He is always here, and while I cannot hug Him the way I could hug my dad, the Lord’s special attention to details in my life often feel like a hug.

The world seems to be increasing in the lack of parental devotion. Those whose parents have forsaken them need to know this Father who will never do that.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

It's in His resume!

“Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” (Psalm 24:8, NKJV)

If asked, “Who is this King of glory?” some would never describe God as the psalmist does. Instead, they might say He is a God of love, or of peace, or maybe a God who is absent, who does not care, but how many think of God as a Warrior, a commander of armies?

The psalmist may have been thinking of physical armies, but certainly God fights spiritual battles. The Bible talks about a “heavenly host” that serves Him, myriads of angels that do His bidding, and human warriors that battle against “principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” God is not only my loving heavenly Father, but my Commander in Chief!

Human battle strategies do not work in this war. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Spears and swords are useless. So are strong words and good arguments. When spiritual enemies come against me, I cannot talk my way out nor do I have the power to get out of temptation and evil. I need God’s help.

That does not mean no talking or no struggle. It does mean fighting with His weapons, not mine. He gives me armor: the belt of truth, a breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the gospel of peace on my feet. He gives me weapons: the sword of His Spirit, which is the Word of God, and prayer. (Ephesians 6) I dare not use any other defense.

2 Corinthians 10 says that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

Whether the battle is in my own spiritual life or I am interceding for others, these weapons — His Word and prayer — combine to destroy all bondage to wrong thinking and any attitudes that resist God.

I’m learning to pray using Scripture. I realize that there is power doing that, not because of me but because it makes me God’s weapon-bearer. He takes the truth that I pray and turns it against the liar and his lies. With His Word, He defeats all that would otherwise turn people away from honoring and serving Him.

This battle may be in the unseen world, but it is still a battle. Those who neglect or dismiss it do not realize that they are already defeated.

Friday, June 2, 2006

It's all about Him . . .

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn (strength) of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NKJV)

Jesus is my solid footing. He is where I hide when life feels like an assault and my hopes and plans crumble. He delivers me from harm, harm that I see coming and no doubt harm that I will never know about.

Jesus is my God, the One that I worship. He gives me strength when I feel weak, strength when I feel strong, and strength when I don’t feel anything at all. No matter the challenges, He supplies all that I need.

He protects my spiritual life, my heart, the way I think. He puts Himself between me and the lies of Satan, shielding me from anything that might destroy my faith. When the liar comes with accusations, He answers his questions; “Who do you think you are to be a Christian?” “What makes you think God loves you?” “There, you did it again!” Jesus meets all his flaming arrows with a simple, “I died for her; she is mine.”

In Jesus I stand sure of one thing: God loves me and I belong to Him. In Jesus I am fortified against fear and doubt. Nothing can touch me unless He allows it.

Being in this safe place has an oddity about it. I sometimes feel almost guilty at being so loved and protected. I know myself. I’ve done nothing to deserve the privileges of being a child of God. Being in this place is a total gift. What do I do about that? How can I say thanks — a mere word? How can I repay? Impossible! The most eloquent words, the deepest sacrificial acts of obedience — all are inadequate. Salvation is not and has never been about me. It is about Jesus.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

His eyes

“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 17:8, NKJV)

Last night when I went to remove my mascara, I grabbed the wrong bottle. Instead of eye makeup remover, I poured skin toner on a cotton pad and stroked it across my eye. Good thing my eyes were tightly closed. I knew instantly that I should have checked the bottle first. Thankfully the right bottle was handy. A quick pour and swipe and the stinging stopped. My eye is okay.

Just as I urgently protected my eye, God protects His people. We are as important to Him as our eyes are to us.

I suppose, in a sense, we even are His eyes.

God is spirit. A spirit does not have ‘eyes’ even though God ‘sees’ and knows all things. Since the Spirit of God lives in me, is it possible that some of what He ‘sees’ is seen through my eyes? This is a new thought.

Sometimes new believers claim that “skies are bluer” or “sunsets brighter” or “everything looks better.” Is that because the Spirit who lives in them is sharing their experience of sight?

I might be way out on this, but it does give me something to think about today. As I work in my garden, perhaps arrange a few blocks into a quilt, go for groceries, interact with others, I will think about looking at things through the eyes of the Lord. How does He see them? How does He want me to see them? What will I notice that I otherwise would have missed?

Also, I will be thankful that nothing can touch me unless God allows it, and that He never puts anything on me without first reading the label!