Monday, July 31, 2006

Don't just clear the clutter; use the good stuff!

My studio has shelves of books, some of which I’ve never read. Downstairs I have boxes of yarn that are still in the skeins. My quilting stash builds up in a spare room closet, and although I am making quilts, I wonder if I will live long enough to use all of it.

Last year and this I set goals to use what I have in storage as well as clear out the clutter and less-than-useful stuff in our house. In 1995 when my parents moved into a senior’s residence I had to do that with their home. It was difficult. While I don’t keep used envelopes and jars of string like my mother did, I don’t want my children to wonder someday what to do with my collections.

Spiritual clutter is easier to get rid of; confess sin as it happens and God takes care of it. However, today’s verse alerted me to another aspect of using what I have.

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12, NKJV).

Lay hold on eternal life. I have it, a gift given to me in Christ. As the Bible says, “He who has Christ has life.” Today’s verse says to lay hold of that life, seize it, live it out, abandon old ways of doing things and move ahead living in the power of the eternal life Jesus gave me.

Ruts are easier traveling that striking out a new trail. Old habits are easier than starting the unfamiliar. As I get older, the idea of trying something new looms as a large challenge. Yet here it is—a large challenge. What does eternal life offer me that I’ve not yet tried?

Of course, obedience to this verse is up to the Lord. He may not ask me to climb spiritual mountains, or send me off to a foreign country as a missionary. He will probably not ask me to become a television evangelist or a gospel singer. He may ask only that I be faithful with what I’ve already been given, use up what I have. It is not a matter of “use it or lose it” but don’t simply store something with such great value!

Connected to laying hold of eternal life is confessing what I have in Christ to others. I’m thinking that those who talk about their faith are given more challenges than those who say little. God wants a verbal confession as well as a changed life. While I may never be a Billy Graham, I have noticed that since publishing a blog, my spiritual life has challenges never experienced before, challenges that require me to lay hold of that life that Jesus offers. My own life and skill sets are simply not up to it.

I often think that walking with Jesus is an adventure. Who knows what lies around the bend? Who knows what He will ask of me next? I just know that I must not retreat with excuses like “I’m too old” or “I’m too tired” and instead deal with any excess or clutter—so I am free to grab with gusto the opportunities He offers.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Avoiding a shipwreck

Last night I had another unpleasant dream. In it I reacted badly to something someone said to me. The emotions were still there when I woke, so I did the usual “it was only a dream” stuff. They didn’t go away. Even though the dream seemed to have no connection to reality, I had to question its point. (Someone once told me that if you remember your dreams, they have some significance about what is going on in your life.)

After talking to myself some more, and calming down, I remembered that God once told me that it is better to have my weaknesses revealed to me in dreams than in real life. Yikes!

I know what the Bible says about the way I acted in my dream. I’ve some bad attitudes. Today’s passage is also helpful. It reminds me that the Christian life is a fight. My faith and my life are constantly challenged and I need to protect how I think and what I do.

“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:18, NKJV).

To avoid being “shipwrecked” I’m to hang in there—trusting God, remembering He is sovereign (and controls even dreams), and that He uses all things (even dreams) for good in my life—the “good” being that I become more like Jesus Christ.

Tied closely to faith is a good conscience. The way to have it is not by being squeaky clean (no one can do that), but by keeping short accounts with the Lord. One of my favorite Bible verses, and favorite realities, is “If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

When I agree with God about the sinful stuff that I do (even in my dreams), He not only forgives me and wipes it from my record, but those sinful attitudes are given a bath—my conscience is cleared. This is amazing grace.

It is also amazing grace that God promises not to put His people to shame. By grace He lets me have a dream to find out that I have some bad attitudes. And even though I didn’t actually ‘do’ anything, I can confess those attitudes and, with God’s help, not act like a total idiot when I’m awake.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

When will Jesus return?

Those interested in Bible prophecy vary in opinion about the role of Israel. Some believe that this nation will be highly involved toward the end—when Jesus returns and God judges the earth. Since some of that prophecy seems to pit most of the world’s armies against this small country, the events of these days are looked on with great interest. Is this latest conflict an indication that Jesus will soon return?

A contemporary Christian song has the line, “Jesus, the hope of the nations . . .” indicating how believers have looked for His return as the answer to the world’s woes. Others say, since we have no idea when Jesus will come back, we must not sit around waiting, but do something about the evils in the world, be proactive, have strategies for reform.

What is God’s take on this? Today’s reading says, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:8, NKJV).

It’s clear that we might not know the day and the hour, but because we believe His promise and know in our hearts that He will return, we are not going to be caught off guard like those who think this is nonsense. We may foolishly speculate on “when” but never wonder “if.”

We don’t sit around waiting though. We are supposed to pay attention, be focused, find out what God wants. After all, faith makes demands and if I believe what He says, then I have to act accordingly. The Bible is filled with directions about action.

Love also makes demands. Christian love puts the needs of others at the top of my priority list. It means dropping my wants and doing whatever God asks—anything from leaving a comfortable bed at 5 a.m. to rescue someone stranded on the highway, to spending an afternoon consoling a hurting neighbor instead of enjoying my garden. The Bible is filled with directions about love in action.

This week I talked to someone who thinks that if he does enough good things, then God will be pleased with him. His ‘good works’ are intended to earn his salvation, and he is afraid of falling short. But the bottom line in this passage is that Christians are not driven by fear of falling short. Our hope is certain. It is based, not on what we do, but on the promises of God and the loving sacrifice of His Son. Jesus died so that we can live with Him forever. That hope protects me from thinking I must do something or God will punish me. Instead, I know that Jesus has rescued me from the wrath of God. Because I am assured of salvation, I’m free to act in faith and love with no selfish motives.

This war in the Middle East could be the beginning of the end, but maybe not. History is filled with similar conflicts. Instead of being driving by “Oh my, the day of judgment is right around the corner,” I’m thinking “How can I express faith and love—and the hope that God has given me?”

One thing is certain, I don’t have to go very far to find opportunities to do that!

Friday, July 28, 2006

The real war

My phone rang five times this morning before 8 a.m. and twice afterward. All were “unknown” callers, and those I answered were obviously fax phones. If I didn’t answer, my voice mail kicked in and they left one long beep in my message box. Invasion of spam in e-mail is bad enough. For several weeks my telephone has being invaded.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve answered the phone and told the caller to take our number off their list. Doesn’t work. I’ve checked call display and not answered the phone hoping they would give up. Doesn’t work. I’ve picked up the phone and immediately hung up. Doesn’t work. These people are relentless. They want your soul.

So today I’m thinking what would Jesus do. Don’t laugh. No phones then; it’s hard to say. So how about what response does He want from me? How can I “be like Jesus” when being harassed by telemarketers?

The Bible says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

Since God is in charge of all that happens, and since the enemy is not people, even telemarketers, but evil forces that threaten me in some way, exactly what am I fighting? If it isn’t them, what is the threat?

Could it be that this battle is spiritual? That those principalities and powers are trying to spoil my communion with God? I’ve had some intense times of prayer this week for some intense problems. Could it be that the enemy is hoping to stop me by getting me annoyed to the point that I will not, or cannot, pray?

Right now, the ringing phone is stirring up impatience and a desire to be in control. But patient endurance is a choice. Just leave the phone alone. When the calls come, ignore them. At the end of the day, go into voice mail and delete them all at once. I don’t have to deal with every call every time and just get steamed.

The rest of the above passages says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints . . . .“ (Ephesians 6:10-18, NKJV).

The key to battling evil is “praying always . . . .” which verifies that the real war is not with the stupid phone, or whoever is at the other end trying to make minimum wage, but with the powers of destruction that are deeply involved in the lives of those on my prayer list.

Enough said. I’ve a sword to wield.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Perseverance

After thirty plus years of being a Christian, I sometimes still think that if I just said the right words, God would quickly jump to do what I ask. How silly.

Unanswered prayer has to be one of the biggest tests of faith, especially if the requests are clearly in His will, the answers would glorify Him, and I know that He is entirely capable of doing what I ask. Silence. What is the silence about?

Sometimes I tell Him that if there is anything that needs to change in me before He can answer my prayer, then change me. He usually answers that prayer. But when it comes to changing the lives of others, the process seems out of my control. Why does He tell me to keep praying?

For today: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For 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” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NKJV).

The Lord teaches me that the real enemy is not people, it is “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Nor am I trying to persuade God to do things that would clearly honor Him; He wants that more than I do. This prayer battle is more about bringing down strongholds and whatever has exalted itself against the knowledge of God.

Strongholds are just that. I remember how my mom used to build up the strongholds called “worries” in her mind. She would get a notion of something that could happen and repeat it over and over until it was a certain fact in her head, a stronghold. Even if the opportunity came and went and the worry never happened, she was convinced that it would come back and get her.

It works the same with those “arguments and high things” that “exalt themselves against the knowledge of God.” The truth about God is challenged with an notion as simple as, “God doesn’t care.” Then every event is run through that grid and seen as ‘proof’ until the person has a wall built around them, a wall that the goodness of God cannot penetrate. In their mind, God is the enemy and that’s that.

The flesh fights those ideas with debate, argument, logic. They might seem to succeed—some will agree just to be polite—but those tactics do not bring anyone’s mind into obedience to Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, and my part is to give Him His weapon.

Instead of fighting lies with arguments God tells me to bring these spiritual strongholds down with spiritual weapons. The weapon is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Often that Word cannot be said to those with a wall around them; they won’t listen or cannot ‘hear’ it. Because of their stronghold, I must pray it, that is pray using Scripture, and trust God to use His weapon to reach the hearts of those deceived by lies about Him.

Prayer is not asking God to make things go my way, to make life more comfortable for me, to have Him do what I want. It is standing with Him in battle, fighting the good fight, until the inevitable happens—Jesus wins.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Today is one of those days

Rarely do I have problems sleeping, but last night was one of those nights when, as a Star Wars character might say, there was a “disturbance in the force.” Monday and Tuesday were not days for good news.

My remaining great aunt, a spunky lady, finally gave in to death. Our daughter’s closest friend lost an employee and long-time friend to suicide. Another friend struggles because her mother is dying. Another’s older brother died suddenly, without any warning. Another friend struggles with a severe injury—a horse fell on her leg and crushed it in several places. Several people in my writing group have serious health problems in their families. On a larger scale, the war between Israel and Lebanon intensifies, and because of Bible prophecies I wonder what this means for the rest of the world.

Sometimes I don’t know what to do. Going through this list, plus other burdens, makes me thankful that, even though I’m not on the ‘front lines’ for most of these things, I can at least pray. And the oddest thing happened this morning; I woke up with a song in my heart.

For today: the Apostle Paul wrote, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:3-10, NKJV).

My troubles are nothing compared to Paul’s, yet I notice how he had that same dichotomy between trials and blessing, sorrow and rejoicing. He was beaten up, couldn’t sleep, working hard, and at the same time loving others, at peace, and enjoying the power of God.

In chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote how Christians are strong in weakness. In our humanness, the stresses of life seem impossible. We cannot fix them or make them go away. But in our weakness, and without removing the sense of that weakness, God gives us strength. It might be joy, an inscrutable elation that makes others think we have slipped a cog. It might be peace, again a deep calm that cannot be explained. It might be incredible ability, or wisdom, or loving actions (where hate would normally prevail), or the deep assurance that everything is going to be okay, even when there are no signs that it will.

Faith is not ‘the power of positive thinking’ nor merely clinging to God’s promises. Faith is a “both/and” experience, where Christians have the negatives in one hand and the promises of God in the other, then live with and in that tension.

My life is tame compared to Paul’s, but today is one of those days.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Smell is in the nose of the sniffer!

Bob called my brother last night to tell him about his CLL. I expected a negative response. My brother would be downcast, and he was. But he also offered ‘cancer cures’ that supposedly helped other people. He mentioned two that were for different types of cancer than leukemia, and both turned out to be controversial ‘alternative’ treatments.

I’m having strong reactions to those kinds of responses. It is not that we wouldn’t welcome a cure, but there is something about the motivation for seeking it that bothers me. We believe that God is in charge of everything that happens to us. When negative things (negative in our mind) come along, He has allowed or designed them for a purpose. We may not ever find out His exact intentions, but I’m convinced seeking His will comes first, not trying to ‘fix’ the problem
immediately. By doing that we might miss something far more important.

I’m encouraged by those who understand the will of God in this way, such as that article by John Piper mentioned a few days ago, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” We would waste it if we did not seek God’s reason for allowing it.

When we share our bad news and the listener immediately comes up with a fix-it, I learn a great deal about their world view. Most of them are ‘baby boomers,’ part of what is also called the ‘me-generation’ (as in ‘me first’). Personal comfort tops the priority list. Don’t even think about death, aging or even being stressed. Use lotions, potions, pills, spas, mud wraps, whatever it takes and whatever it costs to stay young and be as comfortable as possible.

I’m not against looking young or being comfortable, but the Bible teaches that life ends—so be ready, and life involves trouble—so trust the Lord. We have not had many people, Christian or otherwise, say anything like: “You are so fortunate to know that this life is not all there is, and you have a strong relationship with the Lord, and look forward to eternal life.” Most are either too dismayed to think of any response, or they fumble for a fix.

The cause of CLL is damaged DNA in the bone marrow where blood cells are produced. Even if chemotherapy destroys the faulty blood cells, it does not fix the DNA. That is why, at this point, this type of cancer does not have a cure. My husband could live 20 years with this, but life has no guarantees; something else could happen to him this week. “Fixing” everything is not the point. The point is being ready for life and for death—through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, walking with Him and seeking His will and His glory.

For today: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NKJV).

The Bible describes the responses of those exposed to a person who God is leading in a victorious Christian life. Some will smell Christ’s perfume and recognize the power of His life in them. Others will smell the flowers of a funeral wreath and think Christians are wasting their lives, particularly if we are not pursuing the latest cure claims and so-called fixes for what they perceive is the worst problem ever.

I’m still not sure how to respond to even the most well-meaning attempts to be helpful. So far, I tell them about the DNA, and about trusting the Lord. Those who are the most afraid of death don’t seem to hear it. They cannot face any of it (nor can we) without knowing the Giver of life, and their lack of faith makes me very sad.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Clobbering doesn't work

This week I read about a so-called ‘Christian’ leader who did not believe that Jesus is the only way to God because that would “put God in an awfully small box” and did not believe what the Bible says because we have to consider “modern” findings.

At first I was angry and wanted to write a sarcastic letter, something to the effect ‘don’t call yourself a Christian if you refuse to believe what Christ Himself has said,’ but I’m not sure that is the best way to respond to darkness. This person has no light. Sarcasm will not give it to her. Sigh.

Obviously I didn’t graduate from ‘evangelism and outreach school’ because of my tendency to try and debate people into believing. A good argument never convinces anyone of the truth about Jesus Christ. But I take a lot of convincing too. I think, if I could just tell them this . . . or that . . . then they would see it; then they would believe.

It doesn’t work that way. I should know; it didn’t for me. Believing came as a surprise. I’d read the Bible for sixteen years and didn’t believe. Then God visited my heart. Even though “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” I know that believing is a gift. It isn’t something a person can conjure up for themselves.

Nor is faith something I can force or cajole in another person. Only God can change the way a person thinks and believes. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

For today: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).

However, God does say that I am supposed to defend “the faith” — a term that means the body of truth that the Bible clearly teaches and the church has consistently believed. Included in “the faith” is the belief that Jesus is the way to God, the only way. He said it Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

So as I read today’s verses, I’m thinking these things: bravely and with strength, stand fast in the faith, but do it in love. The love part is difficult when I want to clobber someone over the head—if not with the truth, at least with their own lies.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back into the eye

I had a dream last night that, when I woke up, gave me a knot in my stomach. It was about being lied to about something important—as if my thoughts and feelings were of no consequence. “It was only a dream” rational thinking didn’t untie the knot. I asked God to speak to it.

The next verses in this set on spiritual warfare were not about the trials and fears of this life, but about the end of the world and who eventually wins. They describe how Jesus returns and takes His people into eternal life.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:22-26, NKJV).

Is that any help to calm down the after-effects of a nightmare, one that seemed to bring out a real fear that I need help to overcome? Maybe. A few days ago I read, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

Again, Jesus reminds me that in this life trouble will come and people will let me down. Some of my fears may be realized. His promise is not paradise on earth, but that in Him I may have peace.

The world’s version is peaceful surroundings, people who are ‘nice’ all the time, no conflicts. Jesus’ version is peace on the inside, a peace so powerful that I’m not flustered by anything. But this is His peace. That is, I cannot ‘make it happen.’ So how do I get it?

Two things do come to mind. One is from Isaiah: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Focus on the Lord and His power, not my fears, or the evil that people might do.

The other is from the New Testament: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Get back to the eye of the storm. Tell Him what bothers me, and be thankful. Remember that Jesus wins. Whatever whirls around me, no matter what happens, or what people do, or how life slams me around, I can trust Him. And the trade-off is His perfect peace, sufficient for real storms, and certainly sufficient for a bad dream.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I should not need a deadline. . .

There are people who seem to be angry all the time. It sets wrinkles in their brow, gives them ulcers and a reputation; “Don’t cross her; she will never forget it.”

I used to joke that I’ve not enough energy to hold grudges. That may be true, but it is also a God-given grace. What usually melts me is realizing how much I’ve been forgiven. How can I stay angry with someone who has done far less than I have?

But, sinful creature that I am, I can be picky about stuff. My poor husband has been the brunt of most of it. Nagging might be a wife-husband thing, but I’ve done it and fought it for most of our marriage. No matter how hard I tried, or how often I took it to the Lord, that cycle of repent-repeat kept going on and on, until last month. It stopped the day he told me that the doctor said he has cancer.

He noticed the change in me, I’m sure. Others were treating him with special consideration and I remarked that it should not take something like this deadline on life to make us treat people the way God tells us to. He smiled, “No, it should not.”

Odd, God’s commands to proper behavior are often linked to a similar deadline, like the Second Coming, or the end of the world. In Romans 13, He tells us to "love one another" then says to do it, “knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:11-14, NKJV).

Love one another because our salvation is nearer now . . . time is passing. We are getting older. Our time to step into eternity is closer. Quit living in the flesh—and fleshy living means all selfishness. Even though this passage illustrates with extremes, the flesh is also behind grudges, fault-finding, complaining, and a critical spirit. Ouch.

Realizing that this life is not open-ended is a good strategy for putting a stop to dark and foolish revelry, but also stopping those petty things that irritate serenity. If God accomplishes nothing else through this cancer thing, I’m thankful for the wake-up call to a better attitude, and really sorry for being so picky for so long. And this is a very public apology.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Don't waste it

The novel I’m reading tells of a father who runs a small store. He calls the police to come because he has detained a person who was demanding money. Turns out the ‘thief’ is his son who was pushing him for his overdue allowance. The relationship between father and son is not helped by a few hours in the police station. The father is convinced the boy is no good, and the boy is certain that his father hates him.

For far too many fathers and sons, this is not fiction. No love wasted, just suspicion and anger.

When I think about my own father and how much he loved his children, I realize how easy he made it to think that God is the same—that He loves his children too. Could any child whose father has them arrested rather than pay their allowance ever think that God the Father was on their side? Probably not.

This week someone pointed me to an article by John Piper called, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” The first point in this excellent encouragement is about believing that all things are designed by God and that He has good reasons for what He does. If anyone thinks otherwise, whatever happens to them, including cancer, will have no purpose and be wasted.

As a new believer, God put the idea into my head. He would use “all things together for my good” and the good He had in mind was that I become more like Jesus. I can still remember my delight in realizing this truth, and looking for ways to respond like Jesus to even the most mundane events.

Because of this grace, as time went by life’s ups and downs continue to have significance. Even the horrible blows have purpose as God reminds me over and over that He is in control, and that He has reasons for what happens. More important, He is not “out to get me” but loves me and wants the very best for me.

Romans 8 ends with these verses:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, NKJV).

Because I know God loves me, I am not angry that my husband has cancer. What a waste of energy that would be! Instead, I’m trusting Him to give us Christ-like attitudes and help us avoid becoming inward and self-absorbed. By the grace of God, we can be a help and a blessing to others.

The man and the boy in the novel could not do that. Their distrust and anger made them annoying to each other and a nuisance to those around them. Two people who did not know the love of God. A sad waste of two lives.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Oh to be perfect!

I was supposed to take my vehicle to the dealer today, but he wanted it the night before so they could start work early in the morning. So I marked on the calendar yesterday to take the vehicle in, but the day before that I noticed the calendar and thought, I have to take it in the night before, so wound up taking it a day early. Duh!

This time a cancellation made my mistake okay. They fixed the vehicle and it turned out for the good because I need transportation today. However, my slip-ups are not always convenient.

When I became a Christian, why didn’t God take away my capacity to make mistakes? Even more important, why didn’t He totally remove sin too? Why did He leave me with a tendency to be selfish, thoughtless, and even to fight Him? Life would be so much easier if my first battle was not with myself.

We know the stories. If you help a butterfly out of the cocoon, it will die. If you help a chick out of the egg, it will be weak and die. Struggle is necessary for a strong life. I suppose that is true spiritually too. If I didn’t fight error and sin, I wouldn’t appreciate success and godliness either.

Watchman Nee, a Chinese believer, once said, “Being a Christian is like having two dogs fighting inside me.” When asked which one was winning, he replied, “The one I feed the most.”

If I were sinless, I would not need to feed on the Word of God, spend time with Him in prayer, or rely on Him to help me overcome challenges. Eventually, instead of glorifying Him, people would either praise my perfections or be bugged enough to crucify me.

This way, by fighting my own sinfulness and imperfections, I’ve better insight into other people. I have never murdered anyone, but I do understand the rage and vindictiveness that can lead to murder. I’ve not stolen things, but know the temptation. When I pray for other people, my own sinful nature helps me know how they struggle and what to pray for. I can connect with human frailty and sinfulness. It is in me too.

The Apostle Paul had the same struggle. He wrote,
“I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin”(Romans 7:22-25, NKJV).

He wanted to be godly, but that other ‘dog’ wanted to sin. He knew deliverance through Christ, yet he also knew depravity and the war within.

But I am thankful that God gives me the capacity to be godly. Without it, I would not realize just how sinful I can be, and how precious is the forgiveness and grace that God offers. As for those times when I wish He would just shoot that contrary ‘dog’ and give me total victory, I have to remember that day is coming. When I step into eternity, I will “be like Jesus, for I will see Him as He is”— sinless — and this dratted fight will be over.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Words that help

When my father died a few years ago I realized that some folks don’t know what to say to who grieve. A couple years after that, my mother died. Again, some comments were awkward. What do you say to survivors when someone dies?

In the past few weeks, I’ve realized some folks are also at a loss with what to say when someone tells them that their spouse has a terminal illness.

“Poor you” probably bothers me the most. Thirty years ago, my first mentor’s husband died. She grieved but also realized that some of her sadness was “only me feeling sorry for myself.” Over the years I’ve realized the truth in her self-assessment. “Poor you” appeals to my sinful self-pity. It’s better to focus on what God has done and will do in our lives.

That said, it hurts when people seem to not allow grief. Even though Christians are told “we do not grieve as the world grieves,” the Bible does not forbid grief (which is not the same as self-pity) but when I’m told to “Be joyful—think about heaven,” I feel like I’m being offered dessert first. While there is nothing wrong with pie-in-the-sky, or with the blessed assurance that the Lord will take those who trust Him to heaven, Jesus did weep at the grave side of Lazarus. Even though He was about to raise him from the dead, He felt the pain of this man’s family and the sorrow produced by sin, death and dying. He did not push Lazarus’ sisters with something like, “Just trust the Lord and get on with life.” Instead, it is far better to “weep with those who weep.”

Similar to this are those who come up with a quick fix: “Oh, my relative/friend had cancer too and this is how they were cured . . . .” Alternative medicine is dangerous for just that reason—making blanket claims about products and services. My husband called a naturopath and asked about leukemia. The doctor said there is “no protocol” for blood cancers. He could have offered a ‘miracle cure’ and made money, but with integrity admitted that there is no known treatment for this type of cancer. The ‘quick fix’ people may want to offer hope, but I am more comforted by being reminded that God can use this for good. I know that if there is a cure He will guide us, if a miracle He will do it.

Today:
Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

Jesus reminds me that when folks say and do things that are less than helpful, this is really only a small part of the troubles of life. I am not to be disheartened by those who mean well, but say the wrong things. Instead, I’m to trust Him. He experienced the same troubles, and overcame them. In the world there is turmoil; in Christ there is peace.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

When push comes to shove

“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me’” (Luke 22:31, NKJV)

At this point in his life, Simon (Peter) was so sure of his faith that he was prepared to die for Jesus. He did not realize that when push came to shove, he would deny Him three times.

My Bible says that the ‘you’ in Jesus’ warning is plural. That means that Satan asked permission from God to ‘sift’ all the disciples, perhaps even all believers, not just Simon Peter.

The idea of being sifted is vivid imagery. Like a flour sifter, events of life shake out whatever is undesirable and leave only the ‘good stuff’ behind. Even though the result is important (but not what Satan has in mind), being sifted is an unpleasant experience.

I see three things in this. First, Satan needs permission to have a go at me. He had to ask if he could do this to Simon and other disciples. So God allows ‘sifting’ only when He has reasons for it. Satan might hand me a good shake-up, but God allows it to refine my faith.

Second, Peter was too sure of himself; his faith was sufficient. He had no idea what he would go through and how much faith he would need. Neither do I. I trust God right now, today, but what about tomorrow? What trials will come? What kind of sifting? I’ve no clue what God might ask of me or allow to happen to me. Just like Simon Peter, I can be over-confident and not realize my confidence is more in my faith rather than in my God.

However, Jesus prayed for Simon. The Bible says He also prays for me. I will fail like Simon did (or in other ways), but He will pick me up and help me to trust Him anyway. My faith is not so much about my faith, but about the One in whom it is placed.

Even failing to believe can be a way God can use me—to show others that failure is not the end. He will not abandon me or any of His children just because we mess up. He will keep me, not because I am strong, but because He (not me) is my Savior.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Is Jesus coming soon?

“(Jesus) replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away . . . Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. . . . When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near’” (Luke 21:8, NKJV).

Christians are not sure how to react when Israel is at war. Does it mean that Jesus will come soon? Or is this just one more war in the cycle of violence between ancient enemies? One thing is certain; Jesus said no one will know the day or the hour. Speculation is futile. Those who set dates and affirm ‘this is the day’ might be the deceivers Jesus mentions here.

So how do I live while waiting for His promise to return? Do I watch for signs? Perfect my theology on this topic? Read all the books and have an opinion?

In some ways this is like my husband’s medical diagnosis. He has CLL, a chronic form of leukemia and, apart from a cure being found or a miracle cure, is fatal. He does not know when he will die. Although a series of blood tests over the next year might give some clues, he says, “I could be hit by a truck next week.”

So how do we live while waiting for death? Not wanting to be a gloom-and-doom person, it is true that everyone is in the same boat. As Bob often says, we are all terminal. How do we live with full recognition that life has an end, and like the Second Coming, we have no idea when it will happen, only a few clues?

There are several options concerning this CLL thing. Carry on as if nothing is going to happen? Forget all our responsibilities and do everything we ever wanted to do? Bite our fingernails in fearful anticipation? Go on a crusade to warn everyone to “turn or burn”? Seek out every possible remedy, quack or otherwise, and fight this thing? Be ‘super-spiritual’ and simply praise the Lord that he will soon be with Jesus?

I can’t make decisions for my husband, but for me, his medical situation warrants the same response as anticipation of Jesus’ return. I’m supposed to live as the Lord’s servant every day, listen for His direction, seek His will, drop all that is worldly or sinful and stay focused on following the Lord and faithfully obey Him in all areas of my life. If anything needs to change, I can trust Him to guide me in other directions.

My conclusion about the war in Israel and the battle with CLL is that life with Christ continues as always; it’s a daily adventure— and I don’t call the shots, He does!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

This is war, not a party

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:19, NKJV).

The disciples are excited. Even the demons had to submit to them in Jesus’ name. Jesus affirms the power He has given them, but tells them where to focus concerning their joy.

For me, spiritual warfare involves intense and frequent prayer. I’ve only once rebuked an evil spirit in the name of Jesus face-to-face. While it listened, and left, and never came back, joy was not part of my emotions that day. It was not a fun experience.

Praying is difficult at times also. One person on my list is involved with a witch. Another seems to have several personalities. A third is starving herself. I’ve been praying in Jesus’ name that they would be delivered from these obvious evils, and the more I pray, the more I struggle to be joyful. Maybe I’ll feel more like the disciples when I see the results, but right now this is a battle, not a party.

In the face of these and other spiritual needs in my family and the lives of those on my prayer list, it seems a bit selfish to focus on the fact that my name is written down in heaven. Thinking about what God has done for me only makes me long even more that He would do the same thing for others.

So the battle against the power of the enemy in their lives remains intense. There is no summer break, no relief, and victory seems no where in sight. Without verses like these, I would simply give up or run away. But I am a disciple and believe that Jesus gave me authority over the powers of evil. Further, He will protect me from harm. I really do need to rejoice that I am His child. Without that privilege, no doubt I’d be allied with the other side.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A greater reality. . .

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20, NKJV).

Before looking at the verse in my list on ‘spiritual warfare’ I had a little talk with the Lord. I told Him I was fighting sadness and felt overwhelmed by family needs and the people on my prayer list. His response? “Quit fighting sadness; give it to me. Do you trust me with the things that are giving you pain?” I said I did. Then I read this verse.

It is from a prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 42 telling how He will bring comfort to those who feel ruined and useless, whose fire has been quenched. Because He is a just God, righteousness will prevail.

When I focus on the size of my problems, they get bigger and I become despondent. When I think about the power of God, the problems do not change, but He fills my heart with peace and joy. He is an amazing God who gives “peace in the eye of the storm.”

Some say this is pure escapism, a crutch. They think that being a strong person means overcoming all problems and refusing to let anything get you down, and if it does, fix it.

Sorry, I cannot fix the ruined DNA that is causing my husband’s body to produce cancer cells in his blood. At this time, medical science has no cure either. My hope cannot be in myself or anything anyone can do. Only God can change this, and if He has purpose for this illness, He will change other things, not Bob’s DNA.

I also cannot change the hearts and minds of those on my prayer list. One of them is a young man hooked on drugs and running from the law. I cannot stop his addictions or change his heart. He spent weeks in detention, weeks in Bible study even, but he is running again. Only God can change his direction and bring him to his senses.

I cling to God and the riches of His character, and cling to His promises because there is nothing or no one else. I used to think I could handle anything life threw at me, but now realize I cannot be strong or fix anything. God can. And if He has another plan, He gives me grace so I can live in obedience and faith anyway. And He gives me His amazing inner peace— a peace that makes no sense at all.

The platitudes are true. In His presence is fullness of joy, and the joy of the Lord is my strength. Others escape to the Bahamas, or to a bar, or some other fleeting distraction, but eventually must come back to reality. Some use drugs, alcohol, mind games, etc. for their ‘escape’ but they too must eventually face reality.

With God, reality is right in my face, but with my escape and my crutch I can stare it down because He offers a greater reality: “Peace I give you, not as the world gives . . . In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Friday, July 14, 2006

Do good to your enemies. . .

“‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’” says the LORD Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Malachi 4:3, NKJV)

The day is coming when God’s people will rejoice in His judgment against those who do evil. They will leap like a calf released from confinement, not only free from oppression and persecution but allowed to put the boot to those who harmed them.

Right now, it is not like that. In fact, it has taken God a few years to make me even want to “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you.” I still complain about those who do evil, denounce their deeds, pray that they repent or ask God to use what they are doing somehow for good, but even so, I’m not comfortable with the idea of trampling them under my feet. That seems so anti-Christian.

However, from Bible prophecies I can see that a time is coming when those who oppose God will severely persecute His people. Persecution happens now, but we in North America experience very little. Social norms and civil laws keep our “enemies” from much more than verbal insults, ignoring and ridiculing Christian ideas and principles, and making fun of our beliefs. Very few die for our faith. Not so in other parts of the world.

If I’m alive when things go downhill all over the world, I wonder how will I handle persecution? Will I stand firm in my faith? Or think God has abandoned me? Will I turn to promises like this one? Or will I run in terror looking for a place to hide?

As a child Corrie Ten Boom, a woman put in a Nazi concentration camp for her faith, asked her father a similar question. Would she have what it takes to stand for Jesus if put to such a test? Her father reminded her about their train travel and asked her when she received her ticket. She said, “Right before I need it.” The older man said that was what God’s grace is like, that He gives it to us, not ahead of time, but when we need it.

Living by faith is about believing that God is sufficient for whatever happens—when it happens. It is trusting Him for everything, all the time, but mostly knowing that He will supply all that I need, that He is here for me, not only for the future, but right now—this very minute. And this very minute He still asks me to pray for those who oppose me, and do good to any who might persecute me. The trampling part will be later, I hope much later!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Why indeed do the nations rage?

“Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two. . . .” (Zechariah 14:3-4, NKJV)

I’ll leave it to theologians to determine when this prophecy will be fulfilled. What I see in it this morning is that when the Lord sees His people losing to their enemies, He will go in personally and fight for them. His power and presence will be so great that the place where He stands is split apart. No army will stand against Him.

Today, nations and armies do stand against God. A quick read of almost any newspaper tells how nations, armies, kings and would-be kings defy all that is good and righteous. There is no mercy or forgiveness in the Middle East. The atrocities in the Congo and Sudan defy the love of God. Terrorists do not care who dies, only that they can kill and maim people created in His image. Crime rates and lawlessness rise, and even those whose task is to enforce law are sometimes corrupt.

Psalm 2 talks about the nations and people who defy God and His righteousness. It says, “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’”

They ignore the rule of the Lord and raise their fists against Him to establish their own power, but they do it to their peril. The next verse says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’”

Because God is also patient and long-suffering, those who defy Him think they are getting away with it, but someday He will act, not in mercy but in wrath. Then it will be too late to repent and turn to Him. His King Jesus will stand on that hill and His power will not only split it in two, He will settle once and for all who is sovereign over the whole world.

Yet I also know that this God who will judge the nations, cares for even me. Nothing in my life is too insignificant for Him. When I am sad, He can give me joy. When I am fearful, He can give me courage. Whatever I need, He is there for me. I pray for all sorts of things, and He meets my needs, large and small.

My weakness is also a venue for His strength. He helps me with all sorts of things that are beyond my abilities and power. However, the strength described in this prophecy is not given to me, nor to any person or nation. Only God can split a mountain.

Far better to trust and cling to a God like that, than defy Him by thinking I can handle life on my own!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sorrow comes first

“In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves. . . .” (Zechariah 12:8, NKJV)

A time is coming when the Lord will pour out grace and the spirit of prayer on those who once rejected and pierced Him. He will make the feeble great and protect them against their enemies. But first they will mourn and repent.

The six most difficult words are, “I was wrong, I am sorry.” However, sorrow for sin always comes first, before victory and blessing. Before I can expect God to do anything for me, I must first be in that place of grace where my sins are acknowledged and confessed.

Why is it so hard to get there? Why is admission of guilt so difficult? Pride? Fear? An incomplete view of God? Whatever my reasons, confessing sin is so difficult that I’ve started to think no one would do it without God giving the grace. As it says here, He pours out the grace, THEN the people look at Jesus, THEN they grieve for Him and what they have done.

While the entire nation will grieve, this is a personal grief. Every family is sorrowful by itself, but also every wife, by herself. It has always been like this. I can feel badly about the sins of others, but what draws me near to God is being sorrowful for my own sin, for what I have done against Him. Also tied to this is the realization that Jesus is not mere man, nor mere prophet, nor mere teacher. He is God. “They will look on Me whom they have pierced.”

Sometimes the reality of what God has done for me through the death of His Son is so overwhelming there are few words. My sin has been punished at the Cross. I’d not realized that unless He gave me sorrow for His death and my part in it. Even sorrow for sin is a gift of grace. He gave me that sorrow so I might receive and enjoy total forgiveness.

What is there to say? Praise God.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My most valuable possession

“But I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch. Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:8-10, NKJV)

In the middle of a passage prophesying doom to their enemies and victory to Israel, God speaks of an army led by a pagan king who will protect them. Then He speaks of another King who will come, one who is “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This King’s coming is in two stages, unclear here but borne out by history. Jesus came the first time as a gentle Savior riding on the foal of a donkey. At that time, He brought spiritual salvation by dying for the sin of the world. When He comes again, He will bring first judgment, then peace to the nations, and He will rule over all the earth.

This and other passages confused many Israelites into thinking that when their King came, He would deliver them from their political and physical enemies. Spiritual salvation was not an issue for them. So when Jesus came to save from sin, they rejected Him as their King.

While the believing Gentiles in the world might condemn them for wanting a physical deliverer, are we any different? In most prayer meetings, what do Christians ask for? We want good jobs, health, happy lives, no problems. Rarely does someone give a request asking deliverance from a persistent temptation or strength to overcome a troubling sin. Those problems exist but most of us are interested only in being comfortable and enjoying this life without physical pain or troubling problems.

I’m not against comfort; neither is God, but if I’ve learned He can use discomfort to get my attention, draw me closer to Himself, make me realized I’ve a sin that needs attention, or bring out a Christ-like quality that would not show up if life was without pain. His priority is glory to Christ and to change me into someone that reflects that glory.

So I can’t condemn the Jews for wanting a King who would get rid of their physical oppressors and make their lives comfortable. Sadly, they did the same thing most of us do; they neglected their spiritual condition in favor of physical comfort.

Another reality most of us miss is the importance of a spiritual priority. If my heart is right before God and I am following Him, He takes care of the “oppressors” and removes the “battle bow” so that my life is filled with peace. This peace totally overwhelms all else, even pain, deep sorrow, and stormy situations. It is a peace that is beyond comprehension, making no sense in the light of what is happening around me.

Jesus said, “My peace I give you, not as the world gives . . . .” The world’s peace is freedom from pain and strife. This King offers peace even in the middle of pain and strife—and I would not trade His peace for the world!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Places of Grace

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Let your hands be strong, you who have been hearing in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, who spoke in the day the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord of hosts, that the temple might be built. For before these days there were no wages for man nor any hire for beast; there was no peace from the enemy for whoever went out or came in; for I set all men, everyone, against his neighbor. But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘For the seed shall be prosperous, the vine shall give its fruit, the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew—I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these. And it shall come to pass that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, let your hands be strong.’” (Zechariah 8:9-13, NKJV)

God’s people had ignored God and experienced the consequences. This passage describes them back at the task of rebuilding their place of worship and God’s promises to bless them, but they were not to take His blessing for granted.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, a place where God dwells and wants to make Himself known. The building of this ‘place of worship’ is a work of God, an amazing grace that I could never do myself. Yet, just as the Israelites were to ‘let their hands be strong,’ I’ve a part in it too. I can’t expect God to automatically make of me a holy temple without my hands-on cooperation.

I’ve sometimes called spiritual disciplines “places of grace.” Activities like reading the Bible, prayer, worship, confession, etc. in themselves cannot make me more godly—only God can do that—however, they put me in a place where God can work. If I ignore them, I put my spiritual life into a box where it cannot grow because I am saying no to God.

Spiritual disciplines help me stay open to the Holy Spirit. When I read the Bible and talk to God in prayer, I hear Him speak. When I praise and worship who He is and what He does, my faith is focused and strengthened. When I meditate on the things He is teaching me, I’m far more able to make those lessons part of my life. When I stop striving and live in simplicity, I discover His amazing ability to provide all my needs.

Other places of grace include study, fasting, submission, service and celebration. Each of these bring me closer to God. The value of being close to Him is that the more I look into His face, the less focused I am on myself, my worries, my this, my that—and the more He changes me to reflect His image.

Discipline is not everyone’s favorite word. For some, it is harsh and unappealing. For others, it might even connote pain. My prayer for those who have difficulty with discipline is that they will realize these activities are not harsh or demanding, but ‘places of grace’ where they will discover the liberty and blessing that God has for them!

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Fire around, glory within!

“Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’” (Zechariah 2:4,5, NKJV)

These prophecies are sometimes difficult to understand, but one thing is clear about this one: God is able to protect His people and be their inner glory. In this verse, fire is the metaphor, an image He used before. Way back after the Exodus, the Israelites experienced God’s leading and protection as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Here God promises His people that their city will grow beyond its walls. Since this has not happened yet, it likely refers to the future when Jesus returns to reign and God Himself protects their city. Jesus also will personally bless them with His presence.

However, this promise is spiritually true for God’s people right now. He is a wall of fire around me in that He promises ‘no temptation’ without a ‘way of escape’ and to use ‘all things together for my good.’ He protects me from anything that has no good purpose in my life. Nothing that happens to me is random. All is controlled by my God.

Also, He is my glory within. I went online yesterday to do a self-test. It was multiple choice asking the most and least likely response to various scenarios and the results would tell me what choices I should make regarding writing style and genre. Besides getting all the way to the end before it said I had to send money to get the results, I had to opt out because it did not have any options like, “trust God” or “rely on inner strength from God.”

After many years of trusting me, trying my own ideas, thinking I had all the answers, the reality is slowly dawning that compared to the Lord, all I can come up with is pathetic. His solutions are far better than mine.

He knows far more about relationships and how to respond and interact with others. He also guides me my creative efforts, in the work I have to do, and of course all areas of ministry.
If I do well in any area, it is because of He lives in me. I know without a doubt that He is my glory. Without Him, my life is nothing.

We were at a funeral yesterday. The man who died was a gentle and wise Christian. His wife’s solid faith is also remarkable. His children did one section of the eulogy and even their tears revealed the glory of God in this family. Without Him, any death would be tragic. His presence makes not only life but even death a profound reminder of His grace.

A wall of fire around us and His presence within us. His promise to never leave or forsake us. His assurance that nothing can separate us from His love. Again I must say, God is my fortress and my Deliverer, the fire around me and the glory within me. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Get those zzzzzzz's

“Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:4, NKJV)

God’s people were told to rebuild the temple. The work had stopped. Some of the builders were discouraged because they could see this later version would not be as glorious as the temple Solomon had built years before. However, God encouraged them to be strong and get to work.

The New Testament says that the temple of God is no longer a building. God lives in His people. So our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and collectively the church (not a building but all believers) is His dwelling place. We are to “build the temple” in the sense that we work to make our lives match the glory of the Lord who lives in us.

Sometimes this is discouraging work. I look sideways and compare—then feel inadequate to others who are far more godly. I think of the majesty of Jesus and realize how far I am from that goal. Life happens and the busyness of dealing with daily stuff sidetracks me. The older I get the more tempted I am to say ‘good enough’ and just stop working.

God won’t let me. He says reflecting His image is His purpose for me, and being like Jesus is my destiny. “When we see Him we will be like Him . . . “ and other promises urge me on. God also says He can use everything that happens to me to make me more like His Son. That promise (Romans 8:28-29) was impressed upon me as a new believer over thirty-five years ago. He urges me not to forget it now; to use the challenges, the daily stuff, even the aging process as opportunities, not excuses.

My father used to say that eight hours of sleep could solve every problem. Another twist to that is how failure to get enough sleep makes all problems seem bigger. The challenges of cooperating with God to become like His Son become gigantic—when I’m tired.

One day this week the book I was reading just had to be finished. I turned off my light much beyond my bedtime, but had to be up early the next day. Can a tired person be strong? Maybe, with God’s help, but everything seemed too much for me that day. While I often confess fear and stubbornness as sins, I realize that staying up too late also could fall into that category.

Being strong and getting to work on this ‘temple’ depends on God’s power. My part is faith, a clear focus, determination, and avoiding fatigue!

Friday, July 7, 2006

What does faith feel like?

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” (Naham 1:7, NKJV)

Three truths about God. One, He is good. Why then do some people curse Him when they are in trouble? Blame Him when things go wrong? He might be the only good thing left.

Two, He is a place fortified against trouble. Instead of cursing and blaming Him, why not run to Him, the only safe place to be?

Three, He knows who trusts Him and who does not. We say we do, then tests comes in the crunches of life. Do I trust God for other people’s problems but have difficulty trusting when the same things happen to me? Do I say platitudes and fail to follow them myself? It is easy to “trust God” and tell others to do the same when life is smooth sailing. It is that “day of trouble” that tests faith.

It might not be a day like being in a car accident or finding out you have cancer. It might be one of those days when the car won’t start, the baby cries all the time, and you lost your keys. Trouble is trouble. The test is trusting Him all the time, not being a fair-weather Christian.

My mother trusted Him during storms. She’d say, “We must need it or we wouldn’t be getting it.” Her words sometime echo in my ear when any storm hits. Do I need this? Is God really in control of my life? Did He ordain this for me? Will I trust Him in even this?

Yesterday our pastor called to see how we are doing. I told him that I was fine, but added that maybe I was still in shock. He said it was more likely a strong faith. Is it? Or fatalism? Or a realization that there are no cures for my husband’s form of leukemia—even a naturopath told him they have nothing for CLL—and faith in God is the only option I have?

My husband is researching (with caution) all sorts of claims for this product and that herb. For the most part, the fine print rules them out. What is God thinking? Is this Bob’s ticket to glory? Or will He glorify Himself with a miracle cure?

I’m at peace, I think. Or am I like a duck, calm on the topside and paddling like crazy under the surface? I’m not sure what trust feels like these days, but this verse tells me that God knows my heart. He is good. I can hide in Him, and there in that stronghold is the best place to be, even with all of my uncertainties.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Even the lions obey Him

“So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!’
“A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?’
“Daniel answered, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.’
“The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (Daniel 6:16-23, NKJV)

Uncle Bud was holidaying in a national park and got out of his car in the vicinity of a black bear. Bud was eating a chocolate bar. The bear ambled up to him, put his mouth over his hand, took the chocolate bar without injuring him, ate the bar, then licked the chocolate off Bud’s fingers before ambling off into the bushes. Bud returned to his car and tried to calm his hysterical wife.

Obviously the bear was more into chocolate than eating people. Was this story about Daniel in the lion’s den something like that? The lions didn’t eat Daniel because they were not hungry? Some think so, but verse 24 says, “At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”

Why is it so difficult to believe that the God who created all things can control what animals do? Evolutionists would argue the first point. There is no God. They just dismiss the Bible.

People with the “Bambi” view of wildlife would have problems with verse 24. How could these previously ‘gentle’ lions attack Daniel’s enemies? They must have been provoked.

Why not take God’s Word at face value? Why try to explain away extraordinary events? If the God that I worship cannot perform a miracle, then why ask Him to do anything? He is either all-powerful or limited—and if limited, how can anyone know the limits? By reasoning? Experience? It seems that such thinking comes from a faulty view of God.

God is not a magician who performs to show off what He can do and get even with those who mock Him. He is above such nonsense and has no need to prove Himself. At the same time, don’t call Him God if He is not Lord of all.

Biblical faith says our Commander in Chief can do anything, conquer all, change or alter whatever, and overcome anything. His strategy is often a mystery to me, but because even hungry lions can ignore their instincts and do what God says, I’ve no excuse for not doing the same.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Heat becomes hugs

“As silver is melted in the midst of a furnace, so shall you be melted in its midst; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out My fury on you.” (Ezekiel 22:22, NKJV)

God is angry with Israel and tells them He will melt them like silver in a furnace. But God is the only one who can give a hug and a swift kick at the same time.

The last time we needed moving cartons, my husband told me to first call a certain business, then pick some up. I hate phoning stores, but did it. The man on the phone sounded ‘icky’ and I could hardly understand him. When I arrived at his door, his appearance was also a turn-off. I was already grouchy. He put the boxes in the back of my vehicle. On the inside and out, I was complaining about moving. He overheard me. As he shut my car door he said, “May the Lord bless your day and your move.”

Instantly I felt God’s rebuke and His ‘hug’ and as I confessed and repented, I also laughed out loud.

When silver is put in a furnace, it does melt, but as it melts the impurities float to the top and are skimmed off by the silversmith. As the heat rises, the dross continues to rise. The craftsman knows the silver is pure when he can see his own reflection in the surface.

Israel would feel the heat, but God’s furnace was not fired to destroy them. God wanted to refine them. His rebuke was also His hug. Only God can do that!

Note from yesterday. Five minutes of praise and worship untied my knots. God is good. My husband also found out that not only was his ultrasound is clear, but the oncologist says his blood test likely indicates that he has about twelve years. This gives him time to make plans and do a few things. He continues to tell people that life has no guarantees. We are all terminal; the most important thing is to be ready. We may be in a furnace of sorts, but the hugs of the Lord are also melting our hearts and hopefully this heat will make us more like Him.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Old fears vs. timeless promises

“Because with lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and you have strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that he does not turn from his wicked way to save his life. Therefore you shall no longer envision futility nor practice divination; for I will deliver My people out of your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 13:18, NKJV)

God speaks to false prophets who, for their own gain, tell lies to His people. These lies empower evil and bring sorrow that is not from God. He promises to deliver His people from these lies and stop the false prophets. With His actions, they will know who is boss.

I had a bad dream last night. This morning I woke up feeling great sorrow. The dream was based on an old fear that God has helped me overcome by trusting Him. However, it seemed as if the liar, Satan, was whispering in my ear and trying to make me afraid again. He gained some ground. Even though it was a dream, the knot in my stomach is very real.

The New Testament says that God will not allow a temptation without making a way of escape so I can bear it. Past experience with this fear says my escape is focusing on the Lord Himself and His power, trusting Him to take care of me. The thing that I dreamed and anything else that I fear is within the sphere of His sovereignty.

My head knows that, even my heart knows that. However, my stomach still needs to be convinced.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Life is not fair but . . .

“Shall evil be repaid for good? For they have dug a pit for my life. Remember that I stood before You to speak good for them, to turn away Your wrath from them. (Jeremiah 18:20, NKJV)

We lived for a while in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and attended a little church in Mortlach, a few miles west. When we announced we were moving on, an older woman came up to my husband and poked him in the chest. She said, “Remember this, wherever you go and whatever happens; life is not fair, but God is good.”

Her words stuck. We’ve often said them to others when life seems not fair. It happened to Jeremiah and still happens. This Old Testament prophet had prayed for his people, but they turned against him and tried to kill him. Life is not fair. Yet God rescued Jeremiah and did deal with those who were against him.

The theme of fairness seems to be related to justice. Everyone knows God is just and demands justice. However, fairness is more about impartiality; justice is about moral rightness. This may seem like splitting hairs, but the first word comes up in discussions about the sovereignty of God in salvation when we should be using the second word.

To be more precise, the Bible says God chooses some for eternal life but not others. To that, some people say (and all of us think) that God is not fair. Why should He save one person and not another?

It’s the wrong question. Fairness is our issue. The right question should be: Since God is just, why does He save anyone? According to justice, no one should be given eternal life; all deserve eternal punishment.

This morning my husband is at the doctor to hear the results of an ultrasound. Has the leukemia spread to his liver and spleen? I could be asking God why is Bob sick? He’s His servant and this is not fair. I’m not asking that.

Job’s ‘friends’ took a different approach. Instead of thinking God was not fair, they were sure that God was being just and punishing this man for some sin or other. I’m not thinking that either.

Hezekiah became ill in the last part of his life and pleaded with God on the basis of the good things he had done. God heard his prayer and gave him fifteen more years. I know if my husband prays this way, his appeal will be to God’s mercy, not his own merits.

These days, fairness and justice are not on my mind. I’m thinking about grace—God is incredibly good to us. We have assurance of eternal life based on the work of Christ at Calvary and the promises of God for those who trust in Him.

I’m thinking about His wisdom and power—nothing is too hard for God. He could heal the damaged DNA and fix this illness if that is His will, or use this to bring my husband into eternity. I’m trusting the wisdom and power of God. He knows what He is doing.

I’m also thinking about His presence. How precious to know without a doubt that He is with me, with us, as we walk through these uncertain days. I feel His nearness, hear His assurances, know He is guiding my thoughts. He is not telling us the future, but He is giving us peace, even joy, in the present. In the seeming unfairness of life this is an incredible gift from our good God!

Sunday, July 2, 2006

God isn't finished yet

“For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” (Isaiah 59:17, NKJV)

This part of Isaiah describes Israel’s failure to follow God and how God promised to redeem them; there was no other to intercede on their behalf. No one could or would not do it, so He did it Himself. He told them that His Spirit was upon them. He had put words in their mouth that would not depart from them, or their children, or their grandchildren (verse 21). In other words, even though they messed up and rebelled against Him, He would take care of them anyway. They were His people.

I shake my head at the grace of God. His people, the children of His kingdom who belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ, can often appear as a sorry lot. We do mess up. Our lives sometimes go contrary to Him, contrary to the Word we have received. We don’t live like the children of God ought to live. Yet in grace His redemption holds. He promised to “never leave nor forsake” us, and to keep us in His care.

Lately I’ve been wondering why those who wander from the faith do it. Is it rebellion? Or is it because they have not fully understood that even their sin of wandering was laid on Christ? If they truly gave their lives to Him and were given His life in exchange, then they are already forgiven of anything and everything. Nothing can separate them from the love of God. They cannot escape His presence, nor can they be lost from His loving hand.

Why do people pull back from such a salvation? Fear? Ignorance? For me, every day brings temptations to just quit following Him. Lies like, “God doesn’t care” (Satan’s original lie to Eve), or “You cannot possibly please Him” (basing grace on performance), or “This is too hard” (making me responsible to save myself) pop into my head. By grace, I can put on my armor, including that breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation given to me by Jesus, and fight back with the truth found in His Word. The weapons of this war are also a great gift.

Ephesians 6 calls the Word of God the “sword of the Spirit.” What about those who never read the Word, never pick up their weapon? They are like a soldier in the middle of a war without a gun. Eventually the sniper, who never shoots at random, is going to bring them down with his lies. They will fall away wounded until the Redeemer comes to revive them.

But He will come. He promised Israel He would save them. He promises those reborn into His kingdom that He will “never leave nor forsake” them. Even though at times it seems the war is lost, it is not over. When I pray for those who stray, I know that God is not finished. He will save His people.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

He will share the spoils of victory. . .

“Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12, NKJV)

This verse sent me to my commentaries. Most of them said the same thing as my initial impression—eventually Jesus will win all spiritual battles and plunder even the greatest enemies. Then He will share the results of victory with those who fought alongside Him.

I’m trying to imagine that. The original readers would see a military image. A conqueror brings home the spoils of his victory and shares them with the leaders of his people. It is a great celebration. (Maybe something like parading the Stanley Cup in the home town of each player?) Modern day war is not like this, but Isaiah describes a different kind of war.

Each day I take my prayer list and go to battle. Some days it feels more like a war than others. My enemy knows my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For instance, I’m a person interested in many things and easily distracted. If I pray in my house, I’m soon putting away a stray book or dishes into the dishwasher. To concentrate on prayer, I must occupy my feet or hands in some way that aids prayer rather than pulls me away. Going for a walk is good. So is the exercise bike. That defeats only one tactic designed to pull me from the fight.

Another distraction is the problems themselves, the things on my prayer list. Taken all together, they are far too heavy a burden and good reason to throw my hands up in defeat. Who am I to fight these battles? Why should God listen to me? I can’t do this.

But verses like this one remind me that I’m not a lone soldier. Besides the family of God, Jesus Himself is fighting alongside me. Because He conquered sin and death, there is no enemy left that can defeat Him. I can brandish my ‘sword’ (the Word of God) in confidence, knowing that because the victory is His, it will also be mine.

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Some who read this blog are asking questions about my husband. First, he has no symptoms other than a high white cell count. The progress of this form of leukemia is often slow. He could be here for twenty years. Sometimes it is rapid, moves into other organs, and does its deadly damage in two years. We don’t know yet which form he has, but do know he is in a ‘first stage’ that is painless. His condition would not have been discovered except for his routine exam. The only ‘treatment’ right now is to avoid fatigue, since CLL affects the immune system.

His attitude is amazing. For years he has told people that, “We take our next breath by the grace of God” and he continues to say the same thing. Websites with excellent information all say that the most difficult issue at this point is simply living with it. My husband’s response to that? “We are all terminal. Everyone has to be ready.”

Coming to grips with the fact of death should not be neglected until there is a threat to a person’s life. Everyone will die. Some know when, but most don’t. The change of focus and sense of God’s presence and care that my husband and I have right now should be the norm for those who believe in Jesus Christ, not a special thing only for those with a terminal illness. Bob is right—we are all terminal. How thankful I am that he is one of those “strong” people that is fighting a good fight (a spiritual war) and will eventually share the spoils with Jesus.