August 31, 2006

Valued memories

In Belva Plain’s novel “Legacy of Silence” a main character is dying from a melanoma. As she takes her daughter for a walk, she thinks, “Oh, I remember so much and still so little. You wish you could recall everything, every hour of precious life, but all you can ever retrieve are moments, some so beautiful that they bring tears, and others so dreadful that you must strain to stop your tears . . .”

I stopped and read these words again, twice, and felt the same poignant wish, the same longing to be able to remember all of life vividly. Perhaps this touches me because wanting to remember is part of getting older, or because this very day I’m going to become a great-grandmother. It might be because I’m a person who lives in the moment, and these words make me wish I’d spent more time musing the past.

Remembering is important. God told His people to remember all that happened since it was their history with Him. In Acts 7:1-16, Stephen remembered. He speaks to the Jewish religious leaders who have arrested him beginning with, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there . . . “

He continues with their story to show how they had resisted the will of God throughout history, and now had killed the One He had sent to save them from their sin. Of course they were enraged for they still did not want to admit they needed saving.

That helps me this day to remember the importance of the story—the story of God revealing Himself to man throughout history, the story of Jesus coming to earth to die for our sins, the story of how He revealed Himself to me even, and how He changed my life. I might forget much of the events of life. I might even suffer from dementia as I age, like my mother who had Alzheimers. But the details of life pale in their importance compared to His story that God has planted in my heart.

I think of an aunt whose memory loss robs her of names, faces, life’s events. But she remembers that God is sovereign, that Jesus died for her sins. She forgets almost everything else but remembers the thing most precious. It is planted deep in her heart.

Even as I reread Belva Plain’s words I feel a sense of loss in that we cannot remember all of life even if we want to or have sharp minds. Yet I realize that the most precious truths will be part of who I am forever. That is because God put them there, and as 2 Corinthians 4 says, “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”

I know that even should my memories be lost, God never forgets those who are His. He will never leave me or forsake me, and He affirms that neither age or forgetfulness can undo what He does in my spirit.

August 30, 2006

Foolish pride

Pride is my biggest downfall. In fact, I nearly put down “used to be . . .” which would stamp it for certain as unconquered!

Pride shows up in all sorts of other sinful things. For instance, envy. As if I deserve better than other people. But the most obvious is boasting. Something good happens or I do something right, but then rob God by taking credit. I know that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” yet am easily fooled into thinking that my rush of achievement must be crowned by a pat on my own back.

When I read Acts 5:12-16 this morning, I was startled to see no hint of pride in the apostles, even though they were doing some amazing things.

“And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

Signs, wonders, unity, highly esteemed, multiplied followers, adoration, deeply trusted, elevated as healers. Had I been among them, I’m sure I would have spoiled it all by blowing my own horn.

God’s word has many places that tell me to humble myself before Him. If I don’t, He has ways of doing it for me. He said pride goes before a fall, and that is so true. Get my eyes off the true Source of any abilities I might have or any good that I do, and I trip over my own ego.

Belonging to a local church is also a good antidote for pride. We not only hold one another accountable, but humility cannot stand in the presence of united worship. As we praise God together, we remember who we are before Him—sinners saved by grace.

This passage also implies that Got does great things if we get out of His way. Pride puts me in His way. Imagine me standing in the place of God saying I did it. What could be sillier? And what could be more silly, and totally humbling, than to realize that I cannot even remember how foolish pride is without God constantly reminding me.

August 29, 2006

He is the Vine, I am a branch...

When I first started this blog, I had no problem with ‘telling all’ but now realize how much of my walk with God includes family and friends who likely don’t want any details of their lives (negative or positive) made open to the world. That must be respected. I can say that my husband is doing well, no symptoms yet, but he is having trouble getting enough rest. We are both adjusting to our granddaughter living here, and enjoying her. At the same time, we want to help her and half the time have no idea what is the best way to do that. Prayers are appreciated.

Some of my struggles involve sorting truth from suggestions by the Liar. Even though this is a huge battle and sometimes very intense, I’m incredibly thankful that God knows how to keep me on track, or put me back when I slip off. Much is at stake.

God says today, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. . . . These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him” (1 John 2:20-27).

Even though Christians have the Holy Spirit to nudge us in the right direction, we can be deceived if we neglect the Bible and prayer. Prayer is my lifeline to the Spirit and to the Father who speaks to me—even as I speak to Him. He has an incredible way of putting truth into my head so that I just know it is from Him. At the same time, the Bible is my black and white evidence of the truth—truth that kicks out the grey and murky lies Satan drops in to confuse and send me in wrong directions.

These days, the Liar is going at me with great energy, exposing both weaknesses and strengths. I’m finding out areas of my life that need work, but also constantly aware that the joy of the Lord truly is my strength. When I’m clear and in tune with God, nothing upsets or annoys me. But if I’ve somehow dropped out, either by trusting myself, or believing a lie, or doing something against His will, then I’m irritable and easily angered. The line between abiding in Him or not abiding is extremely clear. That is a good thing.

Yesterday I wrote also about the value of fellowship. Soon after that I met a woman whose book I will be editing and we experienced fellowship. It was a shot of adrenalin, a boost to my spiritual life that blessed me the rest of the day.

I also thought about the cross and spent a good time thanking Jesus for dying for me, for taking my punishment for sin and setting me free from its power. As I blessed Him, He blessed me.

Without remembering until now, I also did as the Bible instructs about being generous. It felt good to share what I have with someone else, because God designed us to take pleasure in obeying Him.

The truth actually lives in those who know Jesus. Living by truth is a delight, and when I do, it seems so easy. Yet Jesus knows I will have trouble. That’s why He reminds me to persevere. Keep trusting. Remember what I know. Abide in Him.

August 28, 2006

Today's To-Do List

Some days I would like a formula for success, a list of steps to follow that would guarantee at least a good day if not a spectacular one. I’ve had so many challenges in the past week and as usual, have no idea what this week will hold. Dare I ask God to show me a plan to follow?

Actually, I tried that this morning and to my surprise, the reading for today from Acts 2:42-47 does look like a formula for success.

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

These early Christians did a few things and God blessed them with joy, popularity, and increased their numbers. Can some of this apply to my complicated life?

• Devote myself to God’s Word (the apostles’ doctrine), which includes reading it and doing what it says. A favorite Old Testament verse is Joshua 1:8, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Elsie, spend time in the Bible and obey it.

• Fellowship with other believers. Some think fellowship is coffee and cookies in the church gymnasium, but the word goes far beyond snacks and chats. It means to deeply participate and share the person and characteristics of Jesus Christ with one another. Whatever He is like, we share that in true fellowship, enriching one another’s lives and producing a sense of well-being and deepened faith. I need to fellowship with other Christians.

• Breaking of bread refers to communion, a ritual to remind us of what Jesus has done. When I stand at the foot of the cross, Jesus produces at least two things in my heart: humility because of my role in His suffering, and worship for what He did on my behalf. I need to remember my Savior.

• Prayer is simply communication with God, not just talking, certainly not just presenting my list of I-wants, but listening for His encouragement and instruction. I need to pray all the time.

• Sharing what I have with others. Greed and selfishness show up in my attitude toward my possessions. God blesses me when I’m willing to share them. He proves that He will meet my needs. In fact, last week I decided to send financial support to a friend who is involved in overseas mission work. The day after I made the decision, someone asked me to edit their manuscript and agreed to a fee that will more than cover my donation. No one can out-give God.

• Gladness and simplicity of heart. Just thinking about these things makes me glad. This list is so simple, and in the complications of life, simple is not only refreshing but I crave it. If nothing else, reviewing the basics for success lifts those anxious “what if?” thoughts from my mind. God is not asking me to tackle the problems of the world. Those are His. He only wants a few things from me, and as I focus on them, He will take care of all that other stuff.

August 27, 2006

Not everything is my fault

As an artist, I quickly learned there is no place for perfectionism. No matter how good my work might be, there will always be a better painting, a more incredible quilt. God wants us to use our skills to the best of our ability, not complete with others to be the best.

This week we talked with friends about “if I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t even try.” Psychologists likely have a name for that. It goes beyond procrastination (my favorite stalling tactic when I’m unsure how to proceed) and effectively keeps a person from doing much of anything. I didn’t think I was guilty of that, but this morning realize that I am.

For years I’ve thought that if I talk to someone about their spiritual condition at the wrong time, I would turn them off. Because I wait for the “perfect” time, and because I am afraid of a negative reaction, I am more often silent than I am vocal about faith in Christ.

This morning God puts another thought in my head. What if talking to someone about Jesus simply reveals their spiritual condition? Whatever I say to them does not cause their response; it only shows me how they are thinking already?

I see that in Acts 17: 2-6. “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”

Even though there was some persuasion happening (faith is not a natural response), the negative responses had nothing to do with Paul’s presentation. If they had, then no one would have joined them. Instead, those who refused his message did so because their own hearts were envious. Their sinful attitude was behind their rejection, and Paul’s message to them about the Messiah brought that to the surface.

This doesn’t set me entirely free to say whatever I want to people. The Bible contains ample instruction about gracious speech and speaking the truth in love. However, I cannot blame anyone’s rejection of the gospel on myself. They are accountable before God for how they respond to Jesus. I’m accountable before God to joyfully tell others about His death, resurrection and offer of eternal life.

August 26, 2006

Those who seek will find...

The saying “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery” has some merit. Rarely are worthless things imitated. In today’s world of knock-off purses, software and other commodities, it is no surprise that people imitate or mimic other people also.

In the spiritual realm, the Bible warns Christians about imitations, people who talk and appear to be believers but “inwardly are ravenous wolves.” For them, Christianity offers spiritual power, power they do not otherwise have.

Acts 19 describes one example: “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ . . . And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them . . . .”

It didn’t work. Their error was in that they didn’t understand Holy Spirit power. He does not give supernatural abilities to anyone for their own purposes, or for grandstanding or sideshows. Even the demons they tried to repel understood that these imitators were not the real thing.

Today’s world also has ‘knock-off’ Christians. They may go to a traditional church, or form their own denomination. They may do good things, or simply use religion to line their own pockets. Their mimicry is so difficult to detect that Jesus said to let the “wheat and the weeds” grow together; He would separate them in judgment.

I’m bothered by the fact that these deceivers have the power to confuse innocent bystanders who are curious or searching for the truth. How can people know whether or not someone or some church is what they claim to be? There is no easy set of questions to ask or a simple test to give them. In my mind, being aware that they exist is important since gullible people are often sucked in by not realizing people will offer them false ideas in the name of Christ.

The fact that false teachers exist poses another dilemma. Rather than take on what seems like an ardous task of sorting out true from false, real from fake, too many people toss the whole works in the round file. It’s too much work. Others might use the eenie-meanie method and take their chances with whatever they pick. With eternal destiny at stake, rolling dice is not a good idea!

There is a way. God promises if a person searches for Him with their whole heart, they will find Him. A whole-heart search means a nothing held back, no strings attached where-are-you-God desire. He says He will reward those who “earnestly seek Him.”

How? Forget the claims. Forget the advertising and wild promises. Forget what comes by two-by-two on the doorstep. Forget past religious hopes and disappointments. Just ask Him to reveal the truth. He will. (And it helps to read the Bible while you wait.)

Writing these words is more for me than anyone who might read them. I’ve had a most challenging week. Many times I’ve not known what to say or when to shut up, what to do, or should I not do anything? Things have happened to bring out my weaknesses and selfishness. I’ve felt punched, kicked, tormented and humbled. Yet in it God asks me to do the same thing. Forget the failures and uncertainties. Just ask Him to give me what I need to do the right thing, to glorify Him. And He will.

August 25, 2006

God is not a racist

A few years ago when my parents were still alive, they came into the city from their farm for a visit. I took my mother to a nearby store. When we came out, she said, “My, there were certainly a lot of foreigners in that place.”

Busy with finding what we wanted, I hadn’t noticed. I also realized my mom may have said things like this before. It was a surprise, a new awareness. I began to examine my own attitudes. Did I grow up considering other ethnic groups as foreign, or worse, as something less than me? She may not have been guilty of prejudice, but was I?

This morning I read how God gave the apostle Peter the same dream three times before sending him to present the gospel to Gentiles. For Peter, a Jew, Gentiles were more than foreigners; they were considered an ‘unclean’ people. However, God told him that He accepted them and Peter must also.

When Peter obeyed, he told the Gentiles, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. . . . He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-36; 42-43).

Notice he said ‘every nation’ and ‘Lord of all’ and ‘everyone who believes.’ The Christian church is noted for reaching out to share the message of Christ to everyone. The gospel is made known by missionaries in many countries. At the same time, we need to beware of the sin of favoritism.

Sometimes it is a family thing like playing favorites with our children. We have favorite friends and favorite store clerks, favorite ‘types’ of people even. In the church it could be a special preacher or a favored teacher that gets our praise and attention more than others. It can also be racial prejudice and bigotry, both unacceptable in any circles.

I’ve heard that it stems from fear. If I examine my own heart I see another cause. Pride makes me put one person above another. Pride in my own preferences, pride in someone else who is like me in some way, pride that my skin is the color of choice, and so on. All of it is not only nonsense but sinful.

Paul warned that we are not to judge others. He said, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7).

Favoritism happened to the Jews who knew they were God’s chosen people. They were special, but God told them He picked them not because they had merit but because He picks who He picks. This is also true of the Christian church. We did not earn or deserve God’s choice, but are in the kingdom by grace—His choice, not our merit.

I am what I am because of God, not anything I do. I’ve no right to be proud or to be prejudiced, to play favorites. Living in a city with many ethnic groups, I am tested often. I’m to be less inclined to notice ‘foreigners,’ more inclined to be like the One who ‘accepts people from every nation’—remembering that He also accepted even me.

August 24, 2006

I can't even be sorry without help

Anyone who has children knows that there are two kinds of being sorry. One is genuine remorse for doing something they should not have, and the other is being sorry they got caught!

My life has both. Sometimes I’m sorry because I’ve done something that I know offends and hurts other people. But I have to admit that sometimes I’m sorry because what I have done has unpleasant consequences for me and if there were none, I might continue doing whatever it is.

I know which kind of sorrow parents prefer. What good is being sorry if it is merely selfish, without any realization of the seriousness of the offence, and no desire to ever do it again?

Yet there is a deeper conviction than this. It is a deeper sense of being in the wrong before God, a sorrow that no person would put on themselves. We are too protective of our own hearts and would never admit to being sinful to the core—because we really don’t think we are. Yet this conviction happens to people. It happened to me. As I read the Bible I realize that this sorrow is another affirmation that what God says is true.

When the new church formed, Peter preached a sermon about the identity of Jesus. Those who heard it realized they had crucified their Messiah, the Christ. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’”

Notice that they were “cut to the heart.” This is the conviction that I’m talking about. It is a deep and total realization that I am not right with God, that I have sinned and that my sin is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. He was crucified because of my turning away from God to do my own thing. This conviction is an overwhelming thing and brings a deep sense of sorrow and a desire to change.

Honestly, I would never put that conviction on myself. It is a thought, a realization that must come from God and actually did. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come and “convict the world of sin” and this happened to me, big time. Because it did, He convinced me that what God says is true.

The second part of Peter’s words about salvation are true too, but it is important to understand something about baptism. The New Testament taken as a whole shows that believing and baptism are almost synonymous, yet the act of baptism does not save a person. Rather, it is an observable declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God..."

The bottom line is this: both a deep conviction of sin and a saving faith in Jesus Christ are gifts from God. Without faith I cannot be saved. Without deep conviction of sin I would not be the slightest bit interested.

August 23, 2006

Machines are out to rule the world?

During the night a wild electrical storm killed our modem, even though it was plugged into a surge protector. I first tried to make it work, then talked to my USP provider and got the proper diagnosis. Several hours and two stores later, I found something compatible, came home and hooked it up. After fighting a tangle of cords and laying on my back under my husband's desk (we have a router, network thing here), I came out growly like a bear out of hibernation.

Now it works, but I'm mad at myself for letting a machine dictate my attitude. Worse yet, Bob stopped in on his way to a golf game long enough to be a target, so I'm mad at myself for yelling at him. Poor guy. It wasn't his fault that I was acting like a jerk over a piece of wire and plastic about the size of two decks of cards. Funny what God uses to show me where I still need to grow, or is that grow up?

The best euphoria

I used to make my living with a knitting machine. As I finished a particularly large order, I pulled a muscle in my back. The injury was severe enough that my doctor put me in the hospital and gave me muscle relaxants.

I super-react to pills. This time I spent the night about ten feet off the floor in a wild delusion that seemed to be carefree, but I never want to experience that again. From that day, I’ve not only taken better care of my muscles; I also refuse to take muscle relaxing medications.

When the early church first gathered and God filled them with the Holy Spirit, their joy was extreme. The people around them saw their euphoria and assumed they were drunk. Peter explained that was not so. He reminded them of a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Joel. In part it says, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.”

In today’s world, people who act like these early Christians are often thought to be under the influence of something. No one makes future predictions without many people thinking they are delusional. Seeing visions and having prophetic dreams are even more suspect. Does being filled with the Spirit of God always produce such things?

In those days it initially did. God had a statement to make. He wanted people to know that after a 400-year absence, He was again speaking. He choose a dramatic way to do it and definitely got their attention.

Today the Holy Spirit still does spectacular things—sometimes. However, most Christians do not do the things described in Acts. We experience His “fruit” which includes attitudes like love, peace, gentleness and self-control. We experience His gifts which motivate and help us in serving others. We also experience His guidance, teaching, conviction, comfort and wisdom. As we serve Him, we also experience His power. However, in everyday life, we mostly enjoy His joy.

Holy Spirit joy is not mere happiness that things are going well. It runs deeper than that. It does not depend on circumstances and is often present when our situation should produce negative emotions. Holy Spirit joy comes from a deep conviction that God is in control, that our world and life’s issues are in His hands. It is a euphoria that sustains us through trials, and gives us victory over temptation and negative thoughts and situations.

The Bible says “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” From experience, I know that His joy is better than anything produced by pills, medications, taking risks, going on spending sprees, or anything else I might do to get a high. Those things usually leave me with negative consequences, but He never does. The ‘high’ that God produces is not only safer and without side-effects, it also enables me to be productive and skilled in the work He gives me—which is far better than floating around on the ceiling!

August 22, 2006

Identifying drunks?

Other than mom having a little wine at Christmas, my parents did not drink alcohol. My first husband made up for it, and from those experiences, I know what ‘drunk’ means. I was always the ‘designated driver’ and the morning-after nurse.

In relation to my understanding of drunk, today’s reading strikes me a bit humorous. “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they (the disciples of Christ) were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-13, NKJV)

Verse 13 says those who heard them speak in the various languages of the crowd (gathered for Pentecost) thought they were drunk!

Maybe there are inebriated people who talk in foreign languages, but if I had been there, another feature of this group of believers would have convinced me that they were definitely not drinking. I’ve not yet seen a room full of drinkers who were of one accord!

Sober people don’t get along most of the time, never mind those who are filled with liquid spirits. It isn’t that people can’t agree on some things, but to agree on everything? That takes an act of God, not a bottle of wine!

While not 100% true, our church has a good dose of unity. We’ve had business and financial meetings that are short, fun, and without any argument or stress. That is rare. Many Christians report that unity is lacking in their circles. Since God commands it, what can produce it?

Christian unity is not defined by everyone thinking the same thing. We can pleasantly agree to disagree at times, but that is not quite what unity means. Our love for one another is more important than any issues we might discuss, but that is not what unity means either.

Unity comes when we are filled with the Holy Spirit and thinking in harmony because our thoughts are the thoughts of God. He brings all of us to the same page by giving us His mind, and even His words, on a matter. This unity overrides personal preferences. Our minds can see that God’s mind is the way to think, the best way to go, and we are happy to comply.

This is not being brainwashed. It requires our consent. When things come up, we can still choose to oppose the ideas of the Spirit. The Bible says this grieves Him, yet God does not make puppets of us. Sometimes the only way to learn that He knows best is by trial and error.

My drinking experience is limited, but I do know one thing—being filled with God’s Spirit and being in unity with other believers is a far more exhilarating and satisfying experience than having too much wine—the Holy Spirit never leaves anyone with a morning-after headache!

August 21, 2006

How do I know that Jesus is God?

Once a man jumped up and down on my doorstep with his fists clenched shouting, “Jesus is not God. Jesus is not God.” I didn’t know why this was a hot issue for him, but he was definitely not pleased at me saying that Jesus is God the Son.

Later I realized that knowing the identity of Jesus Christ is not a matter of being told or even reading about it. It is a ‘revealed’ thing.

The Bible says, “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:13-17, NKJV)

God the Father revealed to Simon Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. How did He do it? My husband often says, “Well, He doesn’t leave a note on the night stand.”

We see evidence of God in creation (“the heavens declare the glory of God”), and declared plainly in His Word. Hebrews 1:1-2 also says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . “ We see God in Jesus, in His works and even in His people. But how?

One of my commentaries explains that God’s revelation “is a matter not of imparting new information but of enlightening previously darkened minds to discern divinity through sensing its unique impact—the impact in the one case of the Jesus of the gospel, and in the other case of the words of Holy Scripture. The Spirit shines in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God not only in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) but also in the teaching of Holy Scripture. The result of this witness is a state of mind in which both the Savior and the Scriptures have evidenced themselves to us as divine—Jesus, a divine person; Scripture, a divine product—in a way as direct, immediate, and arresting as that in which tastes and colors evidence themselves by forcing themselves on our senses. In consequence, we no longer find it possible to doubt the divinity of either Christ or the Bible.”

The part that grabs me in this definition is that once God reveals this, there is no more doubt about Christ’s identity. I know who He is, and I know Him as my Lord and Savior, and this is a fixed thing, something I cannot walk away from nor ignore.

I’ve heard people say, “My, aren’t you a privileged person to have God reveal this to you.” That is true, but it does not make me proud. As soon as I saw the Light of the World, I also saw my own sinful condition. I don’t deserve knowing God. I’ve offended Him, sinned against Him. His revelation of Himself in Christ is a mercy and a grace, not a prize or a privilege. This revelation humbles me and makes me want to serve Him for as long as I live.

August 20, 2006

Can unity be possible?

When we lived in California, we attended a large church with something like 12,000 members. They believed in the biblical principle of elder rule and had about 70 elders to make church decisions. It is commonly thought that getting that many people to agree on something is nigh impossible, but they had a fascinating but workable way to determine the will of God.

In the Old Testament, the leaders of God’s people cast lots, believing that the sovereign power of God influenced this method. But in the New Testament, this happened only once. In Acts 1:26, the disciples selected a replacement for Judas, the one who had betrayed Jesus and then hung himself. “And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

After that, the Bible does not mention this. The casting of lots was replaced by reliance on the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s will. But in a world where Christians can and do disagree on so many things, how can a church board of 70 elders be united when it comes time to vote?

In that particular church they had a rule, if it could be called that. In any decisions, they did not depend on majority rule. The vote must be 100%! Even if one person disagreed with the rest, they tabled the motion.

In one instance the issue was whether or not they should go ahead with a new education building. The plans had been draw up, the need was obvious. However, one elder declined. His vote was respected. They tabled the plan and the 69 prayed again, seeking the Lord’s direction. After a period of prayer, the majority began to realize that the Holy Spirit was telling all of them the same thing; it was not the right time to start a building project. While I don’t know why they first voted for it, maybe enthusiasm, they were willing to change their minds at the Spirit’s direction, even though they were not aware why they should. Those reasons later became apparent, long after their agreement.

Sometimes my husband and I do not agree on what we should do. I’m the one with wild and creative ideas. He is more cautious. I often think of that church policy and how the Holy Spirit will not give opposing directions to His people. God is not the author of confusion. He is One God, united in purpose. Sometimes my creative idea is from Him. Sometimes Bob’s caution is from Him. Either way, when we pray about our decisions, the Lord will bring our minds into harmony.

That unity shows up many times, and I think it is one of the coolest things about being a member of the family of God!

August 19, 2006

A better place

Yesterday was one of those high/low things. In the afternoon I drove 200 km to visit a young family member who is expecting her first child. Getting out of the city—so relaxing! Trees, lakes and other scenic features—so inspiring. This young woman’s anticipation and enthusiasm for being a mother—a total blessing. I smiled the entire 6-7 hours.

Then I came home to a voice mail from a friend I’ve not seen or talked to for a few years. I called her back. Earlier this summer she could not reach her oldest son by phone so went to his house, broke in a side window, and discovered his body on the living room floor. Such deep sadness. So much pain and sorrow. Her family has had many trials and now this. What can comfort a mother who has lost a child?

The cause of death was not known, but she did know he believed in Christ and was ready. That was her anchor in this tragedy. As I read my Bible this morning, I thought how important to us that Christ said and did what He did so many years ago.

For today: “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11, NKJV)

When Jesus rose from the dead, He did not simply walk off into the hills and disappear. The disciples met together with Jesus and before their eyes He ascended into heaven. While this part of the Bible is mocked, those who saw it know that He is somewhere, not gone. Those who believe it know also. We believe His promise: “I am going there to prepare a place for you.” 'There' is someplace, a real place.

If his faith was real, then my friend’s son is not ‘gone’ but has moved to another place too. She believes that she will see him again. Without that hope, and without the promise of Jesus, her despair would overwhelm her.

In a larger way, yesterday makes me think of the entire cycle of life and death, birth, growth, aging, and leaving this world. I’m thankful for Jesus. While He cannot be seen by my eyes, I know in my heart that He is there, beyond the clouds, beyond the sorrows (and the joys) of this world busily preparing a place for His people. Even though I enjoy life here, I have His Word that life there will be far better.

August 18, 2006

Still in school

A few years ago I was taking some seminary courses. My mother-in-law said, “I just can’t understand why anyone would go to school when they didn’t have to.”

I chuckled and told her I loved learning new things. At least most of the time. The learning curve is something like a roller coaster. Scarey. Exhilarating. Challenging. I didn’t think to tell my mother-in-law at the time, but even she is in school all her life. The classroom might be changed, but everyone constantly learns new things.

For Christians, learning is an important part of God’s plan. Acts 1:1-3 say: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Jesus, the ultimate teacher, only “began” teaching when He was here on earth. He taught His disciples then, and again after His crucifixion and resurrection, and keeps on teaching us.

Yesterday I caught part of a radio sermon in which the preacher pointed out that Christian learning is not the same as normal academics. In school we read text books, learn a body of information, and write essays and tests to learn the material. In Christ’s school, we read the Bible and may even know most of what it says but that is not enough—we will not actually learn it until we have to use it, until we obey and do whatever God is teaching us.

For instance, God says I’m to love my enemies. For most of my life, I didn’t think I had any. Then came a day when a person threatened our home and family. An enemy. Would the lesson from the Bible be a reality in my life? Or would I ignore it and hate this person? God expects obedience. In fact, if it doesn’t happen, He usually repeats the lesson.

For some things, the lessons are easy, but I’m stubborn. He often has to take me back to His classroom many times for the same lesson. Not only that, every day brings new challenges to test whether or not I really have learned what He has taught me.

God’s “school” is not an option, nor will I someday finish and go on to something else. I’m here for life. However, His promise that He will use all things to transform me into the image of His Son becomes a goal, and a good reason to remain in His classroom and do my best to get those assignments in, completed, and on time. I’m not sure what graduation day will be like, but it seems to me that persisting with learning His lessons is a much better idea than cutting classes!

August 17, 2006

A huge responsibility

Yesterday I Googled a phrase something like “why are Christians different from others” and found some interesting results. Most of them were written by Christians. They said we are different because we are forgiven, or that we repent when we sin, or that we trust the Lord instead of ourselves.

However, the results from non-Christians were more interesting. One said that Christians seem to be happier even when things aren’t going well. Some affirmed that Christians have a greater sense of right and goodness, but don’t just believe it; they live it.

The rest of the results were less favorable. Most felt that Christians work harder preaching at others than living it themselves, or that the Bible is so confusing—how could anyone believe it?

Today verses: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:8-11, NIV

Even though there are many denominations and factions, the Bible defines the church as all those who genuinely put their faith in Jesus for eternal life. God has lots of things for us to do but one purpose amazes me: we are to make God’s wisdom known!

Right away I’m thinking, “We are not doing very well.” How can we do better? Mere words don’t cut it. We have to ‘walk the talk’ in such a way that what we say is backed up.

Yet there is more to it than that. My search results included a blog discussion between a Christian and a skeptic. Even though the Christian gave answers that made sense to me, the skeptic could not grasp what he was saying.

I kept thinking, “This is a mystery.” Today’s verses affirm that. The plan of God is a mystery. True, it has been revealed in Scripture, but the Bible says (and my own experience confirms) that unless the Holy Spirit opens a person’s mind, this mystery remains hidden, complex, hard if not impossible to understand.

Yet that does not take me off the hook. My life is to be lived in such a way that God’s wise plan is made plain, not merely to spiritual beings in heavenly realms, but spiritual beings that walk on two legs on this earth.

My husband often says, “Plainly tell others about Christ, and sometimes use words.” He is right. Our job is to make God’s wisdom known— and I’m absolutely positive that it takes God’s wisdom to do it.

August 16, 2006

Always thirsty

For the past few weeks I’ve been considering what the Bible says about spiritual warfare. That is, what does God prescribe in my constant battle against sin, temptation, selfishness and fears? And what does He say about praying for those who are caught in the web of lies that Satan uses to keep people from knowing God and His Son?

This study has included everything from large, over-arching principles to small tips for battle. Most days, it hit me where I was at. (Who says the Bible isn’t practical!) Some days I may not have related to the verse, but was reminded that I should. Like everyone else, my thinking has gaps and my brain has favorite places to park. The gaps need filling and my thinking taken to new spots that God knows I need to visit.

Btw, yesterday was good, normal, with lots of hugs and laughing. We had a family meal and did a crossword puzzle, went for haircuts, and did mountains of laundry. God is good.

Today’s verse is the last in this series, but a good place to park for awhile: “And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.’” (Revelation 21:6-7, NKJV)

Jesus stands before me with a never-ceasing offer; I can have the water of life anytime I need it (which is most of the time). He also makes a never-changing promise; because I am an overcomer, I will inherit all things . I am His child. There is strength and stability in these things.

However, most of the time I feel weak and shaky, unable to deal with so many challenges and responsibilities. God tells me that when I am weak, I am strong, strong in His power. The odd part of faith is that others might see the power, but I feel the weakness.

So many people think that a ‘victorious’ Christian is powerful, confident, and lives with great assurance. While that may be part of it, a person of faith also feels weak and unsure, even as they are living with confidence in God. In fact, if I feel only confidence, I’m instantly suspicious that it is self-confidence rather than faith. If I feel only courage, I’m thinking this is assumption, not faith.

The Christian life is holding my humanness, weakness, and the sense of being unable in tension with being aware of the presence of God, and trusting His power and ability. It is never either/or, and I only have to read about Jesus to realize this truth. He was God in human flesh, and even though that was true, He did not cling to the reality of His identity, but became a servant, suffering all the things human beings suffer. In coming to our level He tells me that it is okay to be human, to feel weak and helpless. The key is not how I feel but who I trust.

Sometimes the sense of weakness tips the scale. That is not a bad thing. It keeps me from living in my own strength (as if I had any) and motivates deeper trust. As for tipping it the other way, I don’t think it is possible to have too much faith, too much awareness of the power of God. I never have enough—and that is what Jesus means when He talks about being thirsty.

August 15, 2006

My hope is in Him alone

Today is D-day. Our granddaughter arrives to live with us and life turns in a new direction. As I read the classic book on bipolar (An Unquiet Mind), I become more anxious, more aware that we cannot handle any part of this without major help. While seeking help is not a problem for me, in this case we have no idea what the needs will be, nor when they will arise, nor the severity of the need. Having no experience whatsoever is scary.

I try to tell myself things like “This is no different than life as you know it—all problems are surprises” or “Nothing is too hard for God.” But the knot is still there, and the anxiety of it all is making me irritable, short with people, wanting my space protected, and generally I just feel like eating chocolate all day.

What are the pluses in this? Well, I prayed she would realize she has this problem. Second, I prayed she would come home. And I told God I would do anything to help her. All those prayers were answered. What am I complaining about?

When things come up, there is usually an “end in sight,” a time-frame to work with. Tough stuff is more easily faced when we know it will not last forever. But I’ve no end in sight for this one. While medical progress offers lots of hope, there is no cure. Not only that, there are no guarantees that drugs will work for her, or that she will be convinced to keep taking them. She needs tons of support.

I’m mostly afraid that I’ll fail her. She is a wonderful person, blighted with a terrifying illness. She needs her hand held, her tears dried, her fears faced, her bouts with mania and depression understood and withstood. Some days I think God is trusting me far too much. I know how prone I am to run dry, to forget to trust Him. I don’t think anything has scared me more than this, not even my husband’s diagnosis of leukemia, which we are still living with.

The big picture does offer an end. A friend with four busy children used to say, “Oh for the peace of the grave.” For me, it is not so much death that offers a final end to trials, but God’s promises that Jesus will eventually conquer even the worst of foes.

Today’s verses say, “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14, NKJV)

The Lamb, Jesus Christ, overcomes because He is Lord and King. And I am one of those who is “with Him” because I have been called and chosen. That’s incredible. Oddly enough, He also calls me faithful. That is almost unbelievable.

I don’t feel very faithful. I’d like to escape the challenges He has put into my life, go and hide somewhere. But it does help a very tiny bit to realize that He can see the end of that final battle involving His Son and His enemies, and in the end, I will have somehow (and this is beyond my comprehension) earned the title of faithful.

August 14, 2006

But I can't play a harp

Heaven and harps. Bob, before he became a Christian, used to mock the idea. “Who wants to sit around all day playing a harp?”

Where does this image come from? Today’s verses give one source: “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty!’” (Revelation 15:2-3a, NKJV)

“Harps of God” might be different from the harps we know, but what interests me is that we will be singing about the great things the Lord has done. Each day we enjoy His grace and mercy, often without realizing it. I can hardly imagine putting every instance of God’s works into one song and then singing it together with all those who have overcome sin and every spiritual enemy.

What will be included in that song? Surely the stories of each person’s salvation, of God’s intervention in history, of battles won because of His aid, of wounds mended and sickness healed, of sorrows comforted and lives changes, and every answered prayer, small and large.

We had one exciting answer to our prayers just this week. We’ve been praying for a young fellow who has a drug addiction and cannot stay out of jail. He turned 18 this month so we knew the next arrest would land him in adult prison, not juvenile detention. We prayed that God would somehow impress upon him the seriousness of what he is doing, and his need to get his life together. We dreaded what could happen if he wound up incarcerated with older men.

Sure enough, he was arrested again, this time for offenses committed when he was still under 18. He would go back to a juvenile facility, but before he was sent to detention he was placed in an adult facility for five days. His cell mate was a huge man with a huge appetite. By intimidation, this man ate all the food served to the two of them. The terrified young fellow didn’t eat for five days. When they moved him, he told a visitor, “I never, ever want to go there again.” He may not realize it, but worse things could have happened. God allowed this much, and in answer to our prayers, this boy is now making plans to get clean.

So I figure that heavenly group with the harps will not be bored in the slightest. They will share their stories, and just from the things I know about God, it will be not only utterly fascinating, but take a good part of forever.

August 13, 2006

It's not about me

Everyone knows the power of self-talk. What we say to ourselves in our heads comes out in everything we do. Self-talk is usually polarized. It swings from “I can do anything . . . “ to “I’m so stupid . . .” Most of it comes from what we think others think of us, yet I’m learning something more important. As Rick Warren begins his book, The Purpose Driven Life, the Christian life is not about me!

Through the past few months, I’ve been using Scripture to pray and have noticed the changes in me because I’m more focused on truth about God. In relation to self-talk, I can still go either way. As the Apostle Paul said, I’m the chief of sinners—and I need to remember that when pride comes into the picture. However, I’m also a redeemed and beloved child of God. I need to remember that when my sinfulness becomes overwhelming. Yet this easily becomes a balancing act, a wild teeter-totter ride. Surrendering to the idea that this is not about me and putting my mind on God keeps me on even keel.

Today’s passage is a favorite: “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.’” (Revelation 12:11, 17, NKJV)

Satan wants to keep me on the downside of the teeter, not just in my own mind, but has the audacity to accuse me before God too. “Look at her. What a pitiful specimen. Why do you bother with her?”

The Bible tells me that Jesus lives forever to intercede for me. He stands between the accuser and the Father as One who shed His blood for my sin. That is one way that I overcome.

A second is by saying what God has done for me, repeating to myself and to others that I stand before God as a forgiven sinner, a redeemed child. My words not only affirm my own heart, they drive away my greatest enemy.

The third way is by releasing all claims to my life. This one seems odd, but again, living for Christ is not about me. Everything the enemy does and says tries to make it seem as if it is. If he can get me thinking about my comfort, my desires, my attributes, my rights, me, me, me, then I am defeated. I overcome by not loving me, me, me and instead giving priority to the blood of the Lamb and the Word of God.

This sounds “high and lofty” but does apply to the daily choices of life. First ask, “Am I promoting myself or God by my choice in this matter?” Ouch.

If I can get past that one, the next two are easier. As soon as I admit my selfishness, God applies the blood of the Lamb and I remember His great sacrifice and mercy. I’m forgiven. Then saying so affirms it.

The best part of this passage in Revelation is the promise that one day the whole process will be final. No repetition, no teetering, no feeling like a jerk because I messed up—again. The accuser will be cast down, and God will elevate me to glory for all eternity. Wow!

August 12, 2006

Sealed by God

The writers group I belong to has a “seal” we use to impress our name on documents such as certificates for contest winners. Personally, I’ve a small wax candle and gold stamp with my initial. I seldom use it, but the idea is to impress my initial on a blob of wax as a seal.

Seals were used in ancient times to mark ownership and to verify that a document had not been opened. Although not required (at least in Canada) by corporations, most still use seals as a mark of their identity.

Today’s reading: “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” (Revelation 7:1-3, NKJV)

In context, I’m not sure who the servants refer to, nor what the seals signify other than ownership, but this brings to mind another verse: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Those who trust Christ and believe the gospel are sealed by God with the Holy Spirit. He marks us as God’s people. This seal protects that relationship until we step into eternity and our redemption is complete.

People without faith often think such a thing would give Christians licence to do whatever we want. After all, the seal is there to guarantee our final inheritance, so why behave? While their argument seems logical, it is without experiential understanding of what it means to be sealed into the family of God.

When God forgave my sin and gave me His Spirit, He changed my life. Motives, goals, attitudes, desires, all started to shift. I didn’t want to do my own thing any more; I wanted to please God. When He put His seal in me, He sealed that new life, those new attitudes. They are here to stay, forever. The old stuff, such as selfishness, me-first, etc. is being booted out and when my redemption is complete, it will be all gone.

Salvation isn’t fire insurance, nor a licence to sin. It is entry into eternal life and even though I’m sealed for eternity, that life started the moment I first believed. Because all this is true, threats like terrorists who tie much of the world into frightened little knots are not having the same effect on me. I know where we I am going and who controls my death and my life.

I don’t have a blob of wax or an imprint as a visible impression of God’s ownership. Instead, I am supposed to show it by my love for other believers. And that’s a whole new topic!

August 11, 2006

How soon is the end of the world?

Doomsday ‘prophets’ look at the events of the world and predict that the end is soon. The Bible makes predictions about coming events too. Some of them focus on what happens in Israel, others are more global. One of my relatives thinks that with the current attacks on Israel, the end could soon come.

I’ve noticed that biblical prophecies talk about a time of peace that will be at ‘the beginning of the end.’ This peace will include a series of false messiahs culminating with the Antichrist. The whole world will come under his dominion. For this reason, I don’t think the current fighting in the Middle East, or the world-changing terrorist attacks, or even threats of terrorist attacks mean that the end is near.

Today’s verses: “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1-2, NKJV)

Jesus unrolls the deed to the earth and releases the judgments of God. First there is a ruler on a white horse with a bow and no arrows who begins to conquer the world, but without bloodshed. The next of the four horses is blood red; its rider has a great sword and is given power to take peace from the earth. People will kill one another.

The third horse is black and its rider carries scales; both depict famine and hardship. The final horse is ‘pale’ and its rider is “Death” with Hades following, having power to kill one-quarter of the earth.

Wars have happened almost without stop for centuries. We have never had any unparalleled time of world peace depicted by the white horse; nor have we had one ruler who is powerful enough to make the whole world stop fighting.

Christian theologians differ on what Bible prophecy says will happen (and when) to believers. Some think Jesus will come and take all of us out of this mess before it happens. Others think we will see some of it and still others think we will experience it all. One think I know: I’m still here and I’ve not seen anyone taking charge of the world. The four horses and what they depict are in the future.

So how am I supposed to respond to the threat of airplanes being blown up or wars breaking out in many places? Pray. Pray for government leaders, for peacemakers, for peace, even world peace, even if that peace is ushered in by those opposed to Jesus Christ and is a false and short-lived peace. When it begins to happen, I know that the only real and true Peace-maker will not be too far behind.

August 10, 2006

Who will rule the world?

Today’s headlines: Terrorists plot to blow up airplanes. One country sets as its goal to destroy another country. The free world fights for democracy in several parts of the not so free world. People protest, but nothing changes. On either side there is that strong desire to take power, to rule the world.

I asked my husband this morning if he thought we could ever be free from the threat of terrorism, if they would eventually be stopped or all captured and disabled. He said, “No, not until Jesus comes.”

My reading today is about the title deed to the earth and who will eventually hold that title. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:1-5, NKJV)

The only one worthy to open, read, look at and eventually claim the title deed to the earth is this one identified as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Both titles belong to Jesus Christ. He alone is worthy because only Jesus can rule the earth in equity and with justice. How do I know that? By reading about Him, by knowing Him. He is fair, just, cares about doing good, stands firm against evil, and has the power to do right.

Appalled and often weeping at the fighting in the Middle East, the horrors in the Congo and other parts of the world, and today’s news, I struggle to be hopeful that human beings can do something to stop the evil that so violently expresses itself. This passage from Revelation implies that this will not happen. No person is worthy to hold the title deed to the earth. Only Jesus.

A line from an old hymn comes to mind; “And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight.” Even far from the front lines and feeling safe in my home, I long for an end to the horror and bloodshed. I just want it to stop. While I know many people are not yet ready for the return of Christ, in my heart I’m starting to think, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

August 9, 2006

The surprises are yet to come

I spoke too hastily yesterday about rewards. Today’s reading offered another selection for those who “overcome.” First, I checked to see who are the ones who overcome? This term is used by John (who wrote Revelation) in another place: “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” So anyone who believes in Jesus overcomes, and that happens by faith, not their ability to “fight the good fight.”

Those who overcome (all believers) will receive rewards. The list for today reads: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. . . . He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. . . . To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:5, 12, 21, NKJV).

Much of the language in Revelation is symbolic. The symbols are explained elsewhere in Scripture. For instance, being “clothed in white garments” refers to having sins forgiven and covered by the righteousness of Christ. This is a great reward, and not for how we live here but for believing that Jesus is the Son of God.

Another reward for faith is eternal life. Jesus confesses my name before the Father and my name is secured in the Book of Life. A pillar speaks of security in the place where God dwells. I will remain there forever in His presence.

In the Bible, names signify character. The name of God is rich, yet here on earth we cannot truly fathom His greatness. When I enter heaven I will be given far greater understanding of who He is, and because of that God will be known to me by a new name, one that fully describes His character. Wonder of wonders, that new name also will be given to me—and as I said yesterday, I will be like Him, but until then, I have a limited idea of what that means.

Verse 21 says I will also rule with Him. Instead of a power-trip, that thought is deeply humbling. Of all the rewards, this seems the most unimaginable. In my life now I am so aware of being powerless. I cannot manage my own life never mind rule over a universe. It is not a surprise that God says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

August 8, 2006

Looking up

In a short discussion about living a long time, our young and joyful youth pastor said, “I’m not interested in being here a long time. I just want to see Jesus.”

One of my friends does want to live a long time. She says she is not anticipating heaven just yet, even though she knows God’s forgiveness and will be there. For her, life is too good here.

I tend to be more interested in heaven when I stop enjoying myself, or my body aches, or challenges get too much for me.

Occasionally someone will use the idea of heavenly rewards to make eternity more appealing. I’ve looked into that but not sure if I’m motivated.

For instance, today’s verses talk about rewards: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ‘To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. . . . To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. . . . And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.’” (Revelation 2:7, 17, 26, NKJV).

I’m not sure what these mean. I already have eternal life, so eating from the tree of life and getting some of that manna seems more of a description of its continuance. I don’t understand the significance of having a new name (even though most of us don’t like the one we have) and power over the nations seems more like a responsibility than a reward.

Some Bible passages talk about crowns, but as near as I can interpret these and others, my greatest reward will involve becoming like Jesus. I will be so identified with Him that everything that is true about Him will also be true about me. He is light, life, the solid rock, and so much more, perfect in every way. Now that is a huge reward!

One of my cousins says that he isn’t interested in any of it. He wants to “go where my friends are” and have a big party. Certainly he is duped. For one thing, being separated from Jesus means not having all that Jesus is—being in darkness, without life, having nothing to stand on, totally flawed, joyless, unforgiven, without peace and separated from all that is good. Doesn’t sound like much of a party to me.

Still, I don’t know what heaven is like, and figuring it out with my finite mind is futile. It is enough to know that Jesus is there—preparing a place for me. When I get there “God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” All the tough stuff will disappear and He will make all things new. Even though I’m a live-in-the-present kind of person, when I need a big dose of perseverance, God motivates me by these promises for my future.

August 7, 2006

I hate waiting

I took a vacation from prayer this past two days. I know that seems unwise, but I was exhausted from the work of it. It also seemed that the more I prayed the more the enemy was attacking me with doubts and fears. I wanted to pull back and regroup (which is what prayer is supposed to be—duh).

Sunday’s church service refreshed me, even though the sermon was a strong exhortation about listening to the Word of God and obeying it. What helped me the most was a short conversation afterward with a missionary home from Africa. Among other things she said, “I can handle ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but what I have trouble with is when God says ‘wait.’”

After thinking about it, I’ve been wanting answers to my prayers so these intense burdens would go away and I could get on to ‘normal’ life. No waiting. Pretty selfish. The ‘normal life’ of a Christian involves prayer. It is not only a commandment, but my lifeline.

Today: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:3-4, NKJV).

God loves me so much that He involves Himself in my life. Like any good parent, He gives me commands to obey that are for my own good. Prayer is only one of them. By obeying His commands, I am victorious over the pressures of living in a sinful world.

He says His commands are not burdensome. Obviously, what makes them seem difficult is something I’ve added. My first clue is that desire for a ‘normal’ life, a life that ‘frees’ me to do what I want to do instead of what God gives me. The Bible is clear—sin is simply going our own way, doing our own thing.

Wanting to do my own thing is a form of resisting God. Wanting to be done with prayer so I can do my own thing is also resisting God. And I know any wrestling match with my Creator will prove who is the strongest; it is not me. How could I forget that prayer involves confession of sin as well as intercession? And that prayer is not fighting with God but surrender? No wonder I’ve been getting tired.

August 6, 2006

A sitting duck

Action (or inaction) says a lot about the way I think. If my thinking is off-kilter, it’s difficult to keep going, never mind have right priorities and do positive, helpful things.

In a broad sense, Christians need to have a sound, biblical theology. If my thinking about God is wonky, my conversation and behavior reflect that. Not only will I be misled, but so will those who listen and observe.

It seems straightforward. If someone asks if I believe God cares about me, I would say “yes” without hesitation. However, I have a spiritual enemy who tries to confuse the issue. Whenever life hands me lemons, that enemy whispers, “See, God is being mean to you” or some other lie.

The Bible is clear: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1-6, NKJV).

The world is filled with folks who believe the enemy’s lies about God and think that Christians have it wrong. Instead of defending us, my answer to that is, “Sometimes we do, and you have picked it up in the way we talk and act.”

But if I was always thinking, talking and acting according to what is true of God, that is no guarantee that others would be better informed about Him. The Bible is clear; to know the truth about God, you have to first know God through having a personal relationship with Him.

The reasons that I get confused about God and listen to the enemies lies are the same reasons other people back away from knowing Him. Sin. I want to go my own way and do my own thing. As soon as I step into that decision, it is like a blindfold goes on and all the good stuff that I knew about God is hidden. I’m become a sitting duck for Satan’s potshots.

My protection is to test the spirits. Are the things that I hear, even from other Christians, the same as what God says about Himself in His Word? Do these ideas honor the incarnation of Christ? Or are they an appeal from the world to stop trusting God and trust myself?

I’ve always had a concern for those who know God but stop learning about Him. They can become targets. Yet from my own experience in that shooting gallery, I know that I am not sufficient to rescue myself. Jesus is still the Savior. His salvation includes being rescued from my own laziness, ineptitude and those sinful desires to stop reading His Word and run my own life.

August 5, 2006

Shot down by stinkin' thinkin'

The unknown can be hugely stressful. I’m thinking about our granddaughter living with us for a few weeks. I’ve known her all her life, but for five years she lived in another part of the country, went to university, read and learned much, has a degree, worked at a very challenging job, has some health challenges, and will not be the same girl who left five years ago. I’m a bit stressed about being a good gran, and adjusting all the unknowns as we get to know her again.

I’m also stressed because I’m focusing on that. I realize that is not a good idea, but as soon as I say to myself, “Handle it as it comes; don’t think about it so much” — guess what? I’m thinking about it.

Today’s Bible reading offers an alternative: “I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13-14, NKJV).

John writes to people who know one thing—God. He is from the beginning, and He is their Father. John commends some of them for spiritual victory because they not only know God, but they know His Word; it makes its home in them. In another part of the Bible, John calls the Word of God our sword against the lies of Satan. This weapon is simply part of their lives and gives them the power to thrive, even when their spiritual enemy hammers them with his tricks and temptations.

One of his tricks is diverting my thoughts from the power of God to my own impotency, uncertainties and fears. If I think too much about my weaknesses, or what might happen, or what I need to do when it does, then I am down for the count.

How foolish. I know the Creator God. He made the universe and all that is in it. Surely He can come up with solutions for any unexpected challenges I might face. I also know Him as my Father. I can run to Him with every bump and bruise, problem or perplexity. There is nothing too hard for God.

The Word of God also lives in me. When I call on Him, He brings to my recall His promises and words of wisdom, comfort and encouragement from the Bible. Thinking about them instead of ‘what might happen’ gives me victory over my fears because they reverse my stinkin’ thinkin’ and foolish ‘what-if’s’ that take me nowhere except in dizzy circles.

So today I need to use God’s Word, my weapon, and focus on what and Who I know. Otherwise I’ll be knocked down worrying about a tomorrow that, like today, is already in His capable hands.

August 4, 2006

Nobody said it would be easy

Walking with Jesus is starting to feel more like a five-ticket ride. Yesterday our daughter (who is in her thirties) woke up with the symptoms of a heart attack: extreme weight on her chest, pain and total numbness in her left arm. She said it didn’t last long, and she feels okay now, but will see her doctor. With my husband’s leukemia and our granddaughter’s problems, I wonder what’s next?

I used to pray that the Lord would “do whatever it takes” to draw my husband, children and grandchildren closer to Himself and make them more like Jesus. Now I ask the Lord to glorify Himself in their lives. Either way, are those prayers asking for trouble? Is it our tendency to think it takes disasters to put someone’s attention on God? By turning disasters into good the only way He can be glorified?

My reading for the day indicates at least one other way God uses trouble and suffering; it builds my spiritual muscles. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-11, NKJV)

This is “resistance training.” In the physical realm resistance training builds muscles; isometrics is the term. With something pushing against you, you push back, and as you do, your muscles become stronger. When the lion roars, I’m supposed to roar back in unwavering faith—and continue praying.

This verse says that God gives maturity and strength after a period of struggle, and He gets the glory. These days that seems easier than it used to be. I feel like such a weakling and am totally certain that anything positive comes from Him.

This verse also says that other believers suffer the same things. I put out a prayer request to a small group of friends. One of them emailed back to tell me she has two family members with the same problem as our granddaughter, and one of them has another condition far worse than my husband or my daughter. She offered comfort, prayers, and recommended reading. I’m grateful to God for putting me in His caring family.
I’m not alone in this.

I’m supposed to be sober and vigilant, but right now I feel more like sleeping all day. However, that roaring lion will not allow much rest. By God’s grace, my role remains to prayerfully resist the devil and totally trust the God of all grace.

August 3, 2006

Possessions vs. 'stuff'

When I was a new Christian I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. When Bob and I married, he had debts and a job that took us all over North America. We’ve lived now in one location for 14 years; our mortgage is almost paid off and our lifestyle is comfortable. Through the years I think I’ve learned that money is nice but it does not hold the key to happiness. I think I’ve learned . . .

But sometimes I wonder how I would react if someone broke into our house and stripped it clean. Last year our car was stolen. After a month, the police found the thief driving it around the city as if it were his, and we got it back, stripped clean of our stuff and needing a good cleaning, but otherwise in good shape. During that month, the thief also had our house keys, etc. so we had to protect ourselves by changing locks and taking other precautions. This was a test!

But robbery is not the only way to suffer loss. I’ve also wondered how I would respond to a house fire. We have a safe in the basement with family photos and other records. What if everything else burned to the ground? I’m not paranoid, but these thoughts run through my mind now and then.

For today: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. . . . You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (Hebrews 10:32-35, NKJV).

I can remember the first time I read this, back in the days without two nickels. My heart was so filled with joy at knowing Jesus that losing everything else seemed a wonderful challenge. I thought it would be a huge test to have all my goods confiscated so I had nothing to rely on but Jesus. In new-life naivete I didn’t realize that the greater challenge is trusting Him when I DO have other ‘stuff’ to distract me, to draw away my reliance!

Tests in this area, big and small, happen all the time. Yesterday we became aware that our granddaughter will be living with us for a little while. She has some problems and initially will need a great deal of guidance and care. If nothing else, this will be a sacrifice of space, time, and some of our goods. Our stuff is not going to be confiscated; we will willingly give up whatever we have. Hopefully we are mature enough to rejoice in this opportunity to serve her, not so much with our ‘stuff’ but with those “better and lasting possessions” — love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, faith and so on.

Hopefully we will also remember that no matter what having her here might mean, God promises a rich reward. Not that I’m doing this for any reward . . . right now I’m hoping that she gets most of whatever bonuses He might have in mind!

August 2, 2006

See what God sees

During my aunt’s funeral yesterday several family members remarked that this particular memorial gardens too often was our place for a family reunion. Of my father’s family, his parents and all six children and their spouses (except one who is still alive) are buried there.
But it is good to reconnect with family. I also talked with schoolmates I’ve not seen since graduation, and one cousin (who never makes it to our normal reunions) I’d not seen for many years.

I told a couple of my cousins that they were on my prayer list. One was delighted. He said, “That must be the reason things are going so well for me.” However, fear came into the other cousin’s eyes. He said, “I’m not sure that’s a good thing.” I told him that all good things come from God, but he didn’t seem convinced. Later I found out that he is into a new relationship after leaving his first wife and teenaged children. Was he afraid of God because of guilt?

Most of my family were not brought up in the church or with any direction concerning God. I suppose some of them have misconceptions. Others might have been told God watches over them or that when they did something bad, God would “get them” for it. As I recall the look on my cousin’s face, I wonder if he believed that God was not on his side.

Today’s verses: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NKJV).

The last part of this says that God not only sees everything we do, but we must give account for all of it. That possibility strikes fear into the hearts of those who know they have done something wrong. They don’t want to face the judgment of God.

Yet there are countless people who think “I’m fine. I live a good life.” Others might be unsure and wonder if they are “good enough” for heaven. The first part of this passage explains how to find out where we stand: read the Bible!

Scripture is not like other books. It has an ability to speak to us, show us things about God and ourselves that we would not otherwise know. Like a sword it digs in there and exposes the soul, revealing our very thoughts and attitudes. In it we see ourselves as we really are, not as we imagine or hope we are, but as God sees us.

For those who fear judgment, this is frightening. This fear and an overwhelming sense of guilt drives them as far from the Bible, talk of God, church, or anything remotely religious as they can get. They do not want prayer either, as they attempt to avoid God’s scrutiny.

Yet those who know the forgiveness of God are not afraid. They know that all good things come from Him, that He can make their lives go well, and that He loves them with an everlasting love.

I’ll still pray for those two cousins, and for the rest of my family. Some of them know that God cares for them. Some are apathetic. A few are terrified of Him. May God reveal Himself so that they know not only themselves, but His great mercy and the forgiveness He offers them through faith in His Son.

August 1, 2006

Keep my priorities straight

Today amid some good news that our granddaughter wants to move back home (she lives a few thousand miles away) and the feelings that go with attending the funeral of an elderly aunt later this afternoon, thoughts about shopping for some new cutlery keep popping into my mind.

Other than I don’t get out much, why get excited about shopping? These other things are far more important. The first is a huge answer to prayer. This young woman needs to be around family during some tough times in her life and I’ve been praying for weeks that she would make this decision.

While the second event is sad, funerals are an opportunity to see family that I don’t see very often. Hopefully I can encourage them as some are very apprehensive about death. Compared to what this day could bring, shopping is nothing.

For today: “You then . . . be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . . . Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:1-4, NKJV).

How many times is the ‘next verse’ right on target. While this soldier needs to involve herself in some civilian matters, like buying groceries and taking out the garbage, my main task in life is being strong in grace and obeying my commanding officer. I’m not to pay too much attention to the stuff of life that would distract me from whatever He has in mind.

Besides ‘enduring’ a 3.5 hour drive to the funeral, I’m going early to visit my friend whose leg was crushed by a horse. After the funeral comes the long drive home. I plan to talk with Jesus for most of the trip, and actually, that is far more exciting than picking out a few forks and knives!