Saturday, September 30, 2006

Being an ambassador is no cream-puff job

We had a long talk yesterday. I asked, “You came because you wanted help, but you spurn almost all offers. What are you expecting from us?”

She couldn’t answer. I asked more questions. I made myself vulnerable and told her how confused I felt about her behavior, and how helpless, because I love her so much and it seems nothing I do works for her.

She cried. I cried. We worked through a box of tissues as we shared our hearts. I found out why she hates her meds, how the challenges of handling ‘normal life’ seem enormous to her compared to being depressed and focusing only on suicide. She feels utterly incapable of being normal. At one point she said, “I don’t want to talk anymore” but in a few minutes was weeping again, and hugging me, and saying, “This is a good conversation, grandma.”

During our conversation I realized also the extent of spiritual oppression in her life. She is totally opposed to any direct statements about God. Oddly enough, she responds to biblical truth—as long as I don’t use the word Bible. It seems certain words trigger a defensive wall, but honesty and truth break down that wall.

As confused as I was about my role in her life, God clarified it this morning. 2 Corinthians 5 says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Don’t live for me. Live to honor and glorify Christ. He has taken me from spiritual death and separation from God and, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” I have His life and need to let that life govern what I do. I already knew that.

It says more, “God . . . reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . . He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

A political ambassador represents their country’s interests to another country. A spiritual ambassador represents the kingdom of God to a world that mostly is unaware that kingdom exists. I need to be conscious of my role as an ambassador.

That can be dicey at times. Only God can help me maintain good relationships when someone outside of His kingdom is hostile or feels threatened. I realized yesterday that good news can sound like bad news to a damaged and confused person. Peace and freedom can be a threat if conflict and turmoil is all that person knows.

I’d like to go to ambassador school, yet realize I’m already in it. I also am deeply aware that my goal is not getting a good mark or even a passing mark. What matters is that the One I represent is glorified and lovingly presented to the heart of a deeply troubled and frightened person.

Friday, September 29, 2006

My battles are not against flesh and blood. . .

Our bipolar house guest may have skipped her meds this week. She had become stable but now is back to being sullen and crabby. I am sliding that direction too. Her attitude is annoying to say the least. But God is telling me to not let her moods affect me, to intercede for her, to ask Him to forgive her, and to fight against the evil spirits that are after her.

In 2 Timothy 4, the older man Paul is telling young Timothy to carry on. Paul is aging and knows he will not be around forever. I feel on one hand like Paul. I’m tired and this battle is too much for me. On the other hand, I am aware that there is much work to be done, and if I don’t fight for this young woman’s soul, who will?

My heart shuddered when I read “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

She is generally opposed to truth and turning to garbage instead. It breaks my heart. While I am not “preaching” at her, everything I say about anything, even the weather, is also challenged. For instance, I told her a little bit about a book I’m reading about crime in Canada, and even though
she’s never even seen the book, or read it herself, it "can’t be any good" because “it’s only one author’s opinion.” I quoted something positive she said to me last week and she denied saying it, claimed if she did, it must have been in sarcasm. Her attitude makes me feel like not talking at all, and communication wedges are certainly not God’s idea.

Later in the 1 Timothy chapter Paul wrote, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever.”

I’m don’t have the same ministry that Paul did, but I perceive spiritual opposition in my ministry to this girl and to everything I believe. The air is almost heavy with it. I’m glad that my friends have not deserted me, and I know the Lord is here, but I feel the breath of the lion.

Paul was delivered and rescued. This young woman needs deliverance from the oppression in her life, but she is not aware of what is going on. In stepping up to intercede for her, I’m experiencing the wrath of the enemy who has staked a claim and will not give up easily. I should not be surprised.

While I’d like to simply quit, for years I prayed for her and other family members saying, “Whatever it takes” so I’ve no such option. I have to stick with it. Paul was confident that God would do the job, but I get discouraged. I’m not in great fighting form. Unless He gives strength, wisdom and courage, I can’t do this.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Judgment and/or mercy?

Yesterday I thought about people with a horrible past. What about people with a horrible present? What about those whose attitude toward God, goodness, and truth is so lousy that there seems no hope? What if those people claim to be Christians?

I don’t know who said it first, but my husband often repeats it: If you can’t decide between judgment and mercy, it is better to err on the side of mercy. He repeats it because I tend to err on the side of judgment. I might be in good company.

Today’s reading is from Acts 15: “Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

Mark had a lapse of courage and dropped out. Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” decided to take him along anyway. Paul, on the other hand, was determined that anyone who disobeyed their leadership was not fit to serve in their ministry.

Who was right? Paul’s attitude was not wrong. Even though Mark eventually was restored to their ministry, maybe it was Paul’s refusal that made him realize the importance of being a team player, regardless of personal fears.

Barnabas was not wrong either. Mark was a child of God. He needed someone to come alongside him, to encourage him to overcome his weaknesses. Paul, and certainly God, may cast us off for a little while, but the goal is always restoration.

This is never an easy process. One group I belong to had to challenge someone this week. I’m sure some of us would rather have ignored the problem. Others felt angry and wanted to give the offender the boot. From this and other Bible passages, we concluded the answer lie in the middle. The offense must not be allowed or repeated, however we must also offer a way to be restored, and some encouragement toward being a better person.

My conclusion, at least until God shows me otherwise, is that judgment and mercy are not opposites. God calls a spade a spade, but at the same time offers forgiveness and hope. He tells us to “speak the truth in love” with the purpose of bringing one another to Christlike maturity. This is a challenge to a black and white person like myself, but after this week, I can see the importance of remembering how God does it, rather than how my natural inclination would do it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Convicted by a convict

Three times I’ve been asked to help write the story of a convict. The first two claimed jailhouse conversions, but their story focused far more on their old life of crime than it did on the new life of Christ. They were more interested in boasting about their exploits than exalting the Lord. My instinctive response was to say no, or at least recommend they find a male author/editor. One of these men had been in jail for assaulting women.

By the time the third one came along, I was even less approachable. He won’t say what his crimes were, is still in jail, wants the writer to come and live near the prison in a house that he will provide, and has a lot of money to pay whoever will take the job. He already has a woman helping him since he cannot communicate directly with anyone on the outside. I’m afraid that I have not only been not interested, I’ve discourage other writers from thinking about this offer.

I could excuse my aversion to this with all kinds of reasoning. I just did. But, as I read Acts 11 this morning, I wondered if that is what the Jews did in their aversion to Gentiles? How did they excuse their bigotry? They don’t have the holy prophets? They know nothing about God? They are evil and dangerous? They are not cleansed by the sacrifices and ceremonies?

Whatever Peter was thinking, God had something to say to this new Jewish Christian. He appeared to Peter in a vision and informed him that, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

Peter was convinced (a far more astounding event than the vision). He went to the home of a Gentile, forbidden by Jewish thinking, but commanded by God. He obeyed, and Cornelius and his household heard the gospel and were saved. When Peter reported back to the church who had already heard the news, they challenged his part in this. What did he think he was doing?

Peter told them about the vision, how God spoke to him, and what happened with Cornelius and the group in his home. “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

My first thought was this convict who wants to tell the world what Jesus has done for him. If God is in this, and He could very well be, then who am I to stand in His way? In reflecting on my own conversion story, I was not in jail nor had I done anything illegal, but I’m sure there were some in the church who didn’t believe me either. In fact, one person did come for a visit and questioned me extensively to see if I was real.

God can save anyone. He is not limited by a ‘horrible past’ nor anything else, well, not quite anything else. He didn’t save those who were smugly self-righteous. Yikes. I better watch myself. He saved me, and I am far too often in danger of falling into that category.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Apart from me, you can do nothing..."

I once had the notion that the ‘spiritual’ people in the church did the preaching, teaching, and disciple-making jobs, and everyone else became dishwashers, ushers, and parking lot attendants. I thought that the Holy Spirit’s role was in matters of the heart, not physical service which, in my mind, anyone could do.

Then I read Acts 6: “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists (Greek believers), because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’”

Today I’m reminded again that the men who were in charge of distributing food to widows needed to be filled with the Spirit just as much as the men who led the entire church. The reason? For one thing, the Holy Spirit produces His fruit in us; "joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."

Imagine the problems created if people who took care of Christian widows, or any other needy group, were grouchy, fighting among themselves, impatient, rude, harsh, forgot to do their job now and then, and always wanted things their own way? This behavior would certainly raise more complaints than simply being neglected.

A Spirit-filled person is a delight to be around. Last week’s writers conference brings to mind at least two. One was an elderly gentleman who traveled a long distance. He used a walker to help him get around, but he did not complain. His smiling face, laughing eyes, and joyful attitude lifted my spirit every time I saw him.

The other was our worship leader. Her face reflected the same peace and joy. Her music and sense of being in the presence of God lifted our hearts. The Spirit in her spoke to the Spirit in us and truly led us to worship.

Were there some who were not ‘filled with the Spirit”? Perhaps. I know I wasn’t on Friday evening, and even though I hadn’t any job to do, I know I was not blessing anyone, even though I tried to be pleasant. His qualities cannot be faked or substituted with human effort.

Every morning I come to God and ask Him to give me what I need for the day. Of course I don’t know what that will be, but I’m learning that whatever it is, if I’m filled with His Holy Spirit, that is sufficient.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Don't take God for granted

Yesterday we spotted a new store near the restaurant where we had lunch. As granddaughter and I walked in, she asked if her Grandpa would come in also. I said he sometimes waits in the car if he doesn’t feel like shopping. She made some remark that it made me think that I should not take him for granted. How easy it is to do that with a partner when you’ve been married thirty-five years.

This morning I’m reminded that we can do the same with God. We can assume His care—after all, He does always take care of us. We can assume His love—after all, He says it is an everlasting love. Living under the blessing of God can become as comfortable as old slippers. Yet we are also supposed to “worship God with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

This chapter of Hebrews tells what Old Testament worship was like compared to the new relationship we have with God through faith in Christ. It says to Christians, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’”

God gave His law on Mount Sinai. It was a terrifying time for His people. They could not draw near to Him, and even Moses, who was allowed on the mountain, was terrified.

Then the writer of Hebrews says, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

This speaks of Christ opening a new way to God. The language is metaphorical for God’s heavenly dwelling place where angels rejoice around Him and our names are written in His book of life. It speaks of God as the judge of all men, but also as the One who makes perfect those who believe in Christ. There is no terror here, just incredible awe for an incredible God who offers a better way to Himself than the Old Testament blood sacrifices. The blood that Abel offered may have pleased God because Abel gave it in faithful obedience, but the blood of Christ brings redemption, forgiveness, and complete salvation because it “purifies us from our sin.”

Sunday church and morning devotions can become a familiar habit, another routine. I don’t want that to happen. I want to always be in awe of my God, the One who replaced a mountain of fire, an impossible law, and a temporary covering for sin — with mercy and grace, total redemption, eternal forgiveness and complete salvation. I want to always be amazed that instead of a rigid tablet of stone and a heart of fear, He gave me Jesus.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Always in God’s workshop

The rest of the conference went well. My workshop was a joy to teach and the response indicated that the information and discussion was helpful. However, I thought about Friday often. What does a person do (other than lose their cool) when someone else is nosy or rude? Had that person been a Christian, Matthew 18 tells me to go to them one-on-one and tell them they have sinned against me, but in this case, I didn’t know their spiritual standing.

This morning’s reading from Acts 17 says: “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers. . . .”

Paul saw that the whole city was going against God, so what did he do? Had I been Paul, I would have been very direct and in-their-face. I’d rent a hall for an evangelistic crusade, or post billboards all over town, or take out an ad campaign in the local newspaper. How else do you get the attention of a city in sin?

He didn’t do that. Instead, he first talked to the people already concerned about spiritual matters. While some of them may not have be right with God, they were at least wanting to move in that direction. So my first step when someone of unknown spiritual standing is in sin: take it to others who care. If they are believers, we can pray together for wisdom. If not, they may be concerned enough to have a positive peer influence.

Next, Paul spent time “in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

By being vocal in public places, he captured the attention of the people who shaped the thinking of the city. While some were not sure what he was up to (“‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection”), they wound up “taking him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.’”

Paul took a round-about way to speak to the people about the issues that bothered him. This tells me that God’s way of doing things is not the way most people would first think. Blurting out a rebuke is a human idea that seldom works. While Paul eventually told them what he thought of their idol worship, his confrontation required preparation.

This story affirms that being provoked in my spirit when others are out of sync with God can be a God-thing. I need to recognize the difference between God-in-me being upset and merely my human nature being upset.

This passage also gives some clues what to do about it. My usual knee-jerk response just puts me out of sync too. It is far better to stop and think, and seek His wisdom. When I react in anger, I become just as useless to the Lord as the people who are annoying me.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Divine protection needed

As I read the end of yesterday’s post, I’m thinking I didn’t have to tell lies to feel foolish at the close of the day. Most of it was spent at home in preparation for the writers’ conference, conveniently only a few minutes drive from my house. Surrounded by writers, I should have felt comfortable, right? Wrong! I felt as if I didn’t belong, that every word that came out of my mouth was spoken thoughtlessly, and in a room full of people who are looking for a blessing, I was not part of it.

Of course I talked to God about it when I went to bed. I woke up asking Him for a blessing so I could at least not be a stumbling block to others during the remainder of the conference. He sent me to Acts 19, a story about the power of God. It starts with Paul who “went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples . . . .”

Interesting. Because of opposition, Paul withdrew. Did he normally do that? The next few verses tell how he went where his ministry was welcomed and many people were blessed. However, as God used him in miraculous ways, some became envious. The text says, “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.’ Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.”

They wanted to have the same power over evil spirits as Paul did, but they did not know Jesus, the source of that power. Therefore, “the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’”

This gave me a bit of a chill. The evil spirits not only did not know these imitators, they did know Paul, and of course, Jesus. As I read that, God reminded me that He is intimately acquainted with all my ways. That is good news, but I don’t like the possibility that evil spirits also know me. This implies they also know how to get to me. They know what temptations to throw at me to trip me and ruin my day.

Thinking back, I know when the first one landed at my feet. I didn’t see it coming and from that point, it was all downhill. Instead of recognizing my failure and dealing with it, I just stumbled through the rest of the day—without God’s help and feeling very helpless.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He had good reason for including, “Deliver us from evil . . . .” Falling on my nose and being reminded that I forgot to ask is a humbling experience.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Warnings are better than rebukes!

My habit is morning devotions, usually before breakfast or anything else happens in the day. On occasion I think evenings might be better. By then I’ve had a day of ‘stuff’ that God can speak to, a day of questions, challenges, all sorts of things that need His light. But God is more practical. He would rather tell me first thing what I need to know for the hours ahead of me. I might need a solid reminder of who He is, or a command to obey. After all, He knows what my day will bring and that it’s far better to begin with answers than seek them after the fact.

This morning I read Acts 5. The early church was experiencing rapid growth. What an exciting time! But then it was marred. Two believers, perhaps trying to impress the others with a false generosity, made a donation and lied about it. Peter confronted them.

“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’”

The sin was not keeping back part of their profit; it was the lie. My first thought is, What will tempt me today? Will I be in a situation where I might try to impress people and instead of being honest, I embellish?

Anyone who spends time with God in the morning knows how easy it is to forget what they read. By the end of the day, if someone asks me what my devotional thoughts were, I might struggle to answer. Will today’s busyness distract me? If I’m tempted to make myself look better than I am, will I remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira?

“Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. . . . And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?’ She said, ‘Yes, for so much.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.”

God does not always deal with sin this severely. Perhaps the fledgling church needed a sharp reminder to never take lightly His grace and mercy. Perhaps the observing world needed to know that He is a God who hates sin.

If I told a lie today (and I don’t plan to), I likely will not be hit by a truck. However, I could damage the faith journey of someone else. Hypocrisy, lack of integrity, failure to be honest, are sin, and even if no one noticed, I would, and God would. Far better to be totally truthful all day than confess to Him tonight that I’ve been foolish.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Prayer is one of many ways to care

A cousin I’ve met only through e-mail contacted me yesterday to tell me another cousin (that I don’t know at all) has leukemia. It is similar to the blood cancer my husband has, only the rapidly progressing variety. Another Christian, this time a writer friend, sent an e-mail to say her mother has less than a year to live. I don’t know either person, but both e-mails prompted me to tears—and to pray.

Ten days ago I was mourning for those whose lives were lost during the 9/11 attacks five years earlier, and for the for those who survived and are grieving. I don’t know those people either, but shed tears and prayed for them.

When I first became a Christian over 35 years ago, I remember sitting on my front step and marveling how God had come into my life and made me care about people. Up until then, I didn’t care much, knew that I didn’t care, and yet felt guilty and helpless to change my attitude. But God changed it. This morning I read how the same thing happened to the first Christians.

“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.”

When the Holy Spirit is in charge, God’s people are moved to meet needs. I’ve learned that not all needs are material. Some need spiritual encouragement, teaching, guidance, organization, comfort, physical assistance, a gentle push, but all of us always need prayer. In fact the praying is so important that most of us can sense when others are praying for us, and when they are not.

It is easier to pray when troubles come or bad news lands in my in-basket. If things are going well in my own life, the selfish part of me wants to tackle my to-do list instead. The reason? Prayer is hard work. Without a specific burden, it is even more difficult. However, I don’t need to look very far to find things to pray about; the morning newspaper alone could keep me going for days.

Today my list includes those mentioned who have cancer, a pregnant woman in danger of losing her baby, someone seeking career guidance, a tense situation in a college in SE Asia, a friend looking for a job, my family (including a brother trapped in a cult) who are always in my prayers, my friends and neighbors who need Jesus, a Christian writers’ conference this weekend, my workshop at that conference, my ladies Bible class this Sunday, plus dozens of individuals who have asked for prayer about various needs and situations.

All this points to the fact that I, nor anyone else, should never wonder how we can obey the verse that says, “Pray without ceasing.” If I am filled with the Holy Spirit, I cannot help but care, and the very least He will motivate me to do is pray.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Living by what rules?

Mathematicians and accountants like predictability, a set of rules that always work. While this predilection is important when working with numbers and finances, it doesn’t fit with life nor with following Christ.

Oh yes, even though life is unpredictable, the Ten Commandments always work. The laws of God are irrevokable and we must obey them. I’m thinking more about issues like how a local church should operate, or how to make personal, daily decisions concerning non-moral issues. Our penchant for a list of rules often comes into play and I don’t think we should let it.

For instance, someone wants to know how to respond to their co-workers when asked to participate in after-work activities. They want a rule that would cover each instance. I refuse to give them one. Listen to the Holy Spirit.

Another example are those who think today’s church should be exactly like the one in the New Testament. We should do everything they did. I say no. Listen to the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2 starts out with a description of how the church began: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

From this description, if today’s church must conform to the New Testament church, then every time we are together in one place the Holy Spirit will fill us with Himself. We will see tongues of fire from heaven and be able to speak in other languages. No choices. He will do it.

But as I read this, I’m thinking of all the ways the Holy Spirit makes Himself known. He comforts, teaches, reminds, convicts, corrects, empowers, and a host of other things. Does He do it exactly the same way each time? Or in each person? Or in each church? No, He is not a cookie-cutter. He is far too creative for that.

When someone asks me for a ‘rule’ for life, I think about all the books in Christian book stores that attempt to give just that. If you are in this situation, you do this . . . If you are confronted by this type of person, this is what to say . . . Those kinds of rules. Then I think about the way God guides me. His responses to my cries for help are never exactly the same. He is creative, and as each situation has variables and distinctions, so do His solutions.

That does not mean there are no rules. The greatest is to love God with all my heart. The next is to love others as I love myself. Whatever course of action God gives me, it will fit under these rules. It will never break any of His commands. But it will also be as unique as the time, place, and situation that I’m in, because that situation will never repeat itself, neither will God in His responses.

The over-arching principles of His commands are certain and give me a sense of security, but the individual way that He deals with each problem makes life an adventure. I’d hate to be stuck with a list of predictable rules because His answers are always delightful surprises.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Now I lay me down to sleep. . .

I had another one of those dreams last night, one filled with temptation. I wake up feeling swacked, as if I’ve been in a fight. I asked God about them once. He gave the answer that it was better to be shown my areas of weakness and tendencies toward sin in a dream rather than in real life.

I’m improving. In the dreams, I used to totally fail. Now I am more of an observer, watching the temptation coming at me but not giving in to it, and waking up to quickly clear my head and pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

God always amazes me with a programed Bible reading guide in that it frequently fits with current experience or answers pressing questions. Today it hits the target again.

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.”

I ignore the use of generic ‘man’ and read it again like this: ‘Whatever is in the heart of a woman will show up in how she lives and even in her dreams. If she calls Jesus ‘Lord’ yet disobeys Him in her life or in her dreams, she has something disloyal lurking in her heart. But if she trusts Jesus with every part of her life, and can resist temptation, even in her dreams, she is like a person who has built her house on bedrock. No matter what raging storms come at her, she remains solid and unshaken, true to the Lord—who saved her and made her holy.’

I can’t find a chapter and verse that verifies God uses dreams to show me my heart, but in my heart I know this is true. I also am very aware of the areas of weakness in which I need His strength so I can resist temptation and be obedient. And He is right; as unpleasant as these dreams are, and as yucky as they can make me feel, it is far better to experience a dream than discover myself in the same situations when I’m awake.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Disagreements are a freedom

Our three children and two grandchildren were here for dinner yesterday. After a feast of Mexican food, they had a rather lively discussion about drug use and the legal system in our country. While they didn’t agree on every detail, it pleased me to hear their strong views on the importance of justice. Except one of them. She was opposed to almost everything everyone else said. While the others didn’t agree with her, they at least listened and allowed her to express her opinions.

This morning’s Bible reading from Acts 28 reflects that attitude. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem because the Jews there did not like what he was preaching. He appealed to the Roman authorities as a Roman citizen and they listened to his request. His case was sent to Rome. After arriving, he called the Jewish leaders to hear him.

“Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, who, when they had examined me, wanted to let me go, because there was no cause for putting me to death. But when the Jews spoke against it, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar, not that I had anything of which to accuse my nation. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you and speak with you, because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

These men didn’t know what he was talking about, but they were interested in Christianity. They had heard rumors, all not good, and wanted first hand information. Paul obliged. “Many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.”

What I find interesting is that this passage adds, “Some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.”

In a discussion like the one yesterday in my kitchen, I’d like to have seen total agreement. In a presentation of the gospel like the one 2000 years ago in the city of Rome, I’d like total agreement too. But people do not always see eye to eye. When they don’t, the next best option is that they can still openly express their views and be free to agree or disagree with the views of others.

Our family also discussed the restrictions and problems of living in other places where the general population is exploited by a few, and how oppressive governments ruin lives. While we didn’t bring up another important point, I’m thinking this morning how ancient Rome and our country have one precious value in common: free expression. Our discussion yesterday may not change the way the world is run, but we are blessed to be able to state our position without fear, and blessed to be able to agree or disagree with one another.

Christians can freely share our faith too, at least here and for now. It is not true in every place. The discussion yesterday and this reading today remind me how important to never take our freedom for granted, but also to use that freedom while it is still ours to use.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

He's the real thing

In the early days of the church, just as now, there were people who used Christianity for profit. When Paul and his workers were in Philippi, they encountered such a scheme. Acts 16:16ff tells about it.

“Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’ And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.”

This is one story that I wish I could have been there. For one thing, how did Paul know? The words she said were true, as far as they went. Did she look like a fortune-teller? Was she known in the community? Was it something in her tone of voice? Was she sarcastic? What clued Paul in that this person was a fake, even driven by evil spirits?

Sometimes a Christian just knows. The Spirit of God communes with our spirit when we pray, seek the Lord’s guidance, need comfort, and to remind us of truth that we have learned. Why not tell us if someone is operating from false pretenses?

My questions raise more questions. Sometimes Christians are totally fooled. Today’s false teachers can be even open and bold with their desire for money and still some of God’s children fall for their schemes. How does that happen?

A discerning man from a church we used to attend in southern California told us the story that now is commonly told in Christian circles. He was at the Franklin mint looking at a wall covered in phony money. He asked the ‘tour guide’ how the authorities could tell the difference between what looked very authentic and the real money. How much time did they spend studying the bills on this wall?

The guide told him, “We do not study counterfeit money. We study the real thing, and when someone tries to pass phoney bills, we can spot them instantly.”

Paul knew the real thing. Later in this chapter he said to a man seeking salvation, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

It is one thing to “proclaim the way of salvation” and another to proclaim Jesus. All false teachers offer a way to be saved, but Jesus Himself said, “I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father but by me.”

All a person needs to do is study Jesus. By doing that, it is not that difficult to see why He is the way, the real thing. Nothing else compares to Him.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

It's a revealed thing

I know a few people who are deeply opposed to Christianity. Convincing them that Jesus Christ is Lord seems impossible. One is a neighbor who frowns at any mention of spiritual things. He scoffs prayer and has an explanation for its obvious answers.

Another is someone in our family. He thinks the church is of the devil and anyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is deceived. He cannot see what Scripture clearly teaches.

Another family member thinks Christian teaching is a “nice sentiment” but without substance. She will pray as if God is real, but later the same day will say she doesn’t believe “any of that.”

This could be discouraging, but then I think about my own conversion. No one convinced me. I didn’t think I was looking for answers or trying to believe. However, God burst into my life like a flash of light and suddenly I knew that Jesus is God in human flesh. That knowledge was instant and deeply planted. I didn’t seek to know it, but once He opened my heart, I’ve never doubted it.

The Apostle Paul’s story is another reminder that God can win anyone to Himself. Paul told it to a hostile crowd after being arrested for supposedly breaking Jewish law. The Roman soldiers came in to protect him, and gave him permission to speak:

“I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.

“Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’

“. . . . . So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.”

Saul, later known as Paul, also told this angry mob, “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’ So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’”

Every time I read this, God says to me, “See, I can do whatever I wish with whomever I wish. Keep on praying for the hard-hearted. For me, nothing and no one is too difficult.”

Friday, September 15, 2006

Finding purpose in the tough stuff

What is the worst thing that has ever happened? The world wars? 9/11? Earthquakes? Tsunamis? Personal illness? The loss of a child? A divorce?

When bad things happen I sometimes forget that God can use everything for good. Acts 2:22ff reminds me that He allows or even plans what seems like a calamity. Peter is talking to the crowds in Jerusalem and says, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Jesus was handed over by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge! God knew Jesus would be crucified, but not only that, it was His purpose that this horrible thing happened. He knew that the world was lost in sin. He knew that the only way to redeem mankind was by the death of a perfect sacrifice, One who became our substitute and paid the penalty of sin for us. The worst that man could do to Jesus, God used as the best thing He could do for us.

When bad things happen to me, I need reminding that God can use those for good also. In Romans 8:28-29, He promised to do so, at least for those who love Him. The ‘good’ He has in mind is to transform us into the image of His Son, and He can use anything, even bad things toward that goal.

The old question pops up: “Why to bad things happen to good people?” I suppose it could be answered from several angles. Some would say as Jesus did, that there is no one good but God. Others might says we live in a sinful world and not all things that happen to us are related to what we do or don’t do. Others might argue that God is sovereign and He has a reason for allowing whatever happens to us.

Whatever the full answer might be, I know I am not a victim of random events. If He can use something for good in my life, then it will happen. If He has no purpose for it, I can count on Him to be my fortress and shield.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The right thing is seldom the easiest

This morning’s news tells of a young nurse who pleaded guilty to poisoning several of her co-workers, making them ill. The judge gave her no jail time because she is mentally ill; bipolar.

That put a wee knot in my stomach. We have a bipolar person in our home. She makes her illness her reason for negative behaviors. She also says she feels hostile at times but decides it would be dumb to act hostile. To me, anyone who can pass the buck on only the negatives or decide not to act on their feelings is aware of right and wrong and able to make choices. I don’t know about the nurse, but wonder about the judge’s decision.

The other pressing issue is how do I live with this? What do I do if and when the hostile emotions become negative behaviors directed against me? What if she hears that news story and decides she can do whatever she feels like and there will be no consequences? What if my house becomes a dangerous place to live?

I asked God about that, and this morning’s reading gave me the answer that I already knew. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. . . . If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21, NKJV).

While I’m not prepared to call our granddaughter an enemy, the real enemy of my soul strives to use her for his purposes and deceive her into thinking she ‘can’t help it’—and me into being angry and getting into a battle. I know that fighting her is futile.

This week’s trials have been punctuated by opportunities to do good. Her surprise at goodness is obvious. She is overwhelmed and seems to wonder why I would do anything for her or anyone else, for that matter. I’ve not been trying to “heap coals of fire” but am aware of being tempted every day by her actions or attitudes. I often feel like retaliating or acting in selfish ways. But God is also convincing me the importance of choosing not to give in, to continue to do good even when I don’t feel like it.

In one sense I agree with the judge. That nurse is a danger to society yet putting her in jail will not ‘fix’ her. She will learn nothing from jail. Instead, she needs care, proper medication (which she was not getting) and the love of God, a love that can overcome evil. Whether she will receive it or not is up to her.

The same is true here. I cannot make anyone be a happy recipient of the love of God. All I can do is persist in doing good and leave the results to Him.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My purpose in life

Men go shopping the same way they go hunting—with a target in mind and distracted by nothing as they pursue their objective. On the other hand, women go shopping and may never purchase anything. We like to look, get a feel for what is out there. If we go with friends it becomes a social experience. While my husband understands and even tolerates my kind of shopping, he’d rather hit the store, hit the bull’s eye, and hit the road.

This helps me when I read verses like Acts 13:2-3. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

Some women are “called” to the mission field, but it is often men who experience a special calling from God that involves a career and the rest of their life. Yet I’d like a “calling,” an anchor, a single sense of what God wants me to do with my life. Wouldn’t this be easier than getting up every morning to a to-do list that has to be prioritized, or wondering if I am in the will of God when I do this chore or visit with that person? Why don’t I have a “calling”? Or did God give me one but I wasn’t listening?

Gender differences offer some help. Most men focus on ‘doing’ (which is why they try to ‘fix’ our problems instead of just listening). Women focus on ‘being’ (the right person, a loving wife and mother, a good example, and so on).

Of course there are exceptions, but doesn’t God know each heart? Doesn’t He know that the best way to challenge and develop an easily distracted person like me is to give a general set of directions for life and say, “Now be like Christ in whatever situation you find yourself”?

Every day I set goals to accomplish tasks trying to be a doer, and every day the Lord puts before me things I could call distractions or opportunities, for instance, an ill-timed phone call. Will it bring out a sweet, gentle response, or will I resent being side-tracked and bark a “don’t bother me now”?

If I had a “calling” would if make those challenges any different? Maybe I’d not be side-tracked by peripheral matters and focus on that one thing, but there would still be interruptions.

Even as I write this I realize that God did give me a calling. It is just as I said, to be like Christ. For Him, every day involved seeking His Father’s will for that day. Every situation was taken to His Father, every challenge meant finding out what the Father wanted Him to do.

Jesus’ calling was to seek and save the lost, to die for sinners. If can’t do that because it’s already been done, but I can seek the will of God every day, like He did. And if His will means giving up what I’d prefer, then like Jesus, I can say, “Not my will but thine be done.”

I may not have a focused target, a mission to accomplish, but He did give me a purpose. He calls me to glorify Him by responding to life as Jesus did.

My goodness, why am I whining that I don’t have a calling? What He did give me is way more than I can handle.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Is there an end to this war?

Why is it that we can pray for something knowing God is fully able to answer our prayers, and then are surprised when He does? Yesterday our “boarder” was in a sullen mood, not a good sign. I asked God for help, and He used a rather lively discussion about 9/11 to snap her out of it. While I know this is short term, and that she needs much more for full victory, I’m surprised at the way God answered yesterday’s cry for help.

The classic case is in Acts 12. Peter was put in prison by Herod who was trying to appease the Jews who never really acknowledged his rule over them. Four squads of soldiers were assigned to guard Peter, but God wasn’t intimidated by their strength.

“Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals’; and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’ So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.”

As this event unfolded, even Peter did not think it was real. His surprise became wonder, then affirmation as he praised God for delivering him. Soon he arrived at the place where the church was praying for his release and knocked on the door.

“A girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, ‘You are beside yourself!’ Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, ‘It is his angel.’”

They were praying in faith that God could do something; He’d already proven His care and protection for the fledgling church. Yet when the answer came, it seemed too good to be true.

So “Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.”

There are things happening in this house and in our granddaughter’s life that could be described using that “prison” word. We need a miracle. I know that nothing is too hard for God, but part of me identifies with those in this prayer meeting. Whether I am intimidated by the enormity of the problem, or am unsure God will do anything, I don’t know. However, I do know that my spiritual enemy will do anything to kill my joy and my confidence that God is in control. At the same time, I know I’m in a war, and I am hoping my Commander will amaze me with His solution.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Responses

There are three kinds of people, so they say: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say, “Whot happened?”

On this 9/11 anniversary, there are few in the last category. While most of us were and still are observers. Yet those who make things happen have done positive things as a result of the tragedy five years ago. Relatives of survivors have formed groups and action committees helping others. Authorities all over the world are working to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

The Apostle Paul was a make-things-happen kind of guy. His entire Christian life was spent preaching the gospel, establishing churches, and making sure the body of Christ was functioning as it ought. This morning I noticed how that connects to his initial response to Christ.

“As he (Saul, now called Paul) journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’”

Imagine this happening today. A person who hates Christianity is suddenly confronted by Jesus Christ Himself. He sees a bright light and hears Jesus telling him the truth about himself; he has been doing the wrong thing and he knows it. What would that person do?

I had a conversion something like this. I was headed toward a new-age, reincarnation kind of belief and reading a book about it. The book had a verse of Scripture, and when I read the verse, suddenly the room seemed filled with light. At that moment I was convinced in my mind and heart that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh.

This revelation had nothing to do with the book, and I don’t remember the Scripture verse as being particularly significant. What was important was the fact that God showed me truth about Christ. Now what would I do about it?

Paul’s response was, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” He was then, and continued to be, a doer, a person who makes things happen.

I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking that day, but my recall is that I marveled at this event, and even though I eventually wanted to tell people about it, I sat there for a long time simply amazed at God and what He had shown me. I’m still amazed.

Over time, God urges the ‘watchers’ to become ‘doers’ and get involved in building His kingdom. As I read this passage from Acts today I realized how easy I can get involved without first asking the same question Paul asked: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” I just say yes, then find myself on a merry-go-round, not sure if I am in the will of God—or just don’t know how to say ‘no.’

The saddest category of all are those who have had an encounter with Christ and missed it. They don’t know, or don’t try to find out ‘whot happened’ and as a result never know the wonder of what He can do in their lives, or the excitement of finding out and doing what He wants them to do.

Even though I'm not be a mover-shaker kind of person, I am very thankful that He has shown me ‘whot happened.’

Sunday, September 10, 2006

One "small" step?

It’s easier to grumble than fix the problem. Case in point. While it is not politically correct to mock the religion of anyone else, Christians are often a target. What do I do about it? Complain? Whine about unfair press? Grumble and mumble?

Psalm 2 shows this is not a new problem: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”

People have opposed God since Adam hid from Him in the garden. All through the Old Testament, nations attacked those who trusted God because they hated God. In the New Testament the early Christians suffered the same opposition simply because they believed in Christ. But they didn’t sit around complaining about it. They got on their knees and did the first action recommended by God when things are not right; they took the problem to Him.

“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

God sometimes intervenes and fixes what we don’t like without anything else from us, but not always. This time He gave them a part: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

Asking the Lord for help might result in Him asking me to do something. However, it’s easy to read this verse and only see the part about “speaking the Word of God.” That’s scary. So are other solutions to all sorts of problems. What will God want of me? Yet He filled those first Christians with His Spirit and gave them the wherewithal to do it. With that, they began the great adventure recorded for us as the Acts of the Apostles.

When I’m tempted to complain about something, my husband’s words to complainers come to mind, “Do you want to be part of the problem? Or part of the solution?”

I still say complaining is easier and being part of the solution will always take more resources than I have, but wouldn’t life be far more interesting if I at least took step one?

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Blessed are the peacemakers

Sometimes positive people are annoying. Yesterday’s entry shows me why I think so. When I want to complain, they see the up-side of things, or when I want to criticize something negative, they see the positive. I want them to support my view, not make me feel guilty for pointing out something I think is not right.

The Apostle Paul managed a balance. When something was wrong in the church, he hit it head on, yet he often saw the bigger picture and a positive reason for what was happening. Consider 1 Corinthians 11:17-19: “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”

He challenged these early Christians at the church at Corinth for in-fighting. They had unity in Christ, but choose fleshy responses instead. As a result they made sinful decisions and wound up divided instead of united. Most of the two letters Paul wrote to them were about their bad behavior.

Yet in this section, he makes reference to God’s purpose in allowing factions. He says that these departures from true Christian living would reveal who was genuine and who was not. If they were paying attention, those believers should have hollered ‘uncle’ at that point.

Jesus gave onlookers one legitimate reason to judge if Christians were genuine: Do they love one another? (See John 13). If we squabble and hurt each other, the world has every right to say we don’t have it, we are not the real thing. That alone should be enough to smarten us up.

Did it work for the people of Corinth? Did Paul’s rebuke make them realize the folly of in-fighting and the harm it was doing to their credibility? In his second letter, he said, “This will be the third time I am coming to you . . . Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test ourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”

Like them, I am slow to learn the difference between criticism and a critical spirit. Paul wanted these people to change, to grow, to be right with God and one another. He criticized them to point out their error. He saw that God was trying to show them that some of them were not as they ought to be, and his purpose in doing it fit in with God’s purpose.

Paul did not have a critical spirit. He did not like to complain, throw a wet blanket on everything, and see as many negatives as possible. If someone came along with a positive remark, a thankful attitude, or a gracious way of looking at things, Paul didn’t feel like putting a hand over their mouth.

He himself was “qualified” in that he was not ignorant of problems, but instead of merely grumbling, he confronted the issues with something like: “You know this is wrong, and you know this is how things should be. What can we do to make things right?”

I’m thinking I can easily take the first step, but most times miss the second one, merely because grumbling is easier than fixing the problem.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Quit belly-aching

Yesterday my brand new monitor would not receive signals, stayed black and refused to turn on or off. This morning a self-wick feature in a pot for a large house plant backfired and put yucky brown water all over my sunroom floor. When I tried breakfast, the phone rang just as I took the first bite. The backyard weeds just won’t quit. The day is already too short for my to-do list. I’m tempted to grumble before I even start anything.

Two things shout back at me. The first is the movie I watched on television last night, “Flight 93.” Who can complain about petty things in life after witnessing the graphic reality of what happened on that fatal flight? The movie was well done and hard on my emotions. I thought about the families who talked to their loved ones on the telephone as the passengers planned to overthrow the terrorists. How are they now? What do they feel about a movie made about this tragic loss in their lives? My problems are very small.

The second is this mornings reading from 1 Corinthians 10. It starts out describing the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt, and how they continually disobeyed God.

Then it says, “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition . . . .”

I can say I’m not lusting after evil things, and am not guilty of sexual immorality. I don’t think I am tempting Christ (by questioning His plan and power to care for me and deliberately refusing to trust Him), but that last one gets me. Complaining is included in this list of awful sins.

Philippians 2:14-15 says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
James 5:9 adds “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be judged.”

If I want to be mature, blameless before God and harmless to others, I must forget about complaining. It is such an ordinary human activity. Why does God speak so strongly against it?

Lust says, I am not happy with what God has given me; I want more.

Sexual immorality says, I am not happy with what God has given me; I want different.

Tempting or questioning Christ says, I am not convinced that You know what you are doing or that it is for my best interests.

Complaining says, I am not happy with the way God sovereignly rules my life and I want everyone to know about it.

Enough said. I’ll clean up the flower pot, weed the yard, tackle as much of that list as I can, and at the same time work harder on the antidote: being thankful that I am alive and that I know a God who is big enough for both the big issues and for my very small problems.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Unity goes deeper than tofu

Even though my “other blog” is anonymous, I’m excited about this co-effort with my granddaughter. We have opposite views on just about everything so working together on this blog ought to be an adventure. The plan is that we eat out once a week and blog our thoughts on each dining experience—as sort of "unofficial food critics with a generation gap distinctive."

I’m not sure we will agree on anything we eat. She sets a high standard and I think most things I don’t have to cook are just fine. However, as she points out the nuances of what we are eating, I can see that I will develop a more discriminating palette. While I’ll still award an eatery more stars than she does, I’m already understanding why she thinks some cooks need to go back to school.

The two of us don’t enjoy much unity regarding food (yet) and even less regarding more important issues, like our views on spirituality (yet), but spiritual unity would be nice. Psalm 3 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers (and other relatives!) live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head . . . It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

The biblical description of spiritual unity goes beyond tastes in food. It is a unity based on the common denominator of Christ living in the hearts of those who believe, giving us the same perspective on life’s issues. We have His mind so we can think His thoughts. As this last verse says, this unity is a blessing from God. It flows from the everlasting life that each believer has because of Christ.

In his little book, Principles of Spiritual Growth, Miles J. Stanford describes the Christian life as an organic thing. The living Christ dwells in us and cannot help but produce growth and fruit, and become visible. The force of His life is so powerful that our lives simply must change.

It is no wonder then that having Christ in our hearts means unity in our spirits, even unity of thought and emotion. However, we are not clones. Even with unity, one outer person can have a hankering for tofu and another can’t stand it (yet).

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Oh my, not another blog!

Just so you don't think I've been abducted or impersonated, my user-name is now LC. The reason you ask? I'm doing a second blog with my granddaughter and sign on with the same profile as with this blog. Since she wants to remain anonymous, I've changed my user name and made my profile unavailable. If you want to find it, make a comment to that effect, and if I know you, I'll email you the address!

God recommends honey

My brother belongs to a religious cult whose unity depends on everyone '‘believing' the same thing. When asked what would happen if he believed something contrary to their teachings, he told me he would no longer be a member of that group.

In most social and community groups unity depends on people agreeing about policies and group activities. If someone doesn'’t like what the rest are doing, they either raise their voice or leave the group.

In the government, unity very much depends on agreement for each principle raised. If all are in harmony, laws are passed and action taken. If not, they debate the issue with great vigor and often for a very long time.

The church is supposed to be different, yet depending on "‘which dog is getting fed the most"’ (see yesterday!), Christians can be like every other group in that their unity depends on total agreement. However, if Christ is at the center of our lives, unity happens in a surprising manner.

Ephesians 4 says, "I (Paul) . . . beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."”

Our unity is based on one common denominator—the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, we have all we need to get along. But it doesn't happen like magic.

This section of the Bible goes on to explain, “"He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

Unity is tied to maturity. For that reason, God gives gifted leaders to equip His people to minister to others—that we might all grow up. The more I understand the faith described in the Bible, and the more I know about Christ and follow Him, the more I will be like Him. As I mature and as others mature, unity happens.

This works in marriage too. Imagine a triangle with Christ at the top, my husband at one corner and me at the other. The closer my husband and I move up the angle to Christ, the closer we are to each other.

The emphasis in the Bible for unity is quite amazing. It requires being close to God, but look at the attitudes for that: lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, working to keep the unity of the Spirit in peace. Giving up what I want, not being pushy, saying no to arguments, embracing patience, being gentle.

As I write this I feel sorrow for all the times I'’ve tried to argue people into agreeing with me. I had it all wrong. Someone once said, “You catch more flies with honey, honey.

God would agree.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Picking the right dog food

After breakfast and before doing the dishes, my mother pulled out her Bible and spent time with the Lord. When I was thirteen I decided this was what a woman should do, so I imitated her. I didn’t understand most of it, but persisted. Sixteen years later, the Lord came into my life and at that point, everything began to change. Scripture became alive. The habit, which had become a ritual with no meaningful foundation, became the most important part of my day.

I’ve often wondered how my mother could concentrate on God with four children getting ready for school or whatever we were doing. My mind has trouble staying on one thing even when the room is quiet, and forming habits is ridiculously difficult. I’m so thankful that she set this example, and that somehow the habit stuck.

Years later as I read some of Watchman Nee’s books (he was an historical leader in the church in China), one thing impacted my heart. When asked what it meant to be a Christian, Nee said it was like having two dogs fighting inside him. Then the person wanted to know which one was winning. Nee said, “The one I feed the most.”

I realized at that time I did have two forces fighting inside me. One is the old sinful nature that wants my way. The other is the new nature Christ has created in me. I also realize that I feed the old one every time I flirt with sin, disobey God, listen to lies, and fill my head and heart with nonsense. However, I can feed the new one by attending to spiritual disciplines such as reading the Word of God, prayer, worship, fellowship, ministry to others, and by obeying Him.

My reading today reminds me again of this choice: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others”(Philippians 2:1-4).

In other words, what Christ has put in me I must let out. He gave me His love, fellowship, affection, mercy, joy, oneness of spirit, humility, and concern for others as part of my salvation. All of it is from Him—I’m to work it out realizing that He worked it in.

The passage continues: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” and another place tells me that I have the mind of Christ. But I still have my own mind too, and that explains the conflict. I hear His voice. I hear my ‘I wants’ and then evaluate. What will I do?

Sometimes I also hear Satan, who Jesus called the ‘liar’ and whose main work is to plant false ideas in my head and divert me from faith and obedience. He suggests things like “How could God love you?” or “If He really cared . . . would never happen.”

People expect Christians to live to a high standard. If they experienced this conflict even for one hour they would realize that it is not always easy or simple. Without the power of Christ who lives in us, our lives would quickly go to the dogs—or at least to the wrong dog!

Monday, September 4, 2006

Christian freedom

Some people think that to be Christian you must never do certain things. The list varies. It might include no drinking, dancing, going to movies, smoking, working on Sunday, and add wearing a hat to church (ladies only). In our church we’ve had people criticize the pastor if he doesn’t wear a suit and tie. Is the power of Christ only about externals?

This is an old problem. The early church was challenged by Jewish ‘believers’ who thought to be Christian you must be circumcised. When Paul and his ministry team went to Jerusalem, he wrote to the Christians at Galatia saying, “Not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this (pressure to comply) occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

From this, and from my own experience with legalistic pressures, it seems that some people struggle with the idea of freedom in Christ. For them, a list of regulations is easier to follow than seeking the will of God each day, than listening for the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. In their minds, the rules are sufficient to keep them holy.

However, personal rules are never enough; others also must follow their rules. If they don’t then the rule-makers seem thrown into doubt and confusion. They become insistent. “Follow my rules,” they say, “or you cannot be a true Christian.” Or they might not go quite that far. Sometimes it’s more like: “Follow my rules or I will not worship or fellowship with you.”

If I let Jesus be my example, then I don’t read very far before finding out He spent much of His time eating and drinking with “sinners” who had no regard for religious rules. Jesus didn’t reject anyone who didn’t tow the line. Instead He offered them something entirely different from a life of regulations. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” and “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Free from what? Free from the bondage of sin!

The sinless Jesus wants me to be like Him. Rules won’t do it. ‘No rules’ won’t do it. My freedom is in doing what He wants me to do, not letting any one or anything direct my life. Freedom rejects the rule of sin and selfishness, man-made rules, and even the rule of my own fears. I’m free to walk with Jesus without worrying ‘what people will think’ and the fear of not fitting into the norms. In the family of God if everyone is following Jesus, we simply enjoy harmony with each other.

As I write this I’m asking myself why would a person try to make others live by their rules? Is it because the more other people do what I do, the more I am affirmed? Is it selfish pride that thinks my way is the only way? Is it insecurity that needs validation? Or fear that I (or they) will miss the will of God? Or is it simply proud unbelief that says I must govern my life and the lives of others because God doesn’t know what He is doing?

The truth of the gospel shows me that living my way, or living by a set of rules, only brings me into bondage. Following Jesus opens the door to freedom, and in that freedom there is peace, joy, and a great sense of adventure!

Sunday, September 3, 2006

A few true miracles

I’ve been thinking how to define a miracle. It seems that the best definition is something God does that is beyond what we understand as the normal laws of nature, the regular way that things work. Normally, when someone dies they stay dead. If God restores a them to life, that is a miracle. Normally water is water, but if God changes it to wine, that is a miracle.

Today I’m reading one of my favorite passages of Scripture, 1 John 1. In just a few verses, it offers more examples of miracles: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

From what I know about sin and how deeply rooted it is in the human psyche, being able to walk in God's light is a miracle. We cannot do that without a radical change in our hearts, something only God can do.

Another miracle is that we can actually have fellowship or community with one another. Normal people can get along to a point, but the blood of Christ makes possible a deeper fellowship, a unity of spirit, a sense of togetherness that does not depend on agreeing about everything. He deals with that sin that insists on being right, having our own way, looking out for our personal interests.

Third, being purified from our sin is a miracle. Apart from God it would never happen. The Bible defines sin as rejecting God’s way and going our own way. In know that in myself I am so determined to go my own way, have my own way, insist on my own ideas, be my own person, and look out for number one that to have even a moment in my life where I put God and others first is utterly amazing.

Fourth, being able to admit that I am a sinner is a miracle. Apart from conviction by the Holy Spirit, I would never see my sinfulness, never mind be able to openly acknowledge it before God and people. Pride would not let that happen. Pride and self-protection is the normal pattern of life.

And my favorite verse (9) is another miracle. When I confess my sin to God, He forgives me, which in itself is amazing given that I have offended Him and am responsible for the death of His Son. But He also purifies me. I don’t have to work at it or do anything but say, “You are right about me God. Fix it.”

If a person wants to change, they generally work at doing it themselves. They might stop some behaviors and start new habits, but a Christian has another option. I only need to agree with God about where I am wrong, sinful, weak, helpless, unable—and ask Him to cleanse me, give me what I need to operate in His will rather than my own. The miracle is not that He can do it, but that He does do it! He gives new life and renews that newness over and over for all who hope in Him. We don’t earn it or deserve it, but He does it anyway. If anything falls outside the normal pattern of life, this does.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Do I believe in miracles?

I’m not sure that I believe in modern miracles. Yesterday someone told me about a healing but another person easily convinced me that it was likely not a supernatural thing. The day before I read a news bulletin about a woman who died and was buried for 3-4 days. Then, on a revelation from the Holy Spirit, someone opened her coffin and she came back to life before their eyes. The article said that she lived several years testifying to the power of God. I’m not sure I believe the story.

This morning I read Acts 5:17-25. “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught.”

I accept that story, but the high priest and those with him needed to see it. They “called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, ‘Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!’ Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’”

Do I really believe this miracle occurred? If so, why not other stories of miracles? Do I put the Bible stories into a separate category, like myths? Or maybe I’ve become jaded by false claims of ‘miracles’ or by those who use the word when there are other explanations. Or maybe I don’t want to be in the category of wild-eyed people who shout that God did a miracle only to have people write them off as a nut case. Whatever my reason, have I put God in a box? I often say ‘nothing is too hard for God’ but do I have a limit in mind? I know He answers prayer, but in this modern day, does He do genuine miracles that cannot be explained any other way?

One of my study Bibles says that Bible miracles happened only at particular times to attest a divine commission. The prophets, the apostles, and Jesus performed them partly as proof they were sent by God. Some say we have Scripture today, and don’t need anything else to ‘prove’ divine authority.

The Bible does offer passages showing that the devil, false prophets, the magicians of Egypt and other evil agents performed miracles in an effort to deceive those who do not know God. From that, I suppose skepticism is okay, but at the same time, I don’t want to put God in a box. Realizing that I might be doing that makes me sad, but reading the Bible accounts of miracles also makes me realize that if God wants to do one, His actions have nothing to do with my doubts, judgment calls or decisions. He definitely can and does whatever He wants. I need to consider this further.

On a lighter note, small things often spell big blessings. Our seven-year-old grandson came for a visit yesterday. Besides being his adorable self, he sports new glasses and informed us they “make me look like a genius.” We had a three-person game of Scrabble® and he almost proved it. However, when he left, he signed our guest book. In the comment section where most people note why they came, he wrote “fisit.”

I’m still smiling.

Friday, September 1, 2006

If life hands me lemons. . .

A student at Bible college told me that the four teachers she hated the most were the very four that understood, confronted, and eventually delivered her from a life-threatening spiritual problem.

I thought of her this morning when I read Acts 7. Stephen is recounting history to the Jewish Sanhedrin and reminded them, “This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert.”

The person they despised and rejected became their deliverer.

It happened again, at least the despised and rejected part. When Jesus came, they rejected Him. In Acts 2, Peter told them: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

The person they hated and killed was their Lord and Messiah.

God has a way of taking what we think is the worst thing that could happen and turning it into a blessing. This requires some cooperation on our part, yet He can use anything redemptively. I can think of countless examples in my own life. Right now, we have a cancer going—and God is using it for good by giving my husband multiplied opportunities to talk to others about their eternal destiny.

We also have a bipolar happening. What will be the eventual outcome remains to be seen, but so far I’ve had to adjust my lifestyle (more simple), clean up the clutter (stop procrastinating), focus on better meal planning (she is a vegetarian), drop all insisting on having my way (she has a way of making me see my selfishness), and learn to keep my mouth shut (this girl is an adult, not a baby).

I’m also praying about everything, something God has been trying to teach me for years. I’m hugging more, complaining less, and feeling very needy in just ordinary conversation. This is a brilliant girl who challenges anything illogical or that is not clearly stated. I feel as if I am back in school learning how to properly communicate, and that is all good. I need it.

A third event culminated yesterday in the birth of our first great grandchild! I know, I am too young. So is her mother. However, God used this unplanned edition to bring together a child and her parents, to draw a relationship of caring out of a rift that seemed impossible, and to bring a responsible and mature attitude to a young woman who was heading in the wrong direction. God has a way of making lemonade out of lemons.

So if things happen that make me want to throw up my hands in dismay, or run and hide in fear, I need to think about this new baby, or our bipolar girl, or the life of Moses, or most important of all, how God redeemed the most unjust, horrible circumstance in history—the murder of His Son—and made it the most significant event that has ever happened.