Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It's like a diamond . . .

Most people have heard the anecdote about the blind men describing an elephant. One feels its tail and says it is like a rope, another feels the leg and says it is like a tree. A third feels its side and says it is like a leather wall, and so on.

A diamond is similar. We can focus on one facet, but each facet is not the entire diamond. Today’s verse, to me is like one part of a bigger thing, one facet of a glorious diamond. It is from 1 John 1 and says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”

The “gospel” is mentioned throughout the New Testament. It is to be preached, believed, and kept true and uncorrupted. Yet my quick study didn’t produce a clear definition.

In Mark 1, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

In chapter 16, some description is added: “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Romans 1 adds more: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before . . . concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. . . .”

In that same chapter the gospel is said to be “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes . . . for in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” Chapter 10 calls it “the gospel of peace . . . glad tidings of good things.”

1 Corinthians 15 says the gospel is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” 2 Corinthians calls it “the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

Ephesians calls it the “gospel of your salvation” and says through it we “partake of God’s promises in Christ.” Ephesians also calls the gospel “a mystery” and something revealed to those who believe but hidden from those who do not.

Another place says, “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The last word is in Revelation 14: “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’”

From this quick overview, I conclude that the Gospel (literally “good news”) can be defined this way: Christ, who is God in the flesh, came to earth, died for our sins, was buried, rose again the third day, was seen by hundreds, ascended to heaven and lives forever to intercede for us. However, I can also so how the Gospel might come to us in pieces, like bits of good news that God reveals to any person in need.

For example, the good news to those in deep despair may be that God really does exist and loves them. The good news to those deeply convicted of sin is that He is their Savior and He forgives. For those overwhelmed by antagonism and rejection, it might be “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

And for those in darkness and want out, or for those who say they are enlightened but are living in sin, the gospel message is that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”

Good news is entrusted to me, but not as a ‘canned’ message nor as “pat” answers. Instead, I need the wisdom and insight of the Holy Spirit to know which facet of this diamond will shine His light into each person’s heart.

Monday, October 30, 2006

An impossible standard?

I lead a ladies’ Bible class on Sunday morning. Our time together is are often special, but yesterday blessed me to tears. The topic was the difference the Holy Spirit makes in our lives. I prepared slips of paper each with a verse about the things the Spirit of God does for God’s people. The women each selected one without seeing its contents. They had a few minutes to think about the verse they received, then I asked them to take turns reading it aloud and sharing how the Holy Spirit worked in their lives according to that verse.

First God amazes me that each one seemed to have picked a verse that was meaningful for them. Then God amazed me with what each woman said about the Holy Spirit and His blessing in their past and current experience. Sometimes we laughed; sometimes we cried. God is good.

During that class and the worship service that followed it, I thought how much I love these people and how they love one another. Someone gave me a note of encouragement. Others were singled out for special prayer because of current needs. Hugs and words like “God bless you” abounded. We are so privileged to belong to the family of God, and this particular part of His family is incredibly loving and very deeply caring toward one another.

In light of that, this morning’s reading from Matthew 5 goes deep. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

I know that there is a special bond between believers that is unlike anything we can have with those who do not have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in our hearts connects us and draws us into a relationship unlike any other. Yet at the same time, I know the way I feel towards the good neighbors who live on our block and towards other friends who do not know God. We share similar interests, can visit and enjoy each other. I do love those people I consider my friends. However, God says He wants me to have the same attitude towards my enemies.

Today I compare how I feel toward our congregation on Sunday mornings with my attitude toward the crowd of strangers at the Andre Rieu concert last week, or the folks at our granddaughter’s soccer games who cheer for the other team, or the people in the mall or in grocery store. These are hardly enemies but God wants me to love them too, just like I care about my neighbors. This goes above average.

God commands this because He wants me to show the world what He is like. He is good to everyone. He does not play favorites or withhold good things from those who hate Him. His responses to people depend on who He is, not on how they act.

He wants me to be like Him, but does not leave me without the resources. He lives in my heart—I can choose to care about others instead of choosing my sinful tendency to care only about those who care for me, and push away or dislike those who don’t bother to give me the time of day. Even with His help, this is a challenge; God sets a very high standard.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Together --- we can . . .

I’ve told people that there is no place in the Bible where Christians are told to pray for the salvation of non-Christians. We are supposed to pray for one another, and for God’s will to be done, but I can’t find anything that says we must intercede for the lost.

The closest Scripture about prayer for the lost is 1 Timothy 2. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Yet even this prayer seems more focused toward believers, that in our praying we develop an attitude of godliness and contentment so we can live at peace in a contrary environment.

In John 17, even Jesus says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” His concern is for His own. He does not pray for those who are not.

However, the Bible does say, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God wants people to believe. So what is my model for praying for those who don’t? Farther along in John 17, Jesus says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

I’m reading a bit between the lines here, but in context, Jesus seems to be saying that if His people were united in motives, efforts and goals, we would not have to be concerned with the salvation of lost because they would see the power of God in us and believe in Christ. Instead of signs, wonders, miracles, and so forth, we need to show them harmony in the family of God.

This unity is not a matter of all believing the same, acting and looking the same, being identical. The Bible is filled with talk about unity in diversity, a concept that the world aims for but rarely sees. Canadian multiculturalism is one example. We strive to encourage ethnic differences, yet those differences are often a source of contention.

In contrast, the family of God is described as a body with different members. The body only works well when all the members do their part, working well together. While most people take the physical working of a human body for granted, how amazed would they be if a body the size of all those who believe in Christ became one, was totally united in everything we do. I’m thinking that would be a greater tool for evangelism than all the crusades, concerts, outreach services, and personal witnessing put together.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I'm only a little toe, but . . .

I’ve never been more aware or more appreciative of the family of God. The Bible uses a body for the metaphor and this is so suitable. It says when one member hurts, we all hurt. If a little toe is stubbed, the rest of the body parts know it and rush to its aid.

This ministry makes sense. We live in a harsh and foreign place, ambassadors for a far better world, and every part longing for it. When life challenges us, who better to help than others who know that this too shall pass, that this place is temporary, that one day we will be with Jesus and that will last forever?

This week my husband was the soothing guardian. He has a friend and Christian brother who lives in southeast Asia. This man’s father lives in Edmonton, so we have filled in as “family” when needed. About a week ago, the father went to hospital with breathing difficulties. Bob visited him several times, then called his friend on the other side of the world and told him to come home. He arrived in Edmonton Wednesday night; his father died Thursday afternoon.

We grieve with him, yet he is so thankful that someone else in the body of Christ could be eyes for him, could tell him that he must come home now. He was able to talk to his dad before the end, and that gave him great comfort. Next time it might be this man who guides, or comforts, or hurts or even rejoices with someone else.

I’ve read Romans 1:1 dozens of times. Today is the first time that I noticed it is not speaking in the singular. This is a verse for the body, not just one person.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

God wants us to function by each individual giving himself to the Lord in service, but with the idea that we function as one body when we do it. He asks for living, vital, sacrificial service, a holy ministry, set apart for God, but in total harmony and cooperation with one another. We are to consider each other’s needs, be gracious and forgiving to those who fall and restore them, support the weak, aid the strong, love and encourage the down-hearted, weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

As one person, I cannot make it through this world with success or joy, but as a member of a body that belongs to God, I have the support and prayers of a multitude. Not only that, I have an alternative to selfishness. God gave me a larger body to think about, love, pray for, minister to, and be thankful for, not just because He tells me I must, but because this is the most reasonable and logical way to live.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Patience, right now, please. . .

Psalm 40 starts with, “I waited patiently for the Lord . . . .” and my first thought is that I’ve never waited patiently for anything.

Maybe that’s a bit harsh. I wait patiently at checkout lineups (what are the options?) and for traffic lights. But given options, I’m not a very patient person. Besides, someone once told me “Never pray for patience; the Bible says tribulations produce patience and you don’t want that!”

It’s true. James 1 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

No one can avoid trials. They are part of life and usually misunderstood as to their purpose. Most of us think difficulties are random and have no purpose, or maybe the devil sent them to discourage us, or God gives them as punishment for something, or they are just there to mess up our lives. None of that describes the purpose of God in allowing trials. He wants me to trust Him in them, to wait patiently for Him, and let Him have His way in my life. He wants my maturity more than my comfort. Ouch. Is God really like that?

Most of us get our concept of God from our parents. When I was young I had a life-threatening illness. My parents were told I would not live beyond mid-teens. Although well-meaning, instead of teaching me life-skills, they ‘made me comfortable’ — an nice way to say that I was indulged, given whatever I wanted. I don’t recall being a tyrant about it, but I do know that my concept of God was that He would do the same. Imagine my surprise . . .

Yet God is good. The psalmist says that when he waited patiently for the Lord, “He inclined to me, and heard my cry.”

God does hear my cry. He cares about me so much that He sent Jesus to die for me. He accepted me into His family, spoiled brat that I am, but He loves me too much to leave me like that. Instead, He sends trials to help me become less a brat and more like His Son. Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross . . . “ and by staying there under such severe trial, He became my example for patient endurance in all things. This includes the everyday stuff like traffic and crowds, too much email, never enough hours in the day and aching feet, to the not-so-everyday pressures like editorial deadlines, a death in the family, or my husband’s illness—none of which are solved by impatience.

In a line-up yesterday, I told my granddaughter who was trying to find a shorter line, that this was an opportunity to practice patience. She agreed. Now if I can only remember to practice what I preach.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The secrets about anger management

One day this week our granddaughter asked my husband, “How come you never get mad? I’ve never seen you angry. How do you do that?”

We talked a bit about it. I told her about a seminar I went to where the leader said, “All anger is rooted in failing to get our own way.” I said that he made me realize that the problem was not with anger but with wanting my own way.

Actually, sometimes my way is okay. I want to celebrate my husband’s birthday. Nothing wrong with that. If something happened to prevent us from having his party this weekend, I would be disappointed. Depending on what it was, I might be angry, but most of us know the difference between something like that and being selfishly insistent with a “my way or the highway” attitude.

Today’s Bible verse is my example. Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. He knows He will soon be arrested and crucified. He takes Peter, James and John apart and asks them to pray. Then, “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Jesus never opposed the will of God; He wanted the same thing as His Father. But in His humanity He was not looking forward to experiencing divine wrath for the sins of the world. Could salvation happen another way? Maybe He was not asking that, only expressing the horror He felt for what lie ahead.

In any case, He yielded to the will of the Father. There was no conflict in His heart about that.

Not like me. Sometimes I don’t want the will of God, not because I know what it is, but because I am afraid of what it might be. If I would just stop and think about His character, His love for me, His wisdom, and His goodness, then I would not be so ornery.

Contentment and even the ability to not get angry lies in this. Do I know and trust God? Do I remember His ‘track record’ and how He has always had my best interests at heart? Or do I think I know better and fight Him? Is my mind set on my way, determined that I am right? Or can I yield to His will, even when I don’t know what it is, and even when I do know?

Yesterday I was praying for something that if God gave it, my life would be easier. The thought of it not happening was even a bit irritating. Then I realized my motives were selfish. I changed my prayer to “whatever is best” and give the results over to the wisdom of God; not my will but Thine be done. Not getting angry about things is about yielding my will, but even more, whenever anything or anyone tries to provoke me, I need to see it as a test of trust.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Celebrations

Today is Bob’s sixtieth birthday. Our granddaughter and I started if off by getting up before six and making him ham, a delicious whole wheat variety of Belgian waffles, Orange Julius, and a side of fruit. He was pleased, to say the least. We are taking him to a concert tomorrow night and having a ‘golf’ birthday party on the weekend. Our family is big on multiple celebrations for one birthday, and often combine the event with several other reasons to just have fun together.

I’m amazed and extremely thankful for how well our granddaughter is doing. She made her first loaf of bread last night. Granted the dough was mixed and kneaded in a bread maker, but she shaped the loaf, let it rise, then cooked it in the oven. We enjoyed that special aroma drifting through the house as we went to bed, and she was delighted with her accomplishment.

This morning we again disproved the theory that two women cannot share a kitchen. She and I work as a team, and although that breakfast could easily have been made by one, the two of us, groggy and a bit giggling, shared the cooking and clean-up, then sent Bob off to work so we could go back to bed.

I’m up again to a quiet house and my quiet time. Today’s verse is from a passage describing King Solomon’s temple. God’s people restored the Ark of the Covenant to the Most Holy place inside the temple, and at this time, “Nothing was in the ark except the two tablets which Moses put there at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they had come out of Egypt.”

These were the commandments of God written in stone. You’d think they would have hung them on the wall for everyone to see, but they were hidden in a gold-covered wood box that represented many things to God’s people. They may not have understood then, but this Ark pointed to the future new covenant of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

My first thought was that the tablets were hidden much like God says we are to hide His principles and precepts in our hearts. While that is so, I like how my devotional book describes this hiding of the tablets. It says these laws would have been a perpetual testimony against God’s people. As important as they were, no one could keep those commandments, so seeing them all the time would only serve to remind the people of God’s condemnation and judgment. The ark, which typifies Christ, thus stood between the people and the judgment of God, shielding them from their witness against them.

I know the law of God. It is there to guide me but in myself I cannot keep it because I am a sinner; His standard is beyond my capacity. However, the Ark was also known as the Mercy Seat, the place where sacrificial blood atoned for the sins of God’s people. By the laws on these tablets I am guilty before God, but by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I am no longer condemned.

Not only that, my devotional book says, Jesus came to fulfill the law for us, “so that which was on the tablets against us has now become what is in the Ark for us.” In other words, “the law-maker on the throne has become the law-keeper in my heart.”

So I celebrate today three things: my husband’s birthday, our granddaughter’s strides toward well-being, and the love of Christ that frees God’s people from condemnation and gives us the grace we need to live the way God wants us to live.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A sure and certain outcome

Yesterday my husband got back the results of his first every-four-month blood test. With CLL, the important number is the white cell count. Full-blown leukemia is 25. His count was 9 point something when he was diagnosed with this supposedly slow-progressing cancer. Yesterday the number was just over 12.

I did the math and feel a bit numb. This morning I’m reading John 11 and am amazed how God arranged a sequence of readings in a book copy-written in 1965 that speak to me every day in 2006. The story is about Lazarus. His sisters were worried and sent a message to Jesus, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

It seems a dumb prayer. Didn’t God already know that? Yet it is not a dumb prayer. It expresses faith. Instead of telling God what to do (which is how most of us pray), these women just told Him their concern. They trusted Him to do what is right.

I kept reading. “Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’

“Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”

Of course as I read I’m thinking what my husband is always saying; Everyone is terminal. One day he will die, whether from CLL or something else, and so will I. So I’m substituting ‘husband’ for brother, and as I read the above conversation I heard Jesus ask me the same question, “Do you believe this?”

Faith in Him sometimes amazes me. Often I’m a skeptic with human testimony, tend to think negatively, have to fight to keep from looking for the worst or the darkest side of things, yet when I hear Jesus say, “Do you believe this?” there is without any hesitation a resounding YES in my heart. I know beyond all doubt that whoever lives and believes in Jesus will die, yet shall never die. He is the resurrection and the life and in Him we are alive forever.

Yesterday my husband went to visit a friend who is in the hospital with lung cancer. His prognosis is not good. Worse yet, he does not know Jesus. Bob went to challenge and encourage him to put his faith in Christ while he still has opportunity. This dear man said he wanted to think about it for a day or two, and promised to ask God to show him what he should do!

I marvel at the reality that we are sinners in this battle together, each scrambling through life with a desire that our life never ends, and those who discover the secret of endless life are compelled to reach out to those who have not—strongly desiring that everyone is included.

That’s the big picture, the good part. I’m trying not to dwell too much on the sadness and the losses as this man and my man battle that relentless enemy, death. Jesus keeps whispering to me, “They will rise again” and I remember these verses from 1 Corinthians 15: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

All this is out of my control, but I know the Lord is fighting this battle for us, and I know that whatever the outcome, Jesus always wins.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Putting God first

The past few weeks I’ve felt like I’ve been spinning my wheels with lots of busyness but not getting anything done. It is too easy to blame it on things outside of my control like the telephone, others in the house, etc., but God is not letting me do that.

This morning’s reading was supposed to be another passage, but here is where He sent me: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. . . . You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why? . . . Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.”

This Old Testament passage from Haggai is talking about a literal temple, but I am fully aware that the temple of God now is within each person who believes in Jesus Christ. I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, and God expects me to take care of His dwelling place.

This is not about caring for my physical body even though proper food, some exercise, sleep, etc. are important. Instead, this is about the need to take care of my spiritual life. My relationship with God and the attitudes of my heart, must take priority over the things of this life.

I know what I’m neglecting. With extra ‘taxi’ jobs, I’ve thought I can delay my prayer time and ‘do it in the car while I’m waiting’ — but something always seems to happen to interrupt or fill up that waiting time and I don’t get to pray. Also, people don’t usually call me before 9 a.m. but this past few weeks the phone has been interrupting my early morning quiet time with God. Instead of letting it ring, I’ve been picking it up. At night, I like to read and have been enjoying some novels, but neglecting my Bible. This is not working.

The Lord tells me to give thought to my ways. My efforts during the day become ‘lost in the wind’ if I’ve not given Him time to speak to my spirit, settle my heart, direct me, show me what I need for that day. Bible and prayer, the basic spiritual disciplines can’t be put off or chopped up without consequences. Without effort on my part to get input from the Lord, I’m left to my own resources, and after years of experience, I know that is not a good idea.

Test: the phone just rang. It is 8:13. I didn’t pick it up. Yikes! Focus is not my strong suit, but determination and thinking about these verses may save the day.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Those pearly gates. . .

People joke about the “pearly gates” and “streets of gold” without any idea where those ideas came from. They are actually in a description of a city in the Bible, the “new Jerusalem” that will come down from heaven after Jesus returns and this world is destroyed. It is said to be holy, having the glory of God, with light like jasper (a perfect diamond) and clear as crystal. The walls have twelve gates and twelve foundations adorned with all kinds of precious stones.

“The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21).

These awesome precious stones are mostly minerals from the earth, except for pearls. Pearls are formed when an oyster is wounded. The life of the oyster reacts to produce layers over whatever invaded it and the result is a pearl.

In Matthew 13, Jesus mentions another pearl. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

One of great value . . . Jesus is talking about Himself. He is the pearl of great price. Like a pearl, it is through His wounds that life was released and death was conquered. Even though this figure of speech is used in Revelation to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, there is no escaping that the pearls are also a reminder of the wounded Messiah. Because of His death and His life, He is the gate, the door, the way into the heavenly city, the kingdom of God.

In my mind I’m imagining a normal city wall might be twenty or thirty feet high. Revelation describes this city as a perfect cube nearly 1500 miles on each side. That means the gates could be that size also, certainly not the normal size of a pearl. My study Bible says, “These gigantic, supernatural pearls will remind (God’s people) throughout eternity of the magnitude of Christ’s suffering and its eternal benefit.”

I’m thinking that wearing pearls could be another reminder, just as some wear a symbol of a cross. However, I have one better than that—my middle name (a name that I’ve never liked before this morning) is Pearl.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It is not getting easier!

During Old Testament life, the original place of worship was a small tent. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but God’s glory filled it. When His people came to this tent, they behaved differently than they did in their own dwellings. This was special; God was there.

In the New Testament, Christians are told, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6).

I am a dwelling place for God. I can’t wrap my mind around that. If I think about it long enough the responsibility is almost terrifying. What is my life supposed to look like because of this? I understand the preceding verses that say to avoid sexual immorality; which is totally inappropriate for someone in whom God lives. However, I read the entire chapter and was struck by the first part of it. It says:

“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (Note, in the New Testament, “saints” refers to all believers, not just special ones.)

Of course this God who lives in me gives me love, peace, joy and other qualities of His Spirit, but I never thought about judging being another manifestation of God being in my life. Jesus told us not to judge (Matthew 7) in the sense of don’t point fingers to condemn when you yourselves are guilty of the same things, but He also said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

There is a difference between the judging that is condemned and the judging that is commanded. One is fleshy, selfish, the putting down of others to make me look good or to satisfy my own critical spirit. The other is discerning, concerned about right and wrong, and determined to glorify God by condemning sin. The first comes from my sinful nature; the second from God who lives in me.

Sometimes I am sure something is not right, but refuse to pass judgment for fear that it may make me unpopular. That isn’t a good reason. God says one day I will be responsible to judge not only the world but the angels. He expects me to learn how to judge righteously, regardless of reactions. I find this difficult.

Earlier this week someone told me that living the Christian life should get easier as one gets older. I disagree. The older I get, the more conflict I see between flesh and Spirit. Today’s thoughts are serious, and totally scary. Even if I get the right judgment going on in my mind, there is still the challenge of speaking the truth in love, knowing the right timing, and also discerning if being quiet might be the best option after all.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I'm clueless, but He knows

Every Christian has people on their prayer list whose spiritual life is uncertain. They made a profession of faith once, maybe as a child, but they don’t seem interested in God, church, or spiritual things. Or maybe they attend church and talk about the Lord, but there is something odd about their faith; it doesn’t seem genuine.

While I like mysteries, I also like them solved. Not knowing where someone stands with God is a tough one to leave alone. I tend to want to know. Even though the Bible gives plenty of criteria that marks genuine faith (or not), I’m still not sure about the people who fall into that gray area in between. Some of them are in my family. How do I pray for them?

Paul wrote Timothy about two men that followed the Lord then “strayed concerning the truth” and taught falsely, ruining the potential faith of others. Then he said, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’"

God knows where people stand; that should be enough for me. He also says that those who are His children will move away from sin, and that should settle my heart. However, some move more slowly than others. Even though any spiritual changes are a mark of those who truly belong to God, I want to see rapid changes. I’m impatient with vague, slow growth.

To encourage those who are moving slowly, Paul continues, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

The more a person moves away from sin, the more useful they are to God. However, this passage suggests that even the rawest recruit in the kingdom can still be useful. The jobs may not seem as meaningful or glamorous, but a pail that pours feed for the animals in the barn is just as important to the landlord as the silver tea service in the mansion.

I am not certain that the people on my “grey area” list are God’s children, or even being used by God at all. However, I can see that He wants me to leave it with Him. He knows who they are. More than that, He is able to pull them out of those shadows and into His light. My part is to keep praying, and, if God gives me opportunity, tell them the truth. If they want to be useful to God, they need to draw close to Him and keep their lives clean.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

True freedom

As Rick Warren says in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, it’s not about me. What I do or don’t do is first about obeying God and second about loving other people.

I’ve heard people say they would never become a Christian because it is too restricting; you can’t do this and you can’t do that. They are right in one sense, but miss it by thinking those restrictions are uncomfortable and binding. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

True freedom is being out from under the power of sin and the tyranny of always having to have my own way. I’m free from the power of my ‘I wants’ so they no longer control me.

Yet the fact is, no one is free in the sense that they are without a master. The freedom nonbelievers talk about is being able to do whatever they want whenever they want. That is not freedom but being in slavery to their whims.

The freedoms Christians have are subject to a Master as well, and some restrictions, but they are not what most people think. In Romans 14, Paul wrote about the “rules” governing food sacrificed to idols. Some were insisting that this meat was unclean and forbidden. Others said not so, in Christ we are free to eat whatever we want.

Paul said, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”

We are restricted by a rule—the rule of love. If something is going to harm the faith or life of another person, this rule says don’t do it. It doesn’t matter if that thing is harmless to me. It’s not about me.

Paul goes on, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.”

Christian restrictions are not to crimp my style, but are for the sake of God and the conscience of others. Such ‘rules’ are a far cry from a supposed ‘freedom’ that lets me do anything I feel like doing, including sin, without any regard of who it might hurt, including myself.

I’ve lived in both worlds, the one where I was ‘free’ to do what I want, and the one where it is not about me. There is no comparison. What I thought was freedom was a lie. Jesus was right—and because of Him, I am truly free.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

God does not have a double-standard

Romans 14
Some Christians think it is okay to go to a football game on Sunday, and some don’t. Some think it is okay to dress casual for church and others insist on wearing their best. Some think nothing wrong with a game of Old Maid with the kids, and others will not touch a deck of cards. Some Christian couples will dance with each other; others will not dance at all.

The odd part is that most of them can support their choices with Bible verses, making it look like God has no fixed rules in mind. That’s not the case, and likely one reason why He had Paul write Romans 14.

In part, it says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

God does care what I do, but He is very interested in my motives. Yesterday He reminded me that I don’t take on anything without seeking His will. Today it is examine why I do things. Is it for His glory? Is it to express my love and devotion to Him?

This is what Paul is saying. If something is not forbidden in Scripture, then be alert to my conscience. If God gives freedom, He knows my heart. If He forbids, He knows that whatever I feel I should not do has a danger for me.

For instance, if I spend all my Sundays in front of the television before I became a Christian, after I was saved I might think watching television on Sunday is a sin, even though the Bible doesn’t say anything about that. For me, it could be a snare, but as I mature, it may not be an issue. Still, I must listen to my conscience. God gives it to me to keep me out of trouble.

Also, God wants me to be discerning, but not use my discernment to look down on others.
I’m not to judge others for stuff like this; I don’t know their motives. Instead, I must be aware that some things that seem okay to me might cause someone else to stumble into sin.

That means if I feel okay about Sunday television, I should not invite someone who has a problem with that to watch TV with me. Neither should I judge them as weak or immature. Just as I desire to please God and can rejoice in my freedoms, they do the same and can rejoice in their restraint.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In over your head?

Joshua 9:14
When the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse. To save their own lives, they pretended to live in a distant country and wanted to make a treaty with Israel.

At first the leaders in Israel were skeptical, but the Gibeonites said, “This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”

The ruse worked. “The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.”

Later they found out they had been tricked, but as men of God they were bound to their oath. They made the Gibeonites their servants and spared their lives.

Watchman Nee says there are two kinds of sin. One is disobeying God’s orders; the other is going ahead when God didn’t give any. How many times have I fallen for the ruse? Some of them look like this:

No one else will do it. A need arises and a plea goes out. Everyone ignores it. I feel bad, so instead of asking if God wants me to get involved, I jump in.

This would showcase my gifts. Certain things appeal to me. Because I love to teach and organize, I am quick to respond to situations that call for that, whether God nudges me in that direction or not.

The burden is getting to me. I pray for days, months, even years. Nothing happens, so I get antsy and try to answer my own prayers, without God telling me to do so.

Circumstances point to me. I see the situation, I have the ability to take care of it, the timing is right, it feels good, but I never asked God about it.

I want to. For whatever reasons, this is the thing I want to do. I like the idea of it, or the challenge, or it just feels good. I’m assuming that God would be in it because it seems so good.

Guilt. My heart says no, but someone or some part of the situation makes me feel guilty. I missed out on this kind of opportunity once before and want to make it right, or I did do it already, but messed it up so now want to do it right. Or maybe I caused the problem and now am eager to fix it.

Not every reason is a wrong reason in itself, but pair it with “not inquiring of the Lord” and I get in over my head. How much time have I wasted spinning my wheels in something when I should have been doing something else somewhere else?

Some people quip, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” After too many years of doing just that, I say “nonsense.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Distracted by the medium and missing the message

“Christian life has become sub-normal to the point that if one person lives as God intends, that person is held up as a super-saint.”

I don’t know who said it, but it convicts me. God’s standards are high, but not impossible. Most of the time, I settle for ‘good enough’ rather than pressing on to at least normal.

This morning I’m thinking what my devotional time with God used to be like before computers, electronic Bibles, and blogs. Imagine my surprise to read this from Jeremiah 6: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

In this modern world, we use technology for everything. It is the quickest way to do things, but if the ‘medium is the message’ then we sell ourselves short by using an electronic Bible all the time and a prayer list stored on the word processor. By its very nature, technology changes the way we receive the message. At the very least, it can distract me from hearing the Holy Spirit.

What is the ancient path, the good way? Do I use a scroll and stylus? No, I’m not disobeying God by using my computer, or by conveying my thoughts via the Internet. However, I can miss that soul-rest whenever I’m distracted by the technology (which font should I use?) and focused on what I should write, rather than listening for what He wants me to hear.

Jeremiah 6 continues: “I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ Therefore hear, O nations; observe, O witnesses, what will happen to them. Hear, O earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law.’”

God has the power to ruin the plans and actions of any nation or individual person. If I don’t listen to Him and reject His ways, I should not be surprised if disaster happens. He can do that, not in mean or evil retribution, but to get my attention, to remind me who I serve, to show me His way is the best way.

What do I change? I’ve noticed that most people focus on their actions. However, I know that I can look good on the outside—but God is interested in my heart. Why am I doing this? How attentive am I to His voice, His commands? Am I thinking and doing what He wants? Or am I more concerned with what I think will make me look good? Is my heart open to Him? Or set on doing my religious duties in my own way?

Lord, I’m listening.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This too shall pass. . . well, some of it will!

Reverence is catching. Years ago we were members of Grace Community Church. For a few Sundays, a guest preached on 1 Peter 1. He loved the passage, loved the Lord, and his devotion brought a holy hush into the room. Whenever I read 1 Peter 1, I can still hear his Scottish accent and the reverence in his voice.

I heard it this morning. I also heard the Holy Spirit giving me this section for encouragement and comfort. The past few months have been difficult. Things may not improve soon. Nevertheless, the Lord is not making mistakes with my life.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Would anyone trust the Lord if there were no danger, no trials? We tend to reach out to God when life is tough, and circumstances are more than we can handle. But at least we reach out. If nothing else, trials prove faith.

They also develop spiritual muscle. The situations that I’m experiencing now would have put me into a basket twenty years ago, had not the Lord allowed other trials and difficulties. In working through those, I’ve become a stronger person.

Yet I cannot boast. I know where my strength comes from. Without Jesus, I am helpless and hopeless. For that reason, the next section of 1 Peter 1 is so wonderfully true: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Someday the trials will end, but my faith in Jesus Christ will never be over. It will deepen and grow until the day I step into eternity and see His face.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The price tag is not in dollars

We watched an episode of Law and Order last night where an ordinary young business man was pulled by the lure of wealth into a secret lifestyle. While his life looked normal, under-the-table deals and illegal bargains with clients escalated until someone murdered his wife.

I’ve often heard that a person’s relationship with God can be determined by what they do with their wallet. I’m a bit of a tightwad, I think. My personal income is sporadic, but I do give more than the tithe, and on a regular basis. However, I don’t spend money easily. My Scottish roots, perhaps? At the same time, I’m content with what I have, not always wanting more. I don’t buy lottery tickets and am not envious of those who make scads of dollars. If someone has a financial need and God nudges me to respond, I will, but I am a little slower than my husband. He has far more income, and is also quicker to be generous.

Financial integrity is an important part of being a godly person. Acts 18 describes an incident that brings this out. “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t know if this posed a temptation for the apostles. It sounds like easy money. All they had to do was put their hands on this man and give him the power of the Holy Spirit. Then he could do the same and be another helper at their side. But God doesn’t work like that.

First, the Holy Spirit is not ‘controlled’ by anyone, not even the apostles. If God does not want to fill someone with His Spirit, it won’t happen, no matter who is asking for it.

Second, the power of God is not purchased with money. “Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.”

Some church leaders today might be tempted. Maybe I should say some church leaders today have been tempted and given in to the lure of wealth. I don’t know their hearts, but when I hear too many appeals for money, I begin to wonder who they are trusting. While ministry does require funding, if God is in it, the funds will be there. He has an amazing ability to nudge people into opening their pocketbooks. He doesn’t need a preacher to do it.

This issue in Acts was deeper than a church leader being tempted by money. Simon thought God would dole out power to those with the dollars. That easily becomes, ‘Get more dollars; get more power’ and a horrible view of how God works. Simon was far from understanding the heart of God. No wonder Peter said, “Your money perish with you.”

"I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope. . . ."

Earlier this week I asked the Lord to give hope to our granddaughter. She was down, depressed, felt as if her life was meaningless and she had no future. I prayed for a surprise, anything that would help her see that even with bipolar, she could have a meaningful life. I also said that we felt so helpless. We cannot force her to do things, take treatments, even take some of the jobs available to her. We want the best, but she has to do her part.

Yesterday was like waking up from a bad dream. The dream clings, but it isn’t real. I’m still shaking my head and wondering if I am awake.

Our local university hospital has a walk-in psychiatric clinic. She decided she wanted to go. It was a scarey thing, so I offered to drive her. We arrived around 9 a.m. There were no other patients in line. She filled out an 8-page form. The therapist introduced himself and gave her some time to have breakfast. After she ate, she spent about an hour with him. He looked like a soccer player, with a sense of humor. After a short break, he took her to see a psychiatrist. She later said that they asked her a lot of questions about her medical history. After another hour, she came back to the waiting room. She sat down beside me, her face relaxed yet she looked both puzzled and surprised.

“They told me that the medication I was on while in Toronto was almost certainly the cause of my manic episode, and that I must stop taking lithium. I’m not bipolar.”

It was my turn to be both puzzled and surprised, but something inside of me was shouting, “Yes!”

She told me they could not be 100% about their conclusion, but that the former medication had a reputation for doing to people what had happened to her. It was far too strong and not the right one for her needs. The doctor gave her a prescription for a mild anti-depressant, invited her to participate in an 18-week treatment program, and asked her to get an MRI because they can verify her depression with it. She was immediately given both hope and action steps. She said, “This is a life-changing experience.”

Life-changing indeed. Instead of being tied to a life of mental illness, she can see a future, a hope. The Bible says God can do “exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or imagine.” To my request for a surprise, we got this amazing ‘exceedingly abundantly above’ answer!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Prayer changes things --- me!

I’m preparing a Bible study concerning the power of prayer. Most of our prayers are for change in circumstances, or changes in others, but as I read the Bible passages on prayer, many of them reveal that God uses prayer to transform the person who is praying. Prayer changes us.

This morning I read Romans 12. Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

He says I’m not to be like the rest of the world. Other passages describe the world’s system as motivated by desire for personal ease, power, control, and importance. It is a ‘me first’ world where even a low sense of self is fueled by “I deserve better.”

If I pray as the Bible instructs and as the Holy Spirit leads, I cannot be selfish. My prayers will be for God’s glory, the advancement of His kingdom, the well-being of others. I can ask for wisdom, grace, power, etc., but only toward those ends.

I didn’t start out praying like that. I always came to God with a shopping list of all the ‘miracles’ that would make my life more comfortable, give me more control, build my ego. Sometimes I still have a list like that, but more and more, He is teaching me His will. As He does, it is easier to pray accordingly.

One key from Romans 12 concerning His will is how to think about myself and how to be less self-centered. Verse three says: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Self-evaluation is generally based on “what I think others think” or more egotistically, “what I want myself to be” rather than God’s evaluation. There is no place in the Bible that tells us our self-esteem is too low. Here it says to smarten up; evaluate myself according to God’s revelations to me. His evaluation is balanced; I’m a sinner, but also loved, accepted, and made capable by Him to do all things.

The world does not offer that balance. In fact, I seldom meet anyone who can set out both strengths and weaknesses with total acceptance and say, “This is who I am.” People are bashful about their stronger points, or unable to see them, or hung up on what they cannot do, or blind to their weaknesses.

Prayer opens our eyes. As I talk to God about everything, He helps me with the blind spots and moves my attitude from me, myself, and I to think more about His grace and glory. As He blesses me with a deeper knowledge of Himself, He transforms me more and more into that image (2 Corinthians 3:18 says it, but most of the time I don’t see it!).

The downside is that being a nonconformist in this world means being misunderstood, maligned, ridiculed, even rejected. The selfish side of me doesn’t want that, and could that be the reason prayer is sometimes the last thing I feel like doing?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

God speaks, everyone resists. . .

Every trouble in the world that I can think of is a direct or indirect result of disobedience to God. While that seems like hyperbole, I don’t think so. If the daily news isn’t convincing enough, both the Old and New Testament teach that the human race is a prisoner of sin. Sin is defined simply as “going our own way” instead of God’s way. In other words, if God says something, most of humanity will do the opposite.

To be specific, this morning I realized afresh why nearly everyone complains about the government and resists authority. In Acts 23, Paul is arrested and hauled before the Jewish religious leaders. When given opportunity to speak, he says, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”

Of course they reacted. The high priest ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Paul reacted, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

But he didn’t realize this was the high priest. When someone told him, he instantly apologized, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Paul quoted Exodus, but Scripture has plenty of other passages about the governing authorities being in place by God’s design. Clearly God wants everyone to respect them and do what they say. Christians are also told to submit to the authorities, both in the church and in government. We are to pray for them “that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2)

Instead, most of us choose to complain about, or even resist, authority. As I think about that, I wonder how I can think I am obeying God if I won’t obey speed limits or other traffic laws? How can I be thankful to God about everything if I am griping about people in leadership of the government that He has ordained to rule over me?

Also, and even more sobering, are the times I drive too fast any different in the eyes of God than other violations that put people in jail or in the hospital? After all, sin is sin. My attitude of disdain for a government official or their actions is only different by degree from the attitude of those who form mobs and violently protest or make bombs. I’m sure God does not measure sin in degrees.

Submission to God means accepting His sovereign decisions. I may not like what is happening in this world, but I must take my protests to Him in intercession and giving of thanks, and support His choice of authority. If I instead raise my voice or even my fist, then I’m not part of the solution but part of the problem.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Spiritual war

A few years ago I was asked to do follow-up for a woman who had been set free from several demons. I know this is a controversial subject. Christians do not agree that it even happens, never mind to other Christians, but as an eye-witness, I can say that it does.

This woman was a believer, but she toyed around with a particular sin to the point that she lost control. Satan sent a few of his cohorts to keep her totally occupied and she could not deal with this herself. Eventually, the four people she “hated the most” became the four people who helped her out of this mess.

After that deliverance, I spent at least one night a week with her. Her story was startling. I gained a new respect for the powers of darkness, but more so for the incredible protection of God. No matter how hard the enemy worked to destroy this woman, God took care of her and brought her out of a very black hole into His light.

If there is a message in this experience, it is this: Don’t dabble in sin. Don’t think that I can do something and ‘it won’t matter’ or ‘God will forgive me.’ The possibility of becoming a slave to sin is not worth whatever pleasures it might offer as bait.

My reading today speaks indirectly to this issue. In Acts 5, the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. He was angry and said, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Guilt is a funny thing. You either are or you are not. Someone else cannot ‘make’ you guilty. This was a side issue and the apostles knew it. The real issue was ‘who’ would they obey?

Peter and the other apostles already had their minds made up. They replied: “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The church was established by Christ and built on the foundation of these solid believers who refused to compromise. Not only were they determined to avoid dabbling in sin, they were also determined to die rather than disobey the Lord.

Sin’s temptation is always with us. It might not be as big as a threat of jail or death for obeying God, but some little thing that seems not to matter very much, perhaps a hidden sin that first goes on only in our minds, something that gives us pleasure, but no one knows about it. This is what happened to the woman with the demons. Those who knew her, including myself, were oblivious to the sin that held her in its snare. She faked her spiritual life to all but four discerning people that God knew would be able to help her.

I’m rather terrified of the responsibility tied to this experience. God put me there because He knew about the situation I’m would be in now? He knew that someone I care about is also battling demons and needs deliverance?

I’m thinking that this is correct. I also see that to be any help to her or anyone else, my own life has to be clean. I cannot yield to temptation. I can’t stop trusting the Lord. This is a war, not only for my own life, but the life of at least one other person. If I look at myself, I know I cannot do it. If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I know all things are possible.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"God works all things together for good. . . "

Yesterday morning, after devotions, posting my blog, etc. I popped a small turkey in the oven. Our oldest son called to wish us happy thanksgiving. Then our other son, our daughter and her daughters arrived. We enjoyed the meal. Then my sister phoned. After her call, we called a friend in Scotland who wanted to be here with us for this feast. Everyone had a turn on the phone with her, then we watched our home team lose a football game. At the same time, some competed at the ping-pong table, and when the football ended, all played a particular card game that has become a family tradition. Even though my head cold had me feeling terrible, it was nice to hear their laughter and the usual banter about who was winning or losing and why.

I’m thankful for several things; one is that God allows trivia in our lives. Most of our activities had little long-term significance, but as we ate and played, negative attitudes vanished. The trivia facilitated rapport, then harmony. That is a good thing.

I’m also thankful for what was behind that transformation—the power of God who answers prayer. The day started with anger and a situation that could have ruined it. When our oldest son called, I explained and asked him to pray. When my sister called, I did the same thing. We also alerted our ‘other daughter’ in Scotland. Within a very short time, a few words and what seemed like meaningless trivia worked to relieve the pressure and change attitudes. What could have been a confrontational and angry day turned into a good day, a happy thanksgiving.

This morning I read Acts 6. Saul had just witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen. The church was scattered. It seemed like a disaster. However, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

Before that happened, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”

Chaos seemed to rule, yet God was not thwarted by this rotten event. He still produced positive results. Those who were fleeing Saul still told people about Jesus and they paid attention. The church grew and joy prevailed.

God not only uses trivia, but disaster, for His purposes. He is not limited by our actions, inactions, or negativity. He can take anything and turn it around to suit His purposes. Yesterday, and today, and as far ahead as I can see, I’m thankful for a God whose plan for our lives, no matter what, cannot be thwarted.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Digging up the carrot seeds

The people in my class yesterday said their week was uneventful, life was ordinary. My material was about the difference Jesus makes in our lives because we are saved by grace, not by our own effort. I wanted them to be in awe over the amazing fact that God saves us apart from our efforts. Most of them seemed rather out of it, as if the material came in from left field.

At that, I began to question my method and material. What did I do wrong? How could I improve? Sometime during my questioning, I lost my own awe over the grace of God.

As I reflect and ask God to show me what is going on, several things come to mind. First there is my regular reading. Acts 5 tells how the religious leaders were having fits about the teaching of the disciples. “ . . . they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. . . .’”

Gamaliel reminded them of previous revolutionists who eventually came to nothing. Then he added, “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The principle here is that God does what He wants, regardless of human efforts to start something or stop it. He is sovereign. My efforts will fail. I need to keep trusting in His ability to work. If He gives me material to teach, I need to trust Him to use it as He wishes.

Then I think of John 3 where Jesus describes the working of the Holy Spirit like the wind. No one can tell where it comes from or where it is going. I don’t have any idea what God is doing in the hearts of the women in my class. Sometimes they share, and sometimes I can see the “lights come on” in their countenance, but otherwise it is for God to do and know, not me.

The other thing I notice when I’m unsure if God is using me it that I have to watch where I go to find out. If He gives me something to say and I say it, I’m supposed to leave the results to Him, not be like the little boy who planted carrots then kept digging up the seeds to see if they were growing.

Just when I thought I was trusting Him, He shows me one more area that I’m not.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

If I have a calling. . .

My husband used to tease me about the way I acted during a church potluck dinner. I’d not be wandering the tables serving or in the kitchen cleaning up, but in a corner “talking theology” with someone.

Do I feel guilty that I’m not drawn to the church kitchen? Or that I’m not on the service committee? I used to, maybe due in part to the teasing, but now we both realize that we serve God and others best in the area of the gifts and interests He has given us.

Acts 6 starts out with, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’”

The disciples knew their role. They excelled in preaching, teaching, and prayer. God had gifted them in those areas. They also knew that some Christians love serving in a physical way; so find the servers to do the serving jobs. As for me, every Sunday morning I feel totally inadequate to teach any class, yet I know this is the one thing in life that I am “supposed to do.” God made me a teacher and when I teach, I feel His pleasure!

The teaching gift is characterized by an appetite for information, a desire to learn, to know things, and to pass on what I discover. At the same time, nothing gives me greater joy than to help someone else discover and to see that “ah-ah” look on their face when God’s truth enlightens their mind.

This morning I’ll be teaching my regular Sunday class. For me, this is the highlight of the week. I teach by the Q&A discussion method. That is, I ask questions that prompt discussion. Sometimes the questions are about life issues (to get them into the topic), but most of them concern the Scripture we are reading for that day. Who wrote it? Who were the original readers? What was the author trying to say to them? How did they interpret it? How can we interpret it for our lives? What is God trying to tell us? How should we respond to this?

So in a way, I’m also a servant. God puts His food for the spirit on a platter, hands it to me (and I go “ah-ha”), then tells me to serve it to those who are hungry. The only difference is that the oven in my kitchen is a pile of Bibles, reference material and theology books, and if I am obedient to my teacher, there is usually no cleanup afterwards.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

My amazing Live-in

Having a light case of laryngitis is a good thing, at least in my case. It makes me listen more than talk, and in order for God to answer my prayers yesterday, He had to shut me up just a bit.

My granddaughter and I had a long talk. Well into it, she said, “I’m amazed. You and I don’t see things the same way at all, but we have had some remarkable conversations.”

For that, I praise God. He lined up a series of events that led to this remarkable conversation. Thinking back, I know my weak and raspy voice forced me to listen, not just to her, but to His inner voice that was guiding my responses. He gave me words that I’d not normally say.

Whether it shows or not, I’m personally aware that Christ lives here. My normal self is black and white, quick with opinions and advice, and annoyingly dogmatic. But with Jesus in control, I don’t jump into judgment and advice. He puts a guard on my mouth (even if He must use a sore throat to do it) and give me thoughts other than my own.

Today I read in John 14 a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. I’ve always loved this passage because in it He makes clear the way of salvation. He also talks about His relationship with the Father: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . . Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”

Christ is fully man, visible, with a heartbeat, sweat, hunger and fatigue, yet fully God because the Father lives in Him. How can God be confined to a body? He isn’t; He is everywhere, but the Bible says His fullness dwells in His Son.

This is not like polytheism. God is not in trees, stones, wood, animals and people. The Bible does not teach that. Instead, God is “other than” and apart from His creation. He made humans in His image, but does not live inside of them. He was not in them before they sinned in Eden, nor in sinful man after Eden . . . until Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus is called the “only begotten Son.” He is unique.

This is amazing enough, but then Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit: “The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. . . . On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. . . . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

I’m so humbled by this. Not only did He come to earth a live in a human body so we might know Him, and so He could die in our place for those sins, but this same God, the God who created the world, choose to live in those who have sinned against Him! The only stipulation is that we must confess our sin and open the door.

On a much less global scale, I’m deeply humbled that He would gently stop me from speaking so I could (and would) listen to Him talking, then repeat what He said to a crying young woman.

Jesus said that the Father in Him did the works. His humility is amazing. He could have taken the credit. But I also understand what He means. He knew, and I know, who is running things.

Friday, October 6, 2006

. . . and see what happens!

This morning I’m thinking of things that God could speak to me about, but instead just asked Him, “What do I need today?” This is what He gave me:

“On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “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.” (Quoting Psalm 2:1-2) 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.’ 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.”

Pray Scripture. There is no better way to pray in the will of God than to pray His Word back to Him. Use it to understand the world. Use it to see and express what people need, what God wants for them. Use it to make requests for myself.

These first Christians understood that the religious and political leaders of their time were just the same as those written about in the Old Testament. They were against God and against his Anointed One, then David, now Christ. Even though they didn’t pray it, they knew the rest of the passage: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath. . . .”

Instead of being afraid of being arrested again, they realized the power of God. They knew that God planned the crucifixion of Jesus. They knew that through His death and resurrection they were set free from sin to serve God, who would never leave or forsake them. Instead of cowering in fear, they knew that God was with them and would go to bat for them. They knew it because they knew His Book, the promises in it, and the history behind what was now happening. All that went before served to instruct them in how to respond to current trials and persecution.

I’ve got a cold today, feel a bit wimpy, like retreating into the woodwork and hanging up a sign that says, “This too shall pass—I hope.” Despite my inclination to whine and the fact that my trials are nothing compared to theirs, God tells me to pray using Scripture. Hmm. Life could become much more interesting than plugged sinuses and a scratchy cough. I’m about to find out . . .

Thursday, October 5, 2006

True miracles are indisputable

Has God stopped doing miracles? Some theologians say yes. Ordinary Christians, without any ‘education’ to brainwash them otherwise, say of course not.

A few weeks ago I tried to define a miracle. Some might say finding a parking place in a ‘full’ parking lot is a miracle. Others insist it has to be more spectacular, like being healed of an illness that has no cure. I’m thinking, what about the power behind the event? Can Satan do ‘miracles’? And what about the motivation for calling things a miracle? Can that just be an attention-getting device? Do real miracles have another purpose?

In Acts 4, the story is told of a healing. It made religious authorities angry so they rounded up Peter and John and asked them, “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter replied. He told them, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Peter could have basked in the attention, claimed that God gave him healing powers, pointed out that this would be the end of medicine as they knew it, and so on, but he didn’t. Instead, he pointed to Christ, not only as the source of the miracle but as the only Savior. He made sure that this miracle pointed to a far greater miracle; God the Son died for our sins, rose from the dead and is now the chief cornerstone, a metaphor these men would understand. Jesus was the foundation of all things, the source of the miracle, and the only reason Peter and John were doing what they did.

Most of today’s miracle-mongers use their version of miracles to draw attention to themselves, or maybe to the miracle, but not to the saving power of Christ. They say look at this miracle, not “Look at Jesus.” Many of them at this point are quick to pass the collection plate.

In Acts 4, the critical religious leaders were cornered. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”

Personally, I’m skeptical (can’t you tell) of most miracle claims. For me, this might be the best test of a miracle—it leaves me speechless.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

I might be only an elbow. . .

Most people measure net worth in dollars. Or in popularity. Or in appearance. Or in achievements. Or in degrees and awards. Or in what they think other people think of them (the most useless of all because other people seldom do).

Some say the best way to evaluate your worth is by the price God was willing to pay. He went to a horrible death to redeem us from eternal death. And He says He loves us with an everlasting love. He accepts me, just as I am, but loves me too much to leave me that way. He makes me capable. There is nothing too hard for Him, and He lives in me.

This morning I see another measurement. In a long description about Christians being a “body” and compared to the functioning of a body, Paul says, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

The Bible acknowledges that some are gifted one way, some another, but the eye cannot say to the hand that it is worthless, nor the head cannot dismiss the value of the feet. In the working of the Christian church, every part is important.

My toe hurts right now. The rest of my body sympathizes. My hands are working well, and the rest of me rejoices, yet this is the analogy. The reality is that in a properly functioning body of believers, all the parts work the same way. I might feel like an elbow, but others who seem to have more talent, better roles, and more prominent positions care about me. They hurt when I hurt, and praise God with me when things go well.

God composed the body of Christ this way. By doing so, He elevates each member to a unity and equality that those outside the body cannot know or perhaps appreciate. As the body of Christ identifies with my life and experiences, and as I do with theirs, God affirms our value over and over. He loves us so much that He united us and gave us a common heart for one another, a togetherness that says, “You are of great worth.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Imitation or real?

When I first declared my faith in Christ, a man from the local church came over and ‘interrogated’ me. He wanted to know on which Bible passages I based my faith. I knew what he was doing, but didn’t resent it. He’d known my previous lifestyle and wanted to make sure I was not going to bring any of it into the church.

This past Sunday our ladies class talked the conversion of the woman at the well in John 4. After her encounter with Jesus, she went out and declared to the people of her village, “Come and meet a man who told me all I ever did.” They came.

We noted that no one doubted something had happened to her. One woman in our group wondered at that. She said, “Everyone in this room would doubt, for instance, a jailhouse conversion.” When someone with a bad reputation claims to have become a Christian, people are suspicious.

This was true for the Apostle Paul (formerly called Saul) also. Acts 9 says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.”

What happened between the time the woman at the well met Jesus and the time that Paul met Him? Or what was different about the people of her village who believed her and the disciples who feared Paul? Or the church that was suspicious of my conversion?

The woman was a Samaritan. She left the well and told others who were also Samaritans. Did they accept what she said simply because they didn’t have the same religious history as the Jews, or even as modern-day Christians? Or was the change in her life so obvious that they could not push her aside? The change in Saul/Paul was obvious too. He went from killing Christians to preaching Christ. Why were the disciples afraid of him? Or suspicious of me?

But as admitted last week, I’ve also been suspicious of “jailhouse conversions.” Last week God showed me that a self-righteous attitude can be at the root of such suspicion. Perhaps the Samaritans, who were shunned by everyone, had no such attitude. Perhaps the disciples had a tinge of it, or maybe they were being protective of their baby church, wary that a persecutor like Saul/Paul could be faking it for better access.

There is more to the story. The next verses in Acts 9 tell how one person went against all this. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And (Saul/Paul) declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.”

Barnabas took this new convert at his word, and by encouraging Paul, he was partly responsible for the impact this man had, not only in the new church, but in the known world.

What if he had been wrong? What if Saul had been a fake? A verse in 1 John comes to mind: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; if they had been of us, they would not have continued with us . . . .”

Being a Christian ought to carry enough heat that the fakes will not stay in fellowship with genuine believers or stick with the true church. Our lives should be so dedicated to Christ that a fake can’t imitate us. They might go off and form a cult or just drop out of sight altogether, simply because they can’t convince anyone.

While I’m concerned that I might shun a genuine new convert, I’m also concerned about the presence of fakes in our midst. What does that say about our lives of those who do follow Jesus? Have I become too easy to imitate?

Monday, October 2, 2006

The value of Q & A

Yesterday our pastor went through a section of Revelation describing the awful things that will happen in the world when people have totally rejected God. Near the end of his message he asked this thought-provoking question; “What does God have to do to get your attention?”

I’ve been thinking about that. He does many things, including dropping unexpected blessings, and allowing unwanted trials. He knows that my heart is prone to wander, to drift away from Him. He knows what He must do to bring me back.

I’ve also thought about the power of a question. Sometimes I bury myself in the problems all around me and forget (how foolish) the most simple things, such as: Is anything too hard for God? The answer is obvious, but how often I forget to just ask the question.

I’m reading Acts 8 this morning. Philip is preaching Christ. “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed . . . . Then Simon (a sorcerer) himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. . . . Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise and go toward the south . . . .’ and he arose and went” and met an Ethiopian who was in charge of the queen’s treasury. This man was reading the Old Testament, and when he said he needed help to understand, Philip preached Jesus to him. The man believed and was baptized.

Here in the space of less than forty verses, God sets free those oppressed by demons, heals the lame and paralyzed, transforms one person trapped in the occult and another who would normally be forbidden access to worship because he was a eunuch.

When I asked God what I needed to think about today, this is what He told me. Add up the ‘impossible’ feats in this chapter, and think about them, even those revealed in the rest of the book of Acts, and remember that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Whatever happens today, it will not be too hard for God. He can supply all my needs. He can give me wisdom and grace to meet the challenges. He can do whatever He wants.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

The sins of our fathers

Before my mother died, she spent a few years in a hospital Alzheimer ward. Her first few weeks there were in a tiny room with too much furniture and not much going for it. She was dismayed. “You mean this is where I have to live?”

I explained to her often-confused mind that this was temporary and they were getting a nice room ready for her. Then the nurse came in and explained again. I watched her countenance change. Then she said, “You know, I’ve been through a lot. I can handle this too.”

When some woman hear, “You are so much like your mother,” they cringe. Part of it depends on age, but some mothers are not great role models. When I was young, my mother was the last person I wanted to be like. I only saw things that annoyed me. As I grew older, I realized she had many qualities worth imitating. Being courageous in the face of challenges is one of them.

However, the Lord has put on my heart to think about generational sin. By that I mean the sins of my parents and grandparents that were not conquered and that may have passed down to me, even to my children and grandchildren. It seems no coincidence that I read Acts 7 this morning. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is accusing his persecutors with, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”

As your fathers did. Very little observation is required to realize that no one has to teach a child to be bad. They already know that. They even quickly imitate dad’s swearing or mother’s nagging. Parents must work hard to teach children to be good, to have good attitudes and to behave themselves. If the parents don’t know how, it is unlikely the children will figure it out by themselves, hence generational sin.

The Bible talks a great deal about the sins of the fathers. God also says that even though we might be victims of ungodliness in our parents, we are still personally responsible for what we do. We can’t say, “I’m just like my mother” and stop there. Instead, those sins need to be personally identified, confessed, and renounced.

Lifestyle patterns can also be issues. I was ill as a child and my parents were told I would die before my sixteenth birthday. They did not raise me to live. I was pampered and spoiled. Consequently, I didn’t realize or understand how to equip my children for life. While they do well in some areas, they feel the same handicap I did when I grew up—unequipped. Now my granddaughter is overwhelmed to the max with that generational problem. She feels she is not equipped for life and is terrified by its challenges.

So what now? Without realizing it, my loving parents let me down; however, the Lord promises to lift me up (Psalms 27:10). He teaches me how to live, and even though my children are grown (and not always interested in mother’s advice), the Lord has His hand on them. I can pray, acknowledging those generation sins and issues, confessing them to the One who forgives. I must also renounce them in my own life.

Experience says this opens the door of grace. When sin and failure are confronted, God is more than willing to pour out a blessing. When I bring to Him the sins of others, even those whose hearts have become ‘tough’ in their efforts to compensate rather than take their needs to Him, He gets to work and helps them see their need, and His solutions.

Not everyone will agree on the idea of generational sin, but Christians know that lives change through intercession. God answers prayer. Because I’d do anything to free my family from the bondage of sin I’ve handed down to them, I am praying.