Thursday, November 30, 2006

My heart’s cry

Most of my extended family seem to have no interest in spiritual things. I suspect that some of them think that Christianity is foolish or narrow-minded. At least one cousin openly mocks those of us who do believe in Jesus Christ.

When praying for them, I used to think of ways I could convince them. After years of either no success or no opportunity, I went through a spell of feeling hopeless about change. Now I realize that only God can touch their hearts. After all, only He could get through to me, who was just as stubborn and blind, maybe even more so. Yet my heart wonders if God will bring them to Himself?

Like me, Jacob used to be a schemer too. And like me, he realized later in life that only God can bring salvation to his family. It comes out towards the end of Genesis when he calls his twelve sons together and offers them descriptions of what will happen to them. He is speaking not just to individuals but predicts what will happen to the tribes of which they are heads.

Not all the descriptions are positive. As Jacob speaks to Dan, he says he will be “a serpent by the way . . .” who bites horses’ heels and causes the riders to fall.

This must have made this father’s heart sad. His next words are a cry from his heart, “ I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!”

Jacob isn’t scheming now. He is telling God that his hope is in Him. He hopes that God will deliver this son, and his other sons, and all their descendants from judgment and condemnation. I understand this cry from the heart.

God gave Jacob his prophetic words, yet aside from that, it doesn’t seem realistic to expect God to deliver every last one of them. He didn’t. Dan’s tribe strayed from the laws of God, abandoned their God-given land, and are not mentioned in Revelation among the list of the tribes sealed by God and given special duties in the last days.

What happened to Dan and his tribe could happen to one or more of my family members. I hope not, and pray not, but at the same time must remember that His salvation is a gift of grace and mercy. Because we are all sinners and have rebelled against Him and resisted His will, the question is not a demanding, “Why don’t you save everyone?” but a grateful “Why have you saved any of us?”

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More than a healthy glow. . .

I’ve been thinking about how to speak for God without using words. This morning’s reading reminded me of Janice.

As a young woman in the working world, Janice noticed something unusual; some of the people she worked with had shining faces. Her observations went further. Others had the same glow about them, and she discovered that all these “shiny people” were Christians. From that she was drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ—the One who makes people shine.

In Genesis 33, Jacob is about to meet his estranged brother Esau. They parted company years ago with Esau wanting to kill him, and now Jacob didn’t know what to expect. He was fearful, and thought if he offered Esau some of his livestock and servants, the tension might be eased.

Jacob was in for a surprise though. When he saw Esau, the countenance of this once angry brother told him the animosity was over. He said, “I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God.”

A similar thing happened in the New Testament. A young believer named Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy and hauled him the Jewish court. However, when “all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”

When asked by the high priest if the accusations were true, Stephen outlined the nation’s history of rebellion against God, and “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

I can imagine that his face was still shining, but it didn’t produce a positive response, at least not for Stephen. “Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.”

“And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep."

Stephen died, but the man who held the clothes later became the Apostle Paul, who was mightily used by God to build the church and write most of the New Testament.

The Bible talks also of Moses who went into the tabernacle in the wilderness where God manifested Himself to him as light. When he came out, his face shone so brightly that the people could not look at him. This light faded since it was a reflection of God’s glory as seen in the Law of Moses. The light that reflects God’s glory as seen in the gift of His Son never fades.

For me, this means that as I gaze into the glory of God, and think about who He is, and as I trust Him, He can shine His glory on me and make me a reflection of His light. I could look in a mirror and not see that, but others will, and that is just one way that I can point them to Him—without saying a word.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not with words . . .

When concerned for someone’s spiritual destiny, I sometimes think about ways I could tell them about Jesus, ways I could convince them that He died for their sins and offers them forgiveness and eternal life. Part of that thinking is motivated by the pressure in evangelicalism to ‘win souls’ and belong to some sort of upper echelon who report a count of the disciples they have ‘won.’ I should know better.

I know that people are not persuaded about such matters with human reasoning. The human spirit cannot be touched by anything but spirit, or made alive by anyone but God. No golden tongue can do it, only God.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about their sinful sectarianism. Some were forming factions that included the people they had ‘won’ and baptized. They were saying things just like we hear today, “I go to Pastor Bill’s church” or “I follow Dr. Know-it-all” or “I only read books by Rev. Rev-it-up.”

Paul replied, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

He knew that when people insert into the making of disciples their own ideas of how it should be done, the Spirit gets shoved out. Some sinners might be attracted—if the reasoning and persuasion appeals to them—but eventually the wheels fall off. They are not genuinely converted because there is no power in a cross embellished by argument, nor in a Jesus who is relegated to the back burner while crackpots boil over in the limelight.

My concerns for others can be verbalized in prayer. If God gives opportunity and the words, He may have me say something to them. Most of the time though, my ‘preaching’ is supposed to be not with words, even wise words, particularly if the motive behind it is to put notches in my belt.

Even if God did use my words, there is nothing special about that. It is still God who is speaking. Besides, God can, and once did, speak through the jawbone of a donkey. I’ve nothing to boast about, ever.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Slavery is not an option

In our culture, about the closest I can come to understanding the master/slave relationship is when I feel like a ‘slave to my kitchen’ or a ‘slave to answering email’. Both apply only when I’m repeating chores that I don’t feel like doing and am not enjoying.

In Romans, the apostle Paul talks about being a slave to sin. Does anyone see sin as something they don’t enjoy, at least at the beginning? Sin doesn’t seem like a task master. If it did, I’d likely never choose it. However, I do, and later regret that choice.

I got thinking this morning about the nature of sin and its appeal. It seems true that if I am not obeying God, sin is the only alternate. There is no third option, no neutral or coasting position. By Bible definition, sin can be as horrid as murder, greed, and licentiousness, but it can also be doing my own thing without consulting or trusting God. It can be doing church work apart from His direction and strength. It can be an attitude of loving comfort, money, and my own pride and ego needs more than I love God. Sin can be in the way I talk, or don’t talk. It can be blatant or subtle. Whatever it is, it is never too far away.

I’m sobered by Romans 6. The last few verses say, “Just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is black and white. Choose either be a slave to sin and continue to sin—which brings shame and separates me from God, or choose to be a slave to Christ and righteousness and live out, right now, that eternal life that He has given me.

According to this analogy, slave is my sole occupation. I’ve no other options. No matter what, my hands and feet, eyes and ears, and entire body belongs to a taskmaster. Thank God for Christ. Without Him I would have no choice over what or who I serve.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

What is that to you? You follow Me. . .

Sometimes the work God is doing puzzles me. He might use an uneducated, simple person as a soul-winner, but not a person trained in evangelism. He might bring thousands to Himself through a missionary in one country and yet another disciple working just as hard in a different country has little or no converts.

I suppose there are people who reject the kingdom of God because they don’t want to share it with others who seem less worthy. They put people in a status system and think God should have the same scale. Why should a thief on the cross occupy the same eternal home as a person who was saved in childhood and walked with Him all their life? Why should a repentant murderer go to the same glory as a ‘good’ person?

Today’s reading responds to some of those ideas. It is from Matthew 20. Jesus is telling a parable about a land owner who hires some workers early in the morning, and others later in the day, but they are all paid the same amount.

“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?”

In other words, God is God, and He can do whatever He wants with His people. It’s really none of my business to even ask why or what He is doing with others who follow Him.

Peter did. Before Jesus ascended, He told this impetuous disciple that he would die a martyr’s death. At that, Peter turned and asked Jesus about John. Jesus replied, “If I desire that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

Again, God reminds me that my business is to pay attention to my own spiritual life. While He might ask me to teach and encourage others, what He does with them, and what He does in His kingdom, even in His entire creation, is up to Him.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Don't be a Dead Chicken

I did a lot of complaining yesterday. I could blame the cold, or lack of sleep, or a host of other inconveniences, but when it comes right down to it, grumbling is sinful. Philippians 2 says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe . . . .”

Before I opened my devotional book this morning, I asked the Lord to speak to that, to give me something that would help me stop it. I’m sick of it. I can imagine my family has had more than enough, and certainly God would rather hear me giving thanks.

This is what He said: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with (rendered useless), that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”

Christ died and rose again to give me new life—and the power to offer my mouth to Him. God put me ‘in Christ’ so that when He died, I did too. Death is separation, cessation of the ability to live. When I ‘died’ that old life of sin was put away, rendered impotent. My question is, what is going on then, when that old, dead thing starts whining, complaining or even worse?

I grew up on a farm. Every fall we killed a batch of chickens for the deep freeze. Their heads were chopped off and they were dead, but, for several awful minutes, their bodies didn’t seem to know it. They flopped around, and sometimes ran a few feet in several directions. It was awful.

This section of Scripture seems to describe that. My old nature is in the death throws of a beheaded chicken. It is dead. I need to consider it dead, even though it often acts as if it is alive. This is also awful.

God is reminding me that I have all I need in the new life He has given me, and that I have a choice to make. Instead of offering my mouth to a beheaded chicken who somehow manages to squawk and bellyache, I’m to offer my entire self to Him, so that what comes out of my mouth is not “unwholesome” “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

As it write this, I feel a strong urge to find a photo of a beheaded chicken (ugh) and stick it where I will often see it, just to remind me to quit being one.

Friday, November 24, 2006

“You've changed my life. . .”

If I had to pick one thing that would be said in my eulogy, what would it be? Even though I won’t be there to hear it, I think the best thing would be if someone (better yet, several people) stood up and said, “She changed my life.”

Today’s reading is in 2 Corinthians 3. Paul’s ministry had been attacked. Some considered him incompetent. He wrote, “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

Rather than any letter of introduction or recommendation, he pointed to the changed lives of the Corinthians who were products of his ministry. He called them ‘letters’ not signed by human references, but by Jesus Christ who had used Paul’s work among them to transform their lives. The very fact of their transformation verified his competence.

Instead of trying to verify my own competence (I’ve enough problems with pride and know better than to tempt myself), I’m thinking about how the Corinthians felt about Paul. Did they ever write him a thank you note for the work he had done among them? Did he know they were grateful for his ministry?

I can’t control what is said in my eulogy; however, this Scripture makes me think about those God has used to change my life. Do they know it? I got a card this week that did that for me, (and it will sit on my desk for a long time), so maybe I should be quicker to tell others that they have blessed me. Who should I be sending cards to?

Our current pastor comes to mind. He has a way of bringing out and applying truth from the Bible that I usually miss. I sometimes tell him, “Great sermon,” but does he know that he is changing my life? I’m sure I can find a card to send him.

Several individuals in my Bible class have changed my life too. They listen, ask questions, and offer ideas and interpretations that don’t occur to me. They ‘round out’ my education as I teach them. Because these women are not passive but interactive, I am a better teacher.

My granddaughter is a blessing too, not quite the same way, but she also challenges me. Not her problems (also a challenge), but that she seldom lets me say things that do not make sense, or use silly cliches or say things that are unintentionally thoughtless. She questions every such thing, and in turn makes me think before I chatter. Can I find a card to thank her for that?

I’ve a neighbor whose friendship is also a blessing. She is not a Christian, yet God has used her to make me feel like I matter. She is genuinely interested, listens, offers her thoughts and opinions. She takes me seriously and always has time to discuss just about anything. Those people are rare, and I need to tell her that she is a very good friend who has impacted my life.

God uses people to reveal Himself and His will to other people. Most of the time it’s better not to know how God is using me (pride puffs up) but everyone has days when they feel as if their life does not matter. During that kind of day, what a great boost to have someone say, “You changed my life.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

He isn't finished yet

Last night something happened again that yelled at me, “Loser. You don’t know anything. You can’t do anything. You are helpless.”

This time, instead of wanting to run away, I just shrugged my shoulders and thought, If any changes are going to happen, it’s obvious that God will have to make them. No emotions. No fighting within. Just a whatever response.

This morning I’m reading in Revelation 19. An angel is showing a vision to John: “Then he said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’ And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’”

This triggered another thought, that no matter what is happening now, in the end “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.” Whether they want to or not, the whole world will realize and concede to the majesty and power of God and the Lordship of His Son.

Those who belong to Him will attend that heavenly supper, a victory meal as well as a celebration of our unity with Him. Those who do not will be cast into outer darkness. It doesn’t matter how much they mock or protest or sling mud at Him now. They can’t come to His feast.

In my humanness, I’d like everyone, especially those close to me, family, friends, people I love, to willingly bow before Jesus Christ right now, before they die, before that final judgment, before God finalizes the guest list for His banquet. I want them to know Him now, before He shows them that after all their rejection and defiance, He was and will always be Lord of all. But I cannot make them see. I can only pray, obey God, and trust Him to do His will in their lives, and in a largely unwilling world.

These immense thoughts produce the same response to this vision as the angel told John to respond. Worship God. Although people near and dear to me may be living lies, even loving them, for me the most important thing is that I recognize that God is true, and that His Word is true. Whatever resists Him or lashes out against Him cannot prevail. The battle may seem to swing one way, then the other, but it is not over yet. He reassures me that in the end, Jesus wins.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Faith = Being Certain

Faith sometimes does not make sense. Once we were moving to another city and needed a place to live. My husband took a field trip to find a suitable house and came back with our name on a property that sounded ideal. In my heart, I thought, This is it; this is our house.

A week or so later, the landlord called to say he had rented the house to someone else. My heart still told me this is our house; this is it. I was so sure we were moving into that house that I didn’t feel disappointed or worry about it at all.

Sure enough, a few weeks later we moved into that house.

The Bible says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Where does that certainty come from? In regards to that house, I had absolutely no concrete evidence for my assurance. It was just there.

Some might call it wishful thinking, even some sort of a delusional notion, but for me, that assurance is an excellent illustration of biblical faith, except for one thing; biblical faith is not blind. God does not ask me to trust Him without any concrete reasons. Instead, He offers ample evidence why I should.

First, He makes Himself known through creation. I can see His handiwork everywhere, and despite the effort of evolutionists, my heart says I am not the out-spewing of some primordial soup. Even though marred by sin, I know I am stamped in His image.

God made Himself known in other ways. Hebrews 1 says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being . . .”

It’s tough to dismiss the Scripture record. The Bible not only stands the test of time, but the test of power. Lives are changed because of its impact. As I read this Book, God opens my heart and reveals Himself in a personal way. He makes Himself real through His story and His promises.

Then there is the Son. The written word is about the Living Word. The life of Jesus is recorded in at least one other historical account, but even if it were not, no one could make up a man like this Man. He accuses the entire world of sin. I would not do that to myself. He says He is the only way to God. I would not be so exclusive. He says we do not deserve nor can we earn eternal life. I would say I can be good enough (or at least try) or that there is no such thing as eternity.

Jesus is the enigma. Without believing Him, there isn’t much anyone can do with Him, other than try to change Him into something He is not, efforts that, in final analysis, are silly and don’t work.

Sure, there are things in the spiritual realm and in the Bible, that I cannot explain or do not understand. That isn’t much different than electricity. I can’t see the current flowing, yet by faith turn on the kettle or the toaster every morning. In the same way, faith works.

Faith is not a walk in the park though. When I read a promise from God, it challenges me. Will I believe it, or will I trust myself? Who is the most reliable? Who has the better track record? Faith answers those questions, faith and hard evidence.

I wouldn’t dare say that God is not real. He revealed Himself—in creation (get real, all of this didn’t just happen), in the Bible (no person could have made that up), and in Jesus Christ, who became flesh and blood and walked among us so I would know just exactly what God is like and could trust Him with my life.

Evidence of God is everywhere—in sunsets, the stars, the intricacy of a human being. I can see Him in the Book He inspired. I know His voice in the grace and truth lived out by His people. And while I cannot see Him now, I “believe in Him and am filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” as I experience His presence. He lives in my heart and is at work producing the goal of my faith—a changed life.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Playing for Keeps

In Elizabeth George’s Playing For The Ashes, Olivia has ALS. She keeps going out of sheer will and her natural stubborn determination. The disease is relentless. Throughout the story, she resolves many issues in her life, yet keeps moving closer to death. No amount of human effort can keep her from that last appointment with the inevitable.

As my husband says, we are all terminal. His diagnosis of CLL affects me in several ways. One is that I must also face my own mortality. I am a few years older, and have my own set of medical probabilities. I read about Olivia’s struggle with impending and certain death and could not help thinking about my own. It could be twenty years away, but few people know where that date is marked on their calendar.

Why do we keep going? What motivates people to not simply give up? I’ve not a lot of sheer will, but I do have something that works. Some of it is outlined in 2 Timothy. Paul writes to this young pastor who is obviously a timid man. He doesn’t want him to quit because of his fears.

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you . . . For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus . . . who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”

I have faith in Christ. He is not the author of any fear; He gives power, love, and sound thinking. While serving Him might mean suffering, I know that He has given me eternal life, and a task of sharing that life with others. In all of it, He takes care of me and is my refuge and my strength. It doesn’t matter if He calls me this week or thirty years from now; either way, my destiny is certain.

With that settled, death is not my biggest fear; being useless in this life is, and the worst thing I could do is waste what God has given me. Paul told Timothy, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

Don’t waste what God gives. Keep going. I’m motivated by His life; it is mine beyond death. I’m motivated by the Holy Spirit; He lives in me. I’m motivated by the important job He gives me to do in this life; I’m here for a reason.

This is true for my husband also, and for us is a great comfort and a way to face each day. We both have no idea when our task here will be over, but Jesus does. When He says “Enough” then stepping into eternity will not be so bad because we will have no reason to stay here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gone Fishing

Every two weeks we pray together with another couple for our adult children. Both are blended families and out of nine children, several spouses or significant others, and several grandchildren, only a few know Jesus. We have prayed for years, alone and together, for them, and sometimes, if we did not know better, it seems as if God has closed His ears.

The disciples learned a lesson about faith through a fishing experience. They had been working all night, came in empty-handed and were washing their nets. Jesus joined them and used one of their boats as a platform to speak to the inevitable crowd that followed Him everywhere. Luke tells the story.

“When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.’”

Apparently fish spend the night in the shallows and migrate to deeper waters during the day. This is why Simon (a.k.a. Peter) fished at night. To him, Jesus’ instructions made no sense. He could have muttered, ‘What does this carpenter know about fishing?’ But he obeyed anyway.

“And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’”

You just don’t catch fish like this. Whatever Peter had been thinking, he realized this man was more than a carpenter. He may have obeyed His order out of respect, but now he realized that should have obeyed Him out of faith.

I’m thinking how we have toiled far more than all night, yet nothing. We know that the salvation and consecration of the lives of those we pray for depends on the power of God. He can open their eyes to their need and draw them to Himself. He can convict them, grant them repentance, change their lives. Yet we have not seen that harvest, that ‘catch of fish’ that we hope for, large or small.

We have seen changes though. In all this, we are changing. I used to pray with benefits in mind for the people in our family. Now I’m praying more for the glory of God. I used to pray because their salvation would set my heart at rest. Now I pray realizing my heart can be at rest even if God never answers my prayers.

Still, I would like the lesson learned that day by those fishermen. I’d like God to surprise me like He surprised them. The Bible says, “For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.”

At that point, Jesus made a promise to Simon. He said, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Then the men “brought their boats to land, forsook all and followed Him.”

In praying for these many years, I see that Jesus asks me to forsake all and follow Him, to obey even though it doesn’t seem as if there will be any results, and continue to “launch out into the deep” in prayer, expecting a surprise yet leaving the size of the catch up to Him.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Cracked Pot. . . or ?

My best memory of seeing a potter in action was at an art show in Alaska. She was about six feet tall, dressed in a long, burlap cape over a sweater, jeans and cowboy boots. She started a pot on her motorized wheel, got the wheel going the speed she wanted, then stood back about ten or fifteen feet and started pitching pieces of clay at the pot. If the clay resisted her best efforts, she said it was worthless and discarded it.

When I read Jeremiah 18, I think of her, and of how life sometimes seems as if God is doing that to me. It says: “‘Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.’ Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand . . . .’”

Even though the pot was in the potters hand, it was not the potter that marred the vessel. It is the nature of clay to go wonky on a spinning wheel. Rather, the potter’s task is to gently and carefully guide the clay and keep it from becoming misshapen. When it does, the potter may remove it from the wheel and start over, or decide that it is hopeless and throw it away.

Clay represents God’s people, in this case Israel. However, this speaks to me personally. I’m like that clay in His hands. He wants to shape me into a “worthy vessel” that has no flaws or hidden cracks and air pockets, something He can use. This requires a gentle but firm hand, and like the Alaskan potter, He sometimes throws other people at me to accomplish His purposes. I must admit, the process is not always fun for the clay!

A few verses later in Jeremiah, God says, “Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.”

At that, His people responded, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”

This response strikes my heart with sorrow, and that sorrow is a good thing. It means this marred pot is still workable, willing to have the Potter reshape and form me. The New Testament says I carry a treasure in this earthen vessel; Jesus lives in my heart. God must work and rework the clay so the treasure can be seen instead of the flaws and lumps in the container.

Being clay on His wheel is downright stressful, but having my own way means disaster. The Potter reminds me again that He promises glorious results from His work. That hope is far better than the alternative.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Food to grow on?

Something happened yesterday that made me want to quit; quit being merciful, quit being patient, quit being a Christian, maybe even quit living here, just move to Timbuktu and be rid of this stress. Complain and rant are too mild to describe my reaction.

My patient husband let me tell and yell. My patient God did the same, but this morning He told me a story. His people were at the edge of the land He’d promised them. They sent in spies to check it out. The report came back; it was a fabulous land, but the people living in it were formidable giants.

“So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.’”

Sounds familiar.

“Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. But Joshua . . . and Caleb . . . who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, “a land which flows with milk and honey.” Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.’”

God has put this in your path. If you run away now, you will miss the good things that He has promised you. Don’t be afraid of this challenge. It is bread for your growth.

“The congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel. Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them . . . ‘”

Wanting to quit is rooted in lack of faith, rejecting Me. Remember who I am, the God who promises to use everything for your good, the God for whom nothing is too hard.


“Moses said to the Lord: ‘Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people; that You, Lord, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them. . . . Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”


Now I am not hearing God speaking to me, but Jesus interceding before God on my behalf. He asks for mercy and that His power be demonstrated in me, not for my sake alone, but so His name is honored and He is glorified in my life.

I’ve a flip file on my desk with character traits defined on each card. The one facing me says, “MEEKNESS vs. Anger. Yielding my personal rights and expectations to God. ‘My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.’”

Loud and clear, I hear You.

Friday, November 17, 2006

That way. . . no, that way. . .

My husband’s workplace held a seminar about relationships between various age groups. I found out that the group I am in is often characterized by silence. Most of us won’t say much, at least not right away. Here I thought my tendency to hold back was either a cowardly fear of saying the wrong thing, or just failure to understand the subject matter.

But when God has given me right things to say and a firm grasp of the topic, I sometimes feel like a pretzel. Do I talk or do I shut up? Do I speak convincingly or do I just say as little as possible and let the Holy Spirit convince listeners of the truth? Scripture should clear this up, but . . .

In Acts 18, it is said of Paul that “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

Then in 1 Corinthians 2, he writes, “When I came to you, I did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

In high school, I was always on the debate team because I could give a convincing argument. After I became a Christian, I found out that my convincing arguments were often like salt thrown into a wound: intended to heal but too painful for the wounded. Then God put me into a long and arduous seminar called “Learn to Shut Up, 101.”

After struggling through that one and getting a low but passing grade, I then found myself in “Learn to Speak Up, 101,” hence the feeling of being bent like a pretzel. Do I talk? Do I shut up?

I’m still in that one. I can’t seem to understand the difference between “reasoned . . . trying to persuade” and “not with persuasive words” or the difference between “human wisdom” and “the power of God.”

I do know that God’s power is often hidden to my eyes. He can be at work and I haven’t a clue. I also know that human wisdom is contrary to Scripture, but sometimes we humans can think we are doing what the Bible says and be totally not. (Case in point: all those people who go door to door in the name of Christ and with great sincerity, but with the wrong message.)

So when do I talk, persuade, reason? And when do I shut up? My devotional book says that Christian experience includes both. God offers me strength in weakness, wisdom in foolishness, persuasiveness in silence. I’m simply to pay attention to His leading. I might feel useless, but He might be using me. I might feel fearful and stuck for words, but if I obey Him, He can use silence. I might feel bold and say what is on my heart. He can use that too.

The Bible says I’m to be salt in a decaying world, so I guess being a pretzel is okay. They are a bit twisted, but they are definitely salty.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Name-dropping

I knew a woman who always talked about other people, not negatively, but how nice they are, how good, how wonderful. She never gave a person a direct compliment; they were only given behind their backs to third parties.

This strikes me as odd. I concluded that she was using her relationships with ‘nice people’ to prove her own sense of worth, in a name-dropping kind of way. In other words, she pointed to the nice people she knew as a way of saying, “See, I am important.”

Last night I found myself doing the same thing. I was at a large meeting where I knew the names of some of the leaders and had been at other events with them. I started dropping their names to the person sitting beside me. “Oh, she is nice.” “Oh, that one is a good teacher.”

I didn’t realize what I was doing until after the meeting when one of those ‘nice people’ started walking toward me. I thought she was going to say hello, but she walked right past and began talking to someone else. I felt snubbed. It had been a good evening up until that point.

On the way home, I tried to analyze what happened. My first verdict was injured pride. I wanted to be part of the ‘in group’ this woman belonged to, and when she deemed me invisible, I felt left out. I confessed my pride to God, and turned my attentions elsewhere.

But God didn’t drop it. This morning He repeated part of yesterday’s Scripture: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Again, this verse convicts me.

Meekness has such a bad rap that most translations say ‘gentle,’ but meekness is used to describe both Moses and Jesus. It means gentle and humble, but also the attitude of “yielding all personal rights and expectations to God” in absolute assurance that He knows what is best. Someone also describes meekness as strength under control, like that of a strong, magnificent horse that is totally broken and responsive to the guidance of its master.

Also, a meek person is never concerned about snubs because a meek person does not listen to what others say or have any concerns about their opinions. If I were meek and humble, I would not even notice if anyone walked past me or even included me. My self-worth would be tied totally to my identification with Christ, not to anyone or anything else.

Yoked with Christ means being bound with Him in everything: self-worth, all my work, every conversation, and even in every meeting. He wants total surrender to His will, His commands, His attitudes. In all things, I’m to be like He is, meek and lowly in heart.

Besides, no one is impressed with a name-dropper. The lady I knew who did this didn’t impress me, nor will me doing it impress anyone else. I’m not a better person just because I know (or think I know) someone else whom I (or others) admire.

This revealing experience exposes my pride and whatever else is the opposite of meekness. I feel foolish, but I also see more clearly that if I’m going to do any name-dropping, the only name He will allow me to mention, besides the name of the person I’m talking to, is His own.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Things go better when . . .

Years ago I was taking a walk and praying about many things that were bothering me. During a pause in my rant (for that is what it was), I heard, “Get out of my to-do list.”

I still laugh at that rebuke from the Lord, even though I often need the reminder. It usually comes from Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus’ words are not difficult to understand, however a Greek dictionary adds more light. The first word ‘burdened’ refers to a shipping crate filled with a heavy load. This is what I carry when I try to do God’s work without Him asking me, or anything that I tackle without His direction and help.

However when I go to Him, the burden changes. That second word for ‘burden,’ the one He calls “His burden,” describes what gets pasted on the crate—the paper invoice! How silly to carry a big crate when all He asks is that I carry just a little part.

I know why I lift too much. Jesus uses the words “gentle and humble” which are also translated “meek and lowly,” both characteristics that I need to learn. I carry the heavy load out of stubborn pride. This sinful attitude drives me to try what only God can do (or what I want Him to do but won’t trust Him to do it). Jesus invites me to confess my pride and to go to Him for rest in my soul.

Soul-rest is not the same as body-rest. Watchman Nee, a well-known Christian martyr, taught that our soul is the arena for our intellect, emotions, and volition. It is where we feel, think, dream, and make decisions. When I am working from ‘God’s to-do list,’ my soul is stressed. I am tackling more than I can handle, worried about if and how I’m ever going to get it done, aiming at more and even more, and foolishly not listening to my complaining and overworked body.

God wants me to stop ‘relying on my own understanding’ and trust Him. He knows that will mean health for me and make it much easier for Him to guide me (Proverbs 3:5-8).

He also wants me to let Him work in me so that I want, and am able, to do His will (Philippians 2:13). In other words, I need to rest that whole decision making process on Jesus, and seek His plans for my day instead of cramming in as much as I can, or taking on more than He asks of me.

As for emotions, I’ve noticed that they follow my thoughts. If I’m thinking about tough issues, I feel the stress. If I hand those tough issues to God, believing that He cares and will do something about them, He gives me a ‘peace that passes understanding’ (Philippians 4:6-7).

Soul-rest isn’t just sitting in an easy chair and putting off my chores while I have a cup of tea. It is spending time with Jesus and learning of Him, learning His humble attitude and gentle heart. When I have that, instead of stewing and taking on the wrong tasks, I’m at rest in my soul even as I work.

Jesus knows what is best for me and fits with His eternal plans. He guides my choices so that what I do is significant, even if it seems small in my thinking. Then He offers one more bonus. To get the whole thing where He wants it to be, He teams up with me and carrys the crate.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Sit down!"

A dear friend called me yesterday. I knew our conversation would be long. Most times during long conversations I will putter about the house doing one-handed chores, but this time, and for almost all of it, I sat down.

In light of that, my devotional book pointed to an interesting verse this morning. It is from John 6: “Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.”

Jesus was preparing to feed 5000 plus people with a child’s small lunch. To make it easier for His disciples to distribute this special meal, He made sure they were not milling about or distracted in any way. The application is obvious, at least in light of talking to my friend. Jesus always uses her to minister to me, yet this time, sitting down made it even better.

I don’t sit much, other than at the computer, but that is working and more like standing up. Sitting implies receiving, enjoying. Such relaxation is a treat for me, but rare because my to-do list is over-stuffed. Like the book title, sometimes when I relax I even feel guilty. There is so much to be done.

Biblically, sitting is an important theme though. As was the current custom, Jesus sat down whenever He taught the people. He sat down when He talked with the woman at the well, and sat on the mountain when the crowds gathered. After He was crucified and rose from death, Jesus ascended to heaven and now sits at the right hand of God, a place of authority. Being seated also indicates that the job is done, at least most of it. I notice that when the Bible speaks of Jesus helping us or interceding for us, He is standing—for that task is not yet finished.

The Bible says that those who believe in Him are seated with Him in heavenly places. That is, in the mind of God, I am already there, sitting with Jesus in that special place of privilege.

As I think about the present value of sitting, some of it is basic. I need to relax and let my muscles recover from working. But I also need to breathe and rethink current perplexities and decisions. I need to be calm, allowing my emotions to return to repose. Sitting is still waters, where He restores my soul.

Jesus told the disciples to “make” the people sit down. I’m so like that even though it strikes me as silly that a person my age should need to be told when to sit. But I am one of the busy people in this world and sometimes He must make me take a rest. It might be by allowing a virus or some other infirmity. Sunday it was a good book. Yesterday, while I didn’t feel forced, He put the notion in my buddy’s head and made her go to the phone—just so He could make me sit down.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Family Prayer

We have a Family Feast day the second Sunday of every month. I cook a big meal and whoever in our family can come shows up. They can bring food if they want, but we often have leftovers, and the most often repeated phrase is “I ate too much.”

Yesterday we doubled it and celebrated our youngest son’s birthday. He blew out candles and opened gifts. After that we did another tradition—a few hands of a highly competitive card game that leaves most of us exhilarated or exhausted, depending on where our score winds up and if we stood while racing to play our cards. If anyone could hear the sound track without the picture, they might call the police or the funny farm.

After everyone left, I washed a mountain of dishes (my dishwasher died), and curled up with a great book for a few hours. Today I feel good, content. It isn’t that ‘all’s right in the world’ or even in my world, but rest and laughter tend to thwart discouragement. I’m ready for Monday.

Today my devotional reading again reminds me of the importance of both prayer and family, particularly the family of God. It offers the familiar, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”

How many times have I said this prayer without thinking of what it says? How often without noticing that the pronouns are plural?

Our. We who believe in Jesus and have been adopted into the family of God can call Him Father, and indeed, we are told to do so when we pray, yet in our prayer we are supposed to remember that we come to Him as family members, as children who not only need God but each other. Teasing and banter is okay, but never should we think this family is unimportant.

Father. It’s a good word, at least it is supposed to be a good word. Today, saying ‘Father’ might make some people choke, or fill them with anger, but maybe in those days fathers didn’t abuse their children. Maybe this word made those who prayed feel close to God, comforted by His presence—just as they were by the nearness of their own dads.

Personally, I’ve no problematic connotations with the word “Father” but Jesus did add “who is in heaven” to this prayer, knowing that a distinction might be necessary. This Father is not the father here on earth. He is totally dependable, totally loving, totally concerned that we be blessed and cared for as His children. He is also in heaven, in perfection, perfect Himself, and all-powerful. He sovereignly rules this world. We are talking to our Father, but also the CEO of the entire universe.

Hallowed. This word is not normal to my vocabulary. My Bible dictionary says, “to make holy, (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate . . . .” Respect Him, worship Him, lift up the name of the Lord as one who is ‘other than’ ourselves, who is pure and wonderful.

I may come to Him saying “Abba (Daddy)” but never with such familiarity that I forget He is not only the Head of this family, but absolute purity and holiness, the One whom I worship.

Yesterday around the table, our family teased their dad, joked about his score in a game, and chuckled when he dropped his cards, but I noticed the difference between their attitude toward him and the banter they have with one another. While imperfect, respect is there.

My prayer today is that they show far more respect to our heavenly Father. I want them to know that He supplies their daily bread, their every need, and cares for them far more than their dad and mother ever could here on earth. I want them to realize also that being in the family of God means a far greater blessing than anything they enjoy in this one.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tension or tense?

Salvation from sin has three tenses: I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in trying to obey God that I forget the first and third tense and just become tense.

Yesterday’s verses about abiding in Christ put me on alert. I tried. It wasn’t happening. I woke up this morning feeling like I didn’t have a clue what it means to be a spiritual person. Today’s verse was not much help, at first. It is from Revelation 22 and says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”

My present tense mode had me thinking that washing my robes meant keeping short accounts with God, keeping my life clean. But that phrase had an asterisk beside it so I did a little digging. Most translations say it this way: “Blessed are those who do His commandments . . .” which only reinforced my first thoughts. More tension, not that I believe a person has to work hard to get into the heavenly city, but at this point, working hard was on my mind.

So I kept digging. I checked my Greek dictionary, a handy item when I get confused. It said that the word used for “wash their robes” or “do His commandments” is in that Greek verb tense that means “do it once and it is done.”

Sometimes I wonder why parts of the Bible are written with less clarity than other parts, but this morning I understood that God wanted me to dig a bit, to get my mind off my lousy performance and remember what actually does give me the right to the tree of life. It is not that effort of ‘working out my salvation’ nor is it a future, pie-in-the-sky hope that I’ll someday be okay. It is that first tense: I have been saved.

Jesus said that the “work of God is to believe on the One He has sent.” When I put my faith in Christ, God forgave my sin and washed it away, giving me a “robe of righteousness” (the righteousness of Christ) that is none of my doing. That is done, finished. My robe is washed and clean and never gets dirty because it is His righteousness, not mine, that covers me and gives me the right to the tree of life and to enter His heavenly city.

I already have accessed that tree. The Bible says, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

God amazes me. He uses a verb tense to remind me that I already have what I am trying so hard to live out. His life is my life, now. With that, He relieves my tension.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Being gifted is not a guarantee

After studying spiritual gifts, I’ve learned something about myself that I don’t like.

My main gift is teaching. This is characterized by a strong motivation to collect and dispense information. For example, we teachers look up a word in the dictionary and wind up reading the whole page. If someone wonders about anything, they don’t have to ask for help; we go digging for the answer anyway. I am easily curious and have a good memory for detail.

This teaching gift has a downside. For one thing, I’m interested in everything (hence the propensity to research) but am so easily distracted that I find it difficult to focus on the project at hand. But that is not the worst of it; teachers have a terrible tendency to think that once we know something (knowing and thinking are important to us), that head knowledge is all we need.

I’m fully aware that having the answers for everything (or thinking I do) will not win popularity contests. Know-it-all’s are a big pain in the neck (and in other parts of the anatomy) for the rest of the world. However, that is not the only downside of the matter. When I think this way, I can study the Bible, know what God wants from me, and because I now know it, not actually do what it says. My intellect says this is a totally silly assumption, but the reality is that I often replace obedience with knowledge.

But there’s another complication; obedience is not based entirely on knowledge. It needs more than that. I’m reading Psalms 119 this morning, a section that declares love for God’s commands but laments an inability to always obey them. Verse 32 says, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for you shall enlarge my heart.”

My devotional books says that knowing and accepting God’s teachings are not enough to make me spiritual; I must do what they say. Then it adds, “We may be perfectly right, but unless we possess His life and live by that, we lack the supreme essential.”

My challenge is two-fold. One, I must continually recognize that knowledge means nothing unless it affects the way I live, and second, the way I live does not depend on what I know but Who I know. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

In other words, apart from the life of Christ in my heart, I cannot obey even when I know what to do. Unless His life is controlling and motivating me, more Bible knowledge only makes me an informed sinner—and still a pain in the neck.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Prayer > unity < prayer

One thing on my mind these days is Christian unity. If we were together on even the major issues of faith and Christian living, we would have a remarkable impact on this world.

This world does not have much unity; that’s a no-brainer. Every nation has its own agenda, and individuals are the same. I might be jaded by news reports, but most of what I see is conflict—from a ruckus over whether we should wear white poppies on Remembrance Day to how to stop North Korea from using nuclear weapons. Peace? Not likely.

John 17 records a long prayer that Jesus prayed. Most of it is about the oneness He desired in the lives of His followers. While His redemptions actually makes us one with Him; He deeply desires that we display it. In John 13, He said that our love for one another (certainly expressed, among other things, by unity) would show the world that we truly belong to Him.

Sadly, Christians can fight about almost anything. Doctrine probably tops the list, but not just that. Galatians 5 exhorts us to walk in the Spirit, not allowing the flesh to have its way. The flesh is a biblical term for the attitude and actions of unredeemed, sinful human beings. Because we so easily drop into fleshy living and neglect being filled with and following the Holy Spirit, we wind up just as carnal and sinful as anyone else, just as prone to bickering and fighting to get our own way. We can scrap over window coverings in the Sunday school rooms, how much money to send to Ethiopia, or whether the pastor’s last sermon has any merit. We can pick sides over the silliest things, and because of this fleshiness, churches have quarreled to the point of splitting, all because we are not listening to and obeying Jesus.

The obvious solution is that we repent and yield to the Holy Spirit. He will never cause divisions among us. However, before the Holy Spirit came to fill the first believers in the first congregation in the New Testament, they had unity anyway! It says so in Acts 1:14: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. . . .”

One of my commentaries says, “With one mind (accord) expresses the spiritual unity that characterized the early fellowship. Continually devoting is a strong expression, denoting persistence in prayer . . .”

From this verse, I can see that Christian unity requires prayer, and praying brings us to unity. When pray about an issue that seems to me to be His will, even though it conflicts with the ideas of other Christians, He will show them if I am right, and me if I am wrong. We have to give up our “I wants” and surrender to His will. That will only happen if we take off our gloves, get out of our respective corners, and drop to our knees.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

So much for my IQ

People have told me I am smart. Smart is easy; I’d rather be wise. Today’s reading from Proverbs 9 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.”

Concepts of wisdom vary. The Greeks focused on the intellect; wisdom is similar to smart—smart enough to use your brains to live a good life. Some of the ancient peoples of the Middle East defined it as “to restrain from acting in an evil manner.”

The Old Testament has a different definition. As near as my Hebrew word books can tell me, the wisdom God wants is “exhibiting the character of God in the practical affairs of this life.” It is a “perfect blend of the revealed will of a holy God with the practical human experiences of life.” It is being like Jesus while I wash dishes, write letters, do the mending, and answer the phone.

I’m convicted already. My dishwasher died over a week ago and I’ve been grumbling about the time it takes to wash every glass, knife, fork and plastic storage container by hand. Jesus would not do that.

My mail still brings letters, and despite the ease of e-mail, I still love to receive them. However, the one I answered yesterday arrived in July. Jesus would not be rude like that.

I can procrastinate over mending too. That convicts but I’ve another problem behind the procrastination. I tend to avoid mending because I’m not sure I know how to fix it. I’m thinking Jesus would either find out, or just jump right in, asking for wisdom and tackling the job. After all, someone needs that frayed pair of jeans or that sweater with the hole in it. I’m inconsiderate of those needs when I let the mending pile up.

The telephone is an even bigger challenge. With call display, I don’t need to answer those 1-800 numbers, but telemarketers get around that. I may not be rude with my mouth, but my thoughts are very rude. Jesus would not do that.

My conclusion from this is that I might be smart enough to get the dishes clean, write a decent letter, mend a laddered sweater, and say just the right words to someone who cheerfully announces I’ve won a free trip to Barbados, but I’m not wise. If I were, I’d be joyfully scrubbing pots as unto the Lord, thoughtfully responding to people before they forgot what they wrote to me, gladly and skillfully fixing garments when I’m asked, and politely and patiently (at the very least) saying ‘no thanks’ to the people on the other end of the phone, considering what it must be like for them to be stuck with such a lousy way to make a living.

And one more thing. I lament about aging, but Proverbs 9 says it is a good thing, a gift from Him to those who seek His will for all things, even the ordinary things of life. As my son says, aging is better than the alternative.

If I were wise, I’d stop complaining about my aching bones in the morning, and about the dishwasher and the mending and the phone calls. Instead, I’d be grateful that I can get out of bed, thankful for dishes and clothes and a telephone, and grateful for my years of life. And I’d be more grateful that I know a wise and gracious God who not only patiently puts up with me, but wants to make me into a wise and gracious person. Hands down, wisdom beats smart.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Gratified at the end of the day . . .

One evening I was lamenting that I’d not accomplished anything that day. My granddaughter asked, “What would you have to do to feel like you accomplished something?”

Great question. It has been on my mind ever since.

I come from a family of achievers. My father worked hard. His only complaint was about people in the community that were lazy, slept in, didn’t pull their share, or live up to their potential. From that we learned that the way to please our dad was by having his work ethic.

Of course this was largely an unconscious motivation on our part, but my two brothers, my sister, and I have worked hard all our lives. Also, I’ve been aware for some time that this attitude of trying to please our father easily transfers to trying to please our heavenly Father. However, I also know that as a sinner, there is nothing in me that can please God. Only by faith in Christ and by the work of His Spirit in me is it possible to even begin following and obeying Him.

Thinking about granddaughter’s question, I knew I was past that whole idea of trying to please my father or impress my heavenly Father. The answer could be that I feel I’ve done something only when there are check marks beside everything on my to-do list, but I decided that is not it either.

Instead, I’m considering that it has more to do with who I am. This morning’s devotional reading takes me in that direction. The verse is from Psalm 45, “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors . . . .”

The comments about this verse indicate that this gold clothing is not the garment of righteousness that God gives to His sons and daughters, but a garment that God weaves throughout our lives. He uses events, trials, blessings, His Word, the power of Christ living in me, and so on, as embroidery threads to display His glory in me—and this requires my cooperation.

As soon as I read this I understood what makes me feel as if I have accomplished something. That sense of satisfaction comes when God has blessed me with a new way of thinking, a new attitude, a change in my life that makes me more like Jesus.

After all, this is His goal for me. Romans 8:28-29 says He uses all things together for my good that I might be transformed into His likeness. 1 John 3 says, “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him . . . .”

Being like Jesus is the only really important goal that I have. Should a day go by and I am the same old same old, it doesn’t matter how much ‘stuff’ got done; I still feel as if I’ve not accomplished anything. What matters is becoming just a little closer to my destiny than I was the day before.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

I am loved

I’ve heard the horrible stories about experiments in orphanages where affection was withheld from young children, and they died. Whether those stories have been embellished in the telling I don’t know. I do know that the spirit of an unloved human of any age cannot thrive.

People will do anything for love. A cliché yet true. Children crave the love of their parents. A woman craves the love of a man. Even God said that a man should not be alone; he needs a woman. Knowing that I am loved is foundational to my sense of worth. If no one cared, what in life matters?

The poor theology in the television show “Touched by an Angel” is right on this one point. The lead characters’ main message is, “God loves you.” He does.

The love of God is not like our love. We usually have conditions. The other person must be loveable, or somehow worthy of love, or at least have an attached reason. We will love our kids even if they are brats, but not the neighbor kids who might be just as bratty. We love those who are generous toward us, who offer compliments and gifts. We love the cute and cuddly, those who agree with our ideas, and those who listen and pay attention to our words. We love the rich, or handsome, or popular people. In other words, our love has attached strings.

Not so with God. He “sends rain on the just and the unjust” not because we do anything to deserve it but because “God is love.” The very nature of God is to care about people and want the best for them. While His treatment and actions may not seem like it, we who know Him understand that He is working all things, even the negatives of our lives, together for our good, to help us become the people He intended in our creation, people who are like His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s love is not like ours. We will spoil and pamper, protect and shield those we love so that they do not suffer any hardships. God knows that it is hardship that produces character and strength, and trials that prove our faith in Him and produce perseverance. He does sift and sort, making sure whatever happens to us has value, but He does not put us in a bubble—unless we consider that His sovereign control of our lives is a bubble of love.

Romans 8 ends with questions. One of them is: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” It lists some possibilities, then says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

He loves us so much that He died for our sin that we might live. He loves us so much that He accepts us the way we are, sin and all. And He loves us so much that He will not leave us that way, but uses the stuff of life to transform us into His likeness.

Whoever else might love us, nothing compares to the pure, everlasting, unconditional, and powerful love of God. And how I need to remember that when life feels more like a battering ram than a carving tool!

Monday, November 6, 2006

Battle distractions . . .

Our youngest son is moving into his new house this week, so after lunch yesterday we helped him pack. We worked hard. Non-stop, I stood wrapping dishes in the kitchen for several hours.

Then he took us to a restaurant for supper. All of us ate too much (after all, our son was buying), so this morning I feel like a cross between a slug and a sloth, both having arthritis. It is one of those Mondays where I’d like to stay in bed the rest of the week, or maybe throw a pity party, but my body is yelling at me loud enough that it would no doubt ruin both.

Is God scolding me or does He have a sense of humor? Either way, He won’t let me get away with this attitude. The reading for today says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Italics are mine)

This morning I feel like my biggest enemy is my own body (and too much food), but He says not. In fact, my flesh and blood is not a concern. Instead, I’m to remember that I’m engaged in a far more important battle and not let the way I feel distract me from this very real war.

The rest of this passage in Ephesians 6 is about prayer—the real war. The people of God are called to battle the forces of evil, not only in our own lives, but in intercession for others. It is a battle we fight on our knees and in our prayer closets. It may not inflict wounds (like the bruise I have from banging my hand against a cupboard), but if I let my aches and pains stop me from fighting, I’m nonetheless a casualty.

God may have a sense of humor (judged by the timing of this reading), but He also has a non-stop concern that none of His people yield to the enemy. While I feel like quitting because my knees are aching, He urges me to pray anyway. Sore knees and fatigue aside, there are real people out there dropping like flies because they cannot resist sin’s pull. My prayers make a difference. If they didn’t, God wouldn’t tell me to pray.

So get up off my sore backside (Why is it sore? I didn’t use it yesterday?) and quit feeling sorry for myself. If I give in to the selfish indulgence that is tempting me (loaf on the sofa all day and eat chocolate), who might fall to something worse?

God seldom lets me see the victories of this war, but even without seeing the winners, the thought of what happens to the losers is far worse than painful muscles and aching bones. So despite this distraction, what else can I do but put on my spiritual armor and go into battle?

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Thoughts >>> emotions

In preparing to teach today class, I noticed a detail from Scripture that was not a surprise in itself, but a surprise that it was so obvious.

The topic for today is how sin permeates every part of us and the Holy Spirit works to change us in every part. While I’m using concentric circles to illustrate spirit, soul and body, they are not cleanly separated. What I do with my body affects my spirit. How I think affects my emotions. Worship on the inside can be seen on my face, and so on.

The detail that I noticed (in several places) is how my emotions are the by-product of what I believe. For instance, if someone told me one of my children had been in a car accident and I believed that person, I would be anxious, upset, and in emotional turmoil. It would not matter if the report was true or not, only if I believed it.

On a lighter note, our home NHL team got a tying goal in the last few seconds of a hockey game on Friday night. For about two seconds I was cheering. Then an official called it invalid because he thought he saw a glove pass. My emotions crashed. Later, that official admitted he made a bad call. There was no glove pass, but hockey rules say the call must stand. So the goal was real, but not allowed. I believed there was a goal. It really did happen, but it might as well did not happen. Like other fans, my emotions didn’t know what to do with the facts. I could understand why some of them threw things!

Positive emotions indicate good thoughts. Negative emotions are a bit like pain; they signal me that whatever is going on in my mind needs some adjusting. I’ve noticed that I’m often sad when I pray, but realize this morning that I have not been listening to that signal. Today’s verse tells me to pay attention. It is from Hebrews 11. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

I believe in the existence of God. This gives me great comfort, a sense of being anchored, and so much more. However, I often doubt that He is going to reward my prayers, partly because I’ve been praying some of them for years without seeing any progress.

But this verse says diligently seek and believe that He will eventually reward me. It doesn’t say that the reward will be a ‘yes’ answer, just a reward, perhaps a closer walk with Him or greater insight into His will. I’ve been thinking the only possible reward has to be that He does what I ask, and since He is not, why enjoy praying or even bother? That kind of thinking affects not only my prayers but my emotions. Instead of coming to Him with joyful confidence, I feel like the pest who has no hope, but can’t quit because there is no one else to pester.

This ‘stinkin’ thinkin’ needs adjusting. It says seek Him and He will reward me. I need to quit telling Him what the reward should be. He is God. He knows what is best for me.

Duh.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

The way to have clout in the world

This morning’s newspaper headline shouts that a teenager on meth kills a young father with his car and gets eight months for his crime. In another section, the news tells of a man who commits major financial fraud and is put away for several years. Comparing the two puts a knot in my gut. Where is justice?

Today’s Scripture reading brings up a related and huge question. Are all the bad things that happen in the world controlled by a sovereign God who has His reasons for them? Or are they simply a result of sinful man doing his thing and God does not interfere?

2 Samuel 21 starts out with, “During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’”

Israel had made a covenant to protect the Gibeonites but the previous king tried to kill them. Because of this, God tells David why He held back blessing from the entire nation. Then David makes an effort to put things right and restore the good fortunes of his country.

The New Testament says that what happened in the Old Testament instructs Christians. God’s relationship with Israel shows the church what He is like and what He wants from us. Yet, He calls us the ‘new’ Israel, and as God’s people under the New Covenant of grace (vs. law), His blessing is ours because of Christ, not because of what we do or fail to do.

However, He still disciplines us. He disciplines me as an individual. My sin has consequences that affect me and others. Could my sin affect even the whole church? Or my country? In other words, would God withhold blessing from Canada, or my city, or my church, or family, if I held on to a sin and refused to obey Him?

The grace and mercy of God have led some people to think they can do bad things because “God will forgive me.” They also say things like, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” With attitudes like this, I’m thinking it is little wonder that Christians are often accused of hypocrisy. Yet we are not the only ones who think this way. The rest of the world seems to be coming loose from any sense of right and wrong.

Further, the church seems so powerless against the tide of evil that is sweeping through our world. I’m thinking that maybe my sins do not cause all the bad things that happen, but they certainly prevent me from doing anything to stop them or to make things right.

David was a godly king who had clout. He could right a major wrong because of his position. When I read the newspaper, I feel sad and angered by the prevalence of crime and a huge lack of justice. I’d like to be a godly king with the power to change laws, beef up the system, do something about lawlessness, but I’m not. What can I do?

Then I remember another Old Testament verse and think, if 2 Samuel 1 has some application to our world today, then so does this one from 2 Chronicles. It says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

It’s time that the church wakes up, that I wake up. In the power of God, good people can make a difference, but we cannot take for granted that living any old way has no effect. I cannot even criticize a world-gone-nuts, never mind change it, unless I’m totally in step with God.

Friday, November 3, 2006

No Sweat

Prayer is hard work. I’m not sure why. Perhaps my scattered mind can’t focus. Perhaps it is so “other” focused that my selfish nature has trouble staying that long on the needs of others. Perhaps my life is too full and I struggle with the time it takes. Not only those things, but I tend to talk in shorter bursts. Since I pray out loud (partly to help me focus), a decent time of prayer seems to tire me out.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been giving this spiritual discipline more attention lately. I realize prayer is a work of God. I wrote “Prayer is Jesus breathing” in MS Outlook® as a reminder that pops up every few days. I’m trying to pray shorter times and more often throughout the day, simply because I do want to talk to God. Most of all, I’m concentrating on the needs of those on my prayer list. I know from personal experience how vital to have someone interceding for you. They value my prayers.

So imagine my surprise at this from Ezekiel 44: “And it shall be, whenever they (the priests) enter the gates of the inner court, that they shall put on linen garments; no wool shall come upon them while they minister within the gates of the inner court or within the house. They shall have linen turbans on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat.”

Prayer is sometimes confession of sin, sometimes praise and adoration, sometimes giving thanks, and most often priestly work—standing before God on behalf of others. But don’t sweat. My devotional book says this implies that the ‘work’ of prayer is just as I put in my daily planner—Jesus does it through me, and even though it comes out of my time, and the words come out of my mouth, the power behind it is His, not mine, therefore there should be no human effort or ‘sweat’ involved.

The only times I can remember when prayer was effortless are when something grand has happened (like my nephew’s salvation) and the words just flow out, or when something terrible threatens and I’m asking for God’s help. I seem to need the extremes to unlock it. This tells me that ‘no sweat’ praying is possible. My challenge is to pray effortlessly about the stuff in between the extremes, to talk to God as easily about these things as those extremes. A second challenge is recognizing the barriers to that ‘no sweat’ praying.

My prayer list now has a new item, two words: Don’t sweat. I’m positive God will show me what to get rid of so that will be true about my prayer life.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

A simple benediction is deeply profound!

The older I get the more I think about life goals and the fact that I’ve not made or accomplished too many of them. I’m an in-the-moment kind of person, and since I became a Christian, even more so. I think, What does God want me to do now? Rather than, What does God want me to do for the next five, ten, or fifty years?

While there are lots of ‘do’ commands in the Bible, I mostly notice the ‘be’ commands. Today’s reading is from 2 Corinthians 13, right at the end of the chapter. Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you . . . . The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

Become complete. Be comforted. Be united. If that is happening, you will live in peace, and in typical Paul-fashion, he puts the resources for the commands after them. To be complete, be of good comfort, be united with others, I need the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Grace is described many ways. My favorite: grace is a revelation from God about Christ that transforms me. Grace is freely offered. Grace is blessing beyond anything in this world. It is that connection with God that can only be mine through faith, and both are His gift!

Comfort, at least true and lasting comfort, is knowing God loves me and is in total control of everything, not just my life, but everything. I could not know that apart from His grace that reveals it to my spirit, and the Holy Spirit who does the talking. Reason tells me a loving God would not allow the bad stuff. Grace tells me why, or if not why, at least how God wants me to respond or change because of that stuff. Comfort is that faith that knows everything has purpose, that His plan is going as scheduled. Comfort tells me, through faith, that someday I will understand it all and rejoice.

Unity is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit. He can enable two hundred people from different backgrounds and experiences to care about one another and agree on how much money should be spent renovating a bathroom or supporting a missionary. This unity is from His ability to communicate and relate to each of us in a deeply personal way, enabling us to realize that although I’m not going to get my way, it’s okay because He will have His way, and that is far better.

The love of God is not concerned about differences of opinion or pushing my agenda. In fact, His love is not about opinions or agendas at all; it is about wanting His very best for everyone, and being willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary for that to happen. Love is grace in action. Love comforts God’s people. Love produces unity.

Communion is fellowship, not coffee-and-cookies fellowship, but that deeper kind where the Christ in me expresses Himself to the Christ in others, where the grace, love, comfort, and unity of God flows from one person to another in words and deeds. It is deeply enriching, satisfying, and part of what I and every Christian needs to become complete.

This simple ‘benediction’ (the word means ‘blessing’) is often quickly said and its meaning not given much consideration. Today it has truly blessed me—to the point that I feel the heavens open and God echoing “Amen; so be it in your life today!”

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Another surprise!

Last night’s phone call should not have been a surprise; we have been praying for our nephew for years, but I was surprised when my brother called. Of all my unsaved relatives, his oldest son, who is just over 40, seemed the least interested in spiritual things. He has been aloof, quiet, even passive in some ways. Yet circumstances in his life turned him toward spiritual counsel and as a result, last week he gave his life to Jesus. I wept.

Actually, my first response was a shout of praise, but after I got off the phone I wept with joy. Then I laughed. I’m still ecstatic with excitement. God can surprise me anytime He wants!

The Bible reading today was also about a surprise. Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, but when Abraham was 100 years old and his wife not far behind him, this seemed totally impossible. Then, “The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him . . . Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’”

Can anyone imagine her surprise; pregnant and in her nineties? But their age was not a problem for God. He came for a visit, touched their bodies in some mysterious way, and she conceived. Even more astounding, Sarah carried that baby to full term. Isaac (whose name means he laughs) was born healthy and strong, and why not? God was in this. He can do whatever He wants.

My devotional book talks about their faith. Before, when they were young, they could easily believe God’s promise. Then, it was “God-plus-Abraham” that could make it happen. However, as the years went by, the possibility of a son diminished. By the time they reached this advanced age, there was nothing else for them to believe in except God. They could not, in themselves, hope to make it happen.

The reading says that faith is easier when there is nothing left to trust but God. At first I thought the opposite, but after considering it, I agree. When life’s conditions look as if things will work out the way I am praying, I’m not putting my faith in God but in those conditions. It is only when there is nothing else, no hope in my own actions, or the actions of others, or promising circumstances, that I’ve nothing to trust but God alone, and that is when He comes along with His surprises.

Does being surprised indicate that I was not really trusting Him either? No, I don’t think so. I truly believe God can do anything. When I pray, I expect Him to answer, even if He says no. The surprise happens because He always comes up with answers at a time I’m not expecting it, or by using a method I’ve never thought of or imagined.

Now our prayers for our nephew have changed. Instead of asking for his salvation, I am asking that God increases his knowledge and love for Him, that he will walk worthy of the new life he has, and that the Holy Spirit will produces an abundance of spiritual fruit in his life. Because Jesus now lives in him, answers to these prayers will not surprise me at all.