Sunday, December 31, 2006

Only one life . . .

Life is short. It seems more so as those birthdays and milestones pass by. Today is another one, the last day of this year. A quick glance through my calendar reminds me of some events, a normal list of weddings, funerals, baby showers, doctor and dentist appointments, meetings, deadlines. We traveled just a little, my husband golfed as much as he could. I taught quilting classes, a writing workshop and every week a Bible study.

The days that have a lingering impact are June 15 when my husband found out he has CLL and August 15 when our granddaughter arrived home from her five years away at university and moved in with us.

I am not a person who dwells much on the past. Sometimes I’m embarrassed because I cannot remember events that others in the family consider significant. I’m not too much into planning the future either. I used to, but became frustrated at the curves life throws, and decided that planning was okay, but don’t hold it too tightly because God usually has something else in mind.

For me, right now is the most important time. What do I do at this moment? What is God saying? What is He asking? What needs can I meet? How can I be obedient?

From thinking like that, and from listening to His Word, I can see that what I do right now can have ramifications far beyond this life. For that reason, past, present and future may or may not grab my attention, but eternity should hold it. What happens now that will last forever has the greatest value of all.

For today, my devotional book offers this verse from Acts 13: “David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, and was buried with his fathers.” This line won’t fit on a tombstone, but it is a short summation of one life.

If I could write my own epitaph, what would I want on the marker? “She led ___ souls to Christ” or “She gave what she had” or “Not I but Christ”? That question challenges me.

This verse is a challenge for the new year in another way. How can I serve my generation in the coming year? What is God’s will for me in ministry in my church, and to my family, friends and those around me? Life is short. Much of it is wasted. I want my life to count.

Another thought that comes out of this verse is that whole brevity of life thing. David fell asleep and was buried. It happens to everyone. I don’t want to end this year with negative or gloomy thinking, so need to remember that even though David left this earth, he is not dead. He was a man after God’s own heart, and inhabits eternity with Him. He has no more tears, or sorrow, or crying, or pain, but walks on the banks of the river of life and experiences the light of God and eternal victory over sin and death.

Eternal hope covers the bad stuff of the past, the challenges of today, and the uncertainty of the future. I might plan, but God holds the flashlight on my path and directs my steps into His light. The end of the path is certain, but His promise is total eradication of all darkness, confusion, and sorrow. Whatever this coming year brings, I am so grateful that He holds that guiding light and will never leave my side.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Rock and the hard place

Paul wrote in Philippians, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . .” He went on to describe how Jesus did not consider His equality with God as important as “being made in the likeness of men.” He was willing to do that so He could die in our place for our sins. He put our lives over His own rights.

Paul was a humble man who had the same willingness to set aside his own life. Whatever he might be proud of or use to exalt himself in any way was abandoned. He took this command seriously and let the mind of Christ govern everything that he did. In 2 Corinthians, he wrote, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.”

He set the example. A spiritual person is not motivated by their identity in this world, what people think or want, or even their responses. Doing the right thing, the most Christ-like thing, is the reason behind true Christian effort.

I’ve been weighing options over the past few days. My husband may not be around for very long. What is the most optimal way to spend our time, the most Christ-like way to be a good wife? Neither of us believe we can drop everything and go on an extended cruise, however tempting the thought.

This decision is made tougher as, at the same time, our granddaughter is revealing more and more that she has no intentions of growing past the emotional and dependance characteristics of about a ten-year-old. She refuses to take even part-time work because it either doesn’t pay enough or is a ‘dead-end’ job. She wants us to pay for everything, let her do whatever she pleases, and essentially share with her everything that we have.

I’d do just about anything to help this young woman become all that she can be. She is smart, attractive, capable in many areas, but has the notion deeply implanted that everyone owes her. Jesus sacrificed His life to the end that sin be conquered—not indulged. Paul sacrificed his life in ministry that people might believe in Christ and grow to be more like Him. He gave his all toward that, not so they could take advantage of his generous heart and use what he did for them to support a sinful lifestyle. Going along with sin is enablement, not love.

I don’t believe that God put me in this situation expecting me to abandon being like Jesus in one area of life so I can be like Him in another. I must love and support my husband. I also must love and support my granddaughter. However, loving, supporting, and ministering to a person in a sacrificial way is not the same as enabling them to live a selfish and sinful life.

The love of Christ means spending myself for her soul, for her eternal well-being and for her growth as a person, but I will not spend myself making it easy for her to sin against me, or more importantly, against my husband. His doctor warned him about stress, and the stress of our situation is exceedingly harmful. I’ve some tough decisions to make, and feel between a rock and a hard place.

I need to remember that the choice is not my husband or my granddaughter. It is between doing what He wants or what I want. That means the rock is Christ and the hard place is simply my own desire to abandon all of this and go buy some cruise tickets.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My hiding place

Last night we went to an NHL hockey game. Deafening noise. Full house. Fast game with only a few fights and penalties, but lots of action and double-digit scores. Our home team didn’t play as well as they can, but the faithful fans raised their voices regardless. Each close shot, each call, each body check brought vibrations in waves from the stands. I felt strangely part of it and alone in it—at the same time.

Yesterday brought other noises that were far less like ‘team-support’ and far more disturbing. My husband spoke about feeling a “long-term fatigue.” This is a warning sign. His cancer is an attack to his immune system and his doctor said to beware of encroaching fatigue. Stress.

We also heard our granddaughter. She refuses to get what she calls a “no-end, part-time job,” saying that is beneath her. She wants to ‘start at the top’ and instead of making plans to get work, she has no plans, no purpose, therefore no hope, and sits around complaining about her no-end life. No one, not even her doctors, can convince her that her thinking needs updating. Stress.

Many people in this world live under far greater pressures, but for me, these two are very taxing. On one hand the future threatens. On the other, there seems to be no future.

Today, I ask the Lord what He wants of me. I cannot control my husband’s health. I seem to have no influence on our granddaughter’s decisions and choices. All I can do is what I can do, but what is that? I’m praying, taking care of my responsibilities, what else?

He sent me to this verse in Song of Solomon: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

This verse could mean that He is saying I am His dove with a sweet voice and a lovely face, but the opposite is certainly true; His voice is sweet, His face is lovely. Why is it then that spending face-to-face time with Jesus takes an enormous amount of personal discipline? I can pray, but this is different than just talking to Him. Those who pray know what I mean.

Even now, as I face the extremes of one situation with a frightening end in sight, and another with no end in sight, the thing on my mind is perhaps to offer my requests, but more to just simply hide. Something in me resists going to that secret place where Jesus can see my face and hear my voice, where I can see His face and hear His voice. This intimacy seems so dreadfully difficult.

Yet He bids me to come, to spend intimate time with Him. I need to draw near, to go where I can hear Him and He can hear me, without distraction, in that secret cleft in the rock, and remember again that He is my fortress and my hiding place.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

We are at war

Last night my husband shared the gospel with our granddaughter. He also told her that she needs to make plans, think about her future, stop manipulating and expecting others to do everything for her, take steps to become an independent, responsible adult. She responded with rage. I was not surprised.

After she stormed off to her room, he told me what he’d done and we prayed for her. We prayed against the lies and destructive powers that are holding her captive. We asked the Lord to open her heart, to help her see that she cannot continue in her current mind set, to see her need to mature and to become responsible for herself, to help her move forward. We also asked that He protect her and us, for these ideas that she has are not only immature and lies, but destructive.

This morning, feeling the wounds of spiritual war, I asked the Lord to give me something from His Word that would help me have the courage to continue. This battle is way too much for me. My devotional book sent me to 1 Samuel 1:27 which says, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him.”

In context, this is about Hannah who prayed for a child, not a distraught grandmother pleading with the Lord for the life of a deluded and messed up grandchild. But it flooded my heart with instant peace and joy. I sit here in wonder at Him. I know how to properly interpret Scripture, to not take things out of context, but I also know God can use whatever He wants to minister to His children.

So what can I say? That my prayer plus this verse is a coincidence? That He is not speaking directly to my battle-weary heart? Of course not! God doesn’t play games with His people. He blesses us in ways we cannot imagine, and this isn’t the first time He has given me reassurance about this child (of twenty-three). Other times as I’ve prayed for her, I’ve heard this inner voice say things like, “I’ve got this under control” or “Nothing is too difficult for Me.”

Hannah received her child from the Lord, and as soon as the child was weaned, she gave him back to God. In spiritual parallel, that is the longing of my heart. It doesn’t matter if our granddaughter’s birth into God’s family is through me, or that I disciple her to maturity. I just want to see it happen. In faith, we continue to love her, to hold unto and proclaim truth, and give the means and the results to the Lord—for whom nothing is too difficult.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What is heaven like?

In discussions about heaven, someone usually wonders if the things we enjoy here will be part of our eternity. The fishermen imagine perfect streams and trout eager for their bait. The artists imagine painting sunsets and fields of daisies with the stroke of a heavenly brush. Quilters imagine a never-ending stash of fabric and sewing machines with bobbins that never need rewinding. Golfers long for days upon days playing a perfect game with no hooks or slices. Horse lovers ride glistening steeds over hills, through forests and on white beaches, forever.

What does not interest me is sitting on a cloud playing a harp (or eating cream cheese)! I don’t want heaven to be ‘boring,’ but have to remember that besides a huge change in environment, there will be a huge change in me. The stuff I like now might seem boring then, at least compared to what heaven offers. Whatever seems strange or odd in the limited biblical descriptions of heaven now might totally fascinate me when I get there.

One of those odd descriptions is from Revelation 4. John writes, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.”

Jewelry may be pretty, but I’m not a lover of precious stones. I’d rather collect rocks from the beach. However, in this description the King of kings is compared to a diamond seated in a rainbow that looks like an emerald. I have to admit that part of me says, How gaudy.

This description is certainly metaphor. The brilliance of gemstones is an attempt to convey the glory of the Lord and the clarity of His light. The colors and their shining glow is no doubt not even close to the beauty we will see when we look at Jesus on His throne.

Despite that the Bible says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him,” other descriptions of heaven more quickly catch my attention. One is familiar: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Some days being in heaven has more appeal than others. Most of the time, I’d like to see its purity, its streets of gold, and especially the face of Jesus, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that right now.

But other days I want to escape horrible headlines, world-wide and personal tragedies, grief, pain, loss—right now. On those days (and I know this is selfish) I’d gladly trade the sorrows and challenges of my life for a long and lingering look at Jesus. And I’m sure that His rainbow will not be the slightest bit gaudy but totally glorious.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Waiting . . .

Nancy said, “When it comes to prayer, ‘Yes’ is the best, ‘No’ I can handle. But I have a lot of trouble with ‘Wait’.

Waiting. Like children saying, “Are we there yet?” I’m often impatient with God. Are we there yet? When are You going to answer? Why is nothing happening? How long, Oh Lord? How long?

From the last book of the Bible, the last prophet, the last time He spoke, the Jews experienced 400 years of silence from God. No promises, no encouragement, no revelation of Himself, no commands, nothing. He didn’t even say, “Almost, just about . . . .”

Many died in hope, never hearing from God. Some gave up, I’m sure. Others hung in there, but never heard Him speak their whole lives. I cannot imagine what that would have been like.

Then, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son . . . .”

The answer was so unexpected. Some of them, in their waiting, had developed a vision of what God would say, what He would do. They hoped for a political Messiah who would redeem them from the bondage of Rome. But they got the Son of God who died on a cross to deliver them from the bondage of their sin. He didn’t match their vision so they rejected Him.

Yesterday I prayed that my children would rejoice in Jesus’ coming, say some Christ-honoring words. That didn’t happen. At first dejection tempted me, but something did happen that honors God, and I nearly missed it. I was so focused on the answer to my prayer that I wanted, that I almost overlooked the way that our children honored their parents.

When anyone does what God tells them to do, it is fruit in their lives, a God-pleasing obedience. They were amazing, a total blessing to us, and a selfish response would have been easy. Maybe it was because I so badly wanted something for Jesus that I didn’t glory in what they were doing. Instead, I experienced the pleasure of His Spirit in me, but I nearly missed it.

When I read that verse in Galatians about God sending Jesus when the fullness of time had come, He reminded me that His timing is always perfect. I still want my family to honor Jesus, but I cannot push a “Yes” answer when He knows “Wait for exactly the right moment” is the best answer. He did that with His Son; I must trust Him to do that with my children too.

Yet, like Nancy, I do have a lot of trouble with ‘Wait’.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Gift for a King

Today we will entertain family, mostly unbelieving and not caring that this is a Birthday Party for Jesus. Last night, as I put together the menu, put out gifts and candy, and took care of other details, I thought about them and my heart was heavy. The God who created us and all things came to earth to die for our sins that we might enjoy forgiveness and His blessing all our lives, and then spend eternity with Him. And they don’t care.

I cried about this, and I cried about the party. It is for Jesus. We are giving gifts to one another. What can I give Him? If only everyone could rejoice in His coming, be awed that He should love us so much. That would be His gift to me, but what about my gift? Their gift?

The wise men from the East, called ‘king-makers’ by some, were Gentiles who likely had gods of their own, but they recognized that this baby was a king and gave Him suitable gifts:

“And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Psalm 72 describes gifts for a king and the rule of that king. It is directly about Solomon, but anticipates the King who would come as Messiah. Some of what it says can apply only to Jesus. As I read it, I’m thinking, gold and silver have I none . . . I can only give this Psalm back to You who gave it. Today, this is for Jesus.

“Give the king Your judgments, O God,
And Your righteousness to the king’s Son.
He will judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your poor with justice.
The mountains will bring peace to the people,
And the little hills, by righteousness.
He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy,
And will break in pieces the oppressor.

“They shall fear You
As long as the sun and moon endure,
Throughout all generations.
He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing,
Like showers that water the earth.
In His days the righteous shall flourish,
And abundance of peace,
Until the moon is no more.

“He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him,
And His enemies will lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles
Will bring presents;
The kings of Sheba and Seba
Will offer gifts.

“Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him;
All nations shall serve Him.

“For He will deliver the needy when he cries,
The poor also, and him who has no helper.
He will spare the poor and needy,
And will save the souls of the needy.
He will redeem their life from oppression and violence;
And precious shall be their blood in His sight.

“And He shall live;
And the gold of Sheba will be given to Him;
Prayer also will be made for Him continually,
And daily He shall be praised.

“There will be an abundance of grain in the earth,
On the top of the mountains;
Its fruit shall wave like Lebanon;
And those of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.

“His name shall endure forever;
His name shall continue as long as the sun.
And men shall be blessed in Him;
All nations shall call Him blessed.

“Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel,
Who only does wondrous things!
And blessed be His glorious name forever!
And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen and Amen.”


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Leftovers? Again?

Even after cooking meals for several decades, I still don’t get the amounts right; I have leftovers in the frig. Sometimes I plan for that though. I don’t want to cook the next day, or I have way more of the main ingredients than 2-3 people can eat, so why not cook once and eat twice!

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elisha was given twenty loaves of bread for himself and the other prophets. They were not big loaves like some of mine, so when the servant was told to ”Give it to the people, that they may eat” he said, “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?”

Elisha told him, “Give it to the people, that they may eat; for thus says the Lord: ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’”

It is miracle enough that God stretched this amount of food to feed His people, but another curiosity is that He also planned leftovers. The same thing happened in the New Testament when Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Afterwards, the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers. Later, He fed 4000 with seven loaves and a few little fish, and they gathered seven large baskets of leftovers.

What is this with leftovers? It is normally a negative word, but should it be? God makes it clear that we’re to give him the first of everything, not the last of everything. Our tendency is that we want to give God what’s left over, and that is a no-no.

Also, I know I’m to ask for “daily bread” and I know the value of daily devotions. What He gave me yesterday rarely works for today, just as when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and were fed manna. They had to gather it daily and if they tried to keep some for the next day, it rotted—except for Sabbath. Then they could gather twice as much the day before and eat the leftovers the next day.

In Jewish law, most sacrificial meals required that they ate all the food; any leftovers were burned. However, in some of those ceremonial feasts, the first portion went to the priests and the leftovers were shared in fellowship.

There is something here that I am trying to get my mind around. I know that God’s thoughts are not like ours. Could it be that He is saying leftovers should not be put at the bottom of the status ladder, that we should consider them a gift from Him and use them wisely?

It seems to me that the fact of leftovers reveals the heart of God. When He gives me something, a good thing that He wants me to pass on to others, He will make sure that I will not be left empty. He will give me back leftovers that add up to far more than I gave away.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

But it doesn't feel like mercy. . .

My husband and I both feel as if we have been beaten up. While we were calm all week and able to do what needed to be done, now that the crisis has softened the emotional stress of it seems as a sledge hammer to our bodies.

The suicide attempt was a huge blow. I spent most of every day at the hospital with her, with family. I heard and saw others in trauma in the ER that first day (and far too much blood). I was on the phone with my family, back and forth from room to foyer where cell phones were allowed, up and down, talking with distraught family, relaying messages, trying to reassure.

When not there, the tasks at home were taxing. We’d ordered a change in our phone service and it happened on day three. For those next few days, service was iffy on our phones, we had no Internet, and still have no in-coming fax service. My husband had to take his desk apart to move it and fix a short-circuit in the phone-jack in the wall behind. Thank God for one unusual blessing; our Christmas shopping was done and wrapped a couple days before the hammer hit.

This morning I think about the on-going task of having our adult granddaughter here. She must take charge of her own life. Where are my boundaries? This is my house, and while I’m not one of those “don’t sit on that” people, she watches more television than is good for anyone’s mental health. She is a vegetarian, which is fine, but she skips meals and her diet is unbalanced. Do I say anything? Insist on changes? Hide all the knives? Tell her what to do?

I try to think of how I would deal with this if she was a paying border. That doesn’t work. I can’t spoil her as grandparents tend to do with their grandchildren either. But I cannot be so detached from her life that I don’t notice or care what she does with herself.

This is not easy! She is my responsibility in some ways, but not others. Every minute of every day requires decisions. Does she need a gran, a friend, a detached ear, a MYOB attitude, or is God asking me to minister to her in some way?

The reading today rang bells for the last category. 2 Corinthians 4 starts out with, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

Having a young, unbelieving, depressed and suicidal woman in my home is a ministry and a mercy. Because God has been merciful to me, I am able to carry on rather than give up.

John MacArthur’s commentary says, “God’s mercy is His withholding of the judgment that sinners deserve, temporarily in the case of the unsaved to give opportunity for repentance and faith, and permanently in the case of the redeemed. In this context God’s mercy means that instead of condemning Paul because he was a “blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Tim. 1:13), God showed him mercy by “putting [him] into service” (1 Tim. 1:12).

Like Paul who “renounced the hidden things of shame,” I must also commend myself to this young woman’s conscience, recognizing that the gospel is veiled to her because the god of this age has blinded her mind. I must continue, as this passage says, to preach (using words when necessary) Christ Jesus the Lord, and consider myself a bondservant for His sake.

Only God can command “light to shine out of darkness” and shine light in her heart and mine. Only God can show me what to do and say (or not) and open her heart to know “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The Bible tells me that I have this treasure in an earthen vessel “that the excellence of the power may be of God” and not of me. Paul was “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” He demonstrated in his body “the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested” knowing that death to all things selfish and unimportant produced life in those to whom he ministered.

May it be so, may it be so.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Duh!

I just realized that I'd turned on "Moderate Comments" about a month ago (spam on blog comments is another unnecessary annoyance of life) and have been feeling "all alone" out here, because there have been no comments. And now I feel bad because some of you have made comments and I didn't respond... so you likely felt as if you were talking into the wind as well. Ah, technology. I accepted all the comments (except four spammers) and am so thankful for your expressions of love and concern. It is indeed a trying time, but no matter how much we struggle with this life, God is good---and a better life is our sure and certain hope!

Truth & Love, but whose definition?

God amazes me. He promises that when we bring our concerns to Him, with thanksgiving, He will give us incomprehensible peace. This past few days have been filled with what should cause huge distress, but God has given me not only His peace, but most of the time also an ability to focus, to do what needs to be done, and not give in to fear or despair. How He does that, I don’t know. That He does it at all, is both a mystery and a blessing.

Our granddaughter is okay. She is a bit anxious realizing some new truths about life and her own responsibilities, but she seems to be accepting this. Of course her story is longer and more personal (for her) than I have any business telling, but there is progress, and for that we are overwhelmingly grateful.

God never lets me sit too long in one place. This morning He offers a familiar passage and challenges me that my role is moving from that of a child to someone with more responsibility. It is from Ephesians 4:

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."

I remember the days when I chased every new doctrine, usually not to buy into it, but at least to check it out, argue with it (and anyone who believed it), and be sidetracked from the more important things. I don’t think I’m a "perfect man" yet, but I don’t do that anymore.

While I’m not entirely certain where I do fit into this model described above, I know that "speaking the truth in love" is no easy feat. Love cannot be mushy, sentimental, oblivious to sin, but at the same time, speaking the truth cannot be blunt, unfeeling, and more concerned with dogma than with the other person’s needs and situation.

The other challenge to this passage is that it is about the Body of Christ, not the general public. Not that "speaking the truth in love" should be restricted to ourselves only, but I wonder if anything changes when the person before me is not a Christian, is not particularly interested in truth, and interprets love as warm and fuzzy? For me, love is a deep concern about what someone is doing and how their actions affect them (not me), and if they might harm themselves or others by continuing in the direction that they are going.

I’m right in the middle of that. I want to say, "You need to stop _______ because it is hurting you," yet the person I want to say it to thinks love is not only letting other people do whatever they want, but affirming their right to self-destruct—if that is what they want to do.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nothing is too hard for God

In the trauma of the past few days, God keeps reminding me of His power and His faithfulness. We have prayed for years for our family—we cannot think that He is uninvolved in their lives. He knows what is happening. He has sovereign power over what they do, even the choices they make. He can start them or stop them, move them or hold them still. They may not realize it, but nothing is too hard for the Lord.

This morning He gives me more reassurance. The reading is in Hebrews 8. It says, "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."

God saves who He saves, Jew or Gentile. I’ve a nephew who is about 40 years old. God touched his life a few weeks ago, putting His laws into his heart. This nephew is now a child of God, forgiven and growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. How that happens is a mystery, but the fact is—it did happen.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He can turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. We saw that happen yesterday. He can bring light to dark minds. That has happened too. He can also cause rivaling family members to forget their differences and rally together. We see that in some who have not been getting along, but now realize they must because this grandchild/ child/ step-child needs their support not their foolishness.

The miracle I’m looking for is in the verses from Hebrews. I want Him to "put His laws in her mind and write them on her heart." I want her to be "His people" because I know when that happens, His mercy and grace will give her peace and joy, and transform her life.

In the meantime, knowing that God can do it, has done it in the past, and is the same God today as He always has been, gives me what I need to be hopeful and to continue trusting Him.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Obedience takes very little faith

(Today’s post is late because we switched phone numbers for our Internet service and had to reroute the lines in our home. I'm using my laptop on a landline and it is so slow. Technology is great, but our mastery of it sometimes nosedives.)

Most people have read the poem Footprints that describes times where God carries us, putting only one set of footprints in the sand instead of two. I’m deeply aware of being carried this past two days. My emotions are level, my thoughts on Him and on the needs at hand. Every now and then, He gives me time to cry, like the release valve on a pressure cooker, so my feelings escape rather than build up to explode. Nevertheless, all that is happening is not about me.

Our granddaughter is physically safe. She is in a "Fort Knox" place where a kindly staff are looking after her. She is concerned about what will happen when she is released. We are too, but one day at a time. Her needs are enormous.

My devotional book took me to Luke 17 today. Jesus talked to His disciples about their responsibility to forgive others no matter how often they sinned against them. The disciples asked Him to increase their faith, thinking that it takes a big faith in God to forgive someone who might repeat their offense again and again.

In a sense, it does. We cannot trust people to never sin again, but we can trust God to either stop them, or protect us from what they do.

Jesus responded with, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you."

In other words, faith might be required for this command, but it doesn’t take much. A mustard seed is not very big. I think Jesus means that faith is measured not by its size but more by whether it is there or not, and by its object. If I have faith in my faith I’d need lots, but if my faith is in a God who can do all things, I only need a tiny bit.

The real issue in being able to forgive others or do any other ‘impossible’ thing that God asks is not faith but obedience. Jesus went on to illustrate: "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’"

I am responsible to forgive others as one of my duties as a Christian, not considering it a huge task requiring ‘great faith’ and meriting some special reward. I’m to just do it, and consider it part of ‘what I do’ as His servant.
Also, I don’t come home from "plowing or tending sheep" or any other task He has given me, think my work is finished, and look for some reward. My attitude should always be, "Is there anything more I can do? What is next, Lord? Have I satisfied Jesus?

It is far too easy to contemplate my work, dissect it, pat myself on the back, or even bemoan that I may have missed something. Again, all this business of living for the Lord, trying to help others, obeying Jesus, forgiving, serving, praying, whatever lands on my plate is not about me—even when there are only one set of footprints. In every situation and at all time, Jesus directs my focus to hear and obey Him.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Needing Jesus, still

Today God gives a little nudge to remind me not to harbor resentment against my friend of yesterday’s blog. The Lord says in Hebrews 12, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”

Anger and bitterness is the last thing on my mind. I spent all of yesterday in the ER with our granddaughter. She was at another relative’s on Saturday and Sunday morning, took some prescription sleeping pills from their medicine chest, brought them home, and took 50-75 of them on Sunday night. When she didn’t get up yesterday at her normal time, I tried to wake her. After realizing this was not normal grogginess, I told her she needed a doctor and finally got her dressed and in the vehicle.

She didn’t admit to me that she had taken anything (or I may have called an ambulance), but did tell the first person who questioned her at the hospital. After a few phone calls, I found out the name and dosage of the pills, and unknown to her, that they were several years old. Because they were out-dated, she is still alive.

By the end of the day, they transferred her to another hospital where she will be treated and watched for a few days. That kind of drug could damage her heart and lungs. The doctors told me that dose she took was lethal. When asked how she felt about being still alive, she said, “Indifferent.” I know that the folks who read this blog are generally people who also pray. Please do.

The odd thing is that this verse from Hebrews describes what one person said is her problem; she is hurt and deeply bitter about things (real and imagined) that have happened in her life. If that is an accurate assessment, any hope for healing goes beyond medication and therapy. Like all of us, she needs Jesus.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Beggars Can't be Choosers

Last week someone called me with a problem and hoped for a solution. I felt helpless and didn’t have one. I prayed with the caller and when we were finished, I said, “That’s all I know how to do.”

Yesterday, someone we’d not seen for several months asked how I was doing. I said life had been hard the past few months. He asked how so. So I told him about some on-going challenges and some of my fears and struggles. Considering that he had been in active ministry for many years, I expected maybe a “I’ll pray for you” or some expression of concern. To my surprise, he joked with another nearby person that he didn’t “have his shingle out” and essentially offered me a ‘find someone who cares’ response.

This morning, I’m reading in Acts 3 where Peter and John encounter a lame man. The man was begging at the gate of the temple. He had been unable to walk his entire life and just wanted a few coins so he could survive.

Peter said to the man, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

The miracle happened; the man did rise up and walk, and went walking and leaping into the temple, praising God as he went. A crowd gathered, and Peter seized the opportunity to tell many about the wonder of Jesus. He didn’t take any credit for this marvelous healing, but instead praised God himself as he preached about Christ.

The phrase that captured my attention is Peter saying, “Silver and gold I do not have, what I do have I give you.” The beggar wanted a certain kind of help, and Peter couldn’t do it, and instead offered him what he had, which turned out to be far more than what he expected.

When someone comes with a problem, most people wish they could wave a magic wand and solve it for them. Sometimes my reasons for wanting to ‘fix’ it are selfish. I just want them and their problem solved because I am busy or bothered. I don’t want to be rude and tell them to go away. Yet most of the time, I feel concern for folks in trouble and will at least listen to their distress and pray with them or for them.

Most often I think about the power of God who uses problems to test and build our faith, to bring us to Himself in humble dependence, and to show us that we need Him. When I experience trials, I sometimes see how God using that trial in my life. If not, and I share the trial with another person who reminds me that God will use it for good, I’m comforted. I’m also encouraged if they pray for wisdom, grace, strength, or whatever I need in my trial. Pointing me to God is far better than someone trying to ‘fix’ it.

I’m not sure what to do with people who are flippant about the trials of others, my own included. While it is a bit of a slap in the face and a big disappointment, I also feel concern for people who do it. Yesterday, I expected this person to be a burden-bearer and an encourager because of his title, reputation and our friendship, but he came up empty.

I’m sure the beggar at the gate got a variety of responses. People would ignore him, or give him a pittance. Some would be generous. I’ve heard said that beggars cannot be choosers, but my first response to putting my hand out and getting it slapped is that I should pick more carefully who I share with and when I share it.

But begging doesn’t work that way. Some who pass by will do just that. Others will be like Peter who “fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, ‘Look at us.’”

As a beggar, I am not in control of anything other people do. Ultimately, it depends on God—who gives some people silver and gold (which they may or may not share, and which may or may not help), and some people His caring heart, the thought to stop and listen, and even the power to heal.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

More delicacies from His menu

Our three children and their family members are at various places in their respective spiritual journeys. Without their permission, I will not post their stories, but I can say that sometimes I am very concerned about them. Besides needing to walk more closely with the Lord (no different than anyone else) they have problems ranging from loneliness, horrendous stress at work, suddenly being out of work, difficulties with their own children, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.

I didn’t sleep well the past two nights. Yesterday’s prayers focused mostly on these things. God says not to be anxious, to bring everything to Him with thanksgiving, and He will give me peace (Philippians 4), yet I’ve had a hard time with the thanksgiving part, and no peace at all.

This morning, He decided to help me with that. Today’s reading is, again, comfort food. It is a promise made to Israel, yet it reveals the heart of God and speaks to me about His concern for my family and His power to do something for them. This passage is in Isaiah 54.

“O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.”

The Lord knows I’m not much for gems and fancy stones, but the last part definitely hits the target. He will teach all my children. He will give them peace. He says so. They might have to go through trials—no, they WILL have to go through trials—to learn to bring everything to Him, with thanksgiving, but His promise is the same for them as it is for me; the peace we seek is from the Lord. It is only a prayer away.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

No worms on today's menu!

Every morning I ask the Lord to ‘give me my daily bread’ from His Word, some morsel He knows I need. I might have a question, or the day will offer a perplexing situation, or I might not be aware of a problem, but He wants to make me aware. He always feeds me, but I’m never sure what will be on the menu.

Last night I went to bed feeling like nobody loves me, everybody hates me; I’m going out to the garden to eat worms.

I prayed about it, and went to sleep rationalizing that this was only a mood brought on by the way someone treated me that day; it is not true . . . and even if people fail to love me, God always does. But I still felt like eating worms.

This morning I woke from a dream that reflected the same issue—the contrast between the way people love me (or not) and the way God loves me. I asked God to feed me something that would speak about the whole thing, then I read this from 1 Kings 22:

“So the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.’ And Jehoshaphat said, ‘Let not the king say such things!’”

Ahab, king of the northern part of the kingdom, had asked his visitor, Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah in the south, to help him conquer Syria. Jehoshaphat reminded Ahab that as God’s people, they should ask God first, to see if He would be with them in this battle.

Ahab wasn’t too interested. However, he called for the prophets. Some of them said, “Go up to Ramoth Gilead and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it into the king’s hand.”

Micaiah, the godly prophet, was asked to give the same encouragement, but he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’”

Ahab’s reply was, “Did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”

Micaiah also revealed that God had shown how a lying spirit would persuade Ahab to go to war and meet with disaster. He spoke the truth, and to Ahab it was like eating worms.

Micaiah’s prophesy was exactly what happened. Ahab disguised himself so that Jehoshaphat wearing his royal robes became the target, but the army of king of Syria saw through his tactics. They wanted only Ahab, and eventually Ahab was killed.

Out of this story, God spoke to me. Even though it is not wrong to want people to love me, to be well-liked, considered, valued, and all those nice and encouraging things, Jehoshaphat choose what is really important. He was interested only in truth from the Lord. He looked for the will of God in this matter, even though he was under pressure. Ahab pleaded for his help; war is dangerous; looking like a king in battle vs. wearing a disguise is hazardous; but in all of this, he still wanted to know what God said.

In the face of the prophesy from God, Jehoshaphat did go to war with Ahab, but a parallel passage in 2 Chronicles tells how he, when wounded, cried out to God for deliverance and God used that to divert the enemy; they knew this praying man, despite the royal robes, was not Ahab!

My battle is not physical, but God wants the same attitude from me. When I come to God about any issue, do I want to be an Ahab and patted on the head, fed stuff that might make me feel better but is not true? Or do I want to be like Jehoshaphat and seek truth about my life and my situation?

Today’s daily bread is not comfort food, but it is not worms either. Instead He offers solid, basic sustenance. He reminds me that He is faithful, that everyone at some time or another will let me down, just as I let Him down and them, and that we are sinners, all of us. I must not expect perfection from people, only from Him. Out of the multiple choices on his menu, He graciously gives comfort food for yesterday and fortification for the challenges of today.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Darkness cannot overcome Light

Anyone who has tried to teach anything knows the frustration of why don't they get it? “It”—whatever it is—seems so simple to the teacher, yet the learner cannot wrap their head around it. This is even more a reality for matters of the spirit.

In telling others about Jesus, two teachers are needed—myself and the Holy Spirit. Actually, the Holy Spirit doesn't really need me, but sometimes, for reasons I don't fully understand, God wants it that way. Yet even with two voices speaking, the gospel can whoosh right over heads, as if the listener is blind, or deaf.

I recall one young woman's answer when I asked her how a person could be saved from sin. She said, “By doing good works.”

I had her read aloud Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

I asked again, “How does the Bible say a person is saved.”

She replied, “By doing good works.”

She could not see what the words said, nor even hear them when she read them out loud herself. She was totally blind to the gospel.

My reading today explains her blindness. “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, those minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (1 Corinthians 4).

The “god of this age” is Satan, and I've no clue how he blinds people, even though I myself was once blind. I read the Bible for years, but I could not see what it said. It made no sense to me. Another wonder is that I kept reading it.

I love the verses that come next. They explain how God gets around the blindness. Paul writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

God can shine light into darkness, even into the darkness of spiritual blindness and unbelief. Like the light of even the tiniest candle dissipates total blackness, His light is more powerful than the deepest gloom. When God shines, darkness must flee. I know that for a fact.

Also, all Christians know that the Holy Spirit lives in us. We know that preachers, teachers, evangelists and ordinary pew-sitters can say the words, but no matter how brilliantly we present the truth, His Spirit is what takes light into darkness.

The bottom line is no matter how eloquent, or no matter how filled with His Spirit I might be, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

We also have complete assurance that His light puts out darkness, and darkness, no matter how dark it is, cannot extinguish light.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

If they don't come . . .

I’m still thinking about the folks who profess faith in Christ but do not attend church. Most who are in church every Sunday write them off, but I don’t. I often wonder what made them turn away, pray for them, and feel their absence.

I’ve heard those in church quote the verse about not forsaking the assembly of ourselves together. Sometimes smugness is obvious, as in “I’m obeying this command—what’s wrong with them?” But the Bible has lots of commands and all of us miss some of them.

Being together is important though. The context of that verse (in Hebrews 10) shows why: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Attending church is a declaration of my faith. I really believe this stuff. When I want to stay away (and the thought happens), it is often because I’ve great doubts, and am “fed up” with God.

I’ve had other reasons, also in this passage. I’ve sinned and instead of going to God in confession to receive assurance of His forgiveness and the cleansing only He can give, I want to stay home and not let anyone know that I’m in a rebellious state and fighting with God. It is futile—most of us know who wins that battle—but for a time, I just want to hide.

Another reason is wavering hope. For instance, I’ve prayed for years for the salvation of loved ones. Their lives continue on in unbelief and sin, just as if I’d not prayed at all. Where is God? Where is the answer? When I lose hope, I want to do something else besides church.

Another problem is not caring enough about others. God put me in the Body of Christ as one member, needed by the other members and important to the health and functioning of the other parts of His Body. Too often I attend church so they can minister to me, but the Bible is clear; no matter how useless I might feel, I’ve also an obligation and a role to play in ministry to them. We need one another. I’ve holes in my theology, I forget important truths, I have emotional needs, I cannot find the answer to some spiritual problems, and so it is with other believers. Yet everyone of us has solid places in their thinking, remembers truths and answers, and can stir up love and good works in someone else.

As soon as I read this passage, the thought came to mind that if someone says they believe but does not come to church, why can’t the church go to them? Why can’t I take my assurance of faith, the message of forgiveness and cleansing, and my hope in the One who is faithful to those who need to hear it?

Or just visit them. Show them God cares by showing them I care. If, for whatever reason, they have abandoned “assembling ourselves together” there is no reason why the rest of us have to abandon them. I’ve never heard of a ministry focused on restoration, but maybe God is calling me to start one.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I want a perfect Body

I’ve heard said that if anyone loses a little toe they can hardly walk; their balance is greatly affected. If we lose one eye, among other things, we have great trouble with depth perception.

Such loses strain the parts that remain and the rest of the body must adjust and compensate. Years ago, our oldest son lost two fingers in a sawmill accident. His mind often tells him that they are still there, but they are gone and he’s had to relearn how to do even ordinary tasks. He jokes that when typing his spelling goes haywire, but his loss is not funny.

The Bible uses the human body to illustrate the value and connections between members of Christ’s Body, the church. It says that every part has value, even that “those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

This section from 1 Corinthians 12 says there “should be no schism” in the Body. Of course my body would not function worth a hoot if parts were cut off and separated from the rest. What about those who belong to Christ and are not involved in corporate worship and the work of the church? Regulars tend to think that the missing, the absentees, are the only ones who suffer, but God says the entire Body feels the loss. 1 Corinthians affirms this. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.”

Sadly, those active in the church hurt when someone working alongside them is hurting, but some of us have become numb to the fact that we also suffer when the drop-outs are suffering. They are part of the Body too. Do we miss them? Or have phantom pain?

My husband heard a statistic last week that the Christian church in North America prays less than any other part of the Body of Christ, and that we are among the weakest and least effective. Our failures affect the church in the rest of the world, just as what happens with them affects us. Perhaps part of the reason we are weak is our independence. We think we can do things all by ourselves. Another issue is our tendency to look down on those that ‘seem weak’ and have no value.

I’m concerned about the folks on the fringes, those who profess faith in Christ but are not involved. They don’t attend church, have little involvement with the rest of the Body, and seem to not walk with the Lord. Does God want more from me than concern? And if so, I’m not sure what can be done. I notice that some write them off, thinking their backsliding is “not my problem.” Not so. If they are truly members of the Body, what happens to backsliders affects the rest of us.

God started this year convicting me of the need to pray more, be more concerned for the spiritual lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Again He reminds me to support others in the Body, pray for them, encourage them, even depend on them, and never forget how much we need one another. He also reminds me to take care of those out on the edges. They are missing a great deal, including fellowship in God’s family. And I am missing them.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

He's also my self-worth

Some people hang their sense of worth on the people they know. They talk about meeting this entertainer, or that public figure, or mention that they talked to the mayor this week or the head of some well-known organization. They seem to assume that others will be impressed and will think more highly of them than if they didn’t have such prominent ‘friends.’

At times like that, I’m tempted to say, “Oh, and I talk with the King of Kings every day, even frequently,” but that would be playing the same game. Besides, having an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ does not make be a somebody. Instead it verifies that I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

That I am one of “the called” gives me no room for arrogance. The Bible is correct when it says that I am foolish, weak, base, despised, and nothing—at least according to human measurements. No one is going to increase their self-worth by dropping my name to anyone.

Yet I am so privileged. This passage goes on to say, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’”

God, in His wisdom, gave me Jesus, who is my wisdom, my righteousness, my sanctification, and my redemption. Through Him, I have everything that is important.

Hebrews 2:11 humbles me even farther. It says, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”

Jesus picked me to be His child, a nobody without any merit whatsoever, sets me apart for His purposes and gives me all I need. Then as if all that were not enough, He also made me part of His family!

The Bible says I’ve been adopted. I’m not only able to talk with the King of Kings, but can also call Him my brother, and He is not ashamed of me! I am a child and a sister to the Creator of the universe.

I could put that on my resume, yell it from a podium, use it to get in to feasts and gatherings of the elite, but no, I’m not doing it. This is a cause for humility and rejoicing, not exploitation. Besides, most of the world would write me off as a nut case, a simple person who isn’t worth the bother—which is true, and one of my qualifications for being called in the first place.

Monday, December 11, 2006

One gift not boxed up under a Christmas tree

From boxes of cereal to promotions for computers, the words “free gift” are bandied about as if being redundant will make them more appealing. The dictionary says “free” is not under the control of another, available without charge. “Gift” is something given willingly and without any payment.

Besides the redundancy and the sales pitch, everyone knows that you still have to buy the product to get the “free” prize or come-on that goes with it. This perk is not a gift, nor is it free. A free gift is when my neighbor pops over with a pie, totally unexpected, made it “just because,” and tells me I can keep the pan too. Of course, I have to reach out and take it before this gift becomes mine, but that is another part of the definition.

Today’s reading is from Ephesians 2 and is about the greatest gift: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Anyone familiar with this passage knows that it goes on to say that we cannot earn forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life by being good, doing religion, or chalking up points with God or a church. It is something that God does. We are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus . . . .”

The sentence structure also indicates that “gift” refers to both faith and grace. Faith is believing; I cannot believe God without His help, without Him giving me the capacity. Sin is such that I not only resist trusting God but simply cannot put my faith in Him.

Grace is a little harder to define. In the original language of Scripture, the word means a favor or blessing, but more specifically, “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”

In other words, grace is a revelation of Christ to my heart that changes me to be more like He is. Obviously, that has to be a gift; I could never manufacture a transformation like that all by myself, and sin says ‘no’ to it anyway.

Further, it is a gift that is bestowed without any action on my part. I cannot earn it; my sin says I don’t deserve it. My sinful resistance against everything concerning Jesus Christ even keeps me from reaching out and receiving such a gift.

Grace is something that God does totally. He not only bakes the pie, but puts it in my kitchen, and even feeds it to my hungry heart. All I do is thank Him for blessing me, and then respond in total gratitude for every delicious morsel.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Only one kind of 'Holy War'

Historically, the church has used Old Testament battles to justify ‘holy wars’ and as a result, given itself a bad rap. How can a God of love advocate such brutality, critics say. I’ve wondered the same thing myself.

The New Testament says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Whatever else the battles were about, Christians are supposed to learn something from them.

This morning I read an account from 2 Kings where the Elisha was instructing the king of Israel about confrontations with Syria, a nation bent on conquering God’s people. It says, “Take a bow and some arrows. So he took himself a bow and some arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, ‘Put your hand on the bow.’ So he put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, ‘Open the east window’; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, ‘Shoot’; and he shot. And he said, ‘The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them.’ Then he said, ‘Take the arrows’; so he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, ‘Strike the ground’; so he struck three times, and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him, and said, ‘You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times.’

Immediately the thought came to mind that this is not about the Christian church going out and attacking physical enemies; it is about spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6 says, “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.”

The rest of that chapter in Ephesians talks about how God’s truth protects us from the enemies lies, and how we must fight back with prayer. Our weapon is the Word of God, and our battlefield is on our knees.

With that in mind, this story from 2 Kings instructs me. When I go against an evil force, a lie from the enemy, a stronghold that he has constructed in my heart or in the life of someone else, I am to persevere in prayer. While some needs might require only three prayers, or maybe just one, sometimes the enemy is not going to give up that easily. God wants me to strike again and again until victory is total and complete.

I cannot begin to understand the mystery of prayer, but I know God hears and answers. This morning I wonder what might have happened if the church of history had gone to its knees against spiritual enemies—who plagued the world and held it captive with lies—rather than sending armies to try and destroy the people who were in bondage to those lies.

God is just. In the Old Testament He did instruct His people to destroy the wicked nations around them. Perhaps they were beyond any possibility of repentance and change. Whatever His reasons then, now He clearly says the enemies of God’s people are not flesh and blood. In our entirely different kind of war we can take instruction from the battles in the Old Testament, and from now on, I’m going to read them with that in mind.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Splash!

This morning I came to my computer somewhat discouraged. Why am I doing this blog? I know the Lord clearly directed me to start it and that should be reason enough, but today I needed something more. I asked Him to speak to me, to renew my purpose for this.

I turned to my devotional reading and this is what it said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

Splash! The reading that went with it confirmed what I was already thinking; Christians may start the day with Jesus, but after going to work, or dealing with family, or whatever their day brings them, they feel ‘dusty’ and affected by the difficult, even the mundane chores of life. Foot-washing is symbolic for refreshing their spirits, restoring them to the joy of the Lord that was covered up by the ‘dust’ of being involved in the world.

I’m thinking, Wait a minute! I can be more like a power-hose than a nice, gentle soak. My spiritual gift is more teaching than it is encouraging, and I tend to be very black and white, and without much compassion. Can God use that to clean dusty hearts?

Yet some readers tell me that when they cannot have devotions at home, they turn to this blog when they get to work. As for me, I start out looking for something to bless me—I get my share of dust too—and when I put whatever God gave me into words, they say it often applies to them also. That amazes me. Splash!

God amazes me too. How can He have someone write a devotional book written 40-50 years ago that would address my questions and needs, day in and day out, almost without fail? How can a writer from a different continent, race, and language, and dead now for several years, continue to wash the feet of a person like me? Splash!

Only God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can take what someone writes and motivate others to read it, not only the right time, but when they are really need to hear it. Splash!

My feet are washed. I’m ready for whatever and wherever life will take me today. God reassures me that a small drop or a big splash of His water of life can deal with the biggest mud balls or the smallest dust bunnies affecting me. Not only that, the over-spray will do the same for anyone standing nearby.

Friday, December 8, 2006

It's all about Jesus

My brother belongs to a zealous religious group. They live clean lives, appear to love and support one another, and go door-to-door seeking converts. However, his faith-system has a big flaw—their concept of Jesus Christ.

He says Jesus is a created being, not God in the flesh. He also says that after His death, God raised Jesus from the dead “as a spirit creature” and adds He was made King much later.

The main difference between what people of this and other religions believe and what I believe is how we respond to the biblical claims about the identity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus must have known that would be the case. He spoke to His disciples several times about who He was. In Luke 7, John the Baptist sent Him the question, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

At first, Jesus didn’t respond. Instead, “At that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.”

Then he answered, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended (caused to stumble) because of Me.”

His proof of being their Messiah and God in human flesh was first shown by the things He did. No man had cured the sick, raised the dead, or given hope to the poor. His actions were so dramatic that multitudes followed Him around Galilee wanting to see what He would do next.

However, Jesus also spoke about who He was and His contemporaries understood His statements. They knew He claimed deity and were infuriated to the point of wanting to kill Him.

However, modern readers may not understand the Jewish mind and culture of that time and not grasp the significance of His claims. My brother is one of them. To him, Jesus was a wonderful person who gave him and his friends a general freedom to earn their salvation. In their minds, Jesus removed the power of sin so they can now live in a way that pleases God. If they do all their organization stipulates, they have a good chance of eternal life.

The Bible teaches that we do have this human desire to be ‘good enough’ to please God. In pride, we “turn our own way” and think our way is the right way. We shrink from being told “no one can please God” and reject Jesus because He demands we put all that aside and follow Him.

Also, the people in Jesus’ time looked for a political Messiah who would free them from Roman oppression. Today, people want a Messiah who makes their life easier and feeds their pride. They refuse Jesus’ unique offer to set them free from their religious efforts, prideful good works, and the ownership of their own lives. Those rejections range from open hostility to rewriting the Bible and trying to make Jesus into someone He is not.

Jesus will not fit into anyone’s mold. Those who try to push Him there are saying, “This man shall not rule over me” and “I will please God by my good works.”

To that, Jesus Christ responds with great sorrow, “Unless they repent they will perish.”

Thursday, December 7, 2006

I know He is real

The pastor put on a movie. It was boring. Some stood up to leave, but he said something and they sat down. Then several people stood up and looked out the windows. Black clouds and scenes of war filled the skies. The pastor walked down the aisle and took me to the window. I saw a horse. He called it over. I felt its breath and petted its nose. I went outside and watched it run around. I saw other animals. When I came back in, I asked my brother if he saw the horse. He told me that there was no horse. No one else saw it.

This was a realistic dream. I woke up knowing that, but with the disturbing questions, “How does anyone know what they know is real?” Can I trust my eyes, my ears and hands? Or is what I perceive as real only an illusion?

My husband was amused at first. “It’s only a dream.” However, he began to understand that this question is a large question. What is the difference between what a person sees and touches and that which they vividly imagine? Some world views say there is no difference.

Of course I prayed right away. My first thought after praying was a couple of verses from 1 John 1: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us . . . .“

John saw and heard and touched Jesus, but not him only; all of them did. They verified reality to each other, but they also trusted more than their senses. The life of Christ was manifested or revealed to them not just to their physical senses. They also knew that this was an eternal life and that God had revealed that to them. By faith, they believed it was true.

Earlier, John wrote in his gospel about John the Baptist, “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

These words implied that Jesus was sent by God as a lamb to be sacrificed, a concept very familiar to the daily life of the Jews. How did John know that Jesus was that Lamb? He could have been anyone walking by, an ordinary person. But John knew.

My husband says we measure everything by Scripture and by Jesus. Like most people, Jesus trusted His eyes and ears, but He trusted the revelation of His Father more. Sometimes God spoke to Him, and even though no one else heard it (or it sounded to them like thunder), Jesus knew who it was and what He said.

1 Corinthians 2 quotes Isaiah 64: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” then says, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”

Ephesians 3:20 says God “can do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or imagine.”

Obviously, my mind can dream outlandish and unreal things. I suppose I could also imagine the same. If I were mentally unbalanced, I would not have a clue what was real and what was not. However, I am certain about this: I did not and could not imagine the things that God has revealed to me. Even though I diligently read the Bible for many years, I could not see or grasp any of it until He touched me and made me see.

There is reality in sensory stuff that can be seen, heard, touched, and in concepts like freedom and love, but these ways of perceiving reality are not 100% reliable. I cannot trust what I see or imagine, but I can trust the revelation of God. Unlike wars and horses, I know I didn’t, and couldn’t, and don’t even have the capacity to make up, or imagine, any of what He has shown me about Himself.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Unflappable

When I was a teenager, my dad started reading that old classic, The Power of Positive Thinking. I thought it was hogwash (and still do), so knowing my dad had heard me sing, I said to him, “Dad, I could positive-think all day and still not be an opera singer.”

He gave me a look, thought for a minute, then put the book in the trash.

Today’s Bible reading was likely quoted in that book as ‘proof’ of its author’s theories. Taken out of context, it says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If I only read that verse and not its context, I might think that if I wanted it bad enough, God could help me become an opera singer.

But Paul, who wrote Philippians 4, is talking about contentment. He is describing that he learned to have, through Christ, an inner sufficiency that stayed with him no matter what was happening, good or bad.

James calls it patient endurance. It is that ability to know God is in control in every circumstance. It is a deep trust that means my emotions don’t run to panic or even anxiety during trials, nor do they fly off the chart when things go exceptionally well. Sometimes I call this being unflappable.

The context of the “I can do all things” verse is, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paul isn’t saying he can climb tall mountains or leap buildings with a single bound. He is saying that no matter his situation in life, he is able to have strength in that situation. Although the verb he uses does mean to be strong, his statement is used to support his claim to have learned the secret of contentment. He didn’t get high when things went well and he didn’t fall in a hole when they didn’t.

Unflappable. It is not total detachment, absence of care about what is going on. Paul deeply cared and was passionate about everything in his life. It is not numbness either; Paul describes his feelings; he was emotionally involved in life too. His contentment was definitely not a Pollyanna attitude either, not that positive but shallow cheerfulness that ignores reality. He was not focusing on some sort of good in being hungry or celebrating some positive about suffering and being in need. Instead, from experience, he had learned that Christ could take him through anything and everything, regardless of how he felt about it.

This is a wonderful thing to learn. I remember the day I took my mother to the extended care where she needed to be after Dad died. She had Alzheimers but was still sharp in many ways. They put her in a temporary room, not much bigger than a postage stamp and crowded with two beds, a small metal locker, no night table, and no space for any of her things. She looked around in dismay and said, “You mean I have to stay here?”

I explained it was just for a couple of weeks until her new room was ready. When the nurse came in, Mom asked again about the room. The nurse explained as I had done. My mother was quiet for a moment, then smiled and said, “I’ve been through a lot. I can handle this too.”

I don’t know when I’d been more amazed at, or more proud of my mother, or had more desire to be like her. She’d learned the lesson of Philippians 4.

I know I’m not totally there, but after so many years of emotional roller coaster rides, I’ve now realized this verse is not the right one to recite before I have something challenging to do. Instead, it is the one to remember and grab hold of when life hands me both victories and challenges, both lemons and lemonade. Christ will see me through.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

When insane is the most sane of all. . .

Insanity has been described as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.”

According to that definition, golfers and fishermen are crazy. They go out time and time again to the same spot, and they have learned to expect a different result each time. Sometimes the golfer hits par and comes home happy. Sometimes he hits a tree or the rough or the water, and comes home vowing to never golf again.

Fishermen also go to their favorite spot time and time again. Sometimes the fish are biting and they catch their limit. Sometimes the fish are asleep and they come home empty-handed.

A few of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. After Jesus died and then rose again, He had appeared to them at least once. Perhaps Peter and some others wanted to ‘keep busy’ while they waited for Him in Galilee as He’d commanded them. Perhaps they thought things would never be the same, even if He was alive. Whatever their reasons, they decided to go back to their former occupation.

These were fishermen who knew what they were doing, however, they fished all night—and caught nothing.

“But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”

“They answered Him, ‘No.’”

“And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.”

There is a lesson here. They needed to learn that now their lives would be different. They could do nothing apart from Him. Even things that they used to do well would now require His direction and blessing.

This is one hard lesson for me to get a passing mark. I used to draw and paint. Now I have to be told if, when, and where to apply that talent, and must pray for wisdom and grace if my efforts will be pleasing and useful. It is the same with everything else—teaching, preparing to teach, any other ministry, writing, editing, graphic art, quilting, gardening, all church-related service, personal and family relationships, leisure activities as well as volunteer jobs and those few for which I am paid.

Jesus said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” and He meant it. He controls the fish, the fruit, and any other results of what I do. He might ask me to do the same thing as before and then change the outcome, or He might tell me to do something new or add a different twist to it, and surprise me with the results.

Some people, even golfers and fishermen, might say the Christian life makes no sense, is even ‘crazy.’ I’m tempted to throw their lifestyle back at them and say the same thing, yet by that one definition, I have to agree with them!

Monday, December 4, 2006

I challenged them & God challenged me

The women in my class responded well to yesterday’s challenge. They agreed that one bad apple affected the credibility of all Christians, and that we could do far better in the area of personal obedience. What amazed me is how the verses that they randomly selected from a pile of cards suited each individual—including me.

I should have known that I would be convicted too. My table of three had three verses. Not just mine, but all three nailed me in areas of weakness. Like the others, I felt so inadequate to make a difference in my own sphere of influence, never mind in the world.

Jesus has an odd way of comforting feelings of inadequacy. If it were me trying to console a child who says, “I can’t do it” or another adult, I would say, “You can do this” or some variation thereof, but the Lord doesn’t give that advice.

This morning’s reading from 1 Corinthians 1 says, “You see . . . not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

Of course you can’t do it. God didn’t call capable people to be His disciples. Being weak and inadequate is just exactly what He wants from you!

It goes on, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’”

He does not tell me that I can do it, nor reassure me of my gifts and abilities. Instead He points me to the source of all goodness and virtue. All that I need is found in Jesus Christ. It is the “abide in Me” principle again. Without Him, I can do nothing.

Yesterday’s class put before me a challenge and a germ of an idea which I’m willing to try, but up front, God is throwing me a caution; this is not for me to tackle apart from Him. While the Bible says, “In Him I can do all things,” I won’t be able to do it without being glued to Jesus. The idea is His and only in His wisdom and strength will it amount to anything.

For some this might be a simple principle, but for proud, independent, self-confident me, it is a constant and difficult lesson to learn.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Challenge to change

This morning I’m going to challenge my ladies’ Bible class. We have been talking about world views and comparing them to theism. I’ve come to the conclusion that the way a person views God determines much of the rest of their view of the world. While that applies to Christians, I’m more interested in the objections against theism from people with other world views.

They say heady things like creation doesn’t need a first cause and ask who created God, but the two that the Christian church most needs to pay attention to are less intellectual and more practical. They say theists focus too much on spiritual matters and are useless in the world. They also accuse theists who, in the name of their absolute God, have committed terrible atrocities.

These are valid objections. They may not be talking about the Crusades and other historical issues; they could mean me or the believer who lives next door.

I tend to read and study God’s truth, and then think it is mine. Jesus says for a truth to be mine I must practice it. Spiritualizing His principles doesn’t cut it with Him or with critics of my theistic world view. I can take a black and white stand on things too. Oh, I’ve not gone to war and killed people over my faith, but I’ve shot a few verbally. I may have been right, but sometimes it’s more productive to be nice.

Non-theists object to the “pious” hypocrite who beats his wife or gambles on the Internet. They object to preachers who yell about a just war yet the side they are on is killing women and children. They object to people who talk the talk but their lives are mere shadows of what they say is the way. The Christian church needs vast changes to convince much of the world that there is one, infinite and holy Creator who loves the world and has the power to change it. How can that be true if we don’t change ourselves?

At the same time, I can be wholly ambitious about being a shining light yet have no power to do it. Humanly, I cannot change myself, never mind the way I live or the world that I live in. Jesus says, “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.”

All Christian activity is useless unless Jesus is in it. I could impress the world with great philanthropy, or negotiate peace in the Middle East, yet if Jesus is not the source of my power, whatever I do would not bear fruit for the kingdom of God, nor would it promote a theistic world view.

My challenge to my class will be about changes we can make in the way we live to answer those two objections, yet along with that challenge we must remember that any real change must find its source and resource in the Vine. Apart from Him, we can’t even begin to answer the objections against us.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Stress-Busters

In the pressures of life, there is some good news. Last week, my husband had a CT scan to see if his CLL was affecting anything internal. We found out a few days ago that nothing showed in the scan, so we rejoice that this cancer is not spreading! Weeks ago, our granddaughter (who lives with us) applied for an intensive 18-week program offered through the health system. They told her she might be on the waiting list until the end of January, but two days ago she went to an intake meeting and was told that she starts Monday!

Good news lifts the stress, but I’ve noticed something new for me; I need to read the Bible more than usual. In the past, devotions and a daily passage were enough. Now, if I skimp over a few days, or do not read intentionally, the stress in our lives really gets to me. It’s as if our particular trials and responsibilities gobble up my assurance of the goodness of God, and like a starving and cornered animal, I’m not only more easily frightened, but ravenous for comfort food.

Certainly that comfort food is found in the Psalms. My reading this morning is from Psalm 119. Through this entire section, the author speaks of his desire to know the Word of God. He wants God to incline him toward it, impress it on his heart, and help him obey it. He says, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” but he knows the answer—“By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

Sin seems to feed on, or somehow be triggered more easily with, stress. The difficulties of life shout lies like, “God is not good” or “See, He doesn’t care about you.” I know His promises; most of them offer peace and joy, a good and happy life. Of course He keeps those promises, yet the Bible never says God’s people won’t have trouble. It is through trials that my faith is put to the test, but by passing those tests, God builds patient endurance in me, perfects me, makes me more like Jesus.

My mother used to excuse my older brother’s childish disobedience with “Oh, he’s just tired” but I can’t use fatigue or stress as an excuse for not doing what God says.

In fact God promises peace in stress when I act in obedience. He says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Talk to Me. Tell Me what is bothering you. Ask for help and be thankful. Prayer brings peace.

Then He adds, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Read My Word. Put good thoughts in your head, not fearful, worrisome things that knot up your neck and put lines on your brow. And do what I say; don’t sin. Reading My Word and obedience brings peace.

Like the psalmist, I can vouch for that.