Saturday, March 31, 2007

I may waver, but He never does

Someone threw something at me yesterday that made a good shot at putting my faith into a tailspin. For a while, I was thinking things like What if Jesus doesn’t do anything for us? What if all these blessings are coincidences? What if the Bible is wrong?

Normally I can counter all that with the truth that I know, but yesterday was a long day, I was tired, and my mind was not working very well. My husband, who is as solid as the Rocky mountains, said all the right words. I prayed and felt the smile of Jesus, but I still woke this morning with these nagging questions.

Again, God knows how to speak. My reading for today is from Romans 15. It says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we though the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

One word caught my eye—patience. How can the Scripture be patient? I checked. This is a rather awkward translation of a Greek word that means endurance, the ability to remain strong and stable under extreme pressure. Now the verse makes more sense.

The Bible is the world’s best-selling book. It hits that mark every year, without fail, even though no one bothers to put it at the top of their charts. The Bible endures because it is true, because it does what it says it will do. It instructs people how to live and gives us comfort and assurance of the love of God.

But there is more. Psalm 19 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.”

Whatever things were written beforehand does all this. The Bible converted me from darkness to light. It gives me insight that in my simple-mindedness I would not otherwise know. The truth from its pages fills me with joy, shows me what is right and how I should live, warns me when there is danger, and puts to flight all those ideas from anyone who speaks against it.

Throughout the centuries, all questions, challenges, efforts to destroy it, and claims that it is bogus have failed. The Bible endures. The Word of God stands forever. Because of that, I can stand against the lies tossed against my faith, not because I have any strength, but because this book upon which my faith is based is as true and powerful as its Author.

Friday, March 30, 2007

His turn is coming

When some family and friends ask about the dramatic change in our granddaughter, I’m freely able to tell them that just saying the name of Jesus set her free from emotional bondage. (She is not yet professing faith, but she is no longer depressed and suicidal.)

With others I don’t feel the same freedom. For a while, I felt guilty that I was not sharing the power of Christ or glorifying Him with what has happened, but at the same time tried to be very careful not to misplace the credit elsewhere. Then God reminded me that it is not wise to “cast pearls before swine” and even though I cringe at that figure of speech, I know that a few people in our family would simply scoff, not glorify the Lord.

In fact, some of them think Christians, including me and maybe especially me, are foolish and weak, mere nothings in their scale of who is important. What we believe is put down, and one of them has called our faith “crazy” and of no value.

This morning my reading is at the end of 1 Corinthians 1, and a passage that used to bother me. I didn’t want to be included among the people that it describes. Now, I know that I am, and instead of feeling put down, these words are a blessing and a comfort:

“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. 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.'”


Whenever I am considered foolish, weak, base, and nothing, even by my own family, these thoughts ought to come to mind. It is of no consequence what people think—God chose me to be His child. He uses me to do His will, and allows me to share in His work, but the best part is that I can honestly glorify Him for all that He does and is doing.

The world’s wise wouldn’t do that. They would take all the credit because they cannot help it. This is the way of the world. The mighty boast in their strength, the wise in their wisdom, the wealthy in their bank account, and so on. Those who think this way (and I used to also) forget or ignore that all they have and do will pass away. Whatever a person takes pride in, from good looks to good marks, from high wages to a fancy house, from being quick with their tongue to the ability to manipulate others, all that will fade away. Only eternal things last.

Last week someone called me a name, in the same breath giving me credit for something Jesus did. I felt that person’s disdain toward me, and was surprised at my reaction; I smiled. I even thought of 1 Corinthians and how God says the world will react to His people.

Sure, there’s a bit of a sting to being called a name, and a bigger hesitation to think “swine” about the person who said it, but more than those things, I refuse even the most reluctant attempt to glorify me from anyone, especially a person who scoffs at Jesus and refuses to give Him credit for anything.

The psalmist says that the kings of the earth mock God, but God isn’t concerned. In fact, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.” He has set His Son over all, and the fact of His lordship is established. It doesn’t matter that they refuse to acknowledge Him right now, because someday, “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the God the Father” whether they do it willingly or not.

So while I don’t like being despised or thought foolish—no matter. What’s more important is what people think of Jesus, and if they don’t honor Him now, the Bible assures me that His turn is coming!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Faith will become sight. . .

Imagine what life for Jesus would be like had He stayed here and not ascended to heaven. Because He is eternal, He would still be alive in 2007, no doubt performing miracles and gathering crowds by the millions. The paparazzi would hound Him worse than any celebrity, and those wanting a free lunch would cause traffic jams. When He tried to find solitude to pray, global positioning satellites would quickly pin down His location. Every talk show host would be calling Him for interviews, and millions would be asking Him to autograph their Bibles. Good thing He didn’t stick around.

But God is still here. The Bible says, “This Jesus God has raised up... therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.”

Instead of sending Himself in bodily form, God resides on earth invisibly in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Before He left, Jesus said the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit would be like the wind, unseen yet observable, and that is true also of His presence. The Spirit is unseen but observable; those who watched the early church could tell something happened when God poured out His Spirit on them and He filled and indwelt them.

The first change in their lives was that they could speak in other languages. This amazing phenomena happened at a time their city was filled with devout people from every nation, giving the disciples the ability to tell the “wonderful works of God” in the language of their listeners. It was not a miracle for ‘show’ but very practical as three thousand people were added to the number of believers that very day.

The Holy Spirit does for us things Jesus that could not do had He stayed. For one thing, the Spirit lives inside each believer, giving us changed lives. I can produce spiritual fruit, have assurance of eternal life, commune in unity with other believers, have spiritual abilities and spiritual power, am comforted in trials, and can hear God speaking, all because of the Holy Spirit.

He does other things too. He is my guarantee of full salvation. He prays on my behalf. He sets me apart for God and seals me as His own. He teaches me, reminds me, nudges me, leads me, encourages me, and is very active governing my life and my choices. While God in human flesh might be able to do those things, I’d have to be in close proximity. Instead, God the Spirit does it all, no matter where I am, and not only for me but for every other believer in this world.

The Bible says that someday, that which restrains evil “will be taken out of this world.” Most Christians assume this speaks of the Holy Spirit, and because we are His dwelling place, all believers will go with Him. When that happens, evil will reign for a while, then Jesus will return (with all His people). At that point, the dwelling place of God will change. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”

For now I must walk by faith, not sight; I cannot see the One I serve with my literal eyes. However, the day is coming when faith will become sight, and the glory of God will be visible, not only to me but to everyone.

Normally, I tend to live in the ‘now’ because I don’t know the future and feel that speculation is futile, but because of the promises of God, I love to think about the certainty of His return and the overwhelming expectation of seeing Jesus face to face. From what I see in the Bible, the Father will be here and Spirit will remain within me in that day. Then God will wipe away every tear, and take away death, sorrow, crying and pain, but the best part will be laying my eyes on, and giving a hug to the One who has done all this for me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Point of View

I’ve been trying to work on our family tree for several years, but I keep having the same frustration. I’m a detail person and get caught up in the minutia. I want to be able to put a big chart up on the wall with all the information gathered thus far, and then when I find a new tidbit, just write it in the appropriate place (or at least see at a glance that I already have it recorded).

My husband likes to look at the big picture. He prefers looking down from the top of the mountain, while I like to be at the bottom and look up, or even just enjoy a close-up of leaves and flowers nearby. Also, he remembers the gist of things, while I recall the details. I think he should do the family tree, but he isn’t interested.

It’s all perspective, how you look at something. The Bible talks about how we look at people. We can see them the human way, noticing and evaluating according to the world’s standards (appearance, achievement, popularity, etc.), but God wants us to think differently.

I noticed that happened to me when God changed my life. I became more fond of others, to care more about what happened to them. Instead of being so focused on ‘me, myself, and I’, Jesus changed my perspective to be more in line with His view of people.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul explains that because Christ died for everyone, those who have new life in Him should live for Him, not themselves. He goes on to say, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”

Seeing people “according to the flesh” is that old perspective of what matters on earth, but God’s perspective concerns eternal qualities, things that matter for heaven. Instead of being concerned with what impresses the world, He asks me to be more concerned with the things that He wants. He wants goodness, holiness, faith, and love for others, and He wants me to regard people from that perspective, not how much money they make, or what they look like, or if they are popular.

Most of the time I can do this, but I am very aware that this perspective is not the norm. When I take this perspective, I’m an oddity. In most circles, I don’t fit in, am misunderstood and sometimes totally ignored. I don’t like that much, but there are a couple of pluses. Besides being in good company, I learn far more about people than they realize, just by the way they respond to my way of looking!

Note: some are asking for updates about my husband and granddaughter. Bob is doing well. He says he is tired more easily, but he is going curling tonight, looking forward to golf this year, and his tests affirm that his CLL is still chronic and not into an acute stage. He is not being treated in any way and still going to work every day. Some people have lived many years with this, and he’s hoping to be one of them. The fact of this blood cancer remains part of our daily lives, but as he says, “We are all terminal. Deal with it.”

Our granddaughter is still free from depression and suicidal thoughts. As I think about the day (about a month ago) this change happened so dramatically, I’m convinced that her freedom came when she heard the words, “You need Jesus.” The evil forces that were plaguing her had to leave, because of the power of His name.

She still needs Jesus, but she is more like her old self, happy, making plans, and looking ahead. Now, the next biggest issue we see is that she needs to actually get a job (she is looking), then pay her bills. She wants to get another student loan and go back to school, and just skip those other responsibilities. Please continue to pray for her, first for her spiritual needs, but also for her need to be responsible for her life rather than expecting everyone else to pay her way. (We feed and house her, but won’t give her money.)

Thanks so much to all who are faithfully praying!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Express gratitude with renewed attitude

Gratitude usually brings with it a sense of wanting to do something in return, from saying thanks to giving back. Those of us who know the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, have this huge sense of gratitude. We want to do something in return, not to pay for the gift we have received, but to express our overwhelming sense of gratitude with more than words. However, because He is not physically here, doing something directly for Him becomes a challenge.

This morning I’m reading about Mary, sister of Martha, who “took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

Judas and the other disciples criticized her for this, saying if she wanted to give away her oil, she should have sold it and given the money to the poor. Jesus rebuked them. He said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

He was right; the world always has poor people and we need to help them whenever we can, as He says in another passage, but He would not always be here. We can no longer offer something directly to Him to express our gratitude and devotion.

The phrase “as unto the Lord” pops to mind. It refers to three different situations, but I know most women resist the first one. How can it be an expression of devotion to Christ?

Ephesians 5 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

The human mind associates submission with words like “unequal” and “doormat” but that is not at all what the Bible means. Instead, try: Freedom from the tyranny of always needing to have my own way.

Mary could have selfishly kept her oil and spent it on herself, but she offered it freely to the one she loved. Rejecting my selfish desires to support my husband is an expression of love for him and for Jesus, but it is more than that; it forms a visual picture of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and His church. When I insist on my own way, I’m messing up that image, never mind what other damage my selfishness might do.

On the other hand, “as unto the Lord” gives me the opportunity to show Jesus how much I love Him. God wants me to be like Mary, willing to give up what is valuable to me (my own way), regardless that others might misinterpret and criticize what I’m doing.

The second situation suing this expression concerns the relationship between workers and their boss. In those days, slaves pretty much took the place of employees. The boss took care of all their needs and they performed their duties. The Bible says, “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”

It’s the same idea. Serve your master as if you are serving Jesus. One advantage is with this attitude, no one would ever resent their jobs if they do it for the One who died for them. But not only that, my wages from any boss can’t even be compared with the rewards that I will receive from Him.

There is one more area of life where I can do things “as unto the Lord.” It is very practical—I encounter it every time I see a speed limit sign! 1 Peter 2 says, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”

God puts governments in place; that’s clear from the Old Testament, but the NT reinforces the idea. Romans 13 says “There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resist the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Simply put, whenever I obey the laws of my country, I can consider this an act of devotion to Jesus.

I’ve been a Christian many years and am still trying to wrap my mind around this way of thinking. Whenever I need to give up my ‘rights’ or yield to the wishes of my husband, or do what someone in authority over me asks, I usually do it to keep peace, or out of a sense of obligation. Learning to respond to my partner, or to an authority figure “as unto the Lord” is difficult, foreign to my thinking.

In Matthew, Jesus said, “Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mary’s example is vital, timeless, and transcends cultures. She reminds me that no matter what I am doing, I can show Jesus how much I love Him just by changing my motivation for doing it, and her simple, selfless act of devotion can be repeated by Christian people regardless of who they are, or when and where they live.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sunday shopping and temple taxes

We took an elderly friend for lunch yesterday. After we ate, she wondered if we could stop at a grocery store so she could pick up one item. As we pulled into the store parking lot, she said, “We don’t have to do this if you have a problem with shopping on Sunday.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time. She needed some food and we wanted to help her. We don’t have a problem, mainly because the law of Christ sets us free from “rules” especially if those rules would keep us from doing good for others.

However, this morning’s reading makes me think about it again. In Matthew 17, Jesus and His disciples are met in Capernaum by the temple tax collectors. This was a small tax (about two day’s wages) put on all men over twenty for the upkeep of the temple. They asked Peter, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”

It seems a simple question, and, Peter, true to his “jump in without thinking” personality, replied “Yes” before he considered their reasons for asking it. The Jewish authorities were continually testing Jesus, trying to find something He was doing wrong so they could accuse Him of being a law breaker.

When Peter arrived where Jesus and the disciples were staying, “Jesus anticipated him, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from “strangers?”’”

Peter knew that kings did not tax their own family. He answered correctly, “From strangers.”

At that, Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”

This story is not just about the miracle of a coin in the mouth of a fish. It is about the attitude Jesus has toward those who do not understand who He is and what He is doing. The Jews didn’t, and in this test, Jesus could have claimed His right as the Son of God and told them no way—He didn’t have to pay the tax, but He didn’t stick up for His rights.

Jesus also considered Peter. At this point, perhaps He counted Peter as a child of the King (at what point was Peter reborn into the family of God?), but the Jews certainly didn’t, and Peter would be in trouble for not paying his portion of the temple tax. He’d already left his fishing business to follow Jesus, and maybe didn’t have any money to pay it. Jesus graciously took care of it with the coin that was “for Me and you.”

Jesus had no intentions of making a big deal with these tax collectors over a small point. Instead, He simple complied. This story made me think about our friend and the Sunday shopping issue. Was she testing us? Or was she simply being thoughtful and not wanting us to do something against our conscience?

I think it was the latter, but this incident and this story are both reminders that those outside the kingdom of God have very little idea about how we live and why we do what we do. Like Peter and the tax collectors, I felt a bit stumped by her question. We didn’t want to be seen as “legalists” because we are not, but if this was an opportunity to correct a misunderstanding, or explain the gospel and our freedom in Christ, we missed it. However, if it was an opportunity to show the love of God and our affection to a friend, we did just fine.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Go to that secret place and the results will not be a secret!

Occasionally when I’m with a group of Christians, I see or hear something that is off kilter, either a false doctrine, or a rebellious attitude, or even something like gossip or critical judgment of others. When that happens, my own heart often reacts in the wrong way. I become condemning and critical too, and want to tell other people about the ‘dreadful thing so-and-so did,’ thereby doing the same thing myself. Or I might bring the thing to prayer meeting as a request, but it really is gossip thinly disguised, or I’m using prayer to make myself look good compared to that terrible sinner.

When Jesus gave instruction about prayer, He included this: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Praying to be seen as pious happens far too often. Planning what I say, making sure my prayers sound right to impress others is hypocrisy. Using prayer to put down someone who falls into sin is hypocrisy too. I’m a sinner just as they, and both of us need forgiveness and mercy.

Jesus’ solution is simply; keep it to myself. When I see someone slip into sin, the first thing I must do is head for my secret place and pray. While some interpret this as a “prayer closet” or a “walk in the woods,” the place is not the issue. Instead, the important thing is being alone and talking to God without anyone else present. It is praying about the things that burden my heart instead of spilling them out in public to make myself look ‘religious’ and ‘holier than thou.’

If I need proof that sin permeates every part of a human life, this might be it. The very fact that I would use prayer, which is supposed to be a humble, needy person reaching out to an omniscient, powerful God, as a means to glorify myself shows the depth of sin.

The very fact that God still invites me to come and talk to Him in private, where He is, shows the depth of His mercy. That He hears my prayers at all is amazing, but even more amazing is His promise concerning those secret prayers. I might rant about what I’ve seen, condemn the sin and even think I am better than that other person, but God says when I bring all that gunk to Him in secret, He will reward me openly.

What about that reward? Is it a change in that other person? Sometimes. More often than not, though, the reward of meeting God in secret is that I see Him there, and in seeing Him, He somehow changes my attitude, gives me a greater compassion and more patience, and changes me to be less like me and more like Jesus.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"The Secret" --- Phooey!

Oprah is promoting a book and a philosophy that is called “the secret” but it is no secret at all. The idea is that whatever a person thinks and focuses on, that will become true in their lives. If you think positive, positive things will happen. If not, you could get sick, become poor, even die.

This supposedly new philosophy is similar to psycho-cybernetics, a notion that my husband used to believe before we got married. It’s something like ‘the power of positive thinking’ promoted by a church leader a few years before that. But it isn’t the change of name or the different twist that makes this notion not a secret; it is the fact that the human heart has always wanted this much control over their own lives.

I normally do not watch Oprah’s show but happened to catch the first one promoting this idea. A Christian woman from the audience expressed her concerns, and was told that all great Bible leaders thought this way. I was so indignant that I wanted to call the show and tell them how wrong they were. If this so-called “power of attraction” was true, then the only Person who never sinned or thought a bad thought would not have “attracted violence” and been killed at the hands of those who hated Him!

The minds of men do not control the world. The Bible makes that totally clear. Yes, we are supposed to think rightly, have pure thoughts, and so on, but even that we cannot do unless empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are full of selfishness, and determined to go our own way and live our own lives without the help of God, and this so-called ‘secret’ is just another way of doing it.

Christians do have a secret though. We have a ‘hidden’ ability to bear spiritual fruit and to be effective in the world, but it is not through the power of our minds. God gives us the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. That power is available, but not at our command, and not when we feel or want to be strong and invincible. It is only there when we are weak and unable, humbly and totally depending on the Lord. Our strength is “perfected in weakness” not in positive thinking. That is an amazing secret, and not at all easy to live out.

2 Corinthians 4 call the Holy Spirit a treasure, and says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

The problem is the earthen vessel. Christians fight that tendency to do it ourselves, to live without humble dependence on God, to be our own persons. But 2 Corinthians 4 goes on to tell how that treasure is revealed or demonstrated in us. He says, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

There is no mention that we live powerful Christian lives through determination, or focusing on the desired results, or through our own strength. The life of Christ stays hidden when we try that. It only shines through us when we “die” to self-effort and yield to God, just as Jesus did when He was taken to the cross at the hands of sinful men. While His death and resurrection have far larger ramifications, they also picture how we must live—dying to all human wisdom and self-effort. That ‘death’ gets us out of the way so God can manifest the life of His son in our human bodies, our earthen vessels.

Human beings have always wanted power. It goes back to Eden when Satan tempted Eve with the idea that she could be “like God” if she ate the forbidden fruit. “The secret” is the same old line: “You can control your life (be like God) without having to rely on God. Just buy the book, do what it says, and blah, blah, blah.”

The god of this age is mentioned earlier in this passage from 2 Corinthians. It says that he blinds the minds of those who do not believe in Christ, preventing “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” from shining on them so they cannot understand and believe the truth. Other Scripture says that when so blinded, these folks will not only fail to turn to God, they will easily be duped by false teaching, falling for lies and missing the truth.

As far as ‘the secret’ goes, it is a secret only to those who do not know the Word of God. To us who do, it is just another spin on the same old baloney that Satan has been trying to feed us for thousands of years. Phooey!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keeping my balance . . .

Frequently I stand on one foot, like a stork. It’s a yoga pose, but I’m not into yoga. I just want to practice balance. Even though this pose does tone most muscles, I’m more concerned about tipping over when I’d rather be upright. The older I get, the more important this seems, yet I have trouble remembering to practice. It seems that I have to lose my balance before I remember to practice not losing it!

I’ve noticed lately too, that the older I get the easier it seems to tip over spiritually. Faith often involves holding to what appears to be opposing truths, keeping my hand on both rather than tipping into to one, to the loss of the other.

One of these areas is freedom and responsibility. In Christ, I can do all things. I’m free to pick and choose (except for sin, of course). My life is full because of that freedom. So much to pick from and my interests are numerous. But when my to-do list gets longer than the hours of the day, I’ve lost balance.

On the other hand, I’m also responsible to God for what I choose. Paul said, “All things are lawful to me, but not all are expedient.” He knew that God was not going to punish him if he decided to ‘go fishing’ for the rest of his life, but what good would that do for the kingdom of God? Could he glorify Christ on the shore of a river or in a boat with a rod and reel in his hand? Maybe, but the point is, what would expedite the job God called him to do?

Paul taught, and I believe it too, that my individual accountability to the Lord is important, and this applies to every area and experience of life. I’m responsible to Jesus Christ for what I do, not to the church or other Christians (at least not in the same sense), and will some day give account to Him for my life and actions.

Romans 14 says this: “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

In my concern to keep that balance between freedom and responsibility, I sometimes find it easier to look at someone else rather than deal with my own choices and issues. I’ve a long to-do list and can’t do it, so rather than get my balance back, I start harping about others who don’t seem to be doing anything.

Here is another area where balance is required. I’m to care about the Body of Christ and be concerned for the choices others make, but at the same time, I’m not to critically judge and condemn them when I think they are out of line. We are all in this together, all standing on that dratted teeter-totter, all prone to tipping now and then.

Romans 14 adds this, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

In these and other ways, my Christian life is a balancing act, and life has a way of presenting all sorts of opportunities that call for balance. I don’t have to worry about forgetting to practice.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Meek is definitely not wimpy!

Human rights is a big issue in our world. The call for rights has done great good, and some harm. Criminals have had more ‘rights’ than victims, in the minds of some. Our government is listening to those who want this corrected.

While the Bible urges God’s people to stick up for the rights of others in matters of justice and personal needs, Jesus calls His people to surrender their own personal rights. We are to let go of whatever we think is our due, and not retaliate should someone violate our dignity, liberty or personal assets.

Matthew 5 describes this “turn the other cheek” principle to people who were oppressed by the Romans. In New Testament times, Roman soldiers could compel ordinary citizens to give them their coat, or carry things for them. Jesus also mentions borrowing so that may have been part of what the Jews were suffering under Roman rule.

He tells them, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

Many people interpret such actions as ‘wimpy’ and put a ‘doormat’ and ‘no backbone’ label on anyone who lives like this. However, I’ve been studying a Bible word that is not very popular these days, probably because it raises these images. The word is meekness.

Meek people are those who obey this “turn the other cheek” thing. They do it, not because they are doormats, but because they are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is an attitude from God given to those who live in His power, who are not governed by the flesh, but are compelled by Him in all that they do.

I’m surprised. The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace” and so on in a list of qualitites that I understand, except for this one, meekness. In most modern translations, that word is not even there. They use ‘gentleness’ instead, but the original language of the Bible has another word for gentleness; this spiritual fruit is meekness. It means having a gentle spirit, a calm temper of mind. Meek people are not easily provoked. They have that inner attitude that accepts God’s dealings as good, and therefore we do not dispute or resist adversity. (However, we must resist Satan and temptation).

Being meek is the opposite of self-assertive. Meek people trust in God’s goodness and His control over all situations. They rely on God rather than their own strength to defend themselves against injustice, because they know God permits all things, including injuries people inflict on us. We know that He can use all things for good, to make us more like Jesus.

Meek people realize that God uses tough situations to purify His people and that He will deliver them in His time, so we are not to be feisty and occupied with trying to change things we don’t like. Also, a meek person is not occupied with self.

Obviously, this is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will. If anyone tries to take anything from me, or demands that I do things, I’m sure I would defend my “rights.” However, I am supposed to become more and more like Jesus, and when I see how He responded to such things, and when I read His teaching about rights, I realize that I’ve a long way to grow.

I’ve decided meekness is not weakness. It takes the power of God and a deep faith in God to turn my personal ‘rights’ totally over to Him, and I’m sure wimpy people can’t do that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pure gold — who, me?

I used to think patience was a stoic endurance made without complaint. In my mind, patient people were those who put up with things and smiled. They never said anything and their disposition remained sweet and constant. I thought this until I read in God’s Word that Job was an example of patient endurance.

Job was a godly man who was also wealthy and had a large family. He loved the Lord and obeyed Him. One day, Satan approached God and suggested that Job would not be so loyal if God had not built a hedge around him and if he didn’t have so much, he would curse God.

I don’t know why God accepted the challenge, or why He didn’t ignore this, like we would swat away a buzzing fly, but He didn’t. He told Satan that he could do what he wanted with Job, except kill him.

The story begins then with the destruction of all Job owned and then the death of each child. At this, Job sat down and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Bible says, “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”

Then Job’s health was taken. At that, his wife told him to curse God and die. His friends were first struck silent by Job’s suffering and should have stayed that way, but they began accusing him. They told him he must have sinned or this would not have happened. Their accusations continue for chapters and chapters of this story.

I try to imagine myself in this man’s position. His children were dead. His wife was no help. His wealth was gone. He was covered with boils from head to foot. Still he said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Again, “Job did not sin with his lips.”

Later, when the friends hit their high notes, Job began to strike back. He told them they were “miserable comforters” and cursed the day he was born. He complained about his situation and the lack of comfort he received. He expressed his deep bitterness. In modern terminology, Job did a lot of whining.

Oh, he had some high moments. His faith in God came out in declarations such as, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” and “I know that my Redeemer lives, and he shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”

Seeming to intuitively understand what was going on, Job also said, “He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” but for the most of the Old Testament book in his name, he complains and expresses deep frustration.

The New Testament hold up Job has an example of patience and perseverance. James 5 says, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”

Job blows away my ideas about patience. In the mind of God, the person who holds fast to their faith under the greatest trials is a patient person, not necessarily the one who has nothing to say, no protest to make.

Patience allows free expression. In fact, when Job’s wife said, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?’ I get the clue to what made Job a great man. He never faked how he felt. Patience is not faking it. Also, even though Job expressed his great dismay, he never tried to “fix” it. Patience hangs in, stays with the suffering, endures the pain, refuses the accusations because they are not right, and trusts that God, who knows all things, has some reason for allowing all this to happen.

When I compare myself to Job, I see myself trusting God will “fix” it, but telling Him to hurry up about it. I’m not sure if Job did that, so I’ve a ways to go. However, I’ve learned one thing from this man; that suffering is a refining process. The goldsmith turns up the heat on a pot of melted metal. The impurities rise as dross to the surface where the master can skim them from the gold. The metal is pure when the goldsmith can see his face in its surface.

Job teaches me that when the heat is on, I must be willing to let go of those impurities. This test is no fun, but through it, the Lord is looking for pure gold, and if I cooperate, He will find it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Gospel and self-esteem

After years of studying the topic, I’ve concluded there are three kinds of self-esteem: positive, negative, and biblical. Positive self-esteem is the kind nearly everyone goes for because it is the feel-good attitude that says, “I am loved, I fit in, I can do it.”

Negative self-worth is the opposite—none or very little sense of being loved, accepted and capable. Both kinds are based on things like appearance, performance, popularity, and ‘what I think other people think.’ Those who strive for a positive sense of self often find themselves on a teeter-totter that tips back and forth between the two. They are never sure where they stand with others, and never sure of their true worth in this world.

Biblical self-esteem is based on what God says about me. It has a negative element, but instead of constantly wondering if it is true or not, I know it is. I am a sinner. I don’t want to be one, but God never lies to me.

The positive element is found in all that Christ has done for me. He loves me with an everlasting love (totally unlike most people). He also accepts me just as I am (but loves me too much to leave me in that condition), also unlike most people. He gives me His Holy Spirit so that I can be and do all that He wants from me. In Him, I am totally capable of being all that I can be. I’m still capable of sin, but that tipping thing is made steady by the truth of the Gospel.

Romans 8 starts with this: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

I could write a book on the connection between the Gospel and that up and down battle with what I think about myself. The Gospel tells me that God loves me so much that He sent His Son to die for me, that He wants me to be free from sin and self-effort. He humbles Himself to come to earth, live with me, live in me, give me His very nature that I might walk as in the Spirit and live above that self-esteem game. I no longer need to constantly strive toward some ambiguous standard or constantly compare myself to other people.

The Lord tells me that I am “accepted in the beloved” and that I am in His kingdom, adopted into His family, a part of His Body the church, and nothing I do or say can change that; I’m His, I belong. No more trying to be part of that mysterious ‘in crowd’ that fluctuates and changes with every passing fad or fancy. God defines what is ‘in’ and He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

My sense of self also includes being capable. While in the flesh and in my humanness, I have been able to do many things, develop many skills, I’ve learned that all of those are press me into that self-esteem game of comparing myself with others. Am I the best? Do they know more, do more, have more talent than me? But in Christ, that comes to an end. He enables me to walk in the Spirit, do what I do by His grace and power, live according to the resources that are in Him, not by my own strength.

Walking in the Spirit is a challenge to anyone who is capable of doing things without God. Habit alone resists the dependency required, yet God teaches me that when I am weak, without any sense of being able, His strength is there for me. When God gives me the power and ability to do something, there is no comparing, no wondering if I was ‘good enough’ and no boasting that I topped so-and-so with my skills. That game is over; I am free from doubts and fears about my performance because I know that in Him, whatever I did or said was exactly the right thing (and most of the time I cannot even remember what it was).

The Gospel delivered me from the law of sin and death, and also from that human effort to prove myself, that striving to be loved, that worry about fitting in, those concerns about being able. In Christ, I am free; in Him, I can do all things. Such amazing grace!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rules and misplaced faith

For anyone raised in a world of rules, the Gospel is difficult to understand. Rules say, if you do this, you will be acceptable. In the spiritual realm, if asked how to get to heaven, or how to please God, most people will say, Be a good person. Obey the rules.

The Bible does have rules, lots of them. God commands obedience to His rules too, but the Gospel comes along and says that no one is saved by keeping the rules. Not only that, it says no one is even able to keep the rules. We all fall short.

What is the point? Why would God give us a long list of shall’s and shall-nots that we cannot obey anyway? Paul answers that question in Romans 7. He says that the impossibility of keeping the rules shows him an important truth about himself: “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have know covetousness unless the law had said, ‘you shall not covet.’”

This seems a human principle. A rules is just there for the breaking, sort of like I’m not thirsty until the water is turned off. I don’t want chocolate cake until my scales tell me I should not have it. Make a rule, and something in me says I should break it. The rules show me that I am a rebel. That rebel response does not make God’s rules wrong. They are good, as Paul also said, but their purpose is not to give me life and a right relationship with God, but to show me how badly I need Him. I cannot be what He wants me to be all by myself. The Gospel offers freedom, and that death-to-self and a new life that is rightly-related to God by grace, not rules.

But I’ve noticed how easy it is to slip back into thinking that I must do this and I must do that in order to please God. Keep the rules. Such effort is frustrating, to say the least. First of all, I’m deciding which rules to keep (God-playing), and then I can’t keep them anyway. I get this sense that I’ve never done enough.

God says anyone who wants to please God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. "Without faith, it is impossible to please God."

Faith sees God as the supplier of all that I need, not a demander that I produce. When I am trying to please Him, I don’t bring my self-effort, my list of do’s and don’ts. Instead, I come to Him with a desire to love and obey Him, asking Him for whatever I need to fulfill that.

Being a good person is impossible apart from the grace and gifts of God. Getting to heaven is impossible apart from faith and from the grace and gift of eternal life. Obeying the commands is also impossible, because when I try, my focus is on me and my faith is in me. Even though that old, sinful nature is dead and powerless, every time I try to live (an oxymoron) according to its power, I find out all over again that I don’t have what it takes. I should never trust myself, for trying to obey the rules clearly reveals to me that I don’t measure up to that kind of trust.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight..."

Last night we were invited to the Chinese community celebration of Hong Kong (ten years since it was released from British rule), which meant a silent auction, table prizes, several speeches, some unique entertainment, and a fancy, sit-down dinner (served, not buffet).

While most in attendance were Chinese, and several flew from Hong Kong just to be at this celebration, the guests also included our city mayor, city officials, and many Caucasian business people. The cast of the Chinese opera were all Chinese except one, who was introduced with a chuckle and said not to have “one drop of Chinese blood” in her. One of the drummers for the Dragon dance was very black, two more were white. The mix, and even that we were invited, suggests that these Chinese Canadians know how to become part of their community. No one made us feel out of place.

The church is supposed to be like that too. Paul wrote, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

“Accept one another” is in the present imperative tense. That means it is saying, “Keep on accepting or receiving one another.” It is supposed to be an ongoing, positive part of the Christ life.

I’m not sure of all the reasons why the Hong Kong celebrations included a variety of people, but I do know that in the church, our model and reason for accepting one another is the Lord Jesus. He accepted us.

Jesus received me when I was not only powerless but also ungodly, a sinner and an enemy of God. The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

One of my commentaries says, “Certainly Christians can receive others who differ with them on nonessential matters.” That statement isn’t what the Bible says, at least I don’t see any strings attached to the commands about accepting one another. Jesus didn’t attach any ‘yea, buts’ when He accepted me, or ask me to do anything to make myself acceptable. He loves me and took me into His kingdom, warts and all. The old hymn, Just As I Am, is the biblical standard.

Yet there is a ‘yea, but’ in the love of God. He loves and accepts people just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. His love could never leave me ungodly, a sinner, and His enemy. Those things are harmful and lead to death. To take care of the ‘enemy’ part, He sent Jesus to die for me. Giving me the Holy Spirit and the life of Christ takes care of the rest. So in love, He accepted me, but in love, He does not leave me helpless—He grants me His power to overcome sin.

That same power of God produces a biblical acceptance of others. Sure, I can do some of it without God. I can accept people of other nationalities, those with different interests, and languages, even those who do not think like I think. But my acceptance soon fades if they begin to treat me like sinners treat God. That is, if they reject me, push aside all that I think and am, mock everything I say, are totally uninterested and apathetic, and do things that demonstrate an “I don’t want you in my life” attitude, my acceptance begins to fade.

When those things happen, I can’t do it. I need Jesus to ‘keep on accepting.’ Without Him, I soon forget the patience He had with me when I was doing the same things.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

He's in this storm, whether I see Him or not. . .

Years ago, we went to Hawaii and the friends with us wanted to go deep-sea fishing. We rented a charter boat and the skipper took us back and forth on the ocean, at a high speed, without any change in speed or direction, except to turn around for each run. I wasn’t seasick, but I can remember feeling trapped by the relentless movement. No change, no variation. It was awful. What was the point? And we didn’t catch anything either.

In Acts 27, Paul is traveling to Rome in a ship as a prisoner. The wind is high so they stop for a while, but because the ship’s owner is pressured to get where he is going, they set out again. Before they set sail, Paul told them, “I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.” No one listened.

At first the wind seems to be in their favor, but a stronger wind comes up and “no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.” The crew became desperate. To lighten the ship, they threw as much cargo overboard as they could, including the ship’s tackle. They had not eaten and were deeply fearful for their lives, everyone but Paul.

As the ship tossed in the storm, Paul spoke again. He told them there would be no loss of life, only the ship, and that they would run aground on an island. He also explained how he knew all that, “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong, and whom I serve . . . .” He’d had a vision, and this time they listened.

Paul’s perception in his first warning was fairly accurate; the voyage was going to be a disaster, but he didn’t have all the details. He thought lives would be lost. The angel who appeared to him corrected that perception.

Human discernment is part observation, part prior knowledge, and part intuition or hunch. When I discern something, my mind has gathered everything I see and know, then adds a ‘gut-feeling’ and comes up with what I think is true or will happen. Sometimes I hit it right, but from experience and this story, I know that I am not correct all of the time. Paul was an astute man, close to God and wise in the ways of things, but his perception was not perfect either.

In Paul’s mind, the obvious conclusion to this situation was disaster. In my mind, the obvious outcome to many situations seems negative too. I cannot see how something positive or good can come from what looks like a no-hope, no-win calamity. When faced with one of those, even if an angel gave me a vision, I’m not sure I’d buy it.

However, the Lord is the only one who knows past, present, and future perfectly. He understands fully the events that have happened and why. He knows what is going on and what will happen tomorrow. He may not always tell me, but if I need to know, I can depend on what He says.

In the middle of a storm, with no hope in sight, and without a vision from an angel, trusting the Lord becomes difficult, but there is something positive about a life-storm—at least they make me cry out to God for help, and He always answers.

I have more trouble doing that when the trip is like that Hawaiian fishing expedition. Things are happening at a relentless pace, but it seems like I’m not accomplishing anything. I become numb, feel trapped, and just want it over with, done. I don’t see any purpose in what I am experiencing, and like Paul, my perception predicts only disaster.

At that point, I’d love to see what the angels see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

God looks for people who will say 'Yes'


Yesterday I read about Hannah who wanted a baby and prayed for its birth. Today my reading moves forward a few hundred years to Mary, who was single, not likely thinking about babies, but finds out that she is about to become pregnant with the Son of God.

The virgin birth is a cardinal doctrine of Christian faith. If Jesus was born in the usual manner, He could not be God in human flesh. If He were not God in human flesh, He would have sin of His own to answer for (since sin is part of the human condition), and He could not die for the sins of others. If He could not die for our sin, we would have to pay its price ourselves.

Just an insert here—sin, by Bible definition, is not just the big things like murder and robbery, but simply turning from God to do our own thing, not believing what God says to form our own views. If anyone thinks we are not all sinners, they already have turned from God because God says we are!

Mary was also a sinner, but she was also trusting God and not turning her back on Him. She believed what He said and lived according to His teachings. Even so, I can’t imagine how she felt when the angel came to tell her that she was about to become a mother, and no ordinary mother. This baby would be born without her ‘knowing’ a man (they used euphemisms back then too), and was reminded that “with God nothing will be impossible.”

Mary was in a tough spot. Not only would she face the stigma of a baby conceived out of wedlock, but Joseph would know that the child was not his. She would be accused of adultery, an offense at that time that was punishable by stoning.

The Bible doesn’t say she had any choice in the matter, however, her remarkable response showed her yielded spirit. She was not set against God nor determined to go her own way, even with this. Instead, she said, “Let it be to me according to Your word.”

Maybe the Lord picked her because He knew she was a godly young woman, one who trusted Him. The Bible says she had found favor with God, but that does not mean she was perfect. Some think she was sinless like her Son, but there is no biblical evidence that Mary was any different from any other person, other than she believed in God and obeyed Him. She had fears, doubts, joys and sorrows. She was born with a sinful bent just like the rest of us, but God had shaped her life and worked in her heart. He made her ready to be the one who would have this experience, and ready to respond to the news with a willing heart.

What I learn from Mary is just that. God brings things into my life, and while none are even close to being this momentous, He still wants that attitude of heart that says, “Whatever You ask, whatever You want; let it be to me according to Your Word.”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

All I have is Yours. . .

As I return to ‘normal life’ after a creative high in the Rocky Mountains, I have to ask the Lord what He wants me to do with what I have experienced and learned. I’ve the beginning of a piece that excites me. I could abandon most of my other creative pursuits and take this direction, but not without first knowing if doing so is within the will of God.

Years ago, I painted wildlife and earned enough money to partly support myself. It was a passion for me, but in my early Christian life, it slipped into an idolatry. I worshiped what I was doing more than the God who gave me the ability to do it.

The Lord asked me to give it up. After much argument and agonizing, I did that, and even though He gave me many other creative outlets, there was never the opportunity or direction to go back to that.

In the past few years, it tugs at me again. I’ve gone into the art supply department of a store, or to a gallery, and felt such a longing that it brought tears to my eyes. On all those occasions, the practical side of me knew that there is no way to fit anything more into my life, and the spiritual side knew that unless God is in this, I cannot start anything or restart where I left off.

However, quilting and teaching quilting has been at His direction. Through this creative activity, I’ve met new people, learned new skills, and had wonderful fellowship with other believers. This past week, at Quilt Art Rockies, the sense of God’s blessing and presence never left me in the two workshops I attended and while I worked on two separate projects. One evening lecture moved my heart so much that I could hardly speak of it afterward. She covered principles of good art, a topic I know, and how it applies to quilt making. Again, I felt the tugging on my heart. Of course I am asking God what I’m to do with all this, and do expect Him to show me.

This morning I read the story of Hannah. She was barren and in sorrow and grief, she asked the Lord to give her a child. In her request, she told God that if He did, she would give him back to Him, to serve Him all the days of his life.

God answered her prayer and Samuel was born. When he was just a little child, Hannah and her husband took him to the priest, Eli, and she “lent him to the Lord as long as he lives.”

At that point, Hannah prayed. She said: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation. No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.”

She continues for several verses. Her prayer is joyful and filled with praise for the righteousness and power of the Lord her God. He had given her the child that she longed for, and she gave him back to Him.

In my heart, the Holy Spirit makes a connection. In my case, the longing is not for a child but for the go-ahead concerning creative expression (and a change in my life to make it feasible). My prayer is not one of grief and a sense of loss as it once was when this part of me became more important than God. Instead, I am asking for the same thing, but I can now focus on the wonder of God. He makes us in His image, and because of that, we are creative people. I am able to celebrate that and rejoice in Him because of it. My attitude has changed. Instead of thinking of this skill as ‘mine’ and mine to do with as I wish, I know where it comes from and why it cannot be idolized.

This morning, I see that anything God gives me not only comes from Him, but must be given back to Him. Samuel was His. My ability, and even my desire for creative expression are His too. The process, the journey, the results, all of it, belongs to Him and must be released to Him, not reluctantly and in shame for making it an idol, but with joy and praise. Whatever I am and can do belongs to God and what happens is entirely up to Him.

This does not constitute a “Yes, go for it” at this point, but the sacrifice of Hannah and the joy in her prayer add a dimension to the desires of my heart. I realize I must let Him poke and prod my heart and expose my motives. He alone knows if I am totally willing to let go of the selfishness of ‘self-expression’ and do this His way, in His time, and for His glory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Universal principles for art, for life

Last night’s lecture was about the elements of design. These apply to all art forms and are universally understood by artists from every part of the world. The person who gave the lecture not only had a firm grasp of her topic, but it seemed an integral part of who she is. Her slides included her creative and wonderful art, but also other examples of these elements in photographs taken from her world travels. I was mesmerized.

Many artisans grasp these principles without being taught. They seem to just know how line, shape, movement, unity, contrast, and so on, work together to make a successful and pleasing result. Others do not. They try to create something artistic and are frustrated with the result. It might be out of balance, lack harmony, or be missing a focal point. If an instructed artist makes a few suggestions, they can see the problem, but not without that extra help.

This applies not only to art, but to my spiritual life. It too operates according to specific principles. If things are going wrong, it will be because I’ve neglected or forgotten one or more of them. For instance, if I choose to disobey God, I will lose my sense of fellowship with Him. I will experience guilt. I might be able to turn it off for a little while, but because I am His child, He will not leave me entirely without discipline. As my Heavenly Father, this is what He does.

Eventually I must confess my sin. When I do, He is faithful and just; He forgives my sin and cleanses me from my unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Then that sense of being right with Him and having fellowship with Him is restored.

Peace with God is another huge part of spiritual life. Before I became a Christian, whether I felt it or not, I did not have that peace. Because of my sin, I was under the wrath of God and separated from Him. When Jesus came, He provided atonement, an appeasing sacrifice to cover my sin and satisfy the wrath of God. That wrath was poured out on Christ at Calvary. When God opened my eyes to the reality of what Jesus had done, I experienced peace with God.

Ephesians 2 says, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation. . . .” By becoming my substitute on the cross, Jesus also became my peace. He took care of the sin that separated me from God.

These are spiritual principles, as true and as universal as those principles of design. Jesus uses terms like, “Whosoever will. . . “ and “No one can come to the Father except through Me.” He excludes no one, because everyone has sinned, everyone has fallen short of the standards of Almighty God. But everyone can come. Everyone is invited.

There are some people who seem to understand many of the principles of life without any knowledge of these deeper spiritual principles. They live happy, productive lives, handle their problems without falling apart, and claim to be fulfilled. They say they don’t need God, but Jesus and universal spiritual laws say otherwise. The Bible says that it is appointed that everyone will die and face judgment. God will require from all of us an accounting of our lives. Some may claim that they lived well, and maybe they did, but that is not what God is looking for. He is looking for what we do with His Son, the Son who came to unite us with Him, to make peace between us, to take care of that judgment for sin that we would otherwise face.

Last night as I listened to the lecture, I thought, I know these things, but I’ve not been paying attention, not been really using what I know to make beautiful things. This may not be a big issue for my life, but without applying what I know, what I do create will be missing some elements.

The other parts of my life are no different, yet spiritual principles are far more important because of the eternal value attached to them. Yesterday was profound for my artistic side, and the thoughts generated by this lecture are even more profound. They have me thinking about life and praising the wonder of my Savior and Lord who wrote the book on how it is supposed to be lived.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

He's the Head of the class

I’ve been in two classes at this conference and amazed at the difference between the two instructors. One is laid back, lectures in long sessions (two hours the first day before she put us to work),talks slow and repeats herself constantly. The other one is high energy, humorous, talks fast, and gives brief instructions as we work, putting us to it immediately. While I’m learning from both of them, I do like the second style better.

The Bible has a lot to say about teachers. James says that not many of us should aspire to that position. In this case, he means spiritual teachers. In those days, scribes and rabbis fell into that category. These people, particularly the scribes, were information gatherers who passed on all they knew to others. It was a big responsibility and since teachers were highly respected, they needed to teach rightly. Again, this concerns spiritual teachers. False teachers who taught contrary to God’s Word were, and still are, highly condemned.

In Matthew 23, Jesus talked to His disciples about the scribes (teachers) and Pharisees who loved the respect of men, sought the best seats at feasts, and especially enjoyed being called “Rabbi” by others they considered beneath them. Jesus said, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.”

Of course He didn’t mean this as an all encompassing command. Paul talked about teachers in the church, and our need to respect them. Jesus was talking about putting a title and a position above the relationship I have with Him. I’m never to consider that any person is the source of spiritual truth. Jesus is that, and only Jesus.

Occasionally I’ve met people who exalt a certain pastor. It might be their own, or one they had in the past (and the one today usually doesn’t meet that standard). Sometimes the one they put on a pedestal is a radio preacher, and there are some very good ones (and some that fall into the category of ‘false teacher’). In almost every instance, the person who exalts a pastor in this way is not open to any other opinions or interpretations. Worse yet, they have stopped growing in their own spiritual life. In their insistence that this man’s teaching is the only teaching worth listening to, they have stopped listening to God.

I suppose the disciples were in danger of wanting to be such teachers, the ‘spiritual authorities’ of their day. Surely they did have a special relationship with the Messiah, and they were learning much about the heart of God. But Jesus warned them and me that no one person has the entire inside scoop on the will and mind of God. We are all ‘brethren’ and each of us has what I call ‘blank spots’ in our understanding. We may partly fill in those blanks for each other, or compensate for them, but we all need the Lord.

No one person can get inside me like Jesus can. No one can know my specific need for the moment, for each day. No one can feed me or inform me about issues and problems related to future decisions or past mistakes. He is my teacher, and to put someone else in that position would be a terrible idolatry.

Monday, March 12, 2007

When He reveals, I must respond!

The first day here in the hotel restaurant, I noticed two women at another table praying before their meal. It turned out that one of them was my “table partner” for the first two days of workshop sessions. I mentioned to her that I’d noticed her praying, so we shared that we are both followers of Christ.

Obviously, not everyone in the room had the same view. They didn’t have to say so, but it showed in language and attitude. One used extremely foul words, even though she seemed like a nice person. Others were pleasant to talk to in many ways, but their opinion of Christ showed in the way they used His name.

Even though the blasphemy must sting, Jesus is not surprised that people are ignorant of His identity. When He was here, He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

“So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus knew not everyone would get it. The disciples were clueless for quite some time. However, at the end of this conversation Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter wasn’t brilliant or more godly than anyone else. He was not pious, or insightful, or in any way special. Jesus told him, and the rest of us, the reason why he knew the true identity of the Son of Man: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Peter was a recipient of divine revelation. Some might ask, If this is true, and because it has such enormous eternal implications, why doesn’t God reveal this incredible truth to everyone? Why are some left out?

I could say that God gave His people the responsibility to tell others, yet we know that telling them does not automatically mean that they know. That telling must also be accompanied by the voice of the Holy Spirit who somehow opens a person’s mind and says, “This is the truth; listen to it. You must know this.

Instead, the only answer I have to why doesn’t God reveal truth to everyone is the same answer I have to a similar question, Why doesn’t God save everyone? Knowing what I know about my own sinful nature and my own resistance to the God of the universe, my answer to the question of why does God reveal Himself to everyone is this: Why does He save anyone? None of us deserve even the least of His mercies. It is a marvel that He considers us, cares for us, sends the rain on the just and the unjust, and sent His Son to die for us. We resist Him so much, why does He bother with any of us?

I also know that the Holy Spirit does speak to everyone. It is not a shout, but a whisper, a nudge, a sense of “listen up” but unfortunately, some of us are not very good at paying attention.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

He is still here. . .

The schedule at this conference is so full that I’m having a hard time fitting in quiet time with the Lord. I know it is a spiritual discipline that I need, but I also know that my relationship with God doesn’t change if I miss a day or am not able to take much time for it (unless, of course. It is sin that is keeping me away).

The idea is out there that if we don’t do everything right, God just turns His back. Or if our symbols and various religious practices are lax, He makes Himself scarce. Those who think that way are bound by ritual instead of bound by His love for them.

The Israelites were bound by symbol and ritual. In 1 Samuel, the Philistines captured the Ark (made famous in a movie that had very little to do with what the Bible says about it). When that happened, the prophet Eli was so distraught that he keeled over and died. His daughter-in-law, who was about to give birth, found out that her husband had died in the battle when the Ark was taken, and that her father-in-law died when he heard about it. As she gave birth, she also died. Her last words were, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.”

The story has anguish and I couldn’t help feeling their despair, but at the same time wondered how well they really knew God. How can One who is omnipresent go somewhere else? How can the God who says He will never leave or forsake His people and who is far above and beyond all objects and rituals of worship identify Himself with a wooden box to the point if the box goes, God also goes?

I know, there is much more to their attitude about the Ark than I understand, but if the government came and took away all Bibles, would I think that God went into exile? If all the churches in the world were burned down, would that mean God perished in the fire?

God is more than the things that I associate Him with, including my morning quiet time. If I miss it or cannot spend as much time as I’d like, He didn’t go anywhere. Not only that, the time I spend time with Him does not have to be the same as always. God is not in the ritual either; He lives in my heart. I can think about Him and talk to Him anywhere, anytime, and not be anxious about a switch in my routine. Even if I lost my Bible and every other thing that draws me closer to Him, He is the same, today, yesterday, and forever, and does not go away.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Because He lives, I can get through today!

Today I feel pretty much the screwed up human being. Never mind the horrid head cold and not having a recognizable voice, yesterday after lunch, I shoulder-checked both ways but didn’t see the little grey car that scooted behind my much taller vehicle. The driver was nice about it, and figured the scrape on her back bumper would cost less than her deductible. So she is getting a quote this week, and on my way back home, I will stop in that town and call her.

After that, and after two session in a stuffy conference room, I was starting to wonder, Why am I here? Not just here in the mountains at a conference, but here on earth. I wanted to go home, not the house I live in, but home to heaven. (Yea, I was feeling that crummy.)

God gave me a good verse this morning, one that reminds me that this life is not all there is, and on a day when I need such a reminder. John 14 says, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.”

Jesus would soon be crucified, but that was not the end of Him (nor did He marry, live and die at a later date, despite the current claims). He died, was in the tomb for three days, then rose again, and was seen by over 500 witnesses. Some of them watched Him ascend into heaven, and true to His word, the world would see Him nor more.

But His followers see Him. He is as real to me as any person, perhaps even more so, because He shares His life with me and knows more about me than I know myself. But the best part is His promise, “Because I live, you will live also.”

He is not talking about me dying and then walking out of my tomb here on earth; He is talking about living like He lives—eternally, with a life that never ends. He has already given me that life!

Today that lifts my earthbound heart. Every time I look out the window at the Rocky Mountains here in Canmore, or look at the creativity of the conference participants, I will think of the One who fashioned the world by His word and formed us from dust. All this it nice (except the cold and the accident) but it is temporary. Today I can rejoice because Jesus promised me that because He lives, I will also live with Him—forever.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Eyes straight ahead

If I’d planned to start my day mumbling about this rotten cold, the Lord already knew it. I’m thinking I must not grumble, I must thirst after Christ and keep my mind on Him, but I need help.

This is today’s verse, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected (no kidding!); but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” God does have a sense of humor, or at least amazing timing.

He laid hold of me that I might become like Him. Did He ever complain? Even when persecuted? Misunderstood? Crucified? Not at all. Instead, He committed Himself to His Father, who judges righteously, trusting all matters to God’s sovereign will, matters far more severe than this one that troubles me.

I’m reminded of a verse in Hebrews that says, “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.”

For me, this is a simple choice. Will I trust the Lord, even that He knows best in allowing a horrid head cold at a time when I have to drive five hours to a five day seminar, or will I draw attention to poor me by telling everyone how lousy I feel, hoping to gain their sympathy?

Oops! I just did it. Forget the drive and the seminar. Praise the Lord. He is my sovereign God and He knows best. As my mother used to say, “If I didn’t need this, I wouldn’t be getting it.”

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Fullness possible with a 'full head'?

Yesterday’s devotional reading was about the scarcity of “fullness” in the lives of most Christians. Instead of being “enlarged” by difficulties, many become impoverished. This is not God’s intention or desire. Trials are supposed to perfect us, not send us backward.

My husband’s head cold bit me last night. I went to bed with stuffed sinuses, headache, sore throat, and “Oh, no” because tomorrow morning I leave on my annual holiday in Canmore at the Canadian Rockies Quilt Art Conference.

This morning, fortified with Nin Jiom® (herbal, the best cough/cold remedy, and Cold FX®that is proven to relieve and shorten colds — this sounds like a commercial), and before I opened my Bible, I thought that God could have a purpose in allowing this. Could He be testing to see if I will allow a simple cold to “enlarge” me? I know the misery I feel could easily turn my eyes off Him and unto poor me. So could the quilt conference for that matter.

Today, He takes me to Revelation 21 and a description of the new heavens and new earth where there will be “no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” Funny how the dullness of a head cold can make those thoughts very appealing. However, it was this verse that speaks to me today, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”

This is the promise of God, the eternal One who accomplished our full salvation, and about the full satisfaction of heaven, but there is a present truth in this promise. During His ministry on earth, Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Isaiah said it too, “‘Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid, for YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’ Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” and again, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground . . . .”

God will bless anyone who thirsts for Him. That is what He wants from me, not a thirst for my cold to vanish, or a good time in Canmore, or even that I am “enlarged” by both experiences. He wants me to just want Him, and He will satisfy that desire.

But He surprises me too. My husband planned a golf trip while I’m away, so our granddaughter was supposed to stay at her mother’s, but some issues came up and we thought of other options. One of them is that she goes to Canmore with me. The Holy Spirit said yes, I say yes, my husband and daughter say yes, and so did the grandchild. I’m in classes all day and she is free to roam this lovely setting and hopefully to see the hand of the Creator. (She is old enough to be alone, but we are not yet sure she would be safe.)

As I’ve been thinking about my head cold, this change of plans, and the above promise that He will satisfy the thirsty heart, those verses took me to a place in Isaiah that God has used many, many times to assure me about my family. I never plan it, He just has me in Isaiah 44 every now and then. And it always surprises me, because, even though the words are for Israel, by them God says to me, “This is who I am and what I can do. Take comfort.”

After the part that says, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground,” God says, “I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring; they will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses. One will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; another will write with his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”

I’ve no idea what this trip will mean. We have several hours driving, and several days sharing a room and meals. What I want is His Spirit poured out on this child, and on me too, but even as I write it, He reminds me that I am simply to thirst after Him.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Fix me, not it . . .

Human value systems are not the same as God’s. To us, suffering, poverty and rejection at the least make us think we not doing something right, but that is not the case in God’s mind. When He wrote letters to seven churches (in the book of Revelation), only two were not rebuked. One was the church at Smyrna, a church that was poor and in trouble.

He says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

This church was poor when it came to money, afflicted by persecution, and rejected by their “religious” peers, but God called them “rich” and “faithful.” He said they might die under the hands of their enemies, but not to be afraid; their reward would be eternal.

Human beings value greatness in terms of power and public recognition, but Jesus said, “He who is least among you all will be great” and explained that the way to preeminence is by sacrifice and self-denial. That is not our value system.

Human beings also value money. It is well-known that Jesus said we cannot serve both money and God, but I’ve never heard a sermon on what He said after that about our human value system. He reminded His listeners that they tried to justify the things they did before others, but God knew their hearts. Then He made this shocking statement, “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Moses had it figured out. The Bible says of him in Hebrews 11, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”

Before Christ came, this great leader understood that the sufferings in his life were zilch compared to the rewards of the life to come. After Christ came, the church in Smyrna was given the same wisdom; this life is not all there is. It may be dark and difficult right now, but your reward is coming.

Ecclesiastes says something along the same vein that sometimes haunts me, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by it the heart is made better.” In our house, we often discuss the reality that we learn very little when things are going well. It is through trials and struggle that we grow in character and in faith. That being true, the thing that strikes me is how quickly and how often those who know this truth bring their problems to God requesting He remove or fix the problem. In our human value system, we would rather not grow, but be comfortable. It might not be so in our theology, but it pops up in our prayer requests, or at least it does in mine.

(Note: See Sunday, March 4/07 entry at Words of Grace. We mananged to hit the same topic, but he writes it much better than I!)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Faith says “Yes”

If a woman did today what Ruth did in the Old Testament several hundred years ago, she would be sending an entirely different message!

Ruth, daughter-in-law to Naomi, was widowed in her homeland along with Naomi. When the older woman decided to return to Israel, Ruth insisted on coming with her, even on worshiping her God. Israel’s custom was that if a man died, the family line must be preserved. The nearest relative should “redeem” the family name by marrying the widow. Naomi was too old for remarriage, so her hope was that her family line would be continued through Ruth. In Ruth’s case, a wealthy and respected man named Boaz appeared to be an eligible choice.

So Naomi instructed Ruth in another custom. She said, “Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do."

In our culture and time, this looks like seduction, or at least setting yourself up for it, but in those days, it was the way a woman could ask a man to marry her. Boaz, because he was older, and perhaps because she was a foreigner, would not have approached Ruth, so Ruth approached him.

Around midnight, Boaz rolled over and was startled to find Ruth lying at his feet. After she explained why she was there, he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord . . . for you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men . . . I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.”

After Boaz said yes, Ruth stayed at his feet until morning. No immorality occurred. Boaz, after dealing with a minor detail of one eligible closer “kinsman-redeemer”, married Ruth and their lives prospered. Not only was the family line preserved through their son, Obed, but Obed turned out to be the grandfather of David, king of Israel, the same family line that produced Jesus Christ.

Some people read Old Testament stories like this and presume twenty-first century attitudes and behavior. Without understanding the deeper implications, this story does seem strange, either risque or even Victorian, but in it, God illustrates a far greater truth. The kinsman-redeemer custom applied to family members sold into slavery, land sold during economic hardship, and those cut off from their family name by death. A close relative who could redeem (buy back, set free) pictures Christ who redeems those who are in bondage to sin, have lost all possessions and privileges granted in Eden, and are alienated from God.

The illustration is not perfect—Christ does not hesitate to invite us to be His bride—yet one thing about Ruth speaks volumes about the human side of redemption. Sinners must be willing to put themselves at His feet and their lives at His disposal.

When Naomi said, “ . . . he will tell you what you should do,” Ruth had a choice. She could say, “No way. I’m not doing anything that man tells me” or she could respond in humble obedience. I know many people who pick the first response. In pride, they cannot see or admit that they are slaves to sin and have a need for redemption.

This was also a test of faith. Ruth once told Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

She did go with her mother-in-law, and did live with her, and did adopt her culture and her life. Her choice in response to Naomi shows that she also made the Lord God her God. What she said to Naomi clearly shows me the response God wants when He or His representatives in my life give a command . . . “All that you say to me I will do.”