Monday, April 30, 2007

Bloggers who think!

Yesterday I was notified that I won an award as a "thinking blogger." The details are here. I'm honored, and thank you, Vi.

I'm also invited to pass this award on to five more bloggers, if I wish. However, I'm struggling with how to pick five or even one. I appreciate those listed to the left, and yet time keeps me from reading even these very often. I feel I'm not involved enough to make any decisions. Instead, I will tell you what I like about five of these blogs and invite you to go visit them. Here are my selections, in no particular order:

Terry Enns at Words of Grace who seems to come up with challenging thoughts that never occur to me and that stretch my mind in new directions.

Susan at Accidental Poet who probably would say her thoughts are seldom focused, but this gal has a take on life that makes me laugh, cry, enjoy, instead of analyze, analyze, analyze. Sue, I love the way you think, even when you think you are not!

John Piper, whose blog notes are often related to issues, but the undercurrent in each is a theology of the nature of God that never fails to blow my puny thoughts into shreds.

John MacArthur, a former pastor in an amazing church (large but seems small), and whose teaching stretches my mind and makes me want to study the Word of God far more than I would otherwise. He is sometimes criticized, but never gets feisty and is a humble man. He does not write a daily blog, but is on the radio every day, can be heard via podcast, or you can download his thoughts from this website.

Marcia Laycock, who observes life through the eyes of a storyteller and relates it with a storyteller's voice. She is always interesting and always thinking!

Stand still and see. . .

God again astounds me. I wrote yesterday about feeling directionless, wondering where God wanted me to go. This has been bothering me on and off for a long time, but seemed to come to a head during the past couple days. Yesterday I asked for His help, and before noon, He cleared up my fog.

We had a visiting pastor (our senior pastor is away) who started his sermon talking about Global Positioning technology and how triangulation works to pinpoint locations. Then he offered three questions to help us understand where we are spiritually, using Hebrews 11:27 to frame them.

By the time he was finished, God clarified my deepest attachments, what I am willing to forsake, how I must handle the stress of life (even the stress of feeling directionless), and what I must focus on to keep me going. While every Christian will have struggles, God wants to keep us in the right position so we can live for Him and glorify Him. This sermon was incredibly affirming.

As I think about my perplexities and God’s simple answers, I’m reminded that the Christian life is a battle. The points of this sermon covered things I already knew, but for a few days prior, I felt as if they had been yanked from me. Who is doing that? Why do I have to fight for what I already know?

Ephesians 6 says our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against evil forces in the spiritual realm. Of course the commander-in-chief of these forces is the liar and destroyer, Satan. He wants my faith to falter and me to fail, so he has his cohorts feed me lies. I’m supposed to spot them and resist. Sounds easy, but not so. He is subtle and very good at undermining God’s people.

Not only that, spiritual battles require spiritual weapons. Ephesians 6 is quite clear that my weapons are from the Lord and I must “put on” the armor that He gives me, never thinking I can overcome this enemy with my own resources. I’m aware that I cannot do this alone, and my perplexity and God’s solution to it prove that this is true.

This is another principle of battle and is illustrated in a scene from 2 Chronicles 20. The current king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, is facing a great enemy army. He was afraid and “set himself to seek the Lord.” In fact, he and all of Judah gathered together before the Lord, even “their little ones, their wives, and their children.”

This is a picture for me. When I am struggling with something, perhaps an army of lies or a perplexing situation, I need to go to the Lord with all that I am, in full force. All of me must seek and want the answer. As Scripture says, we find God when we “seek Him with all our heart.”

When Jehoshaphat did this, one of the prophets gave him God’s answer, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. . . . You will not need to fight in the battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”

In my battle against uncertainty, God proved again that He is in the battle with me. While my task is to seek His face, wait on Him for the answers, ask for truth to help fight the enemies lies and partial lies, He also fights with me and for me.

This time, He sent a man from another church, with a message that I needed to hear, on the very day that I needed to hear it, and the enemy is defeated.

How amazing is that!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An award? Moi? For thinking?

My goodness, I've been given a "Thinking Blog" Award. I'm to pass this on to five more bloggers, but of course I have to think about it. Come back tomorrow!

Sigh!

Rick Warren’s well-known book, The Purpose Driven Life begins with, “It’s not about you.” A life motivated by the purposes of God is not about me, and I agree whole-heartedly. I just have trouble remembering it.

Living it isn’t easy either. This week I’ve been thinking about all the things that interest me, things that I can do well, and things that are important. Life is too short, never mind the reality that each day has only twenty-four hours. Some of it won’t fit. Even more frustrating is when my mind goes round and round trying to decide what to do next, I often wind up doing nothing.

Does God care about the ordinary schedule of a basically ordinary person? Does He care whether I mend my husband’s jeans, or bake bread? Does it matter to Him if I use up the afternoon in the garden or having tea with a neighbor? Sometimes certain things seem right, as if this fits with His plans. Other times, I just don’t know.

I often think of a sermon we heard at Grace Community Church by John MacArthur. He talked about the will of God, and offered each passage in the Bible that plainly states it. Even though he gave this sermon years ago (we attended Grace in the early 80's), I can still remember the outline, and the bottom line. He said if you are doing all of the above (saved, sanctified, saying thanks, etc.) then you are “delighting yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse from Psalm 37 does not mean God will give me all that I desire, but that all my “I wants” in life will be from Him. I will feel His desires in my own heart.

Today I read another verse from the Psalms. Because I have a mild heart condition, it has been a favorite over the years. “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

I’ve always thought that was about physical heart failure, but today it seems more like that “desires of my heart” thing has failed me. I don’t know what they are. I’m not aware of abandoning the known will of God or delighting in God, but when it comes to having a sense of ‘what to do next’ I feel that my heart’s desires have taken a hike. In fact, I don’t really desire anything and don’t feel like doing anything, but this is not contentment. I’m very restless.

I don’t like this feeling of purposeless, no direction, not even ambition or any sense of what my life is about right now. However, Warren’s advice echos back. This is not about me or what I want. It is about waiting on the Lord, even in the dark, and being faithful with what He has shown me until He shows me something else.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ambition and trusting God

Ambition is a good/bad thing. Strong desires to achieve motivate progress. Strong desires to achieve ruin contentment and a thankful heart.

When I was young, I wanted to be the best artist in the world. That ambition was challenged because no matter how much I thought I could do, I kept encountering someone who I thought was better. Being driven to keep going didn’t appeal to me, but giving up didn’t either. Ambition fluctuated between being my friend and not being my friend.

Without any doubt, spiritual ambition always falls on the “not my friend” side. I find that out as I realize no matter how much I want to grow, be like Christ, be effective in a ministry, or do any of the other good things that Christians can do or become, none of it is possible unless God does it in me.

Yes, being spiritual requires my effort, cooperation, spiritual disciplines, obeying God, and so on, but making it happen is beyond me. I can only put myself in those “places of grace” that give Him opportunity to get at me and do it in me.

The church at Corinth may have had its share of ambitious people. They definitely had problems with discontent and wanting what others had, either more “status” or different roles. They alo fought over who had the best gifts and those of prominence looked down on church members they considered less valuable. “Ambitious snobs” comes to mind.

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he was a little kinder, but he did scold them. He told them the church was like a human body, one body in which all the parts were important. He said, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?” and If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing.”

It is analogies like this that have brought balance to my thinking about ambition. In the realm of art, for instance, I can see that each artist has something to contribute. Being the “best” isn’t important, but doing my best is, and doing what I do the way I do it is important. My art can gladden a heart at times when the art of someone else might not, and vice versa. If everyone tried to do it exactly the same, many would miss the blessing of our differences, and most artists would be redundant.

In the church, “God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?”

I guess it would be one big eye, or one big arm, or one big toe, and totally useless. The parts and variety are necessary. For one part to strongly desire to be another part is missing the point. We can all emulate someone’s virtues, all have a strong ambition to be like Jesus, but all must remember that God put His body, the church, together the way that it best functions. Spiritual ambition to be or do something else can simply mean I am failing to trust His wisdom and decisions.

Not only that, spiritual ambition can turn into covetousness. If I want what so-and-so has, then according to the body imagery of 1 Corinthians 12, I’m wanting them to not have it. This kind of ambition can lead to conscious on unconscious efforts to rip away from that person whatever it is that which I want for myself. No wonder James 3:16 says, “Where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”

All this being noted, I’ve a place to fill and God has taught me that filling it requires faith and complete reliance on Him. That takes all my energy. At this stage of my spiritual life, I feel as if I’ve reached my capacity and cannot imagine wanting more than I already have. Besides, with the schedule the Holy Spirit has me on, where would it fit?

Friday, April 27, 2007

But what about him. . .

In The Horse and His Boy, one volume in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the boy and a girl are riding their horses when the lion, Aslan (who represents Christ), attacks. The girl is severely injured. Later, the boy asks Aslan why she was more injured than he. The lion says, “That is her story.”

A similar question comes up in the New Testament. Jesus told Peter, “When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

The next verse says, “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”

Peter, who was always impetuous, noticed John nearby so asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered (and I paraphrase), “Never mind about him; you follow me.”

My prayers and thoughts are often on others, particularly family members who are not following Christ. Sometimes I get quite anxious about them, wondering if they will ever believe, and what will happen to them. This morning’s reading from Revelation 13 reminds me again, “Never mind about them; you follow me.”

The passage is a description of the spectacular battle for minds and hearts as the world comes into judgment. Verse 10 says, “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.”

The first part tells me that what will happen to people will happen. A person’s destiny is in the hands of God. While I can pray for them, and God does hear and answer those prayers, He alone knows their future.

The second part tells me the same thing Aslan told the boy and Jesus told Peter. While I’m not to neglect prayer, or talking to people about eternal matters, getting caught up in what could happen to them to the point that I’m wanting to manage their lives puts me in the wrong to-do list. That is God’s job.

Mine is to be patient and endure. This is possible only with total trust in a sovereign God who knows what He is doing, regardless of how world events and personal situations appear. I need to keep my mind fixed on Him and His promises, not on my “what if’s.” I’m also to be faithful, to stick to what He is teaching me without wavering, and to stick to Him without doubt.

One side of me is like Peter and that fictional, but real boy. I want to know, but more than that, I want to make sure everyone is taken care of—but that is far too large a load. Only God can be God.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A simple flashlight won't do it

A friend told me that living the Christian life should get easier as one gets older. I know I’m getting older, but the easy part seems to be missing. Walking with God is more difficult now, with more tests, more struggles, more temptation to quit.

Proverbs 4:18 says, “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.”

In less figurative language, that means the older I get, as I walk in the light God gives me, His light will increase as I go on my way. His light not only shows the path ahead, but also reveals all sorts of other stuff, some of which is painful to see and difficult to deal with. There are days when I’d like to turn around and run back the way I came.

But the next verse says, “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”

I don’t want that. I stumble too, but the light from God reveals why. He shows me sinful attitudes and selfish tendencies, and gets quite specific about it. Whoever said ignorance is bliss might have had this in mind, but when I consider what life would be like without this bright light that won’t leave me alone, I’m thankful.

At least with God’s light, the Lord also gives the power to change. Proverbs 24:5 says, “A wise man is strong, yes, a man of knowledge increases strength.” If God didn’t give me the knowledge of my sin and weaknesses, I could never overcome it or be strong.

My dad often said, “There is no fool like an old fool.” He was right. What a shame to go through life and never learn any of its lessons. With God, the light for learning is always available, and like walking a path with a flashlight, as soon as I step into the light I have, I get more for the path ahead.

The path is never what I expect, though. We joke about being over the hill, but I don’t see that metaphor in the Bible. Our journey is never downhill, but upward toward God, at least if we belong to Him.

Scripture talks of aged people as perhaps physically feeble, but we can be either foolish or wise. In our life journey, if we walk with God, He says we are wise. As for the feeble part, God promises this: “Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”

Getting older might mean a decline in memory, muscles and mobility, but with God I can rely on two things: light for the path and strength to walk it. The light helps me see my growing need of His strength for a path that is uphill and requires a constant battle if I am to “fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.”

The opposite to increasing light is increasing darkness, not knowing why I fail and fall, and eventually giving up and forgetting about God. No matter how bright the light and steep the path, I’d rather have these uphill challenges (God, keep me from complaining) than drift to the alternatives.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It'd be okay with me if my family tree is just a birch or a pine!

Somehow the lot has fallen to me to research our family tree. My family, both near and far, want to know their roots, but none of them want to dig them up.

The task is not my favorite. I get totally bogged down, even after taking a workshop on how to do it. The ‘experts’ say, ask one question about one ancestor, and focus; dig until you find it. This means searching in various places using various resources. My problem is while I am in that one search for one answer, I think, “While I’m in here, I might as well see if this resource has anything about so-and-so.”

That makes me go in circles for hours. Then, when I’ve moved on, I can’t remember who and what I’ve already looked for. I’m okay with the focused questions if I write them in my research log, but seldom think to record the rabbit trails, and get annoyed with myself for wasting so much time running down them.

Staying focused on one question is difficult. I’ve a variety of places where the answer could be found, or not. I can look on the Internet with its vast array of free and commercial sites. It’s kind of cool to find a relative on an old census, but most of the sites want money up front before they tell me if the “hit” is really the person and information I want. Or I might discover that I have to send away for a microfilm, or go to the archives, or get into a chat room.

If the question is interesting, and the search becomes fascinating detective work, I can do it. If it is the date someone got married, or the year they arrived in Canada, or some other statistical data, my interest quickly lags. The only great find so far was discovering two distant cousins I didn’t know I had, contacting them by email, and getting to know them, including that they are both Christians.

Some people think genealogy is extremely important because there is so much of it in the Bible. However, most of that is given to trace the human history of Jesus Christ and to prove that He is a descendant of David, just as the promised Messiah would be. Other lists simply show what family someone came from and that people are who they are.

I’m thinking most people today use genealogy records to give them a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. When I found the spot in Scotland, perhaps even the very house, where my grandfather was born, I felt affirmed as a member of my clan, but I already know who I am.

What has any of this to do with my relationship with God, my every day life, and my eternal destiny? Maybe that is my problem—I can’t see the point of doing this. My identity is in Christ, not in my family records.

Today’s devotional took me to a family tree in 1 Chronicles 4. At the end it says, “Now the records are ancient. These were the potters and those who dwell at Netaim and Gederah; there they dwell with the king for his work.”


The comment says that each person has his or her work to do. In those days, you could be a soldier or a gate-keeper, but your role was vital to the kingdom. The same is true today. In the service of my King, Jesus Christ, whatever role He gives me has value. I’m not an evangelist reaching thousands, nor a parking lot attendant sorting cars in the church lot each Sunday, but my role fills a spot that suits my King—and I didn’t find that out studying my family tree!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A good work ethic in a booming economy

The very young clerk in a high-end women’s clothing store completes a sale while continuing a personal call on her cell phone. A bank teller, who is a bit older, makes a customer stand and wait while she finishes wrapping a Christmas gift. Two clerks totally ignore a customer standing at the till with a purchase. After waiting a long time, she gives up, puts the item on the counter, and leaves the store.

Our part of the world is experiencing an economic boom plus a huge shortage of labor. My husband’s place of work is expanding so fast that they are out of space every week, looking for floors of empty offices anywhere they can find them. The fast-food chains are importing workers from Mexico and other countries. We’ve had debates about the ethics of hiring pre-teens to work some of those jobs.

Jobs are easy to find, wages are high, and getting fired is almost impossible. My daughter is worried that this boom is going to produce an entire generation of young people without a work ethic.

I’ve been thinking about the source of the ‘work ethic’ she is talking about. People can do a good job out of a genuine concern about the customer, respect for the boss and the business they work for, and a basic honesty and desire to do a good job, OR it can be from a fear of losing their job because they need the money and have to support themselves and their family. For some, their work ethic might be a combination of both, but remove any threat to job security, and I’m sure an employee’s motivations for working will soon show up!

I opened my Bible this morning to Ephesians 4. It begins with, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called . . . .”

Paul lived out what he believed. He is the highest example, other than Christ, of someone who practiced what he preached, who lived out his code of conduct. By doing his job the way his Employer wanted him to do it, he didn’t get a raise in salary (which was zero in the first place), or a cushy retirement package. Instead, he was put in prison for his faith.

Yet Paul urged others to do the same as he did, to walk worthy of their calling, to live out their position in Christ. He exalted the ‘job’ far above any reward or remuneration, at least on this earth.

He had reasons for his work ethic. First, God told him to “spend and be spent” for the sake of the Gospel. He loved and believed in his Boss, and trusted Him to supply all his needs. He knew that his term of employment was short compared to eternity, and if he did his job well, many others might join him there, with Christ, forever.

Second, eternal rewards were more important for him than temporary ones. He knew what lasted and what did not. He kept his eyes on Christ, and focused on what was going to last. He didn’t consider short-term gain a priority.

Third, as this passage says, he saw the reality of what Christ does for people who walk with Him. He didn’t want that to be diminished but perpetuated through the obedience of His people. When I walk worthy of my position in Christ, I am adding strength to the entire Body of Christ. Each person’s contribution to our Employer is important to the entire kingdom of God.

The most important reason I can think of for Paul’s work ethic is that it was part of his new nature in Christ. When Jesus saved him, He filled this man with Himself. The nature of Christ is to give, to be honest, to care about others, to do what He is called to do without complaint or slacking off. Paul’s work ethic was part of his character as a believer in Jesus Christ and he consistently urged others to ignore the desires of their old sinful nature, and live in the incredible power of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s slacking off in the workplace is partly the result of this booming economy, but it is also a manifestation of what is going on in people’s hearts. If a person lacks integrity and a heart for others, it doesn’t matter if jobs are scarce or not—that attitude will come out. If they have a good attitude toward people, their boss, and working, that will be seen.

The bottom line for me is that because I am a saved, sanctified, and transformed child of God, I’m supposed to act like it. I’m not out there in the current workforce, but I’m still ‘employed.’ My Boss expects me to be on time, ready and willing to take on any assignment He gives me. He expects me to deeply care about the people that He asks me to serve, to be quick to do His bidding, and to remember always that He is the boss, that the pay comes later, and that my retirement package is out of this world!

Monday, April 23, 2007

First impression?

Some people instantly strike me as fakes. Is it their smarmy voice? Their limp handshake? Eyes that refuse to contact mine? Over-sincere efforts? Usually I can’t pinpoint exactly what says “fake” to me, but most of the time my first impression turns out to be the right one.

Others are just the opposite. That person is kind and generous, or this one is sincere and truthful. I may not shake their hand or see them beyond a public situation, but they have something about them that shouts a good first impression. If I later have opportunity to know them better, those first thoughts often turn out to be accurate.

I’ve been told, as most have, to be aware of first impressions. We make them and we get them when we meet people. Although being caught on an off day happens, many times, that first impression tells the tale and even if it doesn’t, we know it has a habit of sticking in our minds.

Our Sunday morning ladies class is studying how Christ makes a difference in our lives and how He changes the way we think, talk and act. After spending several weeks on things like the fruit of the Spirit, we’ve moved into the gifts of the Spirit. Yesterday we had to agree that anything God gives us is a gift!

We do nothing to earn or deserve the blessings of God. However, because He lives in us, we can live differently than we used to and different from those who don’t know Him. The Bible is clear that those differences should be obvious.

This was true for at least one of the Old Testament prophets. Elisha traveled through a certain town called Shunem. Every time he passed through, a certain wealthy woman pressed him to eat at her home. She told her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.”

How did she know that Elisha was a holy man of God? At that point, she had seen no miracles, healings, or heard him preach. He may have ‘looked the part’ but I doubt prophets had a dress code. He must have had a manner or way about him that was different, but not just different, holy.

This passage in 2 Kings prompts me to question the marks of a holy person. If I met one, would I be able to identify them as holy? More to the point, if someone meets me, would they know that I am holy, or would I convey an entirely different impression?

Holy, when used to describe God, means “other than” or so much more than what we are. We might show some virtue, but God is above even our best efforts. Holy, when used to describe people, at least according to my Oxford dictionary, means “dedicated to God or a religious purpose” and “morally and spiritually excellent and to be revered.”

But Holy people do not come across as holier-than-thou. They are without spiritual pride yet keep their lives pure. They don’t push that purity in the face of others. A holy person is deeply interested in the things of God and the will of God. Holiness is personal and yet a holy person cares about others, is not always talking about himself and is considerate and thoughtful.

I could keep going, but I’m already convicted. The difference Christ makes in me shows up in some ways, but holiness is not as visible as it should be. While I’d like to make a good first impression on others, and certain maintain later good impressions, I’m more concerned that I obey His command from the New Testament. It says, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”

Jesus has made a difference in my life, not just so I am set free from sin and given an abundant and joyful life, great as that is, but I’ve an amazing image to reflect. I’m supposed to be like Jesus, and people are supposed to see Him in me.

Elisha’s non-verbal testimony reminds me of that old truism: a person seldom gets a second chance to make a first impression. God wants holiness and Jesus gives that to me. I need to be more consistent in letting it show.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The buck stops here

Yesterday, I was in a brief conversation with a warm, intelligent woman. Somehow we got on the topic of the way major religions treat women. She had quite a negative view gleaned from a university course on that topic. Concerning Christianity, she cited several horrendous periods of history when women were severely abused in the name of religion.

My response to that was the human tendency to shift blame. For instance, if the men in one religion have a problem with lust whenever they catch a glimpse of a woman’s skin, they blame the woman. I suggested that those who do horrible things in the name of their religion are simply buck-passing.

She picked up on that and said how she was raised to be responsible for her actions. She was quite aware how that virtue has been thrown out the window and how people blame their parents, the government, their culture, everything else but themselves when they do something wrong.

I pointed out that this is not a new thing. When confronted about the very first disobedience, Adam told God, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Adam had the audacity to tell God it was His fault for the woman being there in the first place, and her fault that he ate the forbidden fruit!

After laughing about that, I then suggested that the people who committed atrocities in the name of their religion were not practicing their faith, just blaming it for what they were doing. At that point, we were interrupted and the conversation ended.

This morning I’m still thinking about that last part, how people claim to be religious but don’t act like it. Jesus warned the disciples that wolves would come in dressed in sheep’s clothing, but saying you are a sheep and wearing wool does not make you one, no more than standing in a garage makes you a car, but how can true Christians be identified? We are supposed to profess our faith, so saying it is one way, but obviously saying it does not make it so. I can even say I am honest and be lying.

John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” wrote 1 John with this in mind. He offers a series of tests, such as, if I say I love God but do not love His people, my faith is suspect. If I say I have fellowship with God, but walk in darkness and sin, I’m am lying. If I say I have no sin, I am deceived; everyone is a sinner.

At the end of the book, John gives the bottom line. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

It’s all about Jesus. If He is in my life, if I know Him personally and experience a real and intimate relationship with Him, I have eternal life. This is subjective, but not entirely. I could imagine it or say it is true, yet the rest of the book is clear; if Jesus is in my life, it will be obvious in the way I think, talk and act. I will slip and fall now and then, but Christ will be at work in me and be changing me. The fact is, no one can have Jesus and not be affected. His life is far too powerful. It will become obvious.

That does not happen to people who just say they are Christians. Instead, their walk will eventually fail to match their talk, or even if they ‘look good’ for a long while, God will confront them, maybe in the trials of life or maybe on judgment day, and the reality of where they stand will be made known.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nothing is too hard for God!

My neighbors are picking me up early this morning for an all-day seminar. I got up early, but still prayed a quick prayer for a quick word. God is patient with me. He gave me something short and sweet and totally wonderful to think about all day, a well-know truth, and precious.

Romans 8 introduces what one commentator calls “the staggering results of Paul’s teaching in the first seven chapters.” Salvation is by faith alone on the basis of God’s incredible grace, so “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus . . . for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

The condemnation is: “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “The wages of sin is death.”

The Spirit of life is: “ . . . being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” and “ . . . the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Every sin is paid for, past, present, or future. God will not hold any of it against me in condemnation because Christ paid my penalty and God imputed His righteousness to me. This is a divine legal decision that not only set me free from sin and death, but changed my nature and gives me the power to overcome, to conquer sin and live for Him. In Him, I have freedom and victory.

Amazing how the truth and the reality of being “in Christ” can pull my slumping heart into confidence and affirm my knowledge that God has already maxed out His giving in saving me, so helping me with whatever this day brings will be a very simple thing.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A prayer He always answers

Experience has taught me that one specific prayer will always be answered. In fact, I’ve learned that when I pray it, I’d better duck.

The prayer is in line with the heart of God and His mission for my life. It is a prayer that expresses trust in Him (I’d seldom trust anyone else with this request), and requires a humble and contrite spirit, which God loves.

This prayer is at the end of Psalm 139, and goes like this: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The psalmist says earlier that only God knows the human heart. He says, You are “acquainted with all my ways.”

He also says that God understands our thoughts, knows what I will say before I say it, and sees every move that I make. Who better to reveal and heal the messed up places in my life, including those areas where I am anxious?

I’m reading an excellent little book by John Piper called Battling Unbelief. This rather ominous title is contrasted by its sub-title: Defeating Sin with Superior Pleasure. Piper’s first chapter is about anxiety. He tells of his own fear of speaking in public, which, in the U.S.A. is rated a greater fear than that of dying. His anxiety about speaking in front of even a small group of people nearly paralyzed him. Overcoming it meant allowing God to search him, then lead him out of it.

I was particularly enlightened by a section that pointed out the attitudes of mind and actions that grow from being anxious. Anxiety about money can give rise to coveting, greed, hoarding, stealing. Anxiety about success can make me irritable, abrupt, surly, thoughtless toward others. Anxiety about relationships can send me into withdrawal, indifference, or being pushy. The list could go on. No wonder God says, “Be anxious about nothing . . .” since this form of unbelief leads to a host of other sins.

I haven’t finished the chapter nor read Piper’s thoughts on conquering anxiety, but I do know some of what God says. For instance, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” and “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” and "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. . . ."

The premise in Piper’s book is that instead of trusting some lie that never delivers, I must put my faith in the promises of God. They might be for the future and not happen right now, but His “future grace” is just as sufficient as His present grace that brought me into His kingdom. In other words, if God says He will do something, I can rest in that even when it hasn’t happened yet.

However, sometimes I am anxious, mostly about the not-yet-happened salvation of those I love. I can find no absolutes that tell me God will answer my prayers about them. He is “not willing anyone should perish”, but many do. Will those I pray for perish? Or will God, in mercy, draw them into His kingdom?

When I asked about this anxiety this morning, then opened my Bible, God spoke to me from Psalm 139. He tells me He knows all about me, and that I must to ask Him to also “know my anxieties” implying that I be willing for Him to expose and root them out, then lead me from worry into the way everlasting.

The "way everlasting" speaks of the path of those who believe. It is a way of life, a walk with God, confident steps toward a sure and certain future. A person who knows God, who has experienced the power of His saving grace from a deep darkness, should also trust Him to do the same for others who are in darkness.

But what if He doesn’t?

That is an anxiety. If those I love never hear or respond to the call of God, will I trip and stumble in the way? Or can I still say, “Yet will I trust Him?”

Thursday, April 19, 2007

. . . for idle hands

I’ve wondered about the origin of the saying, “The devil finds work for idle hands.” Today I noticed from Matthew 4, that his tactics to tempt Jesus all happened when Jesus was alone, not ministering to people or busy with His life’s usual activities.

While the devil didn’t have any success with the Son of God, he does much better with me. If I’ve nothing to do (which is rare) and feel empty and without purpose, I find it easier to fall for a ‘grand suggestion’ rather than wait on the Lord to give me orders.

For instance, I’m idle when the day is nearly over. It’s too early to go to bed, and yet I’m tempted to start some new project, which I really don’t need, or this comes to mind, “Grab a munchie and find something on the television. Just one nibble, just one show won’t hurt.” One leads to two, and I eat too much, stay up too late, or watch something that injures my spirit.

Certainly adding empty calories to my plate (literally and figuratively) or watching television does nothing for the empty feeling of having no direction. The answer to my evening idleness is not filling it with “stones made into bread.” Actually, I’m becoming much better at resisting. Our TV set remains off for days at a time and I am now including ‘no’ more often in my vocabulary.

I’m also more aware of how Jesus responded to His physical hunger pangs. He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Greek has two words for ‘word.’ One is the familiar “logos” and the other is “rhema” which means ‘a word given for the moment, for a particular situation.’

This is the word that Jesus is talking about. God has a rhema for me, and when I’m idle and feeling hungry I need to look to Him, not in the frig, or on the boob tube.

In the second temptation, the devil took Jesus to a high spot on the temple. Josephus, a Jewish historian, says this was 450 feet up, a drop that would kill any jumper. Of course, Jesus could jump trusting God to prevent His death, but He knew this was not the time for dying, nor the method in His Father’s plan.

He also knew the difference between trusting God and testing God. Trust hears rhema and obeys, even if it seems dangerous. Test hears reckless suggestion and follow through hoping God will make the best of it. These temptations to test God might be as subtle as “I can watch this garbage on TV (or eat this junk food) and God will protect me from being affected by it.”

In the third temptation, Jesus was taken to a high place and offered everything if He would give the worship due His Father to the devil. Worship is a simple word. It means to give honor and worth to something or someone.

People worship all sorts of things, not necessarily in a formal setting or a recognized form. One explanation I’ve heard is that what I worship can be identified by what I think about the most. I’m giving that thing honor and worth by allowing it first place in my mind.

The devil is power-hungry and has lots of it, for now. The Bible calls him “the ruler of this world” and the “god of this age.” He must have known Jesus wanted that power back, so he offered Him a slice.

But Jesus didn’t want power as much as He wanted to be obedient. He knew who was in charge of His life and who was worthy of His worship. He told the devil to take a hike.

While the devil’s appeals to me are not nearly so dramatic as what he offered Jesus, he still tries to lure me from worshiping God into doing things that are a downright test of God’s patience and love for me. Even though I know that the Lord has something better for me in those idle evening hours, and even though I can resist filling that idle spot with television and food, how can I fill it with something that honors Him?

Instead of thinking I must keep busy to avoid the dangers of idleness, I need to watch that my work does not become the sole occupation of my mind and I end up worshiping my own busyness. Refusing to let the tempter use my idle hands is one thing, but I also need to hear the Word of the Lord, filling that down time with rhema from Him, then giving back my worship and trust.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How full is my jar?

A destitute widow was in financial distress. Her creditor threatened taking her two sons as slaves to cover her bills. She cried out to the prophet, Elisha.

Elisha was a smart man. Instead of giving her money or taking up a collection, he asked her what she had. She said, only a jar of oil. This was no ordinary cooking oil. It was perfumed, an oil used to anoint the body.

I smile as I think how typical of us women to hang on to something like this, even when there is no food or money to pay the rent. The oil may have bought her another meal, but she didn’t sell it. It turns out that this was a good thing.

Elisha told her, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; the pour it into all those vessels and set aside the full ones.”

Elisha left and she did what he told her to do, odd and impossible as it seemed. Then, when all the vessels were full, she told one of her sons to bring her another one. He replied, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased. She told Elisha and he instructed her to sell the oil, pay her debt, and she and her sons could live on the rest.

My devotional book says something very profound about this story: “The divine almightiness is content to confine itself to our capacity . . . . Man has not the power to obtain anything more than God has given, but he has the option of taking less.”

In yesterday’s continuing grief, my own griefs come to mind. Hindsight shows me how many times I’ve been satisfied with too little from God. He offers me so much, even all of Himself, yet at times I’ve allowed my own poverty, spiritual and otherwise.

In the front jacket of Desiring God, John Piper says, “We are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures . . . We have settled for a home, a family, a few friends, a job, a television, a microwave oven, an occasional night out, a yearly vacation, and perhaps a new personal computer. We have accustomed ourselves to such meager, short-lived pleasures that our capacity for joy has shriveled. And so our worship has shriveled. The scenery ad poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator.”

Piper isn’t talking about financial riches, even though God can supply that too. This is more about the riches of deeply knowing Him. I’m noticing that those riches are not confined to one end of the spectrum, nor to just one segment of our lives. In the past few weeks, I’ve experienced His joy to the point that my face hurt from smiling. Yesterday and this morning He gives me His sorrow, just as deep as the joy.

Enjoyment of the majesty means knowing His heart, knowing what He loves and hates, knowing what gives Him pleasure and knowing what sparks revulsion in Him. It means feeling His range of emotions, experiencing all that He is. This includes being aware of my own poverty so I can know His superior riches, and feeling totally empty so I can know His fullness.

The women, had she known, could have searched the neighborhood for more jars. She could have filled her house, stacked them in the yard and on the roof. She settled for less, and in the economy of God, she did have enough for her needs, but she could of had more.

Knowing God is taking me into a range of emotions I would not otherwise feel. I wonder in what other areas of my life I’ve said that’s enough and left God wanting and waiting to give me more?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

God's heart is breaking

I don’t know anyone in Virginia, not the entire state, nor on the campus of Virginia Tech. I’ve never been there either, nor do I know anyone who has, but today, all day, I’m grieving for the great losses in that place. It feels like 9/11. It feels like a frontpage full of car accidents or a tsunami roaring up a beach. It feels worse than my grief when my mother died, and my father.

I was going to go to bed, but can’t stop thinking of a verse. Ephesians 5:30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . . .” I know it’s a warning to avoid displeasing God, but it also tells me that He feels grief. I also know He lives in me and I am thinking that this deep grief I feel has something to do with Him.

Some say that God is dead, or God doesn’t care. Some become even more convinced that He does not care after a terrible calamity. They ask, “Where is God?” as if He is gone, or has turned His back and stopped loving them. Why did He let this happen? What purpose can He have for this?

A Canadian newsman, Gordon Sinclair, used to ask those questions. He often said, “How can a loving God allow children to die?

I know his angst. I’ve felt like that, more than once. Sinclair’s question hits our hearts because deep inside we know that God should be loving, and to us, loving means mercy and kindness. What happened to His love yesterday in Virginia?

Someone asked Sinclair, “If God were not loving, what would be the matter with untimely death?” What is it that makes us cry our outrage at human tragedy and loss? That person wanted the skeptic to examine where his idea of goodness and love came from. If we didn’t know love from God, would we really care if anyone was killed or not, particularly strangers in another part of the world?

I watched 9/11 on television, over and over. Afterwards, I thought my pain came from too much visual trauma, but I didn’t see any of yesterday’s massacre, and barely listened to any news. Still, the pain and grief is as intense. Why?

This pain tells me that God is not gone, nor has He turned His back. I don’t know why He doesn’t stop all evil (only that one day He will), or why He didn't stop this horrid evil, but I do know that He cares when someone sins against themselves, against Him, against others, destroying them, destroying himself.

This is God’s grief. All those who died, all those who were injured, all those who are filled with great sorrow, even that one man who did it and then took his own life, all this has filled God with pain. I know. His anguish spills over into my heart and He asks me to sob for Him.

Forget the wine. . .

Long before I became a Christian, I was married to an alcoholic. Since someone had to drive home, I decided that I would not drink. Besides, the only time I did, I remember not liking the feeling that I was out of control.

I soon found out that non-drinkers are targets. At parties, the host would ask what I’d like to drink, and when I asked for a soda or juice, sometimes they’d slip a little gin in it thinking I wouldn’t notice. I’d go for lunch with a group of friends, and the pressure to have a drink with them was insane. For me, it became a game. What lengths would they go to in their efforts!

My mother drank a little wine at Christmas time. My father didn’t drink at all. He had a brother who was addicted, and that was enough to keep him from touching the stuff. Why I picked and married a drinker, I don’t know.

The Bible does not forbid drinking, but does tell God’s people to avoid drunkenness. Most people don’t know that the wine of those days came in various strengths and the everyday stuff was well-watered down and much safer than the usual water supply, but “strong drink” had the same effect on people as it does today.

Another little-known bit about wine is that drunken orgies were common during many pagan worship ceremonies. These were supposed to induce an ecstatic communion with the gods being worshiped. The New Testament calls that wine “the cup of demons.” So for the people of faith, getting drunk had a double stigma. They were not to be controlled by booze or identify themselves with pagan worship.

In Ephesians 5, Paul writes to the Christians in that city telling them to make the most of their time on earth, walking in wisdom. He says, “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is, and do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit . . . .”

Dissipation refers to over-indulgence in sensual pleasures. Some Bible versions use debauchery, meaning the same thing. In other words, any so-called worship induced by wine was sensual, sinful indulgence.

Christian worship is not anything like that. Paul goes on to describe it. “. . . be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

When I read this, I think, worship is gracious, joyful people who love God and one another with thankful hearts and a deep willingness to serve each other’s needs. This is what we should be like when we gather together in worship—yet I’m well aware that doing it requires being filled with the Spirit.

The passage continues. It says “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord . . . . Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her . . . . Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right . . . . And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

God intends that spirit-filled living goes beyond worship to permeate daily family life. Marriage and raising children is a holy sacrament with deeply spiritual significance. However, obeying this requires being filled with the Spirit.

Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to address bondservants, the equivalent of employees today, and says, “ . . . be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ . . . doing the will of God from the heart.”

When I hear people talk about their work and their attitude toward their boss, I know that obedience to this command also requires being filled with the Spirit.

Paul adds one more; the employers also need Him. He tells them “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that our own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”

Spirit-filled living seems a lot easier in church. When I’m with others who believe, our sense of God and our worship is mutually supported. We encourage one another by having a like-minded attitude and a unified purpose in being there.

But the Bible is clear; if I am going to please God, then I must be filled with the Spirit—not just in church, but in ordinary, everyday situations, like when my husband asks me to run an errand when I’m busy, or when someone in my family mocks my faith, or when I edit someone’s book, or serve on a committee, or am in charge of a group effort. Wine certainly won’t give me what I need.

Family life, work, all relationships and activities can be challenging. Maybe the reason so many people are “driven to drink” by their personal challenges is that they have no idea of the alternative offered by Jesus Christ.


Monday, April 16, 2007

The transforming power of a good look

When we lived in California, our daughter picked up a bit of a drawl. When we lived near Chicago, our son had a friend from New York and picked up a Bronx accent. My husband has worked with Americans so often that when we go to the USA, they seldom perceive from his speech that he is Canadian.

People often become like those they spend time with, which is one reason parents guard the friendships of their children and God warns us about the company we keep.

Keeping this in mind, this morning I noticed how chapter breaks in the Bible can sometimes make me miss important connections or something valuable about spiritual life.

For instance, today’s reading starts in 2 Corinthians 4 with, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

First I assumed that “this ministry” refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian ministry of spreading this good news to the corners of the earth. However, while the previous chapters do talk about the work of Christ in the lives of the Corinthians, and the ministry of the new covenant, the ministry being emphasized is that of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

The author, Paul, contrasts new life in Christ with the old covenant of law. He says, “If the ministry of death, written and engrave on stones, was glorious . . . how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?”

He compared the blindness of those who looked to the ‘glory of the law’ for their salvation with the incredible transformation in those who look at the glory of the Lord instead. He tells them that when they turned to the Lord, their blindness was taken away and they were set free from their sin, their futile attempts to become righteous by keeping the law, and that condemnation that would have followed their failure. Instead, they now look to Jesus and enjoy the liberty that accompanies the Spirit of the Lord and His ministry to them.

He also says, “But we all, with unveiled face (no longer blind), beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

For me, this is one of the most profound truths in the New Testament. Simply put, when I look at Jesus, the power of God changes me to be like Him. This is not by effort or determination but happens by grace. (In fact, a definition of grace says it is a revelation of Christ that changes me to be more like Him.)

God changes the way I am by the ministry of His Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to me. This is the ministry that Paul is talking about in chapter two. This is why he says, “Therefore, since we have this ministry . . . do not lose heart.”

He isn’t talking about sharing the gospel as much as he wants Christians to continue in our personal growth, to be holy. He adds, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”

I can lose heart when it seems I’ve no freedom to share my faith or talk about Jesus. I can lose heart when it seems like my life has no impact on others. But Paul is saying to me that because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit that changes my life, I can not only turn from sin, but people will look at me and know in their heart that I am not the same as I used to be. I am being transformed and God is using me as a ‘commendation’ in the hearts of others, even if I am not aware of it. He does it because of “this ministry”.

Again, He does the changing, but I’m responsible to gaze at the glory of the Lord, to look intently and intimately at Him. As He transforms my life through this face-to-face relationship, I am able to reflect His image, even unconsciously, to others.

Don’t give up. Keep gazing. Keep looking for the grace of God that reveals His Son to me. He will make my life shine and use it to touch the conscience of others.

And that is utterly incredible!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Meek is not weak. . .

Recently our Sunday Bible class studied an unpopular word—meekness. Most newer translations recognize that most people think doormat or wimpy when they hear this word, so they changed it to ‘gentleness’ to accommodate modern misconceptions.

I say misconceptions because meekness is a great word. Moses was meek; Jesus was meek. God values those who are meek, and in His dictionary, meekness is not at all weak, wimpy or doormatish! In fact, meekness is a powerful attribute of God Himself, and much to be desired, but indeed rare in these days of assertive independence.

The Bible definition of a meek person is someone who trusts God so much that they never feel as if they have to defend themselves or fight back. Since my class is all women, we first had to clear the idea of how this fits for someone who is being abused. Abused women are fearful and allow themselves to be walked on, not out of meekness but because they are afraid. If they were meek, they would have the power to do what is best, not settle for the worst nor enable their spouse to keep on sinning. Meekness is not fearful weakness.

That being said, meekness is the ability given by the Holy Spirit to stop demanding my own way. It is being set free from the tyranny of always wanting what I want, and right now. It is knowing that God is taking care of me and being deeply contented and serene about what He is doing.

In our study, we looked at many Scripture passages and examples, but the one that prompted the most discussion was a section of 1 Peter that talks about the meekness of Jesus, in that “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously . . . .” Jesus went to the cross trusting God for the horror of it, and for the outcome. Because He was meek, we have eternal life!

As we read that, we saw the value of meekness and the total trust that accompanies it. But I asked the ladies to keep reading. The next few verses talk about the role of wives. We are to be, and this is another loaded word, submissive to our husbands, especially those who are not obeying God. This word means much the same as meekness. In fact, a few verses later, we are told not to focus on outward beauty, but on “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

I’m thinking of all these things this morning as I read Ephesians 5. It repeats this directive to wives, then tells husbands their role. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of the water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

If married women chafe at their responsibility to stop demanding their own way, married men chafe also at their responsibility to sacrificially love their wives in the same way Jesus loves them. Jesus wants me pure, clean, lovely in the sight of God. My husband is supposed to help Him with that task.

I can’t demand any of this. My responsibility is to trust God so much, that I don’t live a life of fear (which is also spelled out in 1 Peter 3 and becomes the bottom line of having a submissive spirit).

My husband was not a Christian when I married him, and I was very new at it, far from meek and quiet. Over the years, God is teaching me the great value of these qualities and showing me how impossible they are on my own. My sinful flesh wants just the opposite, but if I allow His Spirit to fill and control me, meekness is possible.

I asked God this morning to clarify His goals for my life, and this is what He gave me. My conclusion is that He wants me holy and without blemish, that He will use my husband to help accomplish this, and I’m supposed to drop my feistiness and cooperate.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The foundation of worship

Last night, our prayer group discussed our motives in serving God. We have a tough time with this, mostly because motivation is a tender topic. We want to approach God without selfishness, but concluded that being totally unmixed in our motives eludes us. Learning how to be pure in heart is a lifetime project.

My verse today is about worship, but critics of the Bible would have a field day with it. One version (New King James) says, “God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.”

In a more recent translation, the same verse says, “The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”

I’m getting two different pictures. The first is worship involving a total giving of myself to God with the realization of my tendency to “crawl off the altar” so I need to rely on the light He has give me to keep me there.

The second also involves worship, but less personal and more corporate. With the people of God, I am waving palm branches (just as the people did during the festival before Jesus was crucified) and celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my sin.

Wanting to hear God speak, but not wanting to ‘make up’ what He is saying, I checked a couple commentaries. One of them uses the second translation and says, “The second half of Psalm 118:27, though difficult in the Hebrew, probably refers to the custom at the Feast of Tabernacles of waving branches before the Lord. Then later, when the psalm was used in all the feasts, this part of verse 27 became simply an expression in the hymn without boughs literally being in people’s hands.”

This didn’t help me much, except the part about being “difficult in the Hebrew.” What did the writer intend to say in the original psalm? That is the challenge for those who study the Scriptures. Knowing Hebrew is helpful in cases like this, but knowing the mind of God would be even more helpful.

Rather than get lost in trying to figure out the English meaning, or even settling for a combination of the two (like some versions have done), I’m trying to listen, and to keep this perplexing verse in its context.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. Throughout, the writer expresses the marvel of God’s mercy and makes numerous references to what God will do and is doing for Him. God’s blessings include deliverance from enemies and chastening for sin. The writer uses words already said by Moses, so some think Moses wrote this Psalm.

If Moses wrote it, he certainly knew what it meant to ‘crawl off the altar’ for he struggled with the task God gave him of leading His people out of bondage to the promised land. He had light to guide him, but even with that, remaining faithful was a challenge. The people he led so often rejected the light of God and resisted Moses’ leadership. Yet God was merciful and heard this man’s cries for help.

Another thought is about interpretation. Most Bible students are told ‘don't read New Testament thought back into the Old Testament’ while interpreting it, but that is not what happens in the Bible. For instance, Psalm 118 talks about the “chief cornerstone” without saying who it is, but Peter identifies this person as Christ. Rather than ‘reading back’, Peter is using new information from God to figure out a perplexing mystery in the earlier revelation. The coming of the Messiah shed light on the older Scripture, and just as this verse says, “He has given us light.”

As I read it again, another possibility comes to mind. The sacrifice that is bound to the altar could refer to Christ. As the people of God come to worship, we need to bind that sacrifice, both with praise (like the waving of palm branches) and with determination. It isn’t that Jesus would leave the altar; He was committed to stay there and die for us, but that we, in our human pride, will try to nullify the sacrifice He made. I do it every time I try to please God apart from Christ and from what happened at the cross.

Human effort subtly creeps into worship. I put myself and what I am doing up before God. See my service. See my enthusiasm. See my love for You, instead of remembering that the only reason I can stand before Him is because of the sacrifice of Christ. Bind the sacrifice to the altar. Even though I can swish palm branches (or raise my hands if I want to), my worship must be solidly grounded on that altar of sacrifice, not in my performance of waving or doing anything.

Friday, April 13, 2007

We are containers . . .

Some children think that they are a bag of blood. If they are injured and bleed, their minds imagine themselves leaking until their blood is all gone and they become, well, it isn’t hard to picture the rest.

Normally, people don’t think of themselves as containers, but a phrase in the Bible suggests it. Scripture talks about people being “in Adam” or “in Christ” and the idea is something like a container. I’ve heard it explained that to be “in Christ” means that I am like an envelope put inside a book. Wherever the book goes, the envelope goes. Whatever happens to the book, happens to the envelope. When God looks at the envelope, He sees only the book.

The Apostle Paul uses this and other ways to describe a Christian’s union with Jesus. In Romans 6, he says, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”

This works because of the “in” principle. When the first man was created, the rest of the human race was “in him” because his body held the materials for his children, and even his children’s children, and so on. If he had of died without becoming a father, all humanity (as we now know it) would have died with him. This is described in the Bible as being “in Adam” and is part of our existence in this physical world. This term of being “in” someone who lived before is often used in Scripture.

It is also used in a spiritual sense. The Bible says God put everyone “in Christ” so that whatever happens to Him happens to everyone. Spiritually, I was united with Him or put in Him so that when He died on the cross, I died too.

Watchman Nee says this: “That death out-dies all other deaths. . . . In Christ all those who deserve to die have died, with the result that he who had the power of death (the devil) no longer has dominion over them. They are dead; and ashes are something of which you can never make a fire. . . . A house once burned to ashes cannot be burned a second time, for if the first fire has done its work there is nothing for the next to do. For us redeemed sinners who have already died a death in Christ, death itself is passed away. We have become possessors of His incorruptible life.”

That “in” principle makes me dead in Christ to my old life (Paul calls it the old man), and alive in Christ to new life. Not only that, wherever Jesus is, I am. By dropping the concept of time (which ends in eternity and everything becomes NOW), Paul even says, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, make us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . .”

In the mind of God, and in the mind of those who are in Christ, we are already there. The certainty of our destiny is tied to the reality of being in Him. I am “in” the One who died for me (we all died), and who lives for me (all are made alive when we say ‘yes’) and who ascended to heaven so that where He is, I am also.

But right now, as Paul says, I am “present in my body and absent from the Lord” in the sense that in this current time and to human eyes, the envelope is more visible than the book.

However, another exciting “in” principle is also at work, one that Paul describes as the “earthen vessel that contains a great treasure.” Not only did God put me in Christ, but He also put Christ in me.

My challenge today, and every day while I live on this earth, is to make sure my envelope is open, or has a window, so that others can see who is inside.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

That last hurdle

Hard news. Yesterday was blood test results day, and my husband’s numbers related to his CLL have gone up three points each. They were over normal anyway (hence the diagnosis), but another three point increase means a more rapid escalation than we hoped. He still feels well, and has no other symptoms, but if this continues, well, I’m having trouble thinking about it.

CLL is an odd form of cancer. It happens in bone marrow which is producing cancerous white cells, creating a problem in the immune system. Any treatment for cancer weakens the immune system, so CLL is normally not treated until those numbers reach a certain point. Then, any treatment only slows the progress; it cannot be cured. My husband hasn’t decided yet if he wants the rigors of treatment since it will not ‘fix’ it, and could make him more miserable than the disease.

He is in good spirits. His attitude is amazing, actually. He makes me think of Agnes, an elderly friend who had Lou Gehrig’s disease, a slow, relentless killer that eventually suffocates its victims. She was sweet, prayerful, full of joy almost all the time. She was not in denial and her attitude was real. Agnes showed everyone how to die.

This morning, I’ve asked God for a good word and He never fails. This is where my devotional book took me, in Hebrews 2, to this: “Inasmuch then as the children (of God) have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Jesus came to die. He shared in something outside His nature, flesh and blood, so He could destroy the power of that which eventually takes all of us who are by nature flesh and blood.

Death’s power is two-fold. These verses talk about our fear of it. Fear holds people in bondage. I remember from the past few days the exhortation to “know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” That means no bondage, not even to this fear.

I think of all the things people do in fear to try and avoid death. They don’t talk about it, and avoid any reminders of it, like aging. In fact, aging is ferociously fought, as if it were a den of tigers. Thousands of products exist because of this fear, their ads filling magazines. Fearful people try to defy it, doing dangerous things. Nevertheless, the fear of death permeates life.

The other bondage is spiritual. Because we sin, we are condemned to die, not just physical but also spiritual. Spiritual death is being separated from God, in this life and eventually forever. While some smirk and say they don’t care because they want to be ‘partying with their friends’ anyway, the fear of death still eats at hearts. We know that we deserve it, but we also don’t want it. Only those in great despair reach out for death, mistakenly thinking that even dying must be better than their current pain.

Lies about death and this gripping fear are Satan’s power. He uses them like chains, filling minds with falsehoods, filling hearts with dread. Like my husband often says, everyone is terminal, and everyone knows it.

But not everyone is held in bondage by death or the fear of it. Yes, Jesus was put in a tomb, dead, but He didn’t stay there. In dying He paid our penalty for sin, died our death and experienced separation from God for us, but He is not dead; He is alive. He came out of that tomb, was seen by many witnesses, then returned to glory where He “ever lives to make intercession for us.”

Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life . . . .” The verb is past tense. When we respond to His gift of salvation and receive His gift of eternal life, death becomes merely a transition from this place to the next.

Eternal life belongs right now to us who believe, me, and my husband included. Physical death cannot take it from us. All it can do is separate us from one another, for a little while.

I know all the verses about Jesus never leaving me, or forsaking me, and that He will take care of me. I know that when either of us die, we will be with Jesus, and all of life’s challenges will fade from memory. I know that a great and eternal joy will be ours.

Yet sometime between then and now, there will be trauma, sorrow, and days filled with tears. For today, it’s that part that shakes me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Okay, okay, I hear You!

I most know I am a Christian when God asks me to do something and my first reaction is negative. If the thought of serving others comes to mind and I’m all for it, I know that thought is my own, but if it causes conflict inside me, then I know that my “flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.”

It happened this morning, first thing. My radio alarm is on a Christian station. When it ‘rang’ the station was playing a commercial for Compassion Canada. I tried to yawn really hard so I wouldn’t hear it. That was my second clue, at least. I keep seeing needy people on television or in the newspapers and the Spirit tugs at me, but like many people, I think about something else.

He would not let me this morning, even with all my excuses. Today’s reading is from Matthew 14. Jesus just heard about the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist. He left the place where He was and went alone into a deserted place, no doubt to pray about this awful event and feel the sorrow of it.

But the crowds wouldn’t leave Him alone. Opportunities to serve needy people are seldom convenient. “They followed Him on foot from the cities.”

“And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.” There is that word again. One of my excuses is that in the realm of spiritual gifts, I always test low on compassion. Why use a gift that I don’t have much of?

However, when Jesus is moved with compassion, because of our identity with Him and our relationship with Him, His people feel His emotions. “When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”

Even though there was a tinge of a selfish 'enough, already' in their request, they did think about the needs of the crowd gathered before them. The conflict between flesh and Spirit was evident, flesh wanted a break, Spirit wanted the people’s needs met.

“But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’”

Wham! Don’t listen to the flesh. They did anyway, protesting they only had five loaves and two fish. Of course, in the hands of Jesus, that was enough, but they first had to give it, and they did, and most of us know what happened next.

Before I started to write this morning, and as soon as I noted that this was the verse I must read, I was also saying, ‘Enough, already,’ but in a different sense. The Spirit is talking to me and regardless of my excuses and reluctance, while I don’t know what will happen next, I do know what He wants me to do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Balance means . . .

Balance. The misuse and use of that word confuses me. For some, it means “all work and no play makes you a dull person,” therefore don’t work too much. For others, balance means to stay on course without needing to adjust anything. It can also mean a stability of emotions where there are no extremes. It’s used also for an equality of activities where nothing takes priority.

A few people misuse the term ‘balance’ to excuse their lack of focus and their avoidance of being overtly passionate about any one thing. As I read 1 Corinthians this morning, I can’t see that as a biblical philosophy. Paul talks about his own life. He says he is free to do whatever he wishes, yet will only do that which is expedient. If his actions do not further the gospel, then why do them? He lives a life of self-denial, and writes of his passion for Christ and His people, but then defends his personal right to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He says, “Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?”

In other words, Paul chooses to deny himself, yet says in living that life of self-denial, he defends his right to enjoy the results of it. If he worked hard for the sake of God’s people, then he could also rejoice in their growth and spiritual success.

Paul was a passionate man, certainly about the gospel that he preached, but it seems he gave his all to everything he did. He also said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more . . . I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, that I may be a partaker of it with you.”

A few verses later, he writes about the value of self-discipline, using athletes as an example. He says, “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.”

Temperate sounds a bit like balance, but it is not the balance of “doing a little bit of everything” but the balance of self-control, of doing only what is important in order to reach that desired goal—winning the race. Paul sums it up with, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

Whatever he was doing, he kept his purpose in mind. If a challenge or activity didn’t fit with his purpose, he avoided it. If his body demanded or desired anything, his thinking was not Is this part of a balanced diet? but, Will this serve my purpose?

Whatever else ‘balance’ meant to Paul, I can’t see him doing ‘busy work’ or wasting even his leisure moments. Even though he enjoyed the results of his work, he didn’t put his feet up very often. He knew that God gave him something to do. He knew that life was short. He may also have known that Jesus said to work while it “was yet day for the day is coming when no one can work.”

Others might think this man’s life was totally out of whack, out of balance, but I don’t see him that way. After reading and studying this morning, I’m going to dig out and review the purpose statement God gave me a few years ago. If I’m off target, no matter what else I’m doing, I’m out of balance.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Walking by faith

Because many people fail to keep their word, saying “I promise . . .” has become almost a joke. Politicians who renege, exaggerated retail claims, broken wedding vows, and the like have destroyed the reputation of a promise. Does anyone expect them to be kept?

I wonder if our crumbling expectation concerning promises has anything to do with Satan’s constant attack on our spiritual lives. Are broken promises part of his attempt to stop us from trusting God? Certainly, God makes hundreds of promises. If everyone else fails me, can I still believe He will not?

Personally, my faith in the promises of God is challenged every time I pray. If I’ve been asking the same things for days, or weeks, or months, or even years and years, can I hold on to the promise of God to hear and answer prayer? Especially for those things that I know are in His will? If I really believe God’s promises, how will that affect the way I live?

Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’”

God promised Abraham that through his son, Isaac, he would become a great nation. The promise was unconditional and the writer of Hebrews concludes that Abraham offered his son only because he believed that God would raise the boy from the dead. Abraham was so convinced of the promise of God that he, by the command of God, would put on an altar the only avenue by which the promise could be fulfilled. Certainly this was a huge test of his faith in God’s promise.

How about me? God makes promises to me as His child. Do I believe them? If so, do I believe them to the point that if He asked me to do something contrary to their fulfilment, would I do it—in total faith that no matter what He asked to the contrary, He would still keep His promise?

His major promise is heaven; because I believe, I will spend eternity with Him. Perhaps that promise is easier to believe than the promises for this life—I’ve never doubted my eternal destiny—yet there are other promises that I have doubted. He says He will never leave me or forsake me, but on occasion I’ve felt entirely abandoned by God, and was convinced that He had left me.

It’s like that with some prayers too. I’ve pleaded for the souls of unsaved loved ones, asking God to touch and change their lives. He promises that whatever I ask for in faith believing, He will do, but nothing. No touch, no changes. Yet.

Do I get discouraged? Yes. Do I think that God will not keep His promise to answer my prayers? I tend to think “no” or “wait” is not what that promise means, so yes, I get discouraged. But every now and then God reminds me that silence from heaven is partly a test for my faith. Will I keep on trusting Him, even if He is not saying or doing anything?

Abraham was asked to give up the very child that would fulfil God’s promise. God is not testing me by putting me into that kind of corner. If Abraham can trust the promises of God as he did, and if I have the same faith in the same God, then I can do it too.

The silence of God asks, Will you trust Me even when I turn my back, when I appear to not keep any of my promises? Or will you be disillusioned by a world full of promise-breakers, and go with what your eyes see, instead of what I say?

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . . . Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

“We walk by faith, not by sight”—which means that if I can be confident of a heaven that I’ve never seen just because God promised it to me, I ought to be just as confident in that same promise-giving God for answers that haven’t yet happened.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

I need to be in shape for this. . .

We have literally dozens of mugs in our kitchen cupboard. When someone visits and happens to get a mug from the cupboard themselves, they might pick one that is set apart. You know, the mug that ‘belongs’ to one person in the household and no one else uses it. My husband has his with writing that says, “Born to golf, forced to work.” Mine is a double-sized burnt orange, and our granddaughter has one with Homer Simpson on it. Set apart mugs, just for us.

In Scripture, the idea of being set apart uses a religious-sounding word. Those set apart for God are called “sanctified.” In some cases, people becomes sanctified by offering themselves to God, but most of the time this term is used for those God sets apart for Himself. He does that so He can use them to accomplish His will on earth.

This sounds a bit like slavery to those inexperienced. Just like a cup in the cupboard, are the people whom God has sanctified merely sitting around waiting until He tells them what to do? Are they unable to do anything else?

My study Bible says that all believers in Christ are set apart for God and His purposes, doing only what He wants, hating all that He hates. This is an initial event in our lives, but also progressive. We belong to God and live for God, but it takes awhile for us to learn how to act like it. It also says “sanctification is accomplished by means of the truth.”

I wrote about that yesterday. Truth does not enslave people. It sets us free. Without it, we are slaves to all sorts of things, slaves to sin, to selfishness, to fear and worry. When we believe lies, those lies motivate us to negative thinking and behavior. Truth is freedom, and truth sets us apart for God.

Jesus prayed, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. . . . Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

Jesus never did anything other than the will of God. He was actively engaged in the world, healing the sick, blessing and loving people. That His life was not spent on a shelf clearly proves that sanctification is never boring. He also ate, drank, slept, enjoyed His friends, and did all the things people do. Sanctification is not a pious, I’m-too-holy-to-be real kind of existence either.

Jesus knows total truth and in that knowledge is totally free from bondage. Sanctification is that—knowing truth and being free to talk, live, do truth. And this is a most joyful thing.

Yesterday I woke up thinking “He is risen” and even though it was only Easter Saturday, the truth of the resurrection filled me with such joy that I even told God, “I don’t think I can be this happy all day—it takes too much energy!”

Just before we ate, being sanctified meant God gave me a job to do. Our family sat down to the dinner table and I read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 about the reality and significance of the resurrection. As he said, if Jesus did not rise, then we who believe in Him are pitiful, but He did rise and because of that, we glorify God.

I knew God wanted me to read this, even though there were several present who do not believe in Him. Never mind. The joy of doing His will overwhelmed me. Sanctification is not a ‘grit your teeth and do it’ sacrifice, but an incredibly wonderful privilege.

I don’t think I could handle such a privilege every moment of every day though. After everyone went home, I fell sound asleep on the sofa—totally exhausted (odd for a person who hardly ever take a nap). However, now I understand why God gives me those days now and then of being a bit like mug sitting on the shelf. I’m simply not in shape for the rigors of being set apart!