Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sainthood

"All the saints greet you...."

What is a saint?

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary unfortunately defines a saint as, “a person who is acknowledged as holy or virtuous and regarded in Christian faith as being in heaven after death,” or “a person of exalted virtue who is canonized by the Church after death and who may be the object of veneration and prayers for intercession,” or “informally a very virtuous person,” or “a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; a Mormon,” or “worthy of being a saint; very virtuous.”

Not one of these definitions is biblical, at least not entirely.

In Scripture, a saint is anyone who by salvation has been sanctified or set apart from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. In the mind of God, a saint is declared holy (which means set apart), not because of their own virtue, but by the imputed righteousness of Christ. No one has to physically die to become a saint, but they do have to be “dead to sin” and “alive to God.” This is both a position and a progress.

Some Bible translators erred or were perhaps afraid to directly translated Paul’s words. Where he wrote, “called saints” or “saints by calling” they put “called to be saints” as if this was that future event when Christians step into eternity and are transformed, forever without sin. They could not bring themselves to call the ordinary, struggling-with-sin believer a saint.

Historically, “saint” thus became used to designate specific individuals who were held to be extreme examples of the faith. These people were venerated as an inspiration to other Christians, and the term saint was first applied to martyrs.

One group (mentioned above) takes this title more as Paul considered it. They do apply it to all members of their ‘church.’ However, the doctrines of the Mormons fall away from other more important biblical foundations about God and the nature of salvation. Any Mormon that I have talked to does not understand what it means to be saved by grace through faith.

It is biblical to link “saint” and “holy,” but the common understanding of holy has also drifted from its original moorings. “Holy” when applied to God does mean sinless perfection, but could never mean that when applied to human beings. We are not that in this life, which is likely why most “saints” these days can only be dead people.

However, God calls holy those who believe. He doesn’t wait until we are dead. Besides that, we are saints ‘by calling’ not by virtue. The only way I know how to illustrate this is the army. A recruit is sworn in and given the designation of ‘private’ yet he or she is every bit as much a soldier as a five-star general. The latter has more experience and in function knows far more about soldiering, but both are in the army and both are soldiers.

God calls me a saint now, not to be a saint. By His word He also asks me to recognize all His people as saints. Otherwise, how would we know who is a saint and who is not? Do we appoint a group of people to examine our lives years after we die to see if we performed a miracle or not?

I’d rather go with what God says. My status as His child and His saint comes from the Bible and the Lord, not the decision of men.

Rather than elevating me though, this designation humbles me. I know the feeling of the newly sworn in soldier. He is now declared “in the army” and his heart’s desire is to perform worthy of that calling. He holds his head high. By being told who he is, he makes every effort to live up to his calling.

My devotional book says that we who belong to Jesus Christ should never consider ourselves merely “called to be” saints and asks “How long shall we have to be “being” before we can actually be?” Instead, we already are.

For me, this has great practical value. When I mess up, am tempted, or my halo hangs over one ear, I need to remember that I can praise God and get back on track because I already am what He says I am. Even though I’m still in training, I am a saint.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Another Paradox

Deep in the human heart lies a desire to be significant, to have our lives matter. What good is our four-score years if spent in obscurity without any impact on our world or other people? The shy ones might claim to be happy without a spotlight, but they still want to matter.

As I think about the ways I used to grab center stage, I have to laugh. In high school, I wanted the best marks, to win all arguments on the debate team, to beat everyone in arm wrestling (all 110 lbs of me), and get the prizes in the various 4-H clubs I joined. Later I wanted to be the best artist, the best wife and mother, and when I became a Christian, the best at that.

It didn’t take long to realize that the best of anything is up to God. Human efforts may accomplish some things (I could beat everyone at arm wrestling, even the boys), but eventually someone comes along that is better or faster or stronger, and the trophy topples. Besides, winning like this does not satisfy.

As a Christian, I can see the paradoxical in most of what God calls me to do. On one hand I’m weak (and feel it) and on the other He tells me I can do all things. As for being significant, the Apostle Paul said of his own life and ministry, “ . . . as unknown, and yet well-known . . . .”

He knew that fame was an odd thing. He was well known before he met Christ, at least well known to the Jews as a devout follower of Jewish law and tradition. He also persecuted Christians who, up until then, didn’t know anything about him.

Then Christ confronted this man and changed his heart and his direction. Paul gave up all the things pertaining to his former life, things he once considered significant. As he rejected them, the Jews and Pharisees rejected him. Then, at first, he was unknown to the Christian community, but not for long. Eventually he was well-known and well-loved by all those who follow Jesus Christ. Unknown, yet well-known.

How can this odd paradox be explained? I just finished reading Linda Hall’s novel, “Margaret’s Peace” and she does the same thing as James Scott Bell in at least one of his books. She writes a story that is not the slightest preachy and says very little about God, yet He is so obviously involved in both the plot and the writer’s heart. Unlike secular mysteries, this story, without saying “God did it,” brings out the details that show how God works. It is life as seen from inside the kingdom, life that demonstrates God who is behind and upholds life.

I think that if a person blind to God looks at a Christian they would see insignificance, at least most of the time. For them, importance is measured by bigger, better, best, awards, power, and all the stuff that Paul rejected, and I am learning to reject. But for Christians, God gives significance in the little things.

Yesterday we drove an hour and a half to an anniversary. Our presence there seemed insignificant. We didn’t know anyone except the couple celebrating. However, we sat at a table with young parents we had never met before and will likely never see again. As we chatted, my husband mentioned something he knows about future work in a particular realm. The wife and husband exchanged glances. In their eyes we could see a certain sparkle, a renewal of hope.

We have no idea what was behind that glance, but the hope was obvious to both of us. This young father he was not unemployed, but he does work in that realm. Was he worried about job security? Were they concerned they might not be able to take care of their family? We might never know that, but we did know we were supposed to be at this afternoon party. Perhaps the only reason was to unwittingly encourage this young couple who didn’t know us.

Paul lived his Christian life like that, doing what God wanted him to do and not always sure of the reason or what might result from his obedience. People could embrace him, or reject him, honor him or toss him out of town. While being known and loved and on a podium is okay, unknown is okay too. That is one mark of walking by faith, and describes the wonderful way God works in a world where only His people are given small glimpses of what He is doing.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Five lessons from a prophet

God sent Ezekiel to speak to a rebellious people and while this man might be classified today as a ‘gloom and doom’ prophet, he used a method that shows me a thing or two about talking to anyone who seems to need some ‘advice.’

Ezekiel 3:12 starts with, “Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a great thunderous voice: ‘Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place!’”

This man started his mission with a strong understanding that the Spirit of God was sending him. That is paramount, but more than that, he had praise for the glory of God as his focus. Lesson #one. How many times have I felt God wanted me to speak, but my focus was not on His glory but more about my anger at what the other person was doing, or worse yet, about them being wrong and me being right?

Verse 14 says, “So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.”

Maybe Ezekiel was full of passion or anger too, which makes me feel a bit better. However, lesson #two: he was still being moved by the Spirit, controlled by the Lord. He wasn’t flying off to vindicate himself, or God. Instead, God was his motivation and controlling factor.

The next verse startles me. Ezekiel went to these rebellious people and “I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.”

The words used here (also in Job) describe the sharing of deep grief. Yes, God’s people were not obedient, but they were also miserable (which almost always goes along with disobedience). Lesson #three: Instead of jumping right at it and telling them what they ought to be doing, he felt with them their sadness and heartache. By identifying with them and where they were coming from, he would not only earn their confidence, but his own heart would be softer, more gentle, even merciful as he delivered whatever God wanted them to hear.

God did tell him what to say, in the next verse. “Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word form My mouth, and give them a warning from Me.”

Lesson #four. After Ezekiel sat with the people and identified with their sorrow, God told him what to say. How much better this is than speaking in “the heat of my spirit.”

You’d think that this method, given to this man by God, would work, that the people would respond and repent and stop their resistance to God. That is what I expected. But God told Ezekiel that most of them would not listen. In fact, “they will put ropes on you and bind you with them.” However, He also promised, “But when I speak with your, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house” (verse 27).

One more lesson, #five. I tend to think that if I do everything the way God wants it done, success will follow. People will hear what I say and change, mountains will move, prayers will be answered. The Old Testament prophets, particularly Jeremiah and this one, Ezekiel, show me that this is not always the case. God wants me to do right, regardless of the results. My motivation is not supposed to be what I can accomplish, but pleasing Him, obeying Him, no matter what.

Today I feel like what I am reading is way over my head. I’m not there yet and the target is far beyond my reach, but maybe today He will show me a bad situation that needs addressing, and I’m to remember one of these lessons, perhaps to be silent for seven days and just put myself in that other person’s shoes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Singed? or left alone?

A huge fire in the south side of our city last weekend put hundreds of people out on the street, many in their pyjamas. The fire started around 5:15 a.m. in a three-building, four-storey, 149-unit complex under construction and quickly spread, totally destroying nearby duplexes and damaging at least 76 more homes. Hundreds were left without a place to live, and some with only what they were wearing.

We drove by the site the next day. It looked like a bomb had been dropped on a large city block leaving blackened earth and very little else. Any homes left standing were either charred shells, or at the very least had their vinyl siding buckled and melted in the heat.

I thought about this horrid mess this morning when I read 1 Thessalonians 5:19. It says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” I don’t know gallons, but the fire department needed a huge amount of water to quench that fire. In the homes less damaged, water would have ruined anything that was left untouched by the flames. I wondered: how much water, or whatever, does it take to quench the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is said to be like a fire, not to utterly destroy like real fire does, but to detect sin and make us aware of it, often with a burning heat in our conscience. As we pay attention to that heat and confess our sin, the Holy Spirit purifies us from that sin, if we let Him. That is the negative, unpleasant side of His fire, but we are not supposed to put it out.

A more positive metaphor is the fire or zeal for righteousness, justice and goodness that the Holy Spirit produces. Like a flame in our heart, He moves us to be champions for all that God is and wants done in this world, either through prayer or action. We are not supposed to quench that fire either.

Fire scares me. It also moves me to action. I recall one fire someone started with a cigarette along a country road. We found it moments later, a small blackened arch rimed with flame, but spreading rapidly. This was before cell phones, and I vividly remember my scramble to find help, to get people to the scene. This fire moved so fast, and I can still see in my mind its flames leaping from tree top to tree top before it was quenched.

A few weeks ago we had another experience with fire and my stomach still tightens at the memory. I posted those memories on another blog and can still see the flames in my mind.

I wonder why fire puts such impressions in my heart. Maybe this is a good thing, at least when it comes to the fire of the Holy Spirit. I’ve realized with Him, if I quench that first fire, His purifying heat, then I will never experience the second one, His zeal that sets me in motion.

However, that first fire isn’t difficult to quench. To put it out, all it takes is noise, any noise. Plug in the CD, put on a tape, turn on the radio, or the television, call someone. To hear His convicting voice generally requires silence, willingness to listen.

Even if I won’t listen, He is persistent. Just as a small flame can burst into a powerful fire, so can the Spirit become more powerful, more insistent. To use a different metaphor, if I won’t listen to His gentle tapping, He is quite able to get out a bigger hammer or a two-by-four. Better to have a quiet time with Him and pay attention.

It bothers me to see so many people plugged into noise; I-pods, headsets, cell phones. Silence bothers some people so much that they cannot stand being in it and like a blank wall, must spray it with the graffiti of sound.

For Christians, this is not what God wants. We need that fire because it can burn into us the likeness of Jesus Christ. Another verse, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world (take that ear phone out of your ear), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (listen up and let Him change how you think), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Silence is a spiritual discipline. Paying attention to God is hard work. Quenching the Spirit is the easier choice of saying no to His voice, of pouring in so much noise that He quietly goes away and leaves me alone. I don’t like fire, but that alternative is much worse.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Winning wars


Key to winning a military battle is clever strategy and a mighty and well-organized fighting force. Key to winning a spiritual battle is somewhat the same, but with different weapons.

The Old Testament blessings and curses, repeated in several places, tell how. In Leviticus 26 the first 13 verses concern blessings. He promise His people, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then . . . you will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you” (Leviticus 26:3, 7-8).

Today God’s people fight a spiritual war using spiritual weapons. Our sword is the Word of God combined with our greatest weapon, prayer. The power of prayer is largely unknown to the rest of the world, but the people of God know it well. We understand by experience that one believer on her knees praying in the will of God defeats evil, and that a hundred Christians praying for the same thing is a formidable force against whatever our enemy throws at us. However, there is one condition; we need to be obedient, holy people.

In Leviticus, God also ‘promises’ a horrifying list of curses for disobedience. He says, “You shall have no power to stand before your enemies. You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.”

If my life is not in line with the commands and principles God sets before me, then He will certainly be busy, not working against my foes, but on me—to get rid of my sinfulness. Godliness is important to God than anything, and the reason He sent Jesus to die for me. Even though my sins are forgiven and I have the life of Christ living in me, what a waste if I treat as nothing the obedience and purity He has made available.

Without Jesus I cannot do it. I cannot “fight the good fight” or keep His commands, never mind rout the enemy and put him to flight, yet 1 Peter 5:5-9 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith . . . .”

These verbs are obedience words. Obedience takes humility and a faith that can trust God with my cares. It takes watchfulness, a vigilant awareness of what evil is trying to do. It also takes a persistent trust in God and a determined resistance to the enemy.

James 4:6-7 puts it like this: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

The word order is the same as the blessings promised in Leviticus. Obey. Submit to God and only then I will be able to resist my spiritual enemy and make him run for cover. This cannot be done if my attitude is “I can do this myself, I don’t need God, I can do my own thing.”

Even that attitude is a spiritual battle, and to win it, and many others always in progress, I must first yield to my commanding Officer. Then I’m fit to go to war—and win.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Life from Death

My tulips, only a few weeks ago glorious, now look dead. The experts say not to remove those brown leaves. In their ‘dying’ the bulb buried deep in the soil draws nourishment. If I ‘nice up’ my flower bed by removing them, the bulbs will not be robust. Eventually they will shrivel and not produce large and beautiful blooms in the next season.

Jesus said something like this in John 12:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”

In both garden and spiritual realm, without death, there is no life. Seeds have to ‘die’ so new life can come. Jesus had to die so we could live. By His death, we have eternal life.

I’m reading The Cup and the Glory by Greg Harris. It is not an easy read and I must go slowly, seriously. Chapter Five, called “The Fellowship” is not about Christians gathering together to share their lives (or tea and cookies), but about Philippians 3:10. In that passage Paul writes how he willingly gave up all that most people would have considered important, even spiritually important, and even counted all of it as rubbish that he might “gain Christ.” He says that he wants to be found in Him with the righteousness that comes by faith, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings . . . .”

Every Christian wants the “power of His resurrection.” We want to experience that incredible life that gives us the ability to live for Him, and we do; God graciously gives this life to us. However, knowing Christ also asks of us to identify with Him in His suffering and death. Harris points out the importance of this to our spiritual vitality using Philippians 1:29: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”

God ‘grants’ us suffering. It is the same word for ‘freely give’ used in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things.” Harris devotes Chapter Four: “The Gift” to this principle. He shows how grace and all good things are gifts from God, but also suffering. Why? That we might know Him, know what He went through for us, have a deeper knowledge of Him, die to our selfishness, be drawn into incredible spiritual fellowship with the One who died for us.

Today’s reading brings out this death / life principle in another way. It’s from a verse that has always puzzled me—until now. 2 Corinthians 4:12 says, “So then death is working in us, but life in you.”

Harris gave me the first hint to what this verse means. He says that many Christians are willing to go for the power of the resurrection, but back off, at least experientially, from the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. As a result, we miss out on that gift from God. Not only do we miss a deeper relationship and understanding of our Savior, we also miss out on that richer life that comes from death. However, adding this verse from 2 Corinthians, I now see that we also miss out on being able to deeply minister to others.

2 Corinthians starts out with the principle that when we suffer, “we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” That is, when my parents died, God comforted me, and I am now more able to comfort those who have lost their parents. When I was broke and God helped me survive, I can comfort others in financial distress with the same assurances and hope.

The suffering of Christ goes even deeper than losing parents or being bankrupt. It is a suffering profoundly illustrated in Gethsemane. There Jesus is battling with the prospect of “the cup” which is His “gift” from the Father. He can drink it, but the horror of it has Him sweating blood. Eventually He gives in, saying “Not my will but Yours be done.” He yields to suffering and death—but out of that came eternal life to a lost world.

Obeying God could mean glory for me, but it can also mean suffering. If I say no and avoid the pain of identification with Christ in His suffering by doing my own thing, I will miss out on more deeply knowing Christ, but—and this is huge—someone else will miss out on the life that comes out of my willingness to die—die to self, or just to die, period.

Also sobering is the reality that some will look at me dying-to-self and all they will see is the decaying leaves of a tulip, to them ugly and useless. They will have no awareness of what that death is producing in the inner life hidden from their view, nor will they see the blooms to follow in a coming season.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Lion and a lamb

Living the Christian life is a contradiction. Strength made perfect in weakness? When I think I am strong I am weak? When I think I am weak I am strong?

It is true, but it is a hard lesson. Reading in Numbers 13 this morning, I realize that the Israelites also learned it the hard way. They left Egypt for the land God promised them. When they got to the borders of the new land, Moses sent in spies to check it out. The spies came back with good news and bad news. The land was su
perb, but the inhabitants were formidable.

Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” These men later proved to be men of faith, men who looked at God instead of the size and power of either themselves or their enemies.

But the other spies gave a different report, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. . . . The land through which we have gone as spies i
s a land that devours its in habitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Seeing a threatening enemy before them, they forgot to look at God and remember His power to deliver, a mighty power He demonstrated not that long ago as they fled from Pharaoh in Egypt. Instead they made a judgment call on their ability to enter the land by what they thought of themselves and what they thought other people (the giants) thought of them.

What I just wrote is a description of today’s version of self-worth. A person
bases their value on what they think other people think. If you can come up positive, then you can walk in confidence. If not, you are fearful and lack courage.

Christian living is not supposed to be like that. Like Joshua and Caleb, I’m supposed to look at God and have confidence. I’m supposed to base my worth and my ability on what He can do in my life, not put my confidence in whatever abilities I have or don’t have. My reliance and confidence is supposed to be in Jesus.

Looking at giants can make me feel like a ‘grasshopper,’ but looking at God can have the same effect, and even worse. His power and wisdom are so much greater than my puny abilities and efforts that before Him I feel helpless. So if the challenges before me also make me feel helpless, then what?

Paul learned the lesson that the Israelites took another forty years of wandering in the wilderness to learn. God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Joshua and Caleb were the only surviving adults from that original group that refused to enter the land of promise. They eventually led the remaining people into the land. They didn’t do it in their own strength. In fact, that first victory at Jericho was a total contradiction to human reasoning, never mind fighting power. God showed them that in their weakness, even in what seemed total foolishness, His grace and power could and would deliver them.

In my human sinfulness, I resist this truth. I dislike feeling weak. I want bold confidence,
but life with Christ is not like that. He is the Lion, the bold One. I am only a vessel and the best that He allows me to feel about myself is something akin to a helpless lamb.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Even if I go deaf . . .

“It must get easier to follow Christ as a person gets older.”

My mouth may have dropped open, but if not, my eyebrows went up.

He went on, “The older you get, the more you know how God wants you to live, so it gets easier.”

Of course he is young, at least younger than I am. I said something like, “You think?” when I really wanted to say, “You are not thinking.”

Logically speaking, if a person goes on in their education, the exams never get easier. If a person becomes a mountain climber, they are challenged by higher and higher peaks. Any endeavor builds skills, but there is always that aspect of going higher, working harder. The bar is constantly raised in everything from art to athletics.

Spiritually speaking, measure this idea by the life of Christ. His challenges began in the temple when a lad and questioned by the temple leaders. The challenges accelerated until that last one that unfolded in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, in anticipation of His final ‘exam’ for living in obedience to His heavenly Father, He sweat great drops of blood.

Every day that I determine to live for Jesus, I face temptations that are designed by my spiritual enemy to stop me. As God shows me how to conquer them, I’m hit with something more subtle, more ingenious. The Lord tells me to be careful, to “not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13).

Each hour brings choices that require new instruction from God. if I were making them based on ‘rules’ that I have already learned, I would be violating a huge principle of Christian living. As the next verse says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

Law or rules are easy to learn. Mathematicians, scientists, almost every discipline of life requires learning and following the rules. Farmers know the “law of the land,” teachers set norms for the classroom, legislative bodies determine rules for society and law enforcement works to make sure we stick to those rules.

But Christian living is by grace, not rules. Grace is often defined as the mercy of God that forgives sinners who do not deserve forgiveness, but that is not the best definition. As I read the Bible, I can see that grace includes that, but it means far more. My favorite definition comes out of multiple passages: Grace is a personal revelation of Jesus Christ that has a profound affect on me, changing me to be more like Him.

Living by grace means seeing Jesus in a new, fresh way each day. It is a constant, on-going relationship where I seek and God reveals. It is looking at Him, learning more about Him, putting myself in places where God can show Him to me, and seeking Him where life puts me in places that I don’t enjoy and don’t want to be.

I’m not ancient, but I already know why some older people quit growing spiritually. Out of habit, they have learned the ‘rules’ of being a ‘good Christian’ and by the time their bodies start to ache, and they have gotten tired of routines. It becomes tiresome to bath every day and eat properly. It also becomes tiresome to remember and follow all those rules. Their focus turns so easily to the discomfort of aging and that zeal for Jesus begins to weaken.

I know this. It is another one of those temptations that youth know nothing about, one that requires me to “present myself to God as being alive from the dead” every day, even if I feel closer to dead than alive. Sometimes my body shouts at me, and if I listen to it, I will not hear or see Jesus, only my own crabbiness.

No, it does not get easier, but as I get older, fellowship with Jesus becomes closer, sweeter, more precious. The presence of the Lord buffers me from the little things like aching joints, a clock that seems to move faster, and a memory that plays tricks. It’s grace, His grace, that holds me near Him.

Lately, life has hit us with tests far greater than when I first started following Jesus. Then I knew nothing about CLL, heart attacks, demons in the house, an increasing sense of infirmity and aging, not being able to do what I used to do, plus a host of other stuff I cannot write here. These are new exams, and more difficult. Rules don’t work, and I can’t remember them anyway. The only thing that does work is the voice of Jesus whispering into my heart, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Heart & Home

“A clean desk is the sign of a deranged mind.”

I don’t know who said it, and I’d like to believe it, but in my life it is just not true. For me, it is better to say, a clean desk is a sign that I’m tired of being disorganize and want to get my life in order.

For years, I’ve notice a correlation between having my heart right before God and taking care of my household responsibilities. I’ve never said much about it to anyone for two reasons. One, I don’t want to sound as if I’m passing judgment on those whose homes are ‘casual-comfortable’ and two, I’m not sure how this works or even if it is a correct correlation.

Last night I spent an hour cleaning up my studio. This is the front to back room in our house that has an easel in one corner beside two large bookcases and a cupboard full of art paper, a desk of family history stuff in the other corner, my huge computer desk part way down, then a craft table, and a long, L-shaped sewing table with two sewing machines and room for a third in the other corner. On the other wall are six large IKEA cupboards filled with art supplies, quilt books, sewing stuff, etc. Frankly, I’ve been putting it off because I thought cleaning it up would take more than an hour, like two weeks.

But yesterday was a good day. We heard a superb sermon at church, enjoyed a great time of worship and fellowship, had a picnic for two at a secluded picnic area my husband found on his early morning bike ride, a relaxing time watching the FIFA U-20 final on television, a nap (I never have a nap), and then several hours alone while my husband took our daughter and two granddaughters to Mamma Mia (I don’t care much for ABBA music). I quilted for a couple of those hours, went for a bike ride, then came home and cleaned up my messy studio. While doing so, I found an old love letter from my husband that I’d forgot I had. My heart was at peace, and happy.

This morning, I read from Proverbs 4:23-27:
“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil."

I love verse 23. God tells me that what goes on inside me affects everything I do. This motivates me and helps me remember that because Jesus lives in my heart, I can expect good things to come out. It also warns me that “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Jesus in Matthew 15:11).

Guarding my heart is more important than a superficial cleaning of what happens on the outside. The next four verses seem to illustrate exactly what issues of life the heart will impact.

My mouth. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34-35, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”

Some people, whom the Bible and most of us would call hypocrites, will think one thing and say another, but eventually what is in the heart comes out of the mouth or shows up in some visible way. Guard my heart and my mouth will be under control.

My eyes. My television viewing is also affected by my heart. Sometimes I’m upset with injustice and want to watch something that ends with the bad guys getting caught. Sometimes I’m wanting to be with my husband so I watch football (sigh). Most of the time I want to do something better with my time and leave the thing off.

This verse is also about focus. A wandering heart equals a wandering mind. If I really want something and lock my heart into it, then I can keep my eyes on the goals I set, rather than be distracted by a zillion other things. Guard my heart and what I look at will be right.

My feet. Where I go and what I do are dictated by the desires of my heart. If I love God I will be marching to His drum. If I love sin, I will quickly fall off the path that He lays before me. Guard my heart and my walk with Him will take care of itself.

My conclusion from all this? A flurry of cleaning up the house could still be a cyclical, hormonal, nesting thing that women do (even after they stop ‘laying’ eggs), but just to be on the safe side, it won’t hurt to focus on the heart while I’m at it. Eventually I just might get that basement storage room cleaned up!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Just a nail . . .

Yesterday when I was praying, the thought came (again) that this seems such a waste of time. I know God answers prayers, but often doubt that He answers my prayers. This morning, He takes a rather roundabout way to show me that He needs me in this war against spiritual evil and my prayers are important.

In Exodus 30, God told Moses to take a census. At the same time, every person needed to give a ransom for himself “that there may be no plague among them” when they were numbered or counted. I think this was because evaluating their numbers could lead to pride, and they had to remember that by themselves, they were nothing. Besides, in that passage God evaluated each person the same. My devotional book says this represents our redemption price according to what God has done for us, and has nothing to do with number or evaluate ourselves.

There was another kind of redemption given later, after God gave His people their promised land. Old Testament Law decreed that the land was to remain perpetually in the family of the first to own it. “The land must not be sold permanently. . . . throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land” (Lev. 25:23–24).

These laws did permit the sale of the ‘use of the land’ (much like the license on modern software — we are licensed to use it, not own it). The value of that land was determined by the projected value of crops between the time of sale and the Year of Jubilee. This Year of Jubilee came every fiftieth year. During that year, people didn’t work the land but enjoyed a year of rest, and in that year everyone was to take possession again of his family heritage—his own land. In other words, what God gave to each family came back to them every fifty years.

However, a person might need funds and sell the use of his land. Later, if he prospered or found a rich relative who was willing to help him, he could reclaim his property by redetermining its projected value to the Year of Jubilee and paying that sum.

The significance of these laws is that if a person made bad decisions or squandered his wealth, there was still provision for capital for the next generation. That person’s property could be reclaimed in the Year of Jubilee. In other words, every fiftieth year, wealth was ‘redistributed’ and the poor were given opportunity for a fresh start.

In Leviticus 27:25, God tells His people how to evaluate their property. “And all your valuations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs to the shekel.”

At first that verse stumped me. What is it about? My devotion guide points out that this was leading up to another census. Right after Leviticus 27, God again asks His people to take a count. This time it is not everyone. Instead, they they were to number only those that were ready to go to war against their enemies. How was that determined? It was partly their age, but the closing part of Leviticus shows also how God assesses value. This time, it is not according to what He has done (giving them their land), but according to what they have dedicated back to Him. If verse 3 is compared with verse 3 of the first chapter of Numbers, that value has a great deal to do with readiness for war.

This is where prayer comes in. The significance of Old Testament battle for Christians is its clear parallels to spiritual warfare. Our enemy once held firm to our old lives. God, by one redemption price, the life of His Son, redeemed us and gave us new life.

Now that we are in that new life, to take full possession of this ‘new land’ we need to go to war as well. But our enemy is not flesh and blood; we fight the liar and deceiver of our souls, the one who wants to keep God’s people from living holy, consecrated lives. Our dedication to God is measured by how willing we are to engage in this spiritual battle.

I recall a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.”

It doesn’t take much to derail me from prayer. It doesn’t take much to distract me while I am praying. It doesn’t take much to make me think that in the big picture my ‘sword swinging’ has little or no value. But this verse, and digging into what this seemingly obsolete law had to do with anything, shows me that my value in the King’s army depends a great deal on my dedication to fight, not only in prayer for others, but against my own nagging little doubts.

Really, it should not take much hang on to that nail. By caring, by dedicating myself to prayer, I may gain a shoe, and then a horse, and then a rider, and then win a battle, and finally the war.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Let my little light shine!

God’s holiness, beyond our comprehension, is expressed in terms of light. Verses like 1 John 1:5 say that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” 1 Timothy 6:16 says He dwells in unapproachable light.

Unapproachable, can’t get into it, it’s higher, purer, brighter, blinding, yet He wants us into it, into His incredible ‘light’ to enjoy the light of His glory. The psalmist says this is not impossible: “With You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9) and “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Psalm 27:1).

What does this light from God do for us? How can we ‘see’ it? One way is through His Word. Again, the psalmist explains. He says the Word of God “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105) and to God, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). Light comes from reading His book.

It also comes from looking at a Person. In the New Testament Jesus called Himself the “Light of the world” (John 8:12). He said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness" (John 12:46).

God shone the glory of who He is to us through written words, then through the Living Word, His Son. Because of Jesus, we have opportunity to know Him, to experience His light.

Jesus was “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). John 1:4-5 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (This likely means: “the darkness did not overcome it.”)

In John’s Gospel, light is still about God’s holiness, but also about the revelation of his love in Christ and the brilliant shining of that love into lives darkened by sin.

I know what that means. The day that Jesus revealed Himself to me is vivid in my memory. It was the day that the light came on! The room I was in suddenly seemed flooded with it as I realized who He is and what He had done for me. As Ephesians 5:8-9 says, I was “once . . . full of darkness, but now . . . have light from the Lord.”

1 Peter 2:9 says God called me “out of darkness into His marvelous light” and 2 Corinthians 4:4 says He did it “by the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” How wonderful!

The Bible urges everyone to seek this light, but not everyone is interested. As Ephesians 5:13 says, “All things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.”

Even though the Bible makes this great promise of light from God and freedom from condemnation, not everyone wants their lives brought into its glare. So there is a dichotomy: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:18-20).

I can understand this. Who hasn’t done things that they would prefer to keep in the dark? Yet verse 21 says, “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

The light of Christ changes my mind. More and more I am realizing that allowing His light to do its work produces a transparency that is not at all painful. Often I can admit my foolishness without feeling like I want to hide. This is because I know that open honesty is the quickest way to being forgiven, cleansed and transformed.

Light is a huge part of this new life in Christ. Philippians 2:14-15 tell me to “do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” and to let my light shine so people might see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

After looking at all these verses about God being light, even unapproachable light, and Jesus declaring Himself the “light of the world,” today’s verse just about knocks me off my feet. Jesus’ claim as light of the world is one thing, but to turn and say to me, “You are the light of the world. . . .” is utterly and totally incredible, an awesome responsibility, a huge privilege and a mind-blowing grace.

Friday, July 20, 2007

True Prosperity


Lately I’ve been bothered by injustice. People seem to get away with everything. In some parts of the world, terrorists are killing children simply because they are in school and the terrorist is against education. Armies are sent to try and stop this, but people in the sending countries are screaming to bring them home so their soldiers will not die, as if oppression and terrorism should go unchecked.

We have injustice at home too, in a different form. Here, a person can use a car to kill someone and be sentenced for less than five years, but someone else can embezzle funds from A Rich Company, Inc. and is put away for twenty-five.

In our prosperous and wealthy city literally thousands of women are turned away from shelters for battered women because there is no room. While they suffer without a home or any care, what is happening to the men who beat them?

These women are not the only homeless in this booming economy. People move here in droves thinking the boom will bulge their pockets, but they come in empty-handed. This is folly, yet little is being done to help them. They live in tents in the parks, without work and rapidly fading hope.

In all of this, many may have more than we need, but even then, a few fall into another clash; the conflict of trying to live a godly life in the midst of those who don’t give a damn about God or justice or even goodness.

I suppose I feel something like the author of Psalm 73 in that I too am perplexed by “the prosperity of the wicked.” I don’t envy them though. I used to, at least the prosperity part, but not anymore. Back then, as the psalmist says in verse 22, “I was so foolish and ignorant.”

It takes awhile to learn the advantages of being a child of God in comparison to those who abandon God and goodness. They seem to do well. They are happy and “Have more than heart could wish.” They scoff, speak wickedly and in pride,“set their mouth against the heavens.” In their minds, God either doesn’t know what they are doing or doesn’t care. They are at ease as they increase in riches and in their unjust and unfair ways.

I have felt as the psalmist did in that living a clean life is in vain. What is the point? God is always dealing with me. He chastens me for the slightest sin, and every morning I hear Him speak about my need to change, but those who don’t know Him, or care to know Him, never hear any correction or His rebuke. They go on their merry way, doing whatever they want. If I didn’t know better I would be as the psalmist, bitter and envious.

Yet he learned, and I learned from him. He “went into the sanctuary of God” and there learned about God. He says, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”

He knew the powerful presence of God, a presence that makes the circumstances of life easier to bear, even seem as nothing. If I am a victim, I have Almighty God with me. Who can over-power me with Him right here? I don’t go through life needing lawyers, guidance counselors, therapists, and so on, because the Lord holds me and guides me into glory.

One commentary says about this: “‘Into glory’ could also be translated ‘with glory,’ meaning that God would guide him (the psalmist) through his troubles so that he would enjoy honor (and not shame; cf. 4:2) in this life. Since ‘glory’ for individuals in the Old Testament seldom meant heavenly glory the psalmist was probably looking for deliverance in his lifetime. This would demonstrate that he was in God’s favor.”

In other words, ‘glory’ (which signifies the attributes and qualities of God), is on me when I walk with Him. I’m hardly a loser for being “not of this world” but have gained something far more precious than the prosperity and ‘freedom’ enjoyed by those who hate God. I have His favor!

The psalmist expresses the bottom line of his tussle with what seems like injustice. He says to God, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Where would I be without faith in Jesus Christ? I might be more prosperous. I might be free to do whatever I felt like, free to enjoy all sorts of indulgences and free to sin without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but the psalmist knew and I know too: “For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.”

The supermarket of life contains all sorts of goodies, and we are free to pick up whatever we please, but everyone of us must go through the checkout. There we pay the price, and unless that price has already been paid for us (by the death of Jesus Christ, which also affects what we pick up), the bill will be costly indeed.

With the psalmist I have to say, “It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God.” Prosperity, freedom to sin, all that may seem good to those who are indulging in it, yet they are “set in slippery places . . . utterly consumed with terrors” and not able to know or enjoy the incredible right hand of God who will eventually make all things right.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Needs vs. Wants

Everyone has been admonished about the difference between needs and wants. Either father or mother or someone important shook their finger and said, “You might want it, but do you need it?”

I heard a sermon awhile ago about this difference. It used Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

This well-known verse is often used to encourage those who are in need, but the sermon looked at it from a different angle. The preacher said that we have no clue (most of the time) of what we need. Besides that, God’s idea of our biggest need might not be our idea. He is at work to shape His people into the likeness of Christ. The ‘tools’ necessary for that shaping might not align with our idea of what should be happening to us. In other words, what we want might not be what we need.

I agree. I might sense a need for patience. I hope God will zap me with it, but to answer that need, He sends tribulation because, according to Romans 5:3 and James 1:2-3, trials and tribulation produce patience. I don’t want that, but I do need the patience it produces.

In my mind, I might need more time; in God’s mind, I may need better time-managing skills, or the ability to say ‘no,’ or to reorganize my priorities, or my need might be something else altogether. God can use the pressures of having too much on my plate to shape in me a character trait that I need but hasn’t entered my mind.

That sermon was good, thought-provoking and helpful. It fit in with something my mother used to say, “We must need it, or we wouldn’t be getting it.” God knows all about me. I can trust Him with what is going on, because He promises to supply both needs and wants.

However, as much as I agree with this sermon, and with the idea of a sovereign God controlling the issues of my life according to what will best shape me into the image of His Son, I don’t agree that Philippians 4:19 says this. The phrase, “great sermon, wrong text” comes to mind.

The verses in chapter 4 before this verse are about Paul being in dire circumstances. The church at Philippi sent him a gift to take care of his need. He expressed gratitude for it, not so much that he worried about himself, but that he was glad to see the virtue of generosity in them. He mentioned that he had learned contentment, then added, “Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.”

He goes on to talk about how no other church shared with him “concerning giving and receiving” and he complimented their sacrifice on his behalf. While money is not mentioned, the Greek words used in this phrase are “account, expenditures and receipts.” Paul was also well aware that their giving depleted their own supply, so added that God would “supply all their need” in proportion to His great riches. They could count on Him to take care of them.

The verse is not about God’s control over the circumstances we need to shape us into Christ’s likeness; it is about material need, including money. It is an assurance that no matter how generous we give, God is able to supply whatever we might lack because of it. It is a verse that makes putting a generous chunk of money in the offering plate an act of faith. I can give to meet the need of someone else because I know that God will take care of me.

I also know that God will put stuff into my life to shape me into the image of His Son, stuff needed to whack off all that does not look like Jesus. I both need and want that, but the promise of it happening is not from this great verse, but from other parts of the Bible!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sparrows and the Will of God

When we were children living on my father’s farm, sparrows were a nuisance bird that made a mess and, according to my dad, kept other, more valuable birds away. In the Bible, Jesus uses sparrows to make a point. He says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?” (Matthew 10:29)

In those days, people wasted nothing, even the lowly sparrow. They were a ‘poor person’s sacrifice’ in the temple and even sold in the marketplaces as inexpensive food for the poor. I can hardly imagine how many sparrows a decent meal required, but this is what my Bible dictionary says.

When Jesus said this, He was talking to His disciples about the dangers they would face as His followers. As “sheep in the midst of wolves,” they would be rejected, spit on, persecuted, delivered up to death by family members, and “hated by all” for His name’s sake.

He reassured them, sort of, by telling them that because He suffered, they would also, but they were not to fear those who hated them because their evil schemes would be exposed. Instead, these disciples needed to consider the sovereign power of God. Their enemies might put their lives in danger, even kill them, but they were not to fear them, but God “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

I suppose in their minds they were thinking, Are we not important to God? Why would He allow anyone to touch us, never mind cause all this suffering and even take our very lives? Doesn’t God care? And why is Jesus talking about His destructive power? We are more interested in His protection.

Then Jesus mentions sparrows. Two of them were worth a copper coin. My dictionary says this is about 1/16 of a day’s wages. In those days, that was mere pennies. Today, if a person makes minimum wage and works eight hours, that is about $3.25, a little more than pennies, but still not very much.

As Jesus tells them the worth of a couple sparrows, He adds, “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.”

In another place, it says, “without His knowledge” and knowing God knows is some comfort, but here Jesus goes beyond that. He affirms that God controls the timing and circumstances of even the most insignificant of events, the death of an almost worthless bird. The implication of that is that He most definitely is in charge of what happens to His children.

Weeks ago in a discussion about life’s events, one person expressed that some of the stuff that happens to us is “just part of life” and that “God isn’t in all that.”

However, because of what Jesus says about sparrows, I disagree. My response is that if God is not in all of everything that happens, how do we decide which events are in His control and which are merely ‘life just happening’?

Maybe I’m an all or nothing kind of person, but beyond that, I don’t think I’m capable of handling the stress of trying to understand where God is at work, or not. If He is not sovereign over everything, then how can He be sovereign over anything?

Of course that leads to big questions. If He controls all things, why is the world in the mess that it is in? Why do babies die? Airplanes crash? People get cancer? Or heart attacks?

The only people who can answer those questions are the people who have put their trust in Him and persist to trust Him through life’s stressful times. Yet even as they articulate what they know about the will of God, their answers make no sense at all to those who have decided that God doesn’t waste His time thinking about mere sparrows.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fill my Cup

Someone once said to me that it seemed selfish to focus on my own spiritual life. She thought Christian were supposed to put others first and not be concerned about themselves.

While putting others above ourselves is a main characteristic of being like Jesus, Philippians 2, the passage that says we need to consider others more important than ourselves does not leave out personal care. It says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Italics mine)

However, her words made me think about the fine line between just taking care of myself only so I don’t have to bother with anyone else and how I should take care of myself so I am capable of caring for others.

I can’t do what Philippians 2 says without paying attention to my own spiritual life. Without some personal focus, my life cannot be clean nor would I be able to meet other demands.

Besides that, watching my own spirituality is protection against false teaching. 2 Peter was written to expose and thwart those who came into the church teaching error. Towards the end of the book Peter tells believers that Scripture can be a challenge. He says that “Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things (warnings about false teaching), in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”

I’m well aware that some people distort what the Bible says. Part of it is a failure to recognize the need for the Holy Spirit’s input into interpretation. Christians can go off base if we approach the Bible without relying on God to help us understand it properly.

This verse talks about those who are “untaught and unstable,” interesting word choices. “Untaught” is a polite way to say “ignorant.” As a teacher, I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t know what I am talking about, shut up. These false teachers didn’t have a clue, but that didn’t stop them from twisting or perverting the Word of God, then teaching what they didn’t know.

“Unstable” means not established, not firmly in place, unfixed. Their teaching was ‘all over the place’ and not firmly grounded in the person of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes false teachers know what they are doing. They deliberately deceive, with intentions to gain a following or even money. Others are simply blinded by the Liar who has them in darkness. I recall a young girl from a Mormon family who came to a youth meeting at our house. I asked her how a person could be saved. She said, “By doing good works.”

I had her read aloud Ephesians 2:8-9, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Then I asked her how those verses explained the way of salvation. She replied, “They say you are saved by doing good works.”

The odd thing about false teaching is that it strongly appeals to the old self. I’d love it if I could be saved by doing good works—IF I could do them to the degree that impressed God. Wouldn’t that be something to boast about? Other “twisted” ideas often appeal to what my pride wishes were true.

That is why Peter adds a warning after his admission about some of Paul’s teaching being hard to understand and warning that false teachers will twist it. He says, “You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

God plainly wants me to take care of my spiritual life! He says to beware of falling from my firm position in Christ into the same errors that these people teach, the errors that sound good if I take my eyes off Jesus. Keep looking at Him. By grace I was saved; by grace I am being saved. In knowing Jesus, I experience grace. In deepening my knowledge of Him, I continue to experience grace.

By taking care of my spiritual life first, I am able to focus on others. Jesus is my source and resource. He fills me with love, grace, all good things, and I must come back to Him again and again so He can fill my cup. Otherwise I’m nothing, have nothing to give, and have nothing to correct those who offer me false teaching.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Jesus is in it all!

Last night at a wedding reception I had a brief discussion with a science teacher. We talked about creation, evolution, and how do Christians know that the Bible account is correct in the face of contrary evidence and many, many unanswered questions.

I don’t know the answers never mind most of the questions, nor do I know the arguments pro and con for creation vs. evolution. I do know that once I believed in evolution, but when Jesus revealed Himself to me as God in human flesh and came into my life, my thinking started to change.

Some of these changes required me to make choices, but much of it just happened. I was trusting God because Jesus who lives in me trusts God. I also believed that He created all things just as He said. Now as I look back, that belief is rooted in the One who lives in me and changed my life. The odd part is that I know it is true, not because of a scientific weighing of all the evidence (even though creation scientists can make a strong defense), but because I know Jesus is true and does not lie. He says God created all things by the word of His mouth and I believe Him.

Someone wrote a letter to the editor of our daily newspaper saying he’d decided that there was no evidence to prove Jesus even existed. In other words, the book that describes His life, a book that is better documented that any other book, ancient or otherwise, has no credibility, and the account about Jesus by the historian Josephus is not reliable. How does a Christian answer that? Could I say anything that would convince any skeptic of the reality of my Savior?

Probably not. I might tell him of my own experience with Jesus. I was busy doing my own thing when something (now I know it was Someone) convicted me that I am a sinner. Jesus said that would happen, that the Holy Spirit would do it. I know I didn’t. I’m far too proud to come up with such a radical diagnosis of my own condition. I might dump it on other people, but not on myself.

The Holy Spirit also drew me to the Cross, to the power of God, to the one who died for me. I would not have gone there myself. Now, knowing the grace of God, something in me still resists conviction, confession, and the great love of a God who personally atoned for my sins. I just don’t like admitting I have any, that I need outside help. This activity in my life is my subjective answer to anyone who thinks Jesus Christ is not real. If He were not, I would still be either making excuses or continually blowing my own horn.

Today I read Romans 11:36. It says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

When I first believed, I could not see the total involvement of Jesus Christ in everything, but He is showing me that He is behind and involved in all things. Nothing happens to me apart from His choice and determination for my life, and all that goes on in this world is the same. He is Sovereign God, directing a resisting a sinful world to the outcome that will bring Him eternal glory. Anyone who tries to push Him away simply has no clue what they are up against.

My commentary says (and I couldn’t say it better), “God is the first Cause, the effective Cause, and the final Cause of everything. His deep ways are beyond man’s discovering, beyond man’s knowing, beyond man’s counseling and beyond man’s giving. ‘All things’ come from Him and by means of Him and are for Him and His glory. Therefore, To Him be the glory forever! Amen. God is the only proper One to magnify. The all-sovereign God deserves the praise of all His creatures.”

Does God grieve over evolutionists or skeptics or atheists? Maybe. Some Scripture indicates that He laughs at the attempts of those who try to cast Him off as if He is nothing (Psalm 2). Other passages say He wants all to come to the saving knowledge of His Son (1 Timothy 2).

Regardless of the noises made by those who doubt or mock Him, He calls me to trust Him in every way and with every part of my life. He calls me to praise Him too, and to remember His Word and His promises. He has never failed me, another good thing to remember, and part of my personal testimony to His reality.

An unbelieving world does not see the glory of the Lord. The Bible says that one day they will. Jesus will be revealed in order that “every knee should bow . . . that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”

In seeing Him, they will know what Christians know. The revelation of Jesus makes it clear that “Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things,” and because of that, we also gladly proclaim “to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Today’s To-Do List

This morning I was concerned for a couple of Christian women. One struggles with doubts and fears. The other gets angry over small issues and stomps away from church. At the same time, I struggle with my own shortfall in following Christ, my selfishness, my laxness in spiritual disciplines. Before opening my Bible, I told God that I felt totally inadequate to be concerned for others. My life isn’t perfect, and I needed Him to speak to me.

The devotional book I’m using sent me to Genesis 14:14. It is about a war in the land where Abram and his nephew Lot were living. Four kings were fighting five kings, and when the battle moved into Sodom where Lot lived, they took him and all that he owned.

Verse 14 says, “Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”

Abram (later Abraham) didn’t waste any time wondering if he should or should not go. He didn’t count his resources to make sure he could handle this rescue operation, nor did he worry about the distance. He traveled a couple hundred miles with his small army, provisions, and a deep determination to rescue his nephew (here called his brother, indicating kinship).

My Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “In the Old Testament, warfare was actual and physical; but it was also spiritually significant in relationship to faith. According to the New Testament, a Christian’s battle and weapons are spiritual, and God’s promises are eternal. Using military figures of speech, Paul portrayed Christ’s death as a victory (Ephesians 4:8) in which He conquered sin, death, and the grave. Christ’s gifts are spiritual gifts for His servants to use in service. With these spiritual gifts and armed with spiritual weapons, Christians are to champion righteousness, truth, and equity (Ephesians 6:10-19). God gives His people victory over the world in accord with His promises to bless and to curse, using His servants who know His high calling and who can use the weapons of spiritual warfare with skill.”

If God were writing about me, He’s want to write this: “Now when Elsie heard that her sisters in Christ were taken captive by the power of the enemy, she gathered together her spiritual resources (truth, knowledge, faith, the righteousness of Christ, a willing readiness, and the Word of God) and went in pursuit, praying and interceding for them for as long as it took to bring them back to their place of full faith and obedience.”

I’m not to waste time wondering about my own life and spirituality. (Confess my sins and get on with it!) Nor am I to worry about how difficult this battle might be or if I have the resources I need. “My God shall supply all (my) need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

In Genesis 14:20, it says about Abram’s warfare, “Blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

If I want my sisters in Christ to also experience freedom from captivity, my job description is simple: quit whining and start praying.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who is Jesus?

Some say that Jesus was a great prophet sent by God to show the world how to live. Others say He was a good teacher whose words, if followed, would make us better people. The Jews of His day had mixed definitions. Some thought He was Elijah or Jeremiah (but they did not believe in reincarnation), or the predicted one, John the Baptist.

When Jesus asked Peter, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

For years, this has been the standard declaration of faith. If a person understands that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, they are “believers.”

Another standard comes from Romans 10:9-10. It says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

This one requires the same belief in the identity of Jesus Christ, adding faith that He has risen from the dead, and a verbal confession of the same. Those who do and say this are “saved.”

But these standards no longer work because people keep changing the definitions. Jesus Christ is not the same person that Peter said He was. Now He is defined as a symbol, or the essence of an idea, or some other entity that if described to Peter, he would shake his head and say, “Huh?”

Because the definitions are changed, two people can say they believe in Jesus, but they are not talking about the same Person, and only the real Jesus has the power to save.

So who is Jesus? Plainly put, the Bible teaches that the Word of God, the very expression of His being, came to earth and pulled on humanity (something like we put on a pair of trousers). He took on human form without diminishing who He is, and by doing that, He became one of us. Jesus was God the Son, God in a human body.

The Jews couldn’t handle that. They knew their Messiah, the anointed One from God would be God, but they were under Roman oppression and expected a Messiah who would deliver them. They expected a conquering King who would rule the earth with an iron rod.

And along came Jesus, born in a stable, not at all kingly, but telling them they must repent of their sins. They looked at their own religious zeal, compared themselves with the Gentiles, including their godless oppressors, and decided this Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about. His claim to be God and their Messiah was sheer blasphemy.

But Peter knew. So did Paul. So did hundreds of others who watched Him die, then saw Him again after He rose from the dead. Many of them also watched Him ascend to heaven and heard His promise to return. The next time it would be as that conquering King who would rule the earth and every other realm of creation.

They knew and they believed it with all their heart. They were vocal too, which got them into trouble with non-believing Jews and Gentiles alike, those who refused all the evidence that, for the disciples, proved the identity of Jesus Christ. Many of those disciples were so convinced that they died as martyrs rather than say they were wrong, or that Jesus was not God in the flesh. They knew.

Today’s Christianity is a mixed lot. Some are like Peter; they know who Jesus is and have staked their lives on that belief. Others are like the Jews and say, “We have our own way of being righteous . . . “ and leave Jesus out of it. Some want to keep the name (Jesus has a nice ring to it), but they change the identity, water Him down to someone more compliant, less demanding, a good teacher perhaps, or a son of God who really is not deity, just another created being.

Others know about Jesus, but not enough to realize that it was He who said, “I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father but by me.” They say, “whatever works for you,” because for them, Jesus is only one way among many, and they are all quite acceptable.

The identity of Jesus Christ is important. Since believing in Him gives me eternal life, I better believe in the right Jesus. How do I know who He is? And can I be absolutely certain?

The Bible is the record we have of His life, death and resurrection. I can read it, but that doesn’t guarantee knowing. I read it for sixteen years, daily, and didn’t figure it out. Yet reading it is important because “Faith comes by hearing . . . the Word of God.”

The Bible also says faith is a gift from God, which puts the conversion experience somewhat outside my control. I didn’t even ask God to show me the identity of Christ. One day, He just gifted me. After that, I’ve never had any doubts at all. None of the ‘new’ ideas, none of the older heresies have even tempted or side-swiped me.

Because of this resolute understanding, an understanding reflected in Peter’s declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” my faith stands. Yet I know this is not my own doing, nor is it because of any teaching I’ve had. I know who Jesus is the same way Peter knew, the way expressed in Jesus’ answer to Peter in verse 17: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Indeed, blessed I am! Not due to any flesh and blood revelation but because the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ pulled back the darkness and let me see His Son.

Friday, July 13, 2007

His Poetry

What is a poem? Oxford says it is “a literary composition that is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.”

Poetry condenses thoughts, distills an idea or impression into the least amount of words carefully arranged to provoke response. The poet chooses just the right words, repeats the sound of them or the idea of them, moving in a cadence that makes sense with the subject matter and style of each poem, and creates an image in the mind of those who hear, an image one determined by the poet, yet also subjective in relation to the hearer’s frame of mind, experience, and reference points.

With that in mind, Ephesians 2:10 jumps to life. It has to be a poet’s and a writer’s most favorite verse. It says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Why the appeal to poets? The word ‘workmanship’ is ‘poema’ which is the source of our word ‘poem.’ Those who are “saved by grace through faith” (verses 8 and 9) are poems created by the Master of words, God Himself!

Words. Communication sometimes happens without them, but even then, whatever is conveyed is interpreted by words. When the words are composed with particular attention they make an impression, good or bad, soft or harsh, dull or explosive. Words have power to create or destroy, heal or harm, build or tear down. God ‘spoke’ the world into existence. His words are powerful, creative, awesome.

His Word also became flesh. Jesus Christ appeared as man, the Living Word. He is “the brightness of His (God’s) glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). If anyone was ever a perfect poem, a perfect expression of God Himself, it is Jesus.

And Ephesians 2:10 says Jesus is a poet as well, making poems of His people. He takes the right words (the biblical word is rhema meaning “just the right word for the need of the moment”) and speaks them into our hearts. We do not live by bread alone, but by these rhema words that come from the mouth of God.

Not only that, He repeats them in a cadence (some of us need more repetition than others) so we become easy on the ears, have a rhythm that is pleasing. Our lives speak, sometimes with words, the sweet movement of the Holy Spirit.

As He works and reworks us through His Word, He produces imagery, actually one image, teaching us to keep our eyes and our ears on Him, the Master Craftsman. Then, “we all, with unveiled face, 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.”

Most of the time I feel more like a jumble of words, a lot of noise, or even at times a silence in a dark cave, not a poem. Yet this verse in Ephesians carries the idea that His creative work, His ‘editing’ is ongoing, a work still in progress.

As a writer, I know that my first draft is rough and hard on the ears. As I revise and rework, it hopefully improves. With God as my editor, I trust Him to do the same with me, using the best form for the poem He has in mind. Whether He chooses a sonnet or haiku, quatrain or limerick is not as important and the resulting expression, an image or reflection of Himself in my life.

This little word ‘poema’ is my rhema from the Lord today.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It’s all in my motive!

Flipping channels the other night I dropped in on a ‘televangelist’ making his plea for money. He made lots of promises about the prosperity of those who sent in their cash. Keeping in mind what I read yesterday, I wasn’t convinced that his fund-raising methods were biblical.

Churches do need money to operate. There is rent to pay, utility bills, and the normal cost of maintaining a building (the early church met in homes). Ministry has a price tag too, for everything from hymn books to feeding the homeless. Remember, money isn’t evil, but the love of money is, so God’s people need not apologize for making a budget and trying to follow it.

The churches that I’ve attended raise money by free-will offerings from their congregation. They (and I) believe in a 10% tithe, which is a scriptural principle, but also an over-and-above generosity, which is also biblical.

I’ve never gone to a church that did fund-raisers, like bingo games and bake sales. These often rely on people outside the church to supply their operating money. I’ve not found that method mentioned, condoned, or condemned in Scripture.

Many of the preachers on television have a different method that is against what the Bible teaches. They give an appeal based on human greed: a ‘give and God will make you rich’ notion that they claim comes from God.

There are verses that look like they say that. One of them is Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

In my opinion, this, and other verses like it, are not talking about taking care of yourself by giving to the church. The Bible speaks against giving to gain, and warns about the sin of greediness and making money the ‘treasure’ of your heart. Many do that, and I suspect there is a host of disgruntled people who soon quit giving because this only emptied their pocketbooks and didn’t ‘work’ for them the way they hoped.

Most of us are very tight-fisted. Giving is not one of my strong motivations. However, God speaks to that too. He knows that the reason some hang on to their wallets is fear of not having enough left over to take care of their own needs. My husband, as a new Christian, struggled with that. However, he began to understand God’s giving principle and soon overcame his fears.

God’s giving principle is this: no one can out-give Him. No matter how much I give away to help someone else or to support the work of my church, God is totally able to take care of all my needs. The more I give, the more He gives back. This, and verses like it, are not about giving to gain, they are about giving in spite of the logic that does the math, and the fear of being impoverished.

Giving is definitely a faith thing. It is not about exploiting the generosity of God (who knows the heart and has the option of not cooperating with those who try it), nor is it a method of getting rich. Those who know the Lord Jesus Christ and belong to His kingdom are already “heirs of all things” and as we learn how to live as children of the King, we realize that all His resources are available to us. We can be totally generous with the little bit that He entrusts to us because there is more where it came from. It all belongs to Him anyway!

I’ve never fallen for the line, “God wants you rich . . .” or any of its variations, mostly because I’ve been both poor and not poor, discovering that my bank account has little or no relationship to my sense of security. God takes care of me. Sometimes He uses money, often He does not.

With that understanding in place, I’m learning that if a need pops up and I’ve the resources to supply it, I can do so without worry. If the next need is mine, God has it covered.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

UPDATE

Every four months my husband has a blood test to determine what is happening with his CLL. He got the results of his most recent test yesterday. Much to his doctor's amazement, his white count, which has been rising and is one indicator of CLL, has dropped considerably. It is below the levels from last fall. All other numbers for various other blood factors are also down and not only that, his blood pressure and other vitals are perfect.

So does a heart attack affect CLL? Maybe a better diet and increased exercise are good for the immune system? The doctor used the word miracle (the numbers were that good), however we are just praising the Lord and not trying to figure it out. Like the doctor said, "Keep doing what you are doing!"

From my perspective

During my seminary studies I noticed that commentaries written on some Bible passages were often cultural in their perspective, or reflected the bias or occupation or spiritual gifts of the author. While usually sincere, these writers reveal more about themselves than what the Bible actually says.

For instance, many commentaries written in North America during the first half of the last century were heavily biased against women in ministry. As men went to war and women began doing their jobs back home, a level of respect changed attitudes towards their value, not only in factories but also in the church. After the second great war, the commentaries changes.

Nevertheless, personal bias and perspective needs to be considered when interpreting a passage of Scripture. This morning, I notice myself seeing some verses from my perspective. I was even looking for commentaries that agree with me.

My gift is teaching: gathering information and passing it to others. I like it when someone asks me to do some research for them. When the Internet became available to me, I was afraid to sign up thinking I might never ‘come home.’ Yet I do want my teaching to be correct as well as thorough.

Today I’m reading from Galatians 6:7-10. It says, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

After looking at commentaries on verse 6, I noticed that only one said that the things shared with teachers may not be material things. Every other commentary writer figured this verse was about paying the pastor. (Were they all pastors?)

Reading it from the perspective of a teacher, I think it says, “If a teacher goes to work to learn things then passes them on to you, you better share in what they have learned. Don’t stick up your nose at God and refuse to listen. If you do, He may stick up His nose at you because one of life’s principles is that you get back what you put into things. If you are only worried about your fleshy life, the result will be pollution and corruption, but if you care about your spiritual life and allow the Spirit in you to be fed by spiritual truth, then the result will be spiritual growth towards eternal life. Don’t get tired of being teachable; this is a good thing. Some day all that you have learned will pay off. You will benefit if you don’t give up. So while you have opportunity, do the best you can, particularly toward other believers (and don’t forget teachers!)”

The bane of teaching is a student who is not teachable. What good it is to share the wonders of God’s Word to a post or a stone? Teachers want responders. Nothing gives me more delight than to see a person’s eyes light up because they have heard something from me that has been affirmed by the Holy Spirit in their heart. They know. They don’t just know the facts, they know this is true, that God has spoken.

Actually, it really doesn’t matter to me if I said it or someone else in the class said it. What matters is that someone ‘got’ it. They are sharing in the good things with him/her who teaches!

Of course this means that the teacher must be teachable too. If I hear God speak and do what He tells me, I’m qualified to pass it on. It doesn’t say so in this passage, but I know in my heart that if I am not doing what God says, I’ve no credibility in the classroom or even in casual conversation. ‘Do what I say, not do what I do’ cannot rule in my life; I must be teachable also.

That also means I need to be careful about getting from a passage something that feeds only my point of view. Galatians 6 actually could be about sharing my cash with the people who teach me!