Sunday, September 30, 2007

God controls it all

Our writing conference main speaker, Angela Hunt, talked mostly about the sovereignty of God. Most Christians would say we believe that, but in actual practice, it is more like “I need to be careful that I don’t mess up the will of God” or “I blame the devil for the troubles I’m having.”

Yes, we do make mistakes, and yes, Satan sticks his nose into our lives, but a careful study of Scripture (as we did in yesterday’s plenary session) shows that Satan can only do what God allows.

Further, even our mistakes fit into God’s plan. Case in point: the selling of Joseph into slavery. At the end of the story, he told his guilty and ashamed brothers, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

Basically, Angela said, and I agree, that we have a lot of audacity to think that our ‘plans’ can overrule the plans of God or that Satan’s puttering about can overthrow what God intends. Think of it; our view of God is the issue here. He cannot be partly sovereign.

My reading this morning includes Proverbs 11:24, “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty.”

Logic says if a person gives away their money in a generosity of spirit, they will be poor, but if a person hangs on to their hard-earned cash, they will gradually increase their wealth.

The sovereignty of God overthrows logic. Many times, what seems the right way will be reversed. Here, generous people become more wealthy. God, who sees those who He can trust with His vast resources, makes sure those generous people get the wealth that He wants spread around.

In contrast, those who selfishly and even greedily hoard their money are apt to find themselves with unexpected expenses and other ‘holes in their pockets.’ God knows how to distribute funds, whether I hang on to mine or give my money away.

Sometimes I question poverty. People might spend their entire life with never quite enough, yet who am I to know what is enough? God knows, and in His sovereignty He, not the bankers, brokers, lenders, not even the stock and money markets, controls the wealth of the world.

And money is just one thing; He is sovereign over everything. Satan is defeated and on a leash. He can only do what God allows, what God wants to use in His vast and sometimes mysterious plans.

I also make many mistakes, but He is never surprised nor does He have to put into action Plan B. Even my foolishness and dumb stunts are part of the “all things” that He can “work together for my good” to transform me into the image of His Son. (Romans 8:28-29)

The bottom line, said our speaker, is that faith in God’s sovereign control produces peace in our hearts, no matter what happens.

So on Friday when a simple two-stop flight from Tampa to Edmonton became a grueling and long endurance test, she came off the plane smiling, checked into her room, took off her makeup, donned her pj’s, came to the conference room, joyfully told us how the sovereignty of God works, and then happily bid us goodnight and sent us to bed.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Our True Calling

Last night began the InScribe Fall Conference. We’d planned a keynote from our speaker, Angela Hunt, then a book launch, then evening readings. When things started going contrary to plan, most of us expressed, “It’s going to be a great conference.”

Angela’s flight from Florida was initially supposed to arrive early afternoon. She didn’t get here until 7:30 p.m. We rearranged our schedule, and instead of speaking at 7:00, she came to the podium closer to 9:00.

This dear woman had been up since at least 3:00 a.m. Florida time to be at the airport down there at 4:00. She had been rerouted through several stopovers, and yet delivered an incredible and lively keynote — in her pyjamas! I think everyone here instantly loved her. As I read from my devotional guide this morning, I thought of several reasons why.

Matthew 3 relates how John the Baptist came preaching about Jesus. He wasn’t wearing normal garb and didn’t act like people expected a messenger from God might act. He spoke truth, which must have been rare in those days because people came from all over the place to hear him and to confess their sins and be baptized (not a baptism of belief in Jesus Christ but of repentance). The religious leaders came too, more out of curiosity perhaps, but he scolded them and told them their reliance on someone else’s faith didn’t cut it. They had to repent like everyone else. Then he said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Angela wasn’t concerned that her clothes and her ‘style’ made a big impression. Instead she talked about Jesus and spoke truth. She said things that run contrary to popular ideas concerning writing as a ‘calling’ and set at least me free from the idea that I have to prioritize time at my keyboard if I am going to be a ‘real’ writer. She talked about our first and only calling is to love and obey God, no matter what task we are at. While she didn’t directly scold those who put the writing profession over everything else in their life, her words certainly called for a change of heart if that were the case.

She also demonstrated what it means to be immersed in the Holy Spirit. God used her words, even her entire person. She was entirely exhausted from a nearly 20-hour day and the craziness of airline mishaps, but is also under a deadline from her publisher for a book she is writing; the deadline is next week. There was nothing of Angela left to give, but give she did, with Holy Spirit fire.

The plane delay meant that at least one person had to leave early, but a few others arrived in time to hear her. God is in charge of this shuffle and knows how to put things in place to suit His will.

All I can say is that I am glad that I could be there, see the fire, and hear God speak through one person who realizes that her true calling is simply to love Him and do what He says.

Friday, September 28, 2007

In His Care

Wednesday night I dreamed that our youngest son died. Even as I dreamed it, my mind registered it as obviously a dream. Nevertheless, I woke up with all the emotions as if it really happened. I sobbed for a few minutes, and felt hollow with the sense of loss for most of the morning.

The evening before the dream, our granddaughter called at supper time saying she’d be home later. She didn’t show up and by morning, after that dream and finding her room empty, I was fairly knotted up. To top it off, my husband was away on a business trip. No comforting hugs.

Of course I prayed about these things. At lunch time I called our daughter at work. She hadn’t heard from her daughter either, but knew that her younger brother had left that morning for a weekend in the USA. “Did he die on an airplane?” she asked, as concerned about such a dream as I was. I told her no, and he was just a little boy in the dream, but I was praying for him. Maybe this dream was a signal that he needs it right now.

After that, I called the youth hostel where our granddaughter works. The gal who answered the phone said, “Oh, she’s safe. She stayed here with me last night.” G-D called a bit later, apologizing that it was so late by the time she decided to stay over (this happens frequently) that she didn’t want to wake me.

Then last night my husband called and said he got tired of listening to the rhetoric and decided to come home a day early. He was forty-five minutes away and arrived home the same time G-D did. It was nice to be hugged after all this emotional stuff.

God hugs me too. My verses for today are Romans 5:6-8: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

This is the simple gospel. I don’t do anything to earn or deserve salvation. It is the gift of God to sinners like me. Jesus died for me long before I had any thought or opportunity to clean up my act. My efforts could not do it. His love for me is not based on anything I do or even want to do, but is grounded in His unchanging character.

Our youngest son is in God’s hands. Live or die, God is sovereign in His life. The same with G-D. She could have been in trouble so could not call home, but in the providence of the Lord, she was safe. As for Bob’s early arrival home, maybe God thought I needed him here as extra comfort for relatively little things like the aftermath of a traumatic dream or the worry of not knowing what was going on with our grandchild and star boarder.

Later on, Romans 8:31-32 says, “What then shall we say to these things? Since God is for us, who can be against us? 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?”

Whatever the purpose God has for me, He will bestow on me all that is needed. It might be trials and difficulties that shape my character. It might be surprising blessings. Most of the time it is consistent and compassionate care. It is a great privilege to be called a child of God!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A "Victim’s" Defense

I had a quick look at the newspaper this morning and noted how many items were about crime and the results of court cases. The guilty are always ‘innocent’ and the victims very quick to defend themselves. Jesus takes a different view of what to do if you are an innocent victim.

1 Peter 3:13-17 says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Victims of abuse sometimes think they must have deserved it; “If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t beat me.” Victims of accidents often blame themselves for being in the wrong place; “I shouldn’t have gone to town this morning.” Victims of slander sometimes retaliate with some mudslinging of their own (politicians, maybe?). But in this Bible passage, victims are supposed to react entirely opposite to what most of us do.

Do good. If I got drunk, drove my car in that condition and became involved in an accident, that does not qualify me as a ‘victim.’ Sometimes we do dumb things that have consequences. Christians are not supposed to behave in ways that give others reason to speak against us. Even though their slander is also not right, I cannot protest if I did something wrong and suffer for it.

Don’t be afraid. Those who speak against me are fearful that what I say about Jesus Christ and eternity might be right. If they slander me, I need to consider what they are saying, but if it is a lie, then I’ve nothing to fear. God is God and He will vindicate me.

Set apart Christ as Lord. Who is the ultimate boss? Can anything touch me without the consent of God? Two places in this passage indicate that ‘suffering for doing good’ falls under His jurisdiction. “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” tells me that God sees suffering from a different perspective than I do, to say the least! Jesus said I am blessed if others persecute me for His name’s sake. He was sinless and they crucified Him. I cannot suppose that being godly means I will escape evil treatment from others.

The end of the passages says it is better to suffer “if it is God’s will” — better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. My Lord is not turning His back when people mouth off about my faith and life. Instead, He has reasons for allowing it. He calls me to remember that He is Lord, and He knows what He is doing. I am to trust His will, not fear it.

Be prepared. I’m supposed to have a ready response that tells others why I am filled with hope, why I am not in a flap over malicious talk. That presupposes that I am filled with hope. I hate to admit this of us, but most Christians think life here is a foretaste of heaven and God will prevent all suffering. Many times we are protected and blessed with great abundance and comfort, yet I would be foolish to think that being like Jesus means I will not suffer the same things that He suffered. I’m supposed to have my hope based on what John Piper calls future grace. Life here is short and could be difficult. Some Christians die for their faith. My hope is in full redemption and eternity with Him, not a cushy life here.

Be gentle and respectful. This might be the toughest of all. I’ve a hard time being respectful toward rude people, never mind those who think my faith is folly. How can I be gentle when another person tells me what I believe is a pile of ____?

Jesus did it. Oh, there were times when He took out a whip, but most of His ministry was characterized by compassion. He knew that the people were blind, oblivious to spiritual matters. They did not understand what He was doing or why because God had not yet opened their hearts. Because He opened mine gives me no reason to look down on or retaliate against others. Instead, I should show them great compassion.

Keep my conscience clear. If I do wrong, God will deal with me first. He will not answer my prayers or go to bat for me until I’ve confessed and forsaken all known sin. How can I claim victim status or ask for His help against others if I am sinning against Him? Fix it, then pray for His intervention!

Heap coals of fire. Romans 12:17-21 says I am never to retaliate, but to do good to those who harm me. I know from personal experience that if a person I attack fights back, I am more convinced of their guilt. God uses non-retaliation to convict attackers of their own guilt. When I am gentle, respectful, and without sin or selfish retaliation, He will burn their conscience, not mine.

It IS better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. When I do something wrong, I’m pitting myself against Almighty God. Who can win that war? But if I do good and someone else attacks me, they are pitting themselves not against me, but against Almighty God. They don’t stand a chance because God does protect His people. He will come to my side, see me through the suffering, give me grace and courage to endure, and will even use it for my best.

Still, I am discouraged by those who misunderstand or hate me or other Christians for what we believe and do. Surely we need one another’s encouragement to stay within the will of God when it happens.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cured from my blindness

My Bible class is “gazing into the glory of the Lord,” depending on His promise that if we do this, He will change our lives. One of the most important truths I’ve seen as I prepare our study material is that without Him opening our eyes, we could not see anything glorious about Him. That glory is for those with the gift of spiritual vision. For everyone else, He is hidden.

In Matthew 11:25-27, Jesus says, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Directly before this prayer, Matthew records Jesus judging those who thought He was a glutton and a drunkard because He associated with “tax collectors and sinners.” I cannot imagine how they would think that of Him, but they did.

After that, He rebuked others who saw His mighty deeds but refused to repent. They seemed totally clueless regarding “these things,” and particularly clueless about His identity.

A parallel passage in Luke 10 places the same statement after a description of the disciples returning from a mission. They were excited because “even the demons are subject to us in Your name,” but Jesus told them they ought to “rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Then He thanked God that He had hidden “these things” from the wise and prudent, obviously a bit of sarcasm against the people who thought they knew everything, and revealed them to babes . . . those without any so-called knowledge about anything.

Jesus told the disciples they were special because, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

I’m reading a book about the complexity of child development and how various factors can inhibit the way a person deals with life. The author is brilliant. This book is perhaps the best I’ve ever read on this topic. I’ve learned a great deal and admire the research and insights offered. However, I’m beginning to notice that despite complex explanations of human behavior, there is a blank spot. The author is doing his best to describe why people do what they do, and yet he misses the fact that every part of our behavior, even as children, reflects our selfish and sinful resistance to our Maker.

God designed us to function in harmony with His will, but we don’t get it. The author of this book says we ‘don’t get it’ but he hasn’t been able to name exactly what ‘it’ is. He has come as close as the human mind can to what God says about us—without actually seeing or hearing what He says.

If I were asked to name the most precious gift anyone has ever given me, I’d have to say how much I’m beginning to value the revealed will of God. It isn’t because I feel any special insights or know some deeper knowledge, but that I am realizing how blind and deaf and ignorant I would be about spiritual things if Jesus had not opened my eyes and ears and heart.

Seeing Jesus is totally incredible because I know there is nothing in me that deserves it. The Lord decided to save me and give me eyes to see Him, then says, “Blessed are the eyes that see. . . .”

Along with the women in my study group, as we gaze at Jesus, I am humbled, filled with awe and so amazingly blessed.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Home is where my heart is

Over the past forty-five plus years, I’ve moved twenty-eight times. They say it takes two years to adjust to a new residence. If that is true, I’m terribly maladjusted!

Some of those moves were short. The worst was our brief stay in a northern city in Alberta. My husband was on a contract job. The movers unloaded, and in less than a week, we were unpacked and even had the pictures hung. Then his new boss asked him to do something unethical in regard to their client. Although he was not a Christian at that point, my husband refused, resigned, and since we were living in a house supplied by the client, we had to move immediately.

In our many relocations, we moved to one city five times, sometimes back into the same house (which we had rented out). Right now, we have been in this house for nine years. That is the longest in one place.

Moving that often has advantages and disadvantages. The worst is that relationships suffer. We had one lady introduce us to someone with, “Don’t get to know them too well. They will be moving soon.”

Every now and then I used to get homesick. For a long time I wondered what home was I missing. I thought that longing might be just the itch to move again, to resolve the difficulties of the current place by pulling out and leaving them behind. Now I know better. I get homesick because this place and none of the other places are my real home.

Philippians 3:20-21 spell it out: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

When Christ drew me into His family and His kingdom, He changed my citizenship. I live here on earth, but am a citizen of an eternal and permanent home, a perfect place. Once I am there, I will never move again. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has put eternity in my heart, and when I long for home, I am longing for that place I’ve not seen with my eyes, but my heart knows of it.

From there, Jesus will come here some day to take me home. He will also “transform” me. The Greek word is schematic and suggests that He will change my internal design. That change is needed because the body I have now is not able to live eternally, nor would I want it to. Heaven doesn’t seem the place for sore toes, somewhat less than 20-20 vision, and hair that will never do what I want it to do!

The Bible says that in eternity there will be no more death, sorrow, crying or pain. I’m sure that includes arthritis and homesickness. These verses in Philippians say my body will be like Jesus’ body. I’m not sure of everything that means except that after His resurrection Jesus could be wherever He wanted in an instant, even go through locked doors, yet was still physical, a real body and not a spirit-like being. He was recognizable but also different. He ate and drank but I’m not sure He needed to do either one.

No matter what my body is like, I know that being at that 'home' will satisfy me and being with Jesus will bring perfect contentment. This hope should also be good reason to stop belly-aching about the imperfections of living in this place!

UPDATE: My husband's heart specialist has told him that his recovery is complete. He needs to continue eating right and exercising, but he can "return to normal life," including shoveling snow (which we thought would be a no-no). Besides feeling really well, he does have some memory problems since his heart attack, more annoying than severe. Other than that, he is in better shape now than he was before this happened!

As for our granddaughter, she is back in university to get her teacher's certificate. She is talkative, happy and full of energy. The difference in her between now and last year at this time is absolutely astounding. She still needs Jesus, but He has answered prayer for her in amazing ways. We continue to pray that she finds true and lasting joy in knowing Him.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No doctor prescribes criticism


I’ve a big toe that aches when the humidity rises and the temperature drops. Sometimes I talk about it as if it were not part of my body but something that has invaded me. “That dratted toe is giving me trouble again,” or “It must be going to rain because that stupid toe is hurting.”

Romans 12:5 says, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”

When I read it, I thought of the times I’ve talked about another Christian in the same way I’ve talked about my toe. I’ve complained about them as if they are an alien or an enemy instead of part of Christ’s body, and, according to this verse, part of my own self.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around that. When another Christian is suffering, I know that I suffer too; the Bible says it and I feel it. I can also rejoice when they rejoice, but what about when they are floundering? This verse suggests that I will feel something then as well, because we are “members of one another.”

God always uses pain to let us know something is wrong. In this case, the pain I feel is a result of another Christian doing things contrary to the faith. I am not above that myself so can identify with their problem, but instead of empathizing or being helpful to right the wrong, I respond by criticism. Not good.

When I feel something in the Body is out of joint, I should be of offering help and comfort, not reacting the same way as I do to that big toe—forgetting that it is my toe and becoming ridiculously critical.

The lesson from this analogy is ridiculously simple. Being critical doesn’t do a thing for an aching toe, nor does it do a thing for a straying Christian. If I want my toe to behave, I offer it some medication, or warm it up, or give it a little twist, depending on the particular needs of that toe on that day. Yakking at it or about it does nothing.

God put me in the Body of Christ so that I can do my part, just as others are to do their part. If someone (me included) goes lame, aches, functions at less than their best, or just refuses to do anything, that part needs help, healing and encouragement. Filing a complaint doesn’t do it.

I can help by letting that person know I care (and I do, or I wouldn’t be responding to their ailment). I could come alongside with a word of encouragement, or take them to the Great Physician in prayer. I could put my arm around them to warm them up, or offer a helping hand if that would be appropriate.

My toe hurts this morning. Instead of being annoyed with it, I’m going to let it remind me that my doctoring methods in the Body of Christ are sometimes very senseless, even harmful. This toe can remind me to be more considerate when other Christians have painful problems. Instead of complaining about them when I sense what their ailment is doing to the Body, I’m going to let that ache be a signal to stop yakking and start looking for a way to bring healing.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rings and Poles and Jesus

“And he put the poles into the rings at the sides of the ark, to bear the ark.”

The ark of the covenant contained the actual stone tablets with God’s commandments, commandments that every person ever born has broken in some way or another. The top of the ark was called the “mercy seat.” Here priests sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices and this blood stood between the broken commandments and the wrath of God. God said, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.”

At one point in Old Testament history, the ark was being transported from one place to another on a cart rather than using the poles and rings. When the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah put out his hand to steady the load and touched the ark. The Lord’s anger burned against him and he died instantly, (1 Chronicles 13:9-10). In other situations where people mishandled the ark, plagues broke out or other disasters happened to show that this sacred symbol of God’s presence and promises was holy and never to be considered ordinary stuff.

My Bible notes say that the ark was a type or foreshadow of Jesus Christ. I can understand only a little of what this means. Certainly, and because of the mercy of God, the blood of Christ now stands between my sinfulness and God’s wrath, but I’m not sure how to interpret the significance of the rings and poles.

My devotional guide says that they indicate the “mobility” of the ark. It was never meant to be static or fixed in the same place, but moved when God’s people moved. In a similar sense, the Son of God is not rigid and immovable. He didn’t die and remain on the cross, nor does He stay put in a church building when we go home. Jesus moves with us. Further, He won’t let us have a fixed idea of who and what He is. He refuses to stay on the pedestals where we put Him.

However, some people try to do that with Jesus, or at least their idea of Him. They decide He is ‘too loving’ to ever confront sinners. Or He is ‘too holy’ to tolerate a card game of “Old Maid” with the children, or a trip to the zoo on Sunday afternoon. In essence, they say, “My Jesus is fixed, immovable; this is how He is and nothing can change my opinion.”

I don’t think Jesus can be put in tidy categories, but how do I describe Him to people in conflict? This was my challenge yesterday.

We were at a wedding. I talked with a mother who is upset because her daughter is impatient, abrupt and rude to her. Could I say Jesus would rebuke her daughter and comfort her?

Later I talked with the daughter. She has trouble with her mother because the older woman asks for and needs help, but rejects and criticizes everything the daughter offers. Could I say that Jesus would rebuke her mother and give her a hug?

As I listened to both sides of this strained relationship, I could see how both behaved selfishly, both responded to each other’s selfishness with more of the same, and both need Jesus.

Oh, they have reasons for acting like they do. The mother has defended herself all her life against people who looked down on her. It’s her habit to be argumentative and feisty. But Jesus could show her how God is her fortress and strong tower, and that He can defend her when she feels threatened. Jesus could release and cleanse her pride so she could graciously accept the kindnesses offered from her daughter.

The daughter feels as if she “is never good enough” and guilt drives her actions and reactions. The love of Jesus can show her the difference between true and false guilt. His full acceptance can counter her sense of rejection and help her be satisfied in doing the right things for her mother, regardless of how the mother responds.

As I think about their needs and the complexity of talking to both, I see how much I need to rely on ‘a Jesus with rings and poles,’ a Savior who can move into this mess and bring holiness and mercy with Him. He is perfectly able to be “all things to all people.” He can deal with both women without pitting one against the other, or making one the ‘winner’ and the other the ‘loser.’ He can move right to their hearts. Because He knows their deepest needs, He can touch them where they hurt the most and heal the rift between them.

The rings and poles on the ark kept those who carried it from actually touching it. It was holy and sacred. They were not to presume the familiarity implied when you grab a big box and swing it up on your shoulders.

The same is true about Jesus. I know Him; I am close to Him, yet I am not to presume that I have an ‘in’ on what He is about or what He will do. Holy means “other than” and His thoughts and ways are just that—other than mine. I could guess how He might work to resolve the issues in this relationship, yet I can never accurately predict what He will do. He always comes up with something beyond my imagination. He is holy, and in a sense, untouchable.

As I pray for them, I’m asking my mobile, flexible Savior to make Himself known to these two women who are breaking His commands and hurting each other. He is God’s new covenant, not a symbol like the ark, but God’s presence with His people. He is the One who can do “exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or imagine,” the reality, the One who can move into their lives and, with great mercy, rebuke and hug both of them.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Healing here, maybe. Healing later, for sure!

While we were on holidays, my husband attended a symposium hosted by a university engineering department. They brought in a luncheon speaker who talked about stress in the workplace. The spouses were invited so I was privileged to hear the most amazing things.

His talk focused on how the body reacts to stress, particularly hidden stress. Fight or flight is readily identified, but many people are stressed without recognizing it or realizing what it is doing to them. Some grind their teeth at night yet claim they are not stressed. Others cheerfully help others, ignoring their own needs. He offered many other examples.

What amazed me were his descriptions (as a medical doctor with years of experience) of how this hidden stress translates into illness. When the body is under stress, the immune system is affected. How a person deals with their stress (or not), puts nuances to its effect on their bodies. Each method, for want of a better word, factors greatly toward being susceptible to certain diseases.

Again, he gave examples. He mentioned several serious illnesses and said that for each illness all those who have it deal with their stressors (or not) in an identical manner. For some of them, he gave detailed scientific processes of what happens and why those actions, or inactions, make those people sick.

As I listened to him I couldn’t help but think of the healing power of Jesus. God designed our bodies. He knows how they work and He knew, long before this doctor discovered it, what makes us ill. He even told His people in Exodus15:26, “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”

I know that this verse could lead to a line of thinking that says sickness is caused by disobeying God. I won’t go there. God does have the power to heal, but He doesn’t heal everyone. I don’t understand His mind or His purposes for me much of the time, so I’ve no business trying to figure out why some stay sick and some are healed.

At the same time, I know there is a huge connection between mind and body. What goes on in our heart and soul also affects our bodies. The psalmist wrote, “There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. . . . I am feeble and severely broken: I groan because of the turmoil of my heart” (Psalm 38).

I’ve been there too. In fact, who hasn’t had otherwise unexplainable aches and pains during stressful times? Stress, if nothing else, tightens our muscles and they get sore. However, the speaker at the symposium says it does much more. The hidden damage can put us in the grave.

When Jesus came, His ministry involved a great deal of healing. Sick people soon heard the word about this Physician. Some of them had been ill for many years, without any help from many doctors. When they heard that Jesus could heal with a word or a touch, they must have been filled with hope.

The medical profession today acknowledges that hope is a huge factor in healing, yet Jesus gave more than that. Luke 6:19 says, “And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.”

They didn’t heal themselves because they were hopeful; the power came from Jesus. What was it? How did He heal them? The Bible doesn’t spell it out as plainly as that speaker spelled out the power that makes us sick. Some of the people Jesus healed became disciples and probably learned more about the stress of sin, at least, and how to bring that to Jesus for His amazing cure of forgiveness and cleansing. Some of them didn’t even say thank you. Maybe they went back to their old lifestyle—still filled with the stresses that made them susceptible to illness in the first place.

One day, those who know the Lord will be changed. 1 Corinthians 16:50-57 tell about it saying, “. . . the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality . . . death is swallowed up in victory.”

When my blind grandfather died, my mother took the call. Then she said, “Oh, it’s okay. Now he can see!” He was healed.

In this life, I am not always able to win the battles against the pressures of this world, the snares of Satan, and the foolish and harmful desires of my sinful flesh. Even as a Christian, I know the stresses of life eat at me; I am simply not able to trust and obey the Lord one hundred percent.

But there is a day coming, a day when this body of flesh will be “raised in glory . . . raised in power . . . raise a spiritual body.” In that day my eyes will see Him perfectly. My body will never suffer, and I will rejoice in total victory, all because Jesus will totally heal me, forever.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sweet Sleep

Sometimes I go to bed and cannot sleep. It doesn’t happen often, as I am usually sawing my logs almost before my head hits the pillow. But when it does, I feel “wired” and agitated in my mind. I might be trying to solve a particular problem, but more often it’s a combination of things that whirl around in my head and keep me from rest.

This happened two nights ago. Today God speaks about it. These words in Isaiah 50:10-11, while likely a call to the unsaved, relate to me as a Christian who sometimes attempts to “light my own fire.”

God says, “Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God. Look, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with sparks: walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—this you shall have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.”

The bigger principle is that those who spend their lives relying on their own judgments and reasoning instead of trusting the Lord and walking in His light will eventually lie down (die) and spend eternity in torment. This sad reality is repeated over and over throughout the Bible. God calls people to fear, obey, and trust Him, not ourselves and our own ideas.

Yet Christians can rely on our own judgments too. We are admonished in places like Proverbs 3:5-6 to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

If faith in Christ automatically produced perfect obedience, I’d cheer and shout, but it doesn’t. I am tempted by sin, and the essence of sin is that “we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 52:6).

Doing my own thing is easy, a life habit. Conquering it involves tests like Isaiah talks about in chapter 50. Darkness comes, times when it seems like God is gone and I’ve no idea what is going on or what to do next. What will I do when that happens?

As my devotional book says, those are times that my mind is apt to “think things over” or “put two and two together” or “come to this conclusion.” In other words, I’m tempted to dispel the darkness by lighting my own fire, coming up with my own solutions.

God doesn’t always offer light in darkness or immediate solutions to tough problems. Instead, He is sometimes gives me opportunity to trust Him even when I can’t see what is going on. I am to walk by faith, not by sight.

Faith is knowing God is true, regardless of circumstances or what my own muddled mind might be telling me. Faith waits instead of pushing. Faith relies on the light I do have until He gives me more. Faith is a type of rest, not necessarily inactive, but leaning on Jesus.

So if I cannot sleep because I’m mulling over some issue or another, God tells me to stop doing that, to turn off that ‘light’ and instead rest in Him, even in darkness. As Psalm 127:2 says, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rewarded

I muddled through French 20 and 30 in high school, just passing the final exam. About ten years ago, I took 12 weeks of Russian. Not too long before, I studied basic Greek in Bible college. Since the alphabets are similar, and since my mind cannot easily wrap itself around new languages, I cannot remember much of either. Now I want to study Spanish? Yikes!

When it comes to the ancient biblical languages, I do know enough about Hebrew and Greek that I can use dictionaries and lexicons. Both languages are more expressive than English, at least in some ways. Greek is far more accurate with more verb tenses and less ambiguity in word meanings. Hebrew is one of those languages that takes a paragraph to explain some words. In both, Bible translators sometimes do not know exactly what was intended in the original. The options are usually given.

Genesis 15:1 is one of those verses. It says (in the New King James Version), “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’” In the margin, it says that the last part of the verse could be, “your reward shall be very great.”

In context, this could be about the promise God made to Abram concerning an heir who was not yet born. Abram was concerned that without a son he would have to give everything to his servant. God wanted him to not fear that, that He would take care of him.

Certainly Abram was going to be rewarded, but since I don’t read or know Hebrew, I’ve no clue why this verse has two possible endings. Only when I compare what these two versions say with what I know in the rest of Scripture, I conclude that they could both be correct.

God promises rewards for His people. The Hebrew and Greek words for reward are about wages, but God never hires His servants or workers in that sense. We serve Him because we love Him and His rewards are more to do with His grace than our merit, and with being faithful rather than based on how much or how long we work.

In Abram’s case, his reward for trusting God could be the promised son, but I don’t think so. God said He would give this man a son, and just asked him to believe Him. The son was a promise to be believed, not a reward for doing so.

In the rest of the Bible, rewards from God are spelled out. They include being with Christ, seeing the face of God, judging with and reigning with Christ forever, various “crowns” which are likely not literal, eternal inheritance of all things, an immovable kingdom, everlasting light and life, an eternal city and dwelling place, rest, eternal glory, fulness of joy, and the prize of the high calling of God.

I’ve no doubt about the greatness of these rewards, and am sure that Abram (Abraham) has full access to them. In both Old and New Testament he is held up as an example of faith. Both say of him that he “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, etc.). Rewards are clearly for those who have faith, not a reward for faith, but part of the package for those who believe what God says.

However, as I look at all those verses about rewards, I notice how prominently the Lord figures in each one. When the NKJV says God is Abram’s reward, I have to ask if there is any difference between the reward of being with Christ and Christ Himself? Isn’t He the reward?

The same question gives the same answer for each ‘reward’ in the list. All of them involve Him, being with Him, doing things with Him, experiencing the fulness of Him.

Here on earth during my experiences with God and with faith, I’m concluding that Jesus is enough. I used to ‘need’ answers to all my questions, thinking His explanation for my perplexities would be a ‘reward’ for trusting Him, but not so much anymore. Instead of wondering why or when or what is going on, I’m realizing that He knows, He is in control, and His timing is perfect. I don’t need what I thought was a ‘reward’ when I have Him.

Besides the blessing of His presence, I’ve less worries and concerns to the point that it seems I’m being rewarded already. He hasn’t yet given me all the ‘things’ on the reward list, but I am more certain that He is with me, more certain that He is my shield as He was Abram’s shield. That in itself means that He is my great reward.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Power of words

I’ve been thinking lately about the power of God’s word, not so much Scripture (His written word), but what happens when He speaks.

For instance, in the beginning, “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Genesis One records that each time He spoke, something marvelous happened. By His words the universe and all that is in it were created. Many think this is a myth, but I say their god is far too small. If God is God, then speaking something into existence is totally possible and believable.

God spoke later to Abraham and others in different ways, but always with results. Hebrews 1:1-2 tell about His words, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. . . .”

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Verse 14 clarifies, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . . .”

God spoke and His Word created, then that Word became a person identified as His Son, a full expression of God the Father in a visible form. Jesus is the Word of God personified. Those who saw Him said, “We beheld His glory” and “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard . . . the Word of life. . . .”

The spoken Word of God is powerful. Romans 10:17 says “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I used to think this meant the message about Christ, but now I’m not so sure. Could it be more ‘alive’ than that? Could it be that God imparts faith by ‘speaking’ it into our hearts?

That seems to be what happened in Acts. Jesus was physically gone from the world, but as the Bible says, lived in the hearts of His disciples. Acts 14:1 says, “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.”

They “so spoke” that people believed. How is that? I can say Scripture and repeat the gospel until I am blue in the face, but that is not necessarily going to have those results. Would it be that their speaking was Jesus, the Living Word, using them as His mouthpiece? Could it be that He spoke (through them) and the power of His words imparted faith?

It didn’t happen that way with everyone. Acts 14:2 continues, “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds (lit. embittered their souls) against the brethren.”

Those who didn’t hear the Word and didn’t believe, hated Him. This is typical even today. Unfortunately, their hatred tends to silence those whom God has chosen to be His mouthpieces. Instead of speaking out, I know I tend to retreat when someone reacts this way to the good news about Jesus.

Not so these disciples in Acts. Verse three says, “Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”

“Speaking boldly in the Lord” — or could it be rendered “The Lord spoke boldly through them”? Perhaps. What is clear is that He clarified that these men most certainly spoke the “word of His grace” (or His gracious words?) by giving them the ability to do amazing things as proof of His power with them.

Words can destroy too. They can hurt and separate and damage people’s lives and relationships. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue. . . .”

It is no wonder that God tells me to watch what I say, to speak words that heal and build up, to bless rather than curse. This thought staggers and humbles me, yet it is possible that when I open my mouth, He could use it to say a word to someone whose life He wants to change.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eagles and Robins

I found a dead bird in the backyard yesterday. It was only a bird, but there is a sadness in that lifeless form. I didn’t feel good about this small event in a big world.

Oddly enough, this morning my devotional guide leads me to a verse about a bird. A man called Agur writes in Proverbs 30:18-19, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air. . . .”

My study Bible links this verse to the passage that follows. It is about an adulterous woman. The notes say that the eagle is an analogy of hypocrisy and concealment in that no one can see its trail left in the air, just like the way an adulterous woman hides the evidence of her shame. (These notes include the other three things of verse 19, a serpent on a rock, a ship in the sea, and a man courting a virgin, in that analogy.)

Another commentary tells me that some say the ways of these four are mysterious; others say their ways are not traceable; others suggest that they each easily master an element that is seemingly difficult. Another suggestion is that they each go where there are no paths.

After all that, I’ve still no clue what Agur was thinking when he wrote these verses. It seems to me that Proverbs doesn’t often fit into the idea of “interpret in context” because the topics run one after another without apparent connection. While some connect this to the next passage about adultery, but it could just as easily connect to the previous one about greed, or it simply could stand alone.

It could also connect to earlier statements Agur makes in this chapter. He says, “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One.”

He goes on then about the marvel of God and His works and the purity of His words. By starting out in awe of God and in admission of his own lack of comprehension, verses 18 and 19, and other parts of this chapter, could very well be a poetic continuation of those thoughts.

So, what do I know about eagles? They eat carrion and are magnificent in flight, soaring without getting weary. The Bible talks about them in both capacities.

In Alaska we used to watch the bald eagles circling high above the mouth of the Kenai river. Once I saw one of them being harassed by two crows. As they flew at him, he closed his wings and I thought he had been hit. Not so. One crow flew away and the other one dropped like a stone. The eagle used its powerful claws and killed it in mid-flight. I understand Agur’s awe at the way of an eagle in the air.

The writer of my devotional, Watchman Nee, says this verse reminds him that eagles fly without being overcome by the law of gravity. The law is real, just like the law of sin and death, but for an eagle, flying in the air illustrates how we who believe overcome that law through the spirit of life in Jesus Christ. His life in us takes us above the law of sin and death just as an eagle can defy gravity.

That brings me back to the dead bird in my yard. My first thought was that this little body is just a body. The life is gone from it, and without that life, it might as well be a leaf or twig or stone. It cannot overcome anything without life.

Earlier in the day, and in sharp contrast to that deadness, I heard another bird singing very close to me. Slowly moving to my open window (second floor), I spotted a robin on the small roof ledge about three feet from me. It was expressing its life in music.

An eagle expresses life in flight, a robin in song. With the thoughts Nee gave me, I am thinking how shall I express the life of Christ today? Maybe, for me, this is why I’m reading this odd verse in Proverbs. The life of Christ in me is just as mysterious and wonderful and beyond understanding as the “way of an eagle in the air,” yet God gives me that life to joyfully and without effort express. Maybe someone will see me soar and be filled with the same sense of wonder and delight that I have at the memories of eagles in flight or of a little robin singing at my window.

Monday, September 17, 2007

God uses it for good

I try to imagine how I would feel if my siblings sold me into slavery. Too hard; we don’t have slavery (at least that kind) in our culture. What about if they disowned me and forced me to move to another part of the country? I can imagine that (even though my siblings would never do such a thing).

Now I’m imagining that I become very successful in that other place, even a leader with great power and influence. (I’ve a good imagination.) Then, my siblings become destitute. In fact, they will die without help. They come to where I live, and I’ve changed so much and have unexpected status so they do not recognize me. However, since I’m in control in that place, I’m the person they must ask for help.

After years of being disowned and abandoned, I don’t know what I would do, but I do know what Joseph did. He tested his brothers to make sure all of them and his father would move to the place where he lived and could take care of them. When they realized who he was, they were terrified, but Joseph said, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

This story thrills me, not only because of the great and generous heart that God put into Joseph, but because God can use what seems like great injustice and travesty to accomplish good things. This Old Testament story throws new light on the disasters in my life.

The promise is repeated in the New Testament. As a new Christian, this is the verse that made a huge impression on me. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

This verse is so familiar, but it gets used out of context. It does not mean that everyone can expect good from “all things.” The promise is for those who love God and are “the called” — a phrase referring to people who have responded to Jesus’ call to repentance and salvation. In this category, Joseph was a man of faith, one who trusted God to send His promised Messiah. Otherwise, he would not be one of the people who could say, “We know. . . .”

This familiar verse has another caveat. It says “according to His purpose.” In Genesis, God’s purpose included putting Joseph into a position where he could rescue his family from a dire famine, but that changes in the New Testament. Instead of physical safety, His promise is for this life and also eternity. It is found in the next verse:

Romans 8:29 says, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

I’ve heard so many arguments about the meaning of God’s foreknowledge, and the meaning of predestination, and the meaning of firstborn, that I throw my hands in the air and wonder if anyone notices the part of this verse that is crystal clear: God uses all things together for my good—and that “good” is that I am conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

This is even more amazing than how God used the abandonment of Joseph to later rescue his family. God, in His incredible and creative wisdom, knows how to take even the disasters and failures in my life to shape me and make me more like Jesus. What a marvelous goal He has for me!

The story of Joseph encourages my cooperation. Joseph could have been bitter, hated those who hurt him, took revenge, and ruined the plan of God. The insight God gave him about a good purpose in that evil is the same as the “We know . . .” of Romans 8:28. I know what God is up to. Therefore I’ve every reason to cooperate with Him and look for ways to obey and allow Him to change me, no matter what happens. He has shown me His purpose for me, and my destiny—and for this, I am grateful and in awe.

Note: I’m also in awe over yesterday’s Bible class. God graciously revealed some truths; I could see it on their faces as we studied. At the end, I asked them to share how what they had read and learned affected them. One newcomer, who admitted she talks too much, opened her mouth and said, “I’m amazed; I’m simply speechless.”

Me too. God is awesome!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I hate being weak . . .

Regular Sunday school classes start today, and even though I’ve taught for years, I still feel hopelessly inadequate for this. Who am I to have this responsibility? What do I know?

Specific reasons differ from week to week. My class has been ladies that I know well, but this year there are some I’ve never met before. Will I teach over their heads? Will I be repeating things they already know? Do they have learning challenges that will throw me for a loop? I know what to expect from most of them, but am never sure about newcomers.

The topics, even though familiar, often challenge me too. Besides that, someone will say something in class that challenges my ideas. Will that discussion be a distraction to the rest of them? Or will I have the ability to turn it into a good learning experience?

I study the topic thoroughly, but have learned that I can only teach what God has taught me. Yet some days I feel as if I don’t know anything. While I don’t want them to put me on a pedestal, I also don’t want to lead them astray when they ask important questions.

Sigh. I understand why James wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” This begins a passage about the difficulty of controlling our tongue, and I don’t want to blurt out anything that will harm, insult, or lead anyone astray. Instead, I want to glorify God and encourage these women (and myself) to trust the Lord and be like Jesus.

Today’s verse from my devotional guide is God’s way of showing me how He knows my heart. It is a favorite, 2 Corinthians 12:9. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’”

With impeccable timing, God reminds me again that whatever I do for Him is not about me or my abilities. In fact, He wants me weak and feeling helpless. When I am, then I depend on Him, but more than that, if something good happens in the class, He gets the praise, not me.

I’ve told my class how important this weak/strong thing is in serving God, but also how difficult it is. When His people are weak, others see the power of God, but we feel the weakness. I’ve even said that if I come to church on Sunday morning full of confidence about the class material for the day and my ability to teach it, I begin to worry. He has taught me through experience that this sort of confidence is misplaced and things will not turn out as I expect.

But I don’t like feeling weak. I like to feel confident in myself, or at least confident that God will do something wonderful. However such confidence easily turns into presumption — another precursor to a crash. Instead, God tells me His grace is enough, more than enough, and I have to trust Him, no matter what is going on at the level of my feelings, and regardless of the fact that after reading this word of encouragement, I still feel helpless.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

No hypocrisy

We get together with two other couples twice a month to pray for our adult children. We have become close friends in the process, but even as close friends, we gulp when our initial Bible study prompts us to confess our sins.

Everyone wants to look good. I have trouble admitting things like being selfish about my prayer requests, or confessing that I often come to God with a “grocery list” but no praise in my heart. Even with friends who know me well, I fight that desire to fake it, to look better than I am.

Jesus says, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”

Hypocrites = pretenders. Jesus talked about people who were religious on the outside, but their religion was a mask because their hearts were not in it.

I understand that. Sometimes when praying with a group, my mind wanders. I’m thinking about next week’s work, or tomorrow’s dinner, or a quilt I want to make. Sometimes I doodle in my notebook as the other person prays. My heart is not in it.

Of course the Holy Spirit convicts me and I’m usually quick to “get with the program” as my husband says, but my conscience stings at such an easy slide into disinterest. Prayer is the most important activity of my day, of my week, and praying for adult kids should be primary, not boring or belittled by inattention.

Knowing what something “should be” and making it so are two different things. It is only by the grace of God that anyone can do what Jesus says we should do. He is right, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Last night was different. Only once did I experience that annoying temptation to wander off while another person prayed. I asked for, and received the ability to focus, and found myself so intensely involved in our communion with God that I was exhausted afterwards, even shaking a little.

Today I’ve added a couple more reasons to my list of why my prayer life suffers. I already knew that I will not pray when I’ve sinned but have not confessed it and been forgiven. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”

The second I also knew; I will not pray if I think I can handle the problem myself. Why ask God if I assume I don’t need Him? Dumb, but it happens.

The new additions are these: I will not pray because it is extremely hard work and drains me both emotionally and physically (and could mean I’m basically lazy), and I will not pray if it exposes the real me to those I want to impress.

After this many years of praying with others, He keeps exposing my sinful attitudes and tells me once again that if I’m praying, I must pray as He asks. There can be no faking it, no pretending, no trying to look better than I am. I have to be totally open before Him and before anyone else who might be listening. Jesus surely asks even more; I must not pray like a hypocrite, but also I must not be one.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Don’t fight your own battles

In talking to other Christians, I realize how easily we hear the voice that says, “You can’t do this,” and then start fighting the whole idea of our helplessness instead of saying, “That’s right; I can’t.”

This morning’s reading is the story of Gideon in Judges 7. God asked him to go against an army that was much larger, but not only that, He also asked him to reduce his army of 32,000 to 10,000, and then to 300! Had I been in that small troop, I would be terrified and the voices in my head would be screaming, “You can’t do this. You are a fool to even try.”

Gideon was also somewhat unsure of this strategy, to say the least. However, the Lord told him, “If you are afraid . . . go down to the (enemy) camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”

Gideon did as God said. As he and his servant crept up to the enemy camp, they overheard a soldier telling another soldier about a dream he had of a loaf of barley striking their camp and collapsing a tent. The other man said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.”

This is amazing. God used a dream to plant into the mind of Gideon’s enemies the notion that they were doomed; this Israelite would defeat them. The power of suggestion is well-known these days, but I never considered that God would use it.

Of course Gideon defeated the Midian army. Actually, the enemy soldiers were terrified when his 300 men attacked in the night and “the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled. . . .”

However, before that happened, I am touched by Gideon’s response to the overheard dream. Verse 15 says, “And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, ‘Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.’”

My spiritual enemies sometimes loom as large as a Midian army. I look at my own resources (big mistake) and realize I don’t have what it takes to win (actually, a good observation), but instead of listening to God’s assurance, I often panic and moan that I cannot do this. My moaning keeps me from acting.

But I don’t have to rely on me, nor do I need to be such a wimp. God, the same God who won Gideon’s battle, is able to soundly defeat anything I face. I need to remember that He is incredible creative, ingenious, able to come up with strategies that I’d never imagine, almighty, and totally able to conquer obstacles and overcome barriers that (to me) are more than super-sized.

I also need to remember to stop looking in the mirror and recognize that the voices I hear that say, “You can’t do this” are partly right—by myself, I can’t—but with God, who knows what amazing things can happen!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Approaching Almighty God

I’ve tried to remember how I used to approach God in my BC years. Tentatively? Without confidence, certainly, and without a sense that God was there. I had no assurance of Him, or that He cared about me, or that I could even talk to Him.

Now I know how the Old Testament priests did it. They had to come with a blood sacrifice and blood sprinkled as a sign of cleansing. They continually washed themselves in basins of clear water, again as a sign of cleansing.

But they were fearful and never sure. Would God accept them? If they were honest with themselves, they knew that no matter how many blood sacrifices were made, how many times they washed, they were still the same sinners in heart.

Their only hope was in God’s promise of a Savior and of a new covenant articulated by Jeremiah 31:33 where the Lord said, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”

Ezekiel 36:25-27 says it again, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

I didn’t know about those promises when I tried to approach God. Would I have had more confidence if I did? Probably not. If we put aside our false and small notions about God and truly consider Who this is that we seek, an element of awe, even fear, should make standing before Him far from being a trivial and easy thing.

Whoever wrote the New Testament book of Hebrews knew that. He tries to reinforce it, but at the same time encourage his readers (Jews either on the brink of turning to Christ or on the brink of running the other direction). In Hebrews 10:19-25 he offers this, the new Covenant from God, made through Christ:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

This is new. Now everyone can approach God, not just the priests. I can come through that temple veil that was torn in two, top to bottom, when Jesus died on the cross, a veil that was once a barrier for them is now gone. That holiest of holies is open to everyone.

Jesus, my High Priest, took the sacrifice of His own blood into that holiest place, not the temple but the very presence of God in heaven, and it was accepted as my offering for sin. I can draw near in full assurance that God will not turn me away.

My heart is made new, my guilty conscience washed as I confess my sin, and my entire life is made pure, not by water baptism but by the washing done by God as He cleanses me. I can hold onto the promises of God, not because I am anything, but because He is faithful.

My task is not to worry about where I stand with God (that is taken care of by Jesus Christ), but to consider others, to encourage love and goodness in them as we fellowship with one another and look for that day when Jesus returns.

I’m a detail person and delight in the details that God has covered concerning my salvation, but at the same time, when He grants me an opportunity to ‘stand back and look at the big picture’ my delight becomes elation. I see myself as one small part of God’s huge plan for humanity and now as I approach Him, I am humbled and filled with great awe.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Growing Up

Spiritual growth happens in stages. Bible teachers like Charles Stanley map it out with phases such as 1) Unbelief, dormancy; 2) Salvation and a ‘honeymoon’ time; 3) Eager serving, a sense of wanting to repay Christ for all He has done; 4) Inadequacy, fruitless, feeling as if I cannot do anything right; 5) Spirit-filled, learning how to yield to the Holy Spirit; 6) Re-programming, where things of the past that affect consistency are brought to the surface and dealt with; 7) The exchanged life, living in dependance upon Christ for everything.

While spiritual growth doesn’t necessarily fit into categories, Stanley’s phases do happen. I suppose the more important question is how to make them happen, how to make progress.

We’ve all heard stories about children planting seeds then digging them up each day to see if they are growing. That isn’t the best idea for spiritual growth either, because our focus needs to be on Jesus, not turned inward. However, I’ve noticed that I can ask myself certain questions and practice certain disciplines. While they don’t make growth happen, they do help with the hindrances. More than that, these disciplines are in line with what God is trying to do as He produces growth in me. They help me cooperate with Him, so in no particular order . . .

First is to have a holy dissatisfaction with myself. That means allowing the Spirit to tell me what is wrong. His voice comes as gentle nudges, sometimes so gentle that I can easily push them away or turn them off. Instead, I need to listen, to not be too quick with “positive thinking” or anything that denies His elbow in my ribs. “Do not grieve the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).

Second, ask God to transform my life. This sounds like such a noble prayer, and the first time I prayed it, I was looking for glorious results. Now I’ve learned that if I pray that, I’d better duck. God answers this one, and the tools He uses can be painful. I’m reading Job and remember how the book starts with God calling Job His servant, and defending him to Satan as an upright man whose faith would stand no matter what tests came along. After all Job went through, his faith did stand, but he had turned inward as he complained, and had some serious questions about God.

Then God reveals Himself to Job. After that, Job acknowledges that his knowledge of the Lord was enlarged. In Job 42:1-6, he says, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job grew through hanging on in his ordeal, but also through realizing that God is God and can do whatever He wants in his life. Maybe Job didn’t ask for this growth, but whenever I have asked, the Lord has often used extreme trials to temper and enlarge my faith and to make me more like Jesus.

Third, put myself in ‘places of grace’ by practicing spiritual disciplines. Growing Christians are reading God’s Word, praying, studying, worshiping God in church with others, serving Him, and so on. These things don’t ‘make’ growth happen, but without them, it seldom does.

Fourth, I need to be thorough when it comes to repentance. When I sin, I need to confess it to God without excuses, blame-shifting, or reluctance to change. I cannot grow in Christian character and harbor sin at the same time.

Fifth, make restitution where possible. Not every sinful deed involves injury to another person, but many of them do. God wants me to make it right. This is one of the most difficult parts of growing, but I will stop growing if I refuse to go there.

Sixth, develop a seriousness of purpose. Maybe getting older helps, but I’ve realized that life here is very short. Most of what I do has no eternal value whatsoever. Cook, eat, clean, sleep, read a novel, make a quilt, plant flowers, pull weeds—none of it will go with me to heaven, only the Christian character that develops as a result. I can make a meal without any thought, or I can make it an expression of God’s love for my guests. Even though the Holy Spirit controls whether or not God uses these things, being purposeful makes me think twice about how I spend my days, even my moments. “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Seventh, and related to the above, narrow my focus. This might not apply to everyone but it certainly is important for me. I’m interested in so many things, can do many things, and love doing many things. However, a scattered approach to life often means that I don’t hit any targets. This year, I determined to take the dozens and dozens of thing on my to-do list and sort/toss/condense until the list had limited but definite shape and is doable. I’ve also been decluttering and simplifying my home.

This has been perhaps the most challenging. For example, I love to quilt, love art and painting, and graphic art. I cannot do all this, so I’ve picked art quilts as my artistic expression (with a purpose to glorify God and benefit others, of course), and all my art books, art materials, etc. either work toward that goal or go into the ‘give away’ pile. Oh, the freedom!

I’ve a wonderful little book called “Principles of Spiritual Growth” by Miles J. Stanford. In it he says that the life of Christ is an organic thing, a powerful thing. Life grows. It cannot help itself. Jesus lives in me, and He will come out, be seen, make Himself known.

I agree, but I know that I can put a rock on top of that growth, dump toxins on it, undernourish it, keep it from the sun (Son), and stunt it by neglect. God is able to deal with me should I be so foolish, but I’d rather have the other kind of trials—those that come because Satan doesn’t like what I’m doing—rather than the ones God brings because I’m grieving or quenching His Spirit and refusing to grow up in my faith.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ranting and Rejoicing

Today I woke up singing, but when I read Isaiah, my tune became a rant. Isaiah talks about the people of the world who ignore God, who will eventually go down in disgrace for their idol worship and ignorance of God and goodness.

In chapter 45, God says, “I, the LORD, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. . . . There is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me.”

The morning newspaper is full of bad news. People committing crime, loss of life, conflicts on small and large scales, accidents, disasters. We’ve had two more fires in our city, not yet declared arson, but I would not be surprised. There is no end of calamity. Today is the anniversary of that one that will never leave our hearts. How many people remember those towers going down and still ask, “Where is God?”

At supper we talked about a close to home frustrating experience of telling someone something and they don’t listen, then come back at you for not telling them. My husband said that in the safety department of the workplace, everyone must be warned of any dangerous possibilities, but not only that, the employer must verify that the warning was heard and understood by every person. Otherwise, if an accident happens, someone can bring a lawsuit against them by claiming they were not warned or the warning was not clear. In other words, if I trip coming down a ladder, I can sue someone for not telling me that ladders are dangerous, or not explaining it clearly enough.

There are a few who go against the current trend of irresponsibility. I watched a television show last night (fiction, mind you), where a religious man had to decide between loyalty to another of his faith who was accused of a crime, or truth and justice. He chose justice, but the other man and his own people cursed him. Those prejudiced against him and his faith bombed his place of worship and called him a terrorist. Not much of a reward for being truthful and desiring righteousness!

Inside me is a strong desire for truth and justice. I cheered when the religious man picked it even though his faith is not the same as mine. Yet I look at the world we live in and am often very dismayed and discouraged. Not only do we have all sorts of bad news making headlines, we have all sorts of self-seeking, dishonest people with too much clout over those who do their best to do things right.

I am at home, not out in that workplace, and frankly, I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve a friend who can barely cope with the backstabbing and petty things that happen in her office. I can barely listen to her descriptions. My heart cries for righteousness, and if not that, just that people would be polite and decent toward one another.

As I continue reading Isaiah 45, my song starts to come back. The music begins with God’s invitation in verse 22: “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”

God does not limit the scope of His saving power. It is for all the ends of the earth. He is God, Lord over all, sovereign and powerful. He can save “whosoever will” look to Him. There is hope, if only people will look to God.

Verses 23-25 are joyful assurances that God can make that happen. He says, “I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. In the LORD all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.’

I’m reminded of Psalm 2. No matter how much or how many resist God and goodness, God has the bottom line. This entire psalm simply sings away my rant.

Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.”

“I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”

Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

Amen!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Commitment to Loveliness!

I found this challenge (or it found me) on a blog called Charming the Birds from the Trees. It is called Commitment to Loveliness and described as "a fun way to increase femininity and beauty in our lives each week without even trying! All you have to do is choose five things that you would like to work on or do during the week that will increase the loveliness in your life!"

Goodness knows I could use some of that, so here is my list for this week:

1. Encourage and pray with a friend whose family is in spiritual chaos.
2. Deposit some money in my granddaughters "trip to Norway" savings account.
3. Finish adding applique leaves to a Round Robin quilt so I can hang it with joy.
4. Pick the colors, fabrics, etc. for our master bedroom renovation.
5. Exercise faithfully and get down one more pound!

To join this challenge, go to the link above and follow the directions.

When you’re dead, you’re dead?

Talk about death and you quickly learn whether or not someone has faith. Last night in a conversation with friends, our topic turned to how we should act as Christians in the places we work. One man told of another man where he worked who was bold and often asked people if they knew where they would go when they died. As he related this, one young person in our group said, somewhat quietly but with great amusement, “You go six feet under.” His mother shushed him.

This morning I’m reading in Hebrews 11 with its descriptions of people with faith. Verse 7 says, “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet see, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”

Faith is a response to what God says even though a person cannot see with their eyes what He is talking about. It is that inner knowing that something is true even though it cannot be proven by material evidence.

Faith is not rare. I believe lots of things I cannot see. Electricity is the standard argument, but not the best comparison since my faith that it will work is sometimes disappointed. Nevertheless, I’m still trusting something I cannot see.

Faith in God is not so much about putting my confidence in something unseen as it is about the power and the ability of that unseen Object of my faith. With electricity, the power company is fallible but God makes the opposite claim. When He says something, He will not let me down because He is always true and right, always faithful and trustworthy. Faith is believing that God is who He claims to be.

Noah somehow heard God say that He was going to do something about the wickedness of man, but He wanted Noah and his family to escape that judgment. He told him to build a big boat. In those days, a boat would have been a total oddity. The people who knew Noah would have thought this more weird than any inventions made by modern man. He may have been ridiculed for his folly, and even more so for believing God was going to do something that they could not see or imagine.

The young fellow of our conversation about death was no less skeptical. All he could see about dying is that the person who dies is put in a hole in the ground and covered with dirt; the end. The others in our group who believe what God says about death seemed to him the same as Noah’s contemporaries. They were saying, A boat? A flood? Rain? Judgment? Noah, you are a fool (It had not yet rained on the earth.) He was saying, Life after being buried? Going up into heaven? Spending eternity with a carpenter from Nazareth? You people are idiots.

It isn’t that people without faith in God cannot believe in something they cannot see. I’m sure this fellow believes in electricity. It’s just that he is not able to believe what God says about what he cannot see. But biblical faith is about God, and about Jesus Christ, not about putting confidence in something unseen, like what happens when you die. It is about knowing God exists and knowing that He is One who rewards those who believe in Him. It is about knowing that whatever God says is true and right, including what He says about death.

Once given the gift of faith (and it is a gift, Ephesians 2:8-9), we who have it find it hard to understand the perspective of those who do not. God seems so obvious. I look around me, at the heavens, at the earth, at a child, at the intricacies of the human body, at the marvel of a flower or the northern lights, or the way chemical elements work, and see Intelligence behind all that. I pray and what I ask for is granted without me manipulating to make it happen. We pray for someone who is gravely ill and they, much to the surprise of medical personnel, get better. And even when God seems ‘away on vacation’ He is gracious, even explaining that sense of His absence later, when His presence is ‘felt’ or even seen. To me, evidence for God is all over the place.

Yet to those without faith, this great universe ‘just happened’ and the people in it are nothing special. The beauty around us is seldom noticed, answered prayer is a coincidence, there is no God and when you die, you go into a hole.

Noah knew better. He proved it by building the arc that saved him and his household. Not only that, his obedience produced by his faith condemned the world because it declared God is right and you are wrong. The world ridiculed and hated that declaration—and it still does.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Are we there yet?

I’m reading a great book about ADD in which the author describes a child’s concept of time. He says that, for a little one, time is either right now or eternity. A child cannot understand an hour or a week. To them, anything beyond ‘now’ seems like forever. That explains why they constantly ask, “Are we there yet?”

One of the characteristics of a person with Attention Deficit Disorder is an underdeveloped sense of time. As I read this, I wondered if everyone has this problem, at least occasionally. Is that what is going on when I say, “I remember it so well that it seems like yesterday” or when a trial is so great the sense of ‘now’ overwhelms all hope for the future?

Whether I have ADD or not, God sometimes appeals to the child in me. He tells me not to be anxious about the future, only to take care of the issues and challenges for each day. Right now is important, and certainly is the only part of time I can do anything with.

Yet God also offers promises for eternity. While that may seem so far off that it will never come (are we there yet?), He gives glimpses of what it will be like to encourage me and keep me from becoming discouraged. He also makes (and keeps) huge promises for the trip itself.

In Genesis 28, Jacob was about to make a journey out of the land of Canaan, away from all that was familiar. He must have been anxious because God appeared to him in a dream and reminded him of the promises He made to Abraham and Isaac, and that those promises included him. Perhaps Jacob was aware of how far off their fulfilment seemed, or how long his trip would take. In any case, God gave him even more assurance.

Verse 15 says, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

These words remind me of another incident in the gospels. Jesus invites the disciples to come with Him in a boat to the other side of the lake. In the middle of the lake, a great storm blows in and the disciples are terrified. In fact, instead of saying “Are we there yet?” they are convinced they will not make it at all, but die in the storm.

I can relate to that. I’ve had times in my life where I thought I’d never make it safely through to the security of dry ground; the storms were just too great. Like the disciples, I forgot that Jesus promised to take me to the other side. He didn’t say there would be no storms, but there is no doubt about my destination.

Jacob heard the same thing. It was as if God was saying to His child, “Don’t be anxious. It may seem to you like you will never get there, but your Father is right here with you. I will stay here and hold your hand, and I will bring you to your destination. I have never failed you before and I am not going to fail you now.”

A child hears those comforting words and may doze off, content that Daddy is going to make it happen so he can sleep until they make it to their destination. For my trip through life, I know God doesn’t want me to be asleep, but He does want me to rest in the same promises that He gave to Jacob, and that Jesus gave to His disciples.

No, I am not there yet, but He offers assurance for right now—He will stay right beside me, and even more assurance for eternity—I will be with Him forever. ADD or not, that just about covers it.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Glory, win or lose

I’m not much of a football fan but will watch the games on television to be with my husband. We both notice how often a player will indicate thanks to God when they score. Some of them even kneel briefly to pray.

Participants in other sports do this too, to varying degrees. Of course I wonder what they are thanking Him for—that they are winning? Or that they are playing well?

When our granddaughter’s team is playing soccer, I’ve often prayed for them too. At first I wanted them to win, mostly because I’m a biased grandmother, but partly because they generally play fair against teams that are coached to play differently. I hate to see bruisers win and the bruised lose. After a few seasons of that, I decided the best way to pray is to ask God to do whatever gives Jesus the most glory.

Part of that comes from hearing a story about the world religious leaders gathering to pray during a major world conflict, the second Great War if my memory is correct. What stood out for me is that while most of them prayed for victory over enemy forces, one man prayed (and this was not lightly) that God would do whatever brought His Son the most glory.

The other reason for my prayer comes from Joshua 5:13-14. Joshua was about to lead God’s people into the promised land. Jericho was the first city that they must conquer. As he thought about what lie ahead, he had a visitor.

“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, ‘Are You for us or for our adversaries?’

“So He said, ‘No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’”

Most commentaries say this Man was a Christophany, or pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. He came as the Angel (messenger) of the Lord as a man. Joshua seemed to know that, as indicated by his reverent worship and quick willingness to obey. This was no ordinary angel.

What I find instructive is Joshua’s question and the Man’s answer. Joshua wanted to know whose side He was on, and the Man simply said, “No.”

The Lord doesn’t pick sides. He has His own side, or His own plan, if you will, His own agenda. He works for whoever will bring to pass that plan and against those who oppose it.

One of Israel’s prophets (whose ministry happened much later), Habakkuk, found this to be true also. When God revealed to him that He was going to use enemy armies to chasten and change His own people, Habakkuk was greatly distressed. However, he accepted God’s decision. He said, “O LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years . . . In wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2)

At the end of his Old Testament book, Habakkuk offered a declaration of faith, saying, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.”

Trusting in the Lord isn’t about winning games, or even playing my best. It isn’t about full cupboards and full bank accounts, or even a full life. It is about relying on Him no matter what happens, knowing that He is able to work everything together for my good, but also His good, His good and perfect will.

As for the football game, I cannot see what He is doing, nor why the Stamps need to whip the Eskimos to make it happen. It is for me (and even the Calgary fans who are Christian) to trust Him, no matter what happens on that playing field.