Sunday, November 30, 2008

Assurance

Because my husband has CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia), and because of his entirely unexpected heart attack a year and a half ago, I sometimes think about the unpleasant possibility of living alone. Aside from aloneness and missing him and our companionship, many things would have to change. For instance, in a practical sense I am not able to take care of our yard by myself. Other chores on top of that would be difficult burdens, such as keeping household finances in order and tending to vehicle maintenance.

Occasionally he asks me to do something that he normally does, or shows me how he is doing a particular task. I realize that in this he is thinking also of the possibilities for my future and taking care of me. This is like Jesus.

This morning’s devotional verses remind me of the way God thinks ahead. When Jesus died for our sin and rose again, His saving work didn’t stop there. Hebrews 7:24-25 say, “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

God knew that even those who come to Him for salvation need further intercession for sin, simply because that salvation experience does not eradicate it. Because we also live in the flesh, and even though the Spirit wrestles with that flesh, we continue to sin. My sinful habits should and do diminish as I age, but until I step into eternity, I will not be sinless. Yet Jesus knows this and sticks with me as one who saves to the uttermost.

Some think that Jesus died so we are released from past sin and given the power to earn our salvation. That is, now that I’m saved, I don’t need His saving power. Not so. Galatians makes it clear that what is begun in the Spirit cannot be completed apart from the Spirit. God’s saving work happens in an instant, yet continues over time. I was saved from sin from sin’s penalty, am being saved from sin’s power, and look forward to that day when I will be saved from its presence.

In the meantime, God provides. Jesus lives forever to intercede for me and for every person who has put their faith in Him. This covers the first soul who trusted God’s Old Testament promises, to the last soul who turns to Him before this world is judged. He takes total care of every spiritual need, past, present and future, for every generation who know and love Him.

I know that the Bible promises His care for the physical future too. When I think about the possibility of being without my husband, I feel great emotion, but it is not fear, only sorrow. Yet Jesus is faithful and His plan includes caring for His people, from the beginning of my salvation to the end of my life here, and on into eternity. In Him there is great hope and assurance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The delights of spiritual intimacy

One Old Testament book is a bit of a puzzle. Some even wonder why the Song of Solomon been included in God’s Word, but it has always been recognized by the Jews as part of their sacred writings. This book is like peeking into the lives of newlyweds, and certainly offers a contrast to two extreme attitudes toward affection and sexual intimacy. One is ascetic abstinence; the other is lustful perversion outside of marriage. Instead, Song of Solomon is about pure love and human romance.

I’ve heard many interpretations. Some use an “allegorical” method and claim that this song has no actual historical basis, but rather that it depicts God’s love for Israel and/or Christ’s love for the church. From that, hymns have been written calling Christ the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley (2:1).

Another interpretive method uses “typological” and says there is an historical reality, yet says this book is a type of another reality. It ultimately points to and pictures Christ’s love as the Bridegroom for the church who is His bride.

I think that I am in favor of interpreting it face value and in the historical sense, yet like other things, allowing that the Holy Spirit uses it to remind me of other truths. For instance, when I look at the glory of a flower, I know it is just a flower, yet it makes me think of the glory of its Creator. I know that this book is about ideal human courtship and marriage, but isn’t that love like the love relationship I have with Jesus? The writer didn’t intend it to point to Jesus, but the Holy Spirit can and does use it that way.

Song of Solomon 2:14 says, “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

When I read that verse, I have two thoughts. The first is that God offers spiritual “music” for marital harmony. If I think like this verse, and my spouse also, we will experience the romance and loveliness of marriage. This is a literal interpretation that considers Solomon’s words an historical reality. It is poetic and romantic, and also instructive. Nice.

But also I think of the Holy Spirit lighting on Jesus like a dove, and how the dove is a symbol used for both the Holy Spirit and the peace that God gives. The cleft of the rock reminds me of Moses being hidden in the cleft of the rock and allowed to see something of the Lord. In that experience, he must have felt great awe, but also the wonder of God’s loveliness.

This verse also reminds me of the sweetness of God’s voice, the wonder of knowing Him and the anticipation I have of seeing Him face to face.

Sometimes Bible interpretation becomes an exercise in pragmatism, or as Beth Moore says, too much “head” and not enough heart. The heart of God is expressed in Song of Solomon. Studying the Word of God is learning about sin, righteousness, His wisdom, and practical application for everyday life, but it is also about enjoying His beauty, and about experiencing the lavishness of His love for me.

The Song of Solomon may be only an historical account of Solomon’s love and first marriage, but it also reminds me of my love relationship with Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that thinking this way, correct exegesis or not, pleases Him too.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The power of power

English historian Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” He also said, “Be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others; have no favorites.”

It seems to me that Lord Acton didn’t know what the best book says. For instance, Mark 16:19-10 says, “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.

No one on earth has the absolute power of Jesus Christ. He sits not only in the ultimate place of honor, but also the ultimate place of power at the right hand of the Father. Through Him, His disciples turned the world upside down. Through Him, lives are changed, human events are governed. Jesus Christ is the Lord of all, yet no one is more pure, more holy. There is no trace of corruption in Him.

Further, His Word is the best book, not merely because it is an annual best seller, but because through it, He speaks. God uses His Book to soften hearts, judge sin, and change lives. If I could have no other book, I would be content with this one, the best book.

Other points of importance come out of this passage in Mark. One is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and my blessed Lord sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high in the same human body which He wore upon earth. While glorified beyond my imagination, He reigns in heaven “with the same pure, spotless, holy, and immortal humanity which He assumed in the womb of the Virgin, and which He offered as a sacrifice upon the cross” (from today’s Ears from Harvested Sheaves).

There Jesus is at the right hand of God as mediator between God and me. This man Jesus is fully God yet fully human and as both He serves as my advocate with the Father. He is for me a brother, counselor, leader, guide and friend. He is enthroned in glory and His power is absolute, yet He holds all this in purity, not corruption.

What a contrast to today’s leaders. World news is filled with the violence of powerful people who use their strength to overthrow, maim, and murder even the innocents who stand or happen to be in their way. The leaders in my own country are threatened by those who oppose them, not for the greater good, but so they can be in power instead.

Lord Acton’s quote is well known and most think it means that when a person has power, then that power corrupts him or her. I think it is power itself that corrupts. Everyone who wants it loses sight of all things fair and good. Everyone who thinks they must have it forgets the needs of others. Everyone who grabs for power loses all sense of right and wrong, that is, everyone but Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Like a willow

Today has me thinking again about willows. Even though the one in our backyard is gone, I miss it and secretly hope the landscapers missed a root or two and it will come back. It was a lush and flourishing tree, even though it was taking over the yard — and perhaps the water pipes under the yard.

Willows love water. In fact, willows cannot exist without water. That is where they grow. If one was planted on a mountain or in the desert, it would soon perish. As today’s devotional reading says, if you take even a twig off a willow and plant it near a stream, it very likely will grow. (That is what I’m hoping happens to my willow.)

The devotional refers once more to Isaiah 44:4: “They will spring up among the grass Like willows by the watercourses” and points out that this is the same with God’s children. Like a willow, I also must stay near the river of God’s blessing and dip my roots into that “river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4).

I cannot live in this world apart from the outpouring rivers of grace God gives through Jesus, the Holy Spirit, His Word, even His people, no more than a willow can thrive and grow in a desert. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says it well:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.
The willow is an enduring plant. It tends to survive even when severely pruned. It is as Job says: “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its tender shoots will not cease. Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant. (Job 14:7-9)

This is true also of the life of Christ in me. This life is so strong that no matter how far I stray, or how low I am beaten down by adversity, at the mere “scent of water” I am revived and brought out of all backsliding and all attacks against me. How fitting that God’s Word should compare the life of His people to a willow. Blessed indeed is the person who trusts in the Lord.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A flower in the grass

The company my husband works for hosts two events this time of the year, a Christmas party and an awards dinner. During the party, five and ten year employees are given service awards. At the dinner, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five and thirty year employees are honored. This company began a bit more than thirty years ago and has grown from a few people to nearly two thousand.

As I looked around the room, I recognized several who are Christians, partly because I knew them, but many because of their countenance. Christians often have a glow on their faces. A friend says that before she became a Christian, she noticed this glow and wondered about it. We could see it in our travels to China a few years ago, and I saw it again last night. I also wondered if the success of this company was due to God’s blessing on so many of His children who work there.

Today’s devotional reading is from a simple verse in Isaiah. It says, “They will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses” (Isaiah 44:4).

The author of the devotional points out that the preceding verse says that God’s people spring up because of water poured like floods on dry ground. In regions where rain is scarce, the effect of showers upon parched vegetation is miraculous and growth springs up where nothing seemed to have existed.

This growth is also compared to willows and we know the way willows grow when they are well watered. Eight years ago we planted two of them and two dogwoods in our backyard. In five years, one of the willows became so large that we had to cut it down. Last summer, the other one also had to be removed as it had engulfed the other plants.

In this verse, God’s people are said to spring up among the grass. The devotional author says that the grass could be emblematic of the flesh, just as the Bible elsewhere says, “All flesh is grass.” This reference speaks of the reality that all pride, boasting and even the beauty of the flesh and “all the glory of man is as the flower of grass” which is cut down by a scythe, withers and is gathered into heaps and swept out of the field.

Thinking of grass then as fleshy humanity, Isaiah 44:4 pictures the children of God springing up among the people like flowers among the grass, beautiful objects among the green blades. In another place, Christians are described as lights shining in a dark place (Philippians 2:15). In other words, our appearance is distinct in some way.

This awes me. I’m blessed to see God’s people springing up here and there among the “grass” which everywhere so thickly covers the world. I’m also awed to be one of them. As the devotional writer says, at times I was hidden beneath that grass — perhaps a flower only in God’s sight. My roots were in the dust and I lay undistinguished in the masses of people around me. Yet being a flower, even one of the Redeemer’s own “lilies among whom He feeds,” He dropped the rain of heaven upon me and I sprang up and now flourish like a willow tree.

I also have His assurance that no matter how much I grow, He will give me the space I need. He will prune off whatever needs to be removed, but He will never cut me down.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Head or Heart?

Last week I was challenged to evaluate my faith between two extremes. At one end of the scale is legalism or living by rules and regulations, all head and no heart. At the other end is living by experiences, what feels right or seems the best thing, all heart and no head. Both extremes are dangerous because both can keep me from hearing what God says, either in my conscience or in His Word, and both can keep me from simply trusting Him.

Legalism says you have to keep certain rules, and do or don’t do certain things. The list usually includes more don’ts such as movies, dancing, drinking and so on. Some mock legalism with, “I don’t smoke; I don’t chew, and I don’t run with the girls who do” but this is not funny. If I go to this extreme, I miss hearing God. For instance, He might counter a legalistic idea and tell me to “eat and drink with sinners” like Jesus did.

The person who relies on their experiences and emotions falls into a different trap. This one is all about emotional perception. For instance, if I perceive that God is only love and sentiment without judgment, I could be tolerant of sin when I should cry out against it. Or if I think that hugs are all a person needs, I might neglect to give them some information that would help them solve their problem.

The early church had to balance things too. Many of these new Christians came from a background of idolatry. In that former life, they offered meat to idols, then cooked and served it at their table. For some, this meat was unclean and eating it was a terrible sin. For others, they knew the meat was nothing and the idols were nothing, because the Bible says so. While they also knew the evil power of demons behind idolatry, for them, eating the meat had nothing to do with demons so ate freely. To these extremes, Paul wrote the following:
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14-23)
As I read this, I’m hearing God say that legalism and the other extreme of living by the heart’s perception are not a matter of either/or but both/and. Sometimes a person’s conscience will condemn something that the Word of God does not condemn. Even though the Bible says it is okay to do it, this person does not feel that freedom, yet if they ignore their feelings and go ahead and do it, they have sinned. How can that be?

On the other hand, a person who has no sense of it being wrong (and the Bible agrees with their assessment), can do the same thing (in this case, eating the meat offered to idols) and does not sin. What is this? Is it situational ethics? What is the issue? Does God’s Word contradict His Spirit by saying one thing to the eyes that read and another to the heart that feels?

I remember hearing of a man whose idol was baseball. He loved it, indulged in it, went to all the games, spent a lot of money, ignored his family, etc. for this idol. Then he became a Christian and deeply aware that he had wrong priorities. He dropped this idol and began giving more attention to his family and making wiser use of his money. Then two men from his church invited him to a baseball game without knowing his prior problem. He was deeply offended. This story explains to me why God is so careful to allow those weak in faith to pay attention to their conscience. For that man, baseball was a sin even though for the other two it was not.

However, it doesn’t work the other way. That is, if I feel something is right and the Bible says it is not, no matter how I rationalize, the Word of God is my guide. I cannot break a clear command from God just because I feel like it or it seems okay, or my heart has no sense of wrongdoing.

I also cannot flaunt any freedom that I do have. The Bible does not condemn many things that Christians often do condemn. If I’m free to watch a television program, but someone else is drawn into sin by that program, then God wants me to turn off the TV. It is about loving others and not putting a stumbling block in their path.

The last line, “whatever is not from faith is sin” is the test. This is not about extremes but about the basis for my actions. God wants me to do things (or not) because I read His Word and hear His voice. From Him I might get a written ‘rule’ or He may offer a principle that puts in my heart a deep sense of what is right or wrong. Either way, to keep from sin I need to trust Him (not ‘rules’ or my fickle heart) and do what He says.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Defeating spiritual enemies

In at least two cults, “missionary” work is mandatory. That is, their “disciples” are required to go out, usually door to door, telling people what they believe. Their decision to do this likely comes from Luke 10 where Jesus sends out seventy disciples to the cities and places He was planning to visit later.

No doubt some cult members are enthusiastic about their work. However, many of them do it out of duty to their organization. They are told they must do it or they will not find favor with God. In one case, they must visit a certain number of homes per month, and they must distribute a certain amount of their literature.

The disciples in Luke 10 had a different motivation. Jesus sent them to find people who were receptive toward them, to heal the sick, and then report back to Jesus Himself, not an organization. Interestingly, He specifically told them NOT to go from door to door.

Jesus also said they were like lambs among wolves, so I can imagine their fears as they set out. Would they be mocked? Or worse? Would anyone listen? When they tried to heal, would people become well? They were aware of spiritual opposition too. Unlike today’s cult members, Jesus gave them great spiritual authority, yet did they wonder if they could do the job? Did they pray for courage and perseverance? Very likely. I know I would have.

Later they “returned with joy” and reported their success. Some welcomed them. People were healed. The disciples said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

Jesus replied “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:17-20).

Jesus knew they would succeed. They were His disciples and He had given them what they needed for the task. Further, the imperfect tense of His statement about seeing Satan fall brings out an amazing assurance. The force of what He said is this: “I was beholding Satan as lightning falling from heaven.” That is, “I followed you on your mission, and watched its triumphs. While you were wondering at the subjection to you of devils in My name, a grander spectacle was opening to My view; sudden as the darting of lightning from heaven to earth, lo! Satan was beheld falling from heaven!” (From A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments).

What Jesus said is an example of a figure of speech that connects a part with the whole. When the Seventy took authority over demons, it “not only brought vividly before the Redeemer the whole ultimate result of His mission, but compressed it into a moment and quickened it into the rapidity of lightning!”

With that, Jesus raised their thinking not only from the particular to the general, but from a very temporary form of satanic operation to the entire kingdom of evil. He illustrates for us that even though Satan’s power is usurped from God and hostile against Him and His people, this power is held only by God’s permission and as God’s tool. It is not ultimate and can be defeated in Jesus’ name.

A few days ago, God made me aware that demonic forces have authority and I must be careful never to assume Satan’s host is a bunch of featherweights. False teachers will despise authority in the sense that some of them mock demonic powers and think they can simply rebuke Satan and all evil will vanish. I must not do that, but at the same time, this passage from Luke illustrates that Jesus does not leave me defenseless. He gives authority over spiritual forces of darkness with specific perimeters.

First, my name must be written in heaven. Anyone who tries to defeat demons apart from having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ will run into the same problem as the seven sons of a priest described in Acts 19. When they commanded evil spirits to come out of a man, the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the demons attacked and severely injured these seven.

Second, if I fight evil it must be in the name of Jesus. This is not simply tacking His name on the ends of my prayers or any commands I try to make. It is about acting as His spokesperson and on His orders. It is about a deep and personal relationship, but also about being given specific authority and instructions in specific instances. This is never to be taken lightly. In Scripture, even the angels did not rebuke demons but called on the Lord to do it.

Third, I need to realize that Satan is already defeated. Jesus destroyed his power at the cross; I don’t do it by my words or efforts. He still thrashes about (like a chicken whose head has been chopped off), yet whatever he does is only by God’s permission. That is, if Satan or any evil force is attacking me, I first need to seek the Lord’s mind in what is going on, not automatically assume that all of the enemy’s activity must be halted. God has purposes in allowing him to roam about and can use all things for my good (Romans 8:28-29).

Finally, my weapon is not verbal toward Satan but prayer to Almighty God who hears and answers my requests concerning all spiritual battles. I must wear the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6:10-20, and use the weapons God gives me, not acting apart from His direction.

Today’s prayer list is long and I need to get at it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Correction before instruction

Does watching crime dramas on television indicate a strong desire for justice, or does that strong desire come from watching crime dramas? Either way, I notice how often the perpetrator of a crime will say they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong, or they didn’t mean to hurt anyone. At the same time, had the authorities not caught and stopped them, they would have continued doing the crime, thoughtlessly or otherwise.

These television plots are fiction, but they illustrate the truth that every person needs discipline. We all do things that hurt and offend and need to be made aware of our thoughtless actions. One teacher in a class on human development said that if a little child is not disciplined by his parents, then correction will be left up to the next authority figures in his life, his teachers. If they do not, or cannot, do it, then it will be up to the police. At some point, God might move in and do it, but God does not correct everyone.

The Bible says that the Lord chastens those He loves, those who belong to His family. While I don’t like it, such correction from God is a good thing. He knows what I need, knows it better than even the most loving parents and caring teachers. In fact, “Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord, the man you teach out of Your law” (Psalm 94:12).

The devotional for today notes that this verse says the Lord puts chastening before teaching. I know from my own experiences that this is reasonable. I do not hear God until He allows something drastic, or at least loud and clear, to get my attention.

One biblical example is the prodigal in the story Jesus told in Luke 15. This young man asked for his inheritance and his father gave it to him. Then he “gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

Sadly, this man had to be brought to his right mind by hunger, before he thought about his family. He had no heart to return until he experienced a mighty famine, which was God’s way of chastening him.

I’m like that. I will continue doing my own thing in certain areas of my life, not even realizing that I have moved outside of God’s will. I’ve no thought or heart to change until God sends something that makes me feel great need for change. It might be a sense of emptiness, but it can also be a reversal in prosperity, dismal failure, or any number of things that are designed to make me wake up and consider the will of God.

Then I have an ear to listen, and then God is able to teach me about change, and to be fruitful instead of selfish. He instructs me by His Holy Spirit, teaching me lessons for my eternal good out of His principles as recorded in Scripture.

This devotional writer clarifies that where Psalm 94:12 refers to the “law” he is not limited to the Ten Commandments or the Old Testament laws. He says (edited slightly)
The “law” has wide significance. In the original it means ‘instruction’ (using the word ‘Torah’ which signifies “teaching” or “direction”). This includes both Old Testament law and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: “the perfect law of liberty” and “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” It is that law which was in the heart of the Redeemer, when He said, “I come to do thy will, O God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Hebrews 10:7, etc.).
The Lord teaches me “out of the law” as I am able to learn it. Christ said to His disciples in promising the Spirit: “He will teach you all things” (John 14:25), but He cannot take “all” and show it to me all at once; I could not live with that. Instead, He shows “here a little, and there a little” as He chastens and teaches according to His knowledge of me, my need, and my ability to learn and grow. This is the blessedness of His discipline and teaching; it is always in mercy and grace, tailor-made for me and for each child of God.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Creativity is more than imagination

Fresh home from our trip to Seoul, my biggest impression was the creativity that I saw. While Seoul is not like Paris or New York in the normal sense of being an art center, creativity is not just about painting and fashion. It is also about making good use of the resources at hand.

We did see some wonderful art (at the International Gallery and the small quilt show), their city design also stands out as good art with thousands of tall apartments clustered in the valleys between low mountains, and an astounding and efficient subway system that is also beautiful. City planners and designers show great creative skills.

Seoul must have an abundance of clay, since most of the city sidewalks are brick or ceramic tiles. The subway is entirely tiled. Their award-winning airport has no carpet; the floors are either tile or wood laminate. Many buildings are metal and glass. The effect is clean, crisp, even modern. They use their resources with wisdom.

Today’s devotional reading is about creativity. It says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the depths were broken up, and clouds drop down the dew” (Proverbs 3:19-20).

When people say they don’t have the imagination for being creative, I wonder if that is the best word. Here it says that God used wisdom in creation. Wisdom makes me think that whatever God makes, it is not only beautiful but functional. Like a good writer, He wastes no words. Every part has a purpose in the grand scheme of what He has created.

We might not see it. I’ve looked at the color in a flower blossom and thought that God didn’t have to make it colored; everything could be grey. Yet He created insects, each with an attraction to different colors so each flower could be pollinated by its own species. Do we need sunsets, or cascading waterfalls? Science says so. Even the smallest animals, birds, insects, and microorganisms have their place in the world.

God is imaginative, but if wisdom is the foundation of creation for Him, surely a great deal of the art I create should be given more thought. It isn’t just that a quilt should be warm and comfortable on a bed to be useful, but wisdom also considers the design and the harmony of its structure. It should lift creativity above mere self-expression, give it deeper and more lasting meaning to both me and anyone who sees or uses what I create. Creativity at its purest should reflect the pattern and purposes of the Creator as He spoke the universe into existence.

Another lofty thought is that by wisdom God created me in His image. That suggests that I also have a purpose in His grand plan and a place in the world. These are challenging ideas. I certainly need to ask God for more wisdom (not more imagination) so my creative efforts best represent the His nature, wisdom, and glory. I also need His grace and power to live obediently and with wise understanding so that my life fulfills the purpose for which I was created.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Creators and their work

Today was actually nearly two days long. We got up on Friday, November 21 and are going to bed on Friday, November 21, but we have seen two sunrises and two sunsets. We crossed the International Date Line sometime during all of that. The only thing we didn’t do was eat six meals or sleep sixteen hours. We both feel swacked.

The trip to the airport in Seoul was in daylight so we were able to see the massive construction projects in all directions, including foundations poured for many new apartments, and a long bridge across part of the ocean. Its span has not quite met in the middle, making an unsettling impression with the gap perhaps two car lengths wide.

This and today’s devotional passage made me think about creativity. For instance, every created thing is subject to whoever created it. When I make a quilt, its design follows my ideas and skill. It never takes off with a mind of its own and changes its color or pattern. I might blame my mistakes on it doing just that, but have to admit that is not possible. The quilt does what I make it do.

Yet there is one created piece of art that turns itself away from the One who made it — human beings. The Bible says, “We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) and ignored or rejected the Creator who made us. Even if that verse did not exist, I would know the truth of it from experience. Instead of doing what God created me to do (love and obey Him), I resist and try to do my own thing.

Some explain this curiosity by saying we are created with a will and can make choices. I wonder. Scripture says we serve either sin or God. We are not the masters of our choices, at least the Bible seems to say that I really never have my own way. Whatever I decide to do, it will either line up with one master or the other. If God is not ruling my life, then sin is, and certainly not me.

Luke 1:74-75 says that God swore an oath to Abraham that He would “grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our lives.

These verses are spoken by the father of John the Baptist. He is speaking about the salvation that would come from the house of David (verse 69), meaning Jesus, not John, because John’s parents were Levites.

These verses mark the key to serving God as being “delivered from the hand of our enemies.” The Jews expected this to be their physical enemies so when Jesus didn’t deliver them from the Romans, they were more than disappointed.

However, they misread the text. Jesus didn’t come to lead a political coup. He came to “seek and save the lost” and deliver humanity from the power of sin, rescuing us from turning our own way instead of loving and following God.

He also came to deliver us from the bondage of Satan and his lies. Our enemy is spiritual and coaxes us to continue doing what we think is our own thing. However, if I was not delivered from that sin and that expression of self-centeredness, I could not serve God. Luke says so.

Luke also hints that fear holds us back. We are afraid of what God will do to us, just like Eve in the garden before she and Adam committed that first sin. They were afraid of what they might miss if they didn’t eat from that tree.

Sometimes I wish my unfinished quilts were like me. If they were, when I come home from vacation I’d find that they had sewn themselves together, saving me the time and effort.

On the other hand, maybe it would turn out more like I do when I refuse to let my Creator govern what I do. Then the quilts would be in ruin because they went ahead without someone wiser in charge of their construction.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

False teachers

November 21, 2008 (20th at home)

Yesterday we found our way to our granddaughter’s workplace, met her director, some fellow teachers, and some students. We played word games with the class and enjoyed the energy of 9-11 year-olds learning how to speak English. Then to our surprise, the director handed our granddaughter his credit card and told her to take us and one of the other teachers out for a “nice” dinner. We did have a nice dinner with these two delightful young women who laughed and teased one another as if they had been friends forever, not a mere three months.

Today’s devotional reading has little if no relationship to our experiences yesterday, but it does relate to another family member. I have a brother who belongs to a cult, and the reading is from 2 Peter, a section about false teachers. It says:

The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the njust under punishment for the Day of Judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord. (2 Peter 2:9-11)

To understand this passage, some definitions are required. According to my study Bible, the word ‘temptations’ can also mean ‘an attack with intent to destroy.’ In this context, it refers to severe divine judgment. God’s plan is to rescue or deliver the godly before His severe judgment falls on the wicked. While theologians disagree how He will do that, the pattern began early in the Old Testament. God delivered Noah before He destroyed the wicked with the flood. God also rescued Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrah before He destroyed the people in those wicked cities.

This passage also says that the unjust or wicked are kept also, but not from judgment but for it. They are like prisoners waiting for the execution of their sentence against them, a condemnation that will send them to an eternal prison where they will be separated from God forever.

These wicked people are those that live according to the desires of their flesh. They also hate authority, having decided that no one, including Almighty God, is going to tell them what to do. They are their own authority and they presume to be authorities on everything.

They also speak evil of dignitaries. This word probably refers to wicked angels in this context. The attitude of these wicked false teachers is casual, even flippant, toward Satan and his demons. While to speak well of these demonic beings isn’t a good idea, the Bible makes it clear that they are powerful beings that no one should take lightly. By their arrogance toward them, false teachers reveal how far their arrogance is lifted up. They have no respect for good or even evil authorities.

This point is illustrated by the last verse. Peter says even the holy angels are so reverent toward the Lord that they will not speak against Satan or demons, but call on the Lord to do so. In other words, Christians should never mock or command the power of supernatural spirits, including Satan.

This brings me to the daily question: how is this practical for my life? The first thing I think of is how do I relate to my brother? Apart from the doctrine that he teaches, he is not a wild and evil person in the way he lives. He loves his wife and family and is generous and helpful to others. Most people would be impressed with him. Yet God says he is condemned. This is hard to think about and accept.

However, I don’t really know his heart, or what he does when I am not around. There are clues. He does mock Christian teaching. On one occasion he said that Jesus actually deceived His disciples, so he mocks the One who is called the Truth. He speaks evil of government and civil authorities too.

I fear for his soul. Is anyone beyond the redemptive power of God? I don’t think so, but at the same time, I realized that unless God is merciful, this brother of mine is condemned. He is condemned by his rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of his life. He is condemned by his decision to earn his salvation according to the dictates of the cult to which he belongs. He is also condemned by his attitude toward authority.

I don’t pray for him every day, but often. I’ve tried to talk to him, but of course anyone who takes a position of authority is despised, so can only ask him questions and hope that he also will wonder about those same things.

Most of the time I trust the Lord to do right in his life, but after reading this verse, whatever the Lord may do is not very pleasant. Hating evil is one thing, but applying verses like these to someone who is close is neither an easy nor a welcome task.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lifted and Held

November 20, 2008 (Nov. 19 at home)

Yesterday we took an express bus to Seoul City Hall, “express” meaning it stopped only 6-8 times in the one hour trip. When we arrived at our destination, we found what we were looking for, the Seoul Art Museum. A new art show began that day.

As we entered the gallery, we could smell flowers. The entrance held several huge arrangements. Inside, each artist had their own small space that held 6-12 pieces of their work, a small table with a chair for them to greet visitors, and flowers. Most were orchids in large vases, dozens in each bouquet and a feast for the eyes and our sense of smell

The paintings were even more impressive, mostly representational art, all excellent in composition and execution. If possible, I would have purchased several to take home; one in particular simply astounded me.

We were also amazed at the traffic on our subway ride home. We had a short trip on one line that we boarded from the basement of the art gallery, but when we went to transfer to the line that goes to the area where we are staying, it was about 5:00 pm. The cars were full, not merely the seating, but people were jammed in standing shoulder to shoulder. We decided to wait for the next train, which turned out to be a good idea. We were able to sit down immediately.

Today, as I read from Deuteronomy 33, I felt the same sense of awe and astonishment as with the sights, sounds and smells of yesterday, only this time about the largeness of God and His care. Verses 26-27 say, “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Our trip yesterday demonstrated the vast size of this city and the number of souls who live in it. This verse reminded me that the same God who takes care of me is also watching over His people here. If statistics are correct, that could mean that here in Seoul, God holds in His everlasting arms the lives of more than three and a half million people who believe in Him. He helps them, cares for them, and knows the number of hairs on each head. These are the people who know and love Him, and these thoughts stagger me.

They shouldn’t. The Bible says much about God caring for His people. Psalm 91:9-11 says: “Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.

I’ve no words to express the awe of God that this produces in my heart. It isn’t just that God is my refuge, but that He is the refuge for millions of people. There is no one too small for Him to care for, and no masses of people too large to be covered by His love and held underneath His everlasting arms. How great is the Lord who is my hiding place and protector. How great is the Lord who takes care of everyone who puts their trust in Him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guidance

November 19, 2008 (18th at home)

Yesterday we discovered that the Ilsan Quilters Club was holding an exhibit. From the Korean sign, we had an Internet address, phone number, date, time, and theme of this show, but not the location. The man at the desk in our hotel went online and told us the location in English, the 2nd lower level in a nearby department store. We took a taxi and found the store and the B2 level, but no exhibit. We searched all nine floors of this large store, then three parking levels plus B1 and again in B2. No exhibit.

We found a young woman who knew enough English to say B2, so we went again. This time I noticed that the voice in the elevator made B1 sound like B2. Still we could not find it, so went back to the young woman. She wrote Lotte Galleria on my paper and down again we went to B2. There we asked for the galleria and were sent to B1. After asking another person, we were guided to a remote space in the corner of the floor where we found what we were looking for. I’m happy to report that it was well worth the effort.

This morning I’m reading again in Psalm 107. Verse 7 says, “And He led them forth by the right way. . .” After our experience yesterday, I’m smiling at the thought of how God leads His people. I remember asking Him a couple times to help us find this exhibit. While He could have been more direct, He had reasons (not sure what they were) for the long route to our destination.

The guidance of God can vary. At times, He makes perfectly clear what He wants from me or where He wants me to go. Other times, I’m puzzled and seek His directions for hours or even days and months. Nevertheless, if I want His guidance He will give it to me when I need it.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on our own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Another verse (that I can’t find at the moment) says that I will hear the Holy Spirit say, “This is the way; walk in it” as He directs my life.

This isn’t about Him telling me what to wear each day, or what to eat (although He could do both if it was vital to His plan for me) or which turn to take to find a parking spot. Usually His guidance is more about eternal matters.

For instance, our Christian neighbor was deeply impressed that she should go see a friend who lived with her daughter. Neither woman have a sense of smell. Our neighbor was tired after a long day at work and wanted to go to bed. She thought the next day would be soon enough. However, the still, small voice persisted so she reluctantly drove to her friend’s house and rang the doorbell. When her friend opened the door, she could smell it; the house was full of gas. That night, listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s soft voice saved two lives.

His leading is not always so dramatic, but often deeply important. More than once my husband has been led to visit someone in the hospital “now” and that night led those he visited to faith in Jesus Christ. One of them died the next morning.

I’ve sensed the leading of God in making purchases, particularly books that He knew would profoundly affect my life. Sometimes He strongly urges me to not buy anything, just get out of the store and go home. More often than not, His leading is about when to speak and when to shut up.

Years ago I ate lunch at the same table with author Elizabeth Elliot. Someone mentioned her busy schedule and asked for advice in managing time. She said, “You just do the next thing.” She paused, and then added, “And you always know what the next thing is.”

God is like that. I put one foot ahead of the other, trusting Him to guide me. If that next step is okay, I keep going. If not, I believe He will steer me in the right direction by giving me a sense of the steps I should take.

I don’t know why it took so long to find that exhibit yesterday, but we were not flustered because hubby and I both know that God has His reasons. Maybe we simply needed the exercise, but since Proverbs 3:7 says, "Do not be wise in your own eyes. . ." I’m not spending time or energy trying to figure it out!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Foul-weather Faith

November 18, 2008 (17th at home)

When we pray for unsaved loved ones, we often say to God, “Whatever it takes. . .” not knowing what God might do to get their attention or cause them to think of spiritual things and their need for eternal life.

Psalm 107 offers four suggestions in verses 5, 12, 18, and 27 where people experienced trials and turned to God. The trials are as follows.

Wandering and homeless: “Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.”

In bondage: “Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.”

Physically afflicted: “Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.”

In financial and physical turmoil: “They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble.”

The first problem with this list is how could I ask God to do or allow these things in someone’s life, never mind the problem of how can a compassionate and loving God even make the suggestion that I pray this way? I know God can use calamities for His purposes, but how do I know when that is my option in prayer? Scripture speaks much of His mercy and grace. I would rather pray for that than for disaster.

However, this list has a qualifier. The beginning verses of this psalm say, “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the lands. . .” This list is not about unsaved people that God brought to their knees by difficult circumstances. It is about God’s people who already know and trust Him for spiritual redemption but for some reason are rebellious and resisting Him.

It is also about me when I take off in my own direction and forget the Lord and His claim on my life. It is about me when I do my own thing, when I neglect my spiritual responsibilities, when I don’t listen to Him.

The issue for an unsaved person is not to ask God to bring them low so they will rely on Him to get them out of trouble. The issue first and foremost is their sin. Unless a person is convicted of sin and turns to God for redemption from the penalty and power of sin they will not turn on Him for anything else, at least not for long.

Sometimes bad things happen resulting in a ‘temporary’ faith, but this kind of faith disappears when the troubles go away. God wants ‘saving’ faith, a faith that knows He is the Redeemer and that He has forgiven my sin, all of it. This faith is not based on what I do but on what Christ has done. I may act like a jerk, but I know that my sin is covered by the blood of Christ and I have a relationship with Him because Jesus lives in my heart. I may resist and not listen and He may use calamities to chasten me, but the relationship is not based on how I act but on what He has done.

That being said, I guess that these verses cannot be totally eliminated as ways He could answer our prayers for unsaved loved ones. He could use disasters that make them feel helpless, needy, and more apt to listen to Him, but unless that results in conviction of sin and redemption, it is just another case of a foul-weather faith that goes away as soon as the sun starts to shine.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

He gives cities for dwelling places


November 17, 2008, 16th at home

Yesterday we went to the famous Seoul Tower that is perched on the “mountain” in the center of the city. From there, we could see the size of this home for 14 million people.

Even with the broadness of this city, I’m amazed at the amount of open space with trees or other vegetation. I’m also amazed at the apartments rising up like stalagmites from the floor of a cave, some more than fifty stories high. How else could this many people be accommodated?

As I stood in that tower and looked at the city of millions, I thought that God knows each heart of each person living here. He knows their joys and sorrows, and knows their needs and wants. He even how many hairs are on the heads of each one. Besides that omniscience, He is the supplier of all needs, the giver of all good things.

I also thought how the task of managing a city like this must be an enormous challenge. Even the subway alone, with 400 stations and miles of track operates like clockwork, yet officials and security seem invisible. How do they do it? Our granddaughter says bus and taxi service is good and reliable too, and that medical services are excellent. We see restaurants everywhere and many shops. The city prospers, or at least that is the general impression.

This morning’s Scripture is about Israel yet I cannot help thinking about the people here is this large city. Psalm 107:4 says, “They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way; they found no city to dwell in.

The passage is about the predicaments human beings get themselves into, their cries to God for help, His pardon and deliverance, and their subsequent praise to Him. It is a description of Israel’s history, yet also gives a general picture of what happens in the lives of God’s people everywhere and during any period of history.

What would this be like if these millions of souls had no city? How would they manage if they were “wandering in the wilderness” without a “city to dwell in”? I cannot fathom that, yet as I read through Psalm 107, I thought that the same God who continually delivered His people in Old Testament days is still able to take care of His people today, and not only His people but anyone who will cry out to Him.

Size is not an issue for Almighty God. He is bigger than all human predicaments. The enormity of this city is nothing to Him; He governs a universe and all creation. The view from that tower is incredibly impressive, yet it reminded me that my God is taking care of all of that and more. As the psalmist says, whenever we “cry out to the LORD in our troubles, He delivers us out of our distresses. He leads us forth by the right way that we might go to a city for a dwelling place.”

The psalm ends with words that also echo how I feel about our adventures so far, “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anticipation

November 16, 2008 (15th at home)

We rode the subway yesterday from the extreme northwest end to the southeast side of Seoul. The trip took about an hour and a half. Given the speed we traveled, this is an immense city.

Most of the trip was uneventful, except for the young woman who, from the moment she got on, stood at the train door looking out. Every few minutes she took out her compact and checked her makeup, adding a dab here and there. She fussed like this for more than thirty minutes. Finally she applied fresh lip gloss and popped a breath mint into her mouth.

At the next stop, the door opened in front of her. Right outside and first in line at the platform stood a tall, handsome young man in military uniform pulling a large piece of luggage. Their eyes locked and everyone knew that this was the reason for her anticipation. He tried to maintain his military bearing, but before long both were whispering and showing great delight in being together.

For the remainder of our journey my heart was warmed, not only by this demonstration of young love, but how it reminded me that I too am anticipating a meeting. It will not likely happen on a subway train, yet I really don’t know that it will not. Unlike this young couple who obviously planned their rendevous, only the One that I am meeting knows the place, date and time. For me, it could be anywhere and anytime.

Hebrews 9:28 says of Jesus, “To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Of course this speaks of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In its context, this verse is compared to the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the people. They eagerly waited for the High Priest to come back out of the Holy of Holies. When he did, they know that the sacrifice he made on their behalf had been accepted by God, and that He was satisfied – their sins were forgiven.

In the same way, when Jesus returns, His appearance will confirm that His sacrifice satisfied the wrath of God against my sin. The first time Jesus came, it was all about sin, but the second time He will carry no such burden. Instead, He is coming to meet His people and will take all who believe in Him to be with Him forever.

Like the young woman on the train, I am responsible to anticipate and eagerly wait for His appearance, but I know myself too well. I am not like that young woman. If I knew when I will see Him like she knew what station door would open to her beloved, I might wait until the last minute to look my spiritual best. However, as the Bible says and as this woman illustrated, I ought to be ready all the time, even continually making certain that I am prepared right up until the time heaven opens its doors and I see His face.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Truth is revealed

November 15, 2008 in Seoul, November 14 at home

Yesterday we went for a two hour walk around a man-made lake surrounded by a large park. Both did not appear to be man-made, but as if they had been there by nature. Even in November, with fallen leaves and fading fall color, the park is lovely. I cannot imagine what it would be like in spring with the trees and flowers in bloom.

Later we spent a little while visiting with our granddaughter. She had a full day of exercise and teaching. Our conversation ran to Korean television. While there are several English programs, the majority of what we can find are Korean game shows. Our granddaughter finds them puzzling. “They do silly things and find them hilarious. My friends laugh too, and I just don’t understand what is so funny.”

Not knowing enough Korean to offer any response, I said that it would be interesting to study the humor of different cultures and find out what makes people laugh. She agreed, but the humor here remains a puzzle.

This morning I read the parable of the sower, or the parables of the soils as it is sometimes called. Jesus relates this to the multitudes, then when He and His disciples are alone, they ask about it. He says, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables. . .” (Mark 4:11)

This is almost the same as the puzzle over Korean humor. Because of their background and position in this culture, Koreans see the funny side of things that do not seem funny at all to us. In the same way, because of their position in the kingdom of God, Christians see the reality of things that make no sense at all to people outside the kingdom.

The parable is Jesus’ way of illustrating truth so that only those who belong to Him can understand it, even though the language and the stories themselves are not complicated. He does this so that these truths are hidden to those without faith. That way, no one can claim the forgiveness He offers without first having faith in Him. That might not make sense, yet apart from faith, salvation is not possible and understanding the plan of salvation is not possible. If a person could understand by their intellect alone, faith would be unnecessary.

In other words, salvation and understanding spiritual things is not entirely a matter of human intellect and understanding. If it were, then the wise of this world would have an edge over those with lower intelligence. Instead, salvation requires an element outside of my IQ. I need the Holy Spirit to enlighten my mind and reveal truth to me. That cannot happen unless there is faith to believe it.

Even faith is not my doing; it is a gift of God (see Ephesians 2:8-9) and comes by hearing the Word of God. I cannot simply decide to believe something apart from the work of God in my spirit to give me faith.

Those who believe in Jesus and are part of His kingdom have no trouble with parables, just like those who live in Korea and are part of this culture have no trouble with Korean humor. Outsiders might be able to imitate them, pretend they understand, even laugh along with them, but unless enlightened, the game shows, like the parables, remain a mystery.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lifting my eyes

November 14, 2008 in Seoul, South Korea
(November 13 at home)

Yesterday was our first full day in this place we have never been before. We had breakfast with our granddaughter, then she went to work and we walked to a very large trade center, the Kintex. The current event was tourism in South Korea and we learned much about this culture and that of many other countries represented here.

After a short rest and a wrestling match to get this computer working, we met with our granddaughter and took a short taxi ride to an outdoor mall. We had a game of Clue in a “Games CafĂ©” then supper in a Korean restaurant. The food is a challenge for us, me always trying for balance and my husband on a heart-smart diet. However, we are managing. At least we know what we are eating. However, I now understand why people from this part of the world often do some sort of exercise as soon as they get up in the morning. The beds are very hard, like sleeping on the floor. We are sleeping well, but everything is sore when we wake up. My variation of Tai Chi may look funny, but it and a hot bath do the trick.

We are amazing at two things. One is that after being in South Korea for three months, our granddaughter (who came here to teach English) freely communicates with taxi drivers and restaurant personnel in Korean. I’m amazed at her ability to learn so much of the language so quickly.

One other astonishment is the joy in this place. We have not seen or heard a quarrel or noticed anyone upset or crying. The Korean people are smiling if they are not laughing and are openly affectionate toward their friends.

My Scripture reading this morning is Psalm 123. It says: “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorn of those who are at ease, with the contempt of the proud.”

Today, I cannot relate to the reason for this plea to the Lord to be relieved from the contempt of those who do not believe in Him. South Korea is a strong Christian country and the evidence is everywhere. Many churches are marked by a neon cross high on their rooftops, but more than mere symbols, we are aware of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace. . .) in the hearts and attitudes of the people, a far cry from contempt.

For example, when we arrived, we took a shuttle bus from the airport to the northeast of Seoul where our granddaughter lives. This trip took nearly an hour. When we arrived at the bus stop in this huge suburb, we felt a bit abandoned. We knew that she lived nearby and our hotel was not far away, but had no idea which direction to go or if anyone could speak English, never mind know and share the location of either.

A young woman from the same shuttle bus ride approached us. With perfect English, she said, “My mother is here to pick me up. We will take you to your hotel.”

We got in her car. Hanging from the rearview mirror was a cross with the name Jesus on it. We didn’t say anything at first, and then my husband mentioned that we like the name on the cross. She asked, “Do you believe?” and after we answered her, she smiled broadly and told her mother that we were Christians too. We are certain that God sent an “angel” to welcome us to this enormous city.

As I reread Psalm 123, the first verse captures the way that I feel, even though we are not experiencing a shred of contempt. I am lifting up my eyes to God who dwells in heaven. He has shown us mercy and is merciful to our unbelieving granddaughter. He has saved millions of people in this Asian land for Himself and to bring glory to His name. Even though He lives in heaven, He is not confined to that place – we are enjoying His presence here in this place also.

The language I speak. . .

November 12 at home, November 13 in South Korea.

We are in Seoul. The hotel computer keyboard is in Korean. I don’t know how to switch it to English because the help features and all the buttons are also in Korean, and because I’ve never had to do this before.

Some of what I can find is in English. Our granddaughter, who lives here, showed me how she does it on her computer. All this is just enough to convince me that I could use the word processor, get on the Internet, and post to my blog. But if I type in www, I get three characters that look like a three-legged stool. Aghhh!

God is timely with every daily devotional reading. Today He sends me to Romans 8 where I read that the “sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed” in me (verse 18). That is, no matter what I struggle with, God has something better planned for my future.

Verses 28-29, my all-time favorite verses, reveal that God uses whatever happens in my life as part of the process of transforming me into the image of His Son. He uses even suffering, large or small, to bring out Jesus in me. That is His “better plan” and worthy of my attention. He does not want me to obsess over a computer that will not perform the way I want it to work.

So how does Jesus respond to computer problems? I’ve had them before and became totally frustrated, not resting until they were fixed. That is not a “what would Jesus do” response.

I know that is true because this is not how He responds to me when I don’t function the way that He wants me to function. For one thing, He is patient and gently shows me where I’ve made errors and how I need to correct them. Besides that, He sometimes puts up with my foolishness for years before He even says anything. Then, unless I willfully disobey the clear correction He gives, He never throws me against the wall – as I sometimes want to do with my computer. He understands and knows the best way to think and work, and He knows what buttons to push to get me back on track.

As I consider this, my agitation eases over not being able to type my thoughts. While my handwriting is poor and I may not be able to read my notes later, for Jesus, this is not the issue. He wants my attitude to be like His.

I’m dismayed that the confusing combination of English and Korean on the monitor must be similar to the combination Jesus sees in me of flesh and Spirit. He knows and can read “Spirit” for that is the language of how He lives, but what does sinful flesh look like to His holy eye?
Jesus never sinned and never followed fleshy temptation, but even though “flesh” is not in His experience, He still understands my temptations and knows my weaknesses. He also knows how to switch me from that “mode” back to the other.

I might resist and fight Him, but I know this is silly. For one thing, God knows better than I concerning what is best for me. He knows what language I need to speak to fit into His will and has a far better plan than I could ever dream up for myself.

Romans 8:31-32 says, “What then shall we say to those things? If 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?”

All that God wants for me is available to me. Right now, He wants me to rest in Him and trust Him, not get in a flap because this hotel room computer will not speak my language, nor can I understand it.

Perhaps there is a way, but my practical application for right now is responding to this contrary machine like Jesus responds to me when I am contrary – with great patience and a calm attitude. He knows shat is best, and I can trust Him to use all things, even this, to help me accept the fact that I cannot always control what happens to my computer.

Much later. After a calm day of touring the neighborhood, I came back to the PC, went online to a Microsoft help site that was mostly in English, and found out how to install a US keyboard driver. Then I pushed a special button on the keyboard, and am amazed that what I type in MSWord is now in English instead of characters I cannot understand. I still cannot read the menu, but at least I can read my own writing! I wonder how many tests I’ll need to realize that God can even use the puzzle of computers to correct my attitudes and behavior?

Appearances can be deceiving

November 11, 2008

When we lived in California, our children wanted to visit Disneyland. As we entered the gates, it looked like a beautiful resort, but disappointment soon hit. Most of the vegetation was plastic. The lineups for the rides and attractions looked short, but their coiling length was hidden inside their entrance gate. While the children enjoyed themselves, I felt somewhat cheated. Appearances can certainly be deceiving.

My husband tells of meeting a woman when he was in his single days. She was about as perfectly attractive as a woman could be. He was dazzled – until she opened her mouth. Again, appearances can be deceiving.

In Mark 11:12-14, Jesus curses a fig tree. I’ve never understood this story until this morning. The passage says, “Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, ‘Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.’ And His disciples heard it.

My study Bible tells me that fig trees are harvested twice a year. While it was not the season for figs, that particular tree had lots of leaves. The notes say that the figs grow with the leaves, so this tree was in leaf and ahead of season in that department. It should have had figs along with its leaves but did not. In other words, its appearance was misleading.

With this, the Lord reminds me of the times that I’ve caught myself in church putting a big smile on my face and trying to look joyful when I was not. What was I trying to do? I have to admit that I wanted others to think that I was spiritual when I was anything but. Appearances are so deceiving.

Jesus cursed the fig tree for its “hypocrisy” and gave an object lesson to His disciples, me included, about the seriousness of faking it. True spirituality produces fruit. Faking it produces what might look like fruit, but Jesus knows what is and what is not genuine and I know it too. Such nonsense is merely leaves.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vacation notice

Early tomorrow morning, hubby and I are hopping on an airplane for South Korea to visit our granddaughter. Our hotel in Seoul is supposed to have a desktop PC in the room, but if the keyboard is in Korean, you won't be hearing from me for a couple weeks! If possible, I will post devotional thoughts as I can, and include a few notes and photos about being in that part of the world.

Spam Filters

The spam filter that my ISP uses normally catches everything, but lately it isn’t. I’ve an old email address that has been kidnaped and now being used to send spam to itself and for some reason, the spam filter isn’t recognizing all the junk. This is relatively harmless, just annoying. Besides, reporting and deleting dozens of junky messages takes time that could be better spent on other things.

This morning I read 1 Peter 2:5, and it reminded me that I have a most excellent spam filter, only this time the spam really does come from me. The verse says, “. . . you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Everything that I do and say, including everything I offer up to the Lord as a sacrifice to Him, goes through Jesus Christ. If my motives are questionable or my service is less than perfect, He intercedes for me. The junk is filtered out and my life is made acceptable to God.

Yesterday I had to get up in front of our church congregation and make an announcement. After I sat down, I felt like I’d erred by reading it. It should have said it. I should have made more eye contact. I should have . . . and thought of a dozen ways I’d messed up. In the back of my mind, that still small voice was telling me that He uses my words, and the results and responses are up to Him, but I was hard of hearing. I spent a few hours beating myself up.

God knows what I need and it isn’t bigger, better, more, or lessons in public speaking. I need to remember that it is not my skill or performance that makes me acceptable, but my heavenly Spam Filter who takes what I offer and makes it acceptable to His Father and mine.

Oh, how I love Jesus.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grace is not about my worth

Sometimes I shake my head in wonder that God picked me to be His child. After more than thirty-five years of knowing Christ, I still feel as if I’m the worst possible example of a Christian. Today’s verse takes me away from that notion, not by building up my estimation of myself, but by telling me why God saved me, in fact why He saves anyone.

The verse is Ephesians 3:6, but this verse is a phrase in a longer sentence, typical of the writings of Paul. Here is the entire sentence:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
I sometimes wonder what makes God choose, yet that is not the right question. The purpose or goal of His choosing is about grace, His unconditional love. It is grace that saves, grace that made me accepted into His family, and grace that keeps me there. He saved me so that His grace would be glorified and praised!

Today’s devotional reading from Ears from Harvested Sheaves is a blessing too. I’ve edited it a bit, first to make it personal, and second to bring the language of this older book a bit more up to date. It says:
If I am ever looking for something in me to make myself acceptable to God, I become sadly cast down and discouraged because I cannot find that holiness, or obedience, or any serenity of soul. I’m void of that spirituality and heavenly-mindedness which I believe to be acceptable in His sight. My temper, fretful and irritated mind, rebellious thoughts, cold heart, barrenness and alienation from godliness, my proneness to that pessimistic feeling that I am getting no better but worse, makes me think that God views me just as I view myself. This brings great darkness in my mind and bondage to my spirit. I have lost sight of my acceptance in Christ and dropped into those miserable dregs of self. Sometimes I feel as if I’m ready to quarrel with God because I am so void of all I should be, all that He could make me be, and even seem to get worse as I get older. Yet I know that the more I turn inward, and the more I keep looking at any scenes of wreck and ruin in my own heart, the further I move from the grace of the gospel. Looking at me makes me lose sight of the only ground of my acceptance with God. It is “in the Beloved” that I am accepted, not for any good words, or good works, good thoughts, good hearts, or good intentions of my own. This saving knowledge of my acceptance in Christ is not about anything in me, good or bad. He is the firm foundation for my faith and hope, and will keep me from sinking into the foolish despair of depending on myself.
A song begins to weave its way through my mind. The words are, “Oh, how I love Jesus, oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One way church and state must mix

Sometimes the Old Testament prophets seem to speak in riddles. I had to do a little homework to understand the ideas expressed in my devotional reading for today. It is Isaiah 28:16-17 and says:
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it.”
In those days, the people of Judah had developed a carelessness in their spiritual lives. The leaders were responsible to guide and keep the people concerned about godliness, but they were not doing their job and instead boasted of several things. One was that they claimed to have made a covenant with death so the scourge (punishment God was going to send via the Assyrians) could not touch them. In their deceived and deceptive state, a lie had become their refuge.

One of my books explains that in this passage, Isaiah was using imagery rich with the symbolism of Semitic mythology. For example, the Ugaritic pantheon personified death as the god of the underworld. The leaders of Judah were trusting such gods to save them from the coming Assyrian invasion. History proves that their faith in these false gods was entirely futile.

In these verses, God speaks of a stone and the sure foundation. Most Bible scholars say that is pointing to Jesus Christ, the only basis for physical and spiritual salvation. (Isaiah may have understood that this cornerstone was the Messiah, or maybe understood it as genuine belief in the Lord, but other passages point to Christ as the Cornerstone, such as Zechariah 10:4, Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6.)

In these verses, the Lord also responds to their boasting. He was not going to let them get away with shoddy leadership. He says their covenant with death would be annulled, their lie swept away, and their defeat was certain.

In today’s world, our political leaders are supposed to be concerned with what is best for the people too. To do that, they must care about justice and they must set a good example. Unfortunately, separation of church and state leaves spiritual care off all political to-do lists, but this rule about separation seems to go even farther and give some leaders an excuse for thinking they are exempt from the laws of God.

I can’t point fingers but I read that a government official in Washington, D.C. once quipped, “We have three parties in this city: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the cocktail party.” The same story (from Willpower’s Not Enough, Harper & Row, 1989; p. 13) says that Washington, D.C. is high on the list of cities noted for alcohol consumption.

This same source says (at that time) alcohol and nicotine kill 450,000 people annually, while illegal drugs kill about 6,000. Of course illegal drugs are unacceptable, but this raises a question: Is there any hope for the leaders of an affluent, pleasure-loving society that gives lip service to religion and ignores the tragic consequences of their own behavior? If God is going to judge us on the basis of our behavior, what will happen to them, and to us?

My devotional book comments on the way God will measure a person’s religion. These verses in Isaiah hint that it will be by the Cornerstone, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the plumb line that determines what is straight and what is crooked. While He was often seen eating and drinking with sinners, His leadership was not marked by alcohol consumption or nicotine. Instead, He was “anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, and went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

Today’s political and religious leaders are bedfellows in one sense; far too many leaders in both realms are more concerned with popularity and power than they are with doing good and opposing evil. I’m wondering if God will deal with both in the same manner that He dealt with His people in Isaiah’s time? Will He annul all false hopes, sweep away all lies? Will He send another nation (even one more evil) to defeat all arrogance and self-confidence?

I hope not. I hope that there are many honest leaders in our land, people of integrity who want to do what is right and want to lead the people with justice, leaders who are without spiritual idolatry, covetousness, presumption, false hopes, and vain props.

For those who are, leading as God desires leadership is not easy. I’m not a leader, just an ordinary person who wants to do what is right and just, and who wants to be personally moral and live a godly life, yet I am in a continual battle to do so. If this is tough for me, those who are on the front lines must struggle even more to do what is right. How can I be an influence for good in all of this? 1 Timothy 2:1-4 gives me the answer:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Christians, even ordinary ones who feel that they don’t know a thing about political or spiritual leadership, can pray for those who are up there, even those who are not doing their job very well or those who are resisting goodness. We must do this, first that they know and live the truth, but also remembering that when God deals with their folly, it will not only affect them, but us as well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Eventual total victory

In a brief discussion with someone who believes physical healing is in the atonement (meaning: because Jesus died, we can claim cleansing from sin and healing for our bodies), I suggested that just as our sin is not done with at salvation (or Christians would never sin), so our total healing will not happen until we step into heaven.

The person that I talked with insisted that healing is for everyone who believes; we just have to “receive” it, or claim it as our own, believing what God says. Well, I believe that God gives me victory over sin, but why then do I still sin?

The Lord has reasons for giving us a new nature and leaving the old one for us to battle. He also has reasons for illness, for instance to chasten us for sin, or even as His way of taking us home. As I think about my response to her, I wonder why she picked total bodily healing as the thing to claim at the foot of the cross, rather than total eradication of sin?

One thing that clarifies this issue for me is the way Greek verbs are different from English verbs. The Greek language has more verb tenses, and because most readers don’t read in Greek, the subtle (or not so subtle) meanings can be misinterpreted. One passage is 1 John 3:7-9:
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
Even in the early church, false teachers tried to lead believers astray. John gave Christians this instruction to help them discern the genuine from the deceivers. But the verbs here are not black and white, even though they appear that way. Instead of saying righteous people never sin, the verb indicates that sin is not their habitual practice. That is, Christians will sin, but their new life, the life of Christ in them, has changed their very nature. The new nature tends toward obedience to God and love for one another. Sin is of the old nature and it is separated from God and cannot do any good thing.

The only black and white statement in this passage is that those whose lives are characterized by sin are following the lead of the ultimate false teacher, the devil himself. He was the first to reject God and His righteousness. He now works to build his own following and is good at it; his success makes headlines every day. Sadly, those who follow him seldom realize he is working at the core of their motivations.

My devotional reading on this passage explains that sin was not eradicated when I became a Christian. That would be nice, but instead I was given a new nature that cannot sin and a life of learning how to live in the power of that new nature instead of the old one that is destined for destruction. The reading (edited to make it personal) says:
There will be no thorough destruction of sin within until my body drops into the grave, and my soul mounts aloft to be with the Lord. Nor will there be a full destruction of sin’s effects in my body until resurrection morn, when my body will be raised from sleeping dust and changed into the glorious image of the body of the Son of God. . . . Then will the victory be complete. Then will Christ appear, shining forth with the luster of a million suns. Then will be the glorious manifestation of the Son of God and the works of the devil will be thoroughly destroyed. The weight of heaven’s anthem, the grand theme of eternal adoration, will be the manifestation of the Son of God to destroy the works of the devil.
Until then, I will fight sin. Until then, I may also fight sickness, should God use that in my life to develop Christ in me. Right now, I’m so glad that God gives whatever grace and strength I need for both battles, and also for His promise that one day these battles will be over and the victory will be mine.