September 30, 2010

To Live is Christ — picky about sin

The women in my Bible study class think that I am picky. I believe that for everything I do there is God’s will or my will (or way) to do it. If it isn’t so much about the way it is done, then it is the attitude with which I do it, or even the motivation behind it. In other words, I am a black and white person. Something is either right or it is sin. There is no gray middle.

The verse that I’m reading these past few days says pretty much the same thing about what I don’t do. This too is in black and white terms.

In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil. (James 4:17, The Message)
Unsure that I liked the translator’s substitution for the last word, I looked it up in a Greek dictionary. The results are a surprise. It shows what I suspected — that God’s definition of sin is even picker than mine.

Strong’s Greek Dictionary says that this word means: 1a to be without a share in. 1b to miss the mark. 1c to err, be mistaken. 1d to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong. 1e to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin. 2 that which is done wrong, sin, an offence, a violation of the divine law in thought or in act. 3 collectively, the complex or aggregate of sins committed either by a single person or by many.

Regarding the first definition, I tried to find out what it means “to be without a share in” as it relates to sin. The only clue I found is that this word implies being a social outcast because the sinner wandered from God. This makes sense, but most Christians who fall into sin usually stop going to church before the church stops welcoming them, so I cannot easily relate to that idea.

This idea of being without a share connotes to me as being without a share in the Holy Spirit. Righteous behavior happens because of the Spirit’s work. I cannot do anything to please God apart from Him and sin happens whenever He is not in control of my life. In that sense, I have no share in Him and when that happens, what I do is sinful and evil.

Missing the mark is easier to understand. In the old days during archery competitions, when an arrow fell short of the target, the crowds hollered, “Sinner, sinner.” This is a great word picture for the Bible verse that says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Of course this is true when I sin. What I’ve done isn’t like God at all. It misses the target. If I know to do good, just as God knows to do good, but I do not do it, then I fall short of being like Him. I am a sinner.

The next definition is about making mistakes. If I err or am mistaken, this can be through ignorance, but this verse from James is not about ignorant mistakes. It says, “If you know. . . .” Therefore, the error is a choice based on knowing right from wrong. To not follow through with what I know — is sin.

The rest of the definition of sin gives me no out. If I know the will of God and do not do it, it is sin. If I know the attitude of Jesus Christ and do not have that attitude, it is sin. Deeper still, if I know what motivates God and am not motivated and driven by that same thinking, that too is sin.

The bottom line is that sin is much worse and much more prevalent than most of us think it is. After reading this verse for several days, I’ll be glad to move on to another Bible passage — and that attitude is likely sin too.

September 29, 2010

To Live is Christ — obeying both big and small things

If I saw a child drowning and didn’t go for help, or let a child play on the street, that could be a crime. If the child died when I could have saved them, I could be charged with depraved indifference. This is close, but not exactly the same as what this verse is talking about: “If you don’t do what you know is right, you have sinned.” (James 4:17)

The law, whether the law of God or the laws of the land, tells me ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ If I fail to keep civil laws, then civil courts could punish me. The wages of breaking God’s law are more severe. Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death” meaning eternal separation from God. Law breaking is serious. Sin is even more serious.

Yet, because I am a Christian, I am under another law. This law is good news as far as that ‘sin and death’ law is concerned. It says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set (me) free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)

This means that when (not if) I sin, I will not pay the penalty; Christ has paid it for me. I’m free from that law. Praise God. However, the verse from James puts me under something even more demanding than all the “do nots” of the Old Testament, and even all the civil laws as well.

Knowing to do good makes for a huge list. I cannot imagine how much paper I’d need. Visit the sick. Care for the homeless. Tip the waiter. Sweep up trash. Play music for a shut-in. Learn sign language and talk to the deaf. Make cookies for my grandchildren. Such a list could fill me with guilt as it filled my days with constant effort — if I were certain that failure to do it all makes me a sinner.

Or is this about something else, maybe opportunities? Do I only need to do good when the circumstance presents itself? One verse in the Bible says it could be . . .  

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
Do I do good only when the time is right? Is that what James 4:17 says? No, it says that I am to do good (or right) when I know something is the right thing to do. That changes this — just a bit.

I’ve known people that could be called “do gooders” with a reputation for constant benevolence, yet when questioned their motivation was something like, “I do these things because they make me feel so good.” In other words, their good deeds have selfish roots. In the to-do list of God’s people, those ‘good deeds’ don’t count.

Doing right isn’t about making me feel good. It isn’t about my plans either. The fact is, I get interrupted almost every day while I’m doing what I had planned by someone who wants me to do something else. Most of the time, the Holy Spirit gives me the nod on the interruption. He says, “This is right; do it.” I know that if I don’t, I am disobeying God and that is sin.

Knowing what is right certainly includes speed limits, and loving my neighbor, and visiting someone in the hospital, but listening to God teaches me that He could ask of me thousands of other right things. These are ‘good’ yet not by the evaluation of any law. I know are good because He says to do them. They might go unnoticed by others but they are important to Him, so important that to ignore them means I have sinned.

September 28, 2010

To Live is Christ — without regrets

This saddest words in the world could be, “Oh, I wish I had . . . “?

Parents of wayward children wish they had been more lenient, or stricter. Owners of businesses that fail wish they had hired more (or less) employees, or did more (or less) advertising. Investors wish they had (or had not) bought a certain stock. The downturns in life often make us wish we had made different choices.

Christians have one advantage in this. God promises to guide us through our lives. This means that if He wants certain choices to be made, He has a way of making that known to us. Whether I read something in His Word, or am advised by a godly person, or just ‘know it’ in my heart, God makes sure that I know what He wants me to do. However, He does leave the choice of doing it up to me. This is a test of my faith and of my love for Him.

The Word of God clearly states that these choices are important. James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” This isn’t about merely missing an opportunity or making a mistake. If God lets me know what He wants me to do, then anything short of obedience is far more than the wrong choice. It is sin, and sin is serious stuff.

Sin separates us from God. How can One who is pure and holy have anything to do with sinners? He cannot. Further, He says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “The soul that sins must die” (Ezekiel 18:4). This death is beyond physical death. It is separation from God forever. It is spending eternity in a place that is everything that God is not. Eternal death is eternal darkness with continual hunger and the sense of continual shame and torment. It is forever being without security and assurance. It is guilt that never ends.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ have been rescued from this eternal damnation. Because Jesus died for our sin and took our punishment, God can offer forgiveness and eternal life. Although I was lost in sin, God is merciful. Because of the sacrifice of His Son on my behalf, I am no longer under the condemnation of my sin.

That being said, sin is still a weighty matter. Disobeying God is not a light thing but serious. Jesus died that I might be set free from the power of sin as well as its penalty. Blatant disobedience makes mockery of this wonderful gift, particularly when I am fully aware of what He wants me to do.

Reflecting on my Christian life, there have been times when I thought I knew His will and was wrong. Other times I didn’t hear Him tell me what to do and went ahead without waiting for His direction and guidance. Each time I messed up and fell into sin. Each time, after confessing my sin, He has been faithful and just to forgive my sin (1 John 1:9). Yet, like anyone who makes a wrong choice and regrets it, I have too often said, “I wish I had. . . .”

I am thankful that the Lord forgives those times that I disobey Him. I am thankful that one day, He will wipe all the tears from my eyes. His mercy and grace are wonderful. However, it is far better to do what He says — and live without regret.

September 27, 2010

To Live is Christ — obedient

Once I talked to a group of young children about sin and the need for forgiveness. One wide-eyed five-year-old looked at me and said, “But I’ve never murdered anyone.”

Like so many, she defined goodness by what she didn’t do rather than what she did do. One pastor jokingly did the same by saying, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t run with the girls that do.” Since more than half the commands in the Old Testament are negative and begin with “Don’t,” it is easy to see where this understanding comes from.

However, God is also interested in what we actually do, as well as what we don’t do. He says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

That right thing could be something as simple as sensing His nudge to call a sick neighbor, or picking up someone else’s litter, or smiling at a grouchy store clerk. He says that failing to respond to that nudge to do right is sin — obviously the sin of disobedience.

That said, disobeying more complex commands seem easier to label with the ‘S’ word. God says to honor father and mother. Dishonoring them seems more like sin than failing to pick up the phone or not smiling at someone. God also says we are to love one another, strive for unity in the church, and give to the poor. Hate or apathy, arguing or scrapping, and stinginess sound a lot more like sin than the less obvious nudges previously mentioned.

While those biggies, like murder, adultery, and stealing seem obviously more harmful to more people, I don’t think God measures sin the same way we do. To Him, I’m either obedient or not. He does not measure in degrees as we do. When I step over the line, I have stepped over the line. The only grey areas are those created in my mind when I’m not sure of God’s will on a matter. When I am sure of what He asks of me, then the imperative is to obey it, no matter if it appears a big or small thing.

Former missionary, author and speaker, Elizabeth Elliott was asked how she got so much done and how she scheduled her day. She said, “I do the next thing. I almost always know what it is, so I just do it.”

I’ve found that to be true for most of my task organizing. I know what needs to be done, and usually know what to do first. When I get confused or unsure, this is often prefaced by disobedience. God had put a task in my head as the “next thing” but I didn’t do it. Because of that, I lose my way and my plans go askew.

Knowing what to do stresses the importance of staying alert to God. Without a listening ear, I cannot possibly know “the right thing” to do, never mind carry it out. However, when I stumble off the path of obedience and lose my way, yet God is amazing. He mercifully picks me up and guides me back on track. He cares that I know and do the right thing. He is also far more intentional than I am about keeping my life free from sin.

September 26, 2010

To Live is Christ — practice what I preach

My mind is still a bit like mush. An evening and a day at a writers’ conference can do that to you. I came home last night, made supper, went to a farewell, came home, got three emails desperately asking for prayer and/or help with something, and discover that sleep doesn’t always fix everything.

My devotional verse is lovely though. I know it, yet needed it again this day, because my heart is not quiet and my mind has been wandering. The reason? It is in the verse . . . 
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
Trusting God is about relying on Him to take care of sorting out the many challenges from the conference. What do I do with all that I heard?

Trusting God is also about letting Him give me rest and lift the fatigue. It is about relying on Him to take care of the person who is leaving. She goes to a part of the world where danger lurks, and what can I do to keep her safe here? Only God can do that.

As for the email, trust may include giving godly advice, but it is more about leaving the problems and the results in the hands of God. I cannot fix these things.

The measuring stick for trust is peace. How can I stew about all of this? Peace eludes me, or at the least, it seems to be playing tag. It comes and goes, taps me on the shoulder and then runs and hides. I’m not up to the chase, and know that is not the way to lay hold of peace anyway. It is like feather floating in the breeze. You cannot catch it by grabbing at it. I want to grab, but know that my efforts will only make it float farther away.

Peace is actually a symptom. The deeper issue is trust. I’m pondering now. Which of these things am I trying to fix or solve by myself? Which have I taken out of the capable hands of God and put on my to-do list? Which of them have brought worry into my heart? And why is my trust on shaky ground? Did God change?

No, He is the same, but I am not the same as I was 12 or 24 hours ago. I am really tired, tired to the point of feeling a little self-pity. Once my focus is on me, it can no longer be “stayed on” God.

Now I remember my brother when he was a boy. He became very crabby when he was tired. My mother used fatigue as the excuse for his bad temper. I was younger, but remember thinking that an adult can be tired and still be nice to other people. Fatigue is not an excuse for being rude.

Can this be true for trust as well? I think so. I cannot use fatigue as an excuse for failing to trust God, for losing my focus, or for the absence of peace. I cannot use all those problems that way either. No matter what comes across my path, it is possible to trust God and be at peace. It has happened before and can happen again.

That is my sermon to myself for today. Now I just need to practice what I preach.

September 25, 2010

To Live is Christ — under the power of the Word

Canadian author Rudy Wiebe spoke last night at a writers’ conference hosted by the group that I’ve been part of for many years. He read one of his stories, a humorous piece that was also profound, a neat trick that not many writers can pull off.

His characters were ordinary folks wrestling with the concept of man being made in God’s image. They were trying to figure out what that meant. We could relate to all their guessing and supposing and the way they awed and argued through their discoveries.

Finally they decided that we humans are creators like God, and just as God spoke to create all things, our creative power is also in words. This offered brilliant encouragement to a group of 75-80 writers. Then I looked again at these words from God to me:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3, ESV)
This is Isaiah writing under the inspiration of God, a decided step above the words that even the best of human writers by themselves can do. If words have creative power, what do words like this create in the hearts of those who read them?

Paul said that they generate faith. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Bible generates faith. In fact, I’ve never known anyone to have saving faith without hearing or reading at least one verse of Scripture. This is one reason that the Bible is no ordinary book. James also wrote about its power . . . 

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
In simpler words, that says that if anyone turns from sin and humbly allows God to plant His Word in their lives, it will save them from the penalty for sin (eternal death) and give them eternal life.

The Apostle John talked about the power of the Word too, only his expression was about the Living Word of God, not the written words in a book. He said,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made . . . . He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–14)
God spoke and His Word created all things. This Word is Jesus Christ, who also became a man and lived among us. If anyone turns from sin and humbly allows God to plant this Word — Him — in their lives, He will save them from the penalty for sin and give them eternal life.

This is not merely a play on words. This is awesome!

September 24, 2010

To Live is Christ — better than positive thinking

Computers are reliable — sometimes. My neighbor is fighting with hers. She is trying to get a wireless, Windows 7, 64-bit laptop to connect to a printer hooked to a Vista, 32-bit tower, on cable. They refuse. She is frustrated. I have a similar system and know how she feels. I have two printers connected to my Vista desktop. I can print with one of them from my Window 7, 64-bit laptop, but not the other. Who knows why?

I’m glad God is not like that. While I cannot always figure out what He is doing, but He does communicate with me, and He is not whimsical. He is faithful so I can trust Him.

Today I read a quote that said, “Promises get friends, but performance keeps them.” It made me think about the promises and performance of God. He makes them, but He also keeps them. His motive for His performance is not to keep me on the hook, but because that is who He is — totally dependable.

The Bible is filled with analogies about God’s reliability to protect and care for His people. The verses that I’m reading liken Him to a fortress and a rock.

The time is coming when the people of Judah will sing this song: “Our city is protected. The Lord is our fortress, and he gives us victory. Open the city gates for a law-abiding nation that is faithful to God. The Lord gives perfect peace to those whose faith is firm. So always trust the Lord because he is forever our mighty rock. (Isaiah 26:1–4, CEV)
Gibralter may be the closest thing to an impenetrable fortress in this world, but God is not of this world. He created it. He sustains it. He is above all that we know here, and far more powerful. He is reliable, like a rock.

He is also sure of Himself. He does not need to perform so we will be our friends and bolster Him. Instead, He asks our worship because if we do not worship and trust Him, we will worship and trust something less — to our detriment. He alone is worthy of our homage.

On my side of things, I am to trust Him. I’ve noticed that when my faith takes a dip, peace dips with it. Also, I’ve no stability in my heart if my mind wavers from God and begins to focus on anything less.

Even further, when faith is abandoned, law-abiding goes with it. I have no stats on what has happened since the Bible and prayer were banned from public schools, only the testimonies of terrified teachers worried what this generation will do when they get old enough to rule commerce and government. Shove God out and lesser things come in, even evil things. He alone can keep us at peace.

The older Bible versions use the phrase “. . . whose mind is stayed on Thee. . . .” If my mind stays too long on anything but God, it is not long before my head is filled with negatives. From there, it can drop rapidly into far worse and my emotions go with it — producing even more motivation to seek His presence and think of Him.

While I like my computer and use it all the time, God’s promises are far more practical for everyday challenges, and far more reliable too. Yesterday included a trip to the dentist, the one that had to remove my implant with a torque wrench. Up front, I had some problems, but eventually God helped me keep my mind on Him. He shoved fear aside and filled me with peace, even adding great joy as a bonus. Only God can do that, and because He can, I am quite happy to trust Him and keep my mind stayed on Him. 

Image credit

September 23, 2010

To Live is Christ — in perfect peace

A friend with four children used to say after a particularly noisy day, “Oh for the peace of the grave.” Yet she chuckles because she knows, as do I, that peace is more than absence of noise.

While pastoral scenes may come to mind, one painter depicted peace as a bird in its nest tucked in the hollow of a rock, safe from the storm raging around it. Peace is more internal than external.

Isaiah describes it as being mindful of God — in total trust. When that happens, peace happens. 

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3)
Stayed. Resting there. Focused. It takes years to learn how to do that, or at least it has taken me years. The key, I now realize, is not being able to meditate (although that is also a challenge), but in the last part of the verse. I can be at peace only when I am also trusting God. Peace and trust are deep and true companions.

Think of the child who falls asleep in his mother’s arms. He has no worries. Mother will keep him safe. He knows that she loves him and wants the very best for him. He trusts her and is at peace.

God is like that. He promises peace for trust everywhere. My favorite New Testament verse about peace says,

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)
Again, the peace comes when trust is there. Take my concerns to Him, believing that He hears me and that He cares about my problems, trusting Him to do something about them. Then in exchange for my bundle of woes He gives me peace.

And perfect peace is a gift, not something that I can conjure up myself. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The world can offer silence, solitude, and if not that, tranquilizers and distractions. Only Jesus can give this peace that removes anxiety and fear from my heart. He can do it because He is God and because He loves me. He quite willingly shoulders my problems; He can handle them.

My part? Giving them up seems obvious, but I cannot do that unless I certain that He will do His part. That is what takes time to learn. Or maybe it is what faith is like when it grows up. As that happens, the next thing to do is “Let the peace of God rule in my heart . . . and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Today peace rules — because He rules — and today I am thankful.

September 22, 2010

To Live is Christ — because He is faithful

When Jesus was up on the mountain meeting with Moses and Elijah, His disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy. They failed, apparently because this was a “faithless generation” who needed signs and wonders to convince them.

When Jesus entered the crowd and asked what was going on, the boy’s father told him of his son’s hapless condition. Jesus asked him to bring the boy to Him.

So the followers brought him to Jesus. As soon as the evil spirit saw Jesus, it made the boy lose control of himself, and he fell down and rolled on the ground, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been happening?” The father answered, “Since he was very young. The spirit often throws him into a fire or into water to kill him. If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us.”
I can remember times that my prayers to Jesus had the words “if you can” in them. As I learned about God and His great power, I blush to think that I would doubt Him with such words.
Jesus said to the father, “You said, ‘If you can!’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” Immediately the father cried out, “I do believe! Help me to believe more!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he ordered the evil spirit, saying, “You spirit that makes people unable to hear or speak, I command you to come out of this boy and never enter him again!” The evil spirit screamed and caused the boy to fall on the ground again. Then the spirit came out. The boy looked as if he were dead, and many people said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took hold of the boy’s hand and helped him to stand up.(Mark 9:20–27, NCV)
The man said ‘if’ and Jesus challenged that. He chided him for his lack of faith, and the man immediately admitted that his faith was not perfect. I’ve had to do that too. However, this miracle or any miracle isn’t about the man’s faith, or mine.

At first read (and in some Bible versions) it looks like Jesus meant that the impossible stays that way for people who don’t have enough faith. However, the boy’s father admitted his faith was not perfect. This didn’t matter because Jesus had compassion on him and his son; He helped them anyway. If miracles depend on having enough faith, then this boy would not have been set free from the demon’s attacks.

Faith is important because Jesus does ask us to believe in Him, yet some make it the controlling factor. They say, “If you had enough faith, this would be fixed/healed” putting the onus is on the victim, or the victim’s family, or on other humans, sinners all.

My question then is this: How much faith is enough? And how do you measure it anyway? That is like trying to measure sad or happy. We know there is a “really happy” and a “really sad” but where is the line that divides one from the other?

Faith is not about my ability to believe as much as it is about the object of my faith. For instance, I can trust that my car will get me to the grocery store, but that depends on the condition of my car. Believing it will travel a few blocks does not make it happen, particularly if the gas tank is empty.

So it is with faith in Christ. It isn’t about the size, shape, height or depth of my faith; it is about the worth of the One that I trust. Can He do it? Will He come through? Is He reliable? Does He care? Is He powerful enough? Does He know how?

The answer is best given by the angels as seen by the Apostle John in his vision of heaven . . . 

Then I looked, and I heard the voices of many angels around the throne, and the four living creatures, and the elders. There were thousands and thousands of angels, saying in a loud voice: “The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and strength, honor, glory, and praise!” (Revelation 5:11–12, NCV)
Because Jesus is totally faithful, He is therefore worthy of every ounce of faith I can muster!

September 21, 2010

To Live is Christ — nothing is impossible

A rich young man approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life. However, he wasn’t looking in the same way a spiritual bankrupt person does. Instead, he came speaking of his good deeds and obedience to the commandments. He sounded as if he expected Jesus to welcome him into the kingdom.

Jesus didn’t do that. He knew this man’s heart and although He loved him, the man needed to know what was missing. Jesus told him that he lacked one thing; he needed to sell all he had and give it to the poor, then he could follow Jesus. The young man grieved, but because he loved his possessions even more, he walked away. 

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:23–27)
Jesus asked a valid question. When I read these verses, what would I put in the blank: “Get rid of ____________ and then follow me”? I ask myself this even as His disciple because I want to make sure that when I gave my life to Him, I held nothing back.

What is it that could be loved or regarded more important than Jesus? For some, it is making their own decisions. The Bible says the essence of sin is “going our own way” and Jesus told a parable illustrating how human hearts will say, “We will not have this man rule over us.

If not stubborn pride, it could be family. To that, Jesus says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).

Other idols that stand in the way of fully believing and wholeheartedly serving the Lord Jesus Christ could be money, or fame, or popularity, or not wanting to admit sin or give it up. Jesus said . . . 

The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. People who do evil hate the light and won’t come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. (John 3:19–20, CEV)
Yet with all the excuses and resistance in every human heart (we all sin and fall short of His glory), Jesus still says, “With God all things are possible.”

When my sister met Christ, she began praying for her family. She thought I would be the last one that would become a Christian, but I was the first. With God all things are possible.

My father-in-law knew the gospel and fought God all his life. Three months before he died, he quit fighting and asked God’s forgiveness. He also asked his wife to forgive him for being such a stubborn man. With God all things are possible.

A friend of ours was Jewish. He hated Christianity and refused to talk about spiritual things. Not long ago, he became very ill and was given days to live. Close to the end, someone told him that “Jesus is the Messiah.” This stubborn man replied, “Yes, I think you are right.” With God, all things are possible.

My prayer list has many names on it of dear ones who resist God. Some mock Him. Some do not believe He exists. Some think He doesn’t care what they do. Some think that because they are “good” people, that they are okay and don’t need saving. I’ve prayed for the salvation of most of them for more than thirty years, smiling that they are on my “hit list” and not giving up my prayers — because with God all things are possible.

September 20, 2010

To Live is Christ — humbled by the impossible

I’ve never (knowingly) seen an angel, but as I read about the angel telling Mary about the birth of Jesus, I am not surprised that she was initially afraid. She was also perplexed at what he said, and that is easy to understand. However, these verses reveal more about her thoughts and the attitude of her heart. 
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:30–38)
Angels are out of my league, but I have seen God do the impossible. Years ago, my husband was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable condition. To live normally, the doctor prescribed expensive medication. Without it, he could not properly digest food. A few years later, a new pastor of our church decided to have prayers for healing every time he preached using a passage where Jesus healed people. The elders of the church stood at the front and people went up for prayer. My husband was an elder. He never mentioned his condition, but after the first service where he prayed for others, his medical problem was gone. His doctor verified that the incurable was cured and said It had to be a miracle.

A few months ago at another service like this, a woman wanted prayer and went forward in her wheelchair. The next Sunday, she walked into church. The pastor asked her to share what happened. She said when the elder prayed, her legs felt hot and she knew that God was changing something in her body. He did — and she is still walking.

While both people have not shown fear or perplexity, they have since displayed the same attitude that Mary displayed at the end of her encounter with the angel. As soon the angel said, “For with God nothing will be impossible,” she called herself God’s servant and submitted to His Word. 

Miracles do happen and still happen. God doesn’t do them every time we ask, nor did He do them that often in biblical history. Back then, it seems they were part of His way of confirming His message through the prophets and through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

These days, at least as far as my experience goes, a miracle seems to be God’s way of humbling human hearts. While we ask for help, and genuinely believe that He will help us, we know that we deserve nothing. Therefore, when He does the impossible, we are brought to our knees in amazed gratitude and a desire to serve Him with all our hearts.

September 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — nothing is impossible

My mother used to joke about human ingenuity and the latest inventions. Someone had said it first, but whenever a new gadget or feat was announced, she rolled her eyes and quipped, “And we thought we’d gone about as far as we could go.”

Nearly every week something new catches my attention, from i-phones to a solar-powered battery that you can recharge with sunlight and use it to recharge cameras, cell phones, and anything else that runs on regular batteries. I also roll my eyes and wonder, what is next!

Today’s devotional reading is about impossible things. I reflect to years ago when people thought that putting a man on the moon would be impossible, or run a mile in less than four minutes. Is there much today that people think is impossible?

The devotional offers three: breaking the laws of physics, loving God more than money, and defeating spiritual entities that we cannot see, are helpless to battle, and usually don’t believe in anyway.

The first one mentioned is the law of physics that says childbirth requires a male sperm and a female egg. Children don’t just ‘happen.’ However, an angel told Mary she would have a child without a man. I cannot imagine the skepticism she felt, but the angel said, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

The second is about spiritual things. People who love money are no greater sinners than those who couldn’t care less about wealth, but the person with money sees no need for God. They can buy whatever they want. That is one reason that Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

When He said it, the disciples were astonished. They had believed that God blessed His people with material riches. To them, money and faith went together. So they asked, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

In the third example, spiritual entities that we cannot see are part of the story. A boy was overtaken by a demon that caused him to be dumb, violent, and self-destructive. Most people in North American scoff the idea of demons or hit the other end of the scale and are far too interested in evil spirits. Anyone who has lived where they are visibly active has no doubt that these evil forces exist.

In this case, the father was desperate and brought his boy to Jesus saying that the disciples had tried to help but with no success. He said, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

The Old Testament believers knew it too. Job said to God, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” (Job 42:2)

Jeremiah echos the same thought, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17)

These past few days, my heart rate has acted the way an a-fib acts — sometimes strong and regular, sometimes like a jazz drummer. Of course this does something to my confidence level. I’m not fearful it will kill me, but am wondering how much it will change my life. Will it go back to normal (not likely)? Does God have a purpose for this, and if so, what?

For several days, I was reading Isaiah 40:30. It says that those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. Today He has me in other passages that say — with Him, nothing is impossible.

Coincidence? No, I don’t think so. I’m not sure exactly what this means for my physical health, but it is doing wonders for my spiritual well-being. God knew I would need encouragement this week, and He knew exactly how to do it!

September 18, 2010

To Live is Christ — renewed day by day

Sometimes fatigue is not about a lack of sleep. Sometimes I feel worn out from the same old, same old. Sometimes I’ve been working on a project that seems to have no end. Sometimes I’ve prayed for an issue for years and seen no answer. Sometimes I’m tired and have no clue why I feel so blah.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Yesterday morning, my usual prayer time took an unexpected turn. God showed me something about my way of thinking that was not pleasing to Him. It was an assumption, a false idea that I’d had concerning a long-ago life circumstance. I’d unconsciously carried this notion without realizing its significance to my well-being.

When He brought this to mind, I could see that it was not a biblical way to think, so confessed it. I’ve learned that is the only way to get rid of anything that does not please God. Then He reminded me of how I should be thinking, which was more good news. At that point, I began to feel lighter, more energetic. I had no idea that one negative thought carried about for a long time could rob me of energy.

Later in the day, He used another situation to show me another energy thief. Our granddaughter came over to review a quilt I am making for her. She was so excited, taking pictures and emailing them to her friends. That in itself was a boost, but He had more to show me.

While she was here, she said, “Grandma, I want you to make in advance quilts for the children I plan to have.” (She is 19.) When asked how many, she said she would like four, three boys and a girl. But of course the quilts could not be pink and blue, but generic baby quilts. She is totally nontraditional.

After that, she said, “And I want four more quilts too, for when they are grown up.”

Suddenly I felt as if I were 10-20 years younger. I’d waited on the Lord and He was renewing my strength because — without realizing it —  I was letting my age make me feel old, and tired, and worn out.

My dad used to say that age is relative. He said, “A two-year-old can be a horse, or a man, or an egg.”

He was right. Thinking young changes a person’s energy levels. God used my granddaughter to give me encouragement. I might not live long enough to make those eight quilts, but just having her ask me to do it — with the wonderful confidence of youth — renewed my strength!

Thank You, Lord. You know how much of a ‘duh’ I can be, yet You are always incredibly gracious and full of surprises.

September 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — wait and be renewed

Yesterday for my devotions I was supposed to switch to a new passage, but didn’t open the guide and posted more thoughts on the one I’d been reading the day before. Now I realize how perfect today’s reading is for both yesterday and the way that I feel today. It is a favorite verse.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
The devotional book paraphrases this verse without using the eagle image, but I like it too. It says,
God shares His strength with those who trust completely in Him and are willing to hold on until His timing is right. Their trust in the Lord takes them higher than they ever dreamed, farther than they could ever go on their own, and gives them the energy to keep going even though ordinarily they wouldn’t be strong enough to stand.
Waiting on God means to look for Him, to expect Him, to linger rather than moving on without Him. Instead of struggling to regain energy, He bids me to be still before Him and expect His help. He has a way of renewing strength that is unlike even a ten-hour sleep.

The eagle image makes sense to me and to anyone who has seen an eagle. There is power in those wings. In Alaska, we watched them soar above the inlet of the Kenai River. Even in severe winds, their wings rule the air. This reminds me that God’s energy can face all obstacles and still keep going.

Isaiah also alludes to a runner that is in good shape, able to go the distance without falling to exhaustion. This speaks of the short tasks that require a super burst of speed or energy. He also might be thinking of a hiker who covers miles and miles without getting tired. That reminds me of those longer assignments or trials where perseverance is needed.

These images describe the strength that God gives those who rely on Him. It goes beyond physical strength, even beyond the boost that adrenalin gives. After the task is done, physical fatigue can set in, but for the time that energy is needed, God supplies both physical and spiritual vigor.

The word that fits me this past couple of days is “renew” for that is what I needed and what God is doing for me. I had a battle with A-fib and even though it was due to my lack of caution, God still renewed my strength. He does not have me flying high (probably because I don’t need to), but I am going through my days without exhaustion. My heartbeat is back to normal, and I’m walking without getting weary. Because of this promise, I can gladly wait for His direction regarding each decision and task that faces me. I know that whatever He wants me to do, He will supply what I need to do it. For that, I praise Him.

September 16, 2010

To Live is Christ — needing to do my part

After ten hours sleep Tuesday night, I’m feeling quite good. My pulse is slower and not jumping all over the place. I know now what to avoid to keep this from happening. Besides the chocolate, I remember taking another no-no that would jumpstart my heart. I knew that it might do that, but had forgotten. I will not forget again.

Remembering what to do and what not to do should be simple. With the unpleasantness (to say the least) of this fibrillation thing, you’d think I would never forget the causes of this problem and remember to avoid those causes. I’m feeling a bit dumb. Duh.

Yet as I think about it, I have to admit that the same thing happens in my spiritual life too. I know what to do, and what not to do, but sometimes I simply forget. The verses I’ve been reading are a case in point. The very first phrase says to have God set apart in my heart.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:15–17)
To me, sanctify simply means to have Him always on my mind. It should be easy. He is worth thinking about, and there is much about Him to keep anyone’s mind fully occupied. He gives me hope, not the sappy “I hope so” kind, but the biblical hope that is a sure thing because God said so. I know what is coming after my heart stops and am very certain. This is my eternal hope — and that eternal future can occupy my mind for hours.

God also makes it possible to have a good conscience. Only Christians and psychopaths can make that claim! Since I have a conscience and know when I sin, I’m not the latter! A good conscience means that I’m keeping short accounts with God and my sins are forgiven. Only God can do that. I suppose that if I wanted to review them, and the forgiveness that goes with each, that could take a huge part of my thinking time too.

The will of God is another immense topic for thought. I’m teaching a class this fall on this topic and realize that a few weeks of study will not be enough time. Trying to wrap my mind around the will of God could fill my thoughts all day, and that is only one part of who God is and how much thinking time is due Him.

Actually, why do people forget things? Habit? Preoccupied with other stuff? Distracted? By choice? I suppose all of the above are true at times. Maybe the motivation to remember needs to be stronger. Having to spend a couple days wondering if I will wind up in the hospital is motivation to remember what to avoid putting in my stomach. What does it take to motivate me to remember what to keep in my heart?

The answer is twofold. It is partly my responsibility, but also the work of God. As Paul said . . . 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
I am to obey, and that includes remembering. I need to work at it with fear and trembling. However, God is also at work in me. He works to motivate me to want His will and to do His will, not for my own sake, but for His pleasure. This means that living my Christian life is not about me, but for His glory.

This also means that I can call on Him to help me, but I cannot blame Him when I mess up.

September 15, 2010

To Live is Christ — trusting in His will

I have an arterial fibrillation in my heart that is aggravated by caffeine. I’ve never drunk coffee, colas or anything with caffeine in it until a couple years ago. I tried a vanilla cola twice and wound up in emergency — twice, until I made the connection and stopped drinking it.

Since then, I’ve been okay, until Monday night. We were out for supper and I had a lava cake. Dark, rich chocolate. My heart went crazy. Irregular beats and blood pressure jumping all over the place. It helped having a nurse living in our house. She called our local medical hotline and the advice was to take it easy, let it settle down. If A happened, call my doctor. If B happened, call 911.

Last night my heart rate was still fast but not irregular. I slept extra hours. During all of this, I kept thinking of a verse that tells it like it is, but also gives me hope. 

My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Whenever I’ve had any health issues, from the threat of a simple cold to something more serious, I’ve talked to the Lord about it like this: “Lord, if this is part of Your will for me, I am willing to accept it. (I have to mean this.) However, if it isn’t, then You know what to do.” Many times, the attack on my body simply vanished.

I’m praying this way again. God is the great Physician. He could stop this goofy heart irregularity in a moment. He is also wise beyond my understanding. He may want me in the medical center, or the hospital or an ER room. He can make that known to me and get me on the phone. I’m paying attention to my heart, but also the One who is the strength of my heart.

The verses from my devotional are about the heart too, but in a different sense. This is about my attitude and not my physical blood pumper . . .  

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:15–17)
Setting God apart in my heart is about putting Him first. It is about listening to what He says, doing what He wants me to do, and being willing to speak out about the hope that He gives me without fear of any persecution.

Jesus never got sick, so I don’t have that model to show me how to think or act concerning this heart problem. However, He is the rock, my fortress and deliverer. He is able to show me and my doctors what to do, giving all of us wisdom and skill. Because of that, I put my hope in His will concerning me.

September 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — filled with hope

We lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for two and a half years. My husband supervised the construction of a fertilizer plant and I went to Bible college, cramming a BRE degree into that time. The college was a few miles out of town so I drove there each day and parked behind one of the dorms.

If my classes were in the morning, as soon as I opened my car door I could smell cinnamon buns. These were a specialty in the kitchen and much loved by the students. That aroma came to mind as I read today’s devotional verse.

Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope. (1 Peter 3:15, CEV)
When someone says, “I sure hope so,” they generally use the word “hope” with no certainty. The word “wish” could easily be substituted. For that reason, the biblical idea of hope needs some explanation. It is more an “I know so” declaration than a tentative, “I hope so.”

At one point in my courses, I had to write a paper describing hope. I was stumped. Then one morning the smell of those cinnamon buns gave me an idea. I used that wonderful aroma for my illustration. I described how I arrived at school and I knew the buns were there. Although I could not see them or eat them, I had no doubt that they were real and waiting for me.

This is what biblical hope is like. My hope is eternal life. I know I have it because Jesus Christ has saved me from sin. I know that I will be with Him when I die. I cannot see this, nor can I experience this hope in tangible form.  Nevertheless, it is as real as anything I can see and touch.

Biblical hope is not perceived by the senses, so in this way it does differ from the smell of those cinnamon buns. Instead, it is based on the solid Word of God, which is tangible. Further, He does not lie, nor does He make promises and not keep them. Because He is totally reliable, when He says something is true, I know it is true.

I also know that the Bible is His promise. Human beings did not make it up. Who could or would come up with such ideas? All humans are sinners and doomed to perish? No one wants that to be true, but God says it is. All humans can be saved if they humble themselves and call on the Lord? No one wants that either. Our pride is more powerful than our desire to submit to such a thing.

It is also rationally outrageous that God would become a man and take our penalty for sin. Who would make that up? Or who would dream of a salvation that says we are strong when we are weak, and we can ask God for grace whenever we are in need? These things run contrary to the ordinary mind.

Yet God offers so much to those who will give their hearts to Him. He saved my soul, He changes me continually, challenges me to be like Jesus Christ (another outrageous idea), and gives me hope. In this life, I have pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, but He says that one day I will step into eternity and all my trials will be over. My hope will become sight.

I’m not sure if cinnamon buns are included, but I am certain that I will be totally contented with the place He is preparing for me.

September 13, 2010

To Live is Christ — ready to speak

Why is it that the right thing to say often does not come to mind until long after the opportunity to say it? “I should have said. . . .” Or “Why didn’t I think to say. . . .” But it is too late. Peter gives several clues in these verses.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:15–17)
“Sanctify” means to set apart or venerate as holy. It is a biblical word loaded with connotations, but in this context, it is the biggest reason I fail to answer questions about my faith or about God as quickly as I should. I’m too busy thinking about other things. If my mind was more often filled with thoughts of God and His holiness, talking about Him would be much easier.

This is convicting. I’ve often said that we talk about whatever is most on our mind. A new mother talks about her baby. A busy employee is apt to talk about work. A gardener will talk about plants. Peter says that a Christian ought to set God apart and when conversations happen, He will be first on the list of topics. Learning the art of meditation is a lifelong challenge as is setting apart the Lord in my heart.

Another reason is that I’m not always prepared to give a defense. This Greek word translated “defense” is the one we get apologetics from. It means a reasoned statement. Do I think through issues about my faith? Can I verbalize the reason for my Christian hope? Have I worked out the reasons why I believe? Yes I have, but preparing to share them with others is another matter.

A third reason for not being quick to speak is in those words: “meekness and fear.” Meekness is to have a gentle disposition. I’m not a meek person. I can be feisty or blunt. That is not conducive to sharing hope with others. As for fear, this word is “phobos” not the word for reverence. In this context it has to mean a fear, even a terror of displeasing God. This contrasts Peter’s exhortation that no believer in Jesus Christ should fear how others might mistreat us for our faith. Yet I’m more apt to be afraid of “what will people think” than I am of what God might think. That translates into silence and disobedience rather than a verbal defense of my faith.

Another reason is in that part about having a good conscience. It isn’t that I am guilty all the time, but when my life is right, Satan is my accuser. He is an expert at creating false guilt by dredging up old sins and making me feel like “who am I to talk to others about sin and repentance and so on?” That sense of not wanting to appear “holier than thou” will keep me quiet too. I forget that meekness and fear would fix that problem.

Peter nails the final issue with the last part of this passage. People who are not willing to suffer for doing good will keep their mouths shut rather than have others ridicule, mock, or reject them for speaking about their faith. Those who once were my friends do not like hearing about Jesus. Many of them decided not to remain my friends. One of them, although I was okay on all these points, was outraged when I tried to share with her the reason for my hope. Although Christians have died for their faith, suffering is seldom a priority. I’d rather keep my friends than have them revile me.

At times, the Spirit of God fills me with His grace and the right attitude. Because of Him, my mind is quick and my attitude meek. I fear God and messing up, but have a good conscience, and He gives me the words to say.  Sadly, that is not true all the time. Nor is it easy. I suppose if sharing what I believe was a simple matter, God would not have inspired Peter to put these verses in His Book.

September 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — entrusting myself to the Righteous Judge

My dad, and no doubt others of his era, had a saying about people who had a negative attitude. “Doesn’t matter what you do around them, ‘cause you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t.” Today’s verses made me think of his words and how Christians are targets, no matter what we do.
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13–17)
Christians walk a narrow line. If we live as Christ lived, eventually we trouble the conscience of others, or enrage them because our lives condemn theirs. They didn’t like Jesus so killed Him. They don’t like us either. Some Christians die because of their faith.

On the other hand, if we fall into sin, we incur their mockery as well. They sneer, “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian.” Like my dad said, we get shot at no matter what we do. However, God says if we are going to suffer, it better be for doing the right thing, not for being foolish.

In the above passage from 1 Peter, the context offers instruction for husbands and wives. God’s standard is high. He tells wives to have a submissive spirit and husbands to love their wives and honor them. Two stories illustrate the “popularity” of this standard.

The first was the response to a short article my mother wrote about being a submissive wife. Several women were so angered by it that they formed a group. They met several times to discuss how stupid this woman was, a woman they didn’t even know. I’m glad they never met mom. She had no idea how to cope with such angry accusations.

The second was the response to a young professor I had in Bible college. This was in 1989 (I was the only granny in class). He had a T-shirt made with writing on the front. It said, “I LOVE MY WIFE.” He was mocked and laughed at for his declaration.

Since then, these and other incidents have shown me that whatever God commands is bitterly contested by most people. It only follows that when God’s people do His will, we are treated with contempt.

Notice that I say whenever we do His will. I’ve also learned from personal experience that Christians can act like jerks and be mistreated too. Been there, done that. The rest of the world might to get away with foolish behavior, but if a Christian acts like an idiot, it is not overlooked.

This is why Peter wrote that we should do good, and not be afraid of the response. It is far better to suffer for doing right than suffer for doing the wrong thing. Either way, it seems like suffering is part of what it means to walk with Jesus. In fact, He said that because He suffered, His followers would also suffer.

It is said that the Christian accepts the hardships of this life knowing that we will enjoy a blissful eternity. Moderns call this “delayed gratification.” However, those who reject Christ for “the good life” here and now will suffer for eternity, whether they realize it or not.

Moses realized it. He was born in Egypt and escaped death as a child because his mother was smart. He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace and could have been the next leader of that country. But Moses knew the God of his parents.

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:24–27)
This is my choice too. Will I pick affliction rather than the passing pleasures of sin? Will I choose the same reproach given to Christ rather than the riches I might have if I denied Him? Will I endure the wrath of those who do not like God or His commands?

Human beings are wired to protect themselves and self-preservation is a normal response to a threat. To choose suffering is illogical. But, this is a matter of faith, not logic. It is a matter of seeing the God who is invisible and knowing, like Christ knew, that He will reward righteousness and deal with evil.

If my dad could rewrite his saying and make it about the response of God to the behavior of His people, he would have to say that we are “blessed if we do good and forgiven when we make mistakes.” Either way, we are blessed, even if others don’t like us. Why fear them?

Beside, God is not going to let His people suffer forever. If I fail to obey, He will pick me up and start me on the right track. If I obey and someone mocks or persecutes me, that is not the last chapter in the story. Eternity is yet to come, and because of Jesus, I’m not afraid of it either. When others ridicule my faith, the promises of God are my only defense.

September 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — meekly, quietly, gently

The news this week involves a pastor in Florida who has interpreted Scripture loosely. His idea about burning books comes from a passage where people who had been involved in witchcraft came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. After they were given new life in Him, they realized the errors of their past. 
And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:18–19)
These early Christians burned their own sinful books. They were not burning the books of other people. If this was the case, then I should be lighting a match to all books that do not line up with the Word of God, which could mean most books in print.

Aside from getting far more media coverage that it deserves, this news story points to the importance of correctly reading and interpreting Scripture, something sadly lacking in many churches. It also raises the question often asked by non-Christians: “How do you know who has the right translation or interpretation?”

That is a valid question. The Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and some parts in Aramaic. To translate it into English is the first challenge. A translator needs to know those languages, but also those cultures. They had figures of speech just as we do. We might say or hear, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles” and know what it means, but what about someone from another culture? And did the ancient Israelites say things that sounds about as odd? And how can anyone know the difference between a colloquialism and a literal statement?

I looked again at the verses in Isaiah that I’ve been reading and decided to read them in a “literal” translation, which is word for word. This is what the Young’s Literal Bible says:

And made hath Jehovah of Hosts, for all the peoples in this mount, a banquet of fat things, a banquet of preserved things, fat things full of marrow, preserved things refined. (Isaiah 25:6, YLT)
Huh? Without knowing the way people talked back then, this is almost gibberish. However, many scholars put decades of research and prayer into understanding this passage and others like it. They study the original languages and all things necessary to get the gist of what it means. Then they translate it into the English of the day. When King James was ruling, the English of that day became the still-popular King James Bible.

These days, many scholars have translated several Bible versions using contemporary terms. This helps modern readers understand words written centuries before. For the above passage, the Contemporary English Version says it like this:

On this mountain the Lord All-Powerful will prepare for all nations a feast of the finest foods. Choice wines and the best meats will be served. (Isaiah 25:6)
Probably all Bibles have some translation quirks and foibles, but most of them convey the general meaning. (A few, such as those translated by cults, should be burned.) However, interpretation of what has been translated is another challenge. Volumes are written on how to properly understand the Bible, yet hearing God speak does not necessarily require a degree in Hermeneutics or years of scholarly study. Even children can understand the Word of God — if their hearts are right!

This is on my mind because of the news story. I realize it might have been lack of scholarly interpretation that caused this book burning brouhaha, but maybe not. God is amazingly able to get around our “dull minds” if we are willing to hear Him. He can speak through the old KJV and use even the loosest modern paraphrase — if I have a meek and quiet spirit.

I know that If I have my mind already made up, my ears lose their sensitivity to the truth, no matter how clearly it is written. Understanding the Word of God is vital to doing the will of God, but so also is having a soft and humble heart. Instead of dictating what others should do (with their books or their lives), I always need to pay attention to the state of my own heart.

September 10, 2010

To Live is Christ — Thy Kingdom come . . .

Warren Wiersbe in his Old Testament commentary, Be Comforted, says this about the feast described in Isaiah 25:6:
For the Old Testament Jew, a feast was a picture of the Kingdom Age when Messiah would reign over Israel and all the nations of the world. Israel would enter into her glory, and the Gentiles would come to Zion to worship the Lord. When Jesus used the image of the feast in Matthew 8:11, the people knew He was speaking about the promised kingdom: “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Today’s devotional reading asks if this feast is a metaphor, and in this sense it is. My hubby and I discussed this a day or so ago. He thinks it is purely symbolic. I think it is symbolic but also a real feast. Even so, there is more to this than eating. Wiersbe goes on . . .  
The food that we eat only sustains life, but at this feast, death itself will be conquered. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. The funeral will turn into a wedding! Verse 8 was quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
Wiersbe adds that John also quoted Isaiah in Revelation 21:4: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

He also explains there is metaphorical value in the “covering” and “veil” mentioned in Isaiah 25:7. He says these may suggest the blindness of Israel and the nations to the true God and Savior. This is repeated in the New Testament, particularly 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Wiersbe says that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and glory, Israel “shall look upon Me whom they have pierced” and trust in Him for salvation. The veil shall be removed, and they will see their Messiah and their God. Then they will sing the song of Isaiah 25:9 as they enter into the great kingdom feast. . .

And it will be said in that day: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
As I read these things, I too have to declare that this is my God and I have waited for Him. He has saved me and I am glad and rejoice in His salvation, both now and in that day that is yet to come, with or without a real feast!

September 9, 2010

To Live is Christ — filled with hope

After the third day or so of reading the same passage from my devotional guide, I wonder what fresh insights God will give me. The writer of the guide seldom offers anything. For this passage, he spiritualized most of it, such as asking what mountains the reader has left to conquer, or making trite comments about our food being tough to swallow, but not the food God gives.

This passage is not about conquering mountains, real or otherwise. It also is not about comparing my difficult lot in life with what God gives me. It is about His promise to His people after the end of our time here on earth. This quote is from the Living Bible.

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! (Isaiah 25:6–8, TLB)
This is a description of a Christian’s heavenly hope. It is the promise of God concerning that glorious event when time will be no more and our earthly life has become our everlasting life. It fills me with anticipation. All sorrow and struggle with sin will be over. I will celebrate my eternal life with Him.

My husband thinks this is not a literal feast. I’ve always thought it would be — based on the Bible truth that our bodies will be like the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. After He rose from the dead, He met with His disciples and they thought they were seeing a ghost, but . . .  

He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:38–43)
I’m sure others have doubts too. What will we do in heaven? What will our bodies be like? I read this passage today and wondered what teetotalers and vegans will do with the wine and choice meat. Others could struggle eating with all the people of the world, some of whom they would not eat with prior to this feast. Perhaps the constant complainers will not know what to do when all gloom is lifted, or the most emotional people will protest when their tears are wiped away. The self-styled martyrs may not like it when insults and mockery no longer exist.

Of course I speak facetiously! No one will even think to be troubled or doubt the way God hosts this party. It will be so wonderful that the only negative thought anyone that have is, “Why did He invite me, a sinner?”

I’m chuckling as I write this. imagining perfection is beyond me. No matter how hard I try, I cannot fathom life without sin, even the sins of grumbling and speculation. All I know is that when I step into heaven, I will be filled with joy and glad to leave all my sorrows and troubles behind. I suppose then that this passage from Isaiah does have something to do with conquering and with comparing my lot in life with the next life. Because of Jesus, I will overcome all adversity in the end.

However, much of my life has held grand and wonderful things too. It is reasonable to affirm then, that none of it will come close to the delights of feasting with God and seeing Him face to face!

September 8, 2010

To Live is Christ — Enjoying the journey — with our eyes on home

Yesterday after my hubby golfed eighteen holes and I had a good workout, we decided to take a little drive. It started innocently enough. We took a road north to a community we hadn’t yet seen. That wasn’t very impressive so we decided to go east to a small city we’d driven through on our way to this vacation place. We did some shopping there, then decided it was too early to go home, so we drove to another city farther south.

This next city is on a large lake and we checked the map. There was a road that went around the other side of the lake so we decided to take it. We didn’t bother packing a snack. It was early and the road didn’t look too long.

However, we wound back and forth, up and down, for miles — with a cliff up on one side and almost straight down on the other. As my hubby said, if anyone drove off the road, they would plunge through the roof of a house below. People actually lived just under the shoulder of the road and as close to the water as they could get, their houses perched like stone outcrops on the sides of the cliffs.

We got hungry on this day trip, but drove most of it without seeing any place to grab some food. At one point, DH joked that the tree bark might be our only hope.

Finally we rediscovered civilization, found a restaurant and had a good meal. It was another hour to our resort where we turned in for the night. What started out as a casual drive turned out to be an eight-hour journey with more twists and turns than we anticipated. As we drove, I thought of some ways our journey resembled the Christian life.

When I became a Christian, I thought it would be a “walk in the park” but soon the unanticipated began. Part of my journey has been astoundingly beautiful and filled with pleasant surprises (like a deer, and some wild turkeys on the roadside). However, other stretches along the way have turned my knuckles white as I hung on for dear life, afraid to look down and afraid not to.

Sometime I’ve been up high and the world seemed small and unthreatening. Other times my view has been murky and the journey marked with hairpin curves and narrow passageways. At times, it seemed I had it all, but there have been those stretches where life was so lean that my head ached.

I read my Bible verses for today using a modern version that says pretty much the same thing as the older Bibles. This passage tells me what awaits me when this journey is over. 

But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies will throw a feast for all the people of the world, a feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines, a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts. And here on this mountain, God will banish the pall of doom hanging over all peoples, the shadow of doom darkening all nations. Yes, he’ll banish death forever. And God will wipe the tears from every face. He’ll remove every sign of disgrace from his people, wherever they are. Yes! God says so! (Isaiah 25:6–8, The Message)
I like that God says His feast will be on a mountain. There is no place on earth that sings to my heart more than the mountains. I also like the idea of feasting with all the people of the world. We ate Mexican last night, but Italian, French, Asian, Moroccan, it is all good. The gourmet desserts couldn’t be a better finish. But there is more.

Aside from the feast, when I get to my final destination, God will banish death and the doom that threatens everyone. I will never have white knuckles again. Nor will I ever cry (I didn’t yesterday, unless a yelp or two counts). I will not be sad. Nothing can make me feel shame or disgraced.

We haven’t been away long, but are already homesick. Being here is nice, but home has a great appeal. We can choose to leave this place early if we wish. However, the decision to leave this earth and go to our heavenly home is not in our hands. Instead, our Father, the one this Bible calls the God of angel armies, will make that call. When He does, we will not need to pack a thing, nor need to remember a snack for the road. Instead, we will gladly meet Him there, where a feast and much more is waiting for us.

September 7, 2010

To Live is Christ — longing for home

Vacations remind me that I don’t slow down very much. When I am at home, I get too busy to reflect, too busy to get out into the beauty of God’s creation. I seldom stop and just enjoy the variety of people, places, and things in the world. My sometimes hectic routine blurs how many other things there are to do and see, and how much happens outside my doors, both good and bad. It is good to ‘get away from it all’ and experience other things.

We are vacationing in a scenic part of the world with tall trees, mountains, rivers and lakes. The people around us are friendly. There is time to rest and daydream. We are not watching television or reading newspapers, so our awareness of world events is minimal. This is refreshing as well.

However, my husband and I talked about boredom this evening over supper. This is Day Three of ten days away and we have already done what we wanted to do. We both laughed that we feel a little bit like going home. Perhaps this relates to being so non-involved in life while on vacation, feeling useless because we’re not doing anything useful. Loafing has value, but self-indulgence gets boring — quickly.

Besides that, we wondered if we are bored. Boredom happens when people do not live up to their full potential, but who wants to be bored on a vacation?

We also wondered if this sense of wanting to “go home” really isn’t about home, at least the place where we normally live? When I read the verses for today in my devotional guide, I can see that our longing could be confused with a different kind of homesickness. 

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6–8)
This has great appeal. Imagine, eating the richest of food in a place where none of it will go to waist? This means no more ordering appetizers for our meals, or asking for one item from the menu and two plates! We can eat as much dessert as we want — chocolate cake to the max!

Imagine having the shroud of death, and the fear of death removed forever? Since our bodies will not be aging, we will not get tired. Heaven is our eternal rest, so no more work and my to-do list will fade from memory. Yet still I have a feeling that I will not be sitting with my feet up, because I’ll finally be able to live to my full potential. Heaven means no aging, no boredom, no death, but richness of life.

There is more. The Lord says that all tears will be wiped from all faces. What makes me cry? Sorrow, grief, shame, yearning, being distressed or embarrassed? He says that He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. Not only that, all self-indulgence (which causes some of those things) will be gone too. No more tears.

I cannot fully imagine heaven. It could be similar to a vacation, but far better. No wonder the people of God have a longing in our hearts for this place described as being on a mountain with God.

For now, we have to settle for vacations. I’ll likely feel more interesting in sightseeing and doing holiday things tomorrow. We can look at the mountains, and enjoy good food here. In a few days we will head home and go back to the routine of normal life. After a few weeks or months of that, I’ll again look forward to a vacation.

Yet I know that no matter how good it gets here, and no matter how wonderful the vacation, that yearning for heaven will remain. Someday, we will feast on that mountain with God. He will give me the best of everything, yet it will be to His glory, without self-indulgence. He will take away the sorrows of life and wipe away all my tears, removing all disgrace and perplexities of this life. Then I will be truly and finally — home.

September 6, 2010

To Live is Christ — even in the wilderness

God has a habit of luring His people into the wilderness. He did it when He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. They were glad to get out, but when they discovered they needed to obey the Lord as they once obeyed their Egyptian taskmasters, they became rebellious. They wound up wandering in the wilderness forty years.

Later, the people again became rebellious and were chastened by God. This time He also gave them a promise, but the blessings He offered also would come through a wilderness experience.

Israel, I, the Lord, will lure you into the wilderness and speak gently to you. I will return your vineyards, and then Trouble Valley will become Hopeful Valley. You will say “Yes” to me as you did in your youth, when leaving Egypt. I promise that from that day on, you will call me your husband instead of your master. I will no longer even let you mention the names of those pagan gods that you called “Master.” And I will agree to let you live in peace—you will no longer be attacked by wild animals and birds or by weapons of war. I will accept you as my wife forever, and instead of a bride price I will give you justice, fairness, love, kindness, and faithfulness. Then you will truly know who I am. I will command the sky to send rain on the earth, and it will produce grain, grapes, and olives in Jezreel Valley. I will scatter the seeds and show mercy to Lo-Ruhamah. I will say to Lo-Ammi, “You are my people,” and they will answer, “You are our God.” (Hosea 2:14–23, CEV)
Still later, Christ came to seek and to save those who are lost in sin. This time, the wilderness experience God set up was not for sinners, but for His very own Son. Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Most Christians that I’ve talked to experience some sort of wilderness test. I’ve had a few too. In them, God seemed to pull away everything else that was important to me, and plunked me into helplessness. He wanted to bless me, but in the beginning and during every test, it seemed the opposite. Nothing feels so hopeless as to have all the props pulled away.

Yet I learned through all of them that God’s intention was to try me and make me stronger, not try me so that I fell apart. He is always with me and always brings me through. I need to rely on Him.

Right now, I am in a literal wilderness, that is if a well-equipped resort in the middle of nowhere qualifies as that. We have more than the necessities, but are miles from normal life. This experience does offer some tests. One small one is that I cannot connect to the Internet easily as is my custom. Just posting this blog is a challenge and at first I became agitated. There are other small things too, and none of them seem a big deal, but God has shown me all sorts of ways where I am relying on things other than Him.

When Jesus was tested, the devil offered Him gigantic temptations. My tests are not close to that scope. Nonetheless, Satan constantly tries to make me do things his way instead of God’s way. He even whispers, “You are on vacation so it doesn’t matter if you slip a little.”

I know better. Following Jesus means imitating what He did when led into the wilderness. He paid attention to the enemy’s suggestions, but said no by answering each one of them with Scripture. He knew the will of God and never altered His determination to obey His heavenly Father.

I know the will of God too. I’m to love Him and do what He says. This isn’t about slacking off because no one is looking. It is about passing the wilderness tests, no matter what size they are.