January 31, 2012

Christ is the answer for conflict

This story may or may not be true, but it is a good story. A white woman was angry that her economy seat on an airplane put her beside a black man. She protested loudly to the stewardess that she did not want to sit beside this black person. The stewardess explained that economy was full, but the woman continued to yell at her. The stewardess then said that they did have room in first class. She added that, “No one should have to sit with an unpleasant person beside them.” She turned to the black man and told him to gather up his things and then moved him to first class. If I’d been there, I might have applauded.

Every morning the daily newspaper features stories about conflict. If examined closely, most of these stories find their roots in selfishness. People want their own way, will go to great lengths to get it, and the results are headline material. Not all of them feature a thoughtful and classy stewardess who knows how to treat selfishness.

These stories make me wonder what would happen if selfishness disappeared? Would wars end? Would families stay together? Would the economy suffer? Or improve? Would advertising change? Would I buy as much as I do? Would I talk differently? What would life be like if just one person stopped being selfish?
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:8–11)
This statement is God’s norm for His people. Because of Christ, it is possible for Christians to put off their old way of life and put on the new nature given to them when we are reborn and adopted into the family of God. Instead of the selfishness that shows up in anger, wrath, malice and so on, we can think and act like Jesus Christ. This is possible because He lives in us by His Spirit and offers us all we need for life and godliness.

This morning I notice something else in these verses. When a Christian has put off the old and put on the new, there is a loss of division. That is, the New Testament conflict that once existed between Jews and Greeks is gone. The conflict between Jews and non-Jews is gone. The conflict between people of faith and pagans is gone, as is the division between slaves and free persons. Instead of being identified by belonging to one of these groups, those in Christ Jesus are identified by being in Christ. He takes the preeminence.  

Could this be the reason that conflict is chosen far too often over unity and peace? In selfishness, does hanging on to our old identity become more important than giving it up? Whatever the reasons for wars, God does offer a cure for selfishness and lack of unity, but we need to love the cure more than having our own way.

Lord, being in Christ is so far superior to being in that old self, whatever form that takes. Whether I’m tempted today to have my own way, or just put my focus on what I want rather than what others need, may the life of Christ overwhelm that temptation. You are all and in all. May my life shine for You.

Update: Yesterday, I had to go to the ER for another cardioversion. This time they added a second medication that is supposed to regulate the rhythm of my heart. Both medications make the pulse slower and lower my blood pressure. I slept 2-3 hours in the afternoon and ten hours last night, but have as much energy as a deflated balloon. My appointment with a cardiologist is February 9. In the meantime, I will be moving very slowly.

January 30, 2012

New life means dying first

In some cultures and religions, if a member becomes a Christian, the rest consider that person as dead. A funeral may be held, but if not, the new believer is put outside the group, and if not persecuted, is totally shunned. For some, this means no interaction at all, which could include no employment, marriage, or any of the usual relationships with family and friends. Oddly enough, those who treat a believer this way have a partial understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
The part that these groups do not get right is that this verse is for the believer to apply, not them. It means that Christians like myself have died to their old life and been given a new life. That is, God, by His Spirit put us “in Christ” so that when Christ died, we died too. But that is not the end. Just as He rose from the dead, so do we. The life we now live is His life, a new life. 

Those who walk in that new life have changed. Often this change is so dramatic that it makes a deep impression on family and friends. For some, this is positive and draws them closer to God. For others, this is a threat to everything they believe and practice. Instead of merely saying ‘no’ to faith in Christ, they want to get rid of the messenger, put them out of sight and out of mind. If the living reminder is “dead and buried” then they can carry on in whatever way they choose without any in-your-face proof that another life is possible.

Lord, this morning brings another set of heart hiccups. I’m about to leave for the ER and for the electrical fix to put it right. As I go, may I remember that I too have new life. Instead of fear or anxiety about my body, help me focus on that walk that demonstrates Your life in me so profoundly that others cannot help but notice. Of course I don’t want anyone to try to get rid of me, but that others will have a positive and delighted response to what they see.

January 29, 2012

The Living God

Decades ago, the idea that God is dead began circulating. German philosopher Nietzsche said that people would eventually reject belief in any cosmic or physical order, but would also reject absolute values, including any belief in an objective and universal moral law. This loss of an absolute basis for morality would lead to nihilism and require a re-evaluating the foundations of human values. To Nietzsche, this meant looking for foundations that went deeper than Christian values. 
Yet the Bible says God put eternity into the hearts of mankind and the knowledge of His existence is there too. The idea that God is dead is popular only with those who do not want to be accountable to a living God, or to those who have made demands and discovered that they cannot control or tell the living God how to run His world. 

Today I read this short verse where a pagan king tried to punish a godly man for his faith. However, throwing Daniel in a lion’s den bothered his conscience. He was convinced that this man served Someone with more power than he had as a king.
As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:20)
Darius saw something in the life of Daniel that convinced him that God is a living God, even a God who could stop the mouths of hungry lions. He knew that God is real and his understanding was reinforced by the behavior of someone who believed and lived out his faith.

Perhaps Nietzsche drifted from belief in God because he didn’t have any examples in his life of a firm faith, a faith that changed lives and gave those who believed credibility. This is suggested in several quotes about him, such as: “God has lost whatever function he once had because of the actions taken by those who believe in him.” He believed a god is merely a mirrored reflection of its people, so the “Christian God is so ridiculous a God that even were he to have existed, he would have no right to exist.” 

He also saw that religious people were going against their beliefs and coinciding with the beliefs of mainstream society, that their moral thinking was “debased and poisoned by the influence of society’s weakest and most ignoble elements, the herd.”

He has a point. If the people of God do not act as if God is alive and involved in our daily lives, how can we expect those who wonder about God to pursue Him? Daniel served God continually. He was not a Sunday Christian or one who obeyed God only when convenient. His testimony influenced a king. What has happened to our holiness? Our zeal to be like Jesus Christ and live for His glory? Why do we so often put God at the bottom of our priority list?

Lord, a Sunday school song has the line, “Dare to be a Daniel” yet as I think about this verse and the life that You give, it isn’t a dare. Living like Daniel should be the norm of my life. People should know that You are the Living God because I live in light of that reality. No one would think that You are dead if all who believe in You acted like it all of the time.

January 28, 2012

The A-Fib Adventure continues

Yesterday, after posting my devotions on this blog, my heart decided to have hiccups again. At exactly 9:00 a.m., the rhythm faltered and I called for backup. The doctors told me not to let it go a day, but knowing what the ER is like Friday afternoons and evenings, my hubby took me in just before 1:00. 

This time was different. I was not anxious, in part due to knowing what they would do, but mainly because of the Lord’s word to me about having a different attitude toward the threat of death. Even though that outcome was doubtful, the risk is always there with anesthesiology. However, my mind was on the people around me. I was able to talk about Jesus to one of the nurses. Then it came time for the cardioversion (electrical jolt to restore proper heartbeat). I closed my eyes, then opened them in what seemed like only a moment later — and it was done. 

So again, the pulse is back to normal. Doctors changed my medication dose hoping that will keep me stable longer, and until a heart specialist sees me. I slept well and now look at another verse about Jesus as He faced a much more difficult trial than mine will ever be.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Dying on a cross for the sins of the world did not involve any anesthetic. Jesus would not be lying on a bed surrounded by individuals who cared about Him. No one would ask if He was in pain or even care that His anguish would go beyond human imagination. Not one of the people who were there would have any idea what it was like to bear the weight and feel the guilt of all that sin. No one gave a rip that His body would suffer as much as His soul. They just wanted Him dead and gone, out of their faces so they could continue as usual.

For someone who believes in the sovereign power of God, I understand why the crowds said, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40) Jesus could have stopped all that nonsense.

But He didn’t. For the joy set before Him, He stayed there. For the souls that would believe and be saved, He stayed there. For the glory that would go to God because of His plan of redemption, Jesus said, “Not as I will, but as You will” and remained in that place of pure agony.

Yesterday I wondered if this trip for a “zap” could happen many times. The doctor told me he had one patient that came in every other day for weeks, joking that he “put my son through college.” I joked right back and told him I hoped he hadn’t decided now to buy a boat! Nevertheless, for a person who likes to keep up with her to-do list, the prospects of more days of even just four hours in the ER now and then is not high on my priority list.

Yet God reminds me that His will could be just that. Do I trust Him? Do I care that maybe the nurse who heard about Jesus needs to hear again? Or someone else does? Or that maybe He just wants me to have that attitude that Jesus had of “not my will, but Yours be done”?

I fully understand the “if it be possible” part and would like to bypass all this. Yet I also know that “this cup” is a reference to the wrath of God. I will never have to bear that. Whatever God has in mind for me, it will not include the weight and guilt of sin. Jesus has already done that. My sin was taken to the Cross and covered when He died for sin. He bore all the punishment, all the wrath that I deserve. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) Because of Jesus, any will of God for me, even that which involves suffering, is not about punishment. 

Lord, I have this notion about how I want to spend my time, but You have plans for me. Those plans could involve hours in a waiting room chair, or hours in a cubicle with an IV in my arm and a cardioversion cart beside my bed ready to knock some sense into my pulse. After yesterday, I see that Your plans might also involve opportunities to tell someone else about Your incredible goodness, or say to them what it means to be in Christ and have Your joy. Whatever it is, I cannot predict it or put it on my to-do list. I can only trust You to put me where You want me and give me the attitude and words that are in Your plan. What is really neat is that this a-fib thing is changing from being an annoying nuisance to another adventure with You at the helm.

January 27, 2012

Some Light Still Shining

People call and ask about my health. After filling them in, I share how this episode with a-fib made me think about my mortality and also my priorities, topics that do not generally come up in most conversations. I’d thought these were settled topics in my life, but had no idea how lightly I’d considered them prior to the past few weeks. In my mind, I would live to 100 so didn’t need to think about death. And I thought my life was fairly well ordered too. Having a good scare made me realize differently.
Christians are prepared for death. At least, we know where we are going. We also look forward to seeing Jesus and being with Him. However, I had one friend in her eighties that was adamant that she didn’t want to die. She had too much to do here. Death frightened her. I didn’t want to have the same attitude, but now realize that it lurked beneath my confidence. 

Yesterday I wrote about Jesus. When He faced death, He “despised the shame.” Since then, I’ve been thinking about why He did that. The answer is, Jesus is life itself, the Author of life, the One who called Himself “I am” referring to self-existence. He has always been. For Him, death is a disgrace, an utterly shameful thing and beyond all that should be. It should not, even could not happen to the Giver of eternal life — yet it did. 

The most remarkable thing is that He “despised” this disgrace. In our minds, despise means hatred, but the original Greek word is more like, “consider it a light thing.” For Jesus, and for the joy set before Him, death was so insignificant that it was like nothing. 

Think of that! The One who is life itself is going to die, but because He knows what that death will do and what will happen afterwards, He thinks nothing of it. It is a blip on His path, a shrug for His massive shoulders. His attitude toward dying is like my attitude toward brushing my hair. It has to be done, but not a big deal. 

This phrase, “despising the shame” is offered as an example for the followers of Jesus. We have a life to live here, one that will end in death. Death is the final enemy, but because Jesus has conquered it, we can despise/dismiss that as an inevitable event and go on with living.

On that vein, today’s verses and devotional reading are about living, even when death is around the corner.
The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (John 11:8–9)
Jesus had the attitude that when His time came, He was ready for it, but He needed to do what God wanted Him to do in the meantime. That is, while there was still time, He wasn’t about to stew over that cross looming on His path ahead. He concentrated on doing whatever He knew He must do. His focus was on NOW, not the end.

The reading is short and to the point. It says, “The very fact of a Christian being here, and not in Heaven, is a proof that some work awaits him” (William Arnot). 

Arnot’s words are for me. God has more to put on my to-do list. If my focus is on anything other than being alert to His commands, I will miss them and miss the priorities He has for my life. For that reason, and because of His attention-getting devices of the past few weeks, I am walking more deliberately and thinking more deeply about the choices of each day. Instead of assuming what is important, I’m checking in with Him more often. 

Lord, You know the way that I take. You have plans for me that are good. You also have work for me to do. My life is to glorify You and edify others, and You know how to help me accomplish Your goals. I am still here because You have chosen this to be so. May I more closely pay attention to what You are asking of me.