January 31, 2007

Just wanting to grow up

A few years ago, as a grandmother in seminary, one of the students asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was his polite way of asking why a person my age would be going for a master’s degree in religious education.

I told him my goal has always been to become a sweet little old lady. He couldn’t make the connection. Others can’t either. They usually chuckle, but they really don’t know me very well. I need all the Bible education I can get. Without Christ, I am black and white to the extreme, critical, dogmatic, self-centered, and always right. While the Lord has changed me a great deal, He’s got more work to do. Much more. I’m far from sweet.

This sweet, little old lady talk has come up in all sorts of ways. My husband and I have been discussing old age. While we are both under 65 (for a few more days), we realize the clock keeps ticking. Also, we cared for my aging parents when they lived with us for one year (ten years ago). We look back at that experience with fondness and joy (my mom and dad were both sweet), yet we know it would have been even better for them and for us had they talked and planned earlier for this stage in their lives.

I don’t want my children to guess what to do with me if I can’t remember their names, or can’t turn my head to shoulder-check when I drive, or cannot see to read the phone bill or the phone numbers, or cannot walk well enough to get up and down stairs. I want them to know what to do with me, and I want to be cooperative and willing to go along with their decisions and actions.

People live longer these days, but that does not mean we will be strong in those years to come. I was reading today in Joshua 14 about Caleb. He was not a young man when God’s people finally conquered the land that God had promised them. However, at eighty-five he said, “As yet I am as strong this day as on the day the Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.”

Caleb had a great attitude. In his old age he asked Joshua, “Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim (“giants”) were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord said.”

Caleb might have been old, but he was fighting fit, and ready for any challenge God put before him.

Maybe I should aim higher, change that “sweet little old lady” goal to “Christ-like warrior” or “powerful witness to God’s grace” or “tower of wisdom and strength.” But then again, I know myself; that first choice is the greater challenge.

January 30, 2007

God — Designer and quilt-Maker

I’ve a big birthday coming up so have been thinking about my life and its significance. Am I all the person that God wants me to be? What more can I do? How many more years will He give me? I’m asking all those “old person” questions.

Along with those questions, add to the mix the helplessness that I feel being a care-giver for our granddaughter. She accepts meals, a roof over her head, and art lessons. Other than that, she tries to be independent in the face of many ne
eds and the inability to do so. What can be done for her? What will she accept? I’d like to ‘fix’ it, but realize that even if she were willing, my efforts are not going to help her.

Last night on the way to my church quilting group, I listened to a radio message about the life of Joseph and how, if you looked at the various parts, most of it didn’t look good. However, when considering his entire life, all those parts fit together and made both him and his story quite incredible.

When I got there, to start our evening I flipped open my ‘quilting’ devotio
nal book. The first selection compared the various pieces of a quilt. It said that they might not look like much by themselves, but when joined together, they made a beautiful quilt. That idea was compared to our lives and how God uses all things for our good, to make us beautiful, like Jesus.

This morning I am again taken to Hosea 14. God says, “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon.”

The author of this devotional guide talks about the frailty of the lily and how that is what people see when they look at Christians, and even if they don’t, that is how we feel as we try to walk with the Lord. We have this sense of total helplessness, but underneath and within is the strength of the cedar roots, the hidden life and power of God. In our weakness, we have His strength.

I know this and teach it, but after three lessons in a row, God is telling me again: when I feel weak and useless, His power is at work in me. Whether others see it or not, or whether I feel powerful or not isn’t the issue. He works in ways that I cannot understand. In fact, He prefers that I feel weak and helpless. That
is when He is free to use me. If I’m confident and full of myself, I just get in His way.

To me, my life often looks like a tangled mess of scraps, odd bits of color and thread, and in disarray. I want to sort it out, but am no more able to do that for myself than I am for our granddaughter. Yet God is busy. He is using all that material, including the dark and somewhat ugly patches that are in both of our lives, to put together a couple of quilts.

January 29, 2007

This spring, maybe I'll plant another cedar. . .

Someone who has ‘borderline personality disorder” told me yesterday that the “cure” takes years of hard work. She described BPD like this: “When someone is growing up it is as if they missed grasping how to cope with life in certain areas. Then, when they encounter issues in those areas, they revert to doing what they did when they were children.”

Not only does a BPD person not know they are acting like a child (after all, a child doesn’t know), they cannot fathom any other way to act. This is confusing to them and worse for their care givers. They must learn new skills, first done by rote and then practice until it clicks in that this response works better than that one.

She added, “Expect at least two years, and only if your granddaughter is willing to work hard and stick with the program. Even though she will live with this the rest of her life, she will get better.”

Oddly, knowing this is better than guessing and didn’t seem like bad news. I know God can produce a miracle (and those always seem to come as a surprise, even when we pray for them), but this news settles me into the long-term. It will not be easy though.

This morning I read from Hosea 14. God says, “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon.”

I know little about dew except that it makes our grass wet in the morning. My devotional book says that dew is vital to the life and growth of trees and flowers. Sources on the Internet add that dew is particularly important in times of drought, and that some plants seem more able to collect moisture from dew than others.

I know lilies. They grow best in groups, respond well to ample feeding, and have one of the loveliest blooms in my garden. They also multiply quite rapidly.

My only cedar is a dwarf globe. I know the taller variety grows and is famous in Lebanon. I also understand that their roots are dense and grow rapidly too. Normally, nothing grows well in their shade, but at least one person claims that their lilies do fine under their cedars. My devotional book says of this link, “ . . . frail beauty and massive strength united . . . “

God promises to be like dew to His people, my supply in dry times, and my supply as I wait every morning for Him, as I am like the plants that collect the dew. With His blessing, I will not only survive but grow. I already know that in my weakness, like a frail lily, I have His strength.

The Bible does not say if Hosea was a gardener, but God gave him this lovely word picture, a combination of dew, lilies and cedar roots, to remind me that no matter what lies ahead, He will supply all that I need.

January 28, 2007

Because He loves me. . .

I knew my motives when I was disciplining my children, usually. I was either concerned for their well-being and the choices they were making, or they simply annoyed me and I wanted them to stop. And if I didn’t have it figured out, they certainly knew.

God reminds me of that today. He says, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

I could protest at this point; I chastened my children, and rebuked them, but I’ve never scourged them. However, God knows me better than I know myself. He knows what will perfect me, and how much discipline that perfecting will take. Besides, His motives are never because I am annoying. I can expect Him work on me because He loves me and because I am His child.

The most astounding part of God’s chastening is that it might hurt, but the sense of healing comes at the same time, making the pain (and embarrassment) of it easier to take. Sometimes He does it with a sense of humor.

Just before our last move, my husband asked me to go pick up some large cartons at a store that sells them. He said to phone first because the store had irregular hours. I was not in a good mood. I called, and the man who answered had a strange and threatening accent. When I got to the store, his appearance also seemed odd and threatening. Besides that, his clothes were dirty and he repulsed me for reasons I can’t even remember now. My mood worsened.

As he loaded the boxes in the back of my vehicle, I grumbled about moving. He said, “May the good Lord bless your move and make it an easy one.”

At that instant, I felt as if God both hugged me and gave me a sharp kick me in the seat of the pants. I even laughed aloud at His sense of timing and His way of telling me to smarten up. This story has become my favorite illustration for the gentle way God rebukes His children.

His dealings with me are often for more than bad attitudes. Sometimes God tosses me against the wall for deep-seated, sinful behavior that threatens not only my ability to reflect Him, but my relationships with others. He is trying to teach me that running my own life is not part of His plan for me. He wants me to take responsibility for what I do, like an adult, but be like a child when it comes to accepting discipline, knowing that He is not being mean. He wants me to grow, to be mature, but still have that childlike trust in Him.

Because of Jesus, I can trust Him. I am certain that He accepted me as I am—but equally certain that He loves me so much that He will not leave me this way.

January 27, 2007

Forgiveness is only the beginning . . .

A bumper sticker says, “Christians are not different, just forgiven.”

That one bugs me. The theology behind it is far from biblical. Yes, Christians are forgiven, but if there is no change in our lives, we better examine ourselves. We might be fakes.

I learned early that when Christ came into my life, God was going to use all things, His Word, circumstances, trials, blessings, relationships, everything, to trans
form me into the image of His Son. He began with a notable change in my attitude toward people. I used to be hostile, not caring, and suddenly found myself liking others. How novel!

In the Old Testament, God’s people were in slavery in Egypt. In many ways this depicts how all humanity is in slavery to sin. As the bondage deepened, they cried out to God for deliverance. He sent Moses to lead them out of their bondage to a new place, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

The task was not an easy one. Despite hating their situation in Egypt, they fought God along the way. They wanted freedom, but didn’t like His terms. However, God was in charge.

Moses trusted that God knew best. He became frustrated with the reluctance of His people and their rebellions. At one point he prayed, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.”

God replied, “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”

They were forgiven and delivered from bondage in a spectacular way, but God was not finished with them. For centuries, He walked with them, continued to work among them, and they (or at least some of them) trusted Him and were noted as God’s chosen people.

Their experience was a shadow, a ‘type’ of the Christian life. Jesus delivers His people from the bondage of sin. We come out of our slavery to it, sometimes kicking and resisting, only to find that God has just begun to work with us and that He uses many things to change us, including His Word. One New Testament verse describes some ways He uses it: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Forgiveness is only the beginning. I am the same because I can relate to everyone else—I have the same weaknesses, same struggles, same problems and hang-ups as they do, but because of Jesus, I have a different Master, a different ‘rule book,’ a different hope, a changed focus, and a radical new world view.

For the thief on the cross beside Jesus, forgiveness was enough to get him into the kingdom, but he too would be radically transformed when he joined Jesus in glory. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall
see Him as He is.”

Yet even that glorious promise has an application for right now. It adds, “AND
everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Yes, we are forgiven, but because we are—praise God—change is our destiny, and it starts the moment Jesus moves in.

January 26, 2007

For me, He finished it!

When I’m writing something, or working on a quilt, buying groceries, or even tidying up the house, I usually experience a sense of “I’m done.” The project or task may not be perfect, but something inside me says it is finished and time to move on to something else.

A friend of ours told her husband that she felt she’d done all she could as a mother. All her children were not grown up, nor finished needing her, but she had that sense of being done. Later, he thought that it was almost as if she knew what was going to happen. Within weeks of saying it, she had an aneurysm and died in her sleep.

Jesus had an even stronger sense of knowing He had completed the work God gave Him. He came to save sinners and knew that His death on the cross would be the final act needed to secure redemption for us. “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

Some think that He was talking about His life being finished, but this is where a
little history comes in handy. In those days, when a debt was owed and paid, they wrote “It is finished” across the face of the bill. Jesus was talking about a debt being paid.

The Bible says that "the wages of sin is death" and those who sin must die. To pay
our own ‘wages’ we would have to die. But God so loved us that He sent His Son, and Jesus, by dying and by declaring “It is finished” wrote “Paid” across our bill. He took care of the debt we owe God by dying in our place.

Also, He was not thinking about Himself or talking about His life being over — because He wasn’t like that, and because His life wasn’t over. Even though He gave up His spirit, and actually died, He would not stay dead. How can the Giver of eternal life remain in a grave? How can someone who never sinned remain under the penalty reserved for sinners? He couldn’t and He didn’t. After three days, He rose again, fully alive, alive for eternity.

Because He lives, His work is actually not finished. Redemption is, but the Bible says Jesus lives forever to intercede for us. At this moment, He is at the right hand of God praying for His people, praying for me. When Satan accuses me of being a failure, a sinner, a messed-up loser, instead of making excuses or denying it, Jesus says, “No matter. I died for her. Her sins and failures are covered by my blood and she is redeemed. She is my child, forever.”

I’ve a strong sense about my life that says I’m not quite finished yet. Maybe it’s because my to-do list is always so long, but whatever happens there, I know one thing on that list is of no further concern. I no longer have to take care of my guilt before God. It is checked off, totally taken care of, paid up, paid in full, ‘finished’ — all because of Jesus’ completed work of redemption. He did it for me.

January 25, 2007

Never alone in the furnace

Someone said to me that the older a person gets, the easier the Christian life should be. I asked why, and he thought that, with practice, and with an increasing knowledge of God and His ways, obedience should be easier. He forgot one thing—the more a person tries to follow Jesus Christ, the harder the enemy tries to stop him.

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, had three friends who offer a good example. While in captivity, they were elevated to leadership positions, but faced opposition to their faith. The king told them if they did not worship the golden idol that he made, he would toss them into a furnace. The story is familiar, but the stand they took is most rare!

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego said to the king, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

A similar situation happens in the New Testament. The devil took Jesus up on a high mountain and offered Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if “You will fall down and worship me.”

Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

The three men faced a king and the possibility of a furnace, and Jesus faced Satan and the possibility of great power. They all heard the same line—worship and follow something other than God and your life will be a lot easier, better, wealthier, less troubled, whatever. Just forget God.

Walking with Christ does not get easier. The more I determine to follow the Lord and obey Him, the more I am plagued with temptations to do otherwise. Oh yes, just as the “devil left Him for a season,” I have times of relief, but when the temptations come, each time they are more intense, more subtle, and more difficult to resist. I can almost hear my enemy say, “Compromise on just this one thing, and I will leave you alone.” Since he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8), I know that he will not leave me alone until he has me very far from walking with the Lord.

A song comes to mind, with words something like this: “You are my hiding place, You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance . . . whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You, I will trust in You. Let the weak say, ‘I am strong in the strength of the Lord’ . . . I will trust in you.”

If anything gets better, it is this: I know more of my own weaknesses, and I know more of the power of God than ever before. I know Him as my hiding place. Relief is not in diversions, distractions, vacations, or any of the more/bigger/better that the world, the flesh, and the devil offer. I can better recognize my fears, and instead of first trusting in my own resources (only to find out later that they are not sufficient), I can more quickly trust in Him.

Those three went into that furnace knowing God could deliver them, but not knowing if He would. That is faith. Were they as surprised as their oppressor who watched, then said, “Look . . . I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

The furnaces are here and the fire is hot. The oppressor keeps shoving me into it, but whether he knows it or not, I know that I am not alone. The same one who walked that fire with Daniel’s friends also promised to never leave or forsake me. His presence may not change the temperature of the fire, but because of it, I’m not walking through anything by myself.

January 24, 2007

Listening is an art

Listening is an art. A rich man answered the door and found a panhandler on the step asking for some lunch. He said, “I’ve learned it is best to work for my food. I’ll gladly serve you lunch if you will take this can of paint, go out back and paint my porch.”

The panhandler agreed, and was soon back at the front door claiming his lunch. The rich man was amazed at his speed and said so. The panhandler smiled and began to dig in to the lunch the rich man prepared. As he ate, he said, “You sure make a great sandwich, but you don’t know much about cars. That wasn’t a Porsche back there, it was a BMW.”

Much more seriously, I’d planned something to say to my granddaughter when she got home yesterday. However, her bus broke down, she had to catch the next one, and arrived just in time to eat before my husband and I left for another granddaughter’s soccer game. No time to say it.

This morning I asked the Lord if this is what He wanted me to do. It seemed right, but that delay in her schedule prompted me to question my timing.

My devotional verse was from Isaiah 50: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned.”

My first reaction was, Oh, good. I am supposed to say this to her. Then I noticed that “Me” was capitalized.

This passage is Isaiah talking about the coming Messiah. One of my commentaries says, “The emphasis here is on the Servant’s (Jesus’) submission to the Lord God in every area of His life and service. His mind was submitted to the Lord God so that He could learn His Word and His will.” He goes on to point out that everything Jesus said and did was taught to Him by His Father. He prayed for guidance and meditated on the Word of God. What He learned He shared with those who needed encouragement and help.

Not only does Jesus set a good example for the importance of a daily quiet time with the Lord sitting at His feet like Mary sat at His (see yesterday’s blog), but He sets a good example for being yielded, for hearing and obeying God’s voice. As fully human, Jesus shows us how to live by faith as humans. He did not use His divine powers apart from fully trusting His Father and depending on the power of the Holy Spirit, just as we are supposed to do.

My next reaction was, Oh, I am supposed to be like Jesus, and never assume that all the ideas I come up with are approved by God. I need to seek Him, like Mary did.

Another thought from this passage is that Isaiah was a prophet. One of the words that describe his job is ‘nabi’ which means “to bubble forth, as from a fountain.” From experience, I’ve learned that God most uses the spontaneous words I say, rather than those I carefully plan. To speak “in season” means to bubble out the words of God from a heart that is filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking naturally, without forcing it.

The other words that relate to a prophet pertain to someone who beholds the vision of God and sees into His divine will. That does not happen without spending time at His feet.

I realize how easy it is to say words, but not in season, at the right time. They might hit the ear but bounce off into outer space, heard but not heard. Instead of helping, they can even hinder the relationship or thwart someone’s spiritual growth.

Instead, God knows exactly when something must be said and when it will hit home the hardest. He keeps proving that as He speaks to me!

January 23, 2007

At His feet

I’ve one of those big birthdays coming up, those that make a person think about what they want to do with the rest of their lives. I’ve been organizing and tossing, eliminating and concentrating my ‘stuff’ but still not sure of the answer to that question. I like to do so many things, but realize that life is far to short to do them all.

Today’s reading is from Luke 10 and familiar. Jesus came to the home of Martha and Mary. Mary seems to have done her part in the kitchen and then sat at the feet of Jesus, the attitude of a disciple and one who intended to listen.

“But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me?’ And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Blanking out on the reading, I decided to check some commentaries. The Holy Spirit used them to target my heart.

• Getting over-worked up about many things in this world is a common fault and very displeasing to Christ. If I do it without just cause, I’m apt to wind up with an added load and something really worth fretting about. (Matthew Henry)
• Godliness unites the heart; the world divides it. The many things Martha was troubled about were needless, while the one thing she neglected was vital for her own spiritual health. (Matthew Henry)
• Martha received Jesus into her home and then neglected Him as she prepared an elaborate meal that He did not need! What we do with Christ is far more important than what we do for Christ, not an either/or question but a matter of balance. (W. W. Wiersbe)
• Whenever we criticize others and pity ourselves because we feel overworked, we had better take time to examine our lives. Perhaps in all of our busyness, we have been ignoring the Lord. (W. W. Wiersbe)
• Martha’s problem was not that she had too much work to do, but that she allowed her work to distract her and pull her apart. She was trying to serve two masters! If serving Christ makes us difficult to live with, then something is terribly wrong with our service! (W. W. Wiersbe)
• Martha’s choice would be taken from her because the oh-so-important meal she made in the kitchen would soon be gone. Mary’s choice was eternal. (Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown)

The last one gives the best direction; those before it are totally convicting. Even though I spend daily time at Jesus’ feet, certainly the tasks of the past few weeks are a distraction. Does Jesus need all the stuff I’ve collected and am trying to organize and make use of? Am I neglecting Him while I toss or file? Am I even considering that I am doing all that I do for Him? Or is it just for me? If for Him, I should not feel so ‘overworked and underpaid.’

I have pitied myself about having far too much to do, and occasionally griped that others are not pulling their share. Wiersbe’s words about that are pointed, but I must listen. If what I do is making me complain or grumpy, then I need to reexamine why I do those things.

The last observation is helpful. What is going to make a difference for eternity? Some I can only guess (for God uses the oddest things for His purposes), but others are obvious. It is time for some far deeper sorting and tossing, this time at His feet.

January 22, 2007

Seeing the unseen

In that test of perspective about the glass of water, I’m probably the person who sees it half empty rather than half full. Some of this is learned. I used to get excited about the prospects of some good thing happening, and when it didn’t, the emotional crash became too much. It seemed easier to stay level than fly high then fall to earth.

Yesterday was our first Sunday without our pastor. The Lord called him to spend five months in Pakistan (a whole other story), and my husband was first in line in the pulpit. At his invitation, some of our family who don’t normally go to church, said they would come. I should have been flying high. Instead, I thought if they don’t show up I don’t want to be disappointed. Then when they did appear, my emotions stayed annoyingly level. I wanted to be joyful, exhilarated, but that didn’t happen.

God has a prescription for my ailment. In 2 Kings 6, He tells the story of the king of Syria who was continually thwarted in his attempts to ambush Israel because the prophet Elisha kept telling the leaders of Israel where he was and what he was going to do. The Syrian king at first thought he had a traitor in his army, but when he found out it was this man of God who was messing with his plans, “he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city” where Elisha was.

Elisha had a servant who got up early and saw the army. He woke Elisha and said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

I’m like that servant. I see the problems in my world and am greatly alarmed. I cannot think of anything else but the size and power of them. I try to say things like, “God will help me” or “This too shall pass” yet struggle with my focus. Elisha’s response, well, actually God’s response, rebukes both the servant and me.

Elisha said, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then he prayed, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”

The Lord did open the servants eyes and “he saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” It was the armies of the living God, revealing God’s protection and that He is in control of everything concerning those who serve Him.

I’m humbled. Even though I cannot see it, and even though I am not a prophet with the stature of an Elisha, the promises of God are mine also. There is nothing that can touch me, or those I pray for, apart from the permissive hand of God. Greater is He who is with me than those who threaten, or those problems that seem so powerful.

Elisha’s servant needed a visual, but I do not. I’ve a God-given faith to recognize the unseen world and to remember that He is involved in my life. I cannot always see it, but I know and need to keep my mind on these words from other end of the Bible. 2 Corinthians 4 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart . . . . For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Truly, this tough stuff shall pass, but even in it, God is at work. Whether I can see His armies or not, faith tells me of their presence.

January 21, 2007

Too late is too late

Every craft or undertaking has its sequence. The artist cannot begin to apply color without first drafting a composition. A writer must get their thoughts recorded before they begin to edit. Quilt makers need to make the top and “sandwich” the layers before they start quilting it.

Years ago I had a couple of oil painting students. One of
them brought a canvas that was nearly finished, but she wasn’t happy with it and wanted my opinion. The drawing was out of proportion and the perspective was wonky. It was too late for corrections. Fixing it meant starting over.

Too late. Those are harsh words. They came up this morning as I’m reading Numbers 14. God directed His people to check out the land He’d promised them. The ‘spies’ came back with a great report, but the people were afraid and refused to enter the land. After God, speaking through Moses, pronounced a death sentence for their disobedience, they had second thoughts and said, “Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned.”

Most of us think ‘better late than never’ but this was not God’s way of reckoning in their case. Instead, Moses told them His mind. “Now why do you transgress the command of the LORD? For this will not succeed. Do not go up, lest you be defeated by your enemies, for the LORD is not among you . . . and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned away from the LORD, the LORD will not be with you.”

In their rebellious state, they did it anyway, were attacked by their enemies, and defeated.

Disobedience has a cost. Sometimes the cost is harsher than other times. Sometimes it can be reversed, and with humility and repentance, the command can be later obeyed. God is a God of second chances. However, as this incident illustrates, sometimes it is too late. Broken eggs cannot be unscrambled. Lost opportunities cannot be regained.

Instead, I must listen to God. He may mercifully offer another chance, but if not, I cannot presume it. As the Israelites found out, it is better to accept the consequences of disobedience than to ignore God and disobey again.

As for that painting, or the quilts where I’ve skipped ‘careful planning’ and wound up with an ugly result, going back is a waste of time. So it is with more serious infractions. Repent, bite the bullet, toss the mistakes in the garbage or put them behind me, and with the lesson learned, pay attention to the right way to do it and start again, this time obeying the Master.

January 20, 2007

His Glory is in the cloud

Several grief-producing things came together yesterday, and even though we were all safe and sound at the end of it, I felt like I was under a cloud for most of the day. The best description for the way I was feeling is enormous sadness.

This morning’s reading is from Exodus 40. The children of Israel had received the commandments and were told to build a tabernacle including the Ark of the Testimony and all other furnishings. This tabernacle was completed and erected, but no one could enter it right away because the glory of the Lord filled it. This ‘gl
ory’ affirmed that God was with them and that they had obeyed His instructions.

Then the Bible says that a cloud covered the tabernacle and, “Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up.”

Just as God had earlier guided them with a pillar of fire by night and a pilla
r of cloud by day, He continued to use this method to help them know when to journey and when to stay put. As I read it, I thought about the common expression I used to describe yesterday, “I felt like I was under a cloud” and how people often say things like, “Don’t move ahead if the way seems cloudy.”

My devotional book has a different take about the cloud. It calls it a revelation of ‘the glory of God’ and goes on to say that God still guides us through His glory. If the glory of God is not in a thing, then wait for it, but if His glory does rest on us, we don’t even need to ask what to do, we just know.

This seems odd, but I think God’s glory was with me and resting on me even in the cloud of sorrow. As I prayed throughout the day, I began to wonder if the sorrow I was feeling was His sorrow.

Because the Holy Spirit lives in me, I can feel the emotions of God. I can be horrified by sin, grieved when I disobey, overjoyed when someone is saved. I’d feel none of those things if I were not a Christian. They are His emotions, and because “Jesus wept” I know that God can also feel great sorrow.

When Jesus cried, it was not that the death of Lazarus was final; He would soon bring him to life. He wept with those who wept, sharing their sorrow, and He wept over the bigger grief of the power of death in our human experience.

Yesterday’s sorrow was mostly about our human experience (hugely related to the terribly troubled spirit of our granddaughter). Could that be God’s sorrow too? As with Lazarus, He has the power to fix the worst thing that can happen, but before He fixed it, He wept. It seems to me that He was weeping yesterday, and I was feeling His angst.

Another confirmation that this deep sadness was “the glory of the Lord” is that when I prayed, I said, “God, if this is from you, I will accept it. If not, take it away.” In my experience, Satan can also produce such negative feelings, and when that is true, God always removes them. This time, He did not. The cloud stayed. His glory was in my sadness. It was His sorrow and His weeping that overwhelmed me.

Today I feel weak, like a person who has grieved for weeks on end. Yet I know that cloud is from Him and He asks me to say here, to allow myself to be a vessel for His emotions.

I’m not sure I like this. I’d like to seek gaiety, happy thoughts, music, fun, yet something deep inside me resonates in an unexpected glory. I feel His sorrow, but (perhaps because I’m not saying no to it or resisting it) I sense beyond the sadness and under it flows an incredible joy, a joy that knows He is hovering here with me.

Right now, His presence may be like a dark and oppressive cloud, but it is God, and because it is God, I must stay with Him, experiencing with Him whatever He wants me to know about Himself, knowing that He cares about our lives enough to weep with those who weep.

January 19, 2007

Be obedient to my heavenly vision. . .

Life has some big questions, bigger than ‘who will I marry’ and ‘where will I live’ — which are important, but I’m thinking more like, “For what eternal purpose am I on this planet?”

I’m reading about Paul and his calling again. In Acts 26, He relates it to the current (and last) Herod, then says, “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision . . . .”

Paul had an outstanding vision. Christ confronted him years before in shining light and a voice speaking clearly telling him what God wanted him to do.

I’m not Paul, even though my conversion is a tiny bit like his. I was reading a book in my living room, one that, had I followed it, would lead me far from God. It quoted Scripture, out of context and for its own purposes, but God used it to speak to me. The room was filled with light and I knew instantly that Jesus is God in the flesh. At that moment, He changed my life and my direction.

But visions? I’ve had one that is too precious to talk about, but it was not a calling like Paul’s vision. I’ve had profound insights; God is good at giving them to His people, but not a calling like Paul’s insight. However, the earliest deep insight I can remember as a new believer was the truth of Romans 8:28-29. It says that God uses all things in my life to transform me into the image of His Son. In a way, that is like a vision. I clearly see that my destiny is to be like Jesus.

A song says that He is my destiny. The Bible affirms that. Do I have a strong enough concept of what my Vision and what He looks like? I know that when a person puts all their attention on someone else, we tend to pick up their characteristics and become like them. If I look long and often at Jesus, spend much time with Him, listen to Him talk, study how He walked and did things, I would talk and act like Him. We are natural mimics.

God uses a close relationship with Him, but also the issues and pressures of life to shape me and my responses. Based on my vision of Jesus, I’m to respond to each challenge and situation as He would. That is my eternal purpose; to be like Him. It is more than mimicking though, because He lives in me. The key to being like Jesus is to simply get out of His way and let Him out—let Him control my life.

That is so easy to say, but much more difficult to do. My calling is to keep my eyes on Him, not on the challenges, not on the diversions and distractions, not on any personal goals and ambitions, just on the Vision. Then, as Paul said, be obedient to that Vision, to Him only.

January 18, 2007

A Continuous Calling

One of my high school teachers talked to me about what I should do with the rest of my life. He said, “You can become a specialist and know a lot about one thing and very little about everything else, or a generalist and know a little bit about everything and very little about one thing.”

From that point on, I’ve wavered between both options. Even though our temperaments are not the same, my mother was like that. She could write well, train horses, cook and garden with the best of them, make quilts, took courses in photography, oil painting and invisible mending, but didn’t grab unto any of those things for very long.

Sometimes I dearly envy those whose calling in life seems clear. The apostle Paul knew his direction in life. In Galatians 1, he says, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter . . . .”

He heard the call of God, spent a few years alone getting full directions and learning exactly how to fulfill that call, then spent his life doing it.

Other writers that I know are making business plans, or have a plan for their career that includes projects for this year. Many of my friends seem to know their direction and have set themselves toward it.

In contrast, God asks me to listen to Him every minute for what I’m to do. I’ve no big plan, no major project, only a myriad of choices that require moment-by-moment directions. I don’t know how well I’d do with the big plan, but I know the difficulty of this one. For instance, if I don’t listen, my day seems a total waste of time.

Paul was called to preach Jesus to the Gentiles. That involved many steps and choices about where to go, how to approach people, who to have on his team. No doubt He had to keep his ears open for the details, so in that, I can relate.

Today my to-do list has about fifteen items. God may tell me to postpone some of them, to add a new one or two, to do them in a certain order, to be flexible, to be rigid. Or something might happen that forces me to abandon all of them. I feel like a pretzel. I’m sure Paul did too, at times.

There is one other thing that Paul and I have in common. It is the purpose of God “to reveal His Son in me” just as He did with him. For me, it will never be through building churches and preaching to Gentiles, but there are myriad ways to demonstrate the beauty of Jesus Christ. One of them is by simply listening to my Father and joyfully doing whatever He says, whenever He says it.

January 17, 2007

A good news day

Today is good news day. First the good news from the Bible, reassuring me again regarding family and friends who are not yet part of the family of God. Acts 2 relates a sermon Peter preaches to the crowd that had gathered. At the end, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (because of) the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’”

“As many as the Lord our God will call.” It is up to God. He wants me to pray, to be a credible witness in words and actions, but ultimately, anyone’s salvation is up to God who calls. This good news lightens my burden for others, and even makes praying easier.

Second, the good news about my husband. He had his every-3-months blood test this week and found out the results this morning. The numbers were down! That means either an error in October’s scary results, or God touched his body and reduced the cell count in answer to our prayers. Either way, I feel pounds lighter. As his doctor (a Christian) said, we can “carry on with life.” That weight removed makes carrying on much easier.

The ultimate good news is Jesus Christ. As Peter told them earlier in his sermon, Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” and put to death, but “God raised (Him) up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it . . . This Jesus God has raised up!”

Because Jesus died for our sin and now is alive, those who put their faith in Him will also live, not merely for a long and rich life here, but for all eternity, with Him and without pain, sorrow or tears. No matter the news we received today, we have that great news which sustains us forever.

January 16, 2007

Last minute is better than no minute

God seems like a last-minute God. He waits until we are at our wit’s end, when all our resources are used up, all our ideas tried. Then we cry out to Him and He answers our prayer.

At least that is what He seems like to me. I realize it is my fault. I should have asked sooner. I should have quit trying to do it in my own strength. I should have not waited so long.

Does it take everyone a lifetime to learn that they are helpless apart from Him? Or does it take a catastrophe so large that they know that all their own resources are used up? I’m reading Acts 2 and have to conclude that some people are like that and do need a catastrophe.

Peter is quoting Joel from the Old Testament in a sermon to skeptics. The quotation is about the last days when God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Some of the prophecy is positive, but frightening. As the “sun turns to darkness and the moon into blood,” some will finally turn to God. Verse 21 promises, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

I continually pray “whatever it takes, Lord” and have to realize that it might take that “coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” before some on my prayer list will call out to Him.

But, and this is an important reality, God is a last-minute God. He saved the thief on the cross who called out to Him at the last minutes of his life. He saved our friend of eight-one years when he called out to Him in the last few days of his life. He saved our nephew who waited over forty years before calling out to Him. His timing may seem delayed to me, but He does His best work at the best minute.

I’ve a family prayer list that staggers me, and at times I cry as David did, “How long, O Lord? How long?” I watch them stumble through life, looking for what they cannot define, and refusing to listen to anything about God who can rescue them. How long, indeed.

But God knows. It might be at that last minute just before the coming of Jesus Christ and the world is in turmoil like never before in history. But it might be at a quiet moment when His Spirit reminds them of a truth overheard in an elevator. God is not limited, nor is He impatient. He who knows the human heart also knows the right minute to speak to that heart.

Every day I call on Him, and every day He speaks to me. His words are on target to my needs, an answer to my call. How can that be? I used to think it an amazing example of His omniscience combined with His sovereign power to bring my daily reading in line with my needs. Now I realize that is not it at all.

Instead, God knows I am totally needy in every area of my life. Each day, He singles out one need, a specific helplessness in one certain area. As His Spirit helps me feel that need, He has already lined it up with what He knows I am going to read that day.

Instead of feeling manipulated, I feel cherished. God’s special attention toward me helps me understand the way He answers prayers for others. He know the coming events in their lives and knows how to use those events to speak to their needs, needs that they may not realize they have until that event happens. Then, as soon as the need is felt and their hearts cry out, whether it is right now or at the last minute, He will hear their cry and save them.

January 15, 2007


Yesterday, God surprised me. My class was about Christian love. I offered several definitions and space in my handouts for each person to write in a name of someone needing love. As we read Scripture and various illustrations, I asked them to think of ways they could love that person.

After the class we all went to the worship service. Our pastor originally intended to bring us something else but on Friday, God changed his mind. Instead, his
topic was Christian love. He offered several definitions, asked us to write in our handouts the name of someone needing love, read Scripture and gave various illustrations, then asked us to think of ways we could love that person.

Later I was thinking that someone in my class needed just a bit more. One lady told me that she was having trouble loving some people she works with, and had been praying for help and ideas. Another said, “I get it, finally.” A couple people from my class wondered if the pastor and I had collaborated, but of course we didn’t.

Often God uses a double-whammy to reinforce His ways into our hearts. This morning I get a second (or is it a tenth?) reminder from Him about my own questions and concerns. Various events had me thinking again about the future. What if my husband’s blood test results on Wednesday show another big jump in his white cell count? What if we must move into another residence that has minimum upkeep? What if . . . and my list goes all over the map.

So I asked this morning for words that I need to hear, and even though they are out of context (God can do that), these words are God’s answer to my questions. They are from Genesis 22. “And Abraham called the name of the place,
The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’”

He will take care of me. Stop stewing. The God who can put the same thoughts into the heads two vastly different people and cause them to be presented the same day to the same group (plus others), is quite able to take care of all sorts of details. Caring for me is not a big deal for God.

Again, He urges me to just trust Him; trust Him for this day, for Tuesday,
and Wednesday, for the rest of the week. Trust Him for what He has planned for our future, and for what He is doing in the lives of those on my heart and my prayer list. He proves over and over that He is an amazing God.

Btw, our son taped the three PBS shows, “Walking the Bible” by Bruce Feiler, and yesterday invited us to watch with him. The host is a Jewish travel book writer whose responses to this experience are worth the three hours of watching it, never mind the incredible locations that this documentary series covers. While some of Feiler’s observations lack biblical accuracy, they are easy to ignore as
his spiritual understanding opens up and as he gives viewers a good look at some amazing places in the Bible. I had no idea the Sinai desert looks like it does! If you have opportunity, be sure to see this series.

January 14, 2007

Staying power needed

One of my fears about growing old is becoming spiritually useless. After many rounds with the enemy, I’m concerned that he finally gets me down and I stop praying, and stop growing. Aches and creaky bones can be a distraction too. Constant physical struggle has a way of turning me from caring about others to being occupied only with myself.

The Old Testament patriarch, Jacob, blessed his sons before he died. As he blessed Joseph, he changed his pronouns and with that, seemed to be reminding me that God will take care of those fears. From Genesis 49, this is part of what he said:

“The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob . . . by the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath. . . .”

Years ago, when I first began understanding the Bible, a section of Psalm 71 jumped out at me and became my prayer. Jacobs words remind me of it.

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails. For my enemies speak against me; and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together, saying, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue and take him, for there is none to deliver him.’

“O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! Let them be confounded and consumed who are adversaries of my life; let them be covered with reproach and dishonor ho seek my hurt. But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day, for I do not know their limits.

“I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only. O God, You have taught me from my youth; and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, your power to everyone who is to come.”

His part is to keep me. I need to keep my end of this prayer by continuing to tell others about His great goodness and power.

However I notice that nothing was said about arthritis, blurry eyesight, or sore muscles. My conclusion is that whatever life hands me in old age (just as in days gone by), God will not necessarily remove it. While ‘problem-free’ would be nice, I’m thinking I have a far greater testimony to His power when He gives me strength to go through the challenges rather than simply taking them away.

January 13, 2007

Putting others first

Every wife and mother knows what it means to be unselfish. We would rather be sleeping, but instead get up in the middle of the night because our child throws up in his bed. We walk the floor with them when they cannot sleep. We allow them to interrupt our meals, our telephone conversations, even what was intended as our long soak in the bathtub. We talk with family on the phone when we’d rather be having a nap. We give our husbands the biggest piece of chocolate cake even though we really crave that chocolate.

Sometimes I find myself feeling sorry for me because I give the best to everyone else and take the leftovers for myself. Occasionally I start hiding treats in my desk, just to take care of me first, a silly solution but I bet most moms (and some dads) do it.

This morning I read about Abram (who became Abraham) and his nephew Lot. They had been in Egypt where Abram became wealthy. Sent from there, they traveled to the land God had promised to Abram, and when they arrived, he “called on the name of the Lord.”

However, the spot they were at could not support their herds. The herdsmen of Abram and Lot began fighting over grazing rights.

At this point, Abram said, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

Lot picked the most fertile land for himself, the plains of Jordan, but also the location of Sodom and Gomorrah—and we know what happened there. And Abram took the leftovers.

While Abram’s unselfishness hardly compares to chocolate cake or getting up in the middle of the night, the attitude he had and the results of Lot’s selfishness are a reminder of a principle emphasized throughout Scripture. If I put others first, God will take care of me. If I put myself first, the consequences will not be as pleasant.

Selfishness reaps more than unnecessary calories. Yet putting others first means far more than losing a bit of sleep. God lays out the idea of reaping what we sow, of cause and effect. When I put others first, the blessing often multiplies in ways I would never predict. Most often, people bless me in return, certainly in ways I would not have imagined.

Sure, I can sneak treats for myself, but they end up coming back at me. I should be looking for someone who needs a candy bar or a pack of Cheesies more than I do. If I can’t find such a person, I’m better off to unselfishly toss those treats in the garbage. It would be an excellent exercise in self-discipline and good for my inner life. Besides that, there is more than one way to spell waste.

January 12, 2007

Every word counts

One of my brothers belongs to a religious group that believes in no blood transfusions and that only 144,000 will go to heaven, that being them. At least they believed that until their numbers grew beyond that number. Now I’m not sure what they believe.

After several years of reading the Bible from one end to the other each year, I’ve
come to some conclusions about religious cults. One is that they don’t do that. Even if they did, the group my brother belongs to has rewritten it so it does not say the same things as my Bible. They also focus on favorite passages and ignore the rest. Some might read it all but must be blind to what it says.

For instance, the passage about 144,000 came up in my reading today. It says, “Then I (John, who wrote Revelation) looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.”

Even though I don’t know every member of that cult, I know several things that eliminate their initial reasoning. First, these 144,000 are all men. Second, they are without fault. Whatever else this cult can claim, they do not fit this description.

I could add that the 144,000 also believe in Jesus, but my brother would insist that his cult does, even though it is not the same Jesus that is described in the Bible.

As for the blood transfusion thing, the Bible forbids the eating & drinking of blood. It was a pagan ritual, forbidden to those who followed Jehovah God. They were not to do the things these pagans did. It says nothing about transfusions. While I could grant them the right to follow their conscience (the Bible says nothing about smoking either), if their conscience tells them to deny a transfusion and let their children die, I have to wonder about their value system. It doesn’t sound the same as God’s.

I love my brother. We do not argue over what we believe. We each know where the other stands and upon whom we base our eternal destiny. The biggest difference between us is in the area of assurance. I have ups and downs in faith-related issues, but have never lost the deep conviction of what will happen to me when I die.

On the other hand, my brother is uncertain and fearful on that topic. He knows he does not fit into this magical 144,000 group, and has no assurance at all about his eternal destiny. When our mother died, he was stunned to hear that she had no fear of death, as if how can that be?

The sad part is that the Bible is clear. John also wrote: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” and “This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I (again, John) have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe in the name of the Son of God.”

Oh, my brother, just read it with your heart open, and read it all.

January 11, 2007

Supernatural joy!

The first time it happened I was in terrible pain, in bed and unable to move. I don’t remember if I prayed or what I prayed, but God gave me shocking joy.

The next time it happened was during an early morning phone call. Our daughter and her friend had disappeared. Perhaps I breathed a prayer; I don’t remember. All I recall is a flood of sudden, unexpected, this-does-not-make-sense joy.

Joy is from the Holy Spirit. It’s usually tied to a firm conviction that God is in control and choosing to believe it rather than give in to doubt. Joy is always available, but I can turn it off with worry, fear, anger, doubt and even distraction. Yet God used these two incidents (and others since), to show me He controls joy. He can give it whenever it is needed to carry me through anything and everything, even pain and fearful trials.

The back pain soon went away. We also found our daughter and her friend, unharmed and safe. But for both incidents, joy was my sustaining grace. Because of it, I was able to bear the pain. Because of it I was also calm and a support to the parents of our daughter’s friend, a couple who did not have faith in God. Joy is an amazing gift.

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk knew it. His book starts out with a prophecy of doom and gloom. He is perplexed and dismayed at what God is going to do. But he ends the book with this:

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deers feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.”

No crop, no harvest. No means to live. Most would think this situation hopeless, but Habakkuk knew the secret of joy—and he knew the God who can sovereignly bestow it.

No matter what is going on, the Lord knows how to sustain His people. He gives strength, even sure-footed agility, and the ability to scale the heights rather than fall victim to weakness, helplessness, and stumbling in the valley of despair.

Yes, I can choose joy, but sometimes God simply gives it to me, just to remind me that He is my Savior; He is in charge, and if need be, He will sustain me without any effort on my part.

January 10, 2007

Get with the program

I’m one of those all or nothing types. I join a club and get involved. I’m not a pew-sitter, bench-sitter, or back-row sitter. If I’m going to belong to something, I’m going to do my part.

I’ve noted that those who join but don’t get with the program tend to fall into two categories, the followers and the complainers. Of course any group needs followers, but most could do without the complainers.

I’m reading Psalm 2 this morning. It is about leadership on a global scale. The club is the human race. The head over all is God, but followers are not mentioned, just complainers.

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’

In this case, the complainers are not backbenchers, but kings and rulers. They like their positions of power and want to rule without any other authority, even the authority of God.

Is that the same with others who complain about leaders? They want to run their own lives and don’t like any authority? No matter who is the boss or how well he does his job, some will pit themselves against anyone who rules over them. Self-reliance rather than submission is their attitude.

To get personal, I’m like that every time I resist authority too. That includes griping about the government, complaining about the latest vision cast by our church leadership, grumbling when my husband asks me to do something (another touchy topic), and speeding when the sign says 50 kph.

There are better ways to bring a grievance to those in authority. Even God allows this by asking us to bring our requests to Him. But grumbling and complaining says way more about me than it does about those in authority over me. It shows that I’ve an attitude about who knows it all, and obviously don’t think it is my leaders or God. For shame. I’m not acting like Christ when I do that.

Psalm 2 continues: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath . . . .”

God has a way of dealing with me when I am independent, stubborn, and refusing to listen to those He puts in place as my leaders. He wants me to trust Him; He can lead the leaders. He also wants me to follow my tendency to give it my all, not fall back into a critical spirit and selfish complaining.

Why is it so hard to learn that God is already enthroned, that He is in sovereign control? Probably for the same reason there are so many “I’s” in the first paragraph of this blog!

January 9, 2007

“And God will wipe away every tear. . . .”

Most of my nighttime dreams are funny and I wake myself up laughing. Occasionally I dream a mystery story (likely from reading so many of them) or a weird one that my dad would attribute to what I ate for supper. Seldom do I have a bad dream, but lately have had a couple. One of them was about being in a dangerous situation with nowhere to turn. I called my husband on my cell phone and instead a friend answered. Wrong number? I tried again. My husband answered but he was traveling to a far place and could not help me. I was terrified. Even though the friend sent a helicopter to rescue me, and even though this was just a dream, it revealed that I am scared of the future.

My head says God has all things in His capable hands, that He will take care of me no matter what happens concerning my husband. My heart agrees, but my emotions are not listening. As I ask the Lord for help with this, He gave me a strange verse from Psalm 149: “Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud on their beds.”

We Christians call heaven ‘glory’ and usually think of beds as a place of rest, even that final rest in death. So it seems the order is reversed. The singing on our beds should happen first, then after we go to glory, we will continue to be joyful.

My mind goes back to my first experience as a Christian with death. It was at a time when I feared what God would ask of me now that I’d planned to follow Him. My gracious and wonderful mentor, Irene, lost her beloved husband of many years. I watched her at his grave. Her back was to me and she was leaning over it as if she wanted to be in that coffin with him. Then she turned around and I will never forget what I saw. She was absolutely radiant.

God spoke through her joy. He said to me, “See, I can give this woman joy in sorrow. I will never take you anywhere without sustaining you in it and through it.”

Later, my pastor at that time came to visit me. He’d just been to see Irene. He told me, “I thought I would comfort her. Did I ever get a surprise! She told me that she grieved, but only because she felt sorrow for herself. Her husband was in such a wonderful place and, in her love for him, she felt great joy for his sake.”

That verse from Psalm 149 is a rebuke to me in some ways. Instead of being concerned for myself, I need to be thinking about my husband. He is traveling to a far place. Is he afraid? What can I do to help him? God says that he can sing aloud on his bed. Can I encourage that?

Last night he was up at 2:00 a.m. working on a Sunday school lesson. He could not sleep, but he needs his sleep. This was not normal, but he didn’t seem anxious, at least not as anxious as I was. In bed or not, he seemed joyful.

Upon reflection, this verse is as much for me as it is about him. While I probably won’t sing aloud on my bed (my terrible singing voice would disturb the neighbors), I can think about and be glad that both of us know Jesus. No matter how challenging our lives are, that is cause for joy.

Not only that, even though the future seems to include sorrow and tears, that will be only a very short time. Eventually, together, we will rejoice in glory forever.

January 8, 2007

But don't stop praying!

I remember the first time that I asked God to do something 'whatever it takes.' I was praying for a friend’s spiritual maturity and wanted God to help this person be all God intended. The next events shocked me. They involved two career changes and a move, all of them traumatic and difficult for the person involved. Since then, when people express a desire that God do something, whatever it takes, I suggest that they duck.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I ask God to fix a problem, there is often something standing in the way that must be moved, or a stronghold built up that must be torn down, or a stubborn attitude that needs softened before the prayer can be answered.

There is an example of all this in today’s reading in 1 Kings. Ahab was king in Isr
ael. He served idols and “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”

Elijah was God’s prophet at this time, and to put the fear of God in Ahab, he decided to go that ‘whatever it takes ' route and proclaimed a drought. He told Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”

It happened as Elijah asked. No rain, drought, desperate people, and while th
ey seemed to want to follow the Lord, they worshiped idols too. Elijah challenged Ahab and his idolatry again and, in a remarkable confrontation with their prophets, God sent fire from heaven proving that He alone is God. The false prophets were executed and the curse was lifted.

“Then Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.’ So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and sa
id to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’

“So he went up and looked, and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And seven times he said, ‘Go again.’

“Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, ‘There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!’ So he said, ‘Go up, say to Ahab, “Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.”’

“Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain.”

James 5 mentions this whole event in the context of prayer for specific needs. It says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

Elijah did have a nature just like mine. He was terrified of Ahab’s wife, ran for
his life at her threats, at times felt all alone and helpless in his concern for ungodliness in his country, and had to send his servant several times to check out that the rain he’d asked for was actually coming. I’m like that when I pray.

However he still prayed. He asked God for big things. He wanted God to be honored and glorified. I’m thinking also that when he prayed ‘whatever it takes’ that he wasn’t concerned for his own well-being or reputation. He earnestly wa
nted God to do something and boldly asked, but like me, he also forgot to duck.

I have prayed for the salvation and spiritual life of family members for years. We often say, 'Whatever it takes . . . ' and often fear that the answer will be traumatic. Guess what? It often is, and like Elijah who “ran for his life” and hid under a tree, I often want to do the same. But God is at work. I cannot see the answer yet, but there is a noise that sounds like the abundance of rain.

January 7, 2007

The war is over, period.

Some people love conflict. The more fights and arguments the better. We have one family member who seems to enjoy putting other people at odds, stirring up emotions and creating mistrust. Not me. Even if two other people are fighting, I want to make peace.

The peace I have with God is also precious. Jesus died to make it possible and when I mess up and feel at odds with Him, I want it fixed as soon as I can. I want others to know that peace as well, to know that God loves them, even if it sounds like a cliché.

Yet the enemy of our souls is very good at creating unrest toward God in the human heart. He has a multitude of ways to create doubt about the love of God. “How can anyone love you?” “Look what you did—God hates that” or “Why should He bother with someone like you?”

I was fortunate to have a loving father here on earth. His care for me was consistent and never in doubt. When I think how easily I am duped about the love of my heavenly Father, I feel great sympathy for those whose earthly example was not as reliable as mine.

Nevertheless, every one of us needs to learn that God cares and that His care is seen, not primarily in how people treat us, or how our human father treats us, but in Jesus. Romans 5:10 says, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

This is a statement, not a question. It is a declaration that God has proven His love for us by sending Jesus to die. The conflict is over. God’s anger against my sin is gone. All that I’ve ever done against Him has been forgiven. I am no longer His enemy or the object of His wrath. The best part is that although I couldn’t do a thing to appease Him myself, in love and while I was still a sinner, He took care of that Himself. Jesus died for me. What more can He do to say “I love you”?

A few chapters later in Romans 8, He says the same thing. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

This passage goes on to say that nothing can separate me from the love of God, nothing. The enemy tries. Even contrary and unbelieving people try, but the love of God toward me was established two thousand years ago in history, and before the world began in the mind of God. He has all the bases covered, and for this, on this Sunday morning, I rejoice!

January 6, 2007

Peace in the Eye

A story goes around about a contest for artists. Their challenge was to depict “peace” and the entries were mostly calm, pastoral scenes, blue skies and sunny days. The winner was not like that. It showed a ferocious storm lashing against a cliff. High in the cliff wall under an overhang rock and protected sat a mother bird on a nest protecting her young.

Such is God’s peace. We’ve been in a storm the past few weeks. The enemy is determined to ruin our lives, make us ineffective, and even destroy our young. But because of God’s peace, and thanks to many children of God who pray for us, we have been like that bird in the storm. Our protection from the onslaught was not an overhanging rock, but the Rock in whom we trust, and the overwhelming sense of His presence. Both ourselves and our young are safe. For this I am so grateful.

This is why Psalm 23 is so precious. One verse says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.”
He does, He does and it does. We feast on the goodness of God—even when our enemy is messing with the very lives of our family members. We know His blessing and anointing grace, and the abundance of His care—even as challenges come in slashing waves.

At times life, becomes a terrible and threatening storm, but God is our Rock. He, not the enemy, controls those high winds. God Himself is even the eye of that storm—and He keeps us there in the middle of Him, in that place of perfect peace.

January 5, 2007

A little tipsy?

The older I get the more I have to work on balance. Standing on one leg might look silly, but it could keep me from ending up with my end up, which would look even sillier.

Spiritual balance is even more imperative. The Christian life is full of opposites and paradoxes. On one hand we know we are saved by faith, not works, but the Bible also tells us we will be judged by our works. How can that fit together? God is loving yet will pour out wrath on unregenerate sinners. He is sovereign and hates sin, yet sin seems to prevail over much of the world. Why doesn’t He do something?

I’ve heard faith described as holding seemingly opposing truths, one in each hand, and being able to live with the tension. Faith is rather like a teeter-totter that must be balanced. If I lean toward one doctrine, another might fly in the air.

For example, today I read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15: "But the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Still stinging a bit from yesterday’s thoughts, I noticed that phrase again, “His grace toward me was not in vain” and thought about the life of Paul and how he single-heartedly served God with all his mind and strength. I felt convicted. I’ve not achieved anything for God like that man did and wondered if I was guilty of receiving grace in vain. I teetered.

Then I thought of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” and I tottered.

God planned my work before I became a Christian. He had what He wants me to do all figured out. Then He saved me by grace, put me in His family, and began to create the poem (yes, “workmanship” = poema in Greek) that He had in mind. I will be the expression of Himself that He wants me to be. I’m not a Paul-poem or a Billy Graham-poem, but exactly the workmanship that He intends—for me.

At the same time, if He gives me a job to do (even the mundane, like washing dishes and hoeing weeds, can be from Him), I am to do it in the Spirit of Christ, not in the power of the flesh, and certainly not in a whining, grumbling, ‘I-wish-I-were-more-like-Paul’ frame of mind.

Balance. Instead of sliding off one end in despair at not being or doing enough, or sliding off the other end with vain ambition and frantic self-effort, He tucks two truths into my hands and reminds me that standing on one or the other is not only silly, but hazardous to my spiritual health. In this case, balance means standing firmly on both—and trusting Him to keep me from tipping over.

January 4, 2007

Use it or lose it

Instead of exercise, I’d rather straighten cushions or even do the dusting, or at least read email. I’m like that with other stuff too. Instead of doing the ironing, I’d rather play a computer game. Instead of loading the dishwasher, I’d rather catch something on television. But procrastination is my biggest time-waster and exercise is the worst.

Sometimes I’m just lazy. Sometimes I’m not sure how or what to do next (just move it, silly). Sometimes I just want to do it perfectly and wind up not doing it at all. Most of the time I think about the sore muscles soon to follow and decide, “Tomorrow!”

Exercise is one example; my desk is another. Time management experts say that when paper comes in, look at it once and decide to either toss it, file it, or act on it. Piling it on my desk is not an option. They also say to prioritize and do those tough chores or the most unpleasant ones first. With them out of the way, other things are easier.

I know the rules. I still procrastinate.

The only thing that saves me is the satisfaction of checking off items from that dratted to-do list. One of my quilting friends uses the saying, “Finished is better than perfect” and I like her philosophy, but even so, I still put off finishing things for fear of not doing my best.

Procrastination spells disaster for spiritual growth too. Even saying that makes me shiver. I tend to think that once I know a truth, that is enough. God says otherwise; I need to obey it also, no matter how tough it is, or how unsure I am about the doing of it, or of the results.

Today I read 2 Corinthians 6: “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

I understand grace as a revelation from God that changes me to be more like Jesus. But what if He gives me that revelation and I sense a new way to think and act, but then don’t follow through? Isn’t this ‘receiving the grace of God in vain’?

The context of this passage suggests the original recipients had heard the Gospel but were hung up on living by rules, or depending on their good deeds, instead of living by the life of Christ who now lived in them. God had revealed truth to them but they didn’t prove they believed it by responding with action.

That is no different than God showing me how to resist temptation, for instance. I can agree with His revelation, can write about it, can even tell others what I’ve learned, then fall for the next temptation that comes along.

When God gives me grace, He may want me to teach it, or write about it, but never just file it, or put a check mark beside it, or put it off until tomorrow. Instead, I first must obey it. Just as 2 Corinthians 6 says, grace is very much like exercise—use it or lose it.

January 3, 2007

Smacked by Grace

Even at my age I can still remember what it felt like thinking I had my whole life ahead of me. What a lot of time I wasted! But even now, knowing my remaining days are fewer, I still waste time. This morning I spent a good half hour fiddling with the settings on my computer, adding a startlingly beautiful background wallpaper, adjusting font sizes, organizing the open windows. Sigh.

It’s poetic justice that my verse for today is: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5)

My study Bible says, “We are to make the most of our time on this evil earth in fulfilling God’s purposes, lining up every opportunity for useful worship and service.”

The Bible passage continues by telling me that if I want to redeem my time, I need to understand the will of God and be filled with the Spirit. It even describes what being filled with the Spirit looks like: speaking Scripture, having a song in my heart, being thankful, and submitting to others including my husband.

The business world has lots of advice about managing my time. Gurus say I should deal with the time-wasters and one survey identifies them:

1. Spreading myself too thin by trying to do too many things at once (instead of setting priorities for each day and getting the most important things done first).

2. Being afraid to delegate because I’m convinced that I need to do everything myself.

3. Not wanting to say “no” to requests (instead of deciding what I must do, and want to do).

4. Being tied to the phone or to email, (rather than using my answering machine to screen calls and scheduling a block of time to respond to calls and deal with email).

5. Procrastination & indecision which are rooted in doubt, or perfectionism and result in chaos and clutter (instead of doing the important and perhaps unpleasant chores done first, and dividing large tasks into smaller ones).

6. Interruptions and unexpected crises (which are part of life and need to be considered in planning).

In that list, I can see the bottom line, at least for myself. It is out of pride that I take on too much, will not delegate and won’t say “no”. Pride is behind procrastination and perfectionism. It is also the reason I try to run my own life—and therefore get annoyed at interruptions instead of seeing them as God-sent and having a purpose for me.

From Ephesians, God adds a few time-wasters of His own. If I do not follow what this passage says, I’m not in His will and not walking circumspectly. His list includes:

1. Letting corrupt communication come out of my mouth, 4:29 (instead of speaking in a way that edifies others, 4:15; 5:19). Not only is speaking sinful words a waste of time, it takes added time to eat them later.

2. Letting my heart drift to sinful and selfish thoughts (instead of being filled with His music 4:17, 23; 5:19). The best and most creative ideas come to me when I’m listening to God. I can’t listen if my mind is filled with junk.

3. Complaining and grumbling (instead of being thankful, 4:31; 5:20). This wastes both time and energy because grumbling is a futile resistance to the God who sovereignly controls those things I complain about. Guess what? He is bigger than I am.

4. Always insisting on having my own way (rather than being set free from that tyranny through a submissive and Christ-like spirit, 5:1, 21-24). See number 3. If He is running my life, I cannot also be running it.

Besides the theological definition about being saved from sin, my dictionary says that “redeem” means to “compensate for the faults or bad aspects of” or to “make up for one's poor past performance or behavior.”

The grace of God smacks me in the face. Even though I fritter away a few hours here and there (and I need to stop doing that), He graciously gives me opportunity to obey Him, right now, and redeem all that foolishness.