May 31, 2007

Life is in the Blood

Update: Yesterday, Bob’s angiogram revealed a 90% blockage in a large carotid artery in his right ventricle. The doctors inserted a wire up his arm and into his heart, injected dye, and found the culprit. Then, using the same vein, they inserted a 3.5 x 25 mm stent which brought the blockage to 0%. He was conscious, felt the process, and when the blood began to flow, he said he had instant energy. He was up and walking right away, and felt great for the rest of the day. --- This morning, he just called and the doctor has discharged him. I can pick him up before lunch.

When something like a heart attack threatens your life or the life of someone you love, many people do a personal assessment. Our son read the pile of material on heart health in Bob’s room Tuesday and said, “I need to change the way I live.” Our neighbor, who is a medical doctor, said the same thing. The general manager where Bob works came in and he too said that everyone was rethinking their lifestyle. If Bob, who doesn’t drink or smoke and takes good care of himself can have this happen, what about me?

Interesting that my devotions this morning are about the life-giving blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, I’m amazed at the parallels between this crisis and the spiritual crisis of being convicted of sin (the attack, which reveals our weak and helpless condition) and the solution offered by God. In the heart attack, blood is blocked from nourishing the heart muscle and it starts to die. Blood thinners break up the clots that cause the blockage, and opening the artery with stents allows the blood to flow freely.

The Bible says that our “life is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11) and “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin” (Hebrews 9:22). God determined that sin’s punishment is death, and since life is in the blood, the shedding of blood would atone for sin. He promised His people that He would send a Perfect Sacrifice, but in the meantime they must wait for Him, trust God, and offer Him unblemished lambs to atone for their sin.

Then Jesus came. He is that Perfect Sacrifice, “the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). When He shed His blood, that blood became the means by which God could forgive sin and give new life.

1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

The other thought that makes this verse so relevant to me today is “the empty way of life.” It is certainly part of the human condition, and part of what I (and others who know my husband) think about this week. When this happened, almost nothing else mattered.

Personally, I must connect with God each morning and throughout the day, but other than eating and sleeping, life’s plans, responsibilities, and activities are on hold. They lose all importance, and while some of them may not be empty, this week it seems much easier to see what falls into that category.

On Monday I thought about the ‘stuff’ in our house that we don’t use. If we don’t use it, there is no reason to have it. Yesterday, the hospital nutritionist came by and gave us a pretty good rating, but she noted several areas that should change. As I read through thedon’t eat very often' list I thought, If we don’t need it, there is no reason to have it in our house. It’s not hard to imagine the two major chores that just got added to my to-do list.

I wish sin could be purged the same way; just put it on the list and toss it. However, that is not God’s method. 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”

Without the blood, sin has the power to cut me off from God and the life that He gave me, and even destroy me. But as He reminded me yesterday, when He makes me aware of sin in my life and in my heart, I’m to rush to the ER (Eternal Redeemer), confess my need and get an accurate diagnosis. Then He, the Great Physician, reminds me today that life depends on blood—my blood for physical life, and the precious blood of His Son for forgiveness, cleansing and eternal life.

May 30, 2007

Go directly to the ER!

Update: my husband is having an angiogram this morning. If needed, the doctors will do an angioplasty to enlarge whatever blockage in his carotid arteries that caused the heart attack. Last night, he was feeling great, just as he felt before all this happened. His attitude is amazing and he reaffirms over and over that “we live each day by the grace of God.” The hospital will call me when he is back in his room, so I am trying to catch up on email and phone calls.

God continues to teach me. Sometimes His lessons seem unrelated to what is happening, but I know that He does not make mistakes, so am paying attention this morning to His Word.

Today’s verse is the last one in Mark 14. Jesus had told Peter that he would deny Him. Of course Peter denied that. He said it would never happen. He would be faithful to the Lord as long as he lived. He sounded just like me when I say, “I’ll never do that” or when I do something stupid and say, “Yikes, I’ll never do that again.”

But Jesus knows me, and He knew Peter. He knows I am prone to sin, and even though He has forgiven my sin and given me new life and the power to obey Him, there will be times when I set my heart to behave, or to “never do that again,” and my best intentions will fly out the window.

Peter’s did. Verse 72 says, “A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ And when he thought about it, he wept.”

Peter did deny Jesus, three times, just as Jesus said. A pastor once told me that sin isn’t the issue—everyone sins. The issue is what do you do about it.

Christians should feel bad. Paul wrote about that sorrow. He called it a “godly sorrow that leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:8-12) and the Bible explains how true repentance opens the heart so God can produce change.

Sometimes when I mess up and think about what I have done, I make excuses, or blame someone else, or make vows to not do that again, but when it comes down to it, the response God wants from me is the one He got from Peter. Sorrow. The Bible is clear that the power to change is not in my vows or determination, but in realizing that sin is more powerful than my resources. There is nothing I can do but be overwhelmingly sad and turn to God. When I confess my sin, not deny or excuse or fight it, “He is faithful and just to forgive my sin and cleanse me from my unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I can’t fix this myself.

I suppose the old nature and sin in me is like Bob’s heart attack. I can’t predict it or see it coming. The only thing I can do when I recognize what is happening, is to quickly take myself and my symptoms to the ER (Eternal Redeemer), the Great Physician. He is the only One who can remove the sin and repair the damage.

May 29, 2007

You are the strength of our hearts . . .

My strong, healthy (other than asymptomatic CLL) husband, who just passed his aviation medical, and has low blood pressure and cholesterol levels, had a heart attack yesterday.

He called me from work about 1:30 and in a matter-of-fact voice said he had heartburn and felt flushed. He was calling the medical people in his company because his office is located in a remote corner of the building and no one was around.

He called fifteen minutes later and said he was having the guys take him to the ER. I got there about 10 minutes after they did. He looked a bit warm, but was standing up. He said they did an ECG and it verified that he was having an attack as they took it.

They put him in a bed and started hooking up wires. I watched his face. He was looking at the ceiling and smiling. He later told me that was when he was thanking God for good medical care, and for motivating him to take his mild symptoms seriously.

They already had staff assembled to take him upstairs for an angioplasty, but changed their minds and decided to give him blood thinners instead. He’d already been given Aspirin® and was on an IV. However, someone read some numbers wrong, and he was given three times the dose of thinners that he was supposed to have. Problem: he could bleed internally, especially in his head. They tried a dose of something that “might” reverse it somewhat, but they were not sure it would work.

The medical people told us when the blood thinners start working, the heart begins to fluctuate. It did. The first time his pulse dropped to 37, he nearly passed out. He calmly said, “I think you’re going to lose me.” Bells were ringing. Six staff converged, one of them pushing a crash cart. He told me later that right then he said to God, “If this is it, I’m ready.”

His blood pressure dropped too, very low. Then both pulse and BP moved up, then another drop, then up again. This went on for 45 minutes, but the nearer-to-normal readings began lasting longer and longer.

By then, our youngest son had arrived. I look back now and see how God worked. I couldn’t get any family on the phone. Our son is normally not at his desk at work and normally does not have his personal cell phone on at work. Yesterday, he’d misplaced the belt clip for his personal cell and had it in his pocket. He said if anyone calls him at work and it is on, he just reaches down and turns it off without answering it. With moving around in his pocket, the phone somehow switched from vibrate to ring. I didn’t have his work number on me anyway so called his personal cell. It rang and without thinking, he answered it. He was on his way to his car before we finished talking.

The doctor came in and said they were going to put my husband in the Cardiac unit for a few days. They were concerned about bleeding, and also needed to keep an eye on him in case the clotting recurred after the thinners went out of his system. They are also continuing with regular electrocardiograms and checking his blood enzymes.

He called me before 7:30 this morning. He didn’t sleep too well, mostly because of noises. (He’s the guy who went outside in the middle of the night and put electrical tape around the clappers of ornamental garden bells hanging in our neighbor’s yard!) But he was chipper and gave me a list of things to bring him.

Most of the details above are so I can send family and friends here rather than retelling it, which gets tiring for me. However, my devotional guide this morning has an interesting comment and speaks to the sharing of needs.

2 Corinthians 7:2 says, “Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.”

This verse is about Paul’s desire for a right relationship with the Corinthians whom he had severely rebuked for some of their behavior. He wanted them to know that everything he did was done with sincere motives and a desire for their spiritual well-being. My devotional guide added this: “It is a shameful thing to profess trust in God and yet to play the role of a pauper, disclosing one’s need and provoking others to pity.”

The author goes on to explain that it is okay to enjoy the hospitality and kindness of others, but guard against taking liberties and “petty advantages” rather than remembering that I am God’s workman and He supplies my needs. I don’t need to go begging for anything, just trust Him. Not only that, because He is so generous, I can, even when I am needy, be liberal and supply the needs of others.

After my husband called the first time yesterday afternoon, I was standing beside my bed. I dropped to my knees and asked God to give me what I needed. He filled me with that incredible peace that passes understanding. As I look back on the events of Monday afternoon, I realize His wisdom in that grace. Our children were at first fearful and wild-eyed, but that peace of God that covered me had an effect on them too.

Most of all the calm assurance of their dad had to speak volumes. He had us hold hands around his hospital bed while he prayed and thanked God for His care and for the medical staff (even for the mistakes because, after all, God is in control).

For me, this makes this whole thing almost surreal. Did it really happen? Our lives changed so quickly. For sure, we live one day, even one moment at a time.

For those who read this blog and who pray, I know you will, and I thank you.

May 28, 2007

Prayer Challenges

I’ve a reminder on my computer in MS Outlook®. It pops up every few days and says, “Prayer is Jesus breathing.”

Prayer is hard work. Some things I’ve prayed about for years without seeing any answers. Some prayer requests are huge and, without faith in an omnipotent God, they seem impossible. Others seem so trivial that I laugh at myself for asking. However, the Bible tells me to “Pray without ceasing” and as I try to obey that, prayer, no matter what form it takes, grabs my time, steals my energy, and demands my faith. The pop-up helps by reminding me that Jesus lives in me, that “He lives forever to intercede for me” and that praying is a team effort.

Today’s verse is from Mark 11. Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Of course this is not about a magic lamp that I can rub and get my wishes. This is about asking Almighty God to act, to make things happen, to change something, provide needs. It is depending on Him to do the best thing, but also about asking in total faith without doubting.

Total faith is when both my spirit and the Holy Spirit agree. If it is just me thinking God will do something, that’s presumption, rash, wishful thinking, often selfish, and certainly out of the will of God. If it is just the Spirit urging me to pray and I am ignoring it, then I’m also out of step with God. When the unsaid ‘prayer’ is answered (because God is at work in spite of me), I will miss the event or dismiss it, or at best be excited that God did something “and I didn’t even ask for it.”

Prayer, as God has been reminding me, is a partnership. His will is revealed in my heart through the Holy Spirit, and I respond by talking to Him about it. My ‘prayer’ is the expression of a heart that is open to God, an expression of Jesus speaking to His Father using my mouth. It is like playing in God’s orchestra, making music in tune with what He is doing.

That’s why the Bible says if I ask in faith, He will do it. Faith means the request is that kind of trust that is yielded to and listening to Him. Faith asks things that God puts in my heart to ask, and of course those are things that He is going to do.

I still don’t understand why God chooses to work through prayer and make me a partner in His work. He doesn’t need me. At the same time, He makes clear to me that I am to partner with Him in prayer. This is an amazing and humbling privilege.

My list today includes a child needing surgery, a man under a voodoo curse, a professor whose visa application has been stalled, a friend who needs to sell her house, and a host of other things. As I pray, I need to listen. I know the needs, but only God knows what He plans to do about these things. If He speaks to my heart and if I pray what He says back to Him, then He will do exactly as He promises in Mark 11—whatever I ask for, I will have.

May 27, 2007

Partnership with God

My daughter and I can hang wallpaper together. We can also share the same kitchen, almost as if we are together and right and left hand. That isn’t true for everyone, and I’m not sure why it works with her, but that partnership is delightful, and I wish it were true for every aspect of our relationship.

Someone this week talked about our relationship and partnership with God. He remarked how he could not understand why God set it up so He works through our prayers. God doesn’t need us, yet in His wisdom, He makes us part of what He is doing in this world.

He also makes us part of what He is doing in our lives. He cleanses our sin as we confess it. He gives us strength when we come to Him in our weakness. He directs our path as we seek direction from Him. Communication is key, but even that would be useless without His commitment to work with us as we work with Him.

In Hebrews 10:23, the writer says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” We hold fast to Him, but He says “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Our eternal security is a partnership.

I don’t understand how or why it works either, but it makes sense. What would we think of a God who holds unto us, but doesn’t care how we behave? What would we think of a God who, no matter how hard we tried, didn’t do anything to help us? It would be like me and my daughter in the kitchen with no communication or cooperation at all. Instead of making a coordinated meal, it would be whatever each determined. We might make two desserts and no main course, or one does spicy Mexican burritos and the other some conflicting flavor, like Italian pasta. Talking wouldn’t help if we were not committed to the same purpose and goals.

God understands the human condition. He knows we are sinners unable to follow Him in our own strength, and while He could zap us into robotic obedience, He doesn’t want robots. Instead, He changes our hearts so we want to obey Him, gives us the inner wherewithal to do it, and then partners with us to make sure it happens.

I’m also certain that I am not “in training” us so eventually I can do this on our own. This is a forever partnership, a unity not unlike the unity in the Godhead where the Father, the Spirit, and the Son are one. Everything done by God is in perfect harmony with who He is. He wants that same harmony in the things that we do—together.

These are peace-producing thoughts this Sunday morning. As I leave my house to go worship with His people, I feel a settled sense of not being alone, and of not having to do anything He wants me to do without His continual and perfect help. I’m sure if He were a physical being, we could easily hang wallpaper together.

May 26, 2007

No other gods . . .

When I was thirteen, I had 1200 or so pictures of Elvis Presley (which, like old comic books, might be valuable today, but I’ve no idea what happened to them). I don’t remember the next “idol” only, like most people, I thought those in the limelight must be special people in some way. Even after becoming a Christian, I supposed the “stars” would have spirituality down pat, and be just super in all areas of their lives.

But then I met a few “names” and began to realize that the well-known are pretty ordinary people. The first was a woman who wrote a book on prayer. Her book impacted me, but I was more affected by her ordinariness. She was like the homemaker next door, a person that would be comfortable wearing an apron and making cookies just as much as writing a best-selling book. This was a pleasant surprise for me.

The next one was a missionary whose husband was killed by those he wanted to reach. She went on to minister to the very same people who murdered him, and wrote books about her experience. This giant in Christian circles was crabby the day I met her, not the “perfect saint” that I held up in my mind. She even said herself how uncomfortable she was with ‘hero-hood’ because she knew her own ordinariness.

The list goes on. We attended a big church in southern California whose pastor has a radio ministry, writes books and looms large in Christian circles. He humbly says of himself that while he is a “preaching machine,” he is useless in almost all other things and needs a large staff so there are people who can do the rest of the work needed by his congregation.

All of this changed my views on hierarchy in the world and the church. None of us are perfect, and even those whose talents are used by God to put them ‘on the map’ are just like the rest of us. As one person says, they put their pants on one leg at a time.

Jesus hinted at the way things will be when we enter heaven. There, everyone one will be “like the angels” and the system of things here will change. No one will be ‘special.’

Paul says this is partly true now. He said that those who belong to Jesus becomes children of God and wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

He was not erasing this world’s distinctions. We do have different races, social and cultural norms. God created sexual distinctions too. Yet in His mind, there are no spiritual inequalities. In Christ, we are all one, regardless of gender, the color of our skin, what we do for a living, or how famous we might become.

In this world, God does ordain some differences. Regarding authority, He tells me to obey the police, stop demanding my own way all the time in my marriage, give attention to the leaders in my church, and so on, but He makes it clear that even though some are given authoritative roles, that does not make them better than anyone else. In fact, they are ordinary folks just like me, but with greater responsibility, greater challenges and demands, and greater temptations. Because of that, I’m to support them and pray for them, not put them on a pedestal and risk disappointment or disillusionment when I see their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

No more idols or hero-worship. I don’t even line-up for autographs. Seeing the reality of how God looks at everyone, including prominent people, changes how I think and pray. Instead of putting people up there somewhere, I know that all temptations are “common” to human beings. We are in this together. Besides, God wants me to put Jesus up there, and only Him, because, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

The rest of us are to bow before Him and Him alone, and simply say, “Amen.”

May 25, 2007

Who am I in the dark?

“The best test of good manners is what a person does when they are by themselves.”

I read that a zillion years ago, can’t remember the source, but it comes often into my thoughts. What I am shows up when no one is watching.

Is this also a test of legal and moral responsibility? For instance, what about traffic laws? How would I drive if there was no speed limit or rules of the road? Would I pass that test? Or how would I act if no hidden cameras could record me? Or if no one stopped me from taking what caught my fancy?

Memories of movies about anarchy leave little to the imagination. We call ourselves a civilized society, but if we suddenly lost our clean water supply, or if the grocery stores ran out of food, the sinful nature of human beings would ensure that most people would flunk the good manners test, to say the least.

I read Romans 6:14 this morning and thought of these things. It says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

If you ask a non-Christian person how to please God, they almost always offer “Keep His commandments” or some variation thereof. Be good. Do good. Go to church. Be kind toward others. Keep the rules.

Christians know that keeping the Law has never made anyone right with God, because, “by the Law, no one is justified.” We cannot do it. The Law of God has value, just like speed limits, by telling us what is not acceptable. However, keeping these laws is another matter. Oh, maybe we can do it externally. I’ve never made a graven image, or murdered anyone, but in my heart where it counts, I’ve bowed to idols and had murderous thoughts. Man looks on the outward appearance; God is concerned about the heart.

Not only do we fail to keep it, God says that is not His way of becoming saved from sin. A perfect person, if there was such a person, would still not be right with God through rule-keeping, because God says we are not saved by law, but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). His way is faith, and through faith He transforms our hearts, makes us new, regenerates us, gives us the life of Christ.

All that said, a Christian, by faith, is changed to a different person. Instead of living by rules, we are called to live by God’s grace, by His revelations to us of truth and of His Son. By putting Jesus in our hearts, we can live by His life and what we are in public and in private will reflect that. If we fail that test, the Bible and the world have a label—hypocrite.

Romans 6:14 says the result of living under grace is freedom from the dominion of sin. Living by a list of do’s and don’t’s cannot help but produce hypocrisy. If the heart is not in it, we are merely play-acting. On the other hand, grace should bring out the real person, the transformed me. The rules are there to make clear the difference, but they cannot produce genuine good manners.

I’ve never seen this verse this way before, but already am thinking of the freedom. Instead of doing what I think others (including the Law) say I should do, I can respond to Jesus, and by doing that, my actions will pass the test, whether I’m with others or all by myself.

May 24, 2007

Thankful Thursday

I don't know who started these "13 things" but today I'm thinking 13 things I am thankful for this Thursday.

1) Daily bread, the stuff from the Bible that feeds my spirit, but also the stuff in the kitchen that was baked yesterday and still smells as if it came from heaven.

2) A husband who is not afraid to share his weaknesses, and to tell people that "everyone is terminal, and everyone needs to be ready."

3) Tulips. They don't care about the weather; they still bloom and look beautiful even though it snowed just north of us yesterday.

4) Being made in God's image so that I too can create. Some of what I want to do loom as large and formidable challenges, but I doubt God thought that way when He spoke the universe into existence... so I'm also thankful for His incredible example.

5) Books and paper and words and word processors and all forms of communication.

6) Banana Cream Pie. My waist does not need it, but my tastebuds are so thankful.

7) My children who stand strong for justice and many other biblical principles, many times without even realizing that they are shining.

8) The ability to think, laugh, remember, and clean up my messy desk.

9) Friends, especially those whose minds dovetail with mine so when we talk, it is as if we fill in the "blank spots" for one another. Is that a soul-mate?

10) Telemarketers who just may eventually teach me to be polite when I prefer being annoyed. (Ugh, did I really just write that?)

11) Color. Every color. Combinations of color. Surprises of color. Cool colors. Warm colors. Kaleidoscopes. Rainbows. I picked Tuscany for my 'trip of choice' until I realized the only thing that attracts me is its color.

12) Penquins and zebras. Not a lot of color, but great design! Way to go, God!

13) The National Geographic channel in high density, my armchair travel.

Take care of Number One

God gave us good friends in D & M. We talked non-stop last night about our many mutual interests, including our relationship with God. At one point, my husband shared how the Lord was speaking to him about the essence of Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” He said many Christian tend to think about life backwards, putting the need to have work and make a living first, not God.

M said that was the second time this week someone said that to her. She noted how difficult it is since we are raised all our lives to think a certain way, and live in a world that encourages us to take care of our own needs. Then along comes God and asks us to think the opposite.

This morning I’m hearing a similar thing, only this time from the Old Testament. Ezra records an incident that is also historically documented in other places. A Persian official challenged the Jews who were rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem. He sent a letter to King Darius thinking his complaint would stop their efforts. His plan backfired.

King Darius searched for an original document issued by King Cyrus before him, and found that not only did Cyrus order the rebuilding, but he gave the Jews directions about its size, said that the project was to be financed by funds from the royal treasury, and ordered all the gold and silver articles taken from them to be restored for their temple.

So Darius responded to this official with three instructions. He told them to leave the Jews alone and not interfere with the reconstruction; supply tax money to finance the project and animals for the daily sacrifices to God; and anyone who disobeyed this decree was to be impaled on a beam taken from his own house.

Why would a pagan king do this? Darius may have simply wanted peace in his realm, and thought the God of the Jews was a local deity without knowing the significance of the temple being built in Jerusalem. In any case, the plan to stop it was overthrown. This enemy even had to supply “whatever they need—young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail” (Ezra 6:9).

This event illustrates God’s order: put Him first and build the temple, and He will take care of everything else.

Today, the temple where God dwells is not a building but the lives of each one who believes in Christ; “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God . . . ?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) God says build it, focus on our spiritual lives, and He will take care of the other things that tend to worry us.

As I read Ezra and reflect on our conversation with our friends, I can see the need for faith. Do I trust God to take care of all my needs? Do I believe that by occupying myself with the building of His kingdom, both in the world and within my own life (my temple), that He will supply whatever I need?

I’ve been a Christian for nearly forty years, most of my adult life. I can’t help but reflect on God’s faithfulness. From those early days of poverty to the plenty we have right now, God has supplied every need. He has always supplied my daily bread, both physical and spiritual, and all things necessary to live and to serve Him. He has never let me down.

Today I’m grateful for good friends, a great time of visiting with them, and most of all, for the reminder that I can safely and joyfully put Him first because He takes care of me.

May 23, 2007

Far from ordinary . . .

Today I’ve a loaf of bread in the oven, need to prepare a meal for guests tonight, have a meeting at noon and another from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., have two projects to finish, and the house could be tidier. This is about ordinary life, hardly anything spectacular or special (except the guests), yet today isn’t about me.

In fact, nothing is. The Bible reminds again this morning that it is all about Jesus Christ. Paul writes eleven chapters to the Romans that describe the incredible salvation plan of God, then has to stop and comment as if overwhelmed by what he has just written:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has become His counselor?’
‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

Amen indeed! Everything that happens is according to God’s design. His plan and His goal in all of it is that Jesus Christ is glorified. He works all things together for our good, but that good is that we reflect the image of Christ. His decisions and His judgments honor His Son. Eventually, we will see that all of history is His story; it is about Him.

If there is anything in this passage that is about me, it is God telling me that He knows my penchant to get caught up in the ordinary, to be busy with my to-do list, to simply forget about Him. Oh, if I’m feeling needy, I cry out. Or if someone comes to mind, I often pray for them, but making pie and weeding the yard can consume my minutes and my mind. Ordinary things can become that which I think about the most, not the depth of the riches of His wisdom and knowledge, as Paul calls me to ponder.

Yet my ordinary chores can be a spring board to loftier thoughts. While I’m occupied with today list, I can think how God made the grain that becomes wheat that is grind into flour for my bread. I can reflect on how He spoke into being the ingredients for my salad and supplied the filling that goes into my pie. God gave me the ability to do those things on my list, supplied those places to go and the wherewithal to get there. He also gave us friends to enjoy.

At the very least, my mind can be occupied with gratitude for all of this. At the most, I can be filled with adoration, praise and a sense of awe because this unsearchable God chose to robe Himself in human flesh and reveal who He is—to me, and because ordinary folks having an ordinary day can still worship an extraordinary God.

May 22, 2007

Take note, take action!

My husband writes notes to me and puts them beside my cereal bowl before he goes to work. When I get up, usually just before or just after he goes out the door, I’ve a message for the day. These are often thank you notes, sometimes reminders to do an errand, and occasionally a few words to let me know that I forgot something or didn’t do something.

The note this morning was one of those “you blew it” messages, and it didn’t sit very well. I’d turned the television off last night, but the way our TV works, sometimes the cable box turns off but the TV doesn’t. This time, I didn’t notice the little red light that indicated it was still on, hence the note.

It’s a small thing, but I felt deflated and annoyed. I wanted to retaliate with, “Why did you tell me this? Just turn the blasted thing off. It happens to you all the time and I don’t make a big deal about it. Blah, blah, blah.”

God’s timing is priceless, again. My devotional guide takes me today to 2 Corinthians 4:10-11. It says, “ . . . always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

I know exactly what that means. Because I am a Christian, and because Jesus lives inside of me, I’m to be transparent and obedient. Otherwise, when people look at me, they see only me. That is not what God wants. He “commanded light to shine out of darkness” and has shone His light into my heart “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He is the treasure that this chapter of 1 Corinthians describes, the treasure in the “earthen vessel” of my life.

When Paul wrote this letter, he was under all kinds of pressures. He used words like hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, yet he knew that God was using these trials to bring out the life of Christ in him. As the trials worked death in the sense that his human efforts became weaker and no longer effective, the power of God began to shine through him. People could see Jesus, not Paul. The life of Paul diminished and died as the life of Christ became the power that governed his responses to these difficult experiences.

So I get a little note and the life of me jumps out and reacts. If I follow through with my reaction, confront my husband (who is only trying to be helpful), insist on refusing this oh-so-mild rebuke, and act like an insecure little kid, then I’m not “carrying about in the body” the crucifixion of sin and selfishness that Jesus is trying to accomplish in me.

Little “trials” like this one reveal who and what is controlling my life, and show me where I need to die to self and allow the "life of Jesus to be manifested in my mortal flesh." If Jesus is shining in me and ruling my responses, I would think, Thank you. I missed that and need to pay more attention when I hit that off button.

Nit-picking? No. This is a bigger problem than not using the remote properly. It is an “I refuse to let you correct me” attitude. Since my spouse is to love me as Christ loved the church, part of what that love means is that he also desires I be sanctified and cleansed so I might be glorious, holy and without blemish.

I need to cooperate. It isn’t about TVs but about being willing to say ‘yes’ to correction, whether it comes to me through him, or directly from his Lord and mine.

May 21, 2007

Thirteen memories

Val posted thirteen memories from school days and invited her readers to do the same. Here are mine:

1) I missed most of elementary school due to illness, and went to school by mail until grade 7, but I remember the first day in grade one. We had to tell everyone our names. I was sitting behind Betty P. and she somehow made me feel less awkward about speaking up. She became my best friend.

2) In grade 1, my first "boyfriend" was Leroy M. I don't remember much about that relationship when we were both six, but in grade 12, we dated a bit, still more like friends. He was a handsome guy, eventually became a fireman, and has since retired. I know this because my sister runs into him now and then and says he is still handsome, and that she feels good just standing and chatting with him. I've not seen him since grade 12.

3) In grade 7, the school bully decided to pick on me. I'd been sick and was not very big (100 lbs at most) but was a tomboy and not a wimp, so punched him in the face. His eye turned black and he never bothered me again.

4) Our school principal wore a snap brim hat and had a Russian name. We all thought he was Gestapo. One day in the foyer I took a playful kick at someone. My shoe flew off and went through a tiny window in the door, just the size of a shoe. I ran to the door and when I opened it, there was the Russian police standing there holding my shoe and with an amused look on his face. I liked him after that.

5) We had a teacher who looked like Miss Grundy in the Archie comics and was the typical prudent 'school marm' so the boys liked to make her blush. One day during a science experiment she was carrying a raw egg in both hands. A boy in the front row feigned a lunge toward her. Her hands flew up and the egg dropped on the floor. Everyone laughed, not the teacher. Why were we all so mean?

6) Our family lived close to town and we had a pool table. One Irish teacher loved playing pool so was often over for a game. On St. Patrick's Day, I mixed some water paints thick enough to stick and painted his Volkswagon green. He did everything in a hurry so when the game was over, he rushed out, jumped in his car and drove home without even noticing the change in his car. I never got blamed for that one.

7) That same teacher was so absent minded. One winter he lost his false teeth. He looked everywhere and even thought he might have swallowed them -- he had an x-ray just to be sure. The next spring they showed up when a snowbank in front of the school melted. He couldn't blame anyone for that either!

8) I did well in school but good grades are not as desirable as most people think. If I didn't ace a quiz, the other kids teased me without mercy. I'm sure peer pressure to excel is worse than peer pressure to wear designer jeans. I hated being "Miss smarty" but was too vain to purposely lower my grades.

9) One teacher talked to me about career choices. He said the oddest thing that stuck with me: "You can be a generalist if you learn a little bit about a lot of things, or you can be a specialist if you learn a whole lot about one thing. You have to decide one or the other." I've had a tough time with focus because I am interested in so many things. Did that teacher see it even then?

10) In grade 9, the prettiest and most popular girl in class passed me an unsigned note. It said, "I envy you and your sister because your parents love you. They won't let you do everything you want and discipline you. Mine are not like that." When I asked who wrote the note, she said, "I did." That note has had a great deal to do with how I think about myself now.

11) In grade 12, because of my interest and activity in painting and other art, I was nominated to go on a 'culture' trip to the Stratford Festival in ON. There were 13 from our province, and about that many from other provinces. We rode one train, picking up others as we traveled east. I have a photo of our female chaperone swinging like a monkey between the berths in the sleeping car. That trip didn't do a thing for my artistic abilities, but we sure had fun and it made a good memory.

12) One of my high school teachers was a stickler for proper note-taking (not the kind that got passed back and forth between students). She showed us how to distil an entire book into a few pages of clear notes. When I became a Christian, I valued that ability in Bible study. One day, long after graduation and my own kids were grown, I was able to tell her how much I valued her teaching. She was astounded.

13) I played basketball one year. I was sick most of the year and thought it was because of the increased exercise. Maybe that is why exercise is still a dreaded discipline instead of being fun. sigh.

Thanks for this memory challenge, Val!

“I’ve loved you with an everlasting love . . .”

I’ve an anniversary card on my desk from my husband (thirty-six years this month). He generally buys the mushy ones, and this one is delightfully that way. As I read it again, I think of how love works. The more we know one another, the more we see our quirks and foibles and the things that, without love, could be down right annoying. Instead, these become part of that love.

God is in it, of course. He makes it possible to not merely forgive idiosyncrasies large and small, but the things done without thought or deliberately, the neglects and injuries that deeply hurt. His love turns all of it to good, working in our lives to make us more like Jesus, and more able to love one another.

As I read Ephesians 3 this morning, I am grateful for the ways that God helps us understand the love of Christ. Verses 16-19 say this, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

In knowing that Jesus loves me, I am free to love others. Not with human love. It fails. I’d give up without His ability to overlook, forgive, see good in difficulties, and persevere when it looks hopeless. So would my husband. We need the love of God to love each other.

I need the love of God to love God too. He is not like my human father, who would give me anything in his power to give. God withholds, says no, will not spoil me, disciplines me when I sin, and even though He alone can hug and kick me at the same time, God’s dealings with me are not always pleasant, never mind understandable. My human response to that is not the same as the response that comes out of His love in me, the love that Christ gives me.

Yet I don’t know the half of it. These verses tell me that, but so does my experience. How great the love of God that showers blessings on me when I’ve done not only nothing to deserve it, but have sinned against Him, taken His care for granted, forgotten about Him for hours on hand, neglected to be thankful, and sometimes get annoyed because it seems as if He is not listening to me. Who do I think I am? This is Almighty God. Yet He loves me. I cannot fathom such love.

Romans 8 ends with words that describe it. “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

His love has no boundaries. It is forever. It changes lives, and my life, but I still cannot comprehend His greatness, nor the vastness of this incredible love.

May 20, 2007

Servants and Slaves

Last week I asked the women in our Bible class the biblical difference between a servant and a slave. Some thought it had to do with willingness, but that doesn’t fit all the passages about these ‘occupations.’ After some discussion, we settled on the definition that ‘servant’ is more about the relationship between the doer and the work, and ‘slave’ is more about the relationship between the doer and his or her master.

In other words, when the Bible talks about Christians as slaves or bond-slaves to Christ, it means we are utterly dedicated to doing His will. When it talks about us as His servants, it is referring to the work we do or actions we take to accomplish His will.

Even though I’m a ‘word’ person and a stickler for accurate definitions, I wondered for awhile if we were splitting hairs. What does this matter anyway?

This morning’s verse brings clarity. It is Romans 6:16, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether to sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

This offers a choice: People can present themselves to sin, which is ever present and always shouting orders, but this master will kill you, or to obedience to God, who whispers and is sometimes difficult to hear amid the shouting, but this Master promises eternal life.

Romans 6 is all about the reality of redemption and being set free from sin. It challenges readers to make a clear distinction about who is their master, and how they will live under that master. It says that Christians are no longer slaves to sin. We belong to Christ, and this is a legal and spiritual truth.

However, sometimes I serve sin. But Romans 6 and the New Testament make it clear that my relationship is with Jesus Christ, not sin, and that I am a bond slave of Jesus. I’m supposed to serve Him, so what’s with the sin stuff? Why am I doing things that make me look like I’ve changed allegiance and picked a new master?

It’s in that definition. My master is Christ; that cannot change, but sometimes my actions are about stuff that a sinner does. I’ve been set free from sin, but like Romans says, I’m doing the foolish thing of presenting myself to serve it, which makes no sense since I’m a slave to Christ.

Of course when I’m in the muddle of disobeying God and doing something that is sinful, none of this enters my head. My enemy (and also my flesh or old sinful nature) yell at me: You have been defeated! Sin rule you! You have lost your security with God, blah, blah blah!

But the Holy Spirit speaks too. Instead of pulling me away with temporary ‘I wants,’ He reminds me of eternal realities and that I am more than a conqueror through Christ. He points me to the fact that my sin was nailed to the cross and paid for at that horrible place, and that I belong to Jesus, both now and forever.

This distinction between ownership and how I behave is of huge importance. If I take my eyes off the reality of who I belong to and focus on some of the dumb things that I do, I forget that through Christ I have another option — because He is my actual Master, I can forget the nonsense of sin; I don’t have to serve anyone or anything else.

May 19, 2007

Funerals are not the end. . .

Our neighbor’s mother died last week. The funeral is today. We didn’t know her mother, but Judy invited us to her funeral. I debated. At first I thought yes, then no, then yes, then we are too busy, then, this morning the Holy Spirit whispered from James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble . . . .”

Judy’s father died about nine months ago. She may be several decades old, but she is now an orphan, so I’m dressed and ready to go to a funeral.

Funerals are often very sad affairs. People are seldom prepared for the death of those they love, even when illness lasts a long time. Our neighbor is a bit different. She is a medical doctor and knew it was coming. She also knows Jesus. When her father fell ill, she was so distraught that she began reading the Bible, aloud, at his bedside. Through the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, she began to realize that Jesus died for her sins, was buried, and rose again. He alone offers eternal life to those who put their faith in Him.

Judy did that. So did her father and her mother. She knows that she will see both of them again in glory. The funeral will be sad, but hopefully some of us will be able to celebrate the reality that this woman’s life is not over but just beginning.

My verse for today is Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

“These things . . .” refer to what was written about His second coming and the end of time, yet this verse could sum up the entire New Testament. Jesus came to tell those who put their faith in Him that we are blessed because we have obeyed His command to believe. Because of that, we “have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (verse 14). Those who insist on running their own lives and who let sin dominate everything they do will not enter.

That is the biggest reason most funerals are sad. Those in attendance have no assurance of their eternal destiny. The fear of death has held them in bondage all their lives, and at the end of a life, they are still afraid, and for good reason.

Judy isn’t afraid. Her father wasn’t either, nor her mother. Their knowledge of biblical doctrine was limited, but no matter; they knew Jesus and they knew His promise of their right to the tree of life through faith in Him.

Judy misses them both; she is an only child, but because He lives, they live also. For that, we can rejoice and praise God with her at this funeral.

May 18, 2007

Choosing that good thing . . .

I’ve a love-hate relationship with a computer game. At times I’m bored or feel like winning, or haven’t the inclination to do something more productive, or just want to work the other side of my brain, so I think it won’t hurt to play just one game. Then I wind up playing ten games and am mad at myself for wasting all that time. After a couple sessions like that, I uninstall the thing and leave it in the box, at least until I get the urge again.

The problem is not the game. Even when it’s not installed, I have trouble knowing where to focus my time. I get frustrated with hours wasted on trivia, wasted mostly because I’m not sure what is the most important so I wind up doing nothing of value. How dumb is that?

I’m that way with both time and money. I don’t want to waste the small income that I have, spending it on trivia in a confusing world. There are many important areas where money can be poured, but I struggle with making decisions about what to do with it, where to invest it, who and where it can best be used, so I wind up not doing anything for lack of being sure what I should do.

This morning I’m reading about the woman, likely Mary, the sister of Martha, who poured out her entire living on Jesus. “In Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, 'Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.' And they criticized her sharply.”

I understand the indignant reaction of the disciples. If I spent the entire day in prayer and worship, my inner critic would be yelling at me for wasting my time, criticizing myself with thoughts like, there is enough to do without doing nothing all day.

But I also understand Mary. She had something of value and wanted to invest it wisely. She didn’t want to pour it into “a bag of holes” nor into something that had no eternal value. She wanted to give it away, but give it in such a way that it had eternal value.

By pouring it out on Jesus, which seemed like an utter waste to her critics, Jesus gave it that value that she longed for, and may not have expected.

He said to the disciples, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Mary’s outpouring is in Scripture, and the Word of God stands forever. Besides that, whenever I think of her, I think of her complete devotion to Jesus. Others consider such devotion a waste of time, effort and money, but He not only approved of what she did but gave it eternal value.

This humbles me, and yet is difficult to grasp. I know my ‘god’ has been accomplishment. Do it. Do it well. Do lots. Be busy. Yet my God bids me to rest in Him, not worry about tomorrow or fret over today’s to-do list. I’m to listen for His voice and respond to whatever He says. I’m to ignore that inner voice that tells me to get busy (like Martha in Luke 10:40) and instead sit at His feet as Mary did (Martha was her ‘inner critic’) and learn from Him.

In Mark, Jesus said she anointed Him for His burial. The disciples were clueless when He talked about His coming death, but Mary knew, and Mary did what she could. I wonder if she knew simply because she slowed down long enough to listen?

May 17, 2007

What ‘lazy days’ of summer are we talking about?

I’ve mixed feelings about summer. While I love the weather, green and growing things, and not having to wear heavy clothes, summer also brings gardening, mosquitoes, and extra items on the to-do list. We have a lovely deck and I didn’t sit on it once last summer.

Yesterday’s increases to my list included making a pie with that tempting rhubarb, ordering soil to fill a large, now raised area of our yard, planning a barbeque for twenty people, and trying to figure out how to answer a request to edit another book.

The word for today is REST. It calls me. It eludes me. Funny that my devotional reading is about rest, but not the kind I’d like today. It is mostly about eternity.

In the Old Testament, God promised His people rest from their enemies in a land that He gave them. They struggled to enter it, but some “could not enter in because of unbelief.” They refused to obey God and paid a huge price. The New Testament warns them to not let that happen again because those who did enter that land were promised another rest, an eternal rest.

Both kinds of rest require faith and obedience. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

God wants us to trust Him for the here and now. True faith rests in God, is at peace, and is confident of salvation and eternal life. I’m at rest when I rely on His strength for everything, even if I am busy.

But there is another rest, a rest where all our struggles with sin are over, our to-do lists crumpled and cast aside, no weeds to pull, parties to plan, pies to bake. This rest was planned before the foundation of the world, and in the mind of God for whom time is always NOW, the plan is finished, and that forever rest is established.

Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and follow Him have stepped into it, at least as much as is possible in time and space. I know that internal sense of being at rest in Him is just a shadow of what is to come.

Maybe today’s desire is not so much for physical rest, even though that would be nice. Maybe my heart just wants to be with Jesus. His invitation is, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

His invitation is about soul-rest, that rest that can be busy without being “worried and troubled about many things” as Martha was in Luke 10:38-42. It is a peace of heart and mind because Jesus is at the center of things. It is the same rest described in Hebrews 4, a here-and-now rest that can only happen to those who are trusting Him for both eternal life and this life.

After thinking about all this, I’m leaning back in my chair and letting His yoke settle around my shoulders. What I do today at His leading will be sufficient. It may not match my silly ideas about what needs to be done, but if I focus on His eternal rest promised for my future, then I won’t get in a dither and miss out on that right-now rest that is included in His promise.

May 16, 2007

The Best Value

After becoming old enough to get that monthly government cheque, I am watching with interest how I spend it.

Almost all my life, I’ve been under the influence of a stringent upbringing. It is not that we were poor but that my father was true to his Scottish heritage. When we were little, he thought our tiny hot water heater would save money, so we could not bath and do dishes at the same time. As we grew older, some of his thrifty habits were amusing. When he became very old and both he and mother needed our help with their finances, we realized how well they had taken care of their resources.

Before then, when my first marriage ended I had a house, a piece of land, and almost no income. Getting money from my ex was impossible, and in the location where I lived, it cost more to go to work (car, child care, clothes, etc.) than the wages available at the time. I did clothing alterations, custom machine knitting, and sold paintings. My parents took my grocery list to town and almost always put a few extra things in the cart that my dollars would not cover.

When Bob and I married, he was in debt and my thrifty habits helped solve that problem. Later, as he began a pattern of financial stability and planning, my lifestyle of spending as little as possible continued. There were times over the years that he actually ordered me to go buy clothes or furniture, and “don’t get the cheapest you can find.”

I’ve joked that I am a “kept woman” because I stayed home to care for the children. After they were old enough to take care of themselves, there was no financial need for me to get a job, but as my husband’s income increased, my Scottish heritage stuck.

My first “pension” cheque arrived in March, and I’ve laughed that it is neat to be paid for getting old, but I’m amazed at my response to having this money. I’m spending it.

I went to a high-end ladies wear and bought some badly needed items for my closet. I’ve very narrow, hard to fit feet, but money will buy narrow sandals and shoes that don’t look like the boxes they came in, so I’ve bought some of those. I’m spending my money on accessories for my sewing machine that I’ve always wanted but didn’t feel comfortable buying, on quilting fabric for my “stash” that grows like an organic thing, and on software that works for the many things I do with my computer. I’ve also sponsored a child through Compassion and raised my giving to the Lord.

However, the thrifty side of me is still constantly asking God about this sudden sense of financial independence. I don’t want to violate His will on spending these resources that He has allowed me, nor the resources that my generous husband earns and encourages me to use.

This morning the Lord directed me to Proverbs 23:23. It says, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding.”

In the mind of God, stuff is not important. It is subject to thieves and decay. He always puts eternal things first. Matthew 6:31-33 comes to mind: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Now I look back on all those years of having very little, then continuing to be thrifty because of it, and realize that this heritage is a great blessing. Instead of becoming a person driven by wanting more and more stuff, God gave me the realization very early in my Christian life that stuff does not satisfy the soul; my joy and contentment come from Him. Had I been given a monthly cheque back then, it may have detoured me from years of spending my energy in His Word, seeking truth, wisdom, instruction and understanding.

His value system has not changed, and after a couple months of spending my resources on some “stuff” my heart tells me that my value system is more like His. A flurry of spending has been fun, but I have enough, even more than I need. So what now?

Quilters joke that our stash is never intended to be used in a lifetime; it is simply inspiration for right now. Perhaps that is a metaphor. If I obey Proverbs 23:23, no matter how much truth, wisdom, instruction and understanding I acquire, it will never be enough, but it will inspire and fulfill my life and do far more for me, and for the kingdom of God, than another meter of fabric or another pair of shoes.

May 15, 2007

Holding On

It was just a television show, fiction, but fiction that happens. A man was abducting little boys. If they didn’t fight back, he kept them until they were too old, twelve or so, then abducted another young one. Sickening. If the child did fight back, he killed him and buried him in the woods.

What makes a person like that tick? I can’t imagine. How long was he like that? I don’t know. One thing for certain, he was beyond hope and he knew it. When the authorities closed in and he knew he was going to be captured, he immediately took his own life.

Most shows like that don’t stick in my memory beyond the next day, but this one did. I’ve been thinking about people who are beyond hope, and that particular plot supplied a visual of a sad reality in the spiritual realm.

That evening, a verse in Luke 22 popped out as part of this reality. The chief priests and scribes, Jesus’ biggest critics, arrested Him and took Him before their council. They said, “If You are the Christ, tell us.” “But Jesus said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will by no means believe.’”

I’ve been praying that Jesus would tell some people who He is. I know that no one can believe in Him or understand who He is unless He reveals Himself to them, so I’ve prayed that He would simply tell them. In my mind, and by my experience, once His true identity is known, believing and salvation follows.

But His response shocks me, even though I know it is true. Some people, no matter how much they know about Jesus, will still refuse Him. The Jewish leaders of His day had an attitude of, “We will not let this man rule over us.” It didn’t matter that He’d clearly demonstrated Himself to be God in human flesh, the same God that they professed to serve. They were running their own religion and for them, it didn’t matter what Jesus revealed or what God wanted.

This morning another passage describes the same attitude. It is a warning from Hebrews 6 and says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

God could reveal it all. He could enlighten the darkest mind so that it knows about the gift of eternal life. A person can share in the revelations given by the Holy Spirit, understand the Word of God, even realize that once their sins are forgiven, they will participate in a future glory. Yet it is possible for a person to go right to the edge of the kingdom, stick their foot in the door, then decide that they don’t want it.

This verse describes people who are so close they can taste it. They have even repented of their sins, but without the new life of Christ that God gives to those who believe, they have no power to stick with it. They fall away, not just because they didn’t get both feet and their hearts inside the door, but because the only thing that can keep anyone from falling away is the power of God. For some reason, these ‘apostates’ don’t have it.

The verse in Luke says Jesus will not reveal Himself to those who won’t believe. I’m thinking this Hebrew passage says He will not give genuine faith to those who will mop the floor with it. God knows the human heart.

At the same time, I wonder how this reconciles with the reality that without genuine faith, sin will ensure that we cannot do anything but mock and reject the Son of God. Why does God give some that faith, but others not?

Someday I might understand everything about His incredible gift of salvation and why some miss out, even knowing all they can know about the gift. It makes no sense to me that a person would refuse it and toss it away.

Right now, I’m just glad that when He put the gift in my hands, He also gave me, and keeps on giving me, whatever I need to hang on to it.

May 14, 2007

Never Forsaken

In a ministry at Grace Community Church we were taught to present the gospel clearly, making sure to include the results. The emphasis was on “this is what will happen if Jesus Christ comes into your life.”

The folks at Grace did this partly because too many gospel presentations resulted in an “easy believism” wherein people were told to “walk the aisle, pray the prayer, and you’re in.” Then, when reality happened, these people didn’t understand what was happening, and in many cases left the church. Their faith was based on a God who would make their lives easy.

Besides telling inquirers about real life as a Christian, we also told them they would have a changed attitude toward sin. They could expect a desire to leave it behind, but this would be a challenge as their old nature would fight to keep on living as usual.

No one told me about that either. I wanted the grace and comfort of God, but didn’t realize how seriously God takes this business of saving me from sin, and how necessary it is to cooperate. Those were hard lessons.

This morning, I’m reminded of my struggles to leave sin behind me. In Exodus 12, the people of Israel, who were in bondage as slaves in Egypt, offer a picture of human bondage to sin. Their struggle depicts the world’s pull on Christian, and sin’s ability to possess us and tell us what to do. For them, and in a series of miraculous events, God came to their rescue. He showed their taskmaster, the Egyptian pharaoh, that he had to release these people from their bondage.

The battle was intense, but God’s final blow brought him and the rest of Egypt to the ground. God sent the angel of death to take the firstborn of every living creature. Their was only one way to escape. God told His people to kill a lamb without blemish, take some of the blood and put it on the top and sides of the doors to their homes, and then entirely consume the lamb so that nothing remained by morning. When the death angel saw the blood, he would pass over that home and spare the firstborn inside.

That lamb was the Passover lamb of the old covenant. It’s blood saved them from death. Jesus is the Passover Lamb of the new covenant. His blood delivers those who believe in Him from sin and spares them from eternal death. Eternal death is separation from God forever, and the result of rejecting Him and hanging on to sin.

God gave instruction to the people of the Exodus that speaks to people who believe in Christ. He told them, “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.”

With those words, He is saying, “Get ready to leave” and those ancient people did just that. They packed up in haste and left. They were allowed to take their flocks and herds, and even told to ask the Egyptians for “articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing . . . thus they plundered the Egyptians” but they got out of that place.

They left behind their old life, a life of slavery and bondage and hard labor that produced for them only sweat and tears, nothing for themselves that lasted. Before they actually left, they prepared to leave, knowing they would not take any of it with them. Later, some complained that they missed the food, almost as if they forgot the bondage, but no one wanted to be a slave to that life again.

The worst of “easy believism” is that most of those who go for it never really leave their old life. No one tells them they have to, and when they find out that this is part of what it means to be a Christian, that old life, like the food of Egypt, calls them back.

I’m so glad that I don’t miss any of it, but that is the difference new life makes. As we learned at Grace church, being a child of God means being put into another place, another way of life, a freedom from slavery that is so unlike what life used to be like.

Sure, I do have to battle my former thoughts and actions, but at Grace we also told people that a genuine taste of “milk and honey” in the new land, and even the “manna” of their wanderings to get there, would be part of God’s way to urge them forward. If they were willing to pack up and leave, He would never leave or forsake them.

May 13, 2007

Don't trivialize God

An article in yesterday’s newspapers mocked all religions including Christianity. The writer said how ridiculous is a God who tells people to fly airplanes into buildings, or that the most powerful man on earth thinks he has a hotline to God, and was voted in by those who think “the son of a carpenter who died 2000 years ago sits in heaven advising presidents, fixing football games, and . . . will return to earth to brutally murder all unbelievers and erect a worldwide dictatorship." The author said a quiet faith was one thing, but “those who believe lives are limited to one per customer have a problem.”

He wandered around a bit, but the bottom line of the article was that people need to examine the evidence, and if there is none, then they are foolish and gullible. He assumed none of us have any evidence.

I thought of this article and the person who wrote it while reading about Pharaoh and his problems with Moses and the people of Israel. Moses was told by God (through a hotline?) to deliver His people from bondage. Pharaoh had other ideas. Chapter 14 describes what happened.

“Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, ‘Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?’ So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness. So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea . . . .” (Note: up until this point, Pharaoh kept hardening his own heart. Finally he pushed God too far.)

When I read that article, I felt anger and pity for the author, but also some annoyance at Christians in North America who have trivialized God. Think about it; how high on the divine priority list are football games? If that is all we can do to “proclaim the name of Jesus” then we have missed the grandeur of Almighty God.

The Israelites had faith issues too. They didn’t understand the way God worked. “When Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.’”

Here is an entire nation in trouble. Of course they are worried about their survival. They are questioning if they should be following God and Moses, or if they should have stayed in their bondage. It was oppressive and joyless, but at least they would not be fearing for their lives.

“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’”

This is the grandeur of God. He did guide one man to lead an entire nation (but I am not endorsing the President of the United States, just saying it is possible for a leader to have a hotline to God). Moses had no intention of defeating the enemy army though; he was only interested in freeing God’s people from slavery. Other places in the Bible use this bondage to illustrate bondage to sin, so it is fair to say that Moses was more interested in the eternal well-being of those he led than he was in politics or winning an election. He was sent by God, not picked by ballot, and was highly unpopular among those he led.

Moses didn’t win the battle for them. This also is the grandeur of God; God did it. He organized the events of nature, time and place and defeated the Egyptian army. While skeptics mock the parting of the sea, the army did drown and the Israelites did escape Egypt and their bondage. They were set free to find their way to the land of promise.

Here is what I am hearing from the Holy Spirit about all this: Do not be afraid of mockers and skeptics. I told you they would come (2 Peter 2 and 3). Instead, be still, and see the salvation of the Lord, and His righteous outcome for all this. You know that those reject Me and the truth of My Word might look and sound powerful today, but their ‘wisdom’ will perish with them. I will take care of my people, and you shall hold your peace.

Hold my peace. He’s not talking about being silent, but means the peace of God that transcends understanding, that goes beyond human logic, that guards my heart through faith.

And faith, which is “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” is my proof. It will not satisfy those who mock because they do not have this gift from God. They cannot understand His being or what He does unless He reveals it to them.

But lest I start thinking I am special, I remember myself a few decades ago, before Christ, before He granted me faith. I also mocked God, the truth of the Bible, and those who believed in Jesus Christ. That my heart has done a one-eighty is also the grandeur of God.

May 12, 2007

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but what about when I’m right?

When I make a mistake or say the wrong thing and someone points it out, I quickly come to my own defense. I’m not patient at all with criticism, even when the other person is right.

This morning, I’m reading 1 Peter 2 and God tells me I have an even bigger problem. It is talking about a submissive spirit. I define that as “being free from the tyranny of always needing to have my own way” and always applied it to the verses in chapter 3 about wives married to men who do not obey God, or, in my case, the man who won’t do what I want him to do!

Chapter 2 is talking about a servant/master relationship, but the principle is universal. It says submission is not just about people who treat me well, but those who do not. I can see that it also applies to the way people talk about me and to me.

“For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps . . . .”

In any and every situation, Jesus is my model, the example of how to behave. By knowing Him and what He did and would do, I also can know what to do. However, this passage makes me think, Hey, wait a minute!

I can imagine myself patiently enduring a true accusation. I’ve not done this much, but I can see that this is appropriate. I’m not impressed if I see someone else making excuses and defending themselves when they’ve been ‘caught in the act’ or their folly is exposed. Defending myself is pointless when I should simply admit they are right in what they say.

But this goes farther. It says I’m to have the same attitude of Christ and that He could ask me to also patiently endure the verbal abuse of a false accusation, not standing up and fighting for my right to be right. I think I’m a reasonably submissive person, but can’t see myself putting up with this.

Jesus did it. The passage even tells how. It says that when He was taken to the cross, He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth . . . when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

Committed means to hand over. As my study Bible notes say, Jesus was handed over to Pilate; Pilate handed Him over to the Jews; but Christ handed over Himself to God and suffered in silence because He had perfect confidence in the righteous sovereignty of His Father.

This exposes me. If I trust God as much as I think I do, then when someone says I’m wrong, whether I am or not, I can relax knowing that God will defend me, take care of me, make the truth known, and do whatever else is right, according to His plan and His timing.

The rub is that ‘if I trust God as much as I think I do.’

May 11, 2007

Pulling God’s Strings?

A man, I’ll call him Reg, was having marriage woes. When advised to seek the Lord, he went to church looking for answers. When he found out that he could not manipulate God into “fixing” his problems, he became angry and stomped away from anything spiritual.

Another man, Howard, is also having marriage woes. He too was advised to seek the Lord and he went first to a pastor looking for answers. When he found out that he needed to yield to God and accept His way, including His way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, he did. His marriage is still very much on the rocks, but because Howard is standing on the Rock that is Christ, he is calm. As he obeys Christ, he has no assurance that his wife will do the same, but he is at peace and has a thankful, glad heart.

John 6 reminded me that not everyone responds to Jesus the same way. He had just fed a huge crowd, then left that area only to be followed by the multitudes. When they found Him, He told them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

When I was looking for truth (and didn’t know it was Jesus), it was partly because I wanted to know what would happen to me when I died, and partly because I was in great emotional distress. I wanted God to fix it. After He revealed Himself to me, I soon realized that knowing the Lord is far more than “me-needy, You-fix it” relationship.

My greatest need was my own sinful heart, not the fact that someone had broken it. I wanted no more pain; God wanted no more of me running my own life. I can see now that He even allowed the broken heart. Otherwise my heart was too hard, too determined to have my own way to listen to Him. An injury of the heart opened it up so He could speak to me.

The people who chased Jesus were not thinking about their hearts, only their stomachs. Reg was not thinking about his heart, only his reputation as a success, and having his own way. Howard’s heart is broken, but not hard and scarred. He is tender toward God.

The hungry crowds asked Jesus about doing the work of God and He told them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

They wanted a sign to prove that God sent Him. They said, “What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will you do? (And here is the kicker . . . ) Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

They were still trying to get bread! Essentially they said, If you are who you claim be, then do what we want you to do—feed us!

I found out very early in my walk with God that I do not pull His strings. He surprises me with grace and kindness, bestows blessings every day, is utterly good to me, but I cannot tell Him what to do.

Jesus doesn’t either. Verse 38 says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

Jesus, who is God in human flesh, never, ever let His humanness, as perfect as it was, dictate what He did or did not do. He always did the will of His Father, and in doing so sets an example for me. God lives in me, and although I’m not ‘fully God / fully human’ as Jesus, His goal for me is that I live by His will, not my own.

Getting practical, I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying to me, If you put your own will first, your own needs, your I-wants, you will gain weight (I love my bread), take on more than I want you to and be exhausted, be constantly striving about the unimportant . . . and the list goes on.

The challenge to seek Christ for change in my life rather than persuade Him to do what I want Him to do, comes out when I pray. It shows up in my disappointment when those prayers are not answered. It shows up when I whine instead of being thankful. While I am quick to shake my head at people like those in that crowd and people like Reg, I need to take a look in the mirror. More often than not, I’m doing the same thing.

May 10, 2007

One more sign of who we are

“Life is short; get a divorce” so says a sign put up by a legal firm this week. Business was booming, but they forgot to get a permit and the sign came down. It likely won’t stay down for long.

I am a divorced/remarried person. The divorce happened before I became a Christian and the remarriage just after. Both were done in ignorance of what God says about it, but since then I’ve read and studied every Scripture and many books on this topic.

Most people know what the Bible says: “He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this when they argued among themselves about marriage. One group thought the only allowed reason for divorce was sexually immorality (and only the man could divorce his wife for it, not the other way around), and the other group thought a man could divorce his wife for burning the toast. They wanted to trap Jesus with their argument because both of them thought they had rightly interpreted a command made by Moses.

Jesus took them back farther than Moses. God instituted marriage “in the beginning” when He gave Eve to Adam. Not only that, God said that this union should last for life.

Further, what Moses gave was not a command, but a limitation on remarriage should a divorce occur. Jesus explained that Moses did permit divorce. He said, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Jesus went on to say that sexual immorality was a legitimate reason for divorce, but any who married another was committing adultery. This applied to both man and wife.

Notice what He said. Divorce was permitted because of “the hardness of your hearts.” I know that hardness. My first husband stubbornly refused to quit his drinking and messing around with other women. I stubbornly set myself against forgiving him even if he had of stopped. We both had hard, selfish hearts. One book I read pointed out that it is the hard heart that leads to divorce, not the other stuff. I tend to agree.

The other stuff was painful but forgivable. If I had of been a Christian at the time, I could have done it. In fact, I did forgive him later, but the ‘one flesh’ had already been severed. That severing was far more painful than I expected. I didn’t feel the loss of him so much as the loss of the marriage, if that makes sense. I now understand what God meant when He said two become one flesh; it is more than writing on a certificate.

Today people divorce over things almost as silly as burnt toast. Two often they go into marriage filled with passion and not realizing that passion comes and goes. Relationships are based on commitment, not on emotion and desire. They also do not realize that two people stop getting to know one another if they jump into bed before they are married. One day they will wake up and be horrified, wondering who that stranger is sleeping beside them.

God’s plan is always best. Human plans are always opposite His, and as God is left out of the picture more and more, the plans of man become the norm. For some, staying married for life is hopelessly out of fashion.

That sign put up by the lawyers says a great deal about the way people think apart from knowing and following God. Life is short, but it doesn’t have to be all there is. I have eternal life, and that is not only long, but it is rich and fulfilling while I’m here.

The implication in the lawyer’s sign is that marriage is no fun, and if this short life is going to be enjoyable, don’t be married. It is all about ‘me.’ According to God, that selfish perspective is what keeps us from knowing Him. We insist on doing things our own way, and with that insistence comes a hardening of the heart, making a lasting marriage an impossibility.

May 9, 2007

Moving On

One of the worst aspects of moving is saying goodbye to friends. Even worse is when they say goodbye before you have actually departed.

After twenty-eight moves, the one thing most of them have in common is this strange phenomena. Perhaps folks don’t handle goodbyes very well, or just don’t know what to do with friends who have announced they are leaving but haven’t gone yet. Regardless of their reasons, some of the people whom we’ve left behind behaved as if we had already left before we did. No more invitations, no calls, a strain in face-to-face conversations.

One time we moved to one city and found out we would soon be transferred again. We let it be known, but wished we hadn’t. At a Bible study, the hostess introduced us to another couple and said, “Don’t get to know these people too well; they will be leaving soon anyway.”

Last month a guest pastor preached a great sermon on my devotional reading today. It is from Hebrews 11:27 and says, “By faith he (Moses) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

The message had two points: leaving the old life of sin and bondage, and the need for patient endurance in the new life in Christ.

Moses left Egypt twice. He fled after killing an Egyptian who was abusing an Israelite, then was sent back by God to free His people with God’s power, not his own, and left again in the great exodus. Which time of leaving is the passage in Hebrews talking about?

The pastor pointed out that “forsaking Egypt” does not require a move. In his heart Moses had already “left” Egypt before he left the first time. He decided the people of God were more important than the fact he was in a position to become the next Pharaoh. In other words, I can leave something, no longer ‘be there’ for it, even if I don’t go anywhere.

I know this experience. People have “forsaken” me without walking out, and I can leave something behind without leaving it as well. It is a matter of the heart, of what I consider the most important.

For Christians, most sin is willingly left behind. It has become bondage and the reason we came to Christ in the first place. But there are some things from the old life that are like rumpled and comfortable shoes or jeans. They are harder to part with and sometimes seem like they enhance our lives. We don’t want to leave them behind, even when Christ Himself tells us that is what we must do.

Another reason my “Egypts” are difficult to forsake is that I’ve already left some of them and discovered that by doing that, new challenges rise up, challenges that require patience and endurance. Like a move, the new place has its good points, but along with those are inevitable expenses and sometimes painful adjustments.

My new life in Christ is great, but it is costly. Jesus asks for a 24-hour readiness; I’m to be available all the time, ready to say yes when He asks me to do something. This can mean interruptions, drained funds, exhausting physical effort, mental and emotional stress, or anything else the job requires. This new life has challenges that can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and give me a huge sense of being needy myself and unable to do it alone. While feeling needy is a good thing (and makes me rely on Christ), it is not always comfortable. I need to endure under God, trusting that His choices for me are the very best, and that He is not out to ruin me.

This new life is a narrow life too. I’m not happy when I stray off the walk that Christ has put me on. He wants me to guard my heart, my mind, my mouth, everything I do. This requires patience with myself. I am such a slow learner, and when I fail, I need to remember that God is not out to smack me around but patiently endures as I make mistakes, forgiving me and helping me back on the path.

No doubt about it, that path always leads away from Egypt. I must forsake all that holds me in bondage and keeps me from trusting God. This means turning totally, no long, lingering looks backward, but keeping my eyes on Jesus and pressing on toward the prize to which He has called me.

Packing up and moving has its challenges, however staying here and ‘moving’ is far more difficult. Apart from the grace of God, I’m sure it is impossible.