Thursday, December 9, 2010

Has Anyone Seen Jesus?

A friend recommended a book yesterday and as I read the introduction, I was struck by this insight:
We are often like Jesus' parents who left Him in Jerusalem after the Passover.  We follow the prescribed path of obedience, celebration, or discipline then continue on our way, never realizing Jesus' absence.
And that's exactly the passage that was next on my personal reading venture for today:  Luke 2:41-52.

Jesus said, "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?"

But Joseph and Mary did not know Jesus well enough to predict His absence from them and His presence at the temple. They did not understand His need and desire to talk about heavenly things, to immerse Himself in His Father’s business. They left Jerusalem fully expecting that their desires took precedence over Jesus’ and that Jesus would follow if only they led.

How easy it is to leave Jesus in Jerusalem! To go about my business and assume that He’s with me just because it’s what I want to do.  And as I go through the routine of today, in preparation for Christmas, I need to stop and ask, "Where's Jesus?" 

As I send children off to school for the day: "Where's Jesus?"
As I sort laundry, sweep floors, and pick up misplaced items: "Is Jesus here?"
As I write notes on Christmas letters, wrap gifts, plan holiday parties: "Is Jesus coming?"
As I call friends, send email responses, and facebook replies: "Have you seen Jesus?"

I pray that this Christmas season will be one where His presence is acknowledged and felt in each encounter, each pursuit, and each step of the journey--or that I will choose to return to "Jerusalem" and sit at His feet until He is ready to go....

Monday, December 6, 2010

Absent Evangelism: Attack of the Stomach Flu

When our nine-year-old daughter came down with the stomach flu last week, I knew it would happen.  It didn't hit until the end of the day and I was tired.  I didn't take the usual precautions and yes, the bug hit me 36 hours later.  The day before I was scheduled to present "The True Meaning of Christmas" for a friend's outreach brunch.  Yes, 36 hours.  And the brunch was going to take place 21 hours after I hit the pillow.

My friend sounded a little concerned when I reached her after work that evening.  "Okay. Okay," she assured me (and herself).  Followed by "This is too funny," and a laugh.  "Our Sunday school teacher challenged us to share the gospel with ten people this week and I'm scared to death.  Maybe this is God's answer."

And it was.  She wasn't sure what to say to the women or how to say it.  But the Lord had already given me the time to put my thoughts on paper.  I sent her the outline and she got to share Christ with friends she sees on a regular basis, but has not personally told about their need for Jesus and His provision.  Yes, God even uses the stomach flu to guide and use His people.  I must say it was the most exciting outreach event I've ever missed!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Freedom of Work

The following is a quote from Horatius Bonar, a Scottish pastor, as quoted in The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges (p. 207).  It is too good to keep to myself!

It is forgiveness that sets a man working for God.  He does not work in order to be forgiven, but because he has been forgiven, and the consciousness of his sin being pardoned makes him long more for its entire removal than ever he did before.
An unforgiven man cannot work.  He has not the will, nor the power, nor the liberty.  He is in chains.  Israel in Egypt could not serve Jehovah.  "Let my people go, that they may serve Me," was God's message to Pharaoh (Exodus 8:1):  first liberty, then service.
A forgiven man is the true worker, the true Law-keeper.  He can, he will, he must work for God.  He has come into contact with that part of God's character which warms his cold heart.  Forgiving love constrains him.  He cannot but work for Him who has removed his sins from him as far as the east is from the west.  Forgiveness has made him a free man, and given him a new and most loving Master.  Forgiveness, received freely from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, acts as a spring, an impulse, a stimulus of divine potency.  It is more irresistible than law, or terror, or threat.

Horatio Bonar,  God's Way of Holiness  (Durham, England:  Evangelical Press, 1979; originally published 1864), 51-52.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sacrificial Giving

This morning in preparation of Thanksgiving, I have been reminded of sacrifices.  The first groups that come to mind as an American are our men and women in the armed forces and their families.  We are so thankful for their personal, daily sacrifices (and should take the time to tell and show them!). 

As Christians, the overwhelming sacrifice we think of regularly is that of Jesus Christ, God as man, God taking His own wrath for my sin.  No sacrifice can compare to Jesus' humble, total, torturous gift of Himself on my behalf.

But if, in our Christian walk, we think of Christ likeness as gentleness, patience, and love apart from personal loss, we have lost focus.  Being like Christ is to put off my personal reputation and walk in obedience regardless of others' acceptance.  Being like Christ is to represent God at all times in all places verbally and actually.  Being like Christ is to submit to all authority with meekness.  Being like Christ is to bear the misunderstandings of others.  Being like Christ is to challenge that which is man-centered and self-centered and put it in the perspective of God, and God alone.

In this way, through daily, moment by moment dependence I become a living sacrifice.  My life, my thoughts, my actions, my choices are each offered to God as a gift.  "Is this what you would have me do, Lord?"  "Is this what you would have me speak?"  "Is this what you would have me give?"  The moments of my day then become a conversation with God.  I become that living sacrifice, a purchased gift with a specific purpose  (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

But what do I do when the cost is too great?  When God challenges my reason, my rights, my needs?  A dear friend shared this verse which resonates with me even as I consider giving the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  "God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar" (Psalm 118:27).  Sometimes, realistically, I can't give thanks.  Sometimes, realistically, I can't give God the obedience He desires.  Most of the time, realistically, I don't want to.  And this verse has become a repeated prayer, "Lord, if you must, bind me to the horns of the altar."  Only God can give me the motivation, the love, and the obedience that is required to please Him (Philippians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Hebrews 11:6).  In giving to God what is His due there is peace and joy--not because God wins and I lose.  If that is my view of Christian service, I do not know the true and living God.

God loves me infinitely, purely, wholly.  In doing what He commands I fulfill my purpose and He receives the worth-ship that belongs to Him and Him alone.  This Thanksgiving I am praying for a more dependent, grateful attitude.  One that esteems God above all others, especially myself, even if it means tying my hands to the horns of the altar!  For "You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bad Christian

"So I said to him, 'You know, Dad, you're a really good religious person, but you're a bad Christian.'" 
That comment has stuck in my head since yesterday afternoon.  A new friend was sharing herself with me and that is how she saw her dad, a pastor.  A tragedy for the people he ministered to, a tragedy for his family, a tragedy for his eternal self.  But I was encouraged by my friend's discernment.  Too many of us are "good religious people" but "bad Christians."
Here are a couple of things she brought up that are worth mentioning to those of us who minister in our local church Bodies:
1)  Once a notable member of the congregation brought three guests with her.  They were of a different race.  They were beautiful.  They were well-to-do.  And no one greeted them.  No one talked to them.  For weeks after that incident, everyone gave that church member the cold shoulder.  Hmmm. Would I react this way?
2)  Once a woman with a "spotted" past confessed her sin, God changed her life, but she was held at arm's length.  "She scrubbed the floors for those people, she made them meals, she washed the dishes after potlucks, and they treated her like dirt."  Hmmmm. Would I react this way?
I must say that, during our visit I did some dirt-checking of my own.  How do I think of others?  How do I treat others in our church Body?  If she were to come to our church, what would she see?  What do others see?  Do they see Jesus at work?  Or are we just a bunch of "religious people" playing church?
As we parted I shared an insight of my own.  "I've realized that it's not just about reading your Bible.  Even if people read the Bible everyday, it doesn't mean a thing until they come to the point of saying, 'God, you're right.  I'm wrong.  I need you to make up the difference.'"  And that is where Jesus Christ comes in.  There is no change--in fact, there is only petrification of stubborn pride--until I repent and submit to God.  Then, as I walk in the reality of my own frailty and failure, I am more accepting of others and more ready to point them to an all-sufficient, all-loving God.
I continue to chew on our conversation, with an eye on my attitude:  Am I defensive or repentant?  It's the difference between being a good religious person or a true Christian.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

End Notes

After arriving home from ladies' Bible study this morning, I realized we'd left loose ends in Sunday school, Young Adult Fellowship, and this morning's study.  Here are the resources and biblical references I didn't have on hand when they came up in discussion:

Sunday School—Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp: Here’s a book that biblically confronts the deceit of self-esteem: Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Unselfish-Children-Self-Absorbed-World/dp/141655842X.

Young Adult Fellowship—Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges: The book, The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence was mentioned. Inside the cover it says, “‘Lord of all pots and pans and things…Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!’ Thus Brother Lawrence was able to turn even the most commonplace and menial task into a living hymn to the glory of God.”  http://www.amazon.com/Practice-Presence-God-Brother-Lawrence/dp/0800785991


Ladies’ Bible Study—The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges: Amos was referred to this morning as an example of someone who was taught by God (i.e. Titus 2:11-12 “…the grace of God…teaches us….”.) The reference is Amos 7:14-15.

Household management—my top pick is Bonnie’s Household Organizer by Bonnie McCollough. There are a lot of good resources out there! Although this is an older book, it is family-centered (not house centered) and has more practical ideas than I could ever use--there's always something I can improve on even if I learn s-l-o-w-l-y.
http://www.amazon.com/Bonnies-Household-Organizer-Essential-Getting/dp/0312087950

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Quiet Discovery

I woke with a song this morning--more than that of the lovely owl who hooted in the dawn through our open window--there was a tune in my head...and words.  A tune and words I hadn't heard before.  The clock read 4:01.  And, instead of saying "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears,"  I seem to recall saying, "You've got to be kidding, Lord.  It's 4:00 a.m."

And the song continued.  I thought about stopping it and rolling over, but the thought that we actually have a notation program on the computer stopped me.  I tried recalling the notes and words--perhaps I would remember them at a more godly hour (!).   But the prompting in my head said, "Obedience is obedience--no matter what time of day."

So, I climbed out of bed, made a pot of coffee, fed the cat (who wakes me routinely at 4:30--my husband's cat, mind you), and sat down at the computer with ear buds.  It's not an earth shattering, gotta-hear-it-cause-it's-the-next-Keith-and-Kristyn-Getty-song (http://www.gettymusic.com/).  But it's the gift God gave this morning.

And the realization came that, after reading a brief encouragement in World magazine (http://www.worldmag.com/index.cfm, October 9th issue), I stopped listening to audio books as much this week.  And, in the quiet, God spoke.  Maybe not when I would like, but in the quiet, unbroken hours. 

So stop already.  Make some quiet in your life today.  Wait and listen.  God is there.

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Repentance or Remorse? You Choose

How often we say or do something we wish we could change later!  Some of us go to great lengths to fix a problem we've created--perhaps we slandered someone and that person found out, perhaps we denied a situation existed only to suffer the consequences later.  No matter what the offense, we have two choices.  We can admit our sin and turn to God, through Jesus, for forgiveness.  Or we can try to fix the problem ourselves.

Matthew 26:69-27:10


v. 75, 3-5: And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

Observation: Our sin is manifested personally, with huge consequences. No one else shares my guilt. No one else shares my despair. No one else shares my penalty. Sin is real. The results of sin are real. Both Peter and Judas sinned against Jesus personally. Both of them sinned against Jesus publicly. Both of them felt great remorse and shame and despair. But Peter knew Christ enough—had the grace to return to Jesus—and receive forgiveness. For Judas there was no faith that Jesus would forgive and receive. There was no returning. There was only death.

Application: Repentance is a repetitive act of faith in returning to the Lord Jesus Christ for acceptance and forgiveness. Repentance does not erase the sin, but Jesus covers the sin. Repentance  does not remove the consequences, but Jesus provides Himself through the consequences. Repentance does not apply to anyone but myself. The opposite of repentance is remorse—grief over having to suffer the consequences apart from the faith to return to Christ humiliated and stricken. Repetitive repentance grows and demonstrates faith. Peter chose repentance. Judas chose remorse.  It is the appeal to man for acceptance and removal of consequences that hinders faith and brings destruction.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Consumed

Have you ever been so consumed with a thought, or a problem, or a person that you struggled to get something, anything, done?  That is an annoyance of the human condition--to be overcome, emotionally, and struggle to get free.  As I read today's Scripture, I couldn't help but think that this woman was consumed with thoughts of Jesus and a driving passion to love and honor Him.  And, no, in this case, its was not an annoyance, but a God-directed prompting that could not be put aside.

Matthew 26:6-35

v. 10: But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.”

Observation: The woman who anointed Jesus with the costly perfume did it because she loved Jesus. Her thoughts were no doubt consumed with Jesus and she could not think of anything less. She could not do the next thing until she had expressed her love for Jesus.

Application: How often am I so consumed with love for Jesus that I must do something to serve Him? How often am I so burdened to do something, anything, for Jesus that I can do nothing else until that has been accomplished? Is my life characterized by Jesus-centered words and actions? No. Too often it is full of self: self-focused thoughts, self-focused actions, self-focused plans and agendas. How does this change? Jesus said, "Ask and you shall receive" (Matthew 7:7).
So, is it simply in the asking that God will grant my request?  Yes, if it is aligned with His will (1 John 5:14). I know it is because I have the assurance of His Word that He wants me to love Him with all my mind, soul, and strength (Matthew 22:37-38).  So, I'm asking.  God, will You change my focus, my thoughts, my goals, my words until You are at the center—the only One at the center--and I am peripheral. If I were simply the tool, the vessel, the conduit withYou as the content— the way You've always intended—what a different life it would be…. To make Christ seen, known, preeminent. Be the center, Lord, be my passion.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exposure: A Heresy of the Heart

A number of years ago my husband and I attended a teen's funeral. With a heightened awareness of the pain and suffering in that sanctuary, my anger was aroused as the person in charge laid out one lie after another.  At one point I turned to my husband and whispered, "If this goes on much longer, you are going to have to restrain me."  It took all I had not to stand up and shout, "Heresy!  Heresy!  They're lies! All lies!"

That said, this morning I discovered heresy in my heart.  In an effort to better steward this earthly vessel, I am working my way through the First Place 4 Health Bible studies.  I picked up the book, "Giving Christ First Place" on the recommendation of a pastor's wife and was blessed with a 43-pound loss a few years ago.  Sadly, weight sneaks back, and before I lose complete control, I'm on to another of their studies.  This morning I discovered an insidious thought pattern as I looked at Ephesians 6--the armor of God.

"Identify an area where you have relied on the world's philosophies and psychology in a vain attempt to overcome the spiritual forces that wage war against your soul..." (Daily Victory, Daily Joy p. 63). It didn't take much prayer to recall that yesterday--after completing much of my to-do list, exercising and eating responsibly--I indulged in strawberry milk and animal crackers while running errands. That may not be your definition of gluttony--and it wasn't even a dark sin I snuck off in the corner to commit, but it was outside my allowance for the day. God and I knew it.  My accountability partner, Sara, knows it. But God wasn't finished.  It was more than the act, it was the thought behind the act.

What was I thinking?  "Because I have done this:  ___________; I deserve this:  ______________."  Look back:  because I had completed much of my to-do list, exercised, and eaten responsibly I could now celebrate with 550 "free" calories.  WOO.....hoo.

But, you might argue, that's just positive reinforcement and performance management. There's nothing wrong with rewarding yourself, la da da da da.  And that's what I've told myself, too--until today.  Once I wrote my thoughts on paper I saw their duplicity.  Do I really think that because I've done something right so-many-times-in-a-row I deserve to sin?  Does God really say, "You've been such a good girl, you're entitled to some fun.  Go dabble in your favorite sin and come back when you're ready"?  Not.  The biblical model is to keep doing right, not to grow weary in doing good, to rejoice in God and His righteousness.  There is no comfort in sin.  There is no peace or satisfaction or accomplishment.  "This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. " (Titus 3:8).

We would all agree that God doesn't give out sin-tickets for good behavior, but I have found that I live as if He does (or at least I pretend He does).  How different my life would be if I didn't justify bad behavior based on good behavior.  And how important it is to know God wholly, truly, reverently; living in constant dependence.  And, as the verse on this site reminds me frequently--refreshment follows repentance.  Praise God for revealing heresy--from what I hear, it's a lifelong process.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Whose Party is This?!

Matthew 22

v. 3-5, 11-12: And [the King] sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, “Tell those who have been invited, ‘Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen, and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.’” But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business….

But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And the man was speechless.

Observation: The King was ready. The feast was ready. The invitation was given. The people had other plans. Then when clothes were provided, the guest expressed his own personal preference—he did not submit himself to wearing what the King provided.

Application: I understand that the "call" of the King is the call to repentance--but I remain God's subject even after I've received His invitation.  How many times do I have “other plans” when it comes to obedience to God? God says, “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” But I have other plans. God says, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are not your own, you were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body.” But I have other plans. God says, “Wives, submit to your husband in everything.” But He doesn’t really mean that, does He? Not everything? I have other plans.

There was one man who was willing to change His plans and come to the King. He put aside his own agenda to celebrate with the King in His household—but his other plan was to wear his own clothes. So, I come to God, I eat His food (by reading the Bible), I spend time with His people, I enjoy the sights and sounds of His kingdom, but I don’t like His taste when it comes to my personal choices and ministry. I’d rather do it my way than His. The rest of them can do whatever…but I’m going to teach Sunday school this way….or I’m going to worship this way…or I’m going to create this fabulous new program…. And God? Where did God’s plan go?

“Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For Many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 13-14)

Only God’s plan. Only God’s way….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Give Me!... Please?

Matthew 20


v. 26b-28: …whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.

Observation: The early laborers to the vineyard had—they had a denarius, they had had a full day’s work—but they wanted more in comparison to the other workers (v. 12). James and John had—they had front row seats to Jesus, they had an eternal kingdom ahead—but they wanted more in comparison to the other disciples (v. 20-24). The blind men had—they had life and were somehow getting by—but they wanted more. They wanted their sight.

In the middle of everyone’s desire for what they didn’t have, Jesus foretold His betrayal, abuse, and death. He was painfully clear about who would be involved and what would happen, but there is no recorded response. The text seems to beg, “Really, Jesus? Are you sure you have that right? You must be mistaken.” There was no recognition of His gift; of His deity; of His lovingkindness from those who surrounded him daily.

Looking more closely at those who wanted more, the laborers felt entitled. They had worked longer. They “grumbled at the landowner.” (v. 11). Good thing I never grumble.

James and John appear to have recruited their mother to help ask Jesus for special treatment. They said, “we are able” to do whatever is asked in exchange for the honor of sitting at your right and left hand. The workers and disciples felt entitled to special treatment from God. Their words and actions reveal that, because of their labor, God was now under obligation to treat them accordingly.

But God is not under obligation to any man. He is God. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (v. 15).

The blind men, on the other hand, cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” They recognized that Jesus may or may not grant their request. They had nothing to offer in return. God’s mercy would be extended or withheld at the discretion of the Master. It was not in the getting that they recognized Jesus’ lordship, it was already His. They laid their pitiful voices and humility at the feet of Jesus. And He healed them.

Application: How do I come to Jesus? Do I come expecting to receive more in comparison to others because of some special service or sacrifice? Or do I recognize Him for who He is—the Son of Man, the representative of man, the gift given to redeem man? When I demand more, when I grumble, when I expect better treatment do I stop to look at Jesus? The One who was delivered to the chief priests and scribes who condemned him to death? Who was then handed Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify? And who, on the third day, was raised up? (v. 18-19).

What did I want again? I think I just forgot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mission Impossible

Matthew 19:1-30


Observation: Marriage, children, money, sacrifice—all of these things Jesus valued differently than men. When Jesus described God’s ideal for marriage, the disciples answered, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” Jesus values life-long commitment.

When children were brought for His blessing, the disciples rebuked them. Jesus welcomed them. Jesus values children.

When the ruler attested that he had kept the 10 commandments, Jesus compared his affection for people with his affection for riches. Jesus values people.

When the disciples questioned the value of their earthly sacrifice in comparison with the rich young ruler, Jesus assured them of His generosity. Jesus values sacrifice.

Application: All of these are impossible. It is impossible for a married couple to live as one entity for a lifetime. It is impossible to value children over and above the demands of life. It impossible to value people more than riches. It is impossible to live a life of sacrifice and service…without Jesus.

In and of myself I will value those things that meet my desires, that quench my thirst—even temporarily. But with Jesus’ indwelling character, I will surrender my desires to be unified with my mate. With Jesus’ help, I will value and bless children, not push them aside or make them wait until a more convenient time. Through Jesus I will see the value in others and willingly give from my abundance to serve those in need. And because of Jesus, I will not measure today’s sacrifice against the riches of another. I will count it all loss to in light of gaining Christ and His righteousness (Philippians 3:8). My values? His values? Today I will ask for opportunities to live out the impossible.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Evangelism and a Cow

I woke to Bubby's bellow outside my window at 5:00 this morning.  Again, David and I jumped out of bed and found our way outside in the dark.  Bubby stayed where he was as I went to him, rubbed his head, and visited quietly with him.  Then, as I called him and walked toward the pasture, he followed.  This time he went with only a little hesitation--no balking.

As I made coffee to start my morning the old-fashioned, traditional way, I reflected on Bubby and the similarities with community friends and students at Friday night's football game.  This last week, Bubby escaped repeatedly. We have fixed the fence in numerous ways, kenneled him in the barn, and made sure his needs are provided.  He keeps walking out of the pasture (yes, we installed an electric fence).  Friday night I had the opportunity to see and spend time with a number of the students and parents I worked with at the high school last year. So many of them have pains, anxieties, and frustrations that weigh them down.  No one is able to adequately calm their hearts or provide peace.  But when I can come alongside them repeatedly, I have the opportunity to build a sense of trust.

God is the One who throws the lasso and allows the pressure, but I can come alongside them with kindness, reassurance, and truth.  It is not a one-time interaction.  As I have the opportunity to present Christ, they balk and shake their heads.  Over time they watch, they listen, they wonder.  And God works.  I am not the cow-whisperer.  I am not the people-whisperer.  But I can speak truth, and love, and grace for it is mine to share and offer.  The pasture is a wonderful place.  It is the best place.  But until others see the goodness of God and He gives them the faith to trust, I will continue to walk alongside, to love, and speak truth.  And I have hope because the Head Roper and I are on the same team.

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.


But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:1-15)

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Cow Whisperer--or Not

The phone rang at 2:30 a.m.  David, my husband, answered and after a brief conversation hurried out of bed and into his clothes.
"Who was that?"
"The sheriff.  Bubby's out," he answered.
"Oh, no..."

Earlier (6:30-a.m.-earlier) that same day the neighbor had pulled into our driveway in his red truck to let us know our cow was in his backyard.  After losing our dog, Pretty, to a car accident last week, I shuddered to think of 600-pound Bubby on the highway....(see http://www.getrealfarmlife.blogspot.com/).

I walked across the pasture toward the neighbors calling his name.  When he heard my voice, he picked his head up from the grass and looked at me, framed by evergreens.  It was precious.  He jumped in the air and ran down the fence line.  I ran alongside him, then walked him the rest of the way home.  After a lovely bite of flowers, he allowed David and I to herd him back through the gate.  "You're the Cow Whisperer," David commented in awe.  I was proud.  It had been so easy to call Bubby and walk him home.

There was no apparent hole in the fence. "Maybe Hoover is missing Pretty and decided to take Bubby out on his morning walk," our daughter, Laura, suggested.  Hoover, our other retriever, has been quite lonely lately.  What a perfect solution!

Now, this call at 2:30 a.m.  I won't go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that the "Cow Whisperer" lost her title.  We searched.  We found.  We lassoed.  We lost.  We chased. We cajoled.  We pushed (thankfully he hasn't learned to kick yet--but there are some unpleasantries associated with pushing an uncooperative cow from behind).  At one point I had the lasso around my waist in an effort to anchor him.  When he took off running, the rope pulled taut around my middle and my foot tangled in the tail-end.  I hit the ground sliding.  Praise the Lord for a husband who threw himself on the rope and kept me from trailing through the soybean field behind a mad cow!

David cinched the lasso close and applied the "Lasso Rule:"  when you pull away or go the wrong direction, your wind pipe will suffer and there is pain; when you come near and go the right direction, there is relief.

What spiritual applications did I learn? 
-  Pride goes before a fall.  God is the One who allowed Bubby to come home so easily that first morning.  I regretted my pride and gloating "before the cock crowed" the next day.
- Sometimes in our Christian walk, we are quick to follow Jesus--we're so excited to see Him that we'll go anywhere just to walk by His side.  It should always be like that.
- There are times, however, when we choose to go our own way and wander outside the protection He's provided.  He then applies "life's lasso."  It chokes us when we turn away and relieves us as we stay close by His side.

You can read this and walk away.  I, unfortunately, am still limping a bit and nursing my bruised hip.  Praise God for real reminders of His loving care, His constant nature, and His patient work!

Monday, September 13, 2010

This Rolling Stone...

I received a phone call from a dear friend this afternoon who opened our conversation by asking, "How busy are you?"  Oh, boy.  My mind raced through a list of to-do's as I caught my breath. 
"Too busy," I admitted.
"How are you handling it?" she asked.  Now, with some people this is an up-front question.  Knowing her, it was a trick question. She loves me enough to be honest.  Bluffing was out of the question. Fortunately, God and I had already had this discussion today.
"I'm handling it one moment at a time.  There's too much to do.  So I told the Lord that if He would prompt and direct me, with His help, I'll be obedient."
"Do you have time for me?"
"This is as good a prompting as I'll get," and a pleasant one, too, I said to myself.
By the time we finished our conversation and hung up the phone, God had blessed me abundantly.  She shared how God is working in her life, where she's struggling, and as she preached to herself, she spoke to my almost-harried heart.
God knows the demands of each hour and each day.  He knows the calling He has on our lives.  I can honestly say that the responsibilities I have taken on are God-given.  I am practicing the art of saying no to those people and things I would say yes to simply as a courtesy or because of other's expectations.  The things on my plate are personal callings from God, but there is no physical, earthly way to accomplish them (need I add: to do them the way I think they should be done?).  Somehow, God does.
So, for tonight's young adult barbecue, my kitchen floor may not be spotless, the cobweb may still be in the windowsill, I will no doubt have a pile of copies to make for Good News Club sitting on the dining room table.  But if God gives sweetness of fellowship and honoring words from our hearts, then it doesn't have to be done to my specifications, does it?  It is the Spirit who burdens, the Father who provides, and the Son who bridges the gap.  In the incomplete moment of this day, there is no moss gathering on these heavenly treasures... God keeps moving me along.  Praise Him, praise Him!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Procrastination and A Heavy Burden

So, yes, at this moment---while you think I am writing to encourage you--I am actually procrastinating.  Perhaps there will be a blessing for you in my personal procrastination.  I should be walking on the treadmill, but I was feeling weary and weighed down.  My usual speed was too fast, my attention drawn elsewhere.  The weighted vest I wear seemed extraordinarily heavy. 
As I sat here at the dining room table typing on my laptop yesterday, there was an interruption in the traffic outside.  I ran out in my grey shorts, t-shirt, and bare feet to see cars stopped and our old golden retriever lying in the road.  God bless the fellow that stopped to help.  I ran through the house to get shoes, then out to the barn where I prayed for something to move her (she must have weighed 100 lbs, even with her ribs on the surface--yes, she was old).  There was a slatted wooden fence piece nearby which I grabbed and carried back to the road.
Traffic was moving as the gentleman stood over Pretty, our dog, directing cars this way and that.  What a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit.  When crisis strikes and we are wounded, the rest of the world moves on--but there was one who stopped, intervened, and helped me carry Pretty to the shade of a nearby tree where she and I waited for my husband to take her into the veterinarian. She was given an injection.  It was all very peaceful.  Her only yelp was at the moment of impact. 
Needing a physical outlet, I found my way outside and pruned roses until our girls arrived home on the school bus.  Now I'm a little tired and sore.  And not wanting to wear this weighted vest and walk my four miles.
In all of this, I was reminded of what I read earlier this week and stopped walking to share it with you:  "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) What a great exchange--my burden for His.  His burden for mine. 
My burden: loss, the desire to please, the want to fix things and change circumstances.  His burden: to please the Father, to trust the Father with all circumstances and things, to walk in obedience.  What a deal.  I give Him my sense of loss, the burden of unnecessary responsibility and cares.  He gives me the ability to trust, rest, and obey.  That makes life much more bearable.  Peaceful.  Joyful.  Free. 
So what do I do with heavy vest?  Maybe I'll wear it tomorrow....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jesus vs. Me

Passage: Matthew 12: 1-29


V. 15b-21: Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah, the prophet: “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”

Observation: In sharing this O.T. prophecy we see the nature of Christ in a few words: He is God’s servant, He is loved of God, He is the Chosen One, He pleases God first and foremost, He announces justice, He seeks peace, He does not draw attention to Himself, He is gentle and merciful, He is patient, He is trustworthy.

Application: I can know that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He continues to serve the Father, to be loved. He is the Chosen One who pleases God first. He makes known the way of justice. He seeks peace. He does not draw attention to Himself, but gently and mercifully cares for that which is losing hope. He continues to patiently wait for His time to lead in justice and victory. He is worthy of our trust.

I can take heart that, as one who is called to be His imitator, this is His calling on my life. I am called to be God’s servant—not my own master, not the servant of my own desires and whims. Through Jesus Christ, I am loved and chosen. I am free to seek His agenda and His will because my own agenda and will are base, temporal, fleeting. Because of His love and choice, I have the freedom and authority to accomplish His purposes. I am not called to quarrel against those who would disagree. It is not my place to cry out. I am not called to draw attention to myself and put myself in the limelight. I am simply called to minister mercy and grace to the hurting, the lost, and those losing hope. In reaching out to those in need, I will patiently wait for His victory and justice, holding out that same hope to others.

So how am I doing? Not well. My flesh does not want to rest in being chosen, but wants to strive for importance. As a matter of fact, it does not want to be chosen at all—it wants to choose “for itself” (no pride there?). My flesh wants to be the one to love, not the one who is loved (again, I want the control). My flesh wants to please me, not Him. It does not want to proclaim justice; it wants to create justice (Clint Eastwood style!). My flesh wants to cry out, to quarrel, and to draw attention to the misdeeds of the world, of circumstance, of sinful man. It wants to hold center stage—now and always. It does not want to flubber over a smoldering wick or apply mercy to a broken reed. It wants victory NOW. It wants confidence and assurance NOW.

Wow. Good thing I’m reading God’s Word. It’s so not who I am. But by God’s grace, and by His Spirit, He will do the work as I submit. Whew. Praise God who gives the victory! Salvation is not a moment of faith; it is a lifetime of faith.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

If I Play My Flute, Will He Come?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 Matthew 11:1-19


Verses 4-5, 16-17: Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them…. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”

Observation: Jesus declared His work for what it was—it was visible, it was real, but the problems and difficulties of life continued. John expected Jesus to fix things—his things, his life, his circumstances—but Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He healed, He forgave, He taught. His work was evident, but it wasn’t all that John had in mind. The people also had expectations of Jesus—they wanted Him to play their games, to be part of their world. Instead, He did His Father’s will; He invited them to be part of His world.

Application: Why do I expect Jesus to fix all of my problems? He continues to do the will of the Father. He continues to live a life of humility (after all, He intercedes on my behalf—wouldn’t He have more interesting, important things to do in heaven than pray?! For stinky sinner people?!). He continues to change the hearts of men. He doesn’t play my games. He doesn’t bend to my will. He doesn’t dishonor Himself by becoming part of my world, but He calls me apart to His. He sets me apart to do His will, by His Spirit He empowers and enables me to do become part of His world, to do His work. And I would rather muck around in mine? Lord, forgive me for questioning your amazing work, for playing my flute and expecting you to dance to my tune, for wallowing in self-pity and inviting you to enter in. Please continue your transforming, sanctifying work in my life. Help me to hear and see Your will and way in my life and the lives of those around me. Give me a heart of worship and submission, in the name of the One who saves, in Jesus name. Amen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Life in the Spotlight

Yesterday I prepared an article for submission, then went back to an old file to grab information for the cover letter.  God is so good to remind us of Himself.  Conviction fell as I read this paragraph:

My beliefs about the Bible:
"My life and acts of service are a result of Christ’s working, not my own. I firmly believe that the Word of God, together with the working of His Spirit, is sufficient for my needs. This Word of God is useful for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness to fully equip each believer for the good works God has prepared (II Timothy 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:10). I believe it is the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15, John 17:17), that it is quick, powerful, and useful for discerning our thoughts and intents (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is an offensive weapon against spiritual deceit (Ephesians 6:17), and it keeps us from offending our Father (Psalm 119:11). The Bible is accurate, infallible and eternal. The proper use of God’s Word builds up His Body and accomplishes His will and purpose (Isaiah 55:11)."

Only God.  Only God can take these things we do, these things we say, and turn the spotlight on Himself.  As we continue in ministry--in life--may it that our lives and acts of service continually reflect Jesus Christ Himself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Memoir of a Once Nice Person

Perhaps you’ve heard it said (or said it yourself), “Ruby-Toes is such a nice person!” Or maybe you are that nice person—the one people like to have on committees, the one who is the first to compliment a new hairstyle or accommodate a different idea.
Nice people are often good listeners and they have a lot of personal contacts. But, as a once-nice person, I’m here to tell you otherwise. When it comes to nice people, what you see is probably not what you get.
As a once-nice person, I have been convicted that niceness is not good. It is not biblical. It is not right. Unless you have already stumbled upon this little-known truth, you may be reading with your mouth agape, in absolute shock. “What’s wrong with being nice?” you ask. Let me tell you my woeful tale.
I was born at a very young age, the oldest of four children, to a pair of up-and-coming professionals. A compliant child, my standard answer to any question of preference was, “I don’t care.” My parents taught me well. Grandma would ask, “Would you like hot cocoa?”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t care? Either you would or wouldn’t. Would you like some?”
Next standard answer, “Whatever’s easiest for you, Grandma.”
And so life went. It was a blessing to be born with the desire to please. I never rebelled as a teenager (all the options seemed self-destructive or inconvenient). I married early and enjoyed the generosity of a wonderful husband.  Rather than express my preferences, I was proud when I pleased him: “Just give me a template and  watch what I can do.” I was convinced that pleasing others was what Jesus would do. He would give it all up—even the little things—to serve others.

And then, (drum roll please), I saw examples of Jesus not pleasing others, times He disagreed with and defied others. He never said, “It doesn’t matter,” or “whatever’s easiest for you.” He bowed His will to the Father’s, and only the Father's. Oh, boy.

I weighed what I received in return being nice: kind words, added responsibility, smiles, unfair advantages. And I wondered, “What if I wasn’t nice?” Would people still like me? Would they give me what I want? Would they give me what I want?! There it was—my heart's motivation! It was easy to be nice and give in to others’ wants and demands because it gave me power.  The opportunity to get things for myself, to manipulate.  All these years, I had covertly been getting my own way very “nicely.”

Praise the Lord, He intervened. But it was a very trying, difficult number of years. I learned that God designed my preferences  There is nothing sinful about liking things a certain way. I don’t know if this change was harder on me or on my husband. I started to experiment and communicate likes and dislikes. After being married nearly twenty years, my husband discovered he was married to someone he didn’t know—someone who didn’t know herself!

I had to fight the urge to be agreeable all the time. I had to fight the urge to be liked, and wanted, and pleasant. It wasn’t that I wanted trouble, but I wanted freedom; freedom to make choices, freedom from lies, freedom to be myself. And that was okay, because that’s how God made me. I also wanted to be obedient—obedient to God first and foremost instead of being obedient to others’ whims or my own hidden agendas. Whew.

Now, now that I’m not nice, life is a little more hairy. It’s more challenging at times. I’m learning to roll with conflict. To agree to disagree. To learn how to respond when others say “no” directly instead of indirectly. And, overall, I believe I’m more trustworthy. I can be honest with you about how you look, where we should go for lunch, how much I’ve prayed for you lately, and where God is working in my life. I can love you more sincerely because I am willing to acknowledge and overlook your faults instead of bending to your will and then holding a grudge against you for not doing things my way (which I was unwilling or unable to communicate). Though it’s been difficult, I have acknowledged that the base problem is not others, but me: wanting what I want because I want it.

And now, now that I’m not nice, God is showing me all the big and little items I hid behind “curtain number two” the whole time I was pleasing others instead of Him. God’s description of the young boy, Samuel, has been a lifeline to me, “But Samuel was ministering before the LORD -a boy wearing a linen ephod.” (1 Samuel 2:18) Samuel wasn’t ministering to Eli. He wasn’t ministering to the people. He wasn’t even ministering to his parents. Samuel was ministering before the Lord—and others were blessed by His service.

As I continue to work at overcoming niceness, that is my aim: to minister before the Lord, and Him alone. If you are struggling with being a nice person, I challenge you to begin by being honest with God. Spend time in prayer and His Word asking Him to reveal your heart. If you are struggling because you live with a nice person, continue to pray that God would do a work in his or her heart and lovingly challenge that niceness. Being nice is an addiction, but our God is sufficient. He desires our worship and praise to be directed at Him and Him alone.

Resources:

 Pleasing People: How not to be an "approval junkie" by Lou Priolo

 When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch

 No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice--Instead of Good--Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. PhD PhD Degler

 Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God by Mark Galli

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Pruning, Please!

Yesterday my loving husband trimmed our bushes and hedges, knowing I wanted to work on the rose hedge.  It's something I try to do every spring, but because of a teaching assignment, I didn't get it done.  Now that it is fall, the rose hedge looks like this:


It looks full and had many beautiful antique and tea roses on it this last spring.  But what happened as I began to clear out the grass and weeds was this (note the far right side of the hedge, behind the flowers):


What?  You can't see anything?  Exactly.  There are a few stems coming up from the ground, but they are sparse and small.  Because I failed to prune and care for them this spring and over the summer, they  suffered atrophy.  Their appearance was beautiful and they seemed to serve their purpose, but my negligence has affected their growth.  Truthfully, I don't like pruning--as the one who trims, or as the one whom God prunes.

The physical work was a good reminder to me (once again!), of God's faithful, pruning work in my life.  When I allow other things to grow up, in, and around my time and energies, I eventually rob myself of abundant life.  I fail to grow and flourish the way I was designed.  As the one who did the pruning, I can testify to cuts, blisters, and embedded thorns.  The process is difficult, painful, and--in its immediacy--damaging to the plant.  But until the air can circulate, the sun can penetrate, and the rain can nourish the base of the plant, it will die a slow (and undisturbed) life.

As we continue to faithfully serve where God has placed us, may we willingly submit to His gracious pruning and purifying work in our lives.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Deceptive Service

Matthew 7 Verse 21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in Your name, and in Your name cast our demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’”


Observation: The important piece that perhaps I am seeing more and more is that the one who enters heaven did the will of the Father. The others did good things, amazing things, but their eyes were on what they accomplished in His name—not what He accomplished through their service. They were still the center of the story, even though they did the things they thought God would want them to do.

Application: Knowing and doing the will of God is just that—doing God’s will, not my own. My basis for doing things has so often been based on other people, or perhaps what I thought would please God—even that is a self-focus. There is a pay-off in doing what pleases others, even if it’s not what God wants me to do. And to do what I think pleases God puts me in the judge’s seat of deciding what God wants. It would be better to simply submit myself to His Word and do what I know to be right, to respond to not getting my way with submission and contentment (even if my way seemed right), to be the aroma of Christ to God—an aroma of humility and sacrificial service apart from what anyone else would say or do. May today be a day of simply “doing the will of My Father.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wholly Consecrated

This morning I am reflecting on yesterday's long, hard day.  The day when we provide free furniture and household items for international students at the University of Iowa.  All 169 of them!  Many who have have been sleeping on the floor, eating on the floor and using Styrofoam containers now have bedding, dishes, tables, beds, dressers, couches--all from the hand of God who loves them.  The God who moves people and circumstances according to His will.

Before falling asleep last night I thought through the day and pictured our many fellow workers.  The words, "“The world has not yet seen what God will do through the life of one man who is wholly consecrated to Him,” came to mind.  Now, this morning, I realize that we will never see that man because God, in His greatness, guards His own in humility.  The church yard and streets of Iowa City were full of men, women, teens, and children who were wholly consecrated.  There was no name, no individual, no agenda apart from Jesus.  Jesus was serving the multitude out of compassion.  Jesus was moving the hands, feet, and hearts of His Body. 

Biblically, we cannot, nor will ever, be wholly consecrated apart from the working of the Holy Spirit.
But I have seen the result of consecration--and I have learned this:  The one who is wholly consecrated to God will not draw attention to anyone but God Himself.  He will serve diligently, with or without recognition.  But the Lord God, in His grace, will bless such a one with peace, joy, and contentment.  After all, the fruit of the Spirit fills the giver before it is given (Gal. 5:22-23).

Where some would count success in the number of international students who adopt our church as their own, or become involved in Bible studies, or come to a saving faith in Jesus, we can simply say, "We are blessed."  Yes, we continue to follow-up with student contacts, to pray, to seek opportunities to minister--as conversational English partners, through Bible studies, and continued offers of aid.  But the light shines, not because the world is dark, but because there is a Light.  And as the Light penetrates darkness, it is not lessened or enlarged because of the darkness.  It is.  God uses His people to extend Himself to a lost world and His essence is not affected by their acceptance or rejection.  He is.  And because He is, we are.  We are...blessed...praying...depending...available...working...living.

"As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. " (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Communion Bread Recipe

If you are serving the Body of Christ, you may have the opportunity to provide communion bread. This recipe was passed on when, as a young mom, I was elected to a women's ministry board. The woman who fostered the recipe was one of my mentors in high school, so this particular recipe has both sentimental and practical value. We celebrate communion on Sunday evenings and this recipe can be easily made that same afternoon.

May God be glorified through the service of His saints.

Sift together:
 2 c. Flour
1/2 tsp. Cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. Salt
3 tsp. Sugar
Cut in:
1/2 c. Shortening
Slowly add:
2/3 c. Milk
1 Egg
Stir briefly to a stiff dough.  Knead 5 times on lightly floured surface.  Roll into a ball and divide in half.  Roll one half of dough to fit cookie sheet (1/4" thick).  Fold and transfer to greased cookie sheet.  Poke entire surface with fork.  Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.  Roll and transfer remaining dough, poking with a fork before placing in the oven.
Remove bread from oven and cut immediately into thin strips from both directions. Discard corner and other uneven pieces.  Bread can be refrigerated or frozen.  Makes approximately 300 pieces. (This recipe was passed on by Helen Lange.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lessons from a Bathroom Stall

Do you ever feel like a waste receptacle? Like a dumping ground for everyone else's problems? Are there times you wanted to look that other person in the eye and say, "Do you realize I have my own problems to deal with here?" then proceed to spew forth your own life issues?

Our family was on a week's vacation at camp, using a common bathhouse, when the following insights came to mind:
1) I consistently used the stall with the open door. The door that was ajar was welcoming and available. It seemed to say, "Come on in!"
2) I only used clean vessels. I didn't want to expose myself to unpleasantness or possible illness.
3) I only used available vessels. If a stall was in use or the door was locked, I simply moved on until I found a clean, available one.
4) The vessel did not keep the refuse, but got rid of it and flushed it away.

How does this apply to ministering to others? "Now all these things [faith, love, the new nature] are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

When we are ambassadors of Christ, we are often receptacles for the refuse of others. They bring their burdens, their cares, their sin, their worries and pour them into our lives. We could very easily get weighed down and become useless. But we are not the solution to their problems, we cannot fix anything. We can, however, follow the bathhouse principles in this ministry of reconciliation:
1) Keep the door of your life open to others. When you are welcoming and inviting, others will come to you with their difficulties (2 Corinthians 6:1-10).
2) Be a clean vessel. Keep yourself free from sin in deed and in conscience. Do not hold onto the sin of others and allow bitterness to creep in (Hebrews 9:13-14, Hebrews 12:15).
3) Be available to others. This is similar to the first, but realize this--that tightly entwining yourself with friends makes you unavailable to others. God desires us to live a balanced life (examine the life of Christ).
4) Your job is not to keep the refuse, but be a vessel that channels it to where it ultimately belongs (Jude 20-25).

Who would have thought--lessons from a bathroom stall?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pharisee Recycling Center

From Pharisee to un-Pharisee—is there a place for recycled Pharisees? As a church child, “Pharisee” was a bad word (‘Cause a Pharisee’s not fair, you see?). But I have come to a newer, deeper awareness of the people-pleasing, want-to-do-it-right, want-to-do-it-my-way, of the Jewish political group known as the Pharisees.
Perhaps the most well-known Pharisee in the Christian world is the Apostle Paul. As an adult, he left the pretense of obedience, he was called out from the outward living of the law. In his conversion, He saw the Lord and was taught by God Himself what it meant to live as an un-Pharisee. (But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Gal. 1:15-17). The re-learning did not happen overnight. It took three years. And it took three years apart from those who would pervert the teaching, apart from those he would seek to please, apart from those who would stand in judgement of his new understanding.
Paul’s whole struggle with Pharisee-ism hinged on pleasing others. It hinged on doing what he did because others were watching, others were measuring, others were talking, others were distributing power and opportunity. But now, apart from what others saw or thought or did, Paul was free to live the gospel, to speak the gospel, to solicit on behalf of the gospel.
After reading the book, Pleasing People, by Lou Priolo, my whole world was set on end. Through the revelation of the Word, the Holy Spirit convicted me that many, so many, of my behaviors were dependent on the praise of man. In fact, much of life in the church today--the reason many Christians seek to be “nice” people--is for the personal benefit to self. This benefit comes in the form of positive strokes, compliments, reciprocal treatment, and additional opportunities.
Think about it. If, on Sunday morning you go out of your way to hold the door for the elderly, handicapped, and small children will you not receive many kind words and gestures? Perhaps someone might even take an extra glance and comment on your behavior to others. Before long, the pastor will approach you and recommend you for a position as a greeter or usher. You have begun to climb the rungs of church acceptance. You find yourself steaming and polishing your invisible I-am-someone-important button.
So after feeling the weight of conviction about my own desire to please others over and above pleasing God, I confessed my sin and prayed for repentance. Quite honestly, I do not like to repent. I do not often want to repent. But repentance is God’s big prerequisite. There is nothing left to do but ask. “Please, Lord, give me a heart of repentance. I want to keep pleasing myself. I want to keep doing what is comfortable and easy. I don’t want me to change, but You do.” And, even now, as I write, I find myself struggling with the desire to please you—the reader—rather than God Himself.
As a result, in the spirit of repentance, when I come to a door at church I stop and ask, “Is there someone I can love by holding this door?” Instead of asking, “Who will see me hold the door? Maybe it will be someone new… maybe it will be someone important….maybe the pastor (or deacon or elder) will walk by and see my holding the door….” And in living in Pharisee awareness I have discovered the opposite of Pharisee-ism. Un-Pharisee-ism says, “I don’t want to love that person. And, if I cannot love in sincerity, I will not serve at all.” Slam. Boom.
After struggling three years with my desire to please others, I find myself wondering if there should be a return to Pharisee behavior? I feel stuck in a no-man’s land of not pleasing others because I do not want to be a slave to the law. But when I do not live to please others, the magnet to please self pulls much more strongly and I find that selfishness and sin seem to increase. The struggle has become stronger, the desire to please self has morphed. It justifies itself because I am avoiding the pleasing-others pattern I have lived for so long. In the pain of putting myself ahead of others, I wonder if perhaps it would be better to return to simply “doing what is right” no matter what? Thank God for Paul’s continued argument in favor of grace. ("If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Gal. 2:17-21).
In other words, no, there is no place for living by law (pleasing God and others through my deeds) on one hand and living by grace (realizing that God is the only One who pleases Himself, and I am fully depending on Jesus Christ for that work) on the other hand.
As I continue to skim Paul’s letter to the Galatians, I see repeated descriptions of children—and with the descriptions comes peace and comfort. He cites one child who is born under law and another who is born under grace. There is a child born under obligation and another born under promise. In each case, the child is born (duh!—or, more nicely said, “Think about it.”). A child that has just been born is a baby. It is not a fully functioning adult until it achieves that status through time and experience. In the same way, as a newly born un-Pharisee, I am re-learning the ropes of grace. Up to this point, I have lived a life of faith as it was revealed to me and understood through God’s Word, by His Spirit—fruitful, productive, loving and serving, but with a hidden component. Now I am learning a deeper, less-me, way to live by faith. It is as if God removed His hand from the bottom of my bicycle seat. He is running beside me, enabling and equipping me, but there is a very real sense of imbalance and fear and anxiety as I peddle down the road. I have been recycled.
As I wobble and swerve, I hear His voice, “This is the way, walk in it. I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” And I respond, “ The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Isaiah 20:31, Hebrews 13:5-6).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Manhattan

We left New York City at the end of a 9-day East Coast family adventure. As we drove past Central Park this morning, I couldn't help but remember our treks from one side to the other: children laid out on rock outcrops, a dreaded flip-flop failure in the rambles.

Now, as we whizzed past storefronts, transfer stations, and landmarks we had passed on foot—holding hands, singing, Miss-Mary-Mack-ing—there, right there, in the quietness of reflection, was the Lord. He wouldn't show up on film (regular or digital), but He had been there. In each step, each moment, each delay, each uncertainty, He was there. He was closer, in fact, than the familiar presence of those who walked, ate, slept, and breathed those same new experiences. Our family had been away from our regular routine, apart from the anchors of everyday activities and the daily reminders of His presence—and He had been there, too.

With each passing block I found myself reliving and remembering our vacation, reminded of His presence. Being with one another 24-7 for 9 days is a bit intense (the 4-children-included variety). And, as much as I know God is there, the moments traveled at a speed quite their own. But now, communing through the streets of Manhattan I discovered the sense of belonging because God was there. And God is home.

As I opened the memories of each day, a woman's face came to the surface. She sat on a cement step, eating lunch. Our eyes met. Her countenance typified the Manhattan attitude, a confidence and self-awareness that said “I am here. I am myself. It is enough.” And in that moment, this morning, surrounded by the silent eagerness of returning home with those I love most, the Lord reminded me once again of His sufficient presence—independent of the people or the place. With my heart on its knees, I saw the pride of humanity in my own heart, cringed at the shining rebellion in my own eyes. In its place was the small cry, "Lord, here I am. You have given all that I have. You are enough."

He is the friend that stays closer than a brother. He is. And that is truly enough.

If you do not have a closer, deeper relationship with Creator God than with those around you, be challenged to check out this website: http://www.needhim.org/

(With a special thanks to Pastor Carter Conlon and those who ministered through Time Square Church with the message "Jesus Cares," June 13, 2010).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This Cracked Pot

If I were to be unfashionably transparent, I would admit that I have struggled with bitterness and resentment lately. There was an opportunity for gratitude and appreciation, and it never came. There was a place for public recognition or an expression of thanks. It never happened. Instead, after weeks of feeling set up, laughed at, made fun of, criticized, taken advantage of, and extremely disrespected, I was overlooked. Taken for granted. I didn’t want to be the martyr, or feel the martyr—and at the time, I didn’t. But later on? Yeah. It was the afterward part that got to me.

“Well,” I muse, “that’s life….” And, that’s God. Not artificially or sarcastically. Sincerely. In reading and studying 1 & 2 Chronicles, God’s hand in King David’s life was so evident. There were times he was overlooked and taken for granted, even despised, by King Saul. There were moments of victory and praise. There were times he sought God and times he disobeyed. In every moment, every circumstance, the purpose and hand of God moved the hearts of men to accomplish His will. What a tremendous testimony of life!

Then, this morning, as I read in 2 Corinthians, I was encouraged by this passage and thought:
“For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4: 6-7).

What I have, say, and do that glorifies God is the result of His grace and glory in my life. My life, in and of itself—this body, this shell—is simply a vessel intended to carry and bear the life of Christ. When that is what I am doing, I am accomplishing the purpose God has for me. It is not in the accomplishments of life or the platitudes of men that I meet my potential (though it would seem that way and many others would believe it). I do not deserve praise or appreciation or gratitude. When I look at Christ's example, I am ashamed and humbled to think I felt an entitlement that never existed.

My goal and aim is to bear Jesus Christ in this body, in these circumstances, at this point in time, to those who surround me. Sometimes it means death—affliction, perplexity, persecution, being struck down or forsaken. But even in death there is victory, for these moments of pain and confusion are working to bring an eternal result. There is an inner renewing day after day after day, despite the circumstances. There is an eternal weight affixed to each small victory in which the outcome is not my physical, emotional, or mental improvement, but a representation of Christ in that moment, toward a specific individual or circumstance. This is life as it should be.

As those thoughts of sadness or disappointment come in waves, I am choosing to set them aside and step forward asking, “Was Christ reflected in that moment?” If the answer is yes, the goal has been met. Today is a new moment to show Christ through the cracks of this earthen vessel.

Monday, May 10, 2010

GateKeeper

Monday, May 10, 2010 1 Chronicles 26
Verse 6: they were mighty men of valor
Verse 8: they were able men with strength for the service
Verse 9: valiant men
Verse 12: To these divisions of the gatekeepers, the chief men, were given duties like their relatives to minister in the house of the LORD.
Verse 16: Guard corresponded to guard.
Impression: The job of gatekeeper was not for sissies. God used specific men to guard the gates of the city, to open and close the gates, to oversee that which went out and that which came in. They were men of valor and strength whose job was understood in their ministry to the LORD. Should I view the importance of my soul any less? Or this body which is the temple of the Spirit? To guard against outside forces, to overcome self, to open and close the gates of my heart is not a job for a sissy. If I choose to sit back and let enter what will, I have failed to guard my heart (Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.) If I choose to “be myself” and give in to every thought and desire, I have broken down the walls of my heart (Proverbs 25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control).
God is the One who gives valor, strength, and ability. He is the One who ultimately oversees the gates of my heart, but I must submit to His Spirit and His working in my life to benefit from His guardianship. How? By conscious choice and open request. With a soft heart and a determination of will, dependence on God becomes a lifeline that overcomes the dangers of laziness, procrastination, permissiveness, the desire to exalt self and please others.
(Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Cost of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. Yesterday was Easter and my reflections fell on it. It is not a frightening word. It is not a negative word. On one hand it's expected. On the other, it's... impossible. Forgiveness is the act of moving beyond an offense, intentional or otherwise. Neither side of forgiveness is pleasant. The one who has offended must accept it with humility, with lowliness and meekness. The one who offers forgiveness does so at a cost.

God has been teaching me the cost of forgiveness and I am learning a greater sense of awe and reverence for who He is. I have discovered that forgiving others means that, although they were wrong, I bear their offense. If I was slandered by another, I bear the price of their slander. I am the one that was defamed. But in forgiveness, the price is not laid on the one who initiated the crime. It weighs on the one who was wronged, the one who forgives.

To forgive is to relinquish the expectation of reconciliation or retribution*, although that may come. To forgive is to simply live on apart from the offense. It is so very impossible. My mind recalls words, details, memories and I must put them to rest. I must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). I must choose not to dwell on, or remember, those details, by the grace of God. Apart from the working of God Himself, this is humanly impossible.

This is the forgiveness of God. This is the picture of Christ's death, His substitutionary death for me--that He took on Himself my sin, my wickedness, my death, and I pay nothing. God does not expect me to make it right. I cannot. He does not expect me to pay Him back. I cannot. In His forgiveness, He indwells me and enables me to "simply live on apart from the offense."

The other amazing thing I've learned in practicing forgiveness is that God has already given us an antidote for relieving the pain. Five times the writers of the gospels quote Jesus saying, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39, 16, 25; Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33). In a voila moment, I realized that the hurtful moments that roll off my back are the ones I don't take personally. Jesus was not only speaking of finding life after death, but of the eternal life we can experience in the here and now. I can experience the joy and peace of God when my life is not my own. In those moments that my life is lived for Christ and not for myself, the offense is not mine, it is His. Not only is the offense not realized at the time, the pain of forgiveness is nil. It is not mine to forgive, it is God's and He has already given it.

To walk in the Spirit is to walk with an eye ever on the Savior, with a heart bent to His will, with an ear listening to His voice. To forgive is to rely on God to faithfully prune those areas of my life that I hold too dearly, and cling to those that will draw me closer to His side.

* I may be wrong, but I believe God's forgiveness is free of reconciliation--Jesus forgave those who nailed Him to the cross. But reconciliation is the only way to experience a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The forgiveness is available, but must be received in order to restore the relationship. Through Christ I can forgive someone apart from a restored relationship.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The How

Yesterday, I blew it. I gave in to eating more than I should, to eating more of the comfort foods than I should. Just simply gave in. You might say I had good reason if I unloaded my excuses, but in my heart, I know excuses don't count. Reality does.

How encouraging then, this morning, to realign myself and agree with God about my failure. I need His forgiveness and help. If you will allow me, I will open my daily reading journal for you to read. Perhaps it will be a comfort and encouragement to you, too.

March 2, 2010 Romans 9:1-16
Verse 16: So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

Impression: There is no “me” in salvation—it is all about God. If this is true, even my sanctification—and certainly my glorification—is an act of God. How can one part be my choice, my will, my decision, my doing, but not the other parts? I know I cannot resurrect this body and replace it with a glorified one. How much more will I take credit for my salvation (WHO died and paid for my sin? Certainly not me.)? How much more will I take credit for my sanctification (“for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure)? So, then, it is God who does the work.

Will I submit myself to His will and ways today? He is so much more able, more capable, more invested in this fleeting, minimal life of mine than I am. How could I trust myself to know where to go, what to do, what is best? How much wiser to entrust it to the One who knows all, does all, enables all and is all loving, all just…. Simply trust and obey. Now. Today.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Free Stuff!

A few years ago I was visiting with a little boy from China. His father was an international student and his family lived a simple life here in America. When I told him that his faith in Jesus meant he would spend forever in heaven with God he asked, "Is there any free stuff there?" "It's ALL free!" I answered. "And it's better than anything you'll ever see on earth!"

It's been awhile--allow me to share today's thoughts from my personal time in the book of Romans. The freedom of heaven will comes later, but even today we can be free from our guilt and sin.

February 18, 2010
Romans 3:21-31
Verse 24, 27: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”

Impression: When will this stubborn pride and fleshly mind of mine accept the fact that there is nothing I have or can do to bring about my justification (a right legal standing before God—not guilty)?! It is God who justifies. It is God who gave justification as a gift. According to verses 25-26, the death of Christ was a demonstration of the righteousness of God. It revealed the wickedness of man and the price required to redeem man from death. God, in His goodness and grace, allows me to come to Him on the basis of faith. Simple faith. No works will accomplish His righteousness: not penance, not baptism, not attendance, not heritage, not commitments, not sacrifice, not self-recrimination, not guilt, not self-adulation. The only way to gain a “not guilty” status before Almighty God is by simple, resting faith in Jesus as the One who bore my sin.
And He doesn’t just cover my sin now, today. Verse 25 says that God, in the forebearance of His righteousness, passed over the sins previously committed. What generosity! He doesn’t forgive me from this point forward—He forgives me from this point backward and into this present time—the now of today. And tomorrow, this will be the present time (now) and the previously committed sins will be forgiven then. And the next day, previously committed sins will be forgiven along with the present sins… and on, and on.
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (verse 28).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Prayer of Silence

My life is so full of myself that my prayers are full of words.   "Thank You, God, for....  I praise You because You are....  Please work in this situation....."  In all, my prayer life is not characterized as a time of waiting. I will not pretend to say that I sit and wait on the Lord in a literal sense.
Waiting for His answer to prayer, waiting for Him to intervene in a situation—yes, I am learning to wait for Him in this way. But to be silent before Him just because He is….that is something I have not mastered—or even really thought about. To simply sit (or prostrate myself) in silence—silence of thought, silence of word—content with His Lordship—shows a sense of humility. Of smallness. Of service. To simply “be” while God “is.” This, too, is worship.

Zechariah 2:13 Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for He is aroused from His holy habitation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We Interrupt Your Life For This Important Announcement

Yesterday God interrupted my life. Again. His interruptions are always sovereign, always loving, always good; not always--pleasant. Unlike some interruptions, yesterday's involved a broken waterpipe and a flooded basement. Despite the damage and loss, we experienced an unreal sense of contentment and peace.

There was no worry or anxiety, no impatience, no unkind word. It was a work of the Lord. There was a job to do. Its cause was irrelevant at the time. What a heart quenching experience to work dilligently alongside one another simply doing what needed to be done. David ripped out the ruined drywall while I prepped the trail we would make up the stairs, through the living room, kitchen, and laundry room. While he cut and bagged wet carpet and matting, I manuevered the truck for easier loading.

As we surveyed the empty, open room at the end of our haul, we congratulated each other on a job well done. True, by the end of the day I was a little testy under the weight of all that needed to be done and had been put on hold. But it was a blessed day.

My take-away? What thoughts and attitudes do I need to change to experience the same kind of peace and joy in the other interruptions of life? What made today different? Perhaps it was simply the acknowledgement that God knew. God knew the demands on my life. God knew the outcome of just such an interruption. God knew the blessings of working side by side and making plans for a new, improved basement.

Even now, God knows the demands on your life. He knows the outcome of each interruption that comes your way. He knows the blessings that lie in store. He knows how today's interruption will redirect your life to a new, improved relationship with Himself.

How has God used today's interruptions in your life?

"The mind of man plans his way,But the LORD directs his steps." Proverbs 16:9