Monday, February 28, 2011

Back Snap

Although this is generally a blog about Christian service, I am writing about yesterday's rather revealing life experience to encourage my own humility, compassion, and empathy for future reference.  As I was getting ready for church, putting on pantyhose no less, my hands seized and I felt a pop just below my right shoulder blade.  I couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't call for help.  There I sat, immobilized, in excruciating pain.  When the worst had passed I managed, with effort, to get to my feet and make my way downstairs, sending the family off to church. 

Most of my day was spent enduring spasms while lying on heat and ice. The rest of my body was pain-free, but I couldn't get my focus off the sporadic schisms that stabbed from my back through to my sternum, creating some kind of muscular knot.  I did wonder if the Body of Christ should respond to a wounded member with this kind of extreme focus, but more than that, I wanted relief.

Later, much later, I remembered last week's Bible lesson on suffering and was mindful that in discomfort I really didn't care--or want to care--what God had in mind for that moment.   Hadn't we read Scripture and discussed how God allows suffering for His glory and our good?  That we are to endure and bear up under it, dependent on His grace, exhibiting the character of Christ (Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Peter 2)?  Quite honestly, that was the last thing on my mind.

The take-away?  No matter how much we know or how much God has taught us to rely on Him, each of us is one hundred percent human.  There are periods and circumstances when all we can do it hold onto some form of life and sanity, praying for light at the end of the tunnel.  My pain became bearable within a short period of time, but there are others--many others--who suffer chronic illness, pain, family situations, and life circumstances that cloud all but the most immediate.  It was a brief lesson in empathy...and I'm chronicling it here in hopes it will not soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keep Something Behind the Counter

I hadn't planned on it.  I just happened.  When I opened my Bible to read the next chapter of Leviticus, my eyes caught on the previous chapter and something clicked.  There are times that a verse taken by itself is exposed.  Don't get me wrong, context is vital to Biblical interpretation, but to see a verse alone sometimes reveals detail that might otherwise be overlooked.

I have often wondered about  term "leaven" as used in the Bible: the leaven of the Pharisees, leaven in the dough, how dangerous a small amount of leaven can be. I have had no satisfying answer until today as I sat down to read chapter 3 and my eyes reread verse 11 from chapter 2.

"No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD."

It suddenly struck me.  Leaven gives a false appearance. It puffs up and expands the essence of what is there, making it look larger. It adds an airy texture when eaten. And, in the same way yeast, or leaven, would mislead honey adds sweetness making grain more appealing, more tasty, more indulgent.  It's not that God doesn't like things big or sweet or good.  He made all things.  He IS big and sweet and good.  But when it comes from me, a person, a created being, the focus is due God, not myself.  How easy it is for me to puff myself up, to try to appear bigger and sweeter and more attractive to others (sacrifices were offered in public, remember) and to God.

The leaven of life is pride. A little goes a long way. I apply it when I seek to draw attention to my actions or appearance or worth, puffing up what little I have, expanding the essence of what is actually there. I present myself as having greater importance and substance than what an honest appraisal would reveal. The honey is much the same, although it makes me think more of flattery, of sweetening the deal. I may be sour as a lemon, bitter as lye, but present myself to God and others in a falsely appealing way.

So for now, today?  The offering of my everyday life, the grain that comes in and goes out, must first be finely ground, well masticated, used fully. It is what it is. I am what I am. There is nothing special, better than, or exceptional other than the fact that God has sovereignly ordained each part. Humility, a lack of leaven, is practiced as I present what He has given with gratitude and honesty.

Chuck Swindoll's grandfather taught him to "always keep something behind the counter."  This doesn't mean  we should hold back what is due; rather, we should be honest about what is in the back room.  If I don't have any for sale, I shouldn't put it out for display.  May I say the same is true of our Christian lives.  Speaking to myself: If I don't have any in the backroom, it has no place on the counter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Consecrating the Daily Grind

Back to Leviticus!  (It doesn't have quite the ring of the "Back to Genesis" ads on the radio.)

As I opened my Bible to Leviticus chapter 2 this morning, I prepared myself for the fact that not every day's Bible reading brings eye-popping, heart-stopping insights.  But God surprised me once again.

This chapter gave instruction for the presentation of grain offerings.  Living with a farmer, grain is a daily part of our lives.  We have bins of grain from last fall's harvest that are waiting to be delivered to market.  We have grain in the barn we are feeding our expectant ewes and growing calf.  Our son has a jar of wheatberries (grains of wheat) on his headboard to snack on when he's in the mood.  I didn't expect to see anything exciting in this chapter on grain.

But as I read, this is what I discovered:
There were three constant ingredients offered with the grain. The first was oil (v. 1,2,4,5,6,7,15,16). The second was salt (v. 13). The third, less noticeable (it is mentioned only once, but in reference to all grain sacrifices) was frankincense (v. 1). Grain was the gift, but it was to be anointed with oil and frankincense and seasoned with salt.

Putting my symbolic-and-contextual-interpretation hat on, it was easy to explain the oil. Throughout the Bible, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit—in the anointing of kings, in the temple. The working and presence of the Holy Spirit should be evident in my giving. The salt? My only thought here is the verse that instructs us to season our words with grace (Col. 4:6). So salt represents grace (?). And frankincense, brought by one of the magi, represents Christ (?).  (I did cheat here by looking up a commentary and confirming these last two.)

Why all the detail?  Does it really matter? This is where the eye-popping, heart-stopping reached out and grabbed me. Even the most mundane, every day, common sacrifice (or gift) is to be offered reverently, with grace, by the working of the Spirit, lavished by Jesus Christ’s redeeming blood. My daily life should not consist of moments never given, or given carelessly, or given grudgingly, or apart from the work of Christ. The moments, the grains of my day, are to fall from my fingers as those spoken with grace, lubricated by the Spirit, releasing the aroma of Christ. Perhaps the things I do would be different if I saw them in this light. More likely, the ways in which I do them and the freedom of heart I experience as the finely-ground grain is presented would rise in praise to the God who provided the seeds of grain and the components of the sacrifice.

The grains of life are spent apart from my giving.  If only I would consecreate and give them with a heart of gratitude, open hands, and dependence....Jesus, take and bless. In your name and for your glory….

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Incense Rising

This morning's Bible reading took me on a rabbit trail--in spite of numerous interruptions. 
I sat down to read the book of Leviticus and finished chapter 1.  Made pancakes and sausage.  Came back to my computer and Bible, picked out a repeated phrase. Thought about it while stuffing and sealing envelopes with our 9-year-old daughter, Laura, for Good News Club. Checked email and was reminded of dear friends on the mission field whose lives have turned upside down due to physical illness.  The choices they are facing breathe depth into this chapter of Leviticus.

‘When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock…. And the priest shall offer up in smoke all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD….And the priest shall offer all of it, and offer it up in smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD….And the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar on the wood which is on the fire; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the LORD.'

No, it's not a typo and no, I didn't hit the "copy" "paste" buttons too many times, that phrase is repeated that many times in the first chapter.  It peaked my curiosity.
Here were my simple thoughts (there is room to disagree, I'm still thinking about this): 
1)  Each person brought an offering and it was freely given
2) The priest was the one who prepared and presented the offering
3) The smoke demonstrated a transformation of the offering from man's purposes to God's purposes
4) The part that pleased God was not the final product, but the process (the aroma, not the ashes).

So, following proper biblical interpretation, these are other passages that paralleled my observations:
1) In Romans 12, Paul urges believers to offer themselves as an offering based on the mercy of God.  Many of us have done that and would agree that this is part of the Christian life that begins sanctification (being supernaturally changed into the image of Jesus Christ).
2) Jesus Christ is the one who prepared the way for a right relationship with God.  He is the One who presents us to the Father (John 14:6, Hebrews 7:23-27).  And He is the ultimate sacrifice upon which our comparably small gift is made (Colossians 1:18-20).
Jesus' sacrifice and love for us was a pleasing aroma to God.  He is our mediator and example (Ephesians 5:1-2).
3) The prayers of the saints rise like incense before the Father and He takes great pleasure in them (Revelation 5:8).
4) So it is my prayers, my dependence on the Father to complete His work in and through me, that rise like smoke from the sacrifice of my life which is being transformed from its worldly worth to God's eternal purposes.  It is not the final product that is my concern, but the constant turning over of my desires and circumstances to His working that brings Him glory.

And that, dear friends, is the rabbit trail I have been following in my thoughts today.  It is not my efforts, my self-denial, or my ministry that blesses the heart of the Father.  It is my frailty, my weakness, my dependence, my trust that wafts before His heavenly throne and brings Him pleasure.  He has it all.  He is in it all.  He is over all.  And my simple acknowledgement and submission, though humanly impossible, reflects His glory.  What a wondrous privilege!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Ah, the mantra!  "I do what I do because I want what I want.  I want what I want because I think what I think."  After a week at a counseling conference, my head is swimming with Biblical principles, so perhaps it's not surprising that God would repeat Himself today.

This morning I read Luke chapter 22 and blazing lights surrounded the wants of individuals. The chief priests and scribes wanted Jesus dead (v. 2).  Judas wanted an occasion to betray Jesus (v. 6).  Jesus wanted (earnestly desired!) to share the Passover with His disciples (v. 15).  The disciples wanted to know who was the greatest (v. 24).  Want, want, want!  Desire, desire, desire!

Now, this afternoon, I'm working through the book Peacemaking Women (by Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler) on the topic of idolatry (translated:  I want!).  And, even as I type, our 9-year-old daughter stumbles into the room wrapped in a shawl begging, "Money!  Money!  All I need is one penny!"

What do I want?  To have acceptance, influence, comfort, friendship?  To be wealthy, attractive, sought after?  What did Jesus want?  To please the Father and do His work (John 17: 1,4,6).  There is too much to say in a short blog about the desires of the heart and the perfection of Christ's desires.  But I find myself challenged as I ask some of the questions from the end of the chapter by Barthel and Dabler (p. 61):
- I would be completely content or happy in my life if only...
- All I want is ...
- I get most sad and depressed when...
- I feel hopeless when...
- Don't ask me to give up my...

If you, like me, have some concrete answers, it's time to kneel at the foot of the cross for a heart exam and  repent. If you find yourself in turmoil or need help, please seek a trusted Christian friend or send me a comment.  I'll be glad to interact with you. 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dripping Honey

This week I am attending a biblical counseling conference.  The days are full and long.  After three 11-hour days of teaching, my brain is mush.

I will say, though, that the most important session we've had all week came this afternoon when Pastor Brad Bigney's challenge became personal.  "What would happen if I asked the people you minister to, 'How can you tell ______________ has been with Jesus?'  Not to find the right answers, not to build up her arsenal, but because she simply delights in her time with Him?" 

Does my love and passion for Jesus stir up hunger in the hearts of others?  Do I leave His banquet table with crumbs on my chest and action-released aroma?  How sweet is my personal relationship and daily time with Jesus?  "We have believers who have no idea what the banquet of Christ tastes like because they're satisfied with the Twinkies of the world" (Pastor Bigney).

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him. (Ps. 34:8)

"It is a dreary holiness indeed that is merely resisting sin.  The joy of holiness is found in having heard a sweeter song....Grace is the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming our desires so that knowing Jesus becomes sweeter than illicit sex, sweeter than money and what it can buy, sweeter than every fruitless joy.  Grace is God satisfying our souls with his Son so that we're ruined for anything else!" One Thing (Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God), Sam Storms, p. 123, 140.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this:  that one has died for all, therefore all have died. 2 Corinthians 5:14

I don't know about you, but the very thought makes my mouth water!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Who's Who

I didn't want to read my Bible today.  After the last couple of days it felt like no matter what I read, it would spell failure for the day.  Two days ago I meditated on Proverbs 8:13 about how the fear of God is hatred of perverse speech.  All day my thoughts were full of critical, judgmental thoughts that I struggled to harness.  I thought Proverbs was about hating the twisted words of others--but, no, I found them in myself.  Yesterday I meditated on Ezekiel 12 and God reminded me that difficult circumstances are there to drive me to Him.  Wouldn't you know that the circumstances nearly overcame me? I found myself grumbling and justifying my grumpiness while listening to a gravelly Star Wars voice echo, "The flesh is strong with this one."

How would I fail today?  Only God knows, but I knew my options were limitless.  As my husband, David, and I read Jeremiah together I was reminded that God doesn't want fancy-schmancy sacrifices (Jeremiah 8:20).  He simply calls me to do it His way--to depend on Him, to walk in the death and resurrection of Jesus instead of my own strength.  Today's motto:  give it up.  Whatever I'm holding onto to make myself good, better, or righteous.  I don't need it.  It won't work.  I only need Him.  So, those critical thoughts?  Give em up.  It's not my job to "fix" others.  My reaction to difficult circumstances? Give it up.  It's not my job to "fix" the circumstances. 

Are you ready to give it up?  Or are you afraid to read your Bible too?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Luke 17:20-37

v. 20-21: Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is! Or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Observation: God has already made Himself known. His provision and presence are so much a part of our lives that we take it for granted and often look past Him.

Interpretation: Perhaps that is why it is so important for believers to glorify and praise Him. By drawing attention away from the event and away from the people, we direct it to God and His constant, awesome provision. It is not that He is not there or has not provided. He is there, but is unseen, unrecognized, unappreciated.

Application: My job is not to “do great things for God.” My job is to simply walk with Christ, to submit to Him setting aside my wants and desires, pointing others to His great work. If I am the one doing the heavy lifting, then there is no grace.

“By the works of the law, no flesh will be justified” (Galatians 2:16)

“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:6

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” Romans 4:4

But God reveals Himself through my weakness, my inabilities, my inconsistencies. Am I reflecting His light, His glory? Or absorbing it? “For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”