Saturday, November 30, 2013

All Good Things

We met in a local bar, which is a bit out of my comfort zone. It was early evening and we met month after month to plan our high school reunion. One evening, I don't remember the particular conversation or incident, a verse from James came to mind and my classmates took on a different hue.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17).

It struck me that each of us was experiencing good things--maybe not things we'd brag about, maybe not dream homes or vacations--but each of us had reasonable health, comfort, full bellies off and on. Each of us enjoyed sunshine and rain, the love of others, and a sense of purpose.

But one day, one day in eternity, not all of us would enjoy good things. Some of the people I was meeting with would, apart from knowing Jesus, lose all good things. They would never again sense comfort. Acceptance. Physical satisfaction. The sun's rays on a winter day. A mother's love. Because in eternity, apart from God, there is no good thing.

From that point on I prayed more earnestly for my classmates and sought opportunities to share Christ. Although they were unaware of their desperate need, I was not. And it still colors my days.

If you know Jesus Christ as your own--you fully trust that He paid your sin/death-debt--you have the confidence of experiencing God's grace here and now, and ever-so-much-more-so in eternity. Knowing that creates an intense burden for those who do not. Love them now. Be there. Share the best, the most, the only good thing we need: Jesus. Not because one or the other of us is better, but because neither of us is. My desperate need has been quelled. My longing and emptiness has been filled. The good things I taste now are only a tester of what's ahead. All because of Jesus.

I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:7-11

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Grouchy Sunday

Spoiler Alert: The following account includes sinful thoughts and behavior.

Today I was irritable. And I wanted to be. There were many reasons--good reasons, I assured myself--to be a touch on the grouchy side; the "look at me wrong and I'll take you out" side of life. Oh, boy.

It was wrong. Selfish. Felt a little too cozy and self-indulgent. And I didn't want to tell anyone because that would ruin the mood. Telling others is nowhere near as fun as grousing, grumbling and scowling. Besides, admitting I was grouchy would confirm the conviction squirming deep in my soul that demanded repentance. Change. And that's what I didn't want--change. I wanted to be mad and stomp my foot and tell everyone how much better life would be if they followed MY plan.

So, I did my best to stay in the foyer during Sunday school--a lesson on gratitude certainly didn't serve my plan and purpose. But, somehow, I ended up in the pew; struggling, praying, grumbling. And reading Scripture and wanting to disagree. Just because. So I prayed that God would keep my mouth shut. When someone else made a comment sweetly and succinctly I wanted to roll my eyes and spit. Just because. Because it was so right and was offered so well. I prayed harder for God to keep my mouth shut; folded my hands in my lap, tilted my head and did my best to look pious.

Phew. End of Sunday school. Mercifully, time was passing. We sang. We listened. I prayed for a change of heart. I wondered how I could gracefully leave and wrangle my way out of today's potluck but didn't have a good enough excuse. So I sat. And listened. And took notes. And remembered that it's not about me, after all.

After the service when friends said "Hello. How are you?" I honestly replied, "I was grumpy when we came. And this is still wrong and that is still a struggle, but praise God, I'm feeling much better!"

So we stayed for the meal and more singing and more Scripture. We visited with friends new and old over a wonderful meal, complete with cherry pie. And, phew, life is so much better. Good thing it's not all about me, 'cause if it was, well.... I'd rather not think about it.

"How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

"Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You. Selah
"Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;  give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

"O God, behold our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!"
Psalm 84 NKJV

Friday, November 15, 2013


Butterflies. We miss them in this part of the world when the weather turn cold, but they're still floating, fluttering, streaming through jungles and across meadows. Somewhere. They don't boast or brag, demand attention or live a high-maintenance life. They are serene. Beautiful. Inspiring.

They came to mind this week as our youth group considered the difference between how we live our daily lives and the way God has designed us to live.  What does a saved person really look like? Does salvation make a difference in between that moment of repentance and our entrance to heaven? What should it look like?

And butterflies came to mind--grounded, groveling ones, in particular. How sad. As new creatures we are designed, remade, to show the glory of Christ, the picture of His death and resurrection. We are freed from sin-it's power and penalty, from earthly concerns, from fear and death. We are free to soar in newness of life. Yet here we are, stuck to earth, wings clasped over our heads, trudging along with dusty feet, one step after another. No wonder the world look at us with wonder, disgust, head-shaking disbelief. We hang our heads, and muddle along, feeling like a failure, a spectacle, a freak of nature. But we have so much potential! So much to live for! So many good things to live, take hold of and share. In Christ. Because of Christ. Through Christ.

So? So. So! (as my 3-year-old friend, Bekka says). We look to Him to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2-3 NASB). By faith we take hold of His complete payment for our sin. We choose to die to ourselves and live as a new creation, one who has already received eternal life (1 John 5:11).  We live as free, forgiven, grace-filled, peaceful, joyful creatures. Yes, the world is the same. Yes, the circumstances of life may be difficult. But we are new. We have new choices--by the Spirit and power of God we are able to obey the Word of God. We experience the blessings of doing what is right. We enjoy restored, loving relationships with others. We offer life and hope to those without. And we soar.

"For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

"Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

"Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Think God

Job 40:6-8: Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, “Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?”

Impression: As limited creatures of Creator-God, we fail to understand who God really is--how big, how awesome and mighty. As a result, we minimize and generalize, blaspheming Him over and over in our thoughts, our words, our actions. To wrongly accuse God, or fail to acknowledge His greatness, is to justify myself. Here God asks, is that what you really want? Is it worth it to redefine me in an effort to make yourself feel important? Good? Right?

When God is absent from our thoughts or is present, but not Sovereign, we fail to honor, to magnify, to give Him His due. How easily and clumsily we put ourselves in the place of God or think of Him through the binoculars of our hands, God, who is beyond word and thought and comprehension. Jesus' death and resurrection declared His glory--His glory given to us, which we fall short of remembering, relying on and living out, central to His greatness. and wisdom.  To speak of Him lightly or wrongly is to sin--how good, how merciful and kind God is to forgive us. To love us. To use us-!

Application: Think God. Can I devote myself to “think God” throughout more of each day, more accurately, more deeply, richly and often? With His help, by His grace.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Who's in Charge, Anyway?

This year's apple harvest is outrageous! Branches--big ones, high ones--have broken and fallen. Across our state trees have crashed from the outside in. This fall, I set up scaffolding to reach what I couldn't otherwise and on a damp, foggy morning, tendrils of hair curled and fell, making it difficult to keep my balance in upper branches. After brushing them back multiple times, smearing dirt across my face, I realized 1) I could get frustrated with my stylist for cutting (or not cutting) my hair properly, factories that make insufficient hair tie-backs, etc. or 2) I could simply accept the fact that my hair doesn't stay put when wet and stop complaining. Who, after all, was standing on top of a scaffold picking apples in the rain? Get down already. Problem solved.

It's a benign example, but the issue arises every day: I can blame others or I can accept all things as coming from the hand of God. Our Sunday school class is reading the book of Job and what stood out to me this week are the things Job did not say and do. Job did not blame, curse or mount a posse to go after the Sabeans who took his oxen or the Chaldeans who took the camels. He did not issue a lawsuit against the contractors who built his son's house or file multiple insurance claims. He did not fire his cook, personal trainer or house servants who may have precipitated his failing health.

The very fact that Job "fell on the ground and worshiped," is strange to our man-centered ears. How could Job fall at the feet of God when there was so much to do, to regain, to reckon, and restore? When difficulty arises and my health or wealth is attacked, how quickly do I place the blame on someone I can see, hear and touch? Unlike Job, we are slow to turn to God, let alone worship, in the face of disaster.

I am learning to listen and compare my head's thoughts with the Word of God. To be man-centered is to views others as the problem, as creating the problem, as an obstacle or irritation. To be God-centered is to view God as the sovereign designer of the problem, His love as the motive moving me toward sanctification and Godliness (James 1:2-4). If I have a man-centered view, I must fix the problem. If I have a God-centered view, I must seek to change my heart (James 4:1-3). A man-centered view focuses on a solution. A God-centered view hones in on my desires, trusting God with the outcome (Psalm 37). A man-centered view is critical and judgmental of others. A God-centered view is loving and kind, patient and joyful (Galatians 5:22-23).

When I choose to think about situations as coming from God instead of others, I find great joy and peace. I also find that poor choices result in bad results and certain behaviors need to stop (like picking apples on slippery metal in the rain). Some things are what they are: my body type, the neighbors next door, the job that got away, the line at the checkout counter. It is not my job to fix or change or solve what God has placed in my path. It is my job to ask God for help to  see the situation or person or problem the way He does, repent if I need a change of heart, deal with my end of it and move on. When that is the case I am free from bitterness, anger, malice, slander, clamor, unforgiveness (Ephesians 4:31). Doesn't that describe the life of Job? When God took all that was good and left Job's wife--even that proved a trial--he kept his heart and mind at the feet of God.

May we learn and be blessed as we make Christ the center of our lives.

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

"Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." (Ephesians 6:10-20)