Sunday, August 30, 2009

Clueless in Canada

When God was assembling my double helix, He left out the genetic code that would give me a sense of direction. North, south, east, west—I sure don’t know. I drive by landmarks because unless I really concentrate, I’m not even sure which direction my house faces.

On top of that, God created me with a Swiss-cheese brain when it comes to remembering numbers—it’s a struggle to even remember my own wedding anniversary, much less whether I drive I-10 or I-12 into town. I’ve memorized the information numerous times before only to forget it again.

As you can probably guess, I have a serious fear of being lost. My husband, on the other hand, has no problem driving on an unknown road because “we’re headed the right way.” It took awhile to convince him that my directionless-ness and “numeric memory loss” were real, but after answering too many phone calls from a teary-eyed, lost wife, two years ago, he realized MapQuest wasn’t enough and bought me a Garmin for a Valentines’ Day gift.

All last week, I drove through Michigan and Canada, obediently following the directions coming from the silver rectangular box mounted on my front windshield. I would type in my destination and then push down the gas pedal, driving in faith that the satellite would take me the shortest route to my destination.

The thing about a Garmin is that “she” only tells you one turn at a time. An annoyingly emotionless feminine voice will state, “In .3 miles, turn left, then stay right.” Then, “Drive 26 miles to Brown Road.” Any wrong turn would result in the dreaded “Recalculating.”

My parents don’t have faith in the Garmin. They have faith in paper maps, which caused problems because they constantly questioned “her” directions, sometimes outright disagreeing with the route she had chosen. And yet, I always arrived at my intended destination.

In my own Christian walk, I know my direction is up and my destination is heaven. But I don’t know the exact paths, hills, and curves God wants me to take on my journey to Him. Through His Word, God guides me, but I still have to follow in faith since He doesn’t reveal the next turn I should take until it’s time to hit the brake and turn the wheel. If I choose my own paths, I’ll be lost and need some definite “recalculating” to get me back on course.

After over 20 hours last week following Garmin, God has shown me His purpose in creating me without a sense of direction: if I knew the paths I were to take or where I needed to turn, I wouldn’t need faith. I wouldn’t need to rely on Him as much to direct me.

The 23rd Psalm speaks of the Lord as a Shepherd who “guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (3-4).

Proverbs 3:5-6 also gives the benefits of following God in faith: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

Perhaps you are struggling with what you perceive to be a deficiency in yourself and wonder why God made you this way. Could it be that your weakness or what you lack makes you rely more fully on God? Or perhaps you are struggling with the path you’re on, frustrated that you don’t know what’s around the bend. Rest in peace knowing that God knows the next turn if you’ll continue to wait for direction. It's all about faith.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

From Blood-thirsty Vampires to the Blood of Jesus?

Vampires. Otherworldly beings. The occult. A plunge into the world of evil. Growing up, that’s how I had always heard Anne Rice depicted by Christians. She was someone whose writings I should avoid. Then in 2005, Anne Rice surprised the world. A renowned atheist for years, she returned to her Catholic faith. And her newly changed heart for Jesus burst upon the scene not just in name only. Since that time, Rice has devoted her writing gift to God, intensely researching and writing two Christ the Lord novels.

This past week, I was compelled to read her 2008 memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession in which she maps her transition from a child growing up in the Catholic faith to an adult claiming atheism and intellectual humanis to a life now as a born-again Christian.

I was curious. What caused this woman who had abandoned her faith for years to finally return to Jesus?

Her answer surprised me.

Rice writes, “The more I read of history—any history—the more my atheism became shaky…In particular, the survival of the Jews…was talking to me about God. I was seeing patterns in history that I could not account for according to the theories of history I’d inherited in school. I was seeing something in the survival of the Jews in particular for which there was no convincing sociological or economic explanation at all. A great love of the Jewish people began to burn in me, a love of this tribe that had survived since the most ancient times into the present day…If any one ‘thing’ in all my studies led me back to Christ, it was His people, the Jews” (148).

And the history of the Jews’ survival throughout the centuries does defy logic?

It is a history filled with capture, deportation, wars, and a 70-year exile. It is a history rich with national leaders intent on eradicating the Jews. And it is a history of God keeping His covenant promise to Abraham.

Consider just these three examples:

1. After 70 years in Babylonian captivity, many Jews still retained a national consciousness. Then, Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and initiated a profoundly different attitude towards captured nations. As had been prophesied 150 years earlier in Isaiah 44:28, Cyrus allowed the captive Jews to return to Jerusalem and reinstitute temple worship: “It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' And of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.” God was at work.

2. Our history books speak of Hitler and his genocide of the Jews, so most of us know that part of the Jews’ struggle to survive. But what those books don’t speak of is an earlier Hitler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes, nicknamed “the Madman. He began persecuting the Jews in 170 BC, reportedly slaughtering “eighty thousand men, women, boys, girls, even infants” during his attack upon Jerusalem. He assassinated the high priest Onias III, looted the Temple, “cruelly persecuted the pious Jews who wished to observe their religious laws and customs” and erected an altar to Zeus in the temple. (Miller, New American Commentary, 226). Antiochus IV meted out this torture for eleven years in an attempt to transform the Jews into Greeks. And still, the Jews and their culture, their God survived.

3. Later, in the book of Esther, the Jews were in danger of being eradicated again, this time because the evil Haman convinced King Xerxes to sign a law making Jewish genocide legal: “to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder” (3:13). And yet, God saved His people.

Time and time again, Anne Rice saw in Jewish history what I see, too—proof of God. There can be no other explanation.

The prophet Ezekiel explained why God has protected and will continue to protect the Jewish nation: “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name….Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land…You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God" (Ez. 36:22-24).

It’s all about His name. God is speaking through a Jewish history that defies explanation. Listen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It’s All About Me

Last week, I discussed one troubling issue presented in the bestseller Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Every Day. Click HERE if you missed that post.

The book’s second troubling implication is that you have the power within yourself alone to become everything and possess everything your heart desires.

In other words, whatever it is that you want out of life, if it’s not happening, then it’s within your power to change it: “The potential is inside you,” the author states. “You must get your thoughts about yourself moving in the right direction if you truly want to become a better you” (my italics).

In fairness, the book does briefly mention tapping into God’s power within you, but that message is lost in the overwhelming number of pages focusing on how I alone can change me: “Every day, we should make positive declarations over our lives. We should say things like, ‘I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am healthy. I am talented. I am creative. I am wise.’ When we do that, we are building up our self-image.”

Me, me, me. I, I, I. Self.

It’s a common thought pattern among many Christians today. It’s not that God can do a work in and through me. Instead, I can use God’s power and gifts within me to make me a better person, fix my problems. I can make my dreams come true, become rich, if I plan for that blessing.

The problem here is if I constantly speak of myself as the solution to everything, then perhaps I subconsciously think of myself that way, too. My heart learns to trust in me and my abilities. And if I think of myself as being able to do anything rather than thinking of God doing undeserved miracles and blessings through me, I’m in danger of doing my thing, my way, for my glory.

But Romans 7:18 says that I can do nothing on my own to better myself: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.

Instead, Scripture says that GOD can work through us by means of the Holy Spirit. As Paul states, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:26-28).

Additionally, the I/me mentality causes many Christians and non-Christians alike to see God as merely a vehicle for their becoming better, richer, smarter people who have a better self image. Although they don’t say it, their actions and words say, “I’ll use God’s power within me to fulfill my desires and plan for my life.”

Even in the Old Testament, Joseph learned the dangers of thinking what “I” can do instead of what “God” can do. By the point in his life where Pharaoh asked him to interpret a dream, Joseph wisely said, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Gen. 41:16).

God is in the business of making us more righteous, holy individuals…but not necessarily richer, smarter, more self-impressed individuals. We were made for the sole purpose of glorifying Him and pointing others to Jesus.

So, instead of thinking “I am blessed,” we should think “God has blessed me.” Instead of thinking, “I can overcome this addiction,” we should think “The Holy Spirit within can help me overcome this addiction.” It may sound like a simple word change, but our words speak the song of our heart. See how often this week you use the word “I” in your speech and thoughts. You might be surprised.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Happy or Holy?

I have hesitated for months to write this post because I don’t wish to criticize others who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior. Plus, I know I have a few logs in my own eye that I need to work on removing before I go around looking for others’ specks. But God hasn’t freed me from this message. It is one that does not seek to condemn one particular person but rather to disciple others who may have fallen into the same theological trap.

At our first meeting, a fellow blogger passed a new bestseller book into my hands: Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Every Day. Since I never win anything, when I suddenly found myself with a prize of 377 crisp-smelling pages, I considered that perhaps God was sending me new wisdom. So, I started reading, and I did find wisdom, but of a different sort.

Within the carefully-penned lines, I found many good ideas like not letting generational sin or bad habits determine your future. But, the overall message was disconcerting and has continued to haunt my thoughts on two fronts. The more troubling of the two implied that God wants you to be happy and materially blessed.

Happy. That seems to be a psychological buzz-word in today’s society: “We just weren’t happy anymore in our marriage” or “I’m not happy in my job” or “I’m not happy with my house, my car, my clothes, my ________.”

But the tenants of positive psychology don’t always align with God’s Scripture. Since when was God’s kingdom plan to make you happy (or me, for that matter)?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the Father “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45b). In other words, God distributes His blessings as He so chooses, not just on His children.

Hmmm…that doesn’t seem to imply God wants His people to be happier than the unsaved person, but surely He does, right? The New Testament’s use of the term “happy” is very limited. But according to Strong’s Concordance, each usage is about Christians finding their happiness in obeying Christ, suffering for Christ, and following Christ until death. Not one entry mentions personal happiness apart from Christ.

For example, at the conclusion of a teaching lesson, Jesus tells His disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). Later, James states, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure" (Jas. 5:10-11a). Peter even says, “But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye” and “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (1 Peter 3:14, 4:14).

I conclude that our happiness is not God’s chief concern or even a secondary concern. But our holiness is. Scripture continuously repeats God’s desire for us to reflect Christ’s holiness: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Paul says you are to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

God desires His children to be holy more than happy. Granted, He does want His people to be joyful, but that joy is to be deeply rooted in Christ, not in circumstances or the receipt of material blessings. Don’t fall into the world’s trap of acting based on what makes you “feel” happy. In the long run, it won’t work. Instead, keep your life focused on pursuing a life of holiness, a life of being “set apart” like Jesus.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

If Tomorrow Never Comes

My Great Aunt Wilda died recently at the ripe young age of 100. In my one memory of her, my mother and I were alone in the back room of my grandparents’ Michigan house when she just waltzed in an unlocked front door and started banging around in the kitchen—no knock, no phone call to say she was coming over, no “Hey, is anybody home?” We thought she was a burglar…until she started talking to the dogs.

This memory is of a woman whom I deemed eccentric. Independent. Unique.

A long-lived life doesn’t sound as many notes of sadness or as many thoughts of “what could have been.” But the newspaper's obituary page always makes me pause, a reminder that my death is nearer than it was the day before.

Aunt Wilda knew that. She left a stack of already-addressed envelopes, each containing her self-penned obituary, for her son to mail to family and friends across the country. She left the details of what she wanted her funeral to include. She was prepared.

But not everyone is.

For the past two days as I have rocked my sick infant daughter, feeling her fevered body strangely still against mine, I’ve contemplated the tenuous nature of life and the urgency of preparing for the life beyond this one.

I pray for her restored health, but I also realize that while God gave her to me, He has not promised her a lifetime of days on this earth. He has not promised her one breath beyond the one she just took. Likewise, he has not promised that my husband and I will grow old together or that I will even wake tomorrow this side of eternity.

Only God knows the number of our days. David understood this: “LORD, make me to know my end And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps. 39:4-5).

Even the New Testament warns that all we have is this moment: “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

The moment we escape these fleshly bonds, Jesus teaches that where we spend eternity is determined. When death finally comes, nothing more can be added to our life’s record. It will be too late to decide whether we want to be serious about accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, submitting to His commandments. As Scripture says, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27, my italics).

One grain of sand at a time, each person’s hourglass is running out. Are you prepared to meet Jesus?

I’m not.

Yes, I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I am actively pursuing righteousness and holiness. I am earnestly seeking to serve Him and obey His commands as taught in Scripture.

But I still have areas of my life I need to work on. And there are too many people I know whom I haven’t shared Jesus with. Too many wandering souls that weigh heavy on my heart and mind.

Even if I live to be a hundred, I don’t believe there will ever be enough time to prepare for the life beyond this one, for that moment when I meet my Jesus face to face. But I try to live knowing that moment could come now or forty years down the road.

This week, seriously contemplate where you are on your journey with the Lord. If you have taken the wide path that leads to destruction and separation from God, as long as your heart still pumps life through your fleshly body, it’s not too late to confess and repent of your sin and wholly devote your heart to Jesus. And if you have chosen the narrow path already, ask yourself if there is anything you would be ashamed to still be doing / not doing if your last grain of sand falls before the week is through.